On Christmas Morning
The color blue
I always felt it like a sigh
This is new
The blue fire inside his eyes
Ann Wilson/Craig Bartock, Heart
Duo closed the door and leaned against it, a heavy, thankful sigh falling from his lips. "Heero..." The name echoed in the room, empty, though moments before it had been more alive with hope and joy than it had in weeks. Heero was back.
Duo couldn't stop the tingle that ran from his head to his toes. If he looked in a mirror he would see the smile in his eyes. Heero did that to him. He always had. From the moment they had touched, the moment of their first lovemaking, things had been different for them both. And then, suddenly, it had all ended. No more touches, no more phone calls, no more laughter. Duo shook his head, pushing those feelings aside. Those were the feelings he had stumbled over these last weeks--reckless, hateful feelings that tore him inside, and threatened to ruin his tiny world.
No more, he thought. Heero was back.
Padding into the kitchen, Duo took out a few more slices of bread. He lined them up next to the others getting stale overnight for their morning feast. Heero would be joining them for breakfast, and Duo and his son would have their perfect Christmas after all. He smiled then, thinking of Solo, thinking of the boy's joy when he would first see Heero standing in their doorway. It had been a difficult few weeks, muttering through the "why's" and "how's" of Heero's absence. He didn't want Solo hating Heero, and not trusting adults. And so, he had told the boy that Heero was gone, catching the bad guys. It was the truth minus the complex explanation of relationships.
Duo gathered up Santa's presents for Solo. They were stashed on the top shelf of his bedroom closet. He brought them into the living room and knelt before the tree still twinkling with colored lights. As he placed the gifts there, careful to arrange them just so, he breathed in the mix of evergreen and sex. The sex lingered musky in the air, reminding him of how he had missed Heero, and how quickly he had succumbed to his charms once again.
Heero's Santa gift sat at the front. It was small, but heavy and Duo wondered about its contents. How long had Heero planned this night? Certainly the suit hadn't been borrowed at the last minute. Why hadn't he called? Duo wondered for the thousandth time. Obviously he had been working up the courage for this reconciliation for more than a few days.
The answers could wait. It was nearly 1:30 a.m., and Duo had just enough energy to crawl into bed.
+ + +
The wind off the lake was cold. Duo wrapped his arms around himself, trying in vain to keep warm in only a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. Heero would arrive any minute at the station, but Duo was late. He rushed down the street on foot, fighting the wind and the pedestrian traffic. Why were there so many people in his way?
At last he reached the station, running down the stairs to the train platform, crowded with travelers. Duo paused, out of breath as he scanned for Heero's face in the crowd. Of all days why did he have to be late today?
"Damn it," he said, moving into the crowd and then onto the tracks. He ran alongside the train, desperate to see inside. Was Heero on the train? It looked empty, but that couldn't be...
Duo woke with a start, his eyes wide and his breath coming in gasps. It was a dream - only a dream. But the emotion of it was real and all too familiar.
"Shit," he said, brushing the hair from his face. Why had he dreamt that when he knew Heero was back in his life?
He sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, and looked around the darkened room. It was 5 a.m. He would never get back to sleep. He fumbled for his slippers and trudged into the living room, the darkness chilling him. He found his way to the outlet behind the tree and plugged it in. The tree came to life instantly, bringing a smile to his face. There was something about a Christmas tree that could brighten any heart.
He took a seat on the couch and stared at the lights, letting their glow get fuzzy and a little out of focus. His mind was still on that dream and the feelings it stirred. Was it trying to tell him something? Maybe his mind had played a trick on him tonight and Heero hadn't shown up wearing a Santa suit. It would be just Duo's luck to have imagined it all. He pulled his legs up, setting his chin on his knees. It couldn't be. Heero was here. It was real. His touch still tingled on Duo's skin. His apology still sang in Duo's ears.
"I should've asked him to stay," Duo whispered, needing Heero's presence more than ever. He gazed at the clock across the room and sighed. In just a few hours Heero would arrive for breakfast. With that tiny comfort, his eyes blinked heavily and he gradually fell to sleep.
It was 6:30 a.m. when he woke again. Somehow he had ended up on his side, curled in a ball. With some effort, he got up, stretched, and sauntered down the hall to Solo's room. He carefully removed the bells from the doorknob and peeked inside. Solo was still asleep. Duo would have time for a shower before the Christmas morning fun began.
A little after seven o'clock, Duo was showered, dressed in blue jeans, a black long-sleeved tee, and slippers, and his hair mostly dry and pulled into a ponytail. He walked into the kitchen, refreshed and anxious, half wanting to wake Solo, and half wanting to call Heero to make sure last night had happened. All in good time, he thought. Solo would be up in minutes, and Heero... well, if it was true and Heero really was back then Duo would discover that soon enough, too.
Duo brewed a pot of coffee and tested the staleness of the bread. The thick slices were dry, perfect for making French toast. He set out the cinnamon and sugar, and then poured himself a cup of coffee before returning to the living room.
At last, Solo was up, and running into the room. "Daddy!" The boy cheered as he looked at the presents under the tree. "Look what Santa left!"
Duo smiled. "You were a good boy this year."
Solo nodded and plopped down in front of the tree. "Which one should I open first?"
Duo eyed Heero's present, its' bright red foil paper, glistening under the lights. Yes, that was the one he wanted Solo to open, but he would leave the choice to his son. "It's up to you, buddy. They all have to get opened."
Solo leaned forward and not surprisingly grabbed for the largest box. It was one of Duo's gifts, or rather a Duo Santa gift. This one was a mini bean bag chair. Duo helped him take it out of the box, and Solo sat on it, laughing.
"This is my new favorite place to sit. Can I put it in my room?"
"Sure, anywhere you want."
Duo was patient and watched as Solo opened three more presents before he got to Heero's. At last the red gift wrap came off to reveal a plain box. Duo bit his thumbnail, his impatience and excitement growing. "Go on..." He encouraged.
"It's heavy," Solo said, tipping the box and carefully opening the lid. "Ooh!"
Duo's eyes lit. "What is it?"
Duo got on the floor, kneeling next to Solo as the boy pulled the object from the box.
"A snow globe," Duo said with a smile.
Amid the water and floating snow of the glass globe was a family of polar bears. A family...
"Careful," Duo said, as Solo held the globe up to the light. What a wonderfully, perfect gift.
Solo was fascinated. "It's just like winter."
Duo chuckled. The synthetic snow did look real. "How would you like to keep that out here so everyone can see it?"
"Yeah, everyone will want to see this."
The globe was promptly set on the end table, next to the photo of Duo, Solo and Solo's mom. Duo found himself staring at the grouping of the globe and the photo wistfully - two incarnations of the same basic family. He wanted to know what Heero had thought when he had first seen the polar bear family globe. He tried to imagine Heero holding it in his hands, shaking it and enjoying it the way Solo had. Duo wanted the snow globe to symbolize Heero's return and his commitment to the little family that had been so devastated by his departure. But was it fair or even wise to want those things? Duo shook his head, throwing off the melancholy. Last night was real, this delightful gift was real. Duo needed to look to the future with hope instead of suspicion.
In minutes, Solo had opened all his gifts and Duo encouraged him to get dressed in the new bright blue sweatshirt and pants he had received from Santa. Once dressed, Solo played with the kind of focus and excitement that could only be found on Christmas morning.
With growing nervousness, Duo watched the clock. Minutes passed, ticking closer to nine o'clock. That was the magical hour for him. That was the time he and Heero had agreed on last night. When the big hand reached the top of the hour, Duo held his breath, as though to silence any noise that might stop him from hearing Heero's arrival. After watching the second hand go around once, he let out a breath, but not in relief. His stomach was in knots.
A complex mix of emotions rippled through Duo, and in frustration he got up from the couch and headed to the kitchen. He would start breakfast, go on with his life, and if Heero showed up, fine. If not… well, he didn't want to think about that.
*Knock. *Knock. *Knock.*
Duo stopped, the hairs on the back of his neck rising. He leaned out of the kitchen and looked down the hall toward the door, his heart beating fast. Please let that be Heero, he thought. After a quick, nervous check for crumbs on his black shirt he was in motion. Unlike last night, Solo held little interest for who might be on the other side of the door, but still Duo hesitated. This was "the somebody" that Solo had hoped to see for weeks. Was he doing the right thing letting Heero back into their lives? Last night was one thing, sex between two consenting adults, but risking Solo's heart was a hurdle not easily overcome.
Duo's steps slowed as he reached the door, Solo barely glancing up. Duo looked through the peephole - the signature shock of dark brown bangs, identifying their visitor. Duo's heart fluttered. He loved Heero, but what should he do?
He put his hand on the doorknob, and slowly opened the door, standing between the opening and Solo's line of vision.
"Morning," Heero said, smiling. He was wearing a long, black overcoat—the one from the day they had first seen each other on the train platform.
"Morning," Duo said. He squeezed through the opening and closed the door behind him.
Heero leaned forward, planting a gentle kiss on Duo's lips. "Merry Christmas."
Duo smiled. He could feel the warm current of Heero's presence like a live wire next to him. Their attraction had always had this energy, and Duo knew he could easily be caught up in it again, losing sight of what was truly on his mind.
"We going somewhere else for breakfast?" Heero asked, but then noticed Duo's slippers and frowned. "What is it?"
"Heero... there's a lot riding on you coming back."
"No, I don't think so." Duo shook his head, suddenly feeling panicked, cornered. "I've got a little boy in there who thinks the world of you. I've been concocting all sorts of stories about you out catching the bad guys... not exactly lies, but it wasn't like I could tell him when you'd be back, since until last night I thought that was never."
"Duo," Heero put his hand on Duo's arm. "I'm sorry you had to do that, but what about last night? I thought we went over this. You said you'd give me another chance."
Duo's eyes began to sting as he fought to hold back the tears. "I've reconsidered."
"No." Heero put both hands on Duo's arms and squeezed tightly. "Duo, please, I made a mistake by leaving you like that, and I'm sorry, but I'm going to make it up to you and Solo. I know what I want... and it's you, the both of you." He looked deep into Duo's eyes. "My life was empty without you."
Duo took in a deep, shaky breath. "If it was just about you and me then I'd take that chance, but I've got to do what's best for Solo."
Heero's grip tightened. "You said it yourself that he doesn't know... that he thought I was working."
"That doesn't change what you did---"
"It doesn't make me a monster in his eyes either. Do you want me in your life or not?"
Duo wanted to tell Heero, yes. Yes, I want you! But he was frozen by fear, a fear much like the one he had faced when he had become a single parent. With his hesitation, Heero's grasp lessened and his hands dropped away.
"That's it then?" Heero's eyes were hidden under his heavy bangs as he ducked his head. "Last night was just... what?"
"It was beautiful."
"But not enough, right?" Heero didn't wait for an answer as he spun on his heel to leave.
Now the panic spiked through Duo's core. He was building a wall out of fear, not acting on the truth, the love in his heart. He had to be brave for Solo, like he had been when Solo's mom had died. Duo reached out to Heero, catching the cuff of his coat. "I do want you in my life."
Heero stopped and looked over his shoulder. "Then what are you doing?"
"Please, Heero..." Duo released the cuff, his brow furrowing as he contained the rush of emotions inside him. "Shit, I don't know. Don't you see what a mess this is?"
Heero stepped within inches of Duo. "I see that I hurt you, and was damn lucky to get through that door last night."
"It was the suit, man," Duo said with a forced laugh.
Heero nodded and dipped his hand into an interior coat pocket, pulling out the Santa hat—all that remained of that crazy red and white Claus suit. "Look, I brought the hat... just like you asked."
Now Duo grinned. "You always were good at fulfilling my requests."
"Happy to be of service."
They both laughed, a little, but still not exactly on steady footing.
"It was a long night... last night after you left."
Heero nodded. "A long night waiting for this morning. I got up at five just to be sure I wouldn't oversleep and be late."
Duo blinked. Maybe this wasn't just about him and Solo. Heero had a claim in this, too, wanted a claim in this. "Heero?"
"Oh, what the hell..." Duo fell into Heero's arms, wrapping himself around the other man and kissing him for all he was worth. His mouth opened to take Heero in, like he was taking him back into his life, taking this chance, swallowing his fears. It was a kiss of forgiveness, want and hope. At last they pulled back, looking into each other's eyes. "I'm sorry..."
Heero put a finger to Duo's lips. "No. I'm sorry for putting you in this situation."
Duo loved that look of intensity in Heero's eyes, the look that told him that Heero wanted the final say, and that he was immovable on this point. This time Duo would concede.
"Let's give Solo his Christmas surprise." Duo saw the question in Heero's eyes and smiled. "Yeah, it's you."
Heero kissed Duo's lips softly and then took hold of his hand. "I'll follow your lead."
Slowly, holding his breath, Duo opened the door to the apartment. He stepped inside with Heero in tow. Almost immediately, Solo looked up from his game, his eyes going wide and his mouth opening in surprise. Duo gave Heero's hand a tight squeeze in anticipation.
"Solo, look who I found on the front stoop---"
"Uncle Daddy!" The boy scrambled to his feet and in a blur he was across the room and wrapping his arms around Heero's legs.
Heero squatted down and they wrapped their arms about each other. Tears welled in Duo's eyes as he saw how tightly the two most important men in his life held each other. This was what he had missed. Heero was the missing link in their family.
Solo was laughing. "Uncle Daddy, you're back!"
Heero looked up at Duo. It had only been weeks, but to a young boy it would seem like ages. "I know, it's been too long."
"Are you back for good?"
"Yes, for good."
Duo felt blissfully warm hearing those words. "He caught the bad guys he was after."
Heero set Solo on his feet, and looked the boy straight in the eye. "It took a little longer than I thought. I'm sorry…" Heero swiped at his eyes. "I'm sorry I wasn't here for you."
"Yeah, we missed you. Especially Daddy."
Heero glanced up at Duo and smiled, and now Duo could see the excess moisture in his lover's eyes. "I missed you, too." Heero said to Solo, and then reached inside his coat. "I've got something for you." He pulled out a slender, rectangular package. "Merry Christmas, Solo."
"Oh!" The boy took the gift and smiled brightly. He looked up at Duo, who nodded, and then Solo tore into the paper. It was a set of colored pencils, a very nice professional set.
Heero was standing again, and looking to Duo. "I know they're a little grown up for him, but he loves to draw and…"
"You don't need to explain. They're great."
"Thank you, Uncle Daddy! I'll draw you a picture, but first do you want to see what Santa got me?" Solo grabbed Heero by the hand and led him to the snow globe. "Daddy said we should put this here for everyone to see. Isn't it beautiful?"
"Yes, it's very beautiful," Heero said. He took off his coat and set it on the couch, looking back to Duo. "I'm sure it reminded Santa of you and your dad and how special you are to him."
Duo smiled. "That's what I thought."
"Huh?" Solo asked, tugging on Heero's hand. "Santa knows I love polar bears."
"Yes, he does," Heero said.
A warm blush crept up Duo's neck to his cheeks. He wasn't the sort to cry, but this moment was worthy of a few tears. Just not in front of Solo. The boy didn't know, and didn't need to know the details of Heero's absence, and that it was no small miracle that had brought him back into their lives. Duo used the excuse of making breakfast to give himself a moment alone. In the kitchen, he busied himself with the task of getting the eggs and milk from the refrigerator and combining ingredients for the batter. Laughter from the living room reached his ears, the laughter of a little boy whose family was all around him. A family, yes, they were that… just like the polar bears in the snow globe. Tears spilled from Duo's eyes, the tears of happiness, relief and weeks of emotion.
Gentle hands touched his shoulders, and Duo raised his head in surprise. "Heero."
Duo turned his face away, embarrassed. "I'd say it was the onion, but this recipe doesn't call for one."
Heero chuckled. "You always joke to cover up what you're feeling." He turned Duo to face him. "Is this okay? Is everything okay?"
"It's better than okay." Duo smiled through the tears. "I guess I'm still in shock that you're here."
"Yeah." Heero brought Duo to him, wrapping his strong arms around him and holding him close. "I know I have to earn your trust again."
"I suppose that's part of it," Duo admitted. He loved the way Heero held him, how their chins would rest on each other's shoulders and their bodies melded together. "But these are happy tears."
They stayed like that a moment, absorbing each other into their beings. If ever a moment could be perfect it was this one. They were home in each other's arms, home in their commitment to this tiny family.
Duo stepped out of the embrace and grinned at Heero. "You gonna help me with breakfast or just watch like you always do?"
Heero laughed. "I've always enjoyed the view."
"Thought you might say that." Duo turned to the stove and set about getting the French toast made. He nodded toward the refrigerator. "There's orange juice if you want some."
Even with his attention on making breakfast, Duo could feel everything about Heero. His presence in the room, his eyes on him, the shift in the air as Heero retrieved the orange juice and moved about the kitchen. His body was in tune with Heero's, and now he could open himself to the possibilities again, the harmony of their bodies and their lives together. Even with the hurt still healing, the pain still echoing in his heart, it was a new day and Duo would move forward… with Heero.
They sat down at the table, the three of them, enjoying their first meal as a family again. Solo had accepted Heero back into their lives with unquestioning trust—Heero's absence a bump in the road, a detour of sorts, but now everything was back on track. Even if the boy suspected no harm, Heero's absence had put a hole in their lives. And it seemed from Solo's earlier comment that the boy had picked up on Duo's sadness of late, a fact that made Duo cringe with regret. He had not wanted his grief and anger to spill over into Solo's life, but it had been inevitable.
He smiled at the lesson Solo's easy forgiveness taught him. This moment was to be remembered, and so Duo set about consciously memorizing its details. From the smell of the cinnamon and warm, melted butter, to the syrup dripping off the edge of Solo's plate, to the creases in Heero's freshly ironed white shirt, Duo let the sounds, smells, and sights soak into his being. An improbable moment just the day before had become very real, and very much full of promise and possibility.
"What a difference a day makes," he said, looking to Heero.
Heero's eyes met his, blue like the night sky, and then his hand stretched across the small, round table to cover Duo's. No words were spoken, and Duo supposed that was right. No words were needed when a touch said it all.