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A.C. 199

Of all the things he’d expected to see on his desk upon returning from his debriefing that evening, the small, disheveled looking package had not been one of them.

Trowa’s eyes narrowed as he took in the parcel. It looked to have been hastily wrapped – the heavily crinkled and overly taped nature of the colorful wrapping paper only added to that assumption – and as he picked it up he noticed it was rather heavy for its size. He caught sight of a makeshift tag attached near the parcel’s base and flipped it over, revealing the unmistakable dark scrawl of Duo Maxwell.

Trowa glanced over to the desk across from his – currently empty – before raising his gaze to survey the bullpen. Preventers agents milled about here and there, some more visibly agitated than others about having to work through Christmas Eve, but none of them was the man he was hoping to find. Sighing inaudibly, Trowa set the present back down on his desk, pushing it to the side as he sat down and turned on his desktop computer. As it powered on, Trowa eyed the gift once more. He was curious, more about what had compelled Duo to give it to him than about what was inside, but as compelling as his curiosity was, the idea of opening it – especially while Duo wasn’t around – just felt… wrong. Giving himself a mental shake, Trowa turned to his monitor and logged in, determined to focus on typing up his mission report.

The evening dragged on and Trowa was able to maintain his focus with relative ease, at least until a faint, high-pitched noise began to resonate in his ears. When the sound persisted, still faint but slowly growing in volume, Trowa paused in his work and looked up. He was somewhat thankful to note that he wasn’t the only person in the vicinity to have noticed the slight disturbance; at least two other agents he could see had also glanced up from their work, looking off toward a point somewhere behind him. The noise had finally grown loud enough for Trowa to be able to identify what it was: the distinct, rhythmic tinkling of a bell.

“’Sup, Trowa!”

Trowa turned to look over his shoulder just in time to see one Duo Maxwell arrive at the previously empty desk and set down a heavy stack of files on top of it.

“Duo,” Trowa greeted in return after a moment’s pause.

The steady ringing quickly died down as Duo settled, and Trowa’s eyes were swiftly attracted to something glinting in the light just below the seat of Duo’s chair – something round and shining silver, tied securely to the end of the man’s braided hair.

“Is that,” Trowa asked carefully, “a sleigh bell?”

Duo didn’t turn around. “You noticed.”

The other man’s tone brought a brief smile to Trowa’s lips. “I did.”

“…Yeah. Well. You can thank Wufei.” Duo spun around to face Trowa, his face flat. “I lost a bet.”

Trowa deliberately matched Duo’s expression. “…Do I want to know–”

Nope.”

The two men stared each other down, neither willing to crack first.

Duo slowly reached down to grab the tail of his braid and carefully brought it up to eye level, paused a beat, and then violently flailed it around.

The resulting frantic clanging of the bell against Duo’s grim expression was too much for Trowa, whose face broke into a grin as a sudden bark of laughter burst out of him. Duo beamed at the sound, dropping the act along with his braid.

“Duo Maxwell,” Trowa said, sighing with mirth, “the stealthiest of us all.”

“Trowa Barton,” Duo replied lightly, “ungrateful asshole. Someone’s not getting a present next year.”

Trowa’s head swiveled automatically to his desk, the throwaway remark quickly reminding him of the present he’d discovered on it hours prior. He stared at it, contemplating, before turning back to address Duo once more, keeping his tone open and engaging.

“You got me something.”

“I did.” Duo was already skimming through the topmost file on his desk, eyes fixed on it rather than on Trowa.

“…Why?”

They both knew Trowa’s stance when it came to Christmas, or rather, his lack of stance. It wasn’t that he cared one way or the other about it; instead it came off as pure, unattached indifference. It was just another day on the calendar – another day to keep focusing on functioning and simply being alive. Had he ever once dreamed he’d make it this far? Had he ever once realistically thought that he’d live long enough to see stable comforts in life? To have friends and family? Hobbies? A place to call home and a practical guarantee at the end of each night that he would most certainly see the next morning? Trowa’s life now was all but a net of safety compared to what had come before, and each new day was practically a holiday in and of itself. He made sure to never take the important people in his life for granted and always tried to make his respect known for them every day he could. Why wait until one particular day in December to express such sentiments? It just didn’t make much sense to Trowa.

Duo was looking at him now, eyes kind but piercing.

“Felt like it,” he said in response to Trowa’s query. “Saw the thing and thought of you. Figured you might like it, so I bought it.” A beat. “For you.”

That last addition could – should – have gone unspoken, and yet Duo had chosen to say it. There was a sinking feeling in his gut as Trowa realized he knew why.

If he was quite honest with himself, the true issue he had with Christmas was at the center of a deeper internal debate within his heart, one that went unspoken to the world around him: didn’t he – someone who had only ever known war and killing and strife as far back as he could remember, who had too often in the past unleashed death and destruction onto countless people without a second thought – deserve isolation from such a holiday, one that revered peace and generosity and gentleness of heart and spirit?

Perhaps this particular mask was more cracked than he’d realized.

Trowa looked away. “I… didn’t get you anything.” The words were weak, but they were out of Trowa before he could stop them.

Duo pulled a sheet of letterhead from one of his dividers and balled it up. He halfheartedly lobbed it at Trowa’s head, slow enough that his target could dodge if he chose to. He didn’t.

Not why I give people gifts, Tro,” Duo said slowly, his tone laced with fond exasperation. “Just because I happen to be doting on you now doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have done it any other time of the year. Hell, I’ve bought you shit on a whim before and it’s never bothered you. Why should it mean any less coming from me today?” Duo’s voice had softened considerably by the time he stopped talking, and the look in his eyes made Trowa feel as though he’d just trampled all over a litter of kittens.

It was slightly less daunting this time around to look over at Duo’s gift. Trowa reached over and carefully picked it up, cradling it between his hands as he considered it once more. Thinking over Duo’s words, the thing really was no different than anything Duo had insisted on giving him at various points in the past, save for the holiday-specific wrapping paper that adorned it and the date it was being given on. Trowa’s expression slowly relaxed as his mind wandered over past instances – Duo leaving a lion onesie in his dressing room at the circus while he still regularly performed there; Duo gifting him a bouquet of dead flowers four days after the first Valentine’s Day following the Eve’s Wars (he’d faux-genuinely apologized for being late); Duo lobbing a bag of saltwater taffy at him in the middle of a goddamn shootout…

All in all, Trowa could admit to himself that he was feeling just a little silly.

He sighed, offering up a self-deprecating smile to the other across from him. “Can I open it?”

“Uh, fuck no, Trowa.” Duo’s unexpectedly fierce response had Trowa leaning back in surprise. “You have to wait until Christmas, you uncultured heathen! Gosh!” Duo turned his chair back toward his own desk with deliberate slowness, only breaking eye contact at the very last second as his head was finally forced to turn away.

Trowa blinked helplessly for a moment before turning to glance at the lower right corner of his computer monitor.

11:59 PM
12/24/199

A beat of silence passed. Across the space of the bullpen, an unknown agent sneezed.

The next time Trowa blinked, the clock on his monitor had shifted to midnight and the date had changed over.

In a dramatic surge of motion, Duo had launched his chair away from his desk, spinning and landing heavily against Trowa’s, a huge smile splitting his face.

“Merry Christmas, Trowa!” he stage whispered, sincere joy dancing in his eyes. “Open your present!”

Trowa couldn’t stop the laughter bubbling up from within his throat. Duo’s lightning-quick and deliberate mood changes were still one of the surefire things to make Trowa laugh without fail. Duo seemed to take joy in that knowledge – he’d started laughing as soon as Trowa did.

His mood swiftly unsullied, Trowa gently unwrapped the gift he held.

The object revealed invoked mixed feelings within Trowa’s heart. In his hands was a figurine of a lion sitting in a majestic pose, a wreath of holly draped around its neck, the green and red of the wreath mingling harmoniously with the lion’s mane. Between the lion’s mighty front paws stood a white lamb, looking up adoringly at its apparent protector, its eyes conveying both love and trust. Beneath both figures was a platform of stone, a stately font emblazoned across it that read in all capital letters, “PEACE ON EARTH.”

An odd warmth pooled in Trowa’s gut before rising and spreading throughout his chest like wildfire. Duo had thought of him when he saw this? Trowa looked up in order to send Duo a beseeching glance, only to immediately avert his gaze again as he caught sight of the disarmingly warm smile being given to him by the man in question.

Trowa wasn’t quite sure what to say. Duo must have seen what he’d been looking for in his expression; he slowly reached out to grip Trowa’s arm gently, running his thumb along the man’s bicep.

“Gotta give yourself more credit, Tro,” he whispered. “You’re so much more than you might think, and you deserve nice things, probably more so than a lot of people in this world.” Trowa cherished the warmth of Duo’s hand against him, leaning into it slightly as it eventually pulled away. As quickly as he had invaded Trowa’s space, Duo retreated back to his desk.

“If we’re both here later and you wanna catch an early breakfast with me, let me know,” Duo offered calmly, as if hadn’t just reached into Trowa’s heart and tangled his fingers in his insecurities. “Until then, duty calls!” Before he could say anything, Duo had already turned his back to him, pulling a music player from a drawer and jamming a pair of ear buds into his ears.

Trowa eyed Duo’s back for a long minute. A shuddering sigh escaped him and he shook his head slowly, a small, unsteady smile working its way onto his face.

When breakfast eventually came around, Trowa insisted on paying for the both of them. The resulting considerate beam on Duo’s face as he accepted was reward enough.

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A.C. 200

Sweets in the break room were not an uncommon sight. Oftentimes they were leftovers from a party or a family get-together, and so their presentation was often hint enough as to the fact that they weren’t fresh or initially intended for consumption by Preventers employees.

The cookies on the center table were clearly not leftovers or unwanted discards, Trowa noted. For one thing, there were tons of them – enough to fill the large plastic container they were housed in – and though a small dent had been made by employees and agents who had already taken some, there were still more than plenty left. The top edge of the container had also been decorated with an assortment of shiny plastic bows, ones that were typically used to adorn wrapped presents. A stack of small square napkins – patterned in stripes of green, red, and white – completed the picture, along with a handwritten note urging people to partake in the cookies. The note, Trowa observed, was in Duo’s familiar scrawl.

Trowa snorted lightly in amusement. Of course Duo was the one behind it.

As he poured himself a cup of coffee, he couldn’t help but ponder over Duo’s generous personality. One thing that he and the former 02 pilot shared in common was a similar background in that they’d both spent periods of their lives homeless and lacking regular access to the basic necessities of life. To have gone through such lengthy periods of loss and distress, it was more than a surprise they’d both made it to the other side and established relatively healthy and “normal” lives. Trowa had learned over time that he himself could be kind and charitable, but in his opinion he couldn’t hold a candle to Duo, especially considering everything each of them had gone through. That Duo had grown into such a kind, bighearted individual was a true testament to his character.

He was brought out of his musing by a frustrated sigh coming from just outside the break room door. Trowa turned around, coffee in hand, just in time to see Heero walk in.

“Morning,” he greeted tersely, making a beeline towards the center table.

“Morning,” Trowa replied. He watched as Heero stopped in front of the table, arms crossed and eyes glaring down at the container of cookies as if it personally offended him. When the other man only remained motionless, Trowa crossed over to hover at his side.

He sipped lightly at his coffee. “Duo brought cookies,” he offered.

“Yeah,” Heero sighed. “I’ve already had two.” With a resigned demeanor he reached out and plucked a cookie from the tub and started to leave, the treat already halfway to his mouth.

Trowa’s brows rose. “Are they good?”

“They’re incredible,” Heero replied without turning around, his voice stifled by a mouthful of cookie, already motioning to take another bite as he left the break room.

Alone again, Trowa considered the cookies once more. They weren’t fancy things by any means, at least not to look at; they looked like some kind of sugar cookie, lightly browned and dusted with a thin layer of what looked like cinnamon. Duo always put such sincere thought into the things he did for others, and if Heero Yuy was singing his praises, then Duo must have gone above and beyond this time around.

Without further preamble, Trowa selected a cookie and gently bit into it.

The outer layer of the cookie was perfectly crisp but gave way easily to his teeth, yielding a thick and pleasantly chewy interior. The combined textures were a satisfying feeling in his mouth, and the moderate sweetness of the treat was more than agreeable to his taste buds. Trowa shut his eyes in bliss as he swallowed and sighed. Heero was right – the cookies were incredible.

Trowa had finished the cookie by the time he’d made it to his desk, carefully catching crumbs off of his fingers with his tongue as he sat down. Across from him Duo was already working, or at least it looked that way – as soon as Duo caught sight of Trowa, he removed his ear buds and turned in his direction, quick to abandon what had previously occupied him on his monitor.

“Mornin’, Trowa!” Duo’s tone was borderline chipper with a slightly frenzied edge that suggested he was not operating at one hundred percent efficiency.

“Good morning, Duo,” Trowa greeted, side-eyeing the other as he set down his mug of coffee. “How are you?”

“Oh, good, good, you know,” Duo replied somewhat aimlessly. “Awake and, uh…” He trailed off and appeared to zone out for a split second before giving his head a quick shake. “Awake.”

Trowa huffed a laugh. “Did you not get enough sleep last night or something?”

“I… may have gotten a little side-tracked with a project of mine,” Duo confessed, looking only a little sheepish. Trowa shook his head – Christmas Eve off and Duo still chose to essentially work himself into a sleep deprived state. The taste of the cookie still fading from his mouth, Trowa suddenly paused in thought, slowly connecting the dots.

He eyed Duo playfully. “That project of yours,” he ventured, “wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with all those cookies up in the break room, would it?” Trowa contained his knowing grin as Duo briefly dropped his gaze and bit his lip, a clear affirmation if Trowa ever saw one.

“Got it in one, Tro,” Duo admitted, a hangdog grin across his lips. “That obvious, huh?”

Trowa shook his head in faux disappointment as he turned to power on his terminal. “All I know is, only you would choose to go out on Christmas Eve – your one day off in weeks – and come back with enough cookies to feed a small army.” He looked back to Duo, who was staring at him with an odd look in his eyes. Unsure as to what exactly had earned him such a look, Trowa pressed further. “Where did you get them?”

Duo stared a short moment longer before sitting a little straighter in his seat, his grin shifting into a genuine smile that conveyed a subtle hint of pride.

“I made them.”

Almost immediately, Trowa was assaulted with a vision of Duo wrist-deep in cookie dough, an apron across his torso and skin caked in layers of flour and sugar, tongue peeking out from between his lips in exertion and concentration. The image caused something within his gut to twist and squeeze, a sensation he would later decide to have been altogether… not unpleasant.

Realizing he’d been quiet a little too long, Trowa scrambled for words.

“You did?” ...Shit.

Duo only laughed. “I did.”

It was Trowa’s turn to stare, the reality of the situation quickly dawning upon him.

“Duo,” he said, slightly breathless, “you baked that many cookies in one day?”

Duo snorted. “Don’t sound so surprised, Tro.”

“No, that’s not–” Trowa was unnerved at how deeply he’d dug himself into this particular hole. “I didn’t mean… That is…” He’d never been the best at using words to properly express himself, and was somewhat thankful when Duo quickly waved him off.

“Relax, man,” he assured, the pride in his smile giving way to something more akin to sympathy. “I did go a bit overboard, I admit.” There was a slight flush to Duo’s face now, and Trowa couldn’t tell whether it stemmed from embarrassment or some form of self-deprecation.

Taking hold of another friend’s long-lived advice, Trowa looked into his heart for the right words.

“Your efforts weren’t wasted,” he said honestly. “People have already been taking to the cookies since earlier this morning. Heero’s already gone and had three himself.” Trowa paused to appreciate Duo’s soft chuff of disbelief. “Most of them will likely be gone by the end of the day, and it’s no wonder – those cookies taste amazing.”

“…You had one?”

Trowa’s heart constricted at the restrained shyness in Duo’s tone. “I did.”

“I’m…” Duo’s face conveyed an odd fusion of satisfaction and anxiousness. “I’m glad you liked it.”

Trowa wanted to know more. He wanted to know where Duo learned to bake, to know if his interest in it was simply a hobby or something more passionate. He wanted Duo to know that he was brave for choosing to so generously share a talent of his with so many people. He wanted to try and offer something about himself in return.

Instead Trowa’s attention was unexpectedly pulled away by his desk phone ringing, the red light blaring on the display indicating it was a priority call. He smiled apologetically at Duo as he was forced to answer it, and by the time his attention was no longer occupied, Duo was no longer at his desk.

At the end of the day, Trowa made a show of balancing a stack of fifteen snickerdoodles in his hand as he left the building, quietly relishing the look of contented delight in Duo’s eyes as he passed.

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A.C. 202

Trowa was not usually one to bemoan having to work during major holidays; the past few years were proof enough. He had no yearly traditions, no distant relatives to catch up with, and – if he was honest with himself – he still felt that his time was better served treating such events as ordinary work days, particularly if it meant he could take the place of someone who actually wanted time off to cherish their family and the usual holiday festivities.

That being said, he would not have complained if his name had been left off the roster of candidates for this particular mission. With the sheer amount of deskwork he’d agreed to over the years, he’d nearly forgotten how brutal this time of year could be on Earth. It wasn’t that he didn’t experience the general harshness of winter each and every time he left either his apartment for work or left work for home, but it had been quite a while since he’d last been forced to endure it for a lengthy amount of time.

The vehicle they’d assigned him for the stakeout was a dated model, to put it lightly. Technically, the car’s heater was functional, but considering the weather it was currently going up against, Trowa wasn’t all too surprised when he discovered that its best efforts just weren’t good enough to surmount Mother Nature’s.

Trowa was slowly nearing the one-hour mark of the stakeout, and already the nerves deep within his skin were starting to scream.

The cold of Earth was nothing – should have been nothing. Trowa had endured it multiple times as a child, and the current snowstorm he was sitting in the middle of was nowhere near the worst he’d ever had to tolerate. Not by a long shot.

And nothing on Earth could ever hope to compare to the bitter cold of outer space.

And yet, Trowa was forced to admit that the overall conditions of this mission were doing no favors for his anxiety. He pulled the collar of his turtleneck sweater up to his ears for the umpteenth time and tugged the ends of the sleeves of his Preventers jacket down toward his gloved hands, steeling himself for what would likely end up being another several hours of discomfort.

The passenger side door unlocked and opened, announcing the arrival of his partner. Trowa turned, curious as to who had decided to subject themselves to hours of frozen hell alongside him, only to double-take in surprise as a familiar face entered the vehicle.

“Merry Christmas, Trowa!” Duo called over the consistent roar of icy wind. He quickly set something down on the dashboard before sitting down in the passenger seat and slamming the door shut. “Hope you asked for a mini vacation in the lowest circle of Hell, because that’s what you got!”

Recovering quickly, Trowa quipped back, “Well, I did want something I could share with somebody else.” He watched Duo as he settled in, noting that the other man had thoroughly prepared for the mission’s weather conditions: he wore a comfortable looking overcoat over his Preventers jacket, and wrapped around his neck was a long, red cashmere scarf. Trowa swiftly felt significantly underdressed and couldn’t help feeling discomfited as he recalled his earlier assumption that he would be able to tolerate the temperature well enough with the few things he had.

He pushed down the embarrassment and chose to address Duo again. “Was deskwork not monotonous enough for you?”

Duo shrugged. “Just figured I’d save you from dealing with some poor, irritable sap who’d rather be anywhere but parked in the middle of a blizzard with nothing to look at but some decrepit motel on Christmas Eve. You know, like the nice guy that I am.”

“I’m touched.”

“As you should be.” Duo reached out to what he’d placed on the dashboard – a cardboard drink carrier – and pulled it towards him. He pulled out a lidded paper cup and held it out to Trowa. “Here. Figured you’d appreciate this.”

Trowa perked up at the sight of it. “God yes, thank you,” he said gratefully. The thermos full of coffee he’d brought was already half empty and lukewarm; a fresh, hot replacement was more than welcome. He reached out to take it, relishing the heat bleeding through his gloves and into his hands, and sipped it slowly. The coffee was made just the way he liked it – black with only a hint of cream. Perfection.

“Trowa,” Duo said slowly, and Trowa turned to see the other man assessing him with narrowed eyes. “Are you cold?”

The sheepishness reared its head again. “I’m warm enough,” he tried, unsure how telling the truth would change the situation.

Duo was not impressed. “Yeah, tell that to your shaking hands,” he said pointedly. “Seriously, how are you not freezing? You’re only wearing two layers!”

“I…” Trowa started, already beginning to cave. “I just didn’t think. It’s not that bad, I can deal with it.” He regretted his attempted nonchalance when Duo’s lips thinned into a strict line and he rolled his eyes.

“You shouldn’t have to just ‘deal with it,’ Tro,” he chided, setting the carrier back on the dashboard. “I swear, you’re more emotionally masochistic than Quatre…” That last part was muttered so quietly that Trowa was sure it wasn’t intended for him to have heard it, but he failed to address it as his attention was quickly captured by the sight of Duo starting to unravel the scarf from his throat.

Duo Maxwell was the only person Trowa knew whose bitter hatred of the cold rivaled his own. He knew that much like himself, Duo could tolerate it if he absolutely had to, but if he had a choice in the matter he would gladly choose to be warm and comfortable. Duo had lost loved ones to remorseless and unrelenting cold, had survived through his childhood despite it, and so the sight of him even partially exposing himself to it for Trowa’s benefit stirred something frantic within his heart.

He found himself protesting despite the sentiment. “Duo, you don’t have to–”

“Too late, already happening,” Duo spoke over him, scarf already held in both hands. He leaned forward and looped the scarf over Trowa’s head in one smooth movement. As Duo pulled it around his shoulders, Trowa realized that the scarf was much wider than it had first looked – it draped over his shoulders and back almost like a shawl. Duo crossed the ends of the scarf and drew them back around Trowa’s neck a second time, gently tying them together and pulling the tasseled ends back over his shoulders so they partially covered his ears, his hands lightly brushing against Trowa’s cheeks as he did so.

“There,” Duo proclaimed in satisfaction, pulling back and admiring his work. “And before you start complaining, I will be fine, Tro. I’ve got a backup and everything.” He pulled his braided hair over one shoulder and moved to fling it around his neck with a flourish – only for it to be thwarted as it thumped anticlimactically against the headrest of his seat. A short laugh coaxed its way out of Trowa as Duo began manually winding his braid around his neck, a deliberately harried expression on his face.

“So,” Duo said, popping up the collar of his overcoat around his ears and removing his own cup from the cardboard carrier, “better?” He leaned back into his seat, looking at Trowa expectantly.

Warmth was already beginning to slowly spread throughout Trowa’s torso. He dipped his chin, allowing his nose to brush against the soft material. A faint scent filtered its way through the scarf and into his nose, one that Trowa had come to know as uniquely Duo’s. It was soft, a gently musky aroma lightly mingled with a hint of something pleasant that Trowa couldn’t quite put a name to. Being completely enveloped by it warmed him almost better than the scarf did.

“Yes,” Trowa admitted, settling further into Duo’s scarf as he pulled his coffee closer to his chest. He met Duo’s warm eyes with his own. “Much better.”

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A.C. 204

In the end, Trowa had prepared himself for the inevitable knock that his door received on this particular Christmas Eve.

He’d since “learned to relax” (as Duo had put it) where the holiday season was concerned, and two days off were two days off – regardless of whether or not said days off happened to land within the same timeframe as a major holiday. As much of a workaholic as Trowa admitted he could be, he appreciated having time to himself. If that meant spending Christmas at home for once doing fuck all, then so be it.

But Trowa knew that ultimately, the universe didn’t give a damn what time of year it was. If trouble was brewing that only he could stop, then he was going to suck it up and stop it.

He braced himself as he unlocked his front door and wrenched it open, fully expecting to be bombarded with an urgent appeal to volunteer his expertise for the Preventers’ newest cause, only to stop short at the sight of someone he hadn’t expected to see.

“Trowa!” Duo greeted enthusiastically, his face somewhat flushed. Trowa noted that the other was dressed casually in a thick red sweater and worn jeans – certainly not dressed for a mission – and was carrying at least three large, full paper bags in his hands. “A little birdie told me you’d be home today!”

“…Duo.” Trowa hoped that his reply sounded welcoming despite his genuine surprise. “I… What are you doing here?”

Duo’s posture was as nonchalant as ever, but Trowa could see it in his face that he was resisting the urge to avert his gaze.

“You didn’t think I’d let you spend Christmas alone, did you?” The response didn’t necessarily answer his question.

“I hadn’t realized you were given time off as well,” Trowa tried again, keeping his face neutral as he watched the other carefully.

Duo, ever the honest one, looked like he was fighting a particularly difficult inner battle. “I, uh… I wasn’t,” he finally confessed. At Trowa’s questioning look, he continued. “Not originally. But it’s fine! Some things happened and a few strings got pulled is all. We’re good!”

Trowa frowned. “None of those ‘strings’ were illegal, were they?” And by “illegal,” he really meant “traceable.”

Totally. Not. Illegal,” Duo assured. “Wufei may have a permanent stick up his ass when it comes to frivolity, but he’s still my bro when it counts – he volunteered for a mission that was initially intended to be assigned to me.”

“He did?” Trowa asked, eyes wide in astonishment. Wufei usually had the largest workload of any of the higher-level agents, and by choice at that. “After you asked him to?”

“Well… That’s the thing,” Duo said slowly, brows drawn down in thought. “I didn’t ask him to take it. He’d apparently talked to Une before I even knew the thing was on its way to me. Not sure if he realized it was mine or not, actually…” After a moment he seemed to dismiss his current train of thought, looking back up at Trowa with renewed cheer on his face. “But anyway, isn’t it great? Now I’ve got some time off and I thought I’d come and spend some of it with you!”

Trowa was still wrapping his head around the fact that he suddenly now had company and that said company was someone who had come to be one of his favorite people. He also quickly realized how underdressed he was compared to Duo – he was still dressed in a plain tank top and a pair of loose pajama pants, his usual sleepwear. He’d have to find a smooth way to excuse himself so he could change. Trowa wasn’t quite sure what he’d done recently to earn such a prize, but he certainly wasn’t going to complain.

He realized as Duo’s face started to fall that he still hadn’t responded and quickly struggled for words.

“I mean,” Duo started, beating Trowa to the punch, “we don’t have to. I just thought… Shit, you probably want some time to yourself for a change. I should have called first. Fuck, this was really presumptuous of me to just show up like this. I know I just wanted to surprise you, but still. Sorry, man, I’ll leave you alone and–”

“No!” Trowa felt as startled by his own outburst as Duo looked. “No. That’s not what… It just took me a second to, uh…” Full sentences were suddenly difficult to form. He stepped out of the doorway and gestured into his apartment. “Come in.”

Duo still looked unsure, so Trowa offered one more heartfelt word. “Please.”

It seemed to do the trick.

They’d quickly migrated to the island that separated the kitchen unit from the living area where Duo set down the bags he’d been caring. When Trowa made an inquiry regarding what the other had brought, Duo perked up immediately.

“Check it out!” he exclaimed, motioning Trowa to come closer for a look. “I’ve got enough ingredients to make snickerdoodles – I mean, assuming you’ve got butter, ‘cuz I totally forgot to grab some – uh, a couple of frozen pizzas, some champagne… oh! That’s your present, I shouldn’t spoil that…” Duo grabbed the bag in question and swiftly pushed it to the other side of the island, imploring Trowa with a look to not pay it any mind. “Uh… oh, and I found a couple of bad Christmas movies, and by that I mean they’re so bad that they’re actually pretty entertaining. We can watch them if you want.” Everything he’d brought pointed out and accounted for, he turned fully to face Trowa, an eager grin on his face. “So, what do you wanna do first?”

In the end they’d started with the cookies – there was indeed butter on hand in the fridge – and Trowa had taken the opportunity to change into something more presentable as Duo sorted out all of the ingredients. Trowa’s fresh clothes were promptly sullied with raw egg and cinnamon once they’d gotten started, and Trowa was soon presented with the image he’d briefly fantasized about years prior when he first learned that Duo liked to bake: though he was missing an apron, Duo laughing whilst caked in patches of sugar and flour was truly a sight to behold.

They began to watch one of the movies Duo had brought as the first batch of cookies baked, and it was just as entertainingly terrible as Duo had promised – complete with awful dubbing, a Santa Claus who lived on the moon, and Satan himself, of all things.

The second batch of snickerdoodles was put on hold in favor of cooking up one of the frozen pizzas. As they ate, Duo saw fit to gift Trowa with the knowledge of how he’d first gotten into baking: he’d been young, still adjusting to the first truly stable period in his life, and one of his beloved caretakers at that time had decided to make cookies as a Christmas surprise. Duo and the other orphans – Trowa had forced himself not to interrupt the story for clarification, instead making a mental note to possibly ask for further detail at another time – had been encouraged to participate in the activity, and now Duo took part in the occasional baking project as a way to revere said caretaker. It was a rather amusing and heartwarming tale.

Trowa only wished he had his own pleasant memories to share in return. But even if he couldn’t respond similarly, he could still bask in the warmth of Duo’s time, attention, and company – and silently sent out a mental thank-you to this “Sister Helen,” wherever she might be.

All in all, it was worlds better than anything Trowa would have ended up doing alone by himself.

The end of the day saw the two of them on Trowa’s meager couch, the second of Duo’s movies playing across from them. This one was somehow even more cringe-worthy than the first, though it didn’t seem as though either of them were paying much attention to it. Duo had ended up slouched somewhat against Trowa, steeped in the warmth of the blanket they were sharing between them and already starting to nod off despite the fact it wasn’t even eleven o’clock yet.

A particularly loud musical cue erupted from the movie that was playing and Duo jerked awake. Trowa chose not to comment on the occurrence, and after a moment Duo’s hand twitched where it lay unassumingly alongside Trowa’s.

“Hey,” Duo prompted, blinking blearily up at Trowa. “After midnight hits it’ll be Christmas and you can open your present.” His words slurred with lethargy; Trowa had to suppress a dopey grin. “Don’t forget, okay?”

Trowa nodded slowly, his mind wandering to the wrapped item stashed in his closet – the one he’d intended to bring to work with him once his time off was over.

“…I got you something, too,” he confessed softly. He was promptly rewarded with Duo’s tired yet authentic smile.

“Aww, really?” Duo reached up to pat his cheek. “You’re a fucking treasure, Trowa Barton.” With that, Duo let gravity completely settle his head onto Trowa’s shoulder, officially conking out with a dull sigh.

Trowa stilled for a moment, his face still warm and tingling from where Duo had touched it, a little unsure as to what action to take. This soft moment he found himself in, it was… nice. Incredibly nice. Slowly, he turned his hand in order to lightly grasp Duo’s, stilling once more when the other’s fingers briefly squeezed his own before relaxing again. Heat gradually filled Trowa as he ultimately gave into the urge to lean over and rest his head on top of Duo’s. According to the clock above the TV screen, it was a little over an hour and a half until midnight, and yet Trowa wasn’t worried about needing to wake Duo in the least. The man in question had chosen to spend his unexpected time off with him of all people; he wasn’t going to just disappear upon the first sign of daybreak.

It was with that thought in mind that Trowa allowed himself to drift off, the vague image of Santa Claus building toys for Martian children floating in front of his unfocused eyes. He could sleep easy knowing that Duo would still be beside him when he woke up.

They still had presents to open and champagne to drink, after all.

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A.C. 207

Trowa hadn’t seen Duo in almost two years.

An extended undercover mission had essentially wiped Duo off the faces of both Earth and the colonies, and outside those extremely rare days that Trowa would receive an encrypted text from an unknown number, at this point it felt almost as if Duo Maxwell had never existed at all. The trepidation Trowa had initially felt at the realization of what Duo was being sent into – a world of black market drugs and human trafficking, a world he’d since learned Duo had fought tooth and nail to escape – had slowly morphed into a numb anxiety that now hung over him like a relentless fog each and every day.

He sighed heavily as he fell into his seat and powered on his computer. His eyes fell upon the lion figurine he’d been gifted years prior, its head now adorned with a crown of rubber bands and paperclips. The sight only reminded Trowa that the holiday he’d slowly come to appreciate was just over a week away, and the only thing he’d been able to do lately was cross off dates on his calendar in the hopes that the next was one closer to the day of Duo’s return. Until that day finally came, Trowa would just have to remain patient.

The messages awaiting him in his inbox promised a long, tedious day. Trowa sighed again – dull days had become minefields when it came to losing his focus. He was going to just have to power through and hope for something – anything – to happen that would hold his attention until he could go home.

Trowa’s potential salvation eventually came after his lunch break, in the form of Wufei hovering at the side of Trowa’s desk. The man in question looked fairly apprehensive, his usual calm and confident demeanor nowhere to be found as he paced in tight, seemingly unconscious circles.

“Wufei?” he called cautiously as he neared. The other glanced up sharply, appearing relieved rather than startled at his presence.

“Trowa! There you are.” Though Wufei’s tone was composed, his body language was another story entirely – his eyes darted around as if to keep watch for unwanted onlookers and his general stance was tense as if anticipating a fight. “Look, I… This is a serious breach of protocol, but I honestly think it would be better to hear this from a friend than from the usual grapevine. I mean, considering–” A growing commotion quickly drowned Wufei out, and Trowa intuitively turned toward the source of it.

Shit,” Wufei hissed behind him. “Damn it. Trowa, sit down–”

But everything around Trowa had disappeared, all except for the sight before him at the far end of the bullpen.

Une was power walking towards her office, tailed by several agents. In the middle of them all was Duo, his gaze trained forward as Une talked at him, gait steady but oddly stiff. Elation reared its head first – Duo was back! He was alive! Yet as Trowa continued to watch the procession, realization quickly spread though him that all was not well. Une’s expression was grim. Duo’s stare, while steady, was hazy. His Preventers jacket – which he’d have had no reason to wear during any point over the duration of his mission, Trowa knew – was draped haphazardly over his shoulders.

Why…

Trowa.”

…There.

The side of Duo’s shirt, partially obscured by his Preventers jacket, was stained red.

Blood…?

Trowa attempted to move forward of his own accord only to come to a sudden stop as Wufei grabbed the back of his neck, forcing him to the side and down into his chair. His efforts to stand back up were prevented as Wufei placed his hands on his shoulders, fingers digging mercilessly into Trowa’s shoulder wells.

“Trowa, you listen to me,” Wufei implored, back bowed in order to keep their eyes level. “Duo is fine – a little roughed up perhaps, but he made it home. You don’t need to worry about him. It’s just that until the entire debriefing period has passed, Duo isn’t allowed to…” Wufei’s words dulled into a warped roar as a wave of pure relief slowly engulfed Trowa.

Duo was home. Duo was safe.

So why was it that the relief did nothing to quell his persisting anxiety?

Days passed. True to Wufei’s assertions, Duo was barely seen around the majority of Preventers headquarters. Very rarely would Trowa catch a glimpse of him entering Une’s office or being escorted into or out of the debriefing room. He was back to waiting, though this time the threat of Duo not coming back was long gone – Trowa had something new to stress over.

Having spent yet another Preventers Christmas Day luncheon alone at his desk, Trowa glanced over at Duo’s. When it had become apparent that the man’s mission would result in his absence for such a long time, Trowa had quickly decided to take up the liberty of maintaining the upkeep of his desk until his return. He’d unswervingly pushed back against the proposed idea to briefly reassign it to someone else – in his mind that had been practically the same as admitting that the mission Duo had been assigned to was essentially suicide. Thankfully the pitch had been almost immediately retracted.

Duo’s desk looked exactly the same as it had when the man in question had departed nearly two years prior, save for a single new addition.

It was what Trowa hoped would be an adequate answer to the gesture Duo had made to him eight years earlier. After so many years of soft encounters and opportunities to get to know each other in small, intimate increments, he’d come to realize just how much the other meant to him. So when Trowa had first seen the thing Christmastime of last year – nine months into Duo’s deliberate absence – and was quickly assaulted by heartfelt nostalgia and longing, he’d bought it without a second thought. It had now been sitting in front of Duo’s monitor for a full year, still yet unseen by the man it was intended for, and Trowa’s apprehension concerning Duo’s reaction to it had only kept growing with each passing day that followed Duo’s return.

Like the one Trowa had been given, the figurine depicted a lion and a lamb; rather than colorfully painted, this one was a faded hue of white throughout – a miniature marble statue. Aside from that, there was only one key difference between the two figurines that Trowa noted as important: while Trowa’s had the lion sitting at attention above the lamb between his paws, the one he’d placed on Duo’s desk featured the two resting closely together, the lamb cuddled up against the lion’s side. And instead of offering passive protection, the lion looked to be intentionally and closely guarding the lamb, his head turned down deliberately towards it – their noses lightly touching – and his tail curled around it protectively.

Trowa wasn’t quite sure how he’d hoped Duo would read into the thing once he saw it. All he knew is that he’d looked at it and immediately felt a sense of rightness. Maybe Duo would feel similarly.

It was late in the evening when Trowa finally decided to go home, fed up with another fruitless day of gazing longingly over at Duo’s empty desk. He’d resigned himself to a night of distant memories – ones filled with the faint tastes of cinnamon and champagne and the feeling of a wonderful heat curled against his side – when he was jerked swiftly back into reality by a voice he’d at one point thought he might never hear again.

“Trowa Barton, don’t you fucking move!”

His feet stuck to the floor like Gundanium weights as he stopped in the middle of the empty front lobby, mere feet from the front doors. His head snapped in the direction the irate shout had come from, freezing anew at the sight of Duo Maxwell charging straight at him, looking as if he’d sprinted straight through the bullpen and then some just to catch up. There was a look of scorching determination in his eyes, and before Trowa could find his voice Duo had barreled into him, arms coming around him in a vice-like grip, nearly toppling them both over.

Trowa managed to keep them both upright, beginning to steady himself as his hands curled themselves into Duo’s jacket, only for the world to briefly disappear as Duo reached up to roughly grab the back of his head and pull him harshly downwards.

The kiss was over before Trowa could completely register it – a flash of hurried warm pressure and uncoordinated clacking of teeth. His surroundings blurred around him, the smaller man in front of him the only grounding element in his vision. Duo’s mouth was moving rapidly in front of him – he was saying something – and Trowa gradually planted himself back into the moment.

“–might not ever get another chance after that clusterfuck,” Duo was babbling intensely, voice somewhere between a whisper and outright sobbing, “and I don’t think I’d ever forgive myself if I left you alone in this universe not knowing–” Trowa’s hands scrambled for Duo’s, still clinging to the back of his head.

“Duo,” he breathed, almost unwilling to believe what he was most certainly hearing.

“I just…” Duo finally paused, his chest heaving slightly. “I’d hoped that,” his glistening eyes met Trowa’s, imploring, “maybe you feel the same.”

An unfamiliar heat trembled beneath Trowa’s eyes. With a sudden, chary thought he reluctantly tilted his head back in order to look up at the ceiling directly above them, thankful to find that it was completely bare – he already knew well within his heart that Duo would never have thought to play a trick so cruel.

In front of him Duo laughed, choked and wet sounding but genuine. “Think again,” he assured. “I don’t need some stupid plant hanging over my head to make me wanna kiss you, Tro.”

Trowa was still gripping Duo’s hands in his own where they had come to rest between them, more than overwhelmed and wondering how exactly things had escalated so quickly to this point. Duo’s fingers squeezed resolutely around his, and Trowa slowly met his gaze once more.

“So, can I, uh…” Duo tried again, his hopeful smile watery and shaking. “Can I ask for this, Tro? Do you want this too?”

Did he want this?

Did he want–

His head ducked involuntarily, an odd tightness pushing against his sternum. It was suddenly all too much – too much good happening all too quickly – and the image of their entwined hands began to blur.

“Is it…” Trowa heard himself asking, the words barely a whisper. He sucked in a much needed breath through his nose. “Is it okay?

Duo’s fingers pulled away from his and brushed against his face. They came away wet, and Trowa realized he’d begun to cry.

“Trowa, sweetheart,” Duo was cooing, his voice so unexpectedly tender. “Of course it’s… Fuck, come here.”

Trowa’s knees started to buckle and they both quickly dropped to the floor, Duo encasing the other in his arms. Trowa clung to him greedily, his head a dead weight on Duo’s shoulder, heedless of their semipublic surroundings. Something bitter and ancient broke over his heart, heavy and threatening to bleed out into the rest of him – but then one of Duo’s hands was in his hair, nails dragging gently along his scalp in a pacifying rhythm, and the vicious sensation was already beginning to fade. Sweet, soft reassurances were being murmured to him – the bitterness was evaporating further, like water into the sun – and as time dragged on around the pair, Trowa soon found himself enveloped in a serene, almost numbing calmness.

“I do want it,” he confessed quietly into Duo’s neck. “Whether or not I deserve you, whatever this is… God, I want it so badly, but I don’t even know–”

“You have me, Trowa Barton,” Duo soothed, his voice a balm, “in whatever way you want me. You don’t have to know exactly how right now. But I’ve got you. I’m here. I’m here because I want to be.”

Steeling himself, Trowa pulled back to look at Duo for a moment, hesitating before slowly leaning back in. His breath stuttered in his throat as Duo eagerly met him halfway, and this kiss was unhurried and soft – so much softer than before – and by now Trowa’s earlier anxieties had faded away almost completely, outshone by Duo’s mere presence.

He had Duo.

They had each other.

Everything was going to be okay.

They could rest now.

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A.C. 211

A soft mewl pulled Duo’s attention away from his tablet.

He glanced over the edge of the couch at where Sultan was sitting. Having caught his notice, the cat sat up straighter, meowing more insistently.

Duo rolled his eyes. “You have food,” he drawled, eyes sliding back down to the device in his hands. “You can’t have eaten it all in the last ten minutes; I promise you’re not going to starve.” After a moment he saw the cat turn and leave the room out of the corner of his eye. He glanced up again and waited.

Sure enough, a soft thump came from kitchenette as Sultan inevitably flopped to the floor near his food dish, a low and mournful yowl slowly filling the apartment.

Duo chuckled to himself as he returned his attention to the catch-up email he’d been writing to Hilde. Sultan always gave up sooner the less attention he was paid when he was acting up. Duo had always found it hilarious – though the Turkish Angora had been a gift from Quatre to Trowa for his birthday the year prior, the purebred cat’s behavior too often reminded Duo of the common alley cats he’d grown up alongside as a child. He’d never deny that Sultan was smart as hell – sometimes scarily so – but it was when said smarts brought about manipulative antics he’d expect more from a human toddler than some pedigreed cat that he just couldn’t keep a straight face.

Silence filled the apartment once more as Sultan’s efforts died down, now broken only by the soft white noise of all-day Christmas specials emanating from the TV. Though it was the first time in a while he’d spent a Christmas Eve this quietly, Duo was comfortable. He resettled himself back against the couch, dipping his nose down into the neck of the large woolen sweater – one he’d borrowed from the bottom of the clothes hamper earlier that day. It had become one of his favorite ways to relax, lounging around in nothing but his boxer briefs and one of Trowa’s hoodies or sweaters; being completely engulfed by the other’s scent was immensely soothing, particularly when Trowa was away for more than a few days at a time.

The cushion next to him dipped marginally as Sultan hopped up onto it. Duo blinked in slight surprise as the cat considered his lap briefly before slowly climbing onto it and draping itself across his bare thighs. Trying not to let his delight manifest too physically, lest he startle his new cuddle buddy, Duo calmly lowered a hand to stroke gently along the cat’s silky back, earning him a steady purr. By no means were Duo and Sultan on unsteady terms with each other, but so far it had been an extremely rare thing for the cat to willingly cuddle with anyone but Trowa – clearly already deemed the cat’s favorite person after several months of bonding together. Perhaps that was why Duo currently found himself in this rare position – he probably reeked of Trowa after wearing his sweater all day.

He continued with his email one-handed, Sultan beginning to doze in his lap. The warm light from the scrap metal Christmas tree in the corner became more intense as late afternoon bled into evening. Familiar tunes drifted softly from the TV as another special’s title sequence started up. As Duo glanced up briefly in order to see what was now playing, he caught sight of two familiar, beloved figurines – displayed prominently amongst other meaningful tokens on the shelf directly above the TV screen – and smiled.

Down the hall and just out of sight from where Duo was sitting, something rattled within the front door and the locked deadbolt smoothly sprang loose.

Sultan perked up, ears swiveling toward the noise – Duo mentally mimicked him. There were only three others who held spare keys to their apartment. Both Heero and Wufei would always call or text before they visited, and Quatre’s usual good manners always had him knocking first before he eventually resorted to using the key (as he and Trowa would agree to leave him stranded on the doormat until he caved in). Which meant…

The front door lightly clicked open and somebody shuffled in. Something soft yet heavy thudded to the floor before the door was swung shut and the locks were reengaged.

A brief pause.

At the sound of the familiar gait against the hallway floor, Sultan was off Duo’s lap like a shot, chirping excitedly as he bolted out of the living area. Duo was only a couple of steps behind him, carefully tossing his tablet away as he followed after the eager cat. Turning the corner, he was greeted with the sight of Trowa muttering quiet hellos to Sultan, who’d leapt up onto the man and was now perched contentedly on one of his shoulders. Trowa dug his fingers compliantly into the base of the cat’s tail, earning him an earful of appreciative purrs as it rubbed its furry face into the side of his head.

Duo smiled brightly at the sight. “You got back early.”

Trowa’s expression softened further as their eyes met. He plucked Sultan from his shoulder and dropped him gently to the floor. His arms had barely opened before Duo stepped forward into them, snuggling resolutely into Trowa’s torso.

“Wanted to surprise you,” Trowa murmured against Duo’s forehead. His large hands were warm against the smaller man’s back.

“Consider me surprised,” Duo replied. His let his forehead rest against the hollow of the other man’s throat, content to simply stay pressed against his lover for a moment. Trowa didn’t seem to mind at all – he pulled Duo a little tighter against him, nose buried in his hair. Below them, Sultan continued to purr as he rubbed tirelessly against their legs.

Duo eventually pulled away, standing up on his toes in order to kiss Trowa properly, thankful when the taller man ducked his head to meet him halfway.

“Well, I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth,” Duo quipped as he stepped back, a satisfied grin on his face. “You look beat, though. Why don’t you go put away your shit and get settled into something more comfortable. Are you hungry? You want me to heat something up for you?”

“No, thank you,” Trowa said, politely waving him off. He turned and grabbed his duffel bag from where it lay by the front door, planting a kiss to Duo’s cheek as he ambled past him. “Go back to whatever it was you were doing. I’ll just be a minute.” Trowa walked off toward their bedroom, Sultan trotting after him, chirping anew.

Duo made his way back to the couch, the nerves beneath his skin fluttering in anticipation. Getting a taste of Trowa’s touch after having gone a few days without it was a rush in and of itself, one that lingered as he settled back down and picked his tablet back up.

He’d finally finished and sent off Hilde’s email by the time Trowa reappeared, dressed in a comfortable looking combination of loose shorts and a worn cotton sweatshirt. Sultan was following lazily behind him, no longer energetic now that the excitement of seeing his owner had passed. Trowa stretched his arms up over and behind his head, giving Duo a brief peek at his toned stomach as he shambled toward the couch. Duo bit his lip, attempting to hide his knowing smile as Trowa reached him. He couldn’t stop the laugh that bubbled out of him when Trowa, true to his prediction, bent down and scooped him up into his arms, cradling him for a moment as he turned to sit down in the same spot he’d just lifted Duo from. Duo was set down sideways in Trowa’s lap, his legs stretching across the neighboring cushion as he sank down between Trowa’s thighs.

Duo grinned unabashedly as Trowa’s strong arms wrapped around him, holding him securely to the larger man’s broad chest as a familiar nose nuzzled into the top of his head. Heat bled into his scalp as Trowa sighed in tired satisfaction. Across the room, Sultan blinked and yawned before turning away and wandering off, apparently no longer interested in his pair of humans.

“You sure you don’t want anything to eat?” Duo couldn’t help but offer again, unable to suppress the urge to nurture. “There’s some leftover ham in the fridge.”

“I’m good,” came the patient reassurance. “Just wanna hold you for a little while.”

Duo hummed in acquiescence. He absentmindedly began checking over some of the newer messages in his inbox. Trowa’s hands wandered aimlessly over Duo’s body, fingers brushing along his back, his thighs, occasionally through his hair. They sat together like that for a time, basking in the silent comfort of each others’ presence.

Trowa shifted against him and a pair of lightly chapped lips pressed against his temple.

“How have you been?” The inquiry was muttered into his skin.

“Pretty good,” Duo admitted. He tilted his head back in order to meet Trowa’s eyes. “Better now that you’re home.” A pleased noise rumbled in Trowa’s chest, the weary softness in his eyes melting into a familiar heat. Duo smiled knowingly, switching off his tablet and turning in order to abandon it completely on the coffee table. He shifted around until he was straddling the other’s lap, arms draped over Trowa’s shoulders.

Their noses brushed as Duo leaned in. “I missed you,” he whispered sincerely.

Trowa’s reply was warm against his mouth. “I missed you too.” Their lips met briefly in a fleeting kiss. “I missed you so much.”

Duo tilted his head in order to kiss Trowa deeply, teeth teasing his lower lip until it assented and earned him the soft press of Trowa’s tongue against his own. He could feel Trowa’s hands as they slid down to the backs of his spread thighs, tugging him even closer and ensuring his hips were seated snugly against the body beneath him. The action gently pressed his groin against Trowa’s stomach; Duo groaned into his lover’s mouth, unable to keep himself from lightly grinding into the firmness of Trowa’s belly.

“Trowa,” he breathed. “Tro– ah!” One of Trowa’s hands had wormed its way beneath the hem of his borrowed sweater, dragging blunt fingernails sensually along the skin of his back. Duo’s spine arched in response, his head tilting back in unexpected pleasure. Trowa’s mouth quickly latched onto his exposed throat, suckling unhurried kisses into his sensitive skin. His other hand shifted to gently slide along the curve of Duo’s rear, holding the smaller man in place as he began to rock his hips upwards in slow, gentle thrusts.

Duo’s breath hitched, his own hands finding purchase on Trowa’s shoulders, fingers digging in as much as the other’s muscles would allow. The hand inside his sweater had traveled around to his chest now; the pad of Trowa’s thumb brushed over one of his nipples – once, twice, and again and again – gently teasing it until was hard and oversensitive. Duo whined, squirming on Trowa’s lap as much as the other man’s grip would allow. Trowa was lazily tonguing at his pulse, covering the tender spot in tiny, intimate kitten licks. The hand on his rear teased at the hem of his boxer briefs, fingers slipping just inside – too much, too much

“H-Hey, wait,” Duo managed, tapping a hand twice against Trowa’s shoulder, pleased when his lover ceased his actions immediately. Trowa’s hands and mouth were off him in an instant – his eyes, though slightly glazed over, held quiet concern in them.

Duo caught his breath and grinned mischievously. “Bedroom?”

A beat was all it took for Trowa to understand. He carefully pushed himself up as Duo climbed somewhat awkwardly off him. Duo quickly turned the TV off, and with a glance around the room he noted with some satisfaction that Sultan had retreated to a sheltered spot beneath the Christmas tree, curled up into a fluffy gray ball and out like a light. Good.

They managed to make it to their bedroom in one piece, though Trowa had lagged behind somewhat. As Duo shut the door behind him, Trowa wasted no time in stumbling over to the bed, all but slumping over onto it without bothering to pull down the comforter. Duo watched as he then attempted to remove his sweatshirt, only to get it caught around his head. A defeated, muffled call for help had Duo bursting into laughter before he moved to help free the other; Trowa’s rewarding smile was tired and sheepish. Duo promptly took off his own sweater, tossing it to the floor as he pushed Trowa back onto the bed and straddled him, intending to continue where they’d left off.

Duo took his turn with care, showering Trowa’s body with affectionate touches, and his mouth and neck with soft kisses. Trowa was completely pliant beneath him, one hand curled around the back of Duo’s neck and the other resting encouragingly along his back. His soft sounds of pleasure slowly spurred Duo on.

As Duo’s hands neared the waistband of Trowa’s shorts, however, he was stopped.

“…D’o.” The low, unintelligible utterance was accompanied by a large hand gently grabbing onto Duo’s wrist. “Duo.”

Duo sat up, curling an assuring hand around Trowa’s. His lover looked barely awake now, the lids of his eyes hanging dangerously low.

“I wan’ to, I really do…” Trowa slurred out, speaking slowly. “But I don’ think I c’n… I m’ght – I might fall ‘sleep.”

Duo felt his heart swelling at the sight – there were fewer things more adorable than a sleepy Trowa.

“That’s fine, sweetheart,” he whispered, moving to stretch out alongside Trowa, more than happy to surrender himself to an early night. “We’ll just go to sleep then.”

“M’kay,” Trowa sighed, immediately placated. Duo stretched his leg out in order to hook his foot under the folded quilt at the bottom of the bed, tugging it within reach so that he could spread it out over the two of them. As he began to settle in, Trowa stirred.

“Duo…?” He sounded oddly vulnerable in his current state.

“Yeah, Tro?”

“I’m…” Trowa yawned. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Warmth tingled in Duo’s chest. “I’m glad you’re here too, sweetheart.” He curled in close to Trowa, lightly brushing their foreheads together and letting their breaths mingle, thankful to every good force in the universe for this man he was allowed to call his.

In a final act of consciousness, Trowa lethargically pulled up one of his hands between them, latching onto one of Duo’s and giving it a languid squeeze.

His eyes shut peacefully, a smile ghosting across his lips as he drifted off.

“…L’ve you.”

Duo sighed contentedly, his own eyes steadily fluttering shut. “I love you too, Tro. Sleep well.”