by brooklinegirl



Summary: Itís Christmas, and I need to be okay, need to be fine, need to be strong and sure and here. But Iím smoking too much, though Iím trying to stop, and drinking too much, though Iím trying to stop that as well.

Dedicated with love to DC and Mel, Christmas, 2003. I couldnít get my act together enough to mail a present, but this was written for the two of you. Um, itís really kind of depressing, but letís just say IOU one PWP in the New Year, okay? Itís up to you if you want me to post this to the list - itís your gift. J

Kudos need to be given to SnowFlake, who beta-ed this without hesitation several times (the final time being about 4:15 AM my time ), even though I was desperately IMing her last minute each time, begging for her assistance. Really, to be quite sincere, this is a gift from the both of us, since it would never, never have been completed without her encouragement, nor would it have been anywhere near this quality without her suggestions, fixes, and questions. She is my beta extraordinaire.


Itís Christmas, and I need to be okay, need to be fine, need to be strong and sure and here. But Iím smoking too much, though Iím trying to stop, and drinking too much, though Iím trying to stop that as well, and I know Zeke worries about me, worries about where I go when Iím somewhere lost in my head. It happens, a lot, getting lost like that, even now, when I'm right here beside him, his arm warm around me, and I'm supposed to be happy.

So I try to pull myself back, try to focus, to smile, to be content, at least, if not exactly merry. Because I should be content, shouldnít I, to be here instead of there? To have made it back in one piece, though not unscathed. Zeke and I, the both of us, carry scars deep inside where youíd think theyíd be easy to hide. Maybe they are easy to hide, from the world, from the ones who werenít there, from the ones who donít know. Looking at me, you'd think I was okay. I can be okay. But Zeke sees right through it to the heart of me. And he knows Iím hurting, and he even probably understands why.

The problem is, we know each other too damn well. Heís hurting too, I know that for sure. The worry lines around his eyes are deep, especially when he watches me, which he does a lot, when he thinks I donít see it. And he's careful about touching me, when he shouldn't have to be careful anymore. I've never done anything to make him think I don't want his touch; at least, nothing on purpose. But still, there's a slight hesitation before he lays his hands on me, a quick judge of how okay it's going to be. So I must be doing something. Heís always been too good at reading me.

But heís Zeke, so he keeps moving; itís how he handles it. He keeps moving, and living, and trying to give me the space and the time to work it through myself. And the smile he gives me is quick and itís sure, even if heís not able to make it especially merry himself.

I hate myself for wallowing in this, for being so selfish, when heís going through a lot of the same stuff. But he doesn't let it swallow him; he can keep it at bay somehow, and handle being here. Maybe itís that heíd done it for longer, been removed from the world and been a soldier for so long. I think a lot, lately, of what he said about those Christmases he spent in the service; how he felt deep inside, how he felt real and useful, that he was out there protecting his country and the people he loved and how that was what he was all about.

I wish I could let him protect me. I wish I could let him have even that much.

He brought home a tree the other night, carried it in over his shoulder and put it in the stand with such pride, youíd have thought he went out and cut it down himself. Now the living room smells like pine and winter and Christmas, and it should put me in the spirit, should make it all a little easier. I try, and he knows it. We spent the evening decorating the tree, with a fire burning in the fireplace and music playing. We used too much tinsel and drank too much wine, and now, by the end of the evening, I am blurrily happy. He slings his arm around me as we collapse on the couch. I lean close and breathe in that smell, of Zeke and wine and Christmas. I tilt my head to look at him, and heís watching me, a small smile on his face.

When he leans in to kiss me, I let him. Soft, easy. Too often now our lovemaking smacks of desperation, of him trying to keep me here, of me trying to find my way back home. I know that this should be enough, being here with him. Safe. Him loving me so much. This is what I was looking for back there, this is what I dreamed of during those too-long, too-dark nights in Vietnam. How selfish is it of me, for this to not be enough, when it should be everything Iíve ever wanted?

Itís not him, and he knows that. I donít think that makes it any better. Might make it worse, actually. If it was him, if it was something he was doing, then he could maybe fix it. Do something differently, or stop doing something, or somehow change.

Maybe it would be simpler if he could believe that I donít actually love him. Then, maybe, there could be a proper sort of break. Zeke's a determined guy, doesn't give up the fight easily, but he's not one for lost causes; he won't batter himself up against a wall he knows will never break. I know that, and I know I should be doing something to fix it here, to make it right. Need to get past myself, get out of my own way. It's not that complicated, or shouldn't be: we made it home, and now it should be easy.

So why the hell do I feel so thinly stretched that I think I might break at any moment?

The problem is, I do love Zeke, and he knows it. Times like this itís real easy to see. All of this is easy sometimes - my walls fall without me even really being aware of it. The tension in my shoulders eases and I think I can do this, can relax here with Zeke and not think so much, not get so lost in my head, can just be, enjoy, fucking appreciate what I have.

It should be easy like this all the time. I let myself settle back on the couch. The lights from the tree and the fire cast jumping shadows in the dim room, and here on the couch, with Zekeís arm solidly around me, I feel - safe. Feel connected. I want to be here, with him, I do, it's just that, at the same time, I feel like I want to be somewhere far away. Not just from him, but from all of this. The warmth, the love, this whole place. Not that I want to be back in Vietnam - that's not it. I know there are still men - boys, really - being killed over there, men that could use the leadership, the experience, that both Zeke and I have.

But honestly, we served our time, served more time than we should have, probably, got caught up in it over there, like it was our war. Not the war the government was fighting, but the war to keep these men alive against some really bad odds. It's hard to stop doing what we did over there, hard to stop being the one who's in charge. Even though you're waging an impossible battle, one you can never win. Even though these kids, these men, keep dying under your command, and you know they're going to die, you see it over and over again. And even if they don't die, even if they somehow make it, they're different, they're older. They're not kids anymore, and even the most fresh-faced boy that I met over there had old, old eyes before too very long.

If they managed to live long enough, they'd get real old, real fast. Old and tired, and these were the young ones out there. What does that make me? What does that make Zeke?

Feels sometimes like we lived too long, like we've done our tour, not just in the war, but in life. That it took too much out of us - out of me, really - and it's hard, it's really hard to think about all the years there are left to live.

Zeke nudges his hand against my shoulder, and I blink at him. Realize I got lost again. This is Christmas. I should be here for him. I tilt my head back against his shoulder, lean up to kiss him again. His lips are warm against mine. I feel that warmth in my chest, and it feels good. I edge closer on the couch, turning, kiss him with more intent behind it. I feel his breath quicken; he likes this. Likes that I'm focused on him. Finally. Christ. I am such a selfish fucking bastard.

I pull back slowly, run my hand down his shoulder, over his chest, feel it move as he breathes. He reaches towards me, gently taking my glasses off and putting them on the coffee table. I'd forgotten I even had them on. He hesitates for a moment, watching me, then puts his hand behind my neck, pulls me forward, kisses me so sweet.

I press closer, shifting on the couch, kissing him, still slow, thorough. Not looking to get lost in this, looking to get centered in this. He murmurs my name under his breath in between kisses. We're both breathing slightly fast when I pull away from his mouth slowly, and his eyes are dark, lidded, watching me, waiting to see what I'll do next. Like he's afraid to push me.

I can't blame him, really. I'm sort of afraid of what will happen if I'm pushed.

I'm resting against him on the couch, the breadth and length of him solid, secure next to me. Heís holding me gently. His eyes are open, looking at me. I'm shaking, a little, and that surprises me. I shut my eyes, tell myself to just breathe, and tilt my head toward him.

He says, "Hey." His hand tightens on my shoulder. "You all right?"

In response, I slide off the couch, pull him to his feet. The heat from the fire makes the room very warm, and I tug him forward, towards the bedroom. He follows me, stumbling a little as he tries to hold onto me, tries to kiss me even as we walk. I feel a pang of guilt. He shouldn't be this anxious, this surprised, this happy over a show of affection. That's my fault; I've made it this way. My moods change too quickly for me to keep up with; how he deals with it, I honestly don't know. He's been putting up with me for a long time now. I guess he has his ways. He always has. That quick smile, even when we were back there, had to come from somewhere.

Heís strong, is what it is. A well of strength that I know heís more than willing to share with me, only Iím not willing to take it. Iím not weak. I need to figure out how to stand on my own here. He pushes me only so far, lets me know that he loves me, hangs onto me, but tries so hard not to hang on too tight. And he fights back when I yell at him, when Iím unreasonable and furious. But itís not satisfying, because itís not him that Iím mad at.

This isnít fair to him. Here, now, together, he shouldnít have to fight so much to get a chance to show me he loves me. He shouldn't have to wait so long for me to be able to show him how much I love him.

And I do love him; it rests like a burning ache in my chest, how much I love him. That lends itself to the desperation that has been so much a part of us lately - how I love him, but how that gets sort of lost inside me. It gets tangled in the other stuff going on in there, all this complicated stuff, and this, this real easy thing, this love I have for Zeke, that I've carried with me for so damn long, longer than I've been able to put words to it - that gets lost, and I get lost trying to figure out why.

I try to bring myself into focus. I wonít do this tonight. Iím determined to stay here tonight. The bedroom is dim, the moonlight coming through the windows giving us enough light to see by. I let him pull me into his arms, and when he kisses me, deep, that feeling in my chest lessens a little, feels more like how it used to, like it's just that center of love I have for him. He has his arms around me, holding me tight, and I drape my arms around his neck, let him kiss me for as long as he wants.

When we move to the bed, he covers me, his body hot and heavy over me, warm like a blanket. He touches me so gently, becoming more sure as my body responds to him. I'm arching into his touch, but he still moves slowly. His tongue is hot against my skin, his hands calloused but gentle as they trace their way over my body. He makes love to me gently, no rush, taking his time, and I can see in his eyes how even this makes him cautious, that heís wondering what implications it will have.

Iím trying, here, trying very hard to be all right. It doesnít work very well, but I am trying. It works for a while, enough for this to be like old times, for this to be like it was, when we first got back, and I let myself think that it might just be okay, that it might just be enough. I love the feel of this, the heavy weight of him over me, the way he spoons up behind me, pulls me close to him. Heís got his hand over my chest, and his head against the back of my neck. I can feel him breathing me in, and I reach up and weave my fingers through his as they rest on my chest.

I turn over, so I can face him, so I can see him, can let him see me. I look at the wrinkles next to his eyes, and I love that, love that I've seen him grow older, seen him survive. He is so much a part of my life, and I should feel lucky, lucky to have this, him, here with me. Should feel lucky and not lost.

I roll back a little, turn my head for a kiss. His lips are soft against mine and his eyes are tired, now, sleepy; I know it takes a lot out of him, too, just getting through the day without me making it more complicated. I wish I had control over this. Wish I had control at all. Wish I could be all here for him.

A bigger part of me sort of wishes I could be away from all this. Remove myself because I can't stop hurting him. I want to, but there's just this part of me, that while I know this should be enough, should be more than I should have ever, ever hoped for, there is always that part of me inside, sort of not really here. Sort of hurting all the time, sort of keeping myself away from him, and he knows it. He recognizes that in me, and he tries to coax me out, tries to keep me here, all here, really and truly here - but even Zeke can't bring me all the way back.

I think itís because I don't even know who I am anymore. I sometimes think that I never did. There are huge parts of me that are missing and it feels like I missed a window of opportunity here, a chance to be normal, to be who I was supposed to be when this whole life started. Because I lost everything that mattered; I lost my mother, I never had my father, and then when I tried to find my own path I lost myself. Maybe. Over there.

Zeke's eyes have slipped shut, though I know he's still awake, because his hand drifts down my shoulder, slides across my stomach. Holding onto me, and you know, it's not all bad, because it makes me feel safe, that he's holding on. Keeping watch over me, even while he sleeps. Right now, I like this. Right now, I need this.

Itís not this difficult all the time. Itís a hard time of year, and Zeke and I both tell ourselves that itís going to get better. That we just have to get through this, and then it might get better. Who knows? That might even be true, we might just stand a chance. Itís just that, even when itís easier than this, thereís a feeling in the back of my head, that Iím just sort of pacing the cage. That time is creeping by, and Iím just waiting it out.

And all this killing time? Itís killing me.

So Iím going to hold onto this. Just for right now. Just keep a hold of his hand in mine, keep a hold of how much he loves me, keep a hold of the fact that I feel warm right now, for the first time in a damn long time, and maybe for right now, that has to be enough.

Maybe, right now, that is enough.


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