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The light was starting to be … not enough. Heero dug about in a box until he found the matches and the church candle. He set it down next to the lamp. As small as the flame was, it provided a lot of light. Even though the war, Quatre had always insisted on keeping a candle and a set of matches. Each of them had received a small pack whenever they moved, a candle and matches and a reminder to keep it near. 

Heero folded himself back into the sofa corner and picked up his book.

Reading was an escape. The simple pleasure of not being in existence while he was reading. Did that make sense? Heero had discovered that quite literally losing himself in a good book was one of the most striking wonderful things he could do for himself. Doctor J had only ever encouraged his reading to improve his skills. It was only after the war did Heero discover how much he enjoyed reading. 

And that he had Zechs to thank for it. 

Heero reflectively rolled his eyes at the thought. Following the war, Heero had become a ward of Zechs for the brief period the government had insisted that the five Gundam pilots could not possibly be considered adults. Trowa, Wufei and Quatre had mercifully had adults in their lives willing to take them. Duo was not so lucky and had been engaged in a protracted custody battle until something changed and he somehow ended up with Une. Heero had ended up with Zechs. It was Relena’s idea. Somehow it had worked. Zechs had needed something to ground him and Heero had needed an adult in his life that didn’t pity him. 

In the mandated six months that Heero had to live with Zechs Marquis as his guardian, Heero had discovered a range of irritations with the man but couldn’t deny that his occasional insistence on no-screen time had done some good towards Heero’s health. The only books Zechs seemed to keep were a range of military-based fiction, but from there Heero had discovered a love of a range of topics and styles. When Zechs had gifted him an eReader (note attached read: ‘Happy now?’), Heero had moved on to a series of simpler stories. Light novels, comedy, romance. He devoured them all in his downtime. Once the six months were up, Zechs had helped Heero attend the Preventers Academy, moving into the dorms. Unexpectedly, the two had kept in contact, and Zechs had attended every event where a parent or guardian might be expected. Noin had once discreetly caught a recording of Zechs bragging to other parents. “Of course, I would only ever fight the best of them, so...” Zechs had said, “Naturally he would come top of his class in this… I like to think our early combat moulded him...”

The Preventers academy was gruelling, but he’d made it through thanks to his books and the letters he wrote to the other pilots. Wufei sincerely enjoyed writing, whereas Heero had found better luck in recording short videos for Duo. Quatre sent emails, while Trowa enjoyed sending short voice notes. No matter the format, keeping in touch with each of his friends, as scattered around the colonies and planet as they were, kept him feeling connected. 

Yesterday had been a spinning whirlwind - moving into his first apartment. Clearly, Zechs had not been able to disabuse Relena of the notion that moving Heero’s things would be an ordeal. She’d arrived, Dorothy in tow, ready to help move Heero from his dorm room. She’d been disappointed when at most he had four boxes and a suitcase to move. Dorothy had laughed all the way down the stairs, informing Heero that Relena had bought dungarees especially for this and had asked how he could be so inconsiderate as to rob the poor woman of the chance to be so helpful. Relena had taken it gracefully, sitting on the edge of the brand new sofa that Heero had already arranged to be installed in his new apartment. She had laughed as she handed over a home warming gift for him. “No point in waiting until the party then?” She’d lifted the heavy knitted blanket out of the shopping bag and shook it out. A massive thing that pooled on the sofa like a creature, a marvel of thick yarn and careful design. Heero had pulled Relena into a hug. 

When he pulled back, he’d asked, “What party?”

“Traditionally, people have housewarming parties.”

“My apartment is already warm.”

Both Dorothy and Relena had laughed, it was a lovely sound. They’d stayed late, eating pizza and chatting. 

Today was much… calmer if a little quiet. 

He knew that really, he should make an effort to unpack the boxes, unwrap the new items. However, he’d found a cosy spot, just by the window. He’d peeled back just enough of the plastic on the sofa, curled up in the corner and had started reading. The light had faded and he was forced to stop reading for long enough to unpack a lamp and set it up on the window sill. Now with the candle, he had a small enclosed circle of light and comfort. 

There was a small knock on the door and Heero blinked. Opening the door led to the surprise of Duo Maxwell, leaning against the door frame. Heero snorted. “I thought you were off-planet.”

“Yeah, Relena was trying to rally the troops,” Duo chuckled as he followed Heero back into the apartment, toeing off his boots. He tapped one of the three boxes Heero had yet to open. “Because you have so much to move.” He laughed. “When that woman gets a thought stuck in her head, she is unmovable.” Duo sat cross-legged on the floor. “I thought I’d pop by.” He pulled his backpack closer and pulled out a vacuum flask and two mugs. “Figured you’d either be unpacked or chilling. Either way…” Duo smiled broadly as he spun the flask’s lid, revealing a heady scent of chocolate. “Sister Helen’s awesome sauce - hot chocolate for the heart.” 

Once poured, Duo held out a mug to Heero and then cupped his hands around his own, giving it an appreciative sniff.

Heero took a sip of the velvety drink, enjoying the warmth. He concentrated on drinking it before he picked up his book. By the time he’d finished, he’d noticed that Duo was happily stretching out on the thick pile carpet. “You’re going to nap?”

“Yup. Can’t have a housewarming party without one dickhead falling asleep in the wrong place.”

Chuckling, Heero picked up his book. “This concept of house warming is an idiom and not a reference to the temperature of my apartment?”

Duo chuckled sleepily. 

Heero watched him for a moment, smiling. He turned his attention to his book and started reading again. Next to him, the candle flickered.