by Dyna Dee
There could be no doubt that Thanksgiving was an unmitigated disaster.
Standing in the center of the kitchen wearing a heavily soiled apron and a dazed expression on his face, Duo Maxwell didn't know whether to scream with frustration or run out the door as fast as his legs could carry him. Ignored for the moment was the incessant buzzing of the timer on the stove and the unsavory scents wafting through the kitchen, evidence of the ruined dinner. How everything could turn out so badly was a mystery to the long-haired man.
Blinking, he came out of his trance and turned his head to see the angry expression his boyfriend Heero wore as he hissed in a hushed, perturbed voice, "What the hell are we going to do now? Everyone is waiting for the traditional dinner you promised them."
Trying to keep his voice low, the frazzled man answered through gritted teeth, "I'm well aware we have a dining room full of people, Heero. Let me think for a minute."
Moving to the sink with the heavy pan, tilted just enough that it left a dotting trail of lumpy, burnt gravy on the floor, the long-haired man dropped the hot pan onto the edge of the metal sink and turned on the hot water. Tilting it on its side, he emptied the burnt contents into the disposal and watched as the entire mess peel away from the bottom of the pan and flopped into the sink. He turned on the disposal to eliminate evidence of his ruined efforts. The steady grinding grated on his nerves as more proof of his failure.
"I told you not to add so much flour and to stir to the bottom of the pan constantly. It says so right in the cookbook."
Duo's left eye started to twitch and his head began to throb. "Well, Mr. Know-It-All, I'm sorry," he snapped back irritably. "I made a mistake, but I can't see that you're helping matters any."
"What's to help with?"
Heero's patience had clearly reached its limit while they prepared for their first Thanksgiving dinner. Duo knew he was the real reason for his boyfriend's agitation; this meal had been his idea in the first place. Having lived together in their jointly purchased home for six months, he thought it would be nice to have their friends over for dinner. What better time than Thanksgiving? Heero initially frowned at the idea, and had tried to remind him that neither one of them cooked with any proficiency. But Duo continued to argue that Thanksgiving was an American tradition, a holiday that he had wanted to try. He loved food almost as much as the idea of getting together with his friends and former comrades, whom he considered his family. Heero, albeit reluctantly, came around to his idea of inviting everyone over for a traditional dinner, and had even lent a hand by way of searching the internet for a menu and recipes.
Duo just wasn't sure how everything had turned against him. After pulling the large 20 pound turkey out of the oven twenty minutes ago, Heero had cut into it only to discover the bird was stringy and dry from overcooking. The almonds he'd sauteed in butter to put over the green beans had burned while he was busy mashing potatoes and reading a recipe for brown gravy. The gravy met the same end as the almonds and the potatoes were mush. He still had a spinach salad, which seemed to have fared better than his attempts at cooking, and the rolls he'd purchased were ready to go into the oven. "We have bread and salad," he offered with a hopeful lilt in his voice.
Heero threw his hands up then went to the table where the driest turkey every cooked rested, partially cut, on a platter. He set his two hands on the table's edge and hung his head down. "You never listen, do you?" Heero said in a low voice that warned the other man that he had reached his limit. "I told you this was a bad idea, that you didn't know the first thing about preparing a meal like this. You should have taken my advice and ordered the meal from a local restaurant if you were so determined to have everyone over. Now all of our closest friends are here, expecting to be fed a traditional turkey dinner, and all we have to offer is salad, bread and pie that looks as questionable as the damn monster bird you ruined."
"Well aren't you Mr. Shit-For-Sunshine, but this isn't entirely my fault. Things would have turned out a lot differently if you'd helped a bit more. Standing around barking out orders isn't exactly the kind of help I needed."
"This was your idea, not mine."
Duo's eyes widened. "You said you were all right with this. You agreed to putting on this dinner."
"I agreed to let you do this, despite my reservations, but I never dreamed you could turn hosting a meal into such an unbelievable disaster."
Frantically pondering what he was going to say to his guests and upset by Heero's attitude, Duo, without thinking and certainly not considering the impact of what he was saying, blurted out his frustration. "So once again I've let you down. Isn't that right, Mr. Perfect? Poor Heero, he happens to live with someone who likes to try new things, who wants to make a life that's somewhere close to what's considered "normal". And each and every time I take a new step, you're there to put me in my place, tell me I'm being foolish to step beyond my comfort zone or that I'm being sentimental. I don't know, Heero, maybe you and I just don't see things the same way any more."
Heero's head had risen as Duo made his impromptu speech. He turned to look at his lover with an inscrutable gaze. The braided man held his breath, knowing he'd said something in the heat of the moment that he didn't really mean. After a long moment, Heero nodded and whispered, "Fine." He then turned and left the rom without glancing back.
Duo wanted to call out for Heero to stop, but the sight of the disaster all around him kept him from doing so. He then realized it was up to him to break the news to their guests sitting in the dining room that dinner was a bust.
Before he could formulate what he was going to say the kitchen door swung open and Quatre came into the room, looking a bit unsure and apologetic. "Need some help in here?"
Duo swept his hand around the room. "Help? What gave you the impression?" He was embarrassed to hear a note of hysteria in his voice.
Quatre quickly moved forward and embraced his friend. "It's all right, Duo. We overheard you and Heero arguing. I'm sorry about the food, but that's not the only reason we came here today. We're all just happy to be together again, and you made that possible."
Despite the blond's attempt to sugarcoat the disaster, Duo was deeply disappointed. "I just wanted this to be perfect, you know?"
"Yes, I know. But being here with you and Heero is better than anything you could have given us to eat."
Duo stepped away from his friend and dry washed his face. "I made a mess of dinner, Quat. All I've got is salad, rolls and pumpkin pie."
"I'm not all that fond of turkey," his friend confessed.
Duo looked up to see a sheepish expression on the blond's face. "Really?"
A nod was his answer. "Come on. I'll help you dish up the salad."
The two men made quick work of putting together the prepared greens and tossed in the purple onion rings and mushrooms that were marinated in a sweet vinaigrette salad dressing. The rolls were heated in the microwave without mishap and within less than 10 minutes they were ready to serve the light meal.
Entering the dining room, Duo immediately noticed that whatever conversations had been going on, suddenly stopped. Every eye in the room turned his way as he approached the long table and set the large bowl down on the corner. "Sorry, folks, but the dinner didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. This is all that's really edible, other than some pumpkin pie, which I admit I haven't tried yet."
There were murmurs around the table that the abbreviated meal was acceptable. The bowl was passed around as was the bread. Duo looked to the vacant chair where Heero was supposed to be sitting and once again a feeling of regret filled him. He promised himself that he'd apologize to his lover as soon as everyone left.
He had just sat down when a sound came from the stairs by the front door. He, and all of his guests, turned to look in that direction. Standing in the foyer was a grim faced Heero, suitcase in hand.
"What the hell?" Duo said, shooting to his feet.
Before he could leave the table, Heero addressed the room. "I apologize for leaving during the meal, but I think it's better if I go now." Then with a glance in Duo's direction, he added. "I'll come by for the rest of my things on Sunday."
"Heero? Where are you going?" Shock by what was happening made it almost impossible for Duo to get those few words out. He lurched across the room on weak knees to where the other man stood with a resolute expression on his handsome face.
Blinking with disbelief, Duo asked, "Because of the ruined turkey?"
Heero shook his head. "No, not the turkey. It's all of this." He waved his hand around the house. "You might be right, that we no longer see things the same way."
Grabbing the front of his lover's jacket, the braided man leaned forward until his cheek brushed up against Heero's, allowing him to whisper into his ear. "Don't do this, Heero. Not now with all of our friends watching. Sit down at the table and we'll talk this over after they leave."
Heero grabbed the other man by the shoulders and gently pushed him away. "No. I'm going now. We're just making everyone uncomfortable." Then looking over the braided man's shoulder, he said to the embarrassed group at the table, "Sorry. I'll be in touch." With a turn, a slight bend of his waist and three steps, Heero had gathered up his luggage and was out the front door, leaving behind a room of stunned spectators.
Feeling his knees giving out, Duo flung out his arm to grasp the banister to steady himself as he tried to make sense what had just happened. Heero had up and left him, in front of all their friends. How could he do that to him? He closed his eyes and tried to calm his aching heart.
Heero left him.
With each passing moment the reality of Heero's leaving sunk in deeper as well and the pain of having lost the most important person in the world to him had begun.
"Duo." A hand came to rest on his shoulder, and from her voice Duo knew it was Hilde who had come offer him comfort. "I'm so sorry. Are you alright?"
No. I'm not, was the truthful answer to her question. His world had just been ripped apart, and all because of the stupid Thanksgiving dinner he'd insisted on preparing. Because he wasn't ready to deal with the truth much less talk about it, he blurted out, "I'll be fine." He was obviously relying on his usual tactic of hiding what he was feeling from the others. "He'll be back after he cools off." Though he wasn't at all sure that would happen. Heero did get angry with him from time to time and would storm out of the house, office or car in order to cool down, but he always came back and they talked things out. Whether or not that would happen this time, however, was doubtful. Heero had never packed a suitcase before. Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, he resolved to put on a brave face, appearing to his friends unworried while inwardly fearing the worst.
To his surprise, his guests were busy gathering up the plates, glassware and everything else off the table and were engaged in the process of moving them to the kitchen. "We thought it would be better for us to leave in case Heero comes back to talk," Hilde explained.
"You don't have to go," he said. "I don't think he's coming back today."
"Duo, have you two not been getting along lately? I thought things were good between you and Heero."
He thought so too, even though they regularly had differences of opinion. But he'd been led to believe, mainly from conversations with Quatre, that it was all right to have your own opinion, ideas and interests while in a relationship with someone who often had an opposing view. Now he didn't know what to believe or where to turn. Heero was his anchor, and he felt adrift in a sea of hurt with his taking off as he had.
"Look, Hil, I... I don't want to talk about this right now. Would you tell everyone I'm sorry. I..." He ran his hand through the fringe of hair over his forehead, having a difficult time knowing what to say. "I'll call them when I can. Sorry." He turned and bolted up the stairs.
At the top of the landing, he hastened to the first door to the right instead of the bedroom a bit further down the hall and to the left, the room he shared with Heero. They had made it a point to never take anger or an argument into the bedroom, and it was out of habit that he still respected that agreement and locked himself in the bathroom.
Leaning against the door, he slid down its length to sit on the floor, his vision blurring from the unshed tears filling his eyes. He refused to cry, no matter how much his heart ached at the moment, because very thing was going to be fine. Heero would come back as soon as he cooled down.
He took a moment to go over everything that had happened that day and the conversations leading up to it. His reminiscing brought him to the conclusion that Heero really hadn't wanted to entertain their friends on Thanksgiving with a traditional dinner. His lover's agreement had simply been a capitulation to his arguing. Heero had asked him, after he first approached him with the idea, why he felt it was so important to celebrate a holiday that was vaguely attached to his colony's ancestry. He'd answered that it was an American tradition, and that he wanted to at least give it a try. Heero had been right, he'd made a mess of the entire meal. Hindsight told him he should have practiced making each item of the meal a week beforehand to see how it was done, make the mistakes before the big day and correct them.
He was vaguely aware, by the familiar squeaky hinge he'd meant to fix, of the front door opening and closing as he sat on the bathroom floor. On top of being a failure at cooking, he was also a horrible host. He ruined the dinner and failed to see his guests to the door. No doubt he'd also ruined everyone's day by having an argument with Heero in the kitchen and then having him leave while they watched. It was unfortunate his friends had to view one of the worst days of his life.
A tentative knock sounded on the bathroom door. "Duo? Are you all right?" It was Quatre again.
"I'm fine, Quat. Go ahead and go home. I'll call you later."
"Please open the door."
Duo closed his eyes. He didn't want to face his best friend after the mess he'd made of the day, but to deny Quatre anything made the blond more tenacious than ever. To lessen his friend's concern and interference, he knew he had to do as the man asked. Rising to his feet, he checked his face in the mirror. Funny, he thought, how he could look so... normal when his world had just been shaken. After taking a deep breath and releasing it quickly, he unlocked the door and opened it to reveal the blond, with a look of deep concern marring his handsome face.
"Quit worrying, Quat. You'll be nothing but wrinkles by the time you're thirty."
"I can't help it, Duo. I know you're hurting."
"Sorry." Duo was well aware that Quatre had empathic capabilities, that he could often feel his closest friends' emotions from time to time.
"Can you feel how Heero's doing?"
With a reluctant nod of his head the blond answered. "He feels just like you, miserable."
"Listen," Duo began, taking his friend by the shoulders. "I want you to go home with Trowa and spend the rest of the afternoon in bed with him. Make that your Thanksgiving memory rather than the disaster I delivered."
"I think we should stay and keep you company."
A derisive snort escaped the braided man. "Thanks, but I really don't want any company right now. You'd really be doing me a favor if you just went home. Is everyone else gone?"
Quatre nodded. "Hilde caught a ride with Wufei and Sally, and Howard asked me to tell you that he'll call you later tonight."
"Come on. I'll see you to the door. Where's Trowa?"
"Putting away the dishes."
"You guys didn't have to clean up. It would have given me something to do after everyone was gone."
"We just wanted to help out, and that seemed to be the only thing we could do."
Putting his arm around his friend, Duo led Quatre back to the stairs. Side by side they proceeded down to the first floor. While taking Quatre's expensive camelhair coat off the tall coat rack, the braided man called out over his shoulder towards the kitchen, "Hey, Tro, come out here. It's time to go."
The tall and lean man stepped out of the kitchen wearing a puzzled expression. "We're leaving?"
"I convinced Quatre that it's for the best. Really, I'll be fine. Go home and enjoy the rest of your day."
Trowa reached for his own dark blue peacoat and easily slipped into it before wrapping a red cashmere scarf around his neck. He then turned his attention back to Duo. "Are you sure you want to be alone?"
"Positive. I'm just sorry I messed things up."
Duo couldn't help but smile at Trowa's most concise analogy of the situation. Trowa had a way of summing up a situation with very few words. More often than not, Duo had always appreciated that ability. Reaching forward, he impulsively hugged the taller man, then turned and did the same to the blond. "You guys are the best. Now go home and get naked. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
He saw them out the door with a smile and watched as the two men walked arm in arm down the front porch and sidewalk to the fancy sports car parked out front of the house. His smile faded as they got into the car and drove away moments later. Locking the door, Duo turned and walked into the kitchen and saw for himself that his friends had indeed been busy while he'd been moping in the bathroom upstairs. The room was immaculate and only a faint smell of burnt food lingered, despite the garbage having been removed to the trash cans outside. With nothing else to do, he opened the refrigerator and grabbed himself a can of beer. He didn't drink often, but every once in a while a bit of liquor took the edge off of a stressful day. Today definitely marked itself as one of those.
Everyone who had been present on that fateful day, called on Friday. Was everything alright? Had he heard from Heero? Did he know where he'd gone? Duo learned from their questions that no one had seen or heard from the man after he made his dramatic exit out the front door. He had no answers to their questions, but he tried to calm their concern for him by saying everything was all right, that things had a way of working themselves out, and they would this time also.
As promised, Heero showed up on the doorstep just after noon on Sunday. He carried an armful of empty boxes, obviously prepared to pack up his belongings.
"Why are you doing this?" Duo asked after letting him in.
"The hell it is. I ruined the dinner and maybe said some things I didn't mean in the heat of the moment, and for this you're leaving me?"
"It's for the best."
"Dammit, Heero. Can't we sit down and talk this out?"
Looking him in the eyes, Heero said in an even toned voice. "I think we both need some time away from each other to re-examine what we want from this relationship. You were right, we've both chosen separate ways to deal with life after the war, which leads me to believe we might have jumped into this relationship prematurely."
Each word Heero uttered was like a knife stabbing into his heart. Fighting to appear calm, but not completely succeeding, Duo answered, "We've been screwing each other since after the first war, Heero. I've wanted to be with you even before then, and you said you wanted me, too. Are you saying you don't want to be with me any longer? Are you breaking up with me?"
Heero wouldn't look him in the eyes as he answered. "Let just call this a time out. I care about you, Duo, but that doesn't necessarily mean we'll live happily together. I think this last fiasco and the way we reacted to it has made me think that maybe we're not doing this right."
"Every couple has bad days, Heero, that doesn't mean they throw in the towel. Relationships take work, understanding and forgiveness, at least that's what Quatre told me. I think he's right."
"I just need to think about this for a while, away from you."
That was the final blow. Duo had tried to reason with Heero but he wasn't going to beg him to stay. Straightening his spine, he narrowed his eyes and said, "Fine, you do whatever you want to make yourself happy. Why should you act any differently than you normally do?"
He turned on his heel to leave the room only to hear the other man ask, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Figure it out while you're thinking things over."
Duo remained in the kitchen, hovering over a cup of hot coffee while Heero set about packing up some of his personal belongings. Twenty minutes later, his now former lover joined him in the kitchen. He stood at the room's entry and waited for Duo to acknowledge his presence. Aware of his presence but afraid to speak, Duo remained fixed on the bottom of his coffee cup, resolved not to beg and to retain some dignity.
"I've got all that I need for the time being," Heero said in a quiet voice. "I'll let you know if I've forgotten anything."
"You do that."
"Duo..." There was a long pause before Heero sighed and whatever he was going to say was obviously replaced by a simple farewell. "I guess I'll see you around."
And then he was gone. The slight squeak of the hinged front door was the final sign of Heero's leaving. The house became silent and felt as empty as a tomb to the man left behind in the kitchen.
The last few days of November passed without either man seeing or speaking to each other. It was a relatively easy task considering they worked in separate departments on different floors of the Preventer building. Immediately after Une had discovered they were more than friends, she made them split up as a team. Heero went into the technology side of the organization while Duo remained a detective, doing both investigative and undercover work. They both felt fulfilled in their jobs, which had only enhanced their relationship outside of the office. But now, as the days dragged by with no word or sight of Heero, Duo's hope for a reconciliation began to dim.
The first weekend of December found the braided man having lunch with his best friend. Quatre seemed intent on pulling him out of the lethargic doldrums he'd fallen into since the Thanksgiving fiasco. After they'd ordered their meal, the blond looked at him with a critical eye. "You're not dealing very well with Heero being gone, are you, Duo?"
Scowling, he replied, "About as well as you'd be if Trowa had walked out on you."
"I understand," the blond replied with a sober expression. "Have you spoken to Heero at all since he picked up his things?"
"No. I haven't even seen him in the hallways at work or the cafeteria." Duo knew very well where Heero's office was located, at the opposite end of the building and three floors down from his own, but he'd deliberately avoided going anywhere near there, afraid of the kind of reception he'd get from his former boyfriend.
"You two can't work things out if you don't see or speak with each other."
Duo shrugged and took a sip of his soda before answering. "It's up to Heero. He's the one who walked out the door. He's calling the shots, not me."
The blond business man leaned back in his seat with a skeptical expression on his face. "When was the last time you let someone make your decisions for you, Duo?"
"This is completely different. It's Heero we're talking about. You know what he's like when he comes to a decision about something. "
"So he's stubborn. That doesn't change the fact that he's also just a man, as fallible as the rest of us. Have you considered that he might just be as frightened as you are to take the first step towards a reconciliation?"
"Hey, I'm not scared."
"Yes you are, and you're hurt as well. Your emotions are running off you in waves, Duo. And even if I didn't have the ability to feel what you're feeling, all I would have to do is look at you to know that your heart is broken."
Duo ducked his head, hating that his friend could read him so easily. Deflated, he dropped his head in his hands. "I don't know what to do, Quat. I don't know if he even wants to fix this. He hasn't called or come by to see me at the office or at home. It's as if he doesn't care about me any more."
Leaning forward to put his hand over Duo's in a comforting gesture, Quatre looked into his friend's pain-filled eyes. "He does care, Duo. And despite his recent absence, he's in as much pain as you are."
That bit of information really didn't surprise the braided man. He knew that Heero, despite his placid appearance and schooled features, was alive with emotion. It had surprised him, at first, when he discovered how much Heero cared about not only winning the war, but also about the people who were hurt and his concern for the welfare for his fellow pilots. And even though he believed he would die before the end of the conflict, he also had dreams and aspirations just like everyone else. Some had labeled the pilot of Wing Zero the Perfect Soldier, but Duo had never viewed him as such, especially after Heero kissed him with such amazing tenderness that it had melted his heart. There had been many such kisses since then, as well as a variety of others over the past two years.
"You've felt that from him, recently? That he still cares?"
"Yes. Just yesterday, in fact, when Trowa and I had lunch with him."
At least a dozen questions came to mind with that bit of information, but the one that came out of his mouth was, "Is he all right?"
A small, sad smile came to the Quatre's lips. "He asked the same thing about you." Then taking a breath, he answered the question. "He seems the same as ever on the surface, calm and collected; a man of few words. But what I felt from him and saw in his eyes gave him away. He's incredibly sad, Duo, and feels as lost as you do."
"Then why did he walk out on me? Did you ask him that?"
Without missing a beat the other man replied, "He said he came to the realization that you and he wanted different things, that he didn't think you could be happy together in the long run because of those differences."
"That's a crock of shit!" Duo snapped in a voice that drew the attention of the other diners.
"Duo!" The blond hissed, warning to his friend to behave himself while in public.
The braided man looked sheepish for about three seconds, then appropriately lowed his voice. "What does he mean by differences? We work for the same organization and have the same goals, not to mention your being on the same team during two wars. What differences?"
With a pitying look the other man replied, "He said your need to fit in, to try and be like everyone else, to celebrate in a grand manner, and I quote, "obscure traditions linked to the American culture" are not necessarily a path he wants to follow."
"What the hell kind of reason is that to break up with me? So my dinner was a flop? Do you walk out on someone because they burned the gravy?"
"I think it was more than that, Duo. I'm not sure what exactly because he didn't go into it, despite Trowa's probing questions. He clammed up after that and refused to talk about you or the breakup."
"That stubborn son of a bitch," Duo fumed. "Why the hell did I fall in love with someone as obstinate as he is?"
"I don't think you and Heero are so different in the obstinate department," Quatre said with a slight roll of his eyes. Then with a slow shake of his blond head he added, "Sometimes we can't help falling in love with someone, even though we know we shouldn't."
That was a loaded statement coming from the Winner heir. His family and their religion forbade homosexual relationships, and look who the golden boy of L4 fell for. There had been a horrendous amount of backlash, both private and public, when he announced to his family that he was in love with another boy. Quatre had given up almost everything that had been important to him in order to be with Trowa.
"So what the hell am I going to do, Quat? Give up being who I am and who I want to be just to make him happy? I guess I could do that, but I don't really think that I should have to."
"I wouldn't want you to change, Duo. Not even for Heero."
"Then tell me what to do." More than a command, the request was a plea for help.
Looking more confident now, Quatre replied, "Make contact with Heero. Ask him out for lunch or coffee. Initiate a battle plan for winning him back. If he balks at your invitations, retreat for a day or two and than continue the assault. Don't be discouraged, because I honestly believe you two can work this out. The holidays are coming and no one wants to be alone during that time. Play on that and win him back." The earnest look in the bright blue eyes and the solid plan of action told Duo his friend had indeed done a fair amount of thinking about this subject.
Letting the idea of wooing Heero sink in, Duo was pleasantly surprised that Quatre's suggestion actually sounded pretty good. He and Heero hadn't met in the most favorable circumstances, nor did they have a chance to date as other teenagers did. He'd always wondered what it would be like to have a courtship, more than the snatches of time they'd spent planning missions, desperately fighting and hoping to survive the next battle. Yes, the idea had appeal.
With growing confidence, he returned his friend's gaze. "All right, I'll do it. I'll ask him out to lunch and see if we can clear the air. After all, what have I got to lose?"
A relieved smile lit the blond's face. "I'll call you in a couple of day to see how it went."
The meal was served, and during the process of eating the two men talk about different tactics Duo could employ should Heero's renowned stubborn streak prove to be an obstacle.
Monday morning at 10 a.m. found Duo standing just outside the door of the IT department. Heero shared the space with six other agents, and though they each had their own cubicles, a private conversation was almost impossible. Feeling anxious, he paused a moment to strengthen his resolve. After managing a smile that he was sure would pass for friendly, he reached for the door handle and strode into the room, hoping he displayed something akin to confidence.
Heero was bent over his keyboard, his eyes fixed on screen in front of him. "You're going to get a backache scrunched over like that," Duo warned. It was the same teasing warning he and Heero had issued to each other over the years. Heero jumped slightly, the turned with an apprehensive look on his face.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, leaning back in his chair to better appraise his visitor.
"I came to see you. Is that so surprising?"
"Considering how things stand between us, I think it is."
Duo's smile slowly faded. "And how do things stand between us?"
Heero's expression gave nothing away about what he was feeling. That was an ability he'd learned from his mentor, Dr. J. and a talent Duo had long hated, especially after having seen the other man's beautiful smile and the light of happiness shining in those deep blue orbs. "They're understandably strained." The seated man replied.
"Well, that's why I'm here. I don't want things to be strained between us. You want time to think things over? Fine. Take your time, but that doesn't mean you have to cut me out of your life, does it? I'm here to see if you'll have lunch with me."
"You know, eating nutritious, low fat, high fiber substances to keep your well-toned body in maximum condition."
The moment he flippantly used one of Heero's responses he knew he'd made a tactical mistake. It had been an answer he'd received from Heero during the first war, after he had questioned Wing's pilot why he ate food that was, to him at least, unappealing in every way.
"That's not funny, Duo. Thank you, but I think I'll pass."
Unable to believe he was being turned down, the braided man leaned a hand against the partition and bent down to look Heero in the eyes. "What's happened to your sense of humor, Heero? You had one just a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps losing it is a natural byproduct when you go cold-turkey on me?"
"I've got work to do," Heero said in his most stoic voice. He then turned away from the man leaning over him and resumed his work. Duo had summarily been dismissed.
A wash of humiliation flowed over the long-haired man. He couldn't believe Heero turned him down. Without another word he turned on his heel and left the room, moving on automatic as he returned to his office.
Trowa showed up at his door not ten minutes later. "How'd it go?"
"Don't ask," Duo muttered sullenly. He really didn't want to talk about anything regarding Heero at the moment.
"He turned you down?"
The braided man sighed heavily. It was obvious Quatre had confided in Trowa about their conversation during lunch. Putting on a brave face, he managed a humorous grin. "Shot down like Wing Zero."
The other man frowned. "That was a tactless remark."
"Well I'm feeling less than charitable at the moment," he groused. Whatever good mood he had earlier that day had been shot to hell.
Resting a hip on the corner of his desk, Trowa looked down on Duo with concern. "What happened?"
After a long moment, Duo decided to just tell the man what he wanted to know. Quatre would get it out of him later that night anyway, so why not just get it over with. "It was pretty typical, actually. I said something he took exception to and he turned me down."
"So what are you going to do about it?"
"What can I do?"
Duo's head shot up. "Set myself up again for another letdown? I don't think so."
"Remember, you were to expect some resistance at the beginning. Quatre told you it might take time. Did you honestly believe it was going to be easy?"
With a sigh Duo replied. "I had hoped it would be as easy as asking him to lunch and we could talk it out then go home and have wild and crazy sex for the rest of the week."
The corner of Trowa's lips curled upward. "Yes, that's the kind of making up I enjoy the most."
That small attempt at humor was lost on the braided man. "Well, that's not going to happen now."
Trowa's gaze shifted to the window, where a gentle fall of snow had just begun. "Are you planning on celebrating Christmas this year?"
"I don't know," Duo replied, unable to contemplate celebrating anything in the mood he was in.
"Everyone had a nice time at your apartment last year. I think you should host another get-together again, regardless of what's going on with Heero."
"You're just saying that so you and Quatre won't have to deal with all the preparations."
"True, we don't do a lot of celebrating, at least not in public."
"Enough!" Duo laughed despite his best attempts in trying no to. "Quit throwing your active sex life in my face when it's damn well clear I'm not getting any."
"Then scratch the party, but that doesn't mean you have to give up celebrating completely. Listen." Trowa leaned closer to his friend as he continued. "You mentioned last year that you wanted to have a real tree, a big one with lots of lights an ornaments, unlike the small artificial one you bought last year, two days before the big day."
"Yeah? So what?"
"So this could be your opportunity to ask Heero for help. Why not go out and buy a fresh tree, one as big as you like, and invite Heero to go with you to pick it out. Include him in the preparations and even shopping for gifts. That type of date, in contrast to a movie or sporting event, allows time for conversation."
"I don't know. It seems my desire to celebrate American holidays is one of the reasons Heero's doubting our future together."
"Ah, but Christmas isn't just an American holiday, it's celebrated all over the world and throughout the colonies. Even Quatre's colony celebrates Christmas. Look, just give it a try. If he isn't interested, he'll tell you. Then we'll think of something else."
With a curious look, Duo asked, "Why are you and Quat so interested in me and Heero getting back together?"
The auburn-haired man graced him with a warm smile. "Because we're happy. We want everyone to find their other half and be as happy as Quatre and I are. You and Heero had that happiness for a time, but all it takes is a careless word, an unintentional slight to put a dent in it, and that's exactly what's happened. There's a big dent in your relationship that needs some repair. You don't throw a car away because of a dent, do you?"
Duo thought about it for a moment. Trowa was right. He and Heero had been happy, and not too long ago. He loved Heero too much to let him walk away. "All right. I'll try again and see if he'll go with me to pick out a tree this weekend."
"Buy a tree stand first," Trowa advised. "Then take him out to find decorations and lights. And if he turns you down for any reason, don't give up."
Duo closed his eyes and shook his head. "You don't know how hard this is, Trowa. Having him turn me down feels just like that punch he gave me in the last war, the one that knocked me out to keep me from following him."
There was a long thoughtful pause before the other man said, "Perhaps Heero is doing something similar once again."
"It could be that he's having a hard time following you into this new life you're forging for yourself as well as for him. Maybe he's just not feeling up to the challenge and by leaving you it gives him an excuse not to follow."
Duo looked confused for a moment, but then he got the gist of what Trowa was suggesting. "I was plowing into civilian life faster than he could handle. So leaving me is his way of putting on the brakes? Of taking control?"
"It's only a guess on my part, but that's a definite possibility."
Duo's eyebrows pulled together as he thought. "Well, if that's so, I don't see how inviting him to help me get ready for the busiest holiday of the year is going to help matters."
"If he declines your invitation, let him off the hook. Don't pressure him into anything he's not willing to do."
Duo rolled his eyes. "That will take a bit of effort. We never would have had a first kiss if I didn't pursue him, or sex if I didn't use all my skills at seducing him. And I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have moved in if I hadn't insisted that it was time we took the next step."
Trowa's face suddenly bore that, Ah ha, expression. "You've been calling the shots all along, haven't you?"
"Well, not about everything. Heero's got a mind of his own, you know? Especially in bed. Sure I help him in some areas that are difficult for him, but he does the same for me. That's why we're so good for each for each other."
Trowa looked thoughtful for a moment before saying, "While Heero's actions might be confusing to us, I think you should respect that there's something more behind them. And until you find out exactly what's going on in his head, you should proceed with caution."
"So what should I do?"
"Continue your campaign to win him back. Keep asking him out, but don't be discouraged if he turns you down. Just give him a few days and try again."
"Sounds like an uphill battle," Duo said as he slumped into his chair, already looking defeated. "I'm getting too old for this kind of thing."
A wry grin formed on Trowa's lips. "In some places you're too young to legally drink or vote, so I don't really think you're anywhere near being too old to be having problems with your love life. I hate to break the news to you, but the problems we'll face as adults are just beginning."
After moaning, the braided man stated, "That's not what I needed to hear right now." Then sarcastically he added, "You're a real pal, Tro."
Standing up from the edge of the desk the other man answered with a grin, "I try."
Duo waited a total of two days before he approached Heero again.
"You want me to go shopping for a Christmas tree with you?" Heero had one dark eyebrow raised as he strove to clarify Duo's request, a look of disbelief on his face.
"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do. It's the Christmas season, and while I know we've never had much of a celebration, I thought this year it would be nice to get a real tree to fit in the front window of the living room. Just because you're not living at the house right now doesn't mean it's not your home any longer." It appeared by his prolonged silence that Heero wasn't going to disagree with that statement. He had, after all, put up half the down payment on the place when they bought it. But Duo secretly hoped Heero hadn't taken exception to his statement because he was going to come home soon.
"You bought a tree last year and, if I'm not mistaken, it's in the attic."
"I know, but it wasn't like the ones I saw in other people's homes. I'd like to get a real tree that smells as good as it looks. Come on, I could use your help, especially since I've never done this before."
"Neither have I, so I really would be of no additional support."
Sobering a bit, Duo softened his voice and looked directly into Heero's eyes so the other man could see his sincerity as he added, "Your just being there would be support enough, Heero."
For several long moments their eyes remained locked, both men looking for something within the other man's gaze. Heero was the first to break away, making an act of brushing something off of this immaculate trousers. "I don't think I can make it, sorry."
Duo wanted to ask why the hell not, but he remembered Trowa admonishing him to let Heero decided whether or not he wanted to go, and that he was not to be discouraged if he was turned down. Still, Heero's refusal of his invitation hurt, and he silently cursed Trowa and his advice. What the hell did Trowa know about mending relationships when he and Quatre seem to be living on Happily Ever After street.
In the end, it was Duo's pride that helped him follow the initial plan of letting Heero back out of the date without a fuss. Waving his hand in dismissal, he said, "Well, that's all right. I know it's kind of short notice, but maybe we can do something another time." That's right, leave the door open, he told himself. His only answer was a nod of Heero's head. He took that as a good sign.
"If you change your mind, give me a call." Then out of habit, he leaned down and kissed Heero's cheek. Yet instead of pulling away quickly, as he usually did in a semi-public place, he moved forward to press his cheek against the other man's to whisper in his ear, "I miss you."
Heero didn't pull away, but then he didn't move at all, so it was hard for Duo to judge his reaction. Deciding to not wait, just in case his actions resulted in yet another rejection, the braided man swiftly turned and walked to the open door. "I guess I'll see you around," he called out over his shoulder, trying his hardest to appear nonchalant when he felt anything but that.
The tree was just over six feet tall, but it lost some of its height after being trimmed down to fit into the tree stand. Wufei and Sally helped him unload the monster from off the top of his car and get it situated in front of the bay window. Breathing in deeply, the braided man inhaled the pleasant scent of the evergreen and smiled. "That's the smell of Christmas," Sally said with a grin of her own.
Wearing blue jeans and a pink ski jacket with a gray and white fur trim, the doctor looked younger than her twenty eight years, which was a good thing considering she was in a relationship with a younger man. Though Wufei was younger chronologically, he was as mature and wise as anyone Duo had ever met, no matter their age. Sally, thank heavens, had helped to loosen the warrior/scholar up a bit so that he was now more tolerable to be around than ever. Seeing the warm smile on the Chinese man's face gave Duo hope that one day Heero, too, would loosen up and enjoy his life.
"I really appreciate you guys helping me," Duo said as he gazed with appreciation at his first real Christmas tree. "And I'll buy lunch if you'll stay to help me figure out how to put the lights and ornaments on."
Just as Wufei was about to make an excuse for not staying any longer, Sally interrupted. "Of course we'll stay. I just so happen to be an expert at putting lights on a tree. Wufei, I'm sure, is more than willing to help a friend in need. Isn't that right?"
They both turned to look at the man with his long, jet-black hair pulled loosely back into a pony tail. On the spot, Wufei had little choice but to nod his head and answer, "Well, of course we'll help."
It took three hours to get the 1000 miniature lights wound around each and every branch of the noble fir. It was an arduous, back-breaking task, but Duo felt it was well worth it. He stood back after plugging in the last strand to gaze at the brightly lit tree. He turned to his friends and smiling announced, "I love it."
"As you should," Wufei grumbled. "Did you have to put on so many lights?"
"Of course he did," Sally intervened. "It's lovely."
Duo looked at his watch. It was two thirty, a little late for lunch but too early for dinner. "I'm starving, how about you guys?"
"Famished," Sally announced.
They discussed food and Sally offered to go to the nearest pizza parlor to buy a large combination pie. Duo knew the moment she closed the front door that he had been set up. He turned and the guilty look in Wufei's eyes told him his friend had definitely been assigned to "talk" to him.
With an irritated sigh, the braided man confronted his friend. "Okay, just spit it out, Wu."
A flush of embarrassment lightly dusted the Asian's cheeks, but almost immediately that embarrassment was replaced by a look of resolution. "You know I don't like to pry into the lives of other, especially those I consider my close friends," he began. "But I am concerned for your welfare as well as Heero's. Sally and I wish to know how you're coping."
With his hands open and away from his body, Duo asked, "Don't I look all right to you?"
Wufei's eyes narrowed. "I know very well that you can outwardly mask your emotions, almost as well as Heero can. I'm also fully aware how you feel about him and I what to know what you're doing to correct this situation."
Duo blinked with astonishment. Wufei was right, it wasn't like him to ask personal questions. Though he had proven to be a tried and true friend, Wufei was naturally reserved and tread cautiously when it came to personal space and issues. "Sally put you up to this, didn't she?"
"Of course," Wufei freely admitted. But then after a moment his expression softened as did his voice when he added, "Though I'll admit to being concerned over this situation. I know you were hurt by his leaving. I saw it on your face and in your eyes that day. I'm fully aware that this is between you and Heero, but I want you to know that if there is anything I might do to help, I'm at your service."
Being a straight, never wavering heterosexual, Duo sensed that offering to help patch up his gay friends' relationship was a giant leap out of Wufei's comfort zone. Still, he was touched that his friend cared enough about him, and Heero, to offer his help.
"I can't see that there's anything you can do," he answered. "Heero's reasoning isn't always something even I understand, but he's serious about this."
Wufei frowned. "And you're going to sit back and just accept his leaving you?"
"I can't exactly bring him kicking and screaming back into this relationship, but no, I'm not going to sit by and watch him walk away. I'm working on it, even if he's resisting."
"What's your plan of action?"
With a huff of defeat, knowing Wufei probably wouldn't be satisfied with a none-of-your-business answer, Duo gave him a brief outline of his discussion with Quatre and Trowa and his plan to ask Heero out until the man caved in and accepted.
Wufei listened thoughtfully before asking, "And do you think this strategy will work?"
"What else can I do? If you've got any suggestions, then now's the time to voice them."
There was another long pause, and an unpleasant frown took hold of the Chinese man's face. "I can't of anything at the moment, but I will speak with Sally. That woman has a uncanny way of thinking. I'm sure she'll have some suggestions."
Duo rolled his eyes. He was sure Sally's idea of winning Heero back would be something entirely different than how a guy romanced another guy. "Well, as long as she doesn't suggest sending him bouquets of flowers and chocolates or buying him jewelry, I'll listen." Wufei nodded his head in reply.
Thinking that they both needed something to do in order to not make the uncomfortable moment linger, Duo spied the multiple bags he'd set in the corner of the room. Slapping his hands together, he looked at his friend with a grin and said, "While we're waiting for lunch, why don't we get started on decorating."
Wufei's eyes narrowed after seeing the multiple bags Duo had pointed to. "You had this all planned out when you asked Sally and I to help you set up your tree, didn't you?"
Duo's smile wilted slightly. "Well, the plan was to have Heero help me, but he turned me down."
Sympathy shone in the Asian's man's eyes. He clapped Duo on the shoulder and gave is a slight squeeze. "Then I guess it's up to us to make this a spectacular tree by the time Sally returns."
As it turned out, the tree was only two-thirds decorated with beautiful and expensive glass ornaments when Sally returned with the pizza in hand. Her eyes widened as he looked at their progress. "Oh, Duo," she gasped. "I think your tree is the most beautiful one I've ever seen. Where did you get those ornaments?"
The pale blue, silver and gold ornaments decorating the tree had cost him a fortune, but looking at it now he thought it was worth it. "I got them at Goldsteins. They had a tree on display with those very ornaments on it and I thought Heero would like them, seeing as they're his favorite colors."
"Well, you certainly have an eye for beautiful things. The glass lanterns and white stars are a lovely addition. I think I'll have to consult you when Wufei and I go out to buy our ornaments this year."
Duo chuckled. "Just go to Goldsteins and you'll be fine, if not a bit poorer.'
The rest of the afternoon was spent finishing both the pizza and the tree. Sally and Wufei left just before dark and stood outside in the cold to openly admire the brightly lit tree through the window.
Duo waved to them one final time then turned to survey his living room. He couldn't help but smile. Having Wufei and Sally there had given him a warm memory, plus they'd filled what otherwise might have been a very lonely day. The tree definitely helped to buoy his spirits and the evergreen smell was one he didn't think he'd tire of soon.
He walked into the kitchen and got himself a soda from out of the refrigerator, silently cursing Trowa, the only one of the five who could legally purchase liquor, for refusing to buy him a case of beer. His so-called friend and occasional supplier of liquor, refused to buy him anything alcoholic under the present circumstances. He was a pretty moderate drinker, usually having only one beer on the weekends, but Trowa didn't want to take any chances of him taking solace in alcoholic beverages. He could really have used a beer tonight. The house, despite having the addition of a six-foot tree with all the trimmings, was much too quiet and felt empty without Heero. It was going to be another long night.
He called Heero the next morning to invite him to come over and see the tree. The other man gave the excuse that he already had plans, but suggested he might be able to drop by on Wednesday after work. Duo tried not to be discouraged when he had to tell Heero he would be out of town on assignment for the next four days. He quickly suggested Friday night as an alternative. Heero said he didn't know, that he'd get back to him.
Hanging up, Duo remained frustrated that his plans were foiled once again, but he told himself not to be discouraged. Heero hadn't exactly said no this time, so there was some small bit of hope for him to cling to.
The next couple of days passed relatively quickly. Being out of Sanq and engaged in the tracking down and arresting a small group of wiretappers that had been invading some of the government's more sensitive computers made it easier for Duo not to think too much about his estranged lover. By the time he arrived back at the house Thursday evening, it was well past ten o'clock, too late to call and invite Heero out the next day. He sank into the comfort of his bed tired from his assignment, but unable to stop thinking about Heero and what he was going to say to him the next when he stopped by his office. He would keep his fingers crossed that Heero could accept his invitation this time.
"You don't want to go shopping with me?"
"No, thank you."
"I've already purchased my gifts."
Duo blinked, surprised by that answer. He knew Heero despised shopping in malls, and last Christmas he found a scarf he liked and purchased everyone on his list one, each a different color. He just hoped Heero hadn't chosen the same gift for this year. "Ah, you didn't happen to buy scarves again, did you?"
With an irritated look Heero simply replied, "No."
"So you're all done shopping?"
"Ah... that's great." What was he going to do now? He had hoped to spend all of Saturday with Heero, chatting together as they wandered through shops, buying gifts and having lunch. He could only think of one way to salvage that plan. "You know, I really could use some help. I haven't had a chance to shop yet and here the month is speeding by. I'd really like it if you could spend the day with me."
The lengthy pause that followed Duo attributed to Heero thinking over his offer. He tried not to look as anxious as he felt, so he leaned against the door frame, crossed his arms over his chest and crossed one leg over the other. He would wait all day, if he had to, for Heero's answer.
"I think I"ll pass."
A sudden crushing weight encompassed Duo's chest. Lowering his arms and standing away from the door, the braided man took a step towards his estranged lover and lowered his voice, knowing there were others about. "Look, Heero. I'm really trying here, but you're not cutting me any slack. I just want us to spend some time together and maybe talk over whatever our problems are. I miss you and want you to come home."
For some reason, Heero wouldn't meet his gaze, and that worried him even more than his negative response. Kneeling down in front of the lover, hoping to get him to look up and into his eyes, he whispered, "I love you. Come home."
He heard the barely audible sound of Heero's sigh and then in a voice almost as soft as his own had been, Heero replied, "It's too soon."
Duo's fist clenched. "It's not too soon, Heero. It's been over two weeks. You haven't called or made any effort to see me, and on top of that you've turned me down every time I try to patch things up. Is this your way of telling me you have no intention of coming back?" His voice had risen as he spoke and he rose from his crouch in front of the other man. Now standing over Heero, he was so frustrated that he felt as if steam was coming out of his ears. Strangely, he relished the anger because it seemed to burn away the some of the hurt.
"As I said, it's too soon to tell."
"This is Christmas, Heero. The time for families and celebration and happiness. Are you really happy being all alone when everyone else is enjoying the season?"
A casual shrug was all he got for a reply. Then when it seemed as if Heero wasn't going to say anything further, he said in a small voice. "I'm not alone."
"What do you mean, you're not alone?"
"I moved in with Peacecraft."
"Relena?" Duo gasped in astonishment.
Heero did look up this time, glaring. "No, her brother."
Duo dramatically slapped his head. "Holy shit, Heero. What the hell are you thinking? Zechs had been cruising your ass since the first war!"
Heero's glare intensified. "He's been a perfect gentleman," he insisted. "Without going to one of our friends, he was the only one I could think of that would rent me a room on a temporary basis."
Duo couldn't help but look with disbelief at his lover, and in all seriousness he said, "I'm beginning to think there is something seriously wrong with you, Heero. Your decisions lately seem irrational. Maybe you should see Sally."
"There's nothing wrong with me," the other man growled. "And that a bit ironic coming from you. If anyone's judgment should be called into question, it would be yours, not mine."
"What? What the hell did I do?" Any chance for keeping their escalating argument to themselves had been blown to smithereens.
"Let me remind you of the Halloween fiasco, not to mention Thanksgiving."
"Okay, so the first time I tried doing something different didn't turn out exactly how I planned. That's how we learn, right? So I make a mistake now and then, but is that any reason to break up?"
"And your plans for Christmas?" Heero questioned. "Have you got an enormous tree with all the trimmings? Are you planning on throwing a party for everyone again, only to embarrass yourself when it turns out all wrong?"
Duo blinked, suddenly realizing what the problem was. "I embarrass you, is that it? You walked out in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner because I embarrassed you?"
Heero's silence was his answer. Duo did an about face to leave the room, but then paused by the door to turn his head for one last comment. "You're wrong, Heero, saying it's too early to make a decision about our future. From how this conversation's been going, I think it's probably too late." If he had hoped Heero would come after him as he stormed down the hall, he was once again disappointed.
Knowing that word of their argument would be all over the building by noon, Duo chose to take a mental health day, which was not unusual when the request came from an agent routinely assigned to field duty. He allowed himself to mope only that afternoon before he sat down and made a list of things he needed to do for the upcoming holiday; and then he called Hilde.
Saturday morning dawned with temperatures below freezing and a fresh layer of snow on the ground. Putting on insulated boots and a warm winter jacket, Duo ventured out of his home to meet his friend at the mall. Heero never enjoyed shopping, preferring to do the bulk of his purchasing from his laptop. Hilde, however, loved it. She and Duo spent the majority of the day wandering the mall and checking off his list of gifts for friends with each purchase. It wasn't until they sat down to lunch at the center food court before Hilde asked if he was all right. By the serious look on her face, Duo surmised that she'd heard the latest gossip.
"Is it over?" "It", obviously, referred to his relationship with Heero.
He took a long sip of his soda and swallowed it down before answering. "I don't know, Hil. I really don't know."
"Just give him time," she advised. "You know Heero doesn't always behave as we expect him to. Whatever is going on in his mind might just take some time for him to put into words."
The braided man picked up his fish sandwich. "Is that a roundabout way of saying he's weird or has been hit on the head too many times?"
Hilde's cheeks flushed pink. "Well, you have to admit Heero is rather... unique."
Duo burst out laughing, his bite of fish sandwich threatening to fall out of his mouth before he managed to slap his hand over the lower half of his face. "Shit, Hilde, you're a riot."
"But it's true, isn't it?"
After sobering, some of the mirth faded from the blue-violet orbs. "Yeah, he's unique alright. Why do you think I fell for him?" Then in a more serious manner he added, "This is killing me, Hild. I thought we were going to build a life together, figure out what peace and having a normal life meant. I thought he cared for me as much as I care about him. I guess I was wrong about a lot of things."
"No, Duo. Heero cares. I've seen how he looks at you when he didn't know I was watching. He does love you."
Duo shook his head. "I embarrass him. Did you hear that in the office gossip?"
A look of sympathy flitted across his friend's face. "You have to admit some of your holiday celebrations haven't turned out very well."
"I just wanted to give 'normal' a try, to see how it feels to live like other people do. It always looked so good from the outside when I was a kid. The few holiday decorations that were displayed in the storefront windows on L2 seemed like an amusement park that I could never get into. For me, having money now and being able to buy decorations or throw a party on a holiday is like winning the lottery. I'm sorry if I get overexcited, but to have something that you've been denied all your life isn't a crime."
"No, of course it isn't, Duo." She reached over to place a reassuring hand over her friend's clenched fist. "But maybe a little moderation would be better than jumping with both feet into things. How much did you spend on your Halloween display? Admittedly, it was a huge success and drew not only the attention of the press, but every kid in the city to your yard. Maybe if you hadn't gotten hauled into the police station for shooting paint balls at those teenagers, Heero wouldn't have gotten so upset."
"Hey! Those troublemakers were trying to spray paint my giant ghost, and one of them was trying to seal the skeleton from the coffin. I was only trying to tag them for the police to identify and arrest for malicious mischief."
"Even so, you were the one arrested."
"I was not put under arrest," Duo insisted. "I was brought in for questioning and released."
"Into Heero's recognizance. Can you see why he might have been embarrassed? You are a top-notched Preventer and yet you were taken in for shooting kids with a paint ball gun."
Duo had the decency to look sheepish. "They should have been glad it was only paint balls. When I was their age it was bullets being shot at me."
"Like you, Duo, Heero grew up differently than the norm. I think your over-the-top enthusiasm for the holidays is a bit too much for his natural reserve."
"But do I have to give up every dream in order to make him happy?"
"Would you be willing to do that if that's what it took?"
Duo pondered Hilde's question for the rest of the weekend, and by Monday morning he still didn't have an answer. A feeling of depression began to take hold of him. Even walking past the holiday decorated cubicles at work, or the bright smiles of his co-workers as they wished him Merry Christmas did little to brighten his mood. But as he left his desk to get a second cup of coffee from the break room, he spied Milliardo Peacecraft sitting at one of the tables, reading the paper and sipping tea. Duo's lips compressed at the sight of the man. Fear of opening his mouth because the anger he felt towards the unsuspecting man was barely held in check, he forced himself to walk calmly as he moved to the counter and opened the lid of his insulated cup to top it off with fresh coffee. He quickly added the cream and sugar needed and placed the cap on once more, hoping to make an immediate exit from the room.
But just as he turned towards the door he heard the other call out to him "Duo?" His spine stiffened. It was an unusual move for the blond man to resort to using his first name in order to get his attention. Not wanting to engage in conversation with the man, he continued towards the door. Yet before he disappearing out of it, he couldn't resist the urge to put his free hand behind his back and give the higher ranking Preventer a middle-finger salute. A gasp followed him out the door and he was smart enough to hightail it down the hall in case the blond decided to come after him.
Instead of returning to his own office, where Peacecraft would follow if he had a mind to do so, he detoured into Trowa and Wufei's office. Both men were currently out of the office on a case, but there was a file cabinet against the left wall that provided a perfect hiding space. No one coming into the room would spy him if he just sat there and quietly enjoyed his coffee. Of course he couldn't stay there for long, he did have work to complete, but he'd wait just long enough for Peacecraft to return to his own office.
He sat there in silence for ten minutes sipping his hot coffee. The door to the office opened twice during that time but no one had ventured further than the first desk, which remained out of his line of sight. Deciding it was probably time to go, he stood and went to the door. Peeking out the doorway, he scanned both sides of the corridor for a tall angry blond. Not seeing Peacecraft, he slipped out of the room and shut the door behind him.
Even though he was fairly certain he wouldn't run into the other agent, he slowed his step as he neared his own office and listened for any sound of someone being in there. He shared a desk with agent Hascomb, but the man was out on personal leave, his wife having given birth to a baby boy a week ago. Believing the coast was clear, he sauntered into his room feeling quite smug, only to be met with the unexpected sight of the Preventers' Director, sitting in his chair.
"Come in, Agent Maxwell," Une said unsmiling and wearing a cool, unreadable expression. "And shut the door behind you. I think you and I need to have a little talk."
His punishment for insubordination towards a higher ranking officer was to help collect and deliver donations from his fellow office workers to the nearest homeless shelter as well as toys and gifts to the Preventers sponsored women's shelter. Although he didn't let his boss know it, he was grateful for the diversion. With his mind focused on assisting others and doing his part to see they had a pleasant holiday, it made his own troubles fade away. Despite his assignment being a "punishment" and the emptiness in his heart caused by the situation with Heero ever present, he found himself smiling more easily and felt a renewal of excitement towards the approaching holiday. Never a believer of doing things halfway, he threw himself into his assigned task, and to everyone's surprise, even his own, the donations doubled from the year before.
With a team of volunteers, including his friends, they discretely delivered the sizeable truckload to two different shelters with no fanfare. They received effusive praise and words of gratitude from the staff of each, who indefatigably declared that Christmas was going to be brighter for the people they were sheltered. Trowa clapped Duo on the shoulder as they stood outside the last shelter after the vans had been emptied and the majority of the volunteer crew began to disperse. "You did an outstanding job with the collection, Duo. I thought Une's eyes were going to pop out of her head when she saw how many donations came in under your leadership."
Quatre came up from behind his lover and grinned, having overheard what Trowa had said. "I'll bet she's hoping you step out of line again next year."
"Maybe I'll volunteer before she can find something so trivial to pin on me."
"Giving the middle finger to a higher ranking agent is technically a cause of censure," Wufei said, coming up from behind with Sally on his arm. "But honestly, I've been wanting to do that myself for the past two years."
"Milliardo is not that bad," Sally interjected, but the disapproving glares she got from the four halted further attempts to defend the man being spoken of.
Bending over to scoop up a handful of snow, Duo worked it in his hand as he said, "It's still early. You guys want to do something tonight? We can get some food and go back to my place or go to Manny's and play pool."
The group was evenly divided, so Duo decided for them. "Let's order Chinese and some beer and go to my place. Then if we feel like it, we can go out later."
Forty minutes later, the five were sitting in the living room, eating and enjoying each other's company with the beautiful tree by the window lighting the room and filling the air with its pine scent. Heero's name, nor the reason for his absence, was brought into the conversation. With the holiday only days away, it seemed cruel and insensitive to bring up the subject of his absence even though every one of them thought of Heero from time to time during the evening. His presence was sorely missed.
Around ten, everyone decided to return to their homes, too tired to go to the pool hall. In saying goodnight to Duo, Quatre promised to drop by the house on Christmas Eve to deliver his present. The others decided that it sounded like a good idea for exchanging their gifts, and quickly announced they'd come by on that night also.
Duo shut the door after his friends, and watched through the glass square in the middle of it as they made their way to the Preventer vans they'd borrowed for the night. Instead of dwelling on how lonely the house felt now that everyone was gone, he busied himself with the task of cleaning up the remains of their dinner and straightening up the living room. With the one remaining bottle of beer in hand, he sat on the sofa and gazed at his beautiful Christmas tree. Not for the first time, he wished Heero was sitting there with him.
Duo kept busy during the remaining days until Christmas. He finished his shopping on Sunday, then threw himself into a new assignment on Monday, doing background research. With Tuesday came the party for his division. He stayed only long enough to wish everyone a happy holiday then skipped out, wanting to avoid having to speak with Peacecraft, who had been eying him for the full fifteen minutes he'd been there.
Christmas Eve day was unusually quiet in the Preventer building. Duo had volunteered to work the phones so that the married agents could be with their families. He planned on doing the same Christmas day, seeing that he didn't have any plans or someone waiting for him at home. Sure, the guys had invited him over, but he'd declined, not wanting to intrude.
Someone must have been looking out for the good guys that day, he thought as the phones were relatively quiet. Leaving him to sit at the main receiving desk with nothing to do. He played solitaire on the computer and emailed Howard to wish him and his Sweeper crew a merry Christmas. After finishing with those tasks, he began to fidget. The building was as quiet as a tomb, and being inactive bothered him more than he thought it would. With nothing to occupy his mind or body, a feeling of melancholy began to set in and along with it, self pity.
By the time he opened his front door that evening and turned on the tree lights, he'd had a complete downturn of mood. Too depressed to think of food, he sat on the sofa, turned on the T.V. and waited. A half hour later the door bell rang. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to smile and tried to think happy thoughts, which at the moment were hard to dredge up. He looked at his tree and noted once again how beautiful it was, and with that thought in mind he opened the door.
"Merry Christmas," Trowa greeted him only two seconds before Quatre, a large gift in hand, passed the present to his lover's hands, freeing himself to turn and embrace his friend. "Oh, Duo," he whispered as he pressed Duo to his chest.
Looking over the blond's shoulder, Duo rolled his eyes at Trowa. Gently pushing at Quatre's shoulder, he offered his friend a patient smile. "Knock it off, Quat. I'm fine. Really. I just had a moment there."
"You should come home with us."
"No way!" Duo said, leading his friends into the house and shutting the door to keep the frigid air out. "I'm staying in my own house on Christmas, and you are going home to celebrate with Trowa. Right Tro?"
The auburn haired man smiled and put his arm over Quatre's shoulder. "That's right."
"But Trowa..." the blond began, only to be interrupted.
"No. Duo knows he's welcome to come to visit or stay with us any time, day or night. If he needs us we'll be there for him. Until then, we'll let him make his own decisions."
"So, is that for me?" Duo pointed to the large gift wrapped box in Trowa's hands.
"Merry Christmas." The taller man held it out to him.
The box felt heavy. With a pleased grin he asked, "Can I open it now?"
"Absolutely!" Quatre said, grabbing Trowa's arm and following Duo to the sofa.
Twenty minutes later the two men were on their way home with the gifts Duo had given them. Duo had only a few minutes to admire the long, black wool coat. It had expensive and Quatre Winner all over it. Where he was going to wear such a coat, he didn't know, but it was the thought that mattered, right?
Wufei and Sally showed up fifteen minutes later with smiles and gifts in hand. Their stay was brief and the when they left they did so thinking that all was right in the world. By eight that evening he'd opened all his gifts and sat in a pile of discarded wrapping paper and boxes. His new gifts sat on the opposite end of the sofa. With some kind of Christmas choral concert on the television, Duo looked around him and wondered, is this it? Was Christmas over. He had good friends who gave him wonderful gifts, and yet there was an emptiness within him that threatened to swallow him whole. Heero should have been there to celebrate with them, with him. What good was the big beautiful tree, the 1,000 white lights, two hundred dollars worth of ornaments without Heero there to enjoy them with him?
Suddenly the tree became just another symbol of his getting carried away with a holiday, one of the reasons Heero had left him. The lights now seemed too bright and the ornaments too garish. And then the melancholy that had come upon him during the day morphed into anger. It was his own fault that Heero had left him. He was a screw up.
He caught sight of the gift on the mantel of the fireplace. It was a small, square box, wrapped in silver foil with a bow than the entire package. He purchased the gift thinking it would tell Heero, more than mere words could, how he felt about him. It had taken most of his savings to put the key to the fastest, hottestest looking motorcycyle he'd ever seen in that box. The bike, sitting under a tarp in the garage, would probably go back to the place he'd bought it from seeing that Heero hadn't called, nor dropped by the house to pick up any of this other things or wish him a Merry Christmas.
A sudden surge of anger mixed with despair had him jumping to his feet. He needed to do something, anything, like punch a hole in the wall to vent his anger. He had to move. Spying the pile of discarded wrapping, he had the sudden urge to get it the hell out of his house. He strode with determined footsteps towards the front door and, after unlocking it, flung it open.
The cold air of the December night came rushing inside. It was both shocking and exhilarating, further fueling his need to do something. Dashing back into the living room and scooping up an armful of the discarded boxes and paper, he ran out the front door and threw everything off his porch. Before any of it had touched the ground he was back inside the house for another armful.
After three trips and a yard littered with colorful debris, he returned to the living room, searching for something else to toss out. The two Poinsettia plants Hilde had given him sat innocuously on the end tables. They were the next to fall victim to his anger. The warm air in the house had by that time gone out the open door and the was getting colder by the minute.
Fueled by the need to continue, and without thinking too much about what he was doing, he bent over and grabbed the base of the Christmas tree with one hand and the middle of the trunk with the other and hauled it through the living room to the front door, despite the bit of resistance by the cords of lights still in the outlet. Ignoring the room plunging into darkness after the plug for the string of lights ripped out of its socket and the sound of glass ornaments breaking as they hit the hardwood floor, Duo remained on course, determined to shove the tree out the front door. It was a little tricky getting a fully decorated Christmas tree through the doorframe, but the brief struggle of pulling it through only served to fuel his anger. Once he and the tree were free of the doorframe, he took three giant steps and hurled the six foot pine outward, aiming for the street More ornaments and lights met their demise as the tree impacted with the frozen cement of his sidewalk.
Looking at the remnants of his once beautiful tree lying on the ground, the anger that had surged through him moments before fell flat and left him standing on the front porch in his stocking feet, with white puffs of air streaming out of his mouth and nostrils, wondering what the hell was wrong with him. "Stupid," he muttered to himself, his shoulders slumping. He turned and quickly fled back into the dark house.
It wasn't until the pain hit that he remembered the broken ornaments on the floor, and by then it was too late, the damage was done; his stupidity had been duly rewarded.
It took five minutes for him to crawl up the stairs to the bathroom, where the first aid kit was located. With his eyesight blurred by unshed tears brought on by both frustration and the pain in his bleeding feet, he pulled himself up to sit on the closed toilet seat. From there he carefully began to peel his socks off, groaning with pain as he did so. Once they had finally been removed and tossed into the sink, he inched down his jeans to allow for easier access. He would need to be able to bend unrestricted in order to doctor the soles of his feet. Carefully turning his left foot onto its side, he rested his right leg over his left thigh and set the metal tweezer to pulling out the first piece of blue glass sticking imbedded in his foot.
Removing the large and small shards of broken glass from the tender soles of his feet proved to be a long and agonizing process. It was a full hour later before he completed the grueling chore and was ready to rinse off the blood and gently bandage both feet. By the time he was finished, he felt exhausted and emotionally wrung out. He took a couple of pain pills and another one for sleeping before the left the bathroom.
Crawling to his bedroom on hands and knees he thought about the absurdity of the situation. "Merry Shitmas," he muttered to himself with a dark chuckle. Could this holiday have gone any worse? By the time he was under his covers, he'd had enough, of the holiday, of faking that he was alright, of just about everything. As typical for him, after a big blow up came an onslaught of remorse. Whatever regret he felt, though, was quickly replaced by sadness, and the only way he knew to purge that feeling was to let it out. Turning his head, he grabbed the pillow next to his own, and pressed it firmly over his face and released the sorrow, anger and frustration that had been building up inside of him from the moment Heero had walked out the door. Into Heero's pillow he cursed and yelled his heart out, though he allowed himself this indulgence for only a few minutes before forcing himself to stop. He removed the pillow from off his face and gasped for air. Wiping the moisture from the corners of his eyes, he closed those weary orbs once more. Now exhausted, he turned onto his side, wrapped his arms around Heero's pillow once more and settled beneath the blankets with the intent of falling to sleep. His last thought before he succumbed to slumber was to wonder what Heero's Christmas had been like.
He wasn't sure what woke him up the next morning, but he figured his body was so used to getting up early that it was habit more than anything else that had roused him. Then the aching of his feet reminded him of the night before. Burying his face into the pillow cradled in his arms, he moaned, knowing he had to get up and clean up the mess he'd made in his fit of anger. "What an idiot!" He hadn't lost control like that since he was a teenager. What the hell had gotten into him?
Testing his feet, he winced when pain, generated from his damaged soles, shot up his legs. There was no way in hell he was going to be able to walk, and that meant he was going to have to call someone to help him clean up the yard and broken glass downstairs.
Carefully lowering himself out of bed, he kept his feet off the floor as he crawled on hands and knees to his dresser. There he snagged a pair of sweat pants out of a drawer and with a great deal of effort he pulled them on, bitting his lower lip to keep from crying out when working the elastic over the blood encrusted bandages. Panting from his exertions, he took a moment to collect himself, then began what he knew would be an arduous trek to the bathroom and then downstairs.
While crawling backwards down the stairs, it was the change in temperature that caught his attention. There was also a familiar crackling sound of a fire in the fireplace. He froze, knowing the fire he'd built last night had almost burned out by the time he'd crawled up the stairs. Cautiously looking over his shoulder, he knew in an instant that someone had been in his house for there, in the front window, stood his Christmas tree. Of course it didn't look as good as it had before he'd chucked it out the door, but there it was with its lights twinkling, a few ornaments hanging on the bows, and an unfamiliar gift under the tree. The next thing he noticed was that the floor in the entry had been cleaned of glass, pine needles and blood. Someone had erased the evidence of his meltdown the night before.
"Quatre?" He was pretty sure the blond was the one responsible for the clean up. "Hey, Quat, is that you, man?" A hand appeared over the top of the sofa and then a familiar head of dark, shaggy hair rose up and Prussian blue eyes turned to locate him.
Duo couldn't have been more shocked. "Heero, what the hell are you doing here?"
It took the other man a moment to take in the situation, mainly, that Duo was crawling down the stairs backwards with bandaged feet held up. He got up with a grunt and moved around the sofa. "You stepped on the broken glass with your bare feet?"
Ignoring the question, Duo continued crawling down a couple of more steps until he was four up from the landing. He turned over and sat on that step. "Do you need a doctor?"
Keeping a tight reign on his emotions, the braided man asked again, "What are you doing here, Heero?"
Taking a deep breath, the other man's gaze didn't quite meet his own as Heero answered. "I came to see you last night. The house was dark and then I saw the tree and wrapping paper outside. I thought something must be wrong."
"So you broke into my house?"
"Our house," Heero corrected. "And I didn't break in, I have a key, remember?"
Duo's mouth thinned, but he held back from replying, for the moment
"Let me see your feet."
"No!" Duo snapped, curling his feet away from Heero's hands as they reached for his bandaged appendages.
Hurt flashed in Heero's eyes as he took a step back. "I came by to give you your present."
"You bought me a present?" Considering Heero had never been very big on holidays, the idea seem rather farfetched. "That's kind of hard to believe, considering you've hated every holiday I've tried to celebrate and that you're not all that crazy about me either."
Heero pointed to the gift under the tree as proof of his statement, and then let the other man's arm drop. "I know things have been strained between us," he began, lifting his eyes to look into Duo's. "And I know this has been difficult for you because it's been hell for me."
Leaning back against the steps, his elbows braced on the one behind him, Duo threw his head back to look at the ceiling above. "What do you want, Heero?"
There was a pause before he answered, "I want to talk."
"I've been wanting to talk to you for an entire month with no luck. Why should I listen to anything you have to say now?"
"Because I love you."
"Pfft. Why do I find that hard to believe?"
"Don't Duo me." Anger flashed in the braided man's eyes as he finally looked at Heero. "So now you finally want to talk, and on Christmas Day? Well excuse me, but his isn't how I imagined celebrating Christmas. I think you should go."
"This is my house, too."
"Funny, I don't remember you paying your half of the mortgage this month."
"I'm not going." From the stubborn set of Heero's jaw Duo knew it would take a bulldozer to get the man in front of him out the front door.
"Fine, then I'll go."
He proceeded to scoot down the remaining steps to the landing. Then crawling swiftly on all fours, he moved around Heero and went for the door, his damaged feet up in the air.
"Leave me alone." When he finally reached the door, he had to rise up on his knees to unlock the bolt.
"You're being ridiculous." Heero's hand reached for the doorknob, but he stopped short when Duo leveled him a warning glare.
"I said I'm leaving." He adamantly refused to have this argument with Heero on Christmas Day. Desperate to escape the situation, he grabbed hold of the doorknob and with a twist of his wrist he flung it open. Then as fast as it was humanly possible he crawled out onto the front porch of his home, hands and knees rapidly thumping a steady staccato on the wood. In a final act of desperation, and with very little-grace, he threw himself down the stairs.
Shit, it was freezing out. He hadn't thought about his retreat in practical terms. With no jacket or gloves, his feet covered only in bandages and sticking up in the air, it wouldn't take long for him to succumb to the freezing temperature.
"Duo, stop. Where do you think you're going?"
Rapidly crawling down the sidewalk, his knees and hands already aching from the cold, he chanced glancing over his shoulder after hearing footsteps following behind. Heero was coming after him with a determined expression on his face. "Go away," he shouted over his left shoulder, then commenced crawling a bit faster.
"Are you insane?"
"Certifiable. Are you happy now?"
"That you're crazy?"
"That I've finally confirmed what you've always thought about me. Now go away and leave me alone."
He was nearly halfway to the main sidewalk before he was grabbed from behind by strong arms encircling his waist. With a grunt, Heero lifted him off his hands and feet. Not one to go down without a fight, he put up quite a struggle to gain his freedom, a goal that was doomed to fail because he honestly didn't want to put his feet on the icy ground. "Shit, let me go, Heero."
"In a minute," Heero grunted as he turned and lumbered up the sidewalk with a 155 pound, grown man struggling to get away from him.
They were back in the house before Duo could formulate another plan. Heero moved to the sofa and strategically tossed his burden onto the cushions. Duo pushed the long strands of hair from out of his eyes and glared up at the man towering over him, pressing his lips together to show his unhappiness since words seemed to elude him.
"Stay there and I'll make you some breakfast, then we'll talk."
Duo remained tight-lipped and silent as he watched the other man disappear out of the room. He held back the urge to rant and rave at Heero and tried to think of how he should react. He wanted to get up and run and avoid the whole "talk" business, but the ache of his feet reminded him of how impractical if not impossible that option was at the moment. So he repositioned himself on his back, his legs hanging over the arm of the sofa, then pulled the blanket down from the back of to wrap it around his chilled body. Damn, it was cold outside. What had he been thinking, going out there without the proper clothing?
With the fire in the fireplace burning brightly and every inch of his body covered, other than his head, it didn't take long for him to warm up. It was his frustration and anger, however, that really got him hot and bothered. He was ready for a fight by the time Heero came back into the room, carrying a tray of food for the both of them.
Setting the tray on the coffee table, Heero knelt by the table, giving Duo a glimpse of its contents. Blue/violet eyes widened at seeing a variety of donuts, steaming hot chocolate and, of course, a two bowls of oatmeal.
"Oatmeal?" He questioned, looking at Heero.
"I'm hungry, too."
"Where'd the donuts come from?"
"I picked them up from the Jelly Donut on my way home from work yesterday."
"They're my favorites," Duo said softly, gazing at the sugary confections.
"I know," Heero replied with the beginnings of a smile as he picked up one of the bowls of oatmeal and handed it to him. "I figured the cereal would balance the rest of the meal." Heero was hooked on the hot grain cereal, having often spoken of the benefits from eating it regularly for breakfast.
Duo held the bowl of oats in his hand while eying the donuts. "I call dibs on the apple fritter."
Heero smiled with amusement at his pronouncement, and for a moment the world seemed to stand still. Duo was locked on that smile. It had been so long since Heero had given him a genuine smile. Suddenly all desire for food was gone, replaced by a need to know what was going on. Carefully placing the bowl back on the table, Duo looked up into Heero's confused eyes as he asked, "What's this all about, Heero? Why are you here?"
"I've been thinking."
"Congratulations! You accomplished exactly what you set out to do." He really couldn't help the sarcasm, it was a great mask for the hurt he'd suffered all month long.
Heero frowned. "Do you want to hear what I have to say or do you want to say something first?"
Closing his eyes, Duo had to think seriously about that choice for a moment. His need to lash out at Heero, to hurt him as much as he'd been hurt, was almost too much to deny, but in order to work things out, he had to push that impulse aside. Keeping his eyes closed he replied in a resigned voice, "Go ahead, justify your need to walk out on me in front of our friends and continue to hurt me several times over the past month. I'm on pins and needles waiting for that explanation." Well, the sarcasm wasn't exactly gone.
"You're not going to make this easy for me, are you?"
Duo wisely kept his mouth closed and the answer to that question to himself.
A long moment passed in silence before Heero began again. "I'm not going to reiterate why I left, because you already know the reason why."
"Because you think we're headed in different directions, right?"
Duo opened one eye to look questioningly at Heero. "Initially?"
"Yes. But as I said, I've been thinking, analyzing what went wrong."
Now both eyes opened as Duo gave the other man his full attention. "Go ahead."
Motioning with his hand to their surrounding, Heero began. "All of this is new to me. Learning how to conduct myself in a working environment, buying this house, taking care of it, the yard the cars and paying the bills is hard enough. Then on top of everything else there's living with you, and that has its own set of challenges." After seeing the frown on Duo's face Heero rushed to add, "Not that you're difficult to live with, but you know it's an adjustment for me, being in such a close, intimate relationship and spending all of our time together. I suppose what really bothers me is how you jump into everything without thinking things out. We had only been in this house a month before you threw a big 4th of July party, and we're not even living in the United States. No one here even acknowledges much less celebrates that occasion."
"I really just thought it was a cool way to have our friends over for the first time," Duo explained.
"I know, and it's not that I don't want you to celebrate such things if you feel they're important, but you're always so extravagant, everything has to be done in a big way, from the food to the decorations and the large number of people you want to invite."
"What's wrong with that?" the braided man asked sincerely. "The more the merrier, right? Coming from nothing and losing everyone I cared about, I guess I just want to make up for everything. Our friends are like family to me and I want to include them in our plans."
Duo blinked. "I always asked for your permission, Heero."
The other man's eyes looked sad as he answered, "When have I ever kept you from doing what you really wanted to do?"
"You mean you never wanted to celebrate any of those holidays with me?"
"That's exactly what I wanted, to celebrate them with you." Heero paused a moment to let that bit sink in, and then he added, "It isn't so much that I don't want to explore these holidays, but that I just wanted to start out slowly, together with you as we learn about these traditions you so badly want to adopt. If I'm not mistaken, traditions are supposed to be made one at a time, aren't they? Going to the extreme, as you're prone to do, overwhelms me as much as it energizes you."
Understanding lit up Duo's eyes. Pulling his left arm out from under the blanket, he reached over and placed it over Heero, resting on his thigh.
"Why didn't you say something before? I would have understood."
Heero looked apologetic. "I didn't know how to articulate what I was feeling until the last time you asked me to go out shopping with you. I'm sorry I didn't accept your invitation. I've found myself very conflicted during the past couple of weeks."
"But you're not conflicted now?"
Heero shook his head. "No, not any more." Unfortunately, wearing an inscrutable expression, Duo couldn't guess what the other man had decided. Were they finished, or was Heero going to come home?
Exasperated, Duo pleaded, "Oh, come on, Heero. Don't torture me like this. What have you decided?"
Heero slowly leaned over until his face was mere inches from Duo's. The blue/violet eyes widened and his tongue slipped out to moisten his dry lips, hoping, anticipating what he thought was going to happen next. Sure enough, Heero tilted his head ever so slightly and then fit their lips together perfectly. The kiss started off gently, like the beginning of a new story that had yet to unfold. Reaching his arms up, Duo pulled Heero closer, deepening the kiss at the same time by opening his mouth to receive the other man's questing tongue.
After a few very enjoyable minutes, Heero pulled back, his hand tenderly brushing back the long strands of hair away his lover's face. Duo searched the man's dark blue eyes for understanding. "So I'm guessing you've decided to come home?"
At last Heero offered him a reassuring grin. "Yes, but there's something else I need to do first."
Moving off the edge of the sofa, Heero went to his knees. Immediately, Duo's mind shifted gears, suddenly realizing what was happening, though he could hardly believe it. Heero, he was sure, was going to propose to him, or something of that sort.
"Wait!" Before Heero could utter another word or move another inch, Duo stopped him in his tracks, despite bringing a frown to his lover's face. "I just want to make sure you know what you're doing and not getting carried away by the moment. Are you sure about this? I mean, we've just had a rough month away from each other. I'm kind of thinking we're back to square one, at least for a while."
"You're right," Heero agreed as he slipped an arm beneath the braided man's shoulders. "But I know what I'm doing. Trust me?"
There was only a brief pause before Duo replied somewhat cautiously. "Yes. I trust you."
"Good." Heero swooped in for a brief but fierce kiss before Duo felt a hand shoved beneath his thighs. Before he could catch his breath and launch a protest, he was being lifted off the sofa to be held into Heero's arms.
"Hold on," Heero warned.
As he carried Duo toward the entrance of their home, Heero paused by the hall tree. "Grab our coats."
"Coats? Where the hell are we going now?" Duo asked, completely dumbfounded by whatever was going on. He thought a moment ago that Heero was about to propose a legal partnership, or something of the sort, and he'd begun to prepare an answer to that question. But now he wasn't so sure and he felt more than a little behind in figuring out what the hell was really going on. "You want to go outside to propose?"
"Propose? What am I proposing?" Heero's expression showed that he had no idea as to what the braided man was talking about.
Seeing that he had been completely wrong in reading Heero's actions, Duo tried to gloss over his mistake. "So where are we going?"
"To the hospital, where else?"
"Your feet are still bleeding. It looks like you need some stitches. I could do it for you, but I think you might enjoy something to numb your feet before someone starts stitching them up."
Duo's face was turning a flattering shade of pink. "Ah, yeah, I think you're right."
Holding onto the two coats he's taken from the coat stand with one hand, Duo wrapped his free arm over Heero's shoulder, holding on. Truth be told, he rather enjoyed being swept up into Heero's capable arms. But when Heero didn't move, he pulled back in order to figure out what was wrong. He was surprised to see a smile twitching to life on Heero's handsome face.
"What's so funny?"
"You thought I was going to propose."
With his face heating up with embarrassment, Duo went on the defensive. "Well, dropping to your knees like you did, you can't really blame a guy for assuming that's what you were doing."
"Let's get your feet taken care of first, and then we'll talk about the future."
Duo's could only have been more surprised if Deathscythe Hell magically appeared on the driveway. His mind was whirling in circles as Heero walked out the door, turning so Duo would shut the door behind them.
As they made their way down the sidewalk, Duo noticed the fragments of broken ornaments and green pine needles strewn all over the snow-covered ground. "Hey, Heero?"
"Can we have a do-over of last night when we get back from the hospital?"
"I want to turn back time and spend Christmas Eve with you. Alone."
Stopping on the sidewalk, Heero looked to his lover and gave him a soft, loving smile. "I'd like that," he replied. "Then you can open your gift"
"I've got one for you, too, "Duo replied, excited at once over Heero opening his gift. "But being with you on Christmas is the only thing I really wanted. Thanks for coming home, Heero."
And right there on the sidewalk, with Duo held securely in Heero's arms, the two lovers shared a kiss that said everything mere words could not, making promises that were yet to be spoken. And just as they were about to come up for air, their joined faces were hit by the stinging impact of an icy cold ball of snow, thrown from somewhere in the direction of the street.
Three of the neighborhood kids, straddling what looked like new bicycles, stood laughing at the startled, frosty-faced men. The three boys had once been the bane of the neighborhood, pulling pranks and at times they had been what Duo described as disrespectful punks. But all of that had changed after Duo took them to task. Now the three looked up to the two men living together, despite the fact that they were openly gay. Yet whatever respect Heero and Duo had earned didn't mean they were excluded from being targeted by the three not-quite-so-much the troublemakers they once were.
"What the hell!" Duo shouted at the three, shaking the snow from off his face. "Mike Anders, you better run and hide, because once I get my feet patched up I'm gonna hunt you down and bury your balls in ice."
The three teenagers snickered, shrugging off the threat. "Yeah, that's what you always say, Duo, but Heero won't let you, will he?"
"I might just make an exception this time," Heero stated with his most stoic expression. Carefully brushing some of the melting snow off of Heero face, Duo said, "I appreciate the exception. However, my feet are insisting I take a rain check." In the background, they could hear the beginnings of a singsong tune about them kissing in a tree, or something like that. "We better get the hell out of here before I lose my cool and do something that will land us both in jail."
"Sounds like a potential Christmas tradition." Heero grinned at the thought.
Duo laughed at the idea and leaned in for quick kiss, but stopped short to yell a warning. "Jake, if that snowball leaves your hand, I swear that you'll be singing soprano." The boy's devilish grin faded and his raised hand, holding an enormous snowball, slowly lowered. It took only a moment before the kid yelled back, "Merry Christmas to you, too, douche bag."
Heero grimaced. Duo hated that particular nickname the boys had given him "And to all a good fight," Heero replied, earning an amused chuckle from Duo as well as laughter from the three troublemakers.
"But not until tomorrow."
Heero somehow managed to get his car keys out of his pant's pocket, and with a push of a button the doors were unlocked. He opened the passenger side and eased Duo down, then covered him a bit better with the blanket and tucked it around his bandaged feet.
Once the passenger door closed, Duo struggled into his jacket, realizing more than ever how cold it was outside after being separated from Heero's warmth. The driver's door opened, but just as Heero moved to sit down, a snowball hit him from behind, smack in the back of his head. He paused to give a murderous glare to the three troublemakers. Making a slow show of brushing the snow off the back of his head, Heero said in a voice deliberately loud enough for the three to hear, "I think tracking down and torturing a couple of neighborhood brats could be the beginning of yet another new holiday tradition." Turning only his head, the look Heero gave the three was enough to send them peddling down the street as fast as they could manage.
Getting into the car, Heero put the key in the ignition and turned the car on. Then taking a deep breath he turned to Duo with a smile.
"A new tradition?" Duo questioned, grinning back.
Heero chuckled. "I'm sure scaring the shit out of those juvenile delinquents is something we can enjoy doing together."
Duo looked with regret at his feet. "Well, with my feet about to be stitched up, I'm afraid I'm going to have to pass this time. I'll probably be flat on my back for the next couple of days."
The wicked glint in Heero's eye matched his smirk of his tempting lips. "I can work with that, that is if you're up for it."
With a crooked grin, Duo replied. "With you, Heero, I'm up for anything."
And so after a long and painful month of misunderstandings and separation, the two reunited lovers returned home from the hospital six hours later and proceeded to initiate their first Christmas tradition, several times in fact. And because they very much liked their way of celebrating so well, they made it a tradition for each Christmas and New Years as well as every other holiday, obscure or not, that followed.