The Christmas Arc
Part One: Five Golden Rings
by D.C. Logan
"And the guests? Have they arrived yet?"
"No Master Quatre, at least not the guests you're waiting for. I retrieved this from the vault for you Master, will there be anything else?"
Quatre took the long velvet box from his gloved hand and lifted the lid. Yes, he thought privately, this was the right time to bestow his gift to his friends. He looked back up at the young man, he was new and looked nervous to Quatre's eyes. One of Rasid's adopted sons if he wasn't mistaken. Ah yes, Ahmed.
"No, thank you Ahmed. Please tell the others that I'll be downstairs in a few moments."
The young man nodded and took himself from the room, leaving Quatre alone with his thoughts.
Quatre checked his appearance in the full-length mirror. He disliked dressing for events, but appearances must be maintained. He straightened his collar and nervously ran his fingers through his hair. It refused to be tamed, but it would have to do.
Quatre turned from the mirror and started his trek down to the ballroom on the first floor. He noted his security force at work on the outside terraces. Good. With all the dignitaries that would be here tonight, the last thing he needed was another scandal like the one at his Christmas ball two years ago. What a mess that had been.
He stopped by his home office to review some of the correspondence for the latest merger he had under way. He sat behind his desk, taking care that the box stayed within his line of sight. He wasn't expecting a business deal to play a major role at the party tonight, but it didn't hurt to be prepared for anything. His time as a Gundam pilot had taught him that.
He tilted back in his chair and steepled his fingers on the point of his chin. It would be good to see his fellow pilots again. He'd received replies from everyone with the exception of Wufei, but Sally Po had promised to drag him along if she had to handcuff him to her shuttle to get him there. An inadvertent grin escaped at the mental picture that presented itself if Sally had to make good on her word. He and Trowa kept close correspondence, and Duo, as usual, had replied both for Heero and himself. He hoped they'd all make it this time.
Quatre reached over for his box, opened the presentation case one more time, and checked its contents. The box was rectangular and covered in dark blue velvet. The interior lined in more of the same in light gray. It contained five gold hand-crafted rings; each set into its private niche. Gold for old friends, as was the tradition. Each one decorated with a different sigil for every one of the Gundam pilots who had led the way into the new unified age.
He'd come up with the idea last year, and had commissioned an artist to turn his concept into a reality. Christmas was here, and with it the anniversary of the end of the war. He was afraid that as they all grew older, and the war of AC196 was slowly forgotten, that they'd lose track of one another. He wanted to take at least one small step to ensure that wouldn't happen.
He'd had long talks with the artist, and had explained both what he wanted to accomplish and the personality traits of each one of his friends in great detail. Old Rakel, both empathic and observant, had made suggestions along the way to perfect his gifts. The heavy gold rings in front of him were the result of an unexpected amount of work and soul searching on his part.
Heero's ring lay first in the box. His gold band had an ancient symbol for "heart" etched deeply into its center. Engraved on the reverse of the band, where it would only be seen by its wearer was "hope," to represent the struggle Heero had gone through on his path to the present. His will, sense of mission, and courage to fulfill his destiny had served to focus a group of young pilots into a force that had motivated the world to change.
Duo's ring lay next in the case. A phoenix with outstretched wings and stylized flames circled the ring. It was a symbol of rebirth out of the old—an ancient symbol of new life arising from death. A small scorpion, symbol of silent and quiet death was etched on the underside of the band to remind him of where he'd started his journey and to give him a measure of just how far he'd come.
Trowa's ring had required the most thought of the five. He and Rakel had spent long hours talking about him and what he had accomplished. An ancient Assyrian criosphinx, a symbol for silence, had seemed the most fitting after weeks of agonizing over the choices available. The selection had been tempered with the symbol for "peace" that was etched on the inside of the band.
Wufei's ring sat next to last in the presentation case. For Wufei, the choice had been obvious from the start. "Justice" of course, in a stylized rendering of an old Chinese character. On the underside, a wave for "balance" to remind him to weigh the consequences before meting out his brand of justice, enforcement, and honorable action.
His own ring he'd left up to Rakel's intuition. The artist had chosen an old Egyptian character for "soul" and told him to find his own meaning in it as he liked. The inside of the band she'd said she left blank, and had told him to find his own direction. Wise old lady that.
He looked over the five rings once more before closing the box. He hoped that his friends wouldn't misread his intentions. He simply wanted to give them a token of the respect he held for them and to fuse the sense of comradeship among the five people he held so dear to his heart.
There was a soft tap at the door. Quatre, absorbed in his thoughts, started at the noise and looked up quickly. Rasid was standing in the doorframe. And smiling at his master's reaction.
"Master? The guests you've been waiting for have arrived."
Quatre collected his thoughts and his precious box and pushed himself away from the desk.
"Thanks Rasid, I'll be down to see them in a moment."
It was more difficult than Quatre had expected to find his friends in the mass of humanity circulating in the spacious room. It looked like the crowd exceeded even last year's record turnout.
Aha, he saw Wufei over in a corner with Sally Po. He was wearing his dress Preventer's uniform and looked mutinous, even from a distance. Quatre surmised that Sally hadn't had an easy time convincing him to come. He made a mental note to thank her later. He'd owe her a favor for this. He spied Trowa off to the left side of the dance floor talking politely with a dignitary—who was from L2 if memory served. Ah, and Duo and Heero were over in the corner. And Heero had obviously selected the wardrobe for the evening, since they were dressed as a matched set.
Quatre knew they were a couple, but he was one of the very few that did. He was pretty sure that even the other pilots hadn't been told, but with his sense of empathy and his close friendship with Duo, they hadn't been able to hide their developing relationship from him. Right now it looked like Heero was talking softly to Duo while pointing out some of the security posted throughout the room. Well, that was Heero for you, always on duty at some level. He was currently working as a bodyguard. And if Quatre's sources were correct, he was in demand by easily half of the dignitaries in the room.
Quatre quietly circulated about the room. Nodding here, answering a short question there, shaking the hand of yet another supplicant. He moved around the edges of the crowd, not sinking into any of the conversations, but brushing over them on his way to a more important personal goal.
He'd learned with practice to dampen his expression when meeting old friends, but some of the happiness he felt made it past his shields. Trowa gave a nod and a wave across the heads of the crowd, and Duo caught his glance and began moving toward him after nudging Heero to gain his attention. Quatre resolutely moved toward Wufei and Sally. She gave him a genuine smile over the back of Wufei's head and said something to Wufei that spun him around to face Quatre as he approached. Whatever Wufei was about to say to him was swallowed when Duo came up behind him and slapped him smartly on the back in a comradely greeting.
"Hey Wufei! Hey Man, glad you made it to the party! Quatre here put out a great spread don't cha think?"
"Do they ever shut up on your colony?" Wufei replied bitterly.
"Wufei," Sally admonished him.
He dropped his gaze, but didn't reply to her or Duo. Heero's mouth thinned in a mutinous line, but he did nothing in response to the perceived insult.
Quatre waited for Trowa to reach the group before speaking. "I invited you here because I had something to share with you. Could you please accompany me to my study for a few minutes?"
Duo and Heero exchanged a puzzled look, but followed Quatre's path; Sally gave Wufei a light shove to send him off in the right direction. His look plainly said that she'd regret that move later, but he dutifully followed the other four from the ballroom.
Once all the pilots were gathered in his study, he turned to them; and holding the box under his arm, began to speak. "I'd like to present you with a pact—and a gift of friendship. Without the five of us, the world as we know it wouldn't exist today. I commissioned an artist to come up with an idea on how best to commemorate the Gundam pilots who, through their joint efforts, ended the war, and who I am proud to consider my best and most personal friends." He opened the box to reveal its contents and continued. "This is my Christmas gift to all of you. And with it is my wish that we'll each maintain our friendships with each other."
Duo peered into the box. While all the rings looked identical from a distance of a few feet, upon closer inspection he noticed that different symbols had been deeply engraved into the surface of each one. Quatre had counted on Duo to break the ice, and motioned him forward for a closer look. Duo's sense of curiosity was infectious, and he noted with relief that even Wufei and Heero were showing some signs of interest. Quatre lifted a ring from the box and motioned for Duo to hold out his hand. He placed the gold band on the middle of his palm, and was pleased when Duo took it between his fingers and examined it closely with a look of pleasure.
"This is fine Quatre, really fine." He moved closer to Quatre and questioned him about the image etched into his ring. The other three moved closer to hear the soft discussion. Duo slipped the ring onto his finger, pleased when it fit, and held his hand up to show the others.
Quatre pulled the third ring from the set and handed it to Trowa while giving a brief explanation of the symbol and the meaning behind it. Trowa looked unusually pleased with the gift Quatre had selected for him. He turned the token around in his hands, and looked up at Quatre with a genuine rare smile.
Heero looked ambivalent, but when he noticed how inordinately pleased Duo was with his new gift, he quietly accepted the proffered ring. Unlike Duo and Trowa before him, he didn't so much as glance at the ring before shoving it experimentally on two different fingers before finding a fit that suited him. Quatre knew him too well to take offense.
Even Wufei was not immune to the lure of the contents of the box and stood somberly in front of Quatre to accept his ring. Quatre had counted on this as well, hoping that he'd be too honorable to refuse any gift offered in genuine friendship.
Quatre pulled the last ring from the box and set the empty case aside. He watched as each of the pilots who had affected the change of the politics of the world wordlessly looked at the tokens he'd given them. And he felt his heart lurch as the five of them, for the first time in many years, were again bound together as a cohesive group.
Duo met his eyes and nodded once in understanding before turning to Heero and then Wufei in turn to see what their rings represented. Trowa was thoughtfully turning his ring around his finger while looking at Quatre and the others.
Quatre watched happily for a moment until a thought occurred to him. He pulled his ring from his finger and held it up to the light to see if anything had been engraved there for him. A single word decorated the inside of the band in flowing script: "union." He smiled at Rakel's uncanny perception and slid the ring back onto his finger.
Then Quatre leaned back on the edge of his desk and simply enjoyed the moment he'd waited for so long to come to pass.