Author's Note: The full version of this fanfiction can be found uncensored on Livejournal.

Once you get far enough beyond the particles, you reach a place where the dividing line between those who are and those who were isn't quite so clear.

When you get that far out, though, it's hard to remember who you are, much less who you were. All you remember is that you're still here because people in the real world, where things are solid and there are shadows as well as light, still need you. And you still need to know that they're safe.

Some of them are harder to reach out to than others. One is closed off to everyone, difficult to touch, but you can reach in a little and sometimes feel him reaching back. (Setsuna, back when there were names.) Another is closed off in a different way, but to you more than anyone this time. (Lyle.) It doesn't matter as long as he's safe, but sometimes it seems like he's a little too close to the others to be safe--

Another one, this one reaching to you more strongly than you reach to him. You don't really mind, though, or wouldn't, if you could.

It had been hours since Setsuna had tested the Twin Drives, and Tieria could still feel GN particles in the air. The initial effects had worn off, though, and he wasn't sure whether to be grateful or not for it. That sudden sense of connection had been alarming and intrusive, but at the same time it felt like something he'd missed. It made him hesitate when he locked the door to his room before sleep, irrationally reluctant to close himself off like that.

The recollection of Saji's arrival during the last time he'd become lost on the Ptolemy eliminated that hesitance.

Tieria dimmed the lights to an almost imperceptible glow, leaving only the faintest of shadows. He had once shut the lights off entirely when he slept and switched them on at full intensity when he woke, but he'd found an appreciation for the softer in-betweens since then. Records of Lockon's room on the previous Ptolemy had indicated a similar pattern.

In that almost-absence of light, Tieria thought he could see something sparkling a little as he lay down. That sense of connection seized him again, for just a moment. Even knowing it was absurd, he lifted a hand and reached out--

--and nothing happened, of course. He hadn't expected anything to, after all. What could have come from such a gesture? Tieria made himself dismiss the thought, and he went to sleep.

Reality hit like--something he didn't have the metaphor to describe at the moment. He stumbled in the sudden darkness, so unfamiliar after where and what he'd been, fell back against a wall with a sharp thump, and dropped to his knees in surprise. Someone else moved swiftly in the darkness. That was good; it would be much worse to be back here alone. Lights snapped back on, making things just a little less first. Then suddenly things got a lot more strange.

Tieria. That was who he was looking at; people had names here. Tieria was wearing a long nightgown, perfectly plain save for the fact that it was a vibrant shade of lavender. In one hand he had a gun, and it was pointed right at him. That lasted a fraction of a second. Then Tieria dropped the gun, suddenly frozen in place, his breath catching too loudly.

Something else flickered back into his mind: a name of his own. No, two names. But only one of them seemed appropriate to use around Tieria.

"Lockon Stratos," Tieria said. His voice barely seemed to make it out of his throat, and his gaze went momentarily distant. "I'm not dreaming. What's happening...?"

Lockon found his own voice, remembered how to speak. "Let's start with the easy things, Tieria. Can you find me some clothes?" It was a concrete, physical task, clearly defined; Tieria needed that right now. Once he could pull himself back together, they could try to figure out what had just happened. This was the first fully-formed thought Lockon had had in some time. He wasn't sure how long.

"Of course," Tieria said. He strode over to a cabinet and pulled a door open, then took out a pair of very purple pants. After a moment's dismayed pause, and a dissatisfied look down at the pants, he neatly tore a split in each leg that ran halfway up. "They aren't the right size."

"That's all right," Lockon said. He had a feeling he couldn't quite pin down that he wouldn't be here for long. The other times were trickling back to his memory now, and he could recall that he hadn't been here long then other. A few minutes to encourage Tieria when he needed it, twice (how far apart had those times been? He didn't know, couldn't tell). About the same time to hold Feldt when she'd been struggling not to cry on the anniversary of some death (her parents' again, or someone else's now?). And he'd sat in silence with Setsuna in some dreams, he was sure, although he hadn't yet been able to find the words to say--but those hadn't lasted long either. He hadn't been here then the way he was now, but he figured some of the same rules still applied. Rather than say all that just yet, though, he simply took the offered pants and finally remembered to get to his feet before pulling them on. "Thanks."

Tieria only stared at him with that same helpless expression, and for a moment, Lockon was at a loss. He'd never seen someone look quite like that before, and as good as he was about knowing what to do with Tieria, he wasn't entirely sure what it meant, or why it appealed so much to have it directed at him. For now, he decided to keep Tieria talking about simple, concrete things. "Hey, Tieria," he said. "Why a nightgown, and in that color?"

Tieria seized on the opportunity. "It's the most comfortable configuration for nightwear," he said. "However, a darker purple failed to take well to the fabric, so a shade classified as lilac was used instead."

"Lilac, huh?" Lockon said. "Why purple at all?"

Tieria seemed recovered enough for the moment, because he looked at Lockon as if the very question was ridiculous. "Purple is the color of my uniform and flight suit," he said. "This should match as well."

Lockon stifled a laugh, but he couldn't hide the inevitable smile.

Tieria stiffened a little and struggled not to look too flustered, but he still seemed more together than before. "There isn't anything funny, Lockon. You shouldn't waste time here. I'll wake the rest of the crew, and--" He cut off there, his mouth still open, because Lockon had grabbed his hand.

It felt a little strange to Lockon too, and after a moment he remembered why: he usually wore gloves. He had usually worn gloves; he didn't usually do anything anymore. But his own hand bare against Tieria's was a bit odd all the same. After a moment, he realized that he should have been wearing an eyepatch too, and that wasn't there. Maybe that explained something of Tieria's troubled look. "Don't worry about it," he said. "I'm not wasting time. But if you want me to..." As it happened, he found himself oddly reluctant to see the others. As much as he wanted to reach Setsuna, he didn't know if he could just yet. And though he couldn't say exactly why, he had a gut feeling there was someone else here he wasn't ready to meet just yet. Still, he needed to at least try to ease Tieria's worries. Lockon headed for the exit of the room, Tieria still standing almost motionless by the bed.

He didn't even make it to the door. As he took the last step and reached out for it, Lockon felt himself begin to fade out, felt the quiet light start to pull him back. His outstretched fingers grew insubstantial and glittery. He hesitated then, not sure whether he wanted to resist or not.

Then suddenly he felt Tieria approaching at a run, Tieria reaching out and taking hold of his arm. "Lockon--" The air around them sparkled, and Lockon felt something else from Tieria as well. He could barely describe it: longing washed over him, tempered with gratitude and something else he really couldn't describe.

He resolidified. The two of them stood there in silence for a while. Tieria looked stricken, but Lockon didn't know what to say to make it better. Finally, Tieria released his arm and took a step back, but only a small one. "It's the GN particles," he said. It was clearly an effort for him to keep his voice from shaking. "As well as something I did. But they'll drop below a critical level eventually, and whatever I'm doing will be meaningless."

"That's not the right way to put it," Lockon said. "It won't be meaningless. It just won't keep me here." He wasn't sure just what the GN particles were doing, or why there were enough to do this at all, but it seemed to make sense. He had a faint memory, clearer than anything else from the time he'd been in the light but still fluid compared to reality, of something Setsuna had done that would explain it. That was enough.

"It won't be enough," Tieria said. "Lockon, when you were fading just now--" He stopped for a moment, and Lockon realized that whatever had tied them together briefly then, it hadn't flowed just from Tieria to him. Something had gone the other way too. Tieria shook his head slightly and didn't pursue the topic again just yet. "However, since you are only drawn from the GN particles..." He reached up and rested his palm against the right side of Lockon's face, over where his eye had been. A moment of concentration, and Tieria pulled his hand away.

Lockon found himself blinking, then opening both eyes. He smiled. "Thanks, Tieria."

"It doesn't matter anymore," Tieria said. In stereo vision, Lockon could make out changes to Tieria's expressions that he hadn't noticed before: a gentling around his eyes, a new flexibility to his mouth. "Lockon, why doesn't it upset you that you can't stay?"

So that was what had gone from him to Tieria in that moment. Lockon lifted a hand to push hair away from the right side of his face, where it hadn't mattered before. Instead of saying anything just yet, he headed back to the bed and sat down. Tieria followed him like a shadow, not daring to risk him again, but when he sat down, there was still a space between them. For a moment, though not entirely sure why he hesitated, Lockon took advantage of that space to study Tieria's face, suddenly curious how much of himself was there now, and how much was something new and better.

"I'm done here, Tieria," he finally said. "You guys and my brother can take over all right from here." Saying that hurt on some level, because suddenly he couldn't deny to himself any longer that Lyle was here, fighting with Celestial Being, even if he didn't know how he knew it. But it wasn't his place to stop that anymore. He'd had his chance to make things right, and he hadn't done a good enough job. Trying again wouldn't accomplish anything--and he didn't want to.

It was a relief to know he could leave it in the hands of Setsuna and the others.

Tieria found himself fighting tears. It was so much harder to stay in control of himself with Lockon impossibly this close. In the end, though, he won against that ache rising from the top of his chest, and he said, "That's absurd. It's irrelevant whether we can or can't accomplish the mission without you. You should be here. You've done more than enough for us."

Lockon didn't say anything, but he smiled apologetically. Tieria still found expressions difficult, but this one he could read easily enough.

Still studying him, Lockon tilted his head a little to one side. His hair trailed against his bare shoulders, and Tieria felt that ache renew itself, but different now, and less identifiable. Something about watching Lockon move in those small and human ways satisfied him irrationally. He wanted to keep watching. "Lockon," he said, and the words came out simpler and rawer than he'd intended them. "I need you to stay." But then, there'd been nothing else he could say.

Lockon frowned, his smile flattening out into an unimpressed line. "Tieria," he said, the softness in his voice gone stern. "What year is it?"

"It's 2312. Lockon, why--"

"If you need me so much," he said, "what have you been doing since 2308?"

Tieria shut his mouth. After a little while, he said, "I was rebuilding Celestial Being. But I did it for you."

"I guess that means I should thank you again," Lockon said. "But no matter who it was for, you did it all right without me."

Tieria blinked, and he struggled harder than before to hold back tears.

Lockon's expression softened a little bit. "Well, I can't really blame you for saying that, all the same. It's a normal thing to say, in this kind of situation. But you'll be all right."

Somehow that stopped the tears, and Tieria was grateful, although he didn't know how he could be more grateful to Lockon. He wondered if that was what the new feelings flickering through him were: the overflow of too much gratitude. "I'll continue to try," he said. "To make my own path."

Lockon grinned. "I know. Or you wouldn't still be a part of Celestial Being."

Not giving himself the chance to rethink what he was about to do, Tieria stood up, and as Lockon watched curiously, he sat down again, this time close enough to Lockon that they were touching. "One moment," he said, and then he lay his head down on Lockon's shoulder, up against his chin and throat, and he closed his eyes.

For that one moment, it didn't seem so bad that Lockon would leave again, or that the mission wasn't complete and he was still cut off from Veda. For just a little while, he had that sense of connection again, and it felt right.

Lockon blinked down at Tieria's head on his shoulder. He'd expected Tieria to do something cute and vulnerable, because that was what he did now, but he wasn't entirely sure where that had come from. He reached up to rest a hand on Tieria's head, and it hit him then: somehow, if only for a little while, Tieria had called him back from the dead. He wasn't sure what to make of it, but suddenly he was grateful: not so much for the chance to be here again as for the fact that Tieria cared that much. Or was grateful the right word? He felt responsible, but that wasn't right, it made it sound like what he'd done for Tieria was a chore. It never had been.

It was selfish of him to think that way, to be glad that Tieria wanted him here, when he'd be gone again soon. But all he could do about it was give Tieria as much as he could while he was still here.

Tieria shook him out of those thoughts by finally lifting his head. "I didn't mean to stay that way for so long," he said. He was smiling.

With some small surprise, Lockon realized that even if he didn't want to stay, there were things about this world that he had missed, or would have if he'd been there enough to miss them. He didn't miss smiling any more than he missed breathing, but he missed seeing other people smile. From some people, it was especially gratifying. "Don't worry," he said. "I didn't mind."

Tieria didn't say anything, but he leaned against Lockon again, this time touching his forehead to Lockon's temple. He pressed a little closer, and for a moment his mouth touched Lockon's cheek. Then he drew back.

Lockon looked at him uncertainly. "Tieria?" He couldn't take his gaze off Tieria's face; he'd never seen anyone look so vulnerable before.

"I missed you," Tieria said, his voice low and careful. "Now that you are here for a little while, I kissed you. It's something humans do."

"You're right about that," Lockon said. All of a sudden this, the two of them here next to each other together, seemed bigger and stranger than he'd thought. He was no longer sure of his footing with Tieria, and this had trouble on it. And yet--

That hadn't even really been a kiss. Tieria deserved to know how to do it. Lockon reached out and held a hand to one side of Tieria's face, tilting the other side towards him. "That wasn't really how you do it," he explained. "It's all right if I show you, isn't it?"

"Yes," Tieria said.

Lockon leaned in and planted a row of small kisses along the line of his jaw. This close, he could feel and hear it when Tieria's chest shook from the effort of controlling his breathing. He pulled away again, looking at Tieria with more open curiosity than he'd usually let himself show in the past. It had never occurred to him to wonder if Tieria was capable of that kind of desire--if that was even what this was.

It had also never occurred to him that Tieria was attractive, in that fine and androgynous way; after a few seconds he realized that even now it only occurred to him as an after-the-fact explanation. Maybe he only wanted to do this because Tieria was pretty: if that were the case, he should back off and not take advantage of him. But that wasn't the case. Tieria's weird beauty didn't really matter. What mattered was the way he acted--and the way he looked at Lockon now, those hesitant eyes all earnest longing.

"Lockon," he said. "Should I try again?"

"Sure, if you want to."

Tieria leaned forward, hesitated again with his face very close to Lockon's, and then pressed their mouths together, still intensely awkward. Lockon reached out and settled his arm around Tieria's shoulders, then kissed back, trying not to overwhelm him into submission. For now, it would be nice if Tieria could lead. But Tieria kissed with such stiff, measured, nervous rhythm: he'd keep his lips up against Lockon's for two seconds, then pull the tiniest bit away, wait half a second, kiss for a second, pull away, and start the pattern again. It was incredibly charming. The temptation to take over and lead him into a more natural rhythm was difficult to resist. Then Tieria settled his palms flat against Lockon's upper chest, and he gave up resisting. Lockon opened his mouth and started to press his tongue between Tieria's lips.

Tieria pulled back before he could. Not too far--Lockon's arm was still around him. "Lockon?" he said.

Lockon straightened up a little bit. "What's wrong, Tieria?" Other than everything, he thought to himself; this was a little out of control. But Tieria wanted it, and it seemed unfair to say no, when he might not get another chance. Besides, Lockon liked that kiss, and he wanted to feel Tieria react as it got deeper.

"You were going to say something," Tieria said.

Lockon stared at him for a moment, then laughed. "That's part of kissing! You really didn't know?"

"I was only peripherally aware," Tieria said. "It isn't an interest of mine." He paused, abruptly more vulnerable, and his voice was shakier when he spoke again. "You weren't here."

Lockon held back a tiny shiver at that plaintive statement, spoken so close to him, and instead shifted position, settled his hands around Tieria's face, and kissed him again. This time when he opened his mouth, Tieria followed, only giving the smallest of starts as Lockon's tongue met his own. After a minute, Lockon pulled back enough to draw Tieria's lower lip into his mouth and suck on it lightly. Tieria almost gasped, and his fingers curled eagerly into Lockon's chest.

Lockon wondered if he'd gone too far. Then Tieria's hands slipped from his chest down first to his belly and then, more slowly, to his lap. Lockon understood two things. One was that these pants were even tighter than he'd realized, and the other was that he'd definitely gone too far.

He broke the kiss, let go of Tieria's face, and leaned back. "Tieria," he said. "I told you that you don't need me. That's not a bad thing. You shouldn't try to change it."

Tieria closed his eyes, trying to compose himself. "There are different kinds of need," he said. "The one you spoke of is very familiar to me, Lockon, but you were right. I--" He stopped, obviously unable to bring himself to say, I don't need you that way. Instead he said, "This type of need is new. If you'd like to, I want to try following it to its conclusion this one time."

Lockon didn't move for a moment. Then he leaned forward, rested the side of his head against Tieria's. "Hey, Tieria. Can you do something for me?" There was only silence, but he knew Tieria was listening in his entirety. "When you wake up, I'm not going to be here. You need to promise me you'll be all right with that."

Tieria took a while to speak, but finally he said, "I promise you, Lockon Stratos. I'll wake up without you in this world again, and I'll still rise and work to fulfill the mission and protect my companions. As I have every day for the past four years."

Lockon smiled. "It was a little silly of me to ask, wasn't it? I know you will. But thanks anyway."

He slipped his arms around Tieria and began to kiss him again.

Holding onto himself while Lockon kissed him was hard for Tieria. He wanted to yield, to be and feel and do whatever Lockon told him to. But he couldn't do that; he needed to see to it that Lockon enjoyed this too.

Tieria undid the catch on the carefully ripped pants of his Lockon was wearing and started to pull them past his hips. Then he stopped, because Lockon's hands behind his back had found the place where the discreetly hidden zipper for his nightgown started, and in one smooth motion he pulled it down.

Tieria disentangled himself from Lockon's arms and stood up. One sleeve of the nightgown slipped over his shoulder, leaving it bare. Lockon's eyes followed the motion to it, then lingered--curiously? Was that it? Tieria couldn't tell for sure. "Lockon," he said, "there's something I need to explain."

"Go ahead," Lockon said. "I can listen a little longer."

Tieria took a deep breath and started to take his arms out of the sleeves of the nightgown. It was better to do that while he distracted himself with this explanation. Baring himself like this, even to Lockon, was a little terrifying. "I've always presented myself with a male identity," he said, "but it's inconsequential. I wasn't originally equipped with the sexual distinctions of either sex."

"Huh?" Lockon sounded alarmed, and Tieria took a worried step back, the nightgown sliding entirely off his right arm and shoulder. "Tieria, if there isn't anything down there for you to..." He lifted a hand to his head and frowned up at Tieria. "If you're not going to get anything out of this, we shouldn't do it."

Tieria let out a small breath of relief. Was that really it? "I wasn't finished, Lockon. I am equipped with nanomachines capable of replicating primary and some secondary sexual characteristics, and there was a recent mission where, to ensure I remained undetected by any sensors, I acquired female characteristics as fully as possible. Some still remain."

He'd had the nanomachines return his chest to its usual shape immediately after leaving Ribbons's party, of course. The drastic change in shape and balance would hinder him in combat and other ordinary activities, and in any case, the biological changes being made had been simple ones. What was between his legs was another story--he'd only altered it in the first place upon realizing that the Innovators' lack of regard for privacy might extend to what most would consider unsavory lengths. The difference was insignificant from a structural standpoint, but complex from a biological one, and he'd seen no need to expend the energy to return it. Now he was glad he hadn't.

"That's all?" Lockon said.

Tieria frowned at him. "Physical sex is an important criterion in sexual activity. Most people prefer their partner's to be distinct."

Lockon did stand up now, although this time the pants stayed more or less on his hips. He reached out and pulled the nightgown off Tieria's other arm, then held onto it as he spoke. "You thought I'd let it get this far already if that bothered me? It doesn't matter. Whatever parts you have, you're still Tieria, and I still like you."

Tieria barely had time to catch his breath at those words before Lockon pulled the nightgown the rest of the way off him and tossed it to the floor. It was a disorderly action, and now Tieria was entirely naked as he could never before remember being in front of another person. He closed his eyes, and to his exasperation he felt the heat of a blush rising to his face.

Then Lockon pulled him into his arms, and it wasn't a problem anymore.

It was easy to tell that Tieria was making an effort to relax. He held his shoulders very straight and took deep, measured breaths, even as Lockon slid his arms around him and nuzzled his cheek. Lockon drew back a little, slowing down to ease whatever pressure was tensing Tieria up so much--although his own desire had grown. That was mildly surprising; was it just a side effect of being solid and embodied again? But then, come to think of it, he hadn't had a whole lot of sex when he was alive in the first place. It was fun, but it carried so much risk of entanglement, so much risk of hurting people or, almost as bad, letting them get too close.

There wasn't any danger this time that he would wake up in the morning with Tieria knowing and feeling too much about him, because there wouldn't be a morning for him. He couldn't snarl up the bonds of the team this way, because he wasn't part of the team anymore. But he could hurt Tieria more than ever.

Tieria rested his head against Lockon's throat and kissed his pulse over and over again, and a tiny noise of longing escaped him. Lockon remembered that he could hurt Tieria by refusing this as well. It was okay, then, that he didn't want to refuse. That he wanted to know what sounds Tieria would make, and how his expression would change, when Lockon was on top of him and inside him.

Lockon started to check himself, but really, he didn't mind taking it slowly. He still had plenty of time, and he wanted to watch Tieria work his careful way toward greater desire before taking it further. He settled his hands on Tieria's head and began to stroke his hair.

But Tieria had other ideas. He pulled his head back from Lockon's throat, matched his mouth eagerly to Lockon's, and swiftly took his pants down. They ripped again, then fell to the floor, and Lockon broke the kiss to give Tieria a confused look.

"There isn't any reason to hesitate," Tieria said. "Should we return to the bed?"

They were both naked now--in Lockon's case, again. He grinned at Tieria. "Not yet." He slipped his hands behind Tieria and drew him close. Tieria gasped a little at the feeling. Or at least, it started as a gasp; somewhere in the middle it changed direction and veered more into a squeak.

"Lockon," he said sharply, "this is a problem."

Lockon let go of him and stepped back. "What's wrong?"

Tieria took a steadying breath, but he was still frowning. "If you continue to touch me in this way, I won't be able to retain control of my voice."

Lockon felt another grin twitch up his mouth, and he reached out to slide a hand back into Tieria's hair. "The walls here are that thin?"

"What?" Tieria stared at him blankly for a moment, then realized what he was saying. "No. The rebuilt Ptolemaios has securely soundproofed walls."

Lockon ran his thumb around Tieria's ear. "I don't get it, Tieria. What's the problem?"

"It's distracting," Tieria said, now frowning more from confusion than anything. "And highly unsuited to the demeanor of a Gundam Meister."

Lockon laughed. "It's supposed to be. Distracting, anyway. That other thing doesn't make any sense. I've heard recordings of your practice sessions in Virtue, and you're noisy enough in there." He paused, figured out what would really matter, and said, "I like it."

Tieria flushed gratifyingly (or maybe adorably) and cast his eyes down. Lockon started to follow his gaze and found himself distracted by the smooth paleness of his skin, the faint but sufficient definition of muscle, the roundness of his hips incongruous under the flatness of his chest. He'd never thought about Tieria this way before, and now that it was an option to do so, he suddenly had a lot of catching up to do in not so much time.

Tieria tensed up as Lockon looked at him, and Lockon realized where the earlier nervousness had come from.

"Do you want to turn off the light?" he asked.

Tieria stiffened immediately, his eyes gleaming now with determination rather than uneasiness. "No. Lockon--" He lifted his hands and put them on Lockon's shoulders, then drew them closer to his neck, up his throat, finally cradling his head. "Physical appearances aren't significant, but yours is above average. I want to keep looking."

Lockon turned his face to kiss Tieria's open palms, drawing momentary shivers from him. He didn't have the heart to point out that Tieria would no doubt find him so attractive no matter what he looked like. "All right," he said. He closed his eyes and kept kissing Tieria's hands, taking the tips of his fingers into his mouth and biting gently, until Tieria badly stifled another squeak and withdrew his hands to his side again.

Lockon followed them forward and lowered himself--first to lean against Tieria's body, trailing little kisses around it, and then to settle on his knees on the floor. He hadn't admitted as much directly to Tieria, but he was actually a little relieved about what parts he had tonight. For all that he'd never been too active sexually, he still had a lot more experience with women than with men, and it would be easier for him to see to it that Tieria enjoyed himself if he knew what he was doing.

"Lockon," Tieria murmured shakily. "Let's go back to the bed."

Still on his knees, Lockon looked up at Tieria, struck momentarily silent by the way his voice had caught on that last sentence, by the indescribable look on his face. "All right," he said quietly. He rose to his feet and pulled Tieria back towards the bed.

Lockon drew him too quickly to the bed, and they both fell upon it in disarray, momentum doing for them what the sleeping quarters' low artificial gravity would not. Tieria scrambled to catch himself, but Lockon just rolled with it. Stretched out over Lockon, feeling the speed of his heartbeat and seeing the amused little grin on his face, Tieria realized he'd done it on purpose. "That was unnecessarily careless," he said, but he trailed off before he could say anything more, because something deep in his brain finally took stock of the situation, and he was suddenly overwhelmed.

He felt Lockon's bare chest rising and falling beneath him now, and he couldn't take his eyes off the way Lockon's hair framed his face so haphazardly. He found himself unable to do anything but lift a hand and gently brush the stray pieces of hair out of Lockon's eyes, away from his cheeks and temples. It was all right, he thought; there was nothing else he needed to do in the world. Even the unfamiliar but fierce ache of need nestled between his hips seemed far away compared to Lockon's face under his fingertips.

Lockon reached out and cupped Tieria's chin in one hand. His expression changed and softened. Tieria couldn't say what exactly it meant, but there was a little smile there now, and it felt good to see that. "Tieria," Lockon murmured, his voice a little unsteady. Tieria had heard that sort of instability in his voice before, briefly, but only out of rage. This was different; he could only hear kindness now.

Then he couldn't hear anything, because Lockon pulled him down for a long, slow kiss, and it felt as if the single stimulus of Lockon's mouth moving against his drowned out all other sensory input. He devoted himself entirely to kissing back fervently, yielding without a second thought as Lockon settled both hands around his hips and began to guide him.

The rhythm threatened to carry Tieria away too fast. It had never occurred to him that there were such rhythms to be found in the human body beyond the simple beat of the heart, but this was as complex as anything he'd ever felt in a pulse of data from Veda, and it left him more breathless. He realized to his embarrassed dismay that there were tears gathering at the corners of his eyes.

Lockon must have noticed it too, because he brushed the tears away with one thumb, then kissed where they had been. Tieria couldn't see it, but he could feel Lockon's mouth curving into a smile.

"Lockon," Tieria said, because he couldn't say anything else. Then he gave in and let himself be swept away, first by silence, then by inarticulate cries.

Somewhere along the way, Lockon gave in, and began to show Tieria how far his own desire was beginning to extend. It was nothing like Tieria's desire and need for him, he knew that. He couldn't imagine what it was Tieria was feeling, but he knew that it wasn't entirely right to have feelings like that directed at him. Tieria had fallen for the wrong man. Knowing that, Lockon owed him at least this much more insight into how he felt.

When Tieria spoke back to him, his voice was soft and wondering, like he wasn't sure Lockon could really be talking to him in that tone of voice, couldn't really be saying such things to him. Then Lockon was sure it was worth it, even if he wasn't sure what it was.

After they were done, they lay in each other's arms for a little while longer, Tieria curiously exploring the unfamiliar concept of metaphors in his head. Entangled like particles. No, that wasn't right. In a little while, when Lockon was gone again, no change to Tieria would affect him at any distance. Except perhaps that wasn't true; he was here now, wasn't he? Setsuna had flooded the air with GN particles, but Tieria had called Lockon through them.

He tried to fix an image in his memory: how Lockon had looked in (what was the right word? Ah, yes) passion just now. His mouth a little open, curved just enough that it might be a smile; his eyes two-thirds closed, only open enough to let little half-moons of blue-green show. Tieria was convinced he'd never seen eyes that shade on anyone else, and never would again. The other twin, he told himself, had a little grey in his, or maybe just a little more green. Lockon, this Lockon, was unique, and it was because of Tieria that he had briefly worn that expression.

After a minute, Lockon kissed Tieria on the forehead and eased himself off of and out of him to lie on his back at Tieria's side. Tieria turned to look at him, wondering how humans were intended to tolerate someone sharing a bed with them.

Lockon met his gaze. He was only half-smiling now, but somehow that looked even better than his grins. "What's up, Tieria?"

"I was considering how one is supposed to sleep," Tieria said, "with one's lover in the same bed."

Lockon blinked up at him. "One's lover?"

Tieria stopped for a moment. The word had felt strange to say, and not entirely right. But he didn't have a word that was entirely right, except Lockon. "It's an inexact word," he settled on, "much like many words describing the subject of sexual relations."

Something about the way Lockon smiled now made Tieria's cheeks heat up, though he managed to check the reaction before his blush became visible. Lockon freed an arm from his side to slip it around Tieria, pulling him close, but without any urgency this time. "It's not like I did this often," he said, "but usually I was tired enough to be okay with it."

"I don't intend to sleep," Tieria said.

There was something in Lockon's look that Tieria couldn't identify, but when he sighed it was with resigned fondness. He put a hand on Tieria's head and tipped him over so that he was sprawled halfway across Lockon's chest. Tieria didn't resist. He wasn't sure he could have, in any case. Something about the gesture, and about the position he was in now, filled him in a way that even the sexual act itself hadn't.

After a little while, Tieria spoke again. "If circumstances were different..." He trailed off, his throat closing up around the sentence.

"What?" Lockon said softly.

"If I knew you would be here when I woke up," Tieria said, "I could grow accustomed to sleeping next to you." Still, his eyes were dry. The thought of the could-have-been future, of Lockon at his side in whatever way he thought was best (his hand on Tieria's shoulder or between Tieria's legs, it didn't matter), was too much to cry over.

"But circumstances are what they are," Lockon said. "And you've done pretty well with them."


Lockon said nothing, but he bent forward to kiss the top of Tieria's head, and Tieria was quiet for a while, content with the sound and feeling of Lockon's heartbeat beneath his head.

When Lockon finally spoke again, his tone was conversational, but there was a surprisingly hesitant curiosity in it, evident even to Tieria. "Well, I remember a little bit, here and there. I think I've been there a few times for you guys, as much as I could be. But I still want to hear it from you, Tieria. Tell me a little bit about the past four years. What's Celestial Being like now?"

Tieria took a moment to remember where to start, and then he began to speak.

Silence came to the two of them again after a while. Tieria was sitting up now, had been for a little while. He'd said nothing about why, but now that he knew, Lockon couldn't unsee the protective look in his eyes. He stayed lying down, looking up at Tieria. He'd taken away Tieria's chance to protect him when it mattered, and he still couldn't bring himself to truly regret it. The least he could do was yield to that urge as much as possible now.

Tieria stroked his hair slowly, fingers sometimes straying to Lockon's face instead. Somewhere in the midst of this, he asked quietly, "Lockon, what's it like where you are?"

Lockon turned a little to kiss fingers that came too close to his mouth. "You mean in your bed?"

Tieria fixed him with an unimpressed stare. "No."

Lockon grinned--but only for a second. "I know, I know." He knew what Tieria meant, of course, but he hesitated to describe it. "It's hard to say," he said. But Tieria was still waiting, expecting him to do his best, so he went on. "There's only light," he said, "and something that sparkles. And I know you guys aren't that far away."

Tieria still said nothing. He was waiting for more.

"There isn't anything I need to do," Lockon said. "There really isn't any me to be doing anything, so it's all right." He hesitated, then found the word he wanted. "It's peaceful." He left some things unspoken: that it was that peace that made it so much better than this world. That he was grateful there wasn't any him to be doing anything there, because the alternative wasn't a him that could do things, it was a him that had to do things. That he knew that if he had to stay in this world much longer, if he had to walk away from Tieria's bed and out the door of the room, the grief and rage that had clung to him for so long in life would come back, even though he no longer knew what to do with them. He only knew that what he'd been doing with them was wrong and that he would never know how to do anything else.

Tieria didn't need to know those things.

"Lockon..." Tieria sank down to his side once more, drawing close to Lockon again. "I'd like to go there someday, where you are, and be with you."

"In a while," Lockon said. This wasn't how Tieria had been intended to feel. What had gone wrong? "A long while from now."

"I know," Tieria said. "I haven't done all that I need to do yet. It will be some time, if I can accomplish these objectives at all."

"Hey, now," Lockon said. "It's up to you if you can get it done, so if you start doubting yourself you're only making things worse." But he felt himself smiling again. Even if some unexpected things had happened, Tieria had changed as he needed to change. He was glad.

"What if you aren't there anymore," Tieria said suddenly, "when I'm ready to join you?"

Lockon stopped. It seemed like such a strange question to him. "I'll be there," he said. "I'll wait for you." He didn't know for sure why he was saying that. There was no telling how long Tieria would be in this world, and Lockon had farther to go to reach the people he'd thought he wanted to be with. But some instinct told him that he needed to make this promise. He was the one who had changed Tieria; he would wait for him, at the end of that change.

It was enough. Tieria relaxed against him, smiling distantly. "Thank you, Lockon."

They didn't speak much, after that; enough had been said. Tieria didn't feel the need for any more words, at least.

He wasn't sure how long it had been when Lockon stirred at his side and sat up. As long as he needed, and not long enough. Tieria knew what was coming, and he caught hold of Lockon's wrist, trying to burn into his memory the sight of Lockon sitting there, quiet and content, only smiling a little; the softness of Lockon's hand in his.

"I have to go, Tieria," he said.

"I know," Tieria said, but it hurt to say, and when Lockon got up from the bed, Tieria rose with him.

Lockon sighed again, and there was something strange in his smile. Tieria was fairly sure it wasn't regret, but it seemed close. He took Tieria's face between his hands and held him that way. "Try to get some sleep, all right? I kept you up way too late."

"Lockon," Tieria said, "stay."

"I can't," Lockon said; there was regret in his smile now, but only a little.

Tieria thought of saying, You don't want to, because he understood that now, but he feared it might come out sounding angry or hurt, and that couldn't have been more wrong. He still wasn't sure why Lockon didn't want to stay, but he would find a way to understand someday, even with Lockon gone. "I know," was all he said. "But I'd like to see you again sometime."

"All right," Lockon said. "Sometime." He waited a moment longer, then pulled Tieria close and kissed him. This kiss was gentle, almost chaste, and Tieria liked it best.

When it ended, Tieria knew only that he no longer felt those hands on his face, that mouth on his. He opened his eyes, and only a last fading glitter greeted him.

He sat back down on his bed and, with no one to hide them from, allowed himself some tears. But he didn't have the time to cry for long. Lockon had been right: he needed to sleep, so that he would be ready for the next day.

Out beyond the particles, when you no longer remember yourself, you remember a kiss, from someone who somehow cared enough to want to protect you.

You remember that you promised to wait.