A Letter to Santa
by Dyna Dee
Trowa Barton looked up from the letter he was writing to the young man standing next to his desk. Duo was staring down at him with an expression that asked if he'd lost his mind. "I said I'm writing to Santa Claus."
"You're shittin' me."
A shrug was all the reply the braided man received. Planting both palms down on the other Preventer's desk, Duo leaned forward and said, "I think you've been working a bit too much, buddy, 'cause you and I both know there's no such thing as Santie Claus."
Shielding the contents of his paper from prying eyes with the turn of his body, Trowa raised a questioning, reddish-brown eyebrow. "Who are you to tell me that he isn't real? Do you have proof he doesn't exist?"
Large violet eyes blinked, stunned by the other man's question. "Everyone knows it, Trowa. Come on. A magical sleigh, flying reindeer and a bag filled with toys." Then a slow, knowing grin tugged at the corners of the braided teen's lips. "Is that a love letter to a certain attractive blond we all know and love?"
"No," was Trowa's too-quick reply, but the slight blush on his cheeks was reward enough for Duo who was grinning like a loon. Teasing Trowa about his not-so-unrequited crush was one of the braided teen's favorite pastimes. Looking Duo in the eye, Trowa added, "I don't think you want me to get into another discussion about holding out for a certain someone."
"You mean a certain elusive Japanese boy?" came a familiar voice from across the room.
Now it was Duo's turn to blush. He chose to ignore Wufei completely and quickly returned to the original subject. "Come on, Tro, now I'm curious, and you know what a tenacious pest I can be when something bugs me. Is that a gift list you're writing? Do you want to know what to get me for Christmas?"
The green eyes turned to the braided man. "I know what you want, Duo, so there's no need to ask."
Duo frowned. "How do you know what I want? You're not a mind reader. Even Quatre, with that touchy-feely heart of his, can't do that."
Trowa shook his head, then turned back to his hidden note, which he folded into thirds and slipped it into his desk drawer. "You're rather transparent, Duo, especially to your friends. We know you've been searching for Heero for the past year. I'm fairly certain you'd like him to return for the holidays."
Duo straightened from leaning on Trowa's desk and tried to look unperturbed when he answered, "So I've been worried about the guy, that's all. He did walk out of a hospital room twenty-four hours after collapsing at the end the last battle. I mean really, the guy's gundam blew up... again. I'm just concerned that he wasn't right in his mind or that he might have needed help."
"Sure you were," Trowa said with a knowing wink towards Wufei.
"Oh, shut up," Duo huffed, turning away from the smirking two. He was the one who liked to tease and cajole his friends into revealing their secrets, and he didn't exactly like the tables being turned. His feelings for Heero, whether he was missing or not, was nobody's business but his own. Frankly, it hurt being reminded of Heero's disappearance, that he obviously meant so little to the guy he considered his best friend. Heero had walked out of the hospital and away from his friends and acquaintances without a word... and he never turned back.
"Have you finished your wish list?"
Duo spun around, unable to believe his ears. Wufei was also writing a letter to Santa? No way! That was something he absolutely couldn't believe. What's going on here? he wondered. He quickly decided it would be best to play along in order to find out what mischief his two friends were up to.
"What are you asking for?" he asked the ebony haired agent as casually as possible, moving towards the desk on the other side of the room.
Wufei didn't look up from the paper and pen in his hand as he answered, "Painting supplies, some music. I could use a new robe, wallet and holster for my gun. Nothing special, I suppose."
"And you really think you're going to get them?" He watched his friend closely, looking for some clue that he was being duped. Wufei didn't hesitate to answer as he looked up from his paper and straight into Duo's eyes. "Of course." The Chinese man then frowned. "Have you written out your list yet, Duo? I'll be posting mine and Trowa's letters at lunch. I can take yours, if you'd like."
"No way," the braided man replied, waving both hands in front of him. "I'm not falling for whatever you two are setting me up for. I never even heard of Santa Claus until I was taken into the orphanage. Even then I was skeptical. If there really was a benevolent, magical person that Santa Claus is supposed to be, then why the hell didn't he ever bring anything to me or my gang? We had nothin'. Even a hot meal would have been a damn miracle. Nope, there's no such thing as Santa Claus and I'm not falling for your tricks."
Trowa had a look of understanding in his eyes as he explained, "He only works on Earth, Duo, and to only those who are believers. Everyone know that if you don't believe, he doesn't come to your home. That's why we never had him visit us on the colonies."
Duo waved off Trowa's explanation as he returned to his desk, only to slide his green Preventer jacket from off his chair and sling it over his shoulders. "You're so full of it, Barton. I'm going to lunch."
"Where's your Christmas spirit, Duo?" Wufei called after him as he reached the door.
With a middle finger salute, Duo replied, "Bah, humbug."
Duo ate his lunch alone at a nearby deli; an unusual occurrence for him. During his year at Preventers he'd made friends with most of his fellow agents and enjoyed the company and understanding of three of the other former gundam pilots. Yet as the Christmas season approached, he had begun to feel detached from everyone. The whole holiday seemed centered around either religious beliefs or family traditions, of which he had neither. The beautiful trees and holiday trims that decorated the malls and the banners and lights that lit up the streets seemed gaudy in comparison to the sharp memory of his more austere past.
There had been no lights nor trees on the grim streets within the dismal colony of which he spent most of his youth. Presents, songs and parties were things he'd never experienced before being taken in at the orphanage. And while living there, Christmas had been a more humble occasion, religious, a far cry from the commercial aspect that somehow seemed to override the celebration of the same holiday on Earth.
Sister Helen had told tales to the children of Old Saint Nicholas, reciting a long poem about a man who'd witnessed the "Jolly old Elf" visiting his home late one Christmas Eve. When the younger children had asked her, wide eyed and curious about this guy Santa Claus that she spoke of, she said he was magical, and only existed for those who believed.
Is that what Wufei meant?
Pausing while bringing the spoonful of milkshake up to his mouth, Duo pondered his friend's statement in relation to what Sister Helen had said. "No." He shook his head at the foolish notion that there might be some validity in their statements about Santa Claus. There was no magical old man from the North Pole with flying reindeer who pulled his sled filled with toys around to the world on Christmas Eve. That, he knew, was impossible.
He returned to work and tried to put the matter out of his mind, which wasn't easy when his fellow agents kept referring to their letters.
"So how do you post a wish list to Santa Claus?" he asked Wufei as they readied themselves to leave the office for the day.
The other agent rolled his eyes as if the answer was as plain as the nose on his face. "Where all mail goes, to the post office."
"They know where to send it?"
"They've been doing it for many generations."
The braided teen stopped his forward movement to look at the other agent, his friend doing the same. "You're seriously telling me that you believe this... Santa Claus myth."
"It's only a myth if you don't believe."
With a deep sigh, Duo shook his head and began to walk towards the elevator. "I'm still not falling for it."
"Suit yourself," his friend replied smugly, keeping up with his stride. "You'll not find any presents under your tree Christmas morning."
"Now that's not hard to believe, since I don't have one of those either."
Wufei waited until they were in the elevator until he commented on the last statement. "I'm surprised you don't have tree. Don't most Americans celebrate with Christmas trees?"
"Maybe. But I'm not your typical L2 American, am I?"
The elevator doors opened and Duo shot out of it as fast as possible. "See ya tomorrow," he called over his shoulder as he made a bee-line for the parking garage. If Wufei really wanted to carry on this ridiculous conversation, he'd have to run to catch up with him.
He was relived when his friend didn't call after him. He cared for Wufei as the good friend he had proven to be, but right now he just wanted to put the conversation and the day behind him. Flinging open the door to the parking garage he shivered from the cold, despite wearing a jacket. A puff of white as he exhaled rose from his lips as he moved from the building's exit to his black sports car.
Though it was cold, the weather forecaster had predicted a chilly yet snow-less week. He couldn't understand why anyone would wish for snow. Wasn't being cold punishment enough? Sure, the holiday cards he'd seen in stores made the winter scene seem peaceful and appealing, but having lived most of his live on a colony in which the weather systems rarely worked, he hated the cold.
Unlocking his car door, he quickly sat behind the wheel and turned the key in the ignition. As soon as the engine turned over, he turned up the heater and activated the heating coils in his seat. It only took a few moments before enough heat was produced to offer him some comfort.
Pausing to relish the warmth, he wondered why he put up with the cold when he hated and tolerated it so poorly. Why didn't he just more to a warmer climate and live out his life without ever feeling cold ever again? Moving away from central Europe was more tempting to him than any one of his friends would believe, but he knew he wouldn't. No, his friends were here, happy with their lives and situation, and they were the only family he had. They were his gang, his comrades in war and in peace. They were the people he turned to when the silence of his apartment got to be too much, or the memories of a grim past crowded in. Because he needed them, he was doomed to the cold winters. With a deep and long sigh he realized being cold for a couple of months a year was a small price to pay for what he got in return.
Pulling out of the assigned space, he exited the parking garage and turned right, driving through the busy downtown traffic to his two-bedroom apartment across town, ignoring the festive decorations and colorful lights.
The office was more festive than professional the next day. It was Friday, and with Monday being Christmas Day, a lot of agents were wrapping up their caseloads as much as possible while nibbling on the wide array of food and sweets their fellow co-workers had brought in to share. Heading back to his shared office with a napkin filled with fudge, divinity, peanut brittle and marzipan, Duo was licking the last traces of fudge off of his fingers when he heard his name. He stopped short of the open doorway and listened to the conversation inside.
"He's evidently not celebrating Christmas," Wufei was saying. "Says he doesn't even have a tree."
"That doesn't seem like Duo," Trowa replied, concern lacing his words. "Do you think he's all right?"
"He seems a little down lately, but we all have those feelings from time to time."
"Quatre says he hasn't replied to his invitation for dinner on Christmas Eve."
"I'm sure he's just forgotten. We'll ask him when he comes back, if he ever does. He's been gone for about 20 minutes."
"It's no wonder with all the food in the lunch room," Trowa said, deftly changed the subject. "I'd like to have some of the marzipan Haskins brought in."
"Royce brought divinity."
Duo took that as his cue. "Did someone say something about divinity?" He rounded the corner as he spoke, and immediately had the attention of the other two Preventers. He held out the confection-filled napkin and watched their eyes widen with pleasure and grateful smiles on their lips."
Trowa rose from his chair to meet the braided man half way. "I've been thinking about divinity since the moment I saw it on the table when I came in."
"Then why didn't you snag some earlier?" Duo said, watching Trowa pick up both pieces, knowing that neither he nor Wufei liked divinity.
"It was too early to eat sweets."
Duo turned to offer Wufei the napkin of treats. The Chinese agent picked up the two pieces of divinity with a nod and word of gratitude. He watched as his friend took a bite of the offered treat. His dark almond eyes closed and a look of pure pleasure overtook his handsome face. "Wonderful," he whispered.
Duo picked up one of the three pieces of peanut brittle off of the napkin, and with a grin on his face he took a bite, then made a valiant effort to catch an escaping peanut. Failing, he picked it up off the floor and walked to his desk to toss it in the trash can. Sitting down, he toggled his mouse to activate his computer screen.
"Quatre says you haven't replied to his invitation for dinner on Christmas Eve." Trowa said.
Duo glanced up to see the other two were watching him while finishing off their sweets. "I've been trying to make up my mind whether or not I want to go."
"What other plans do you have for Christmas Eve?" Wufei asked before popping the last piece of marzipan into his mouth.
Shrugging, he answered, "I don't have anything planned."
"Then why not come to dinner?"
The braided Preventer looked up at Trowa to answer his question. "The only memories I have of Christmas are of war and my brief stint at the orphanage. This time of year doesn't hold a lot of happy memories for me." He shrugged and added, "Guess I don't feel like celebrating."
"Do you think the nun and priest who gave you a home would want you to never celebrate the holiday because they died?" Wufei asked in a gentle voice, knowing the priest and nun from Duo's past life continued to be a tender subject.
After a moment's thought, the braided man shook his head. "No. I don't think so. Sister Helen didn't really do anything too fancy on Christmas. We didn't get the kind of supplies from the church on Earth to have a big party. But Christmas was special to her. It was humble and meaningful and meant something more than presents and lavish decorations. The holiday most people celebrate seems so... commercial and over done in comparison."
"Perhaps you could honor her memory by going to church on Christmas," Trowa suggested.
It was obvious to Duo that his friends were trying their best to help, but he knew that with all the killing he'd done during the wars and as a Preventer that the priests would probably banish him from the chapel if he dared make his way to a confessional booth. "Nah. I don't belong there."
"From what you told me, Father Maxwell was a forgiving man, compassionate even," Wufei gently interjected. "Would he or his contemporaries turn from you or welcome you with open arms?"
Duo found it painful to speak of the two people who had acted as the only parents he'd ever known. He'd often wondered what they would have thought of his role in the wars as the God of Death. He'd taken on the persona that was the opposite of the god they loved. Each time he thought of his part in the war and them, he felt shamed. To kill was a sin, Father Maxwell had said. Would the fatherly priest welcome him with open arms knowing what he'd done during the war, or with Heero? He really didn't know, though he was pretty sure Sister Helen would.
With a strained voice he answered, "I really don't know, but could we drop the subject. It isn't doing anything to make me feel better about the holiday."
"Please come to dinner." Trowa said with quiet earnestness. "We're all the family each other has, Duo. You might not feel the need to celebrate, but we need you to be with us."
"Trowa's right," Wufei added. "We're friends, brothers even. I won't feel content if you aren't at Quatre's with us. Please come."
"All right," he caved, giving into their requests.
Then Wufei added, "We'll make a new memory for the holiday, maybe start a few traditions of our own."
"I'll call Quatre with your acceptance," Trowa said, wearing a pleased smile, already dialing the person on the top of his speed dial list on his cell phone.
During the next two days Duo joined the last minute shoppers in order to find gifts for his friends, knowing he couldn't show up at Quatre's empty handed. It wasn't as if his friends were expecting presents from him, but he knew they would have something for him to open. He didn't want to feel awkward by not having gifts of his own to give them in return.
But what could he give the three difficult-to-buy-for group.? Quatre was a bazillionaire, Trowa was a man with simple tastes while Wufei was cultured. After seeing the ridiculously long lines of people waiting to purchase their last-minute gifts, he decided he needed to think of something more creative than what the malls had to offer.
What did all three men have in common? Something that would be unique, that would show how much he thought of them and wouldn't require that he stand in line for an hour in order to purchase it. After spending a couple of long minutes considering his options, an idea came to him from out of the blue. With a grin on his face, he left the mall and returned to his car, a new destination in mind.
The morning of Christmas Eve came too soon. Duo lay in bed for a full hour after waking, having nothing or no one demanding he do anything otherwise. He usually avoided the luxury of laying abed because his mind always seemed to wander down memory lane, bringing feelings of longing and regret.
"One night does not a relationship make," he told himself for the millionth time since the night after he and Heero had stepped over the line of friendship and into, what he'd mistakenly thought, was something more. That had happened on Peacemillion, before the last big battle. He'd lost count of how many times he'd recounted with great detail every moment of that night. He'd analyzed Heero's actions, reactions, how a push was returned with a shove, which turned to a completely different kind of touch, that led them down onto a cot and a night he could not seem to get over, despite the fact that Heero had clearly dismissed their encounter as nothing more than a scratch that needed to be itched and then forgotten.
But Heero had come back, he was quick to remind himself. One year ago, a week before Relena was kidnaped, Heero had contacted him, giving him coordinates for a satellite in which he had been tracking a certain suspicious group of subversives, headed by none other than Deikem Barton. Of course Heero hadn't greeted him with open arms or a toe curling kiss. After a year apart the two former comrades spent an uneasy couple of days catching up, arguing and becoming comfortable with each other and the changes a year had made.
Just when he thought they were getting closer, the news of Relena's kidnaping reached them. Sure, it had been cool fighting by Heero's side again, and their compatibility as partners against a common enemy made him feel more in sync with the boy he couldn't seem to forget. His thinking that Heero must feel the same was quickly smashed into smithereens when he found himself waking up from a bruising blow to the stomach and a prisoner of Deikem Barton.
Then next time he saw Heero was after Wing Zero had blown up while attacking the enemy's stronghold. Relena had filled him and the guys in on what had happened after that, how Heero had survived Wing Zero's exploding and how he showed up in the stronghold and saved the day.. again.
He'd visited the hospital where Heero had been taken, only to find him in a coma. He'd stayed by his side until they kicked him out. When he returned the next day, Heero was gone, and he hadn't heard from him since.
The other guys knew of his search for Heero, and after a while they began to tease him about it, trying in their way to make light of the situation. Nothing could dispel the feeling he had of being rejected.
He stretched in his warm bed, not really wanting to get up, but his stomach was persistent in letting him know it needed sustenance. But before he could move, he paused to wonder about Quatre's call the night before, promising a surprise for Christmas Eve. He couldn't help but hope that Heero showing up was the surprise. He tried to squelch that hope, but was unsuccessful. He rarely ever got what he wanted so desperately, like a family, a mother's touch or a father's understanding. Now here he was, an eighteen year old orphan, former soldier turned Preventer, and he wanted nothing more than for one specific person to come back and make things right.
With that little bit of hope that Heero might be at Quatre's dinner that night, he threw back the covers and got out of bed. He turned to make it, but on second thought changed the sheets and then straightened the covers. It never hurt to be prepared, he thought with a grin.
He was sitting in his robe and slippers, reading the morning paper and eating a bagel with his coffee, when the phone rang. The caller ID indicated it was Trowa.
"Hey, Tro. What's up?" He hoped this was a social call and not a work related one.
"Hi, Duo. Merry Christmas."
"Thanks, you too."
"Would you like to ride with me to Quatre's tonight?"
"What's the matter? Don't think you're going to get lucky and be invited to spend the night?"
Pause. "Duo." Trowa's voice, though as smooth and controlled as usual, held a tone of warning.
"Come on, you know it's inevitable. You're crazy about Quat and he's obviously head over heels for you. Make a move already."
"So now you're a relationship expert?"
"Those who can't do something, teach."
The long sigh from the other end of the phone was heard. "What's stopping you?" Duo asked, on a more serious note.
"I'm just looking for a sign that he's ready to... I don't know, step over the line with me."
"Believe me, Tro, there's a lot more to it than that first step."
"Did you and..."
Knowing that Trowa was about to go into previously forbidden territory, Duo spoke up quickly in order to stop him from asking. "We're not talking about my pathetic love life, we're talking about you and Quat."
"He's kind and welcoming to everyone. How do I know that he isn't just being a good friend?"
"I guess that means you haven't kissed him yet."
The ensuing silence was his answer, and he wanted to smack his two friends' heads together. It was so obvious how they felt about each other, but neither one of them seemed comfortable making the first move. The whole situation reminded him of Heero and himself, dancing around their attraction for each other and getting no where, until that one night on Peacemillion.
"Well, I suppose you could use tonight as an indicator of how he feels about you," he suggested.
"If he gives you a gift that is a bit more... thoughtful, or even more costly than what he gives to Wufei and I, then you should take it as his way of telling you that he's ready to start something up." Having spoken to the blond two weeks prior, he knew Quatre was obsessing about what to get Trowa for Christmas. Duo had given his friend a couple of practical ideas, all of which the wealthy teen had dismissed as too little, too practical or common. He did, however, like one of his suggestions, and if Q went with it, then Trowa would have no more excuses, given their conversation.
Trowa took a long moment to think about his suggestion before speaking again. "Have you written out your wish list for Santa?"
Duo laughed. "I can't believe you're asking me that. Do you really expect me to write a letter to Santa Claus?"
"It can't hurt."
"It's a bit late for getting it to the North Pole, isn't it?" he teased.
"Just write out what you want on a piece of paper and leave it on the kitchen table. He'll get it."
Shaking his head, Duo wondered if Trowa hadn't been sniffing something. "You're nuts."
"Maybe so, but I'll be a happy nut if I get what I asked for."
Chuckling at the idea of the fabled jolly old elf giving his friend a certain blond, naked in his bed, Duo couldn't help but say, "You think he can do that?"
"Like I said, it can't hurt to ask. Why don't you give it a try? What have you got to lose?"
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing."
"So do you want a ride?"
"Nah. I better take my own car, just in case Santie Claus does show up and makes your dreams come true."
Trowa laughed in his usual small, humorous chuckle. "See you at six."
Duo cleaned up after his breakfast, but couldn't quite shake the conversation with Trowa out of his mind. After showering and getting dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, he stood in the bedroom and looked at himself in the mirror while braiding his long hair. He paused half way down and his thoughts drifted back to Sister Helen, who took great care in brushing out all his tangles and showed him how to pull the thick length of hair that lay half way down his back into a neat and tidy braid. Though he had washed his hair countless times since she'd touched it, he couldn't help but think of her now and feel sad that her life and goodness was cut short.
Time to move on, a voice in his head told him, and he knew it was true. He needed to put the past behind him, and perhaps it was time to let Heero go, too.
He went into the living room and pulled out a tablet of paper from the shelf beneath the phone table. With pen in hand he went into the living room and sat on the sofa. Pausing for only a moment, surrounded by the quiet stillness of his apartment, he wrote:
For Christmas, I, Duo Maxwell, want to let go of past sorrows and finally find peace, contentment and someone who loves me, who won't leave.
And that was the crux of the matter, wasn't it? Heero had left him before they'd had a chance to let their feelings grow into more than just a one night stand. Though the others, Solo, his gang, Father Maxwell, Sister Helen and the other children at the orphanage had no choice in leaving him, Heero did.
Five minutes before six he stood outside of Quatre's front door, presents in hand. The blond billionaire lived in a stately home surrounded by the best security fence and security system money and former gundam pilots could produce.
He studied the stately white, two-story home and the Christmas tree that was displayed in the front widow with hundreds of multi-colored lights twinkling brightly. What if Heero was in there? he asked himself. How should he act or what would he say to him? The Heero he knew must have changed over the year, like he had. But would the changes be for the better or worse? Did he really want to go in there and find out?
His indecision might have kept him out on the sidewalk for most of the evening if Wufei hadn't arrived just then and ushered him inside.
He felt an equal measurement of relief and disappointment when it became obvious that Heero wasn't there. Trowa, however, was and he gave Duo a knowing look when Quatre greeted both he and Wufei in a warm and affectionate manner. Duo could only imagine that this was the same way his taller friend had been welcomed by the blond, and that Trowa was silently saying "See what I mean?", meaning that Quatre did treat everyone as if they were his closest friend.
Dinner was served promptly at 6:15, and the food was rich and plentiful while the conversation was light. No one mentioned Heero's absence, which Duo felt most profoundly, cementing his resolve that he really did need to let his hopes for a future with Heero go and move on.
After dinner, they retired to the living room for their dessert and tea with soft, instrumental holiday tunes playing in the background. After the dishes were removed, Quatre announced that it was time to open the presents.
Quatre's gifts were always lavish, and though they protested the cost, the blond waved away their objections, saying his friends were worth every penny and so much more. Duo set he new game system he'd received down and looked on as Trowa opened his gift from Quatre, with all eyes in the room focused on him. Quatre sat on the edge of his seat, obviously anxious to see the reaction from the man he'd gladly give everything to. Trowa opened one large, wrapped box only to find another, and then another. When he finally got to a small 3" by 5" box, he looked up at the blond.
"Go on," Quatre urged, his blue eyes dancing with excitement. Trowa did as he was instructed and carefully opened the last box. From out of the cotton he pulled a set of keys. His green eyes widened at seeing the well-known manufacturer's insignia on the keys.
"Quatre!" he breathed the blond's name, sounding almost breathless.
With a shy grin, the blond said, "I hope you'll accept this gift as a token of my affection."
A new, hot-off-the-assembly-line convertible sports car spoke volumes. Trowa looked from Quatre to Duo, only to see a sly grin on the American's face. He had his more than ample sign of Quatre's feelings for him. "I don't know what to say," he whispered.
"Say you love it and that you'll give me a ride later tonight."
For the life of him, Duo couldn't stop the laughter that erupted out of him at that simple statement. He laughed even harder when the two other teens finally got the unintended innuendo and blushed furiously.
"Head out of the gutter, Maxwell," Wufei said with a disapproving tone, though the twitch at the corners of his mouth showed that he was amused by the innocent statement gone awry.
After the remaining presents had been opened, Quatre cleared his throat to get everyone's attention. "Now, for the extra surprise." He rose from his chair and moved to the fireplace. From off the mantle he picked up a large, manilla envelope.
Duo felt his small hope that Heero would be the surprise fall apart and shatter. He watched Quatre return to his chair with a big smile on his face. "I received this parcel on Friday. It's from Heero."
Duo, as well as the other two, perked up. "What is it?" he asked, leaning forward in his chair to see the front of the envelope.
Quatre flipped it over before he could see the writing and opened the flap. "I opened it and found four envelopes addressed to each of us." Pulling out four large envelopes, the blond showed them that their names were boldly printed with black ink. He then dutifully handed them out.
Duo accepted the envelope with his first name written on the front, and was aware that his hands were slightly shaking as he held it with his fingertips. Still feeling disappointment at Heero's prolonged absence, he felt that flicker of hope again, that the missing pilot was announcing his return. "Is there a return address?" he asked Quatre without looking up.
"No, but there might be one inside."
The sound of paper tearing reached Duo's ears, causing him to react by turning the envelope over and carefully working at the glued flap. Once free, he lifted the flap completely and spied a pale blue card with silver glitter. He ignored the others, his concentration on the card inside, and pulled it out of the envelope with his fingertips.
The card was rather pretty, with the blue soft background and glitter forming a falling star and tail. Beneath that image was the word Peace, written in silver, fancy script.
Slowly opening the card, he was shocked to see only a simple pre-printed message on the inside. Peace be with you this holiday season and always. Beneath it was the black ink signature, Heero Yuy.
Resisting the urge to crumple up the card and throw it in the fireplace, Duo fought to contain his disappointment and hurt. His decision to move on was now cemented around his disillusioned heart.
"What does he say in your card, Duo?" he heard Quatre ask.
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing," he answered with disgust.
The room went silent and he felt the eyes of his friends on him. Looking up, he asked. "Did he write a message to you?"
Quatre looked stricken as their eyes met. "I'm so sorry, Duo."
Looking at Trowa and Wufei, he could see by the cards in their hands that Heero had indeed written on one complete side of their cards.
Breathing in a shaky breath, he quickly rose to his feet. "I think I'm going to call it a night, guys. Have a good Christmas, all right?" He then turned and fled the room.
He couldn't get his coat on fast enough to escape his well-meaning friend though. Quatre followed after him with an appeal. "Please don't go, Duo. Stay the night."
"It's not me you should be asking to stay the night, Q," he said, more harshly than he'd intended.
"I'm sorry, Duo. I can't imagine what Heero was thinking, not writing to you."
"He said more than you can imagine by not writing one word," he answered, bitter disappointment lacing his words.
He suddenly found himself embraced, wrapped in arms stronger than they appeared. "I'm so sorry, Duo. I know this year has been hard on you, waiting to hear from Heero. What will you do now?"
Duo stood still in his friend's arms and thought about the answer to that very question before he answered in a tight voice. "I'll get over it, and him. It's time to move on with my life."
Quatre stepped back, sadness written all over his face. The fact that his friend now felt as badly as he did made the braided man feel worse. "Listen, Q, I had a nice time here tonight. Don't let me ruin Christmas for you... and Trowa. Don't mind me, I'll be fine. I always am, aren't I?"
The blond shook his head. "You tell me, Duo, are you 'fine'? I don't think you've been happy since the last war. What can I do to help?"
With a sigh, Duo answered. "Learn from my mistakes, buddy. When you find something good, grab hold of him and don't let go. Trowa loves you, Quatre. Don't wait for things to be perfect before you let him into your life. Love him back and have a good life together. That's what will make me happy."
The blond gave him a solemn nod, then said, "You're forgetting your gifts. Should I bring them by tomorrow?"
"Yeah, that would be good."
The blond smiled then, though his eyes still held a hint of worry in them. "Thank you for the bowling shoes and season pass at the alley. I'm sure we'll have a lot of fun learning how to bowl together. Call me tomorrow?"
Duo assured his friend that he would call. Then something new occurred to him. "Do you know anything about the guys trying to get me to write a letter to Santa Claus?"
The blond gave him a little embarrassed grin. "I put them up to it," he confessed. "I wasn't sure what to get you for Christmas, so I enlisted their help."
"By getting me to write a letter to Santa?"
"I was desperate," Quatre said with a laugh. "Trowa was going to try one last time this morning to get you to write a list, and then he'd intended to read it while picking you up tonight. You don't always do what you're supposed to, Duo, making it almost impossible to trick you."
Duo chuckled. "Ya gotta do better than coaxing me into writing to a fabled man. I'm more practical minded than that."
The two teased each other for another couple of moments before Duo hightailed it out of there when the blond tried once again to talk him into staying the night.
Parking his car, Duo hesitated for a moment, not ready to go upstairs quite yet. He turned and exited the parking garage with his hands tucked into the pocket of his leather jacket, heading for the bar half a block away from his apartment, despite the cold temperature and the lateness of the evening. He was actually quite surprised to find the place open on Christmas Eve.
A glance around the darkened barroom revealed five other losers spread out around the room, listening to some modernized version of a Christmas classic. He sat at the bar and ordered a scotch on the rocks. The potbellied man behind the bar accepted his Preventer badge as proof of age and poured his drink while attempting to engage him in conversation by wondering if they were going to have a white Christmas or not. Duo wondered what did it matter if it snowed or not? It certainly wouldn't make his Christmas any better.
Making it clear by his lack of response that he wasn't in the mood for chit chat, the bartender took the hint and left him alone with his drink. He managed three such drinks while the Christmas music played on, trying to drown out the hurt he felt from Heero's unspoken message, that there wasn't anything more to say to each other. The past was the past, and Heero had moved on with his life.
The strong liquor gave him the courage to go back to his empty apartment, to face the facts and determine his future. What a grim task indeed, he thought as he stepped out of the bar and into the cold night air.
The air felt just a little warmer for some reason, and in the light of the street lamps he could see that it had started snowing. It was silent and beautiful, and for a moment he forgot his hurt and pain and put his face to the sky to let the cold softness fall and melt on his upturned face. Maybe the snow had made the evening just a bit better. When the cold finally penetrated his jacket and he began to shiver, he turned and reluctantly walked back home.
He fumbled his keys for a moment before putting the right one in the lock, then turned it until the satisfying click sounded. A turn of the knob and push of the door revealed his dark living room. Closing the door behind him, he re-locked the door and left the lights off, then removed his jacket and hung it up, his movements aided by the faint glow coming from the city lights which were cast into the room through the partially opened curtain of his sliding glass door.
He trudged the well-known path to the bathroom. Once inside, the Santa night light he'd received in a gift exchange at work a week ago gave him enough light to relieve his bladder, wash his hands and face and brush his teeth. He took off his clothes, tossed them into the hamper, then took his robe off the hook on the bathroom door and wearily slipped it on.
With a sigh he realized that he should probably drink some water to ease the effects of the alcohol he'd had that evening. Since there wasn't a glass in the bathroom, he had to go to the kitchen.
He yawned widely as he passed through the living room and into the small kitchen. Still in the dark, he removed a glass from the cupboard by touch alone, then filled it up with tap water. Bringing the glass to his mouth, he took a long sip. Suddenly, the lights in the living room flashed on and he jumped, momentarily startled and blinded by the sudden brightness. The glass of water slipped from his fingers and into the sink. The sound of breaking of glass seemed over loud, and then a voice called out to him.
No, it couldn't be. He blinked, desperately trying to focus on the blur in the vicinity of his living room sofa. "Heero?" he asked, disbelieving his ears.
"What are you doing wandering around in the dark?"
Slowly, the messy, dark brown hair came into focus, as did the features of the young man sitting on his sofa. "What the hell are you doing in my apartment?" he asked, more than a little shocked at seeing the person he'd been trying to find for a full year in his apartment.
"I came to see you. When you weren't home, I decided to wait inside and I fell asleep on your sofa."
Duo really didn't understand what was happening. Hadn't Heero sent him a card that basically stated that he had moved on? He shook his head, confused. "What's going on, Heero? Are you in trouble or something?"
Then something miraculous happened. Heero, looking tousled from sleep and more wonderful than Duo remembered, smiled. It was a gentle, amused smile. "No, I'm not in trouble. I thought it was time to come back and talk to you."
Duo blinked. Was this really Heero Yuy, or some impersonator sent by the guys to mess with him? Heero had never been one for talking too much, nor did he smile in the way he was doing at the moment. Would they be that cruel, sending someone who happened to look like Heero as a joke, knowing how he felt about the missing pilot?
His face must have revealed his confusion, for Heero's smile faded and his face took on a look of concern. "Are you all right? You look kind of pale."
"I think I'm hallucinating. You came to talk?"
"And you're smiling at me?"
"I know that I might seem a bit different now, but that's what I hoped to accomplish when I left last year."
Whether it was his confusion or the alcohol taking over, Duo's head began to spin. "I think I need to sit down."
Heero stood up and motioned for him to come to the sofa. He did so, feeling like he was sleep walking. He sat down, never taking his eyes off the other person. Heero sat next to him, close enough to touch.
"It's really you, Heero?"
There was that smile again. He watched as Heero reached out for his hand and held it between his own, confusing him even more. The Heero he knew during the wars had never been a touchy-feely kind of person. "Yes, it's really me."
Frowning, he looked into the deep blue eyes, now so close to his own face. "I'm confused. Why are you here?"
"I came back for you, Duo."
Could this be real? He blinked several times to make sure the person in front of him wasn't an apparition, conjured up in his mind. "You did?"
It took a moment before he truly realized that this was real, that Heero truly was sitting next to him and for all the hurt he'd felt at Heero's leaving to come rushing back, accompanied by a shit load of anger. Taking a deep breath, he let it all out in one angry tirade. "What the hell? Did you think that you could drop me like yesterday's garbage and then come back here thinking everything would be all hunkydorie? Who the hell do you think you are, Heero? Did you think your leaving wouldn't bother me? That I wouldn't be worried about you? I spent almost all of my free time searching for you, wondering if you were hurt, emotionally scarred, hungry or even lost. Dammit, Heero, I was worried sick about you and you never even bothered to let me know that you were all right. Don't come waltzing in here with your newfound smile and ability to carry on a conversation and think that I'm going to forgive you for all the hell you put me though. And then let's talk about that damn Christmas card. You wrote to the other guys but not a word to me. Not one damn, shitty word to me! Why, Heero? I'll tell you why. It was obviously your way of telling me that I mean nothing to you, that I probably never did and that you've moved on with your life. All I can say to that is have a Merry damn Christmas and get out of my apartment!"
To his credit, Heero sat still throughout his tirade and listened to his ranting without interrupting. Once he was finished and shaking with residual anger that was no longer pent up inside, Heero responded by softening his face and voice to say, "I'm sorry, Duo. I didn't know if my absence would be as painful to you as it was to me. But if you'll give me five minutes, I'd like to explain."
Duo closed his eyes, unable to bear the earnest expression on Heero's face. He took a couple of deep calming breaths and tried to slow his rapidly beating heart, just as Wufei had instructed him when he'd complained about having trouble sleeping. It worked now, calming him just enough so that he could think a bit more clearly. "Why?" he whispered.
"I left after the last war because I realized I wasn't good enough for you. I knew that if we were to ever going to have a relationship I had to change. Duo..." He paused for only a moment to retake the hand he'd let go of during the tirade. "That night on Peacemillion meant everything to me. I wanted you, needed you, and you made me feel more alive than I'd ever felt before. I wanted that feeling to last a life time, but I knew I was flawed by my training. I needed to change, to become someone you'd want for more than just one night."
"Dammit, Heero, is that what you thought? That all I wanted was just one night?" Duo shook his head in disbelief. "I can't believe you didn't know how much I... I..." he paused, not knowing if he should blurt out the full truth.
Here it was, the opportunity to tell Heero how he felt. During the last year he'd promised himself that, if he ever got the chance, he'd confess his feelings to the other teen and hope he felt the same.
Looking up through the hair falling over his forehead, he watched for Heero's expression as he gathered up his courage and said, "That I'd fallen in love with you, before that night we'd slept together."
A look of relief flashed in those deep blue eyes. "Duo." His name was whispered like a prayer of gratitude. "Though I didn't realize it at the time, I felt the same."
And then Heero leaned forward and was kissing him. The kiss began like a question, or asking permission, yet the moment he responded back, raising his arms to hold Heero closer, his tongue seeking its mate within the other man's mouth, then the kiss turned into something more, something desperate and needy.
He lost all sense of time while reconnecting with Heero. They kissed until their lips were numb and then they simply held onto each other, fearful of letting go.
"Why was the Christmas card blank?" Duo asked.
"Because what I had to say to you couldn't be said in a card. I left it blank only because I couldn't write the words of my heart for the others to see, not until I told them to you in person."
Duo pulled back. "I've got so many questions. Where have you been? Will you be going back and leaving me again?"
"I'll answer all your questions, Duo, but not tonight."
"Because tonight is Christmas Eve." Heero held up a piece of paper and Duo recognized it as his letter to Santa Claus. He blushed with embarrassment, realizing that Heero had read his gift list. "I might not be Santa Claus, but I'm hoping that I can make at least one of your wishes come true."
Duo smiled, knowing which one Heero was talking about. He looked over the other boy's shoulder to see through the curtain's opening the silent and beautiful snowing falling gently in the night. That's funny, he thought. I don't feel so cold anymore.
"I bought you a present, just in case you showed up at Quatre's, but I left it there. Guess I'll have to give it to you tomorrow."
"How about you give me something else tonight?" Heero asked, a rakish grin on his handsome face. "And I'll give you the same in return."
Duo watched as Heero reached forward and began to slowly unbutton his shirt. "What is it that you want?" he asked, almost breathless as fingers brushed against his bare chest. He was very glad at that moment that all his T-shirts had been in the wash when he'd dressed for the evening at Quatre's.
When his shirt was completely unbuttoned and opened, Heero pressed his palm over his rapidly beating heart. Looking up though the dark messy hair, partially covering deep blue eyes, Heero whispered, "Give me your heart, Duo, and I'll give you mine."
Was he dreaming? Could this possibly be happening? After convincing himself this was real, he made a quick, decisive decision. Never let it be said that Duo Maxwell doesn't make the most of a good opportunity, he thought to himself. With all sincerity he whispered, "Merry Christmas, Heero. You've had my heart all along."
And though it was late and the night was cold, and there were still questions yet to be answered, the two young men inside that small apartment never had a happier Christmas. Heero did indeed make Duo's Christmas wish come true, for he was the lover he'd dreamt of, a life-long companion and friend. The memory of that Christmas night, of a new beginning for both of them, remained with the two men for the rest of their lives. And seeing how successful his first attempt to contact the North Pole had been, each year thereafter Duo wrote a letter to Santa and left it where Heero couldn't help but find it.