by Dyna Dee
Half of the household staff, Relena and her sheepish-looking brother with Lucretia Noin grinning at his side, had all gathered in the grand, marble tiled entry of the palace. Though most of those present tried to look busy, as if they had a legitimate purpose for being there, it was obvious they were just milling about, waiting for the postman who was already fifteen minutes past his usual arrival time. As Heero came down the stairs, all eyes turned to him briefly before quickly turning away and everyone went back to their pretending they were there for a purpose other than waiting the postman to arrive. Heero sighed, rolled his eyes, and continued to where Relena stood with a pretty smile on her face.
"Excited?" she asked, her eyes sparkling along with her curiosity.
"Relena." Heero's deep voice issued a warning to her that he was not happy with the crowd and that unhappiness was backed up by his brief, scathing glare directed towards both she and her brother.
"Don't be upset," she urged him with a slight playful pout on her face. "Everyone here cares about you, Heero. We all want you to be happy."
"But this is personal," he argued unhappily. "If you were getting love notes would you want everyone and their maid knowing about it?"
"I wouldn't mind unless the press printed the messages," she answered sensibly.
"And how long do you think it will be until that happens considering Dorothy talked openly about it at a political event?" Heero asked, his ire building. "All of Quatre's sisters have probably heard about it by now. If they know, their friends know and that's half the colonies."
Relena's smile faltered. "I'm sorry, Heero. We're spoiling this for you. I guess we just got caught up in the excitement and it's just so..."
"Don't say it!" Heero interrupted, his hand coming up to signal her to stop speaking. He didn't want to hear again how romantic it was. Women. He inwardly groaned at their romantic tendencies but then remembered that Quatre had been just about as bad.
Relena's mouth closed and her face took on the look of being contrite. She opened her mouth once again to apologize when a knock sounded on the ornately carved front doors of the palace. A butler rushed to open them and stepped back to allow the uniformed postman to come through the door, his mail pouch on his shoulder and his hand raised high, holding up the awaited post card. "It's here!" he announced cheerfully, then blinked in confusion when the card was rudely snatched out of his fingers by an angry looking Japanese man who promptly turned and marched across the grand foyer and up the staircase, pointedly ignoring the worried and disappointed faces of the group of people whose eyes followed his retreat.
Heero shut the door to his room and let himself fall back against it as he tried to calm himself. "This whole thing has turned into a circus," he growled out to himself, disheartened by all the attention he and his mail were getting. Closing his eyes, he allowed himself a moment to find his center. As he felt his heart rate begin to slow and his breathing return to normal, he re-opened his eyes and brought his hand up to look at the much anticipated card. This was the sixth one to arrive within a month's time with three more to arrive before the puzzle was complete.
He studied the picture which obviously conformed to the right side of the puzzle, fitting between the top and bottom pictures already in place. It didn't seem to reveal any more clues with regards to the place or person who sent it; it only showed a hillside vineyard and a bit of the road that seemed to curve towards the top, center picture yet to come. He felt a twinge of disappointment, but reminded himself that he knew the main piece, revealing the structure and maybe the sender, would be the last to arrive.
Walking over to his desk, he turned the card over and looked first at the postage stamp. Barcelona, Spain. The sender of the cards was getting closer, and for some reason, Heero's heart began to beat more rapidly up at the thought. His eyes shifted to the printed words, again neatly printed, and he unconsciously held his breath as he soaked up the words.
I WANT TO WAKE UP WITH THE RAIN
FALLING ON A TIN ROOF
WHILE I'M SAFE THERE IN YOUR ARMS
The picture he formed in his mind at the words was... wonderful. And as always, the unknown person he envisioned in his daydreams had a long, chestnut colored braid, luminous blue-violet eyes that contrasted beautifully with a knee-weakening smile. Realizing where his thoughts had gone, Heero mentally scolded himself for letting his fantasy flourish. "You're setting yourself up for a lot of pain," he mumbled to himself. Then putting such thoughts behind him, he taped the picture up onto this wall in its correct place, completing the right side of the puzzle. It was now two thirds complete. He studied what was there and decided that, wherever the location was, it was just as appealing to him as the words printed on the back of each card.
His mind drifted to the near future, when the last card would arrive. Would it reveal the sender as they'd all hoped? Several scenarios, all of which were surprisingly pleasant, came to his mind and that in and of itself shocked him. He was normally a suspicious, pragmatic person due to his training. By nature he should be on his guard, on the defensive and maybe even angry that someone would pursue him in such a clandestine manner. He wondered if the pictures depicting a place of calm and serenity had led his mind to the pleasant conclusions his thoughts veered towards instead of upping the security around the palace and his room in particular. He thought that maybe the pictures and the implied invitation somehow made love and acceptance seem... attainable. Was it the words themselves or could it be that he had finally gotten past the war and his training enough that he was ready for the kind of relationship the words alluded to? No one but Relena knew, from their many intimate conversations, how much he wanted to be loved and accepted. In the long run, it was probably that very desire that led him to have his fantasies that were always Duo centered. Could he fall for a stranger, even of such a romantic nature, when his heart always yearned for another?
Shaking his head, not able to answer his own questions, he decided he'd spent enough of his day with this foolishness. He turned away from the wall and its six invitations taped in place and steeled himself to face Relena and her inevitable questions.
Four days later a storm front that would later be termed 'The Storm of the Century' rolled in. Rain fell in sheets and torrents while the wind blew furious and constant, causing trees to fall and power lines to collapse.
Schools and businesses as well as government offices were forced to close as people huddled in their dark homes and listened to their battery operated radios telling the latest weather forecast and issuing a warning for all citizens to remain inside until the storm's fury decreased.
With no power, heat, light, television or computer available in the palace, Heero, Relena, Zechs and a few of the live-in staff were left to entertain themselves during the emergency. Flashlights provided limited lighting to the small group huddled in one of the formal sitting rooms in front of a blazing fire that roared in the fireplace during the second day of the storm.
"Well, as nice as the break from business has been," Zechs drawled, bundled up in sweats and a thick robe. "I'm getting ridiculously bored from the lack of something to do."
"Serves us right for being so dependant on electronics and electricity," Relena yawned, snuggling further into her blanket she'd cocooned herself in.
"There must be a game or something we can play," Inka said. "How about charades?"
"We played that yesterday," Heero said in a bland voice.
Relena and Zechs exchanged a knowing look before the young woman spoke, her eyes and smile turning to Heero. "And I would never have guessed that you would be so terrible at it."
"I guess that means poker is out," Zechs said, also looking at Heero, then to Relena for conformation.
"That game is certainly not very fun, especially when Heero wins every hand," Relena sulked prettily.
"I had a good teacher," Heero replied, thinking of Duo once again and quickly diverting his thoughts elsewhere.
"We could do some organizing and dusting," Inka said hopefully.
"NO!" The three answered firmly.
"Absolutely no housework," Relena added, specifically addressing the older woman. "If everyone else has the day off, so should the rest of us."
"No work and all play makes us lazy," the self proclaimed workaholic replied, pulling her wool sweater closer together as the chill in the room grew stronger.
A few moments of silence passed before Heero spoke up in a tentative voice. "Once while staying in a safehouse we had several days without electricity," he began and all eyes turned expectantly to him. "We were all on edge and not used to just sitting and doing nothing. Duo seemed to be the one most affected. As a teenager, he had a lot of restless energy. He suggested we play a game he'd played at the orphanage he'd been in. He explained that on L-2 they were often left in the dark with no power due to the frequent breakdown of that colony's systems, and the nun who was in charge of them suggested a game she played as a child."
"What's the game, Heero?" Relena asked softly, knowing that talking about the past and Duo in particular was both hard and yet cathartic for her best friend.
"Hide and seek," he replied with a smile that reflected his memory of the game they'd played in the safehouse was a good one.
"I think the last time I played that game was when I was ten," Milliardo commented, a faint smile on his face at his own memories.
"Let's play!" Relena said, her eyes lighting up with anticipation.
Inka looked skeptical. "We'll never find each other with so many rooms to hide in," she stated.
"We'll limit where we can hide," Heero replied. "How about the downstairs rooms, excluding the kitchen."
"Not it!" Relena called out a scant second before Milliardo called out the same words.
"Huh?" Heero looked surprised, his eyes followed the brother and sister as they turned to the older woman.
"You're it, Inka," the Foreign Minister announced with a smile on his handsome face. It was evident he'd taken Heero's grunt as his "not it".
The afternoon was spent in adolescent fun that made the otherwise gloomy day pass pleasantly and the simple game did much to restore youthful feelings to three of the four whose younger years had been filled with war and sorrows.
It wasn't until that evening when the three sat at the kitchen table that was lit by hurricane lamps. Present with them were the other eight members of the household staff who lived full time at the palace. It was during the simple meal that Heero realized the mail and his expected postcard hadn't come because of the storm.
"Do you think the mail will be able to come tomorrow?" he asked Milliardo, sitting to his right.
The tall blond man shared an amused look with his sister before answering. "You just remembered, didn't you?" He waited until Heero nodded. "I don't know," he answered. "If not, it will make the anticipation all that much sweeter."
Heero scowled, and with a derisive snort said, "I think you've been stung by the romance bug."
Milliardo shrugged, a smile on his face. "Nothing wrong with romance, Heero."
"I looked the song up on the Internet," Relena said, and all eyes at the table turned to her. "Do you want to know what the next card will say?"
Heero paused, looking at the bits of corn that floated on the surface of the brown broth soup while he thought about his answer. If Relena told him the next few stanzas of the song, maybe the nervous feeling he had in the pit of his belly would go away. On the other hand, he attributed that feeling to being excited anticipation and it was a new experience for him, one that he wanted to experience again. "No," he answered simply, then carefully lifted a spoonful of broth and vegetables to his mouth.
"You're sure?" Relena persisted.
"It's really short."
"Relena," Milliardo cut in. "Leave him be. He said no already. Leave it at that."
The young woman huffed and turned her eyes to her own bowl and mumbled, "Spoiled sport."
The rest of the evening passed pleasantly enough with candlelight flickering over the Monopoly game board. The residents of the Sanq Palace called it an early night and retired to their rooms as the storm continued to howl and the rain raged against the palace.
The storm carried on half way through the next day, leaving the city's road crews scrambling to clean up the mess left in its wake, hoping to clear the roads so that businesses and government offices could be up and functioning as quickly as possible.
The awaited postcard came two days late and well past the hour of normal delivery along with a mass of other mail that had been held back. It was late evening when Inka knocked rapidly on Heero's door. With her face flushed from hurrying up the stairs, she handed the picture postcard over to him. "Short and sweet this time, Mr. Yuy," she said. Heero gave her his thanks and wished her a good night before shutting the door.
Staring down at the seventh picture, he noted it had showed only more vineyard and green hill that loomed in the background behind it. It was the missing piece to the left side of the puzzle.
Flipping the card over, he read the message.
SO ALL I ASK IS FOR YOU
COME AWAY WITH ME IN THE NIGHT
It was marked Vienna, Austria, which was closer still. And though the phrase was a repeated one, it seemed like an entreating invitation to him.
Moving across the room to his desk, he followed the ritual of taping the seventh picture up with the others. He had no doubt the next picture would fill the space on the bottom of the puzzle and that it would show the vineyard and stream. It was the ninth picture he was anticipating. It would give him the answers he sought, and maybe, if fate was kind, the person he needed.
He sighed as he placed the picture in his hands against the wall and taped it in place. At least with the long delay of this card the next one's arrival would seem much shorter and would arrive in only two days.
Relena and Milliardo were watching him. He could feel their curiosity boring into him. He'd intercepted the postman at the end of the driveway and gathered the mail from him. The card was found in the middle of the thick stack and he'd observed and read the short message before returning to the palace. After leaving the remaining mail with Relena, he returned to his room and placed it in its spot on the bottom of the square of pictures on his wall.
The song was now complete, yet there was one picture left to arrive and fill in the empty spot.
"Well?" Surprisingly, it was Milliardo who spoke first, his curiosity getting the better of him.
"It came," he told the curious siblings as he flipped through a catalogue of surveillance equipment.
"It said 'Come away with me', right?" Relena said, smiling happily. Heero gave her a perplexed look. "Remember, I looked it up."
He nodded, recalling her saying that. "It was postmarked Luxembourg."
"How many cards are left?" Milliardo asked, sitting forward in his chair with interest.
"One," Relena answered in unison with her bodyguard and friend.
There was a shared moment of silence, each of the three mentally speculating what the last picture would reveal. What would the message on the back say now that the song was finished?
"Five days suddenly seems like a very long time from now," Relena said, her eyes looking sympathetically towards her friend.
Heero shrugged one shoulder, appearing casually dismissive about the whole situation and inwardly congratulating himself for managing to do so. "I'm a patient man," he said. But in direct contradiction to his words and appearance was his stomach, which felt like a mobile suit battle was being waged within it. He could not understand the nervousness or the overwhelming sense of anticipation he was experiencing at the thought of what the last card would hold. He hoped to learn the identity of the sender and wondered what that information would eventually lead to. Then the lingering hope snuck through his defenses again, hoping for the conclusion that would coincide with his ever-present daydreams of a certain American. His more pragmatic side spoke up loudly in warning. 'It could be a stalker. Don't hope for too much. What if it's a pot-bellied old geezer, an alcoholic or a sadist or any number of negative types of people you'd have no attraction to? Don't get your hopes up that it's the one person you want it to be.'
A hand on his arm startled him from his thoughts and he looked up into Relena's concerned face. He realized he'd let his guard down and his train of thought must have been reflected on his face. No words passed between the two friends, only understanding. Though it had been infrequently spoken of, Relena knew where his heart and hopes lay. Seeing she was worried about him, he gave her a small, reassuring smile, showing her he was all right. The subject was dropped and the minutes passing from that moment until the next estimated due date for the arrival of the last card seemed to stretch out endlessly.
The fifth day after the last card arrived dawned brightly. The morning air was cool and crisp and filled with the earthy scent brought on by the previous night's rain shower. Heero's eyes opened as the first hint of light entered through his window. 'Today's the day,' was his first thought and he noticed his heart rate was slightly elevated. He allowed himself a moment to relish the rare feeling of excited anticipation before he rose from his bed and began his morning ablutions.
He donned his black suit as Relena was scheduled to attend a breakfast meeting at the Commerce Department. She assured him they would return in time to greet the postman. But the best of plans are laid to waste by the words of garrulous, pontificating politicians.
The breakfast was waylaid by an impromptu invitation for the long-winded Mrs. Rosalinda Santiago, who happened to be visiting that day and showed up unannounced to the meeting to say a few words to the group of business men. Heero inwardly groaned. Twice in two months was too much to ask of him. Their departure from the meeting ended up being much later than they had planned, and even then, they had to give their apologies to the event's host at leaving before the meeting concluded.
The downtown traffic from the Commerce Department to the palace proved to be a nightmare, causing the limousine driver to look back in his rearview mirror nervously as Heero once again cursed the overly long car and wishing, not for the first time, that he had a motorcycle stashed in the trunk.
Relena sat close to her agitated friend and soothingly stroked his hand. "The mail isn't going to sprout legs and run off, Heero," she gently chided. "It will be there when we get home. I asked Mill to keep an eye out for it."
Heero glanced at her suspiciously, his irritation at their delay was showing. "And how many people are set up on your speed dial for the moment after I put the puzzle together?"
Relena blushed, looking guilty. "Only a few," she confessed.
"Let me guess," Heero said lifting his hand to count his fingers for each named person. "Dorothy." Relena nodded and one of his fingers stood up. "Noin." That brought up the second finger. "Sally, who will no doubt call Wufei, Quatre, who will tell Trowa and all of his twenty nine sisters not to mention the multitude of Maguanacs and servants."
Relena nodded, knowing he was correct in his assumptions. He had six fingers held up, having included Quatre's sisters and the Maguanacs as one. "Have I missed anyone?" he asked, churlishly.
Clearing her throat in a dainty manner, Relena answered. "My mother, Milliardo, if he's not around, several of the household staff including Inka, Hilde Howard and the Sweepers and some of my friends from my former school."
"What!" Heero's eyes widened at the number of people Relena was about to tell his secret to, his cheeks were burning with embarrassment. "Why don't you just call the press to let them in on it too?"
"You know I wouldn't do that to you," she replied, looking and feeling very hurt by his insinuation that she'd be such an unfaithful friend.
"We've talked about this before, Relena. This is my personal business, my life. What part of private don't you understand?" He threw up his hands, a very uncharacteristic gesture for him, then flopped himself back into the plush leather seat. He was obviously not himself.
"You're impossible to talk to when you're like this," she complained, defensively wrapping her arms across her stomach.
At the moment, Heero didn't care what Relena thought. He sensed that his future was hanging in the balance and it was making him irritable and cross. He just needed to get back to the palace, to his room, and get his postcard. From the moment of reading the last message, he knew his life would either change drastically or he would see the end of the romantic invitations, and the last forty-five days would just be consigned to the past as a pleasant, harmless interlude in his otherwise boring existence. Stifling silence filled the large limousine for the remainder of the ride home.
Twenty minutes later the car pulled up to the front door of the palace and Heero sprung from the car and raced up the front steps, leaving the driver to open the door for Relena. He made a beeline for Milliardo's office, knowing Relena had him intercept the highly anticipated postcard.
The tall blond and his secretary appeared to be out of the office. Heero took the liberty of going through the neat stacks of notes and mail on both desks but didn't find what he was looking for. He turned to leave the office only to run into Relena, whose eyes went from his hands to the empty room behind him.
"Your brother is out and there's no postcard," he brusquely informed her.
She lifted her wrist then glanced at her watched and said, "Dining hall." She turned on her heel and began to walk in the direction of that particular room. Heero quickly caught up to her and they walked together to the well-used room and found the platinum haired man sitting amongst the familiar faces of his office staff as they took their noontime meal together.
Milliardo raised his head at the sound of their approaching footsteps and saw the earnest look on both of their faces. He excused himself and stood to intercept them. In a low voice he spoke to the both of them as they met. "It didn't come," he said with a look of sympathy that was directed towards Heero.
"You're sure?" Heero asked, feeling his hopes begin to crash. "You checked with the postman?"
"I had Jeffries chase after him and he re-checked his pouch. It wasn't there."
Relena frowned. "This had better not be some cruel joke played at Heero's expense," she hissed, her anger rising.
"Maybe something happened and it's just a day late?" Milliardo suggested. "It could have been misplaced at the postal station. That's happened before."
Heero stood still while the two siblings began to speculate as to what could have happened to the missing postcard. Breathing in deeply to gather his thoughts, he looked up, meeting their gazes. "I'm going to my room to change," he announced. He then turned and with brisk footsteps left the room, leaving Relena and her brother to watch him go with worry displayed on their faces.
"If the person that sent those cards intended to hurt him," Relena began, narrowing her eyes, "I'll track him down and he'll rue the day he was ever born."
"Nice talk from the world's spokesperson for pacifism," the tall blond man said with a smirk, then moved quickly to avoid the sharp jab of Relena's elbow.
"You know what I mean," she said, not able to keep from returning her brother's teasing smile.
"I know." Milliardo put his arm around her shoulders. "I feel the same way. Heero deserves some happiness of his own."
With a sigh, the young woman rested her head on her brother's strong shoulder before she remembered where she was and realized from the complete silence in the room that they had an audience.
"I think I better get some food and then take a plate to Heero. The breakfast this morning was less than satisfying." She stepped out of her brother's embrace. "I cleared my afternoon calendar, anticipating the last card arriving."
"Maybe we can do something fun together," the blond man suggested, catching Relena's attention as they began to move towards the buffet table together. "You, me and Heero."
"I'll ask," she replied, not too hopeful that Heero would want to go anywhere with his mind so distracted.
She wasn't really very hungry, so she put only salad and cut up fruit on her plate with the intention of eating quickly and then grabbing a plate of food and taking it upstairs to console her friend.
Unlocking the door to his room, Heero stepped in and tossed the suit jacket he'd taken off while climbing the staircase onto the chair by the door. He closed his eyes for a moment, fighting back a strong wave of disappointment. 'Foolish to have gotten your hopes up,' the voice in his head scolded. Of all the possibilities that had come to his mind about this day, he'd never envisioned the last picture postcard not showing up.
Taking a deep breath and letting it out, he composed himself, then opened his eyes to look at his room, his home. They immediately caught sight of an object on his bed that hadn't been there when he'd left that morning. Quickly moving towards it, he observed a large white and bulging envelope, conspicuous as it lay on top of his dark blue comforter. With caution that came as natural to him as breathing, he gently picked it up and examined it, trying to ascertain if it carried an explosive device. He felt through the envelope, but other than the rounded outline of some object inside, he couldn't tell what was contained within. He took meticulous care in unsealing the package and opening it. Peering inside, he smiled and tilted the envelope to spill the contents out onto his comforter. Out of it fell a picture post card, a slender CD player and headphones.
With a careful look around the room, he determined his living space to be secure. No one else was present and there seemed to be no forced entry. He let go of the puzzle of how the package made it into his room and picked up the card.
As predicted, the last piece of the nine picture puzzle showed the structure that had been hinted at and that it wasn't just a cabin as he'd imagined but a beautiful ranch-style house with a red-tile roof. The exterior surface was painted white with large front windows that would allow the owner to gaze out at the surrounding beauty nature provided. His eyes strained to make out the small figure that sat on the porch and in a chair that was tilted back on two legs. One of the person's legs rested on the porch and the other one stretched out to the hand railing. A smile grew on his face as he picked out what looked to be a rope dangling from the back of the chair.
Quickly flipping the card over, he read the last line of the song, boldly printed in the now familiar handwriting.
COME AWAY WITH ME.
Beneath it was another message, and Heero's eyes devoured each word.
LISTEN TO THE SONG AND IF YOU CAN ACCEPT MY INVITATION, MEET ME AT THE PEACE GARDEN TONIGHT AT SUNSET, AT THE CHILDREN'S PLAYGROUND. IF YOU'RE NOT THERE BY DUSK, I'LL KNOW YOU'RE NOT COMING. DM
Heero sat down heavily on the edge of his bed. There were so many feelings and emotions coursing through him he felt almost dizzy. He felt stunned, ecstatic, hopeful, excited, scared and relieved, all at the same time. This was so typically Duo, he thought, to beat around the bush for forty-five days to get to the point.
A timid knock sounded on his door. "Heero, I've brought you some lunch. Please let me in," Relena called out through the closed door.
He quickly moved from the bed and ran the short distance to the door. He literally flung it open, surprising Relena so much that the plate of food in her hand was almost dropped to the carpeted floor. She managed to recover then looked up, surprised not to see the expression of disappointment she'd anticipated, but unadulterated joy radiating from her friend's face.
Holding up the post card in his hand, Heero announced. "He broke into my room and left this." He took Relena by the arm and dragged her into his room and shut the door behind her. Still holding onto her, he then propelled the stunned girl over to his bed where the contents of the envelope lay.
Taking the card from his hand, a smile grew on her own face as a result of the infectious grin on Heero's. It was irresistible. He took the plate of food from her hand and set it on the bed table, then nodded for her to read the card. She did, and when Relena finished, she lifted her head and her smile matched his joyful one.
Flinging herself at him, Relena embraced her happy friend. "Oh, Heero. I'm so happy for you," she said as tears of joy quickly pooled in her blue eyes.
"I'm meeting him tonight," he announced as he held her tightly. He felt her head nod against his shoulder, stating that she understood.
"And you're going away with him, aren't you?"
Gently pulling away from their embrace, Heero looked into the young woman's face. "You don't need me here any longer, Relena, and I really want to take this chance to find happiness. I really think I can find it with Duo even though I can hardly believe that he wants me too. I need to find out if what I've felt for him all this time, and hopefully what he feels for me, is where happiness will begin for me." He gave her a look of apology. "I have to give you my resignation, effective immediately. I'm sorry to leave you, though. You've been a good friend to me, Relena. I can never properly thank you for helping me to be more than the person I was after the war."
Relena was now openly crying and trying to smile at the same time. "I'm so happy for you. Go, with my best wishes. Just let me do one last thing for you."
Heero tilted his head to the side, curious about the request, but knowing he couldn't really refuse Relena anything, especially considering all she'd been to him and done for him. He nodded his head.
"Let me take you to the park tonight, to see you off."
Heero smiled, relieved that she hadn't asked for something he couldn't grant. "That would be nice," he replied, leaning forward to once again embrace the girl who had been his family since the end of the wars. He kissed the top of her head as she held tightly to him. "I won't drop out of your life, Relena. You'll always be my friend. We'll visit as often as we can."
"Thank you, Heero. I couldn't bear to lose you completely," she replied, sounding relieved. With a final sigh, she took control of her emotions and stepped out of his arms. "Now," she began, taking command of herself and the situation. "Let's get you packed then break the news to my brother." She then stopped as if she'd forgotten something. "Have you listened to the CD yet?"
"No." Heero then turned to the portable player and opened the case. He took out the CD, noting the only label was a white strip with the printed words "Come Away With Me" written on it. Moving to his stereo system, he turned the power on, set the CD in and started the player.
The sound of a soft piano and the brushing of a drum's skin began and were followed by a man's soft voice singing the soulful words that had been printed on picture postcards. Heero recognized the singer immediately. "That's Duo," he told Relena, his eyes and smile growing warm again as everything began to come into focus. The wars were over and boy he'd secretly lost his heart to was now a man and he was singing his invitation for Heero to begin a new life with him.
COME AWAY WITH ME AND WE'LL KISS ON A MOUNTAIN TOP.
COME AWAY WITH ME AND I'LL NEVER STOP LOVING YOU.
The soft and mellow sound of a jazz guitar came in as Heero went to his closet and got out his largest suitcase and opened it on the top of his bed.
Relena began to empty out the drawers of his dresser, packing socks, boxers, t-shirts. She put them in the suitcase just as the song ended. She and Heero looked at each other after the last note of the song faded. With bright eyes and a shaky smile, she said, "I never thought Duo could be so romantic. I envy you, Heero."
"I envy me, too," he replied with a quirky grin that eased into a genuine and dazzling smile for her. The sight of it suddenly made Relena envious of Duo, that he was the person to bring out those rare and precious smiles from her closest friend.
An hour later, Milliardo began to worry when neither Heero nor Relena returned downstairs. When they failed to answer their cell phones, he climbed the staircase and went to Heero's door. Putting his ear against it, he thought he detected music and Relena's laughter. He rapped his knuckles against the wood. "It's Mill," he called out. "Can I come in?"
He heard a dual-toned answer to the affirmative and opened the door to see two suitcases and a duffle bag next to the door and Relena and Heero both dressed casually, in their stockinged feet, and laying side by side on top of his Queen sized bed. The smile on their faces showed that something significant had happened. He closed the door behind him and went to join them, anxiously wanting to learn what had transpired.
The sun ebbed slowly towards the western horizon and a dark, expensive sedan stopped short of its destination. Heero opened the back door and got out of the car. He stood at the side of the road and looked down the gentle slope of the park which was dotted with well manicured shrubs and bushes. At the bottom of the hillside was the children's play area with swings, monkey bars and tubes for climbing through, all marked off by a protecting cyclone fence. Several children were in the process of being led away from their fun, kicking and screaming as their parents deemed it was getting dark and time to go home. He found a smile growing on his face as he spotted the lone man that stood out in contrast to the little people the area was initially intended to entertain. He sat with his back to him in one of the swings, his long braid trailing down past the rubber seat he rested on, and he moved the swing slightly with his feet implanted in the sand as he waited for an answer to his invitation.
"Heero!" Relena called out for him as her window opened and her hand reached out towards him. He stepped closer to take hold of it. "Good luck," she said, her eyes bright with moisture she refused to give into.
"Bring Duo up here so we can say hello," Milliardo said from his place in the driver's seat.
Heero squeezed Relena's hand gently, smiled at her brother, then turned to meet his future.
He forced himself to walk down the hill, his eyes devouring each aspect of the man waiting for him. Duo was dressed in tan dress pant and a light blue shirt that was open at the collar. Heero grinned to himself knowing his postcard Romeo had dressed up for the occasion. He felt a surprising sense of relief at seeing the long braid trailing down Duo's back. It seemed like such an intrinsic part of him and had honestly fueled many of Heero's guilty fantasies.
As he neared, Duo sensed his approach and turned his head around. The unforgettable blue-violet eyes widened as they met his own, followed almost instantly by a two hundred watt smile. He stood from the swing and went to the entrance of the children's area to meet him.
And as they came face to face, it seemed as if the world stopped spinning, that all of nature held its breath as each young man's eyes took in all the changes in the other and both of them found the changes to be more than pleasing.
Duo had grown, Heero realized, but stood only an inch taller than his own five foot, six inch frame. His face had matured, but took nothing away from his being handsome. There was a moment of awkwardness as each waited for some inspiration on how to begin.
"You kept your hair long," Heero said at last with a pleased grin.
Duo pulled the long plait of hair over his shoulder and glanced fondly down at it. "Yeah, I'm kind of attached to it."
"Me too," Heero admitted and felt himself blush with a sudden feeling of bashfulness.
Duo looked up, surprised at that revelation. "Really? I remember you telling me it was impractical."
Heero shrugged, recalling those words he'd uttered in anger when he'd had to brush out all of the tangles after Duo had been injured on a mission. "It might have been impractical at times," he began, "but it's certainly fueled a lot of... ." He stopped short, realizing what he'd just about blurted out, then ducked his head, embarrassed, wondering what in the world was wrong with him, almost saying something like that.
A crooked grin graced Duo's handsome face. "Hum... That's nice to know," he replied.
The stood there quietly taking in each other, neither one quite sure how to proceed. Finally, Duo reached into the inner pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out an envelope containing a long envelope and two tickets, which he shoved towards Heero.
Taking them, Heero scanned the information. The airline tickets were for two and would take the both of them from Sanq to London, then to Chicago, Illinois, and finally arriving in Los Angeles, California. Looking up, he smiled at the nervous man in front of him. "We wondered where the vineyard was. Is it yours?"
Duo nodded. "I bought it lock, stock and barrel about a year ago and I've spent all this time trying to figure out how to run it."
Heero looked curious at his former comrade. "You've obviously been traveling for the last forty-five days, can you leave it unattended that long?"
"I've got a Steward, sort of a vineyard manager," Duo shrugged. "He kind of came with the place and he's teaching me everything he knows, at a price of course." He smiled again and Heero felt himself powerless not to return it.
"I'll have to thank him," Heero said.
"Personally?" Duo asked. The conversation finally drifted to the topic that brought them there.
Heero studied the face of his fantasies, older now, yet still so appealing. He had so many questions to ask but he didn't quite know how to start.
Duo seemed to understand and he gave Heero a slightly lopsided smile. "I guess you want to know why I did all of this," he said.
Heero nodded, his eyes never leaving Duo's. "Why now? Why me? Why did you leave and not contact us?"
Running his hands over his braid, which Heero noted was a sign that his friend felt insecure, Duo spoke quietly as he began. "We both knew there was an... attraction between us during the wars, right?" He stopped and waited for Heero to acknowledge the fact with a nod, then continued. "I was confused by it. I didn't have any experience with relationships other than that of being friends, so I felt like I a fish out of water, and that scared me. When I saw that Relena liked you and that you seemed to have some sort of bond with her, I realized all the things she could offer you that I couldn't. Hell, I was a homeless kid with nowhere to go after the fighting was over." He reached up and scratched the area where his braid began, indicating to Heero that Duo was uncomfortable with the subject. "You had Relena offering you a fancy home, cars, money and anything you could ever want. So when the war was over, I thought I was doing us both a favor by going back to L-2 with Hilde." He looked up with doleful eyes. "But I never forgot about you, Heero. No matter how I tried, I couldn't get you out of my head."
"But you left Hilde. Why?" Heero asked.
Nodding, Duo continued. "Hilde was a good friend and took me in when I didn't have anywhere else to go. We worked together in the salvage yard and things were good for a short time. But she decided she wanted more from our relationship than just friendship. I tried to explain to her that I didn't feel anything more than that for her; I even hinted that my heart lay elsewhere. She was convinced that she could win me over." Heero noticed then that Duo's cheeks turned red. "I decided to give in and sleep with her, thinking maybe I could convince myself that I wasn't gay. But my heart just wasn't into it and I... disappointed her. She guessed what the problem was and gave me the cold shoulder, saying I used her." He shrugged his shoulders, looking a bit lost and guilty at the same time. "I don't know, maybe I did."
He sighed deeply, as if cleansing the bitter memory from his mind. "That was about the time I took a good look at my life. I realized I didn't want to spend my life in a junkyard. It was a decent way to make a living but I knew that if I really wanted you in my life, I couldn't impress you with my lifestyle or ask you to leave the one you had with Relena to come live a mediocre life with me. I knew I had to change, evolve into someone you'd like to be around, someone you'd respect and be willing to leave a grand palace and fancy cars for. So I set off for Earth and began a journey that led me to what I'm doing now."
Heero look incredulous as he said, "You did that for me?"
"At first," Duo answered with a shrug. "But I knew there was a risk that you might have moved on, and despite the fact that I caught you ogling me during the war, I had to wonder if you were even gay when the newspapers had you linked up with Relena as the latest hot couple. So you see I began my journey with you as an incentive but I knew in the long run it was really for me. I wanted and needed something more to make my life worthwhile. If by some good fortune you did swing my way, that you could care for me and we had a chance of ending up together, as far fetched as that seemed, it would be the cherry on top of all my hopes and dreams."
Heero smile, agreeing with Duo's sentiments. "So now you're a vintner, owner of your own vineyard," Heero stated. "I never would have guessed that to be an occupation for you."
Duo chuckled. "I came into it by accident really. After I landed back on Earth, I traveled around a lot and ended up in California. It like the fact that it didn't have the humidity or severe weather that the east coast of the U.S. has and I'd had enough of cold temperatures on L-2 to last a lifetime. I discovered that I liked the moderate climate, the rolling hills and oak trees California offered, so I looked around for an investment for the money I had left over in my accounts from the war and my inheritance from Professor G. I drove through wine country to the North and saw this Spanish-style of home placed on the top of a hillside with a for sale sign at the bottom of the driveway. Damn, if I didn't fall I completely in love with the place. It's nestled on a rolling hill and surrounded by mountains in a place called The Valley of the Moon." His eyes were lit with excitement as he added, "It's perfect, Heero."
The former Wing pilot couldn't help but smile at the elated expression on Duo's face. He knew from the time they'd spent together during the war that Duo had a fascination with the moon glowing eerily high above the Earth. They'd spent many evenings together looking up at it in its many phases as they spoke of their lives before the war and their hopes for a life after it was over. It was during those rare and quiet moments that were spent lying on a roof, a rock, on grass or the deck of Howard's ship that he began to fall in love with the orphaned pilot of the gundam Deathscythe. He came back from his reverie as Duo began speaking again.
"And then you went and told everyone you were gay and not involved with Relena." Duo smiled as he chuckled with amusement. "Suddenly I had hope again, but it was stalled when the papers linked to you every guy in the universe and his dog. I got to thinking then that you might be involved with someone, so I waited. If you were with someone, I assumed I'd find out because the media was bound to make a circus of it. When nothing, or rather no one substantial popped up in the gossip pages link with you, I decided it was time to make my approach, hoping that my feelings for you would be returned." Duo then stopped speaking and his eyes sought out Heero's, searching for his own answers as to what Heero felt about him and his romantic pursuit.
Lifting his hand up to cup Duo's cheek, his thumb gently stroking the faint blush there, Heero answered his unasked question. "Your feelings are returned, Duo. I've cared for and wanted you for a very long time."
Hope sprung up in the braided man's eyes and his words were rushed as he spoke. "Then you'll come home with me, Heero? I can't promise it will be perfect, or that I can give you everything you deserve, but I'm willing to do my best."
"I'm a simple man, Duo." Blue eyes drowned in the depths of blue-violet. "My needs are few and I'm almost certain that you alone can fill them. I'm packed and ready to go," Heero informed the long lost American while his heart tripped wildly in his chest.
The braided man took in a quick breath of air before letting it come out with a whispered, "Thank my lucky stars."
Then moving on instinct and emotion, the two young men drew closer to each other, their faces coming near enough to share each other's breath. Heero's arms rose up to encircle Duo's back and in perfect synchronicity their heads tilted in opposite directions, just slightly, and then at long last their lips met.
As their mouths moved gently against each other's, cautiously and tenderly discovering the shared sensations the kiss brought, the bond of friendship already in place between the them blossomed into something different, something more for the two who had waited for so long for this moment to happen.
Relena had gotten out of the car to stand next to it, watching wistfully and with a prayer in her heart as the two star-crossed lovers spoke. She'd been nervous at the length of time that passed as their conversation continued with no physical contact taking place. But she found herself heartened when Heero's hand came to rest on Duo's cheek.
She held her breath as she observed the two slowly come together to share what she knew to be their first kiss. A tear escaped at last and rolled down her cheek. She bit down on her bottom lip as she watched Duo's arms come up to embrace Heero. An arm went around her shoulders and she looked up into her brother's face, bearing an expression of sympathy.
"I'm not sad," she told him with a watery smile. "It's just... beautiful."
"We're all suckers for a happy ending, aren't we?" Milliardo smiled gently down on her.
"He deserves it," she answered, her eyes turning back to the two men below. "They both do." The siblings waited together, leaning against the car as they watched the distant kiss between the two men come to an end.
Heero took Duo's hand in his own and led his postcard lover up the hill to make their hellos and goodbyes. After all, they had a plane to catch that night and a life to build together in a place known as The Valley of the Moon.
Thanks to all who commented by review or e-mail. I appreciate your kind words. A little fluff is just what I needed this week. I hope you found some enjoyment in the story also. I have an idea for a epilogue, but I have yet to type it, so I guess we'll see if it happens or not.