The following is a complete work of fiction.


This is my first City of Heroes Fan Fiction. If you are not a person who knows the City of Heroes MMPRPG, some of this story may not make sense. However, like my X-Universe Fan Fictions, I have written enough background into the story that I believe it is accessible to anyone who likes science fiction and comic book worlds.


The following story may contain erotic situations between consenting adults. If it is illegal for you to read this please leave now.

Any resemblance between the characters and any real life person is completely coincidental. Please do not copy or distribute the story without the author's permission.

The characters, places and world of this story are the exclusive property of their original authors, publishers and production companies. No assumption of copyright has been made in this work.

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City of Heroes - Book 1

Awakenings - Chapter 10

"Dinner will be ready in a half hour," Urioch said as he stuck his head in my room.

"Uh hmmm," I mumbled in acknowledgement, trying to figure out what I was going to write for my paper on the gay culture in America. I might have underhandedly tried to figure out if Urioch would have a problem with gays by slipping the books into the bag, but I really had planned on writing the paper. The problem with writing a paper on a group that I was a member of, but didn't feel like I was a member of, was that it depressed me. I pushed away from my desk after a few more futile attempts to write anything approaching intelligent, and walked into the living room. "I've got to take a break anyway."

Urioch looked up from his book as I sat down on the arm of the couch and rubbed my eyes. I had no idea what he was reading. It was in German. The pointy-eared freak could read and speak something like twenty languages. "What are you working on?"

I groaned. "My major report for sociology. I wanted to write something about the gay culture in the United States, but the more I read, the more depressing it gets." I looked at him. "I guess it is sort of a dual purpose project. I wanted to figure out what 'gay life' was supposed to be like."

Urioch sat up; nodding at the gay romance I'd slipped into his stack. I planned on using the excuse that it was a misplaced research book. "That would be yours then."

I pulled the book out of the stack. "Yeah, I guess it got in the wrong stack." No, but that was my story. Okay, it was a little white lie. It wasn't like I was denying it was my book. "I'm sorry if was a problem."

Urioch shrugged. "The writing was on par with the average romance novel, though the author focused more on the sexual aspects of relationships than the mental or emotional."

"Welcome to the world of 'Gay Romance'," I grumbled, tossing the book back on the coffee table. "Everything I've read seems to say 'go out and fuck your way to true love'." The oven timer went off, a nice dramatic touch to my frustrated exclamation, and I got off the couch. "It's like all you need is to fuck and be fucked, and if it's good enough, love and commitment will follow." Grumbling, I walked into the kitchen and turned off the oven. "What's wrong with meeting someone, getting to know him, maybe date a couple times, and then have incredible sex?"

"Nothing," Urioch answered, pulling the dishes down from the cabinets. "I do see your dilemma. The standard, heterosexual romance story involves more emotional, need based events than sexually driven events. It does seem that the normal homosexual romance involves a pattern of sex, drama, loss, and eventual fulfillment."

"The dating sites online are just as bad," I huffed, realizing I was more frustrated than I'd imagined. So I was already in love, that didn't mean I couldn't find someone else, did it? "Most of the listings are like a menu of features a guy does or doesn't want in a sex partner. Whatever happened to: young, attractive, professional hero, likes sunset flights over the park, quiet nights of reading on the couch, and the occasional boom flick, seeking like minded man for serious relationship?" Pulling out the baking tray, I set it on the stove top and peeled back the aluminum foil. "Where are the guys like that?"

"At home, complaining about the lack of the men they have described, while preparing dinner," Urioch replied, taking the baking dish from me and setting it on the table.

"Yeah, well... it sucks being unique." I sat down, feeling some of my tension dissolve while smiling a little over Urioch's assertion that I was an attractive, professional hero.

"It does have distinct disadvantages," he agreed, sitting down and picking up the serving spoon. "Plate?"

I handed him my plate, feeling like a heel. "That wasn't very sensitive of me was it?"

"No harm done," he smiled, "I am flattered that you simply see me as a person, instead of an alien."

No, I definitely didn't think of him as alien. A mystery at times. Frustrating. Maddening. Dream inspiring. Alien was nowhere close to the top of my list of descriptors. "You are. You know you're a person to me, right?"

Our eyes met over plates of baked chicken and broccoli fettuccini, and it could have been a hallmark moment. It would have been, had I been the character in a romance novel. Hell, if that were the case, the food would have been on the floor and I'd have had a big, hung, lusty alien teaching me all the 'unique' things he could do while fucking me through the table. I blinked, pulling back from the fantasy that had my jeans stretching too tight to be comfortable. Urioch nodded. "Yes, Jason. I know."

We ate quietly, occasionally discussing our patrol pattern for the next week. I hadn't realized how much time heroes spent just doing nothing but patrolling and waiting for someone to commit a crime. I floated the dishes to the sink while packaging the leftovers in rubbermaid tubs. "I think I'm going to turn in early."

Urioch sat back down on the couch and picked up his high-minded, German novel. "Sleep well, Jason."

I didn't sleep well at all. I woke up to damp underwear, and feeling sweaty from three separate dreams of alternate dinner scenarios. All of them were erotic-novel worthy. After a quick toss of the wet whities at the hamper, I sat and thought about Urioch. We'd been partners nearly a month and it was getting harder and harder not to do something to ruin it. Maybe Demonicalle was right. Maybe I just needed to get laid. It wouldn't solve the love issue, but maybe it would let me get some sleep.

"Jason, what happened to you?" Jose looked at my face with dismay as I ascended the steps to the PYRC.

Shrugging, I lied, "Sparring practice." At his skeptical frown I added, "I thought I was better at sparring than I am... got my ass handed to me." In truth, I'd gotten cocky in a battle with a group of Hellions; one caught me across the face with a bat. Thank God for elastisteel.

Jose shook his head, and pushed open the door. "If I'd made it off the street with your looks, I'd be protecting my face... not bashing it up."

I blushed. "Yeah, yeah. Maria likes your face just fine."

He shot me a gold-filled grin. "Yeah, but with your looks I could'a gone into modeling."

"If I had your confidence, I could too," I laughed.

We got to the meeting room and Jose stopped before opening the door. "Yeah, man... you could. You're the only one who thinks you can't."

I nodded at his hand on the knob. "You can open the door, Jose."

He shrugged, and opened the door. "Just say'n."

We took our seats and everyone looked my way. There wasn't anyone new this time. I wished Patrick was back, but there was no indication he had any intention of returning to the PYRC. Leading a help group wasn't my bag, but I'd promised to keep it going and I was getting in the habit of keeping my promises.

"I think Jose had a great idea for today's discussion." I eyed Jose evilly before I continued. "How we hold ourselves back in life..."

Jose snorted, but I could feel he was happy to have been heard. If I was going to be stuck with weekly meetings in the old neighborhood, I was going to make the most of them!

"Jason, you're blocking," Amanda complained as she pulled her fingers from her temple. "We're trying to figure out why you can't get your healing powers to work on command."

I groaned, feeling sore from all the internal tap dancing. I wanted to just call it quits. "Maybe my powers are just need based."

"Possible, but I don't think so." She pinched the bridge of her nose before looking at me. "You and Urioch have been coming back from arrests bruised, burned and battered. I would definitely say there's been a need."

"Not life threatening need!" I was grasping at straws. We both knew it.

"Why are you fighting this?"

"I am not!"

She looked at me, calmly, but with no hint of backing down. "Yes you are."

"Why, why, why!" I got out of the chair and paced to the window. "All you ever ask is why!"

"That's because you're the only one with the answers, Jason. All I can do is ask the question."

I hugged myself, looking out at the November rain, feeling a lot colder than the weather looked. "It's too hard."

"Using your power?"

I shook my head, closing my eyes. "It's too hard to deal with the consequences."

"What consequences, Jason?" Amanda's voice was so soothing. I wouldn't have made it through all that had happened since I gained my powers as anything close to sane if it hadn't been for her.

"I fucking love him more." I looked at her. "Every time I use the power, it's like it amplifies what I feel. If I keep doing it, I'll go nuts."

Amanda sat back, regarding me thoughtfully. "I'd never thought 'too much love' would be a problem you'd face, Jason."

I snorted. "Yeah, some joke, huh?"

"You said you haven't been sleeping well. Is that why?"

"Yeah. I keep dreaming of him, of us, and I want it to be real." I walked back to the chair and dropped into it. "I want our friendship more." I shrugged, feeling pathetic. Who the hell bitched about being in love but a loser like me? "I need it more. I won't kill it just for a chance at a hot fuck."

Amanda glanced at the clock. I think she could tell she wasn't going to get much more out of me this session. I'd already shoveled out a heaping load of emotional crap. That was enough. "I hear you've been cleared for security level three."

I nodded. With higher levels came more challenging assignments and better pay. There were a lot of independent heroes who felt that getting paid to fight crime destroyed the sanctity of being a super hero. They called us the same as they called Hero Corps. We were "heroes for hire". That wasn't true. Freedom Corps was the equivalent of paranormal police. Policemen got paid. They didn't have to volunteer their time and risk their lives out of altruism. They wanted to protect people and make a difference, and the city provided for their livelihood so they could do it. It was the same with us. We were to Hero Corps the way Police were to Bounty Hunters or body guards. The distinction, however, was lost on the detractors of Freedom Corps. "I should get a nice deposit for retro pay before Christmas. That's about when the paperwork will make it through."

"You don't sound too thrilled about the promotion, Jason. You're moving faster than anyone else in the parole program."

I shrugged. "Half way to level seven and independence."

"And you're not looking forward to that?"

"No," I sighed. "If working and living with him day in and day out is painful, being told to go out on my own will probably kill me."

"Sounds like you think you're stuck no matter what you do."

I nodded again. "I know. The only reason I haven't done something to fuck it up is that it would reflect badly on Urioch. I didn't expect to get promoted so fast."

Amanda shrugged. "You and Urioch make an effective team, Jason. From what I hear, you two bring down more criminals than teams of four or five heroes."

I didn't want to go over how good a team we were. We were an awesome team. We were too fucking good. I was just so damn comfortable with Urioch. I fell asleep the other night, reading on the couch, and woke up drooling on his shoulder, with his arm around me. He'd let me sleep there and kept reading. I had to stay on my guard to keep from crossing the line. "How's Patrick?"

Amanda sighed. "Doing better, but I'm not sure that's saying all that much. Physically his body has mended. He needs to take his physical therapy more seriously, and he still isn't used to having only two fingers and a thumb on his right hand, but that's minor. He just can't seem to adjust to the fact that Kim's gone."

I nodded, thinking back to the night we fought Marrow Snap. "I don't know what I'd have done if Urioch hadn't made it."

We both sat there, in our own thoughts, for a few minutes. Amanda snapped her attention back to the present and looked at the flier on her desk. "You coming to the Moratorium Ceremony?"

"You mean the lifting of the cape ban?"

"Yep. They are going to award the right to wear capes to heroes who have distinguished themselves."

I nodded. "Yeah. Not that I'm going to be up for a cape any time this decade, but Urioch might some day. He was on the team that brought down Doctor Vahzalok."

"You and he seem to have the knack of being at the right place at the right time." Amanda smiled. "I'll see you at the Ceremony on Friday."

Urioch and I soared over the crowd assembled outside of City Hall. There were costumed heroes from the lawns to on top of the statue of Atlas. I'd never seen so many heroes in my life. "Can you see anyone we know?"

Urioch shook his head, scanning the crowd as we dipped lower. "No, not yet."

"It'll suck to stand around with a bunch of strangers." I looked about, hoping to see anyone I recognized. I saw a guy in red armor, standing nearly seven feet tall, with a small group of other flame oriented people. I pointed. "I bet that's Damage Control!"

Urioch paused, looking at them. "Yes. It appears they have a new member."

I looked back at the group and spotted a costume I recognized. "I'm going to say, hi." Urioch nodded as I flew off, pulling a discarded burger wrapper from the ground and wadding it up. With an amused, but accurate thought, I smacked Blaize up side the head with the wrapper. "Hey, Loser!"

Several heads looked up, but the only person I was interested in was Blaize. He grabbed the wrapper, spinning to see who'd hit him when he saw me floating above him. "Hey, Deadman!"

Laughing, I landed and held out my fist. He bumped it with his and we both chanted, "Unite!"

Blaize turned to the big armored guy. "Death, this is Infernotech, my mentor. Infernotech, this is Death's Head. He was the first of us to get his security clearance."

Inferno extended a large hand to me. "Blaize has said nothing but good things about you."

"Lies," I teased, "he never cried out my name more than twice." Blaize looked like he was going to choke, but Infernotech roared. I punched Blaize on the shoulder. "You're so easy."

"Uhm, Deathman..." He looked at Inferno and back at me. "He's gay."

"Yeah, I figured that one out when," I nodded at Backdraft, "I saw him sitting in Inferno's lap, talking to, " I nodded again, "those two at the club."

"Straight guys are outnumbered these days," Blaize grumbled. Then he grinned. "Of course, that means less competition for the ladies."

"I'm sorry I missed your partnership registration."

Blaize shrugged. "Not into the rice and flowers, and Inferno would looked like hell in the dress."

Inferno looked down at Blaize. "Not in a million years, punk."

"Yeah, yeah. You say that now."

"Don't make me take a socket wrench to that damaged brain of yours, Blaize."

I laughed. "I better get back into the air and find out where my pointy-eared freak has gone to."

Blaize gave me a quick hug and a smile. "Great to see you, bro."

"Email me!"


"Fuck off, Flame Finger!" I took to the sky and shot Blaize a smile and the bird before hunting for Urioch. I found him hovering near the statue of Atlas, talking to several heroes in blue and white.

"Death's Head, this is Valkyra, leader of the Warriors of Valhalla. The other's are Valkyron, her co-leader and twin, Star Viking, Muspel, Blue Belle, Aruvendal, and Ms. Mercy. Warriors, this is Death's Head, my partner."

"You're the ones who took down Doctor Vahzalok!" I was a little awed.

Valkyron laughed. "Not all of us were available for the final assault. There were many others, but yes, we were involved."

Valkyra nodded toward the steps of City Hall. "They're about to start."

The Major stepped up the microphone, and started into a speech that sounded just like any other political speech. Lots of big words, calls to honor the sacrifices of the heroes before us, the purpose of the moratorium, and then, finally how they were going to handle the awarding of capes.

"Security Level Twenty?" I was horrified. "Who the hell is that rank?"

Valkyron grinned, Viking coughed, and all the warrior's eyes turned to Valkyra. Urioch leaned in. "There are many heroes beyond level twenty, Jason. You hear little about their exploits because they are generally striving to keep peace in the less populated, more dangerous zones like Boomtown or Dark Astoria. Valkyra is the first of the Warriors to achieve a level twenty clearance."

"Wow," I looked at Valkyra. She and her brother were even taller than Urioch. "What's it like?"

"More of the same," Valkyra replied, "Instead of Vahzalok, you deal with the Pantheon. Instead of Outcasts you face Freakshow. The stakes are higher and the heroes to back you up aren't as plentiful. Of course, in Astoria, you can't see the other heroes until you are practically on top of them. The land never see's sun and the fog never lifts."

"So why would anyone want to be there?"

"It is an ancient place, Death's Head. Mankind has lived, loved and died there for thousands of years. To some the place is holy. To others it is hell. No matter what your opinion of the place, in the end, it has power. Leaving it to be claimed by the likes of the Pantheon or Thorns would doom Paragon."

I looked at Urioch. "Please tell me we aren't assigned to do any patrols there."

"No, Death's Head. We'll be patrolling Galaxy City, Atlas Park and King's Row for a while longer."

I threw the Reaper through a stack of crates while Urioch exchanged another volley of blasts with the Edilon boss. Flying up, I immobilized the Mortificator who was trying to reanimate another Cadaver, and covered Urioch's back. "I thought you took down Doctor Vahzalok!"

"We did, Jason." He blasted a Cadaver off the catwalk above us and oriented his attacks back on the Edilon. "The defeat of a criminal mastermind does not mean that the remaining villains in his organization will vanish."

I grabbed another Cadaver and sent it smashing against the steel struts of the warehouse roof. "And why do zombies need medical equipment?"

"The Vahzalok Cadavers and Abominations are not like the Husks and Chambers of the Banned Pantheon, Jason. The creatures the Pantheon and Thorns create are entities empowered by magic." We swooped over the catwalk, and he blasted past it at the fleeing Edilon. "The Vahzalok are not magical. They are creatures of medical science and madness. Where the Pantheon seeks to reclaim artifacts of power, the Vahzalok strive to obtain the medical equipment and materials to maintain themselves."

"A zombie's a zombie," I argued, smashing another one into the floor.

"That is a narrow minded view, Jason." Urioch finally blew the Edilon apart and we turned to follow the retreating Reapers. "It is untrue to say a healer is a healer. Your powers, Demonicalle's powers, and Magdalene's powers are all different in how they function and from what they are derived."

I grumbled, following him as he sped off to catch the remaining Vahz. "Yeah, their powers work."

Swooping into the lower confines of the warehouse offices, we closed on the Reapers. There was a sudden eruption of green from all sides. Urioch spun expanding his energy aura to vaporize the liquid before it hit him. I couldn't do anything but cover my face as the acid saturated my costume. I hit the ground, screaming. It felt like my skin was going to melt off. Urioch blew apart the Cadaver ambush, his energy scorching the walls and setting off the sprinklers as he tore them apart. I couldn't help. I couldn't even think. All I wanted was to get away from the burning, sizzling pain.

Urioch grabbed my costume and began peeling it off me. "We need to dilute the acid." I didn't even try to stop him as he got me out of the acid drenched material. The cloth may have been acid resistant, but I wasn't. I think he peeled a layer of skin off with the costumer. Holding me under sprinklers, Urioch tried to keep me focused on the present. "You need to heal yourself, Jason. The same as you did in the warehouse."

"I can't." The burning was diminishing, but the water against me felt like I was being sand blasted. How much of my skin had come off?

"Jason, look at me!" I snapped my eyes open, locking onto his as I trembled. "Heal yourself."

I tried to shake my head, but he held me fast. I couldn't. It would be too much. I'd lose it.

His eyes bore into me, flaring with power. Was I in that bad a shape? All I knew was that I hurt, inside and out. "Heal!"

Fucking bastard. He didn't have the right to make me do it. That didn't stop him. That didn't stop those eyes of his from burning away my resistance. The lock snapped open and the power erupted. I lost sight of him as the green-white light blinded me, but he was still holding me when my senses came back. On the floor, soaked in the spray of the fire system, I cried into his chest as he kept me from collapsing. I hurt. It wasn't a physical pain, but was an ache that throbbed between my heart and my spine.

"Relax, Jason." When had his voice turned so soft? "You are safe."

I curled up against him, shivering. What I felt, while miserably cold and exhausted on the warehouse floor, was loved. Maybe it wasn't the love I felt for him, but it was something. I looked at the discarded elastisteel costume as I recovered my senses. There was no way I was putting that thing on until we were sure it was acid free. One skin melting session was all I ever wanted. "I hate the fucking Vahz," I breathed, looking at the remains scattered about the room.

"I agree," Urioch sighed, pulling my chin lightly to look at me. "How do you feel?"

"Not as bad as I look I bet." My skin was pink, baby new where it had been melted off. I looked mottled where unmelted, original, tanned skin meshed with the new skin. I could feel that I still had hair under my arms, but the rest of my body was a crap shoot. I didn't even want to think about my head.

Urioch's fingers ran through the spotty, uneven remains of my hair and he smiled. "You will need a haircut."

"Great, and I was just getting it to where I liked it."

"Hair will grow back, Jason." His eyes met mine again. "As long as you're alive to do keep it growing."

I smiled. I wanted so much to kiss him. "I can't die. Someone has to keep your annoyance quotient up."

"You aren't an annoyance." Damn him. Why wouldn't he look away. At least all the water running down my face disguised the fucking tears.

I looked away, eyeing my clothes again. "I need something to cover up. It'd be my luck to be arrested for indecent exposure right after saving the day." I stood up, a bit unsteadily, but I couldn't stay huddled against him any longer. It was beginning to feel too good.

"I will find something," Urioch replied, and began checking the offices. I flew to Freedom Corps, to have my costume neutralized, in a lab coat and a patient's smock. It was better than flying around nude.

"That was an insightful report, Jason, if a bit harsh."

I looked up to see Professor Duggan approaching the counter from the door while brushing off the snow clinging to him. I hadn't expected to see my sociology professor at the Cauldron. The place's patrons were mystics, dabblers in the paranormal and super heroes. Why the hell was he only wearing leather pants, boots and a leather vest? It was twenty degrees out and still snowing so hard you couldn't see across the street. "Hey, Professor Duggan. What are you doing here?"

He smiled, but Jonathan came over and stuck out his hands. They gripped each other's forearms in a way that seemed both personal and ceremonial. "Shaed, what are you doing out on a day like this?"


Professor Duggan smiled from Jonathan to me. "I'm taking a breather from protecting the shelters and soup kitchens in Kings Row."

It finally clicked. "You're a super hero?"

Jonathan laughed.

Professor Duggan sat down on the stool next to me. "Guilty. Can't you see the spandex?"

I looked him over again, shaking my head. "Lots of skin and leather, no spandex."

"Damn," he looked at Jonathan, "Pentacle, have you been changing my clothes on me again?"

Jonathan shook his head. "If I were, you'd be wearing more than you are." He walked back to the coffee machines. "What flavor?"

"Holiday Spice, it is Yule after all."

I sighed. "Just when I thought there were some normal people in my life."

"Normal is over rated," Professor Duggan laughed.

"How do you stay warm?" Okay, seeing my teacher in leather, with lots of hard, muscled flesh showing, was a bit distracting.

"The Goddess protects me from the elements," he replied as Jonathan set down his coffee.

"Uh huh," Jonathan observed, as he pressed his palm on Professor Duggan's arm, "that's why you're skin is cold enough to chill a cooler."

"I said she protected me," Professor Duggan retorted, wrapping his fingers around the mug, "I never said she made it comfortable."

"The Goddess is a harsh mistress," Jonathan agreed, and then eyed my mug, "more cocoa?"


"So," Professor Duggan asked while he sipped his coffee, "what do you call yourself when you aren't a struggling sociology student on the university campus?"

"Jason," I quipped, smiling at his momentary frown, "but when I'm flying around, kicking ass and leaving my name, it's Death's Head."

"When I'm doing the same, it's Shaed," he stuck out his hand, "pleasure to meet you Death's Head."

I laughed, shaking his hand, "Likewise, Shaed."

"I can't fly, so I generally run around, kick ass and leave my card."

"God. I'd hate to have to walk, run or ride on patrol."

Jonathan laughed. "Don't listen to his stories of walking woes, Jason. Shaed has his own methods of transit that don't require walking."

"You ruin all sympathy I can engender, Pentacle."

"What are soul-brothers for," Jonathan asked, causing Professor Duggan to roll his eyes.

I smiled. "That's so cool. I don't have any siblings."

"Don't even go there, Jason," the amused voice from the door made me grin, "we have the familial bonds of parole... you're stuck with me!"

I turned around, smiling as Janet took off her coat. "Hey, 'sis', how'd it go?" I didn't need to ask, I could feel her excitement from across the room.

Her smile could have lit a theater. "I got the internship!"

"Yes," I high fived her as I got off the stool, and then picked her up in a hug, "I knew you would."

"Congratulations, Janet," Jonathan smiled at us as I set her down, "Jason mentioned you were interviewing with Icon."

"Yeah, my mentor had done Serge a favor a while back, so she pulled a few strings and got me an interview."

"How's Lenny doing," I asked, sitting back down, "any luck?"

"No, damn it." Janet took the stool to my left. "I don't understand it. He's such a nice guy, even if the leaking darkness is a bit creepy."

Professor Duggan looked past me to Janet. "What's his name?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Janet, this is... Shaed. Shaed, this is one of my parole program siblings, Impulse."

They shook hands.

"His hero name is Tar Patch. He's a great guy, with cool powers, but no one seems to want to take him on as a sidekick. He's been on the roster for a month."

"I've been looking for a personal slave," he grinned, "I mean sidekick."

Janet and I both laughed.

"Lenny can control darkness," I explained, "It's really weird, and unnerving, but he can do a lot of cool shit."

"Controllers are excellent when combined with more potent combatants." Jonathan smiled at me, "Like you and Urioch."

I grinned. "Except in his case, he's the brains and the muscle. I just add the angst and versatility."

"And a great ass in tights," Janet quipped.

"He has no use for that," I replied, wishing it wasn't true, "but he likes it when I hold all the bad guys still while he blasts them into submission."

"Here, here," Professor Duggan cheered, lifting his mug. "To team work, good friends, and the blessings we've been given during these dark times!"

Janet grinned, "I'll drink to that as soon as the barkeep gets me a chai latte. I'm freezing."

It was two days before Christmas, and I hadn't even decorated. I hadn't celebrated Christmas since the Rikti Invasion. I smiled at Janet after we'd clinked mugs and drank to Professor Duggan's toast. "What are you doing tonight?"

She shrugged. "Curling up in front of the TV."

"Want to help me find and decorate a tree? I feel like Christmas this year."

She smiled. "Okay, but don't argue with me over decorations. I've seen your choice in clothes... queer-eye you are not."

"Yes, Miss Designer, you can pick out the decorations. I just want a Christmas."

Swigging down her chai, Janet blurred off her chair and stood by the door with her coat on. "Then get off that tight ass of yours and get moving, Jason. We only have two days."

"Me and my big mouth," I groaned. I didn't mean a word of it. I realized I had a lot of blessings to be thankful for and only a few days to get caught up in the season. I had a lot of catching up to do.

Urioch looked at the four foot tree Janet and I had picked out while I finished wrapping the last present. There wasn't a lot of space, so we decided to maximize impact with style over size. It had taken two days of insane lines, angry people, and racing from place to place to find just the 'right' things. I blew my whole back pay deposit, and a hell of a lot more, on decorations and gifts, but I didn't care. I hadn't had so much fun in years.

The fashion this year was bright colors, LED programmable lights, and flash. Honestly, it looked like the Pink Posse had attacked the Christmas stores with a rainbow ray. I was so glad I had Janet there to cut through the flash and flicker and get back to classic style. Winter white and silver,. that was the theme she picked. I'd argued at first, mesmerized by the two thousand color stands of LED lights, but she wouldn't budge. The miniature Blue Spruce Pine looked perfect with the delicate white snowflakes, crystal icicles, silver balls and white tipped silver garland. Pure white lights were strung around the little thing, twinkling like stars. We even found a silver and white angel for the topper. We didn't have a fire place, so I tacked up the stockings to the book shelf. Janet bought silver fabric paint and wrote Jason on one, and Urioch on the other, in the most beautiful script. We even hung mistletoe in the entrance hall. No one was getting in without getting kissed. I'd argued against it, but Janet thought it was a great excuse for me to get my lips on anyone.

"The tree is remarkably elegant, Jason."

I smiled. "I can't claim the credit. If it had been up to me, the thing would have looked like a kaleidoscope."

"He has no fashion sense at all," Janet complained as she came back in with our hot, mulled ciders.

"So sue me. I already wrote the report on gay culture, and the whole 'gay fashion sense' thing is a myth. There is a big difference between being flamboyant and having taste."

"Then I congratulate you for recognizing your limitations and upon selecting such a skilled guide." He took his mug.

"Haven't you celebrated Christmas before?" Janet sipped her cider while looking at her work with satisfaction.

"No. I am not Christian." Urioch sipped his cider.

"What do you believe in?"

I finished taping the present and stopped to listen to Urioch's answer. I'd never even thought about asking about his beliefs.

"I have not come to a firm conclusion, yet. I believe there is a greater will, or force, that empowers the universe. It is evident through the demonstrated abilities of people like Magdalene, Pentacle and Scythropos. They all claim their powers are derived from communion with a higher power, though they do not agree upon what that power actually is. I think, like ourselves, the Universal Will is diverse and can express itself in unlimited ways. Therefore, no single religion holds the monopoly on truth. My reading has lead me to believe that all true faiths have the same fundamental truths." He smiled at the tree. "I am glad, however, that Jason has chosen to participate in his faith again."

I grinned. "You like it because it gives you a break from me on Sundays."

"Oh," Janet looked at her watch, "are we still going to Midnight Mass?"

"Yeah," I said, floating the last present under the tree. "I have a couple angels to give thanks to."