by Dyna Dee
Several hours later the smell of peach pie still lingered in the kitchen as the two men sat at the table to eat their chicken and rice soup. In the center of the table, surrounded by holly branches, were seven beautiful wooden candle holders of various heights, slender and simple in design but an excellent example of craftsmanship. Long tapered red candles sprung up from the tulip shaped holder on top of each cherry wood stem. They supplied the only light in the room, lending a romantic and festive mood to the otherwise simple meal. Heero was surprised to learn Duo had crafted the candlesticks himself.
After the bowls and plates had been cleared and washed, the two men bundled up in their outerwear and set out to deliver the warm pies. Though Heero had met their neighbors years ago, it seemed from Duo's description that there hadn't been a lot of change over the years. Apparently, very few families moved to the quaint and somewhat isolated village of Old Castle, and even fewer people moved away. It didn't surprise Heero then that with the exception of two houses, he actually recognized many of Duo's acquaintances from eight years ago, despite their being older. What hadn't changed was the how charming the neighbors were, young and old. He was greeted in a friendly manner as Duo's guest and wished a Merry Christmas by all those he met. With the pies delivered, he and Duo returned to the house briefly, to unload their armfuls of sweets and treats they'd received in return for their own celebration.
Walking out of the warm house once again and into the cold and dark night, the two men decided to walk to the church, where the Christmas Eve program was scheduled to begin at seven. That gave them roughly a half hour to make their way there.
They entered the rectory through the double-door entry that was framed by evergreen boughs that were entwined with strands of small, white lights. They took their seats in the pews to the right of the stage area. The cushioned pew already had several people sitting on it who smiled and greeted Duo with a chorus of Merry Christmas and to Heero a more reserved, polite greeting and words of welcome. By the sly glances and knowing expressions on some of their faces it was easy to see that news of Odin Well's presence had circulated around the village. Heero wouldn't be surprised if one or two of his books miraculously appeared for signing. It had happened before, and more times than he could count.
When the bells in the tower began to ring out a familiar Christmas carol, Heero felt his hand touched and then gently clasped. Turning his head, he looked at Duo and was struck speechless by his brilliantly bright smile. Duo was happy, and knowing he'd contributed in some small way to that happiness added to his own. He returned the smile and gently squeezed the hand resting comfortably in his own.
Duo's eyes turned to observe the room around them, and Heero followed his line of sight. The inside of the church was magnificent. Long boughs of evergreens, floral pieces with large red and white poinsettias decorated the interior, but it was the light of hundreds of candles that gave the tall and large room a sense of intimacy. With hushed voices now, those who'd been lingering in the back of the rectory quickly found their seats while children and those participating in the program proceeded to the front, where the nativity Duo had spoken of working on the day before was there for all to see and appreciate.
Unused to religious ceremonies, Heero sat respectfully, knowing that Christians held such events to commemorate something they regarded as sacred. He found the music to be lovely, the children's pageant charming, but most of all he loved the way Duo would often turn and smile at him, with the candlelight dancing in his eyes and the red and gold strands in his chestnut hair glowing. Heero didn't know if he'd ever seen anyone as beautiful as Duo was to him that night. And then he knew, without a doubt, that he never wanted to be parted from the American again. What good was a successful career if he didn't have someone to share it with? What enjoyment did he really get out of two apartments, oceans apart, when they were cold and austere compared to Duo's homey abode? Those properties had merely been places to work and to store his possessions; but they had never really represented a home.
Tuning out the quartet singing a song about peace and joy, Heero returned Duo's gaze, and saw himself reflected in those eyes alight with happiness. In the depth of those blue-violet orbs he felt well and truly home.
As their eyes remained locked, Duo tilted his head just a fraction to his left, silently questioning and curious, probably wondering what had come over him. In the midst of all the people surrounding them, Heero couldn't speak what was foremost in his mind, or even kiss the other man like he craved to do. Instead, he lifted Duo's hand in his own and brought it to his lips and held it there for a long moment, wishing he could tell Duo all that was in his heart. He contented himself that he had time, all the time in the world now that he had made the decision to become Duo's lover once again.
Duo pulled his hand away, reluctantly, or so it seemed. His eyes rolled to include the congregation, telling Heero they needed to be discreet. Heero gave an agreeing nod of his head. He'd behave, but just until the moment they walked into their home. Their home. It was a heady thing to realize you found where you belonged after drifting for so long.
With the end of the holiday program, the congregation slowly left the church with everyone wishing each other a happy Christmas before they turned towards their homes to continue their own celebrations. To everyone's delight the snow had begun to fall again, but this time it was a gentle snowfall, and Heero watched as Duo, once more clothed in a warm jacket, gloves and woolen cap, turned his head up and let the frozen flakes to fall on his face, wearing a look of utter contentment. "Can this day get anymore perfect?" he softly asked.
Heero smiled and replied, "Just wait until we get back to the house." Duo laughed with good humor then took his hand and began to lead him back the way they had come earlier.
Having walked to the church, the two men began the mile walk back to the house. They held hands and Duo did most of the talking, describing further the people or families who lived in the decorated houses they passed by.
Their hats, coats and gloves were discarded immediately after they entered the front door, as were their boots. Boo was let out and quickly returned. Heero stoked the fire in the fireplace and added a couple of logs while Duo went into the kitchen for some tea. Bathed in the glow of the fire and colorful blinking lights on the Christmas tree, Heero decided that he finally understood what was so special about this holiday. Though the weather was frigidly cold, he felt warmer inside than he ever could remember being before. No wonder Duo had stayed in Old Castle, it was a place you could belong to, a place you could be happy in. And Duo, certainly, looked to have reaped the benefits of what the village offered. He was more calm, healthy and content than he'd ever been as a teenager. Heero could only hope that by making this place his home again he might find the same.
Duo returned to the room with a tray of tea and two slices of peach pie. "Merry Christmas, Heero," he said with a soft smile. Duo stood back and watched, trying not to appear anxious as Heero took his first bite of the pie. One bite and Heero closed his eyes to savor the taste of summer, of cinnamon and sugar with a dash of nutmeg. "This is incredibly delicious," he told the chef as he sectioned off another piece of the pie with his fork. Relieved, Duo picked up his own plate and started in on his slice.
It was close to ten by the time they'd finished their late night snack. Duo wedged himself into Heero's side, his head on his shoulder. With soft Christmas music playing in the background, the braided man said in a contented voice, "This is how I always imagined our Christmas would be. It's nice, isn't it?"
"Unforgettable," Heero replied, leaning down to kiss the top of the braided head.
"There's only one other thing I've dreamt about that hasn't happened yet."
"Making love in front of the fire, with the tree's lights shining down on us."
Heero didn't need a second invitation in order to make that dream come true.
An incessant ringing woke Heero up the next morning. He turned on his side to see Duo just opening his eyes and watched with amusement as the naked man stumbled out of bed, put on a robe and his thick, fleece-lined house boots and darted out of the bedroom. It was tempting to stay in bed where it was warm and smelled of Duo and spent passion rather than deal with the cold outside the covers. But after recalling Wufei's call the day before, his curiosity was enough to brave the winter morning chill.
With a groan he pushed the covers away and quickly dressed in jeans and a grey cable-knit sweater. Raking his fingers through his messy hair while leaving the bedroom, Heero made his way towards the stairs. He paused, holding onto the bannister as he listened to Duo's voice, coming from somewhere in the living room below.
"Yes, it's been a great Christmas, Quatre. Never better. Are you and Trowa coming to Earth soon?" Pause. "Yeah, I got the ticket, just like last year. And again, thanks for the gift, but I have to send it back." Another brief pause and then Duo added, "I know I promised, but it's hard for me to leave. I have a living to make and if I don't work, I don't get paid. If I don't have any money, I can't pay my bills."
Heero decided he was getting pretty good at deciphering one-sided phone calls, either that or Duo was just making it easy for him.
"No Quatre, let's not get into this again. I won't take money from you." Pause. "Because it can ruin friendships, that's why."
And then the subject matter changed again. "I'm fine, really. I caught a virus last month and it was pretty bad. It kind of spooked me because it reminded me of, well, you know what, so I went back to the clinic and had a checkup. I'm still waiting for the results." Another short pause. "In a day or two, I think."
So Duo had been sick and that was why he was waiting for a test result. With how healthy the other man seemed, Heero doubted there could be anything seriously wrong with his lover. He began his descent of the stairs, which creaked from age and subsequently alerted Duo to his movements. Boo came around the staircase, his tail wagging mildly at his approach.
Standing in the middle of the living room, wearing only his ridiculous robe and boots, his hair falling out of his braid and badly tangled, Heero couldn't help but think that Duo outshone the early morning sun, which was stealing its way though the bay window's partially opened curtains. With eyes dancing with happiness, Duo acknowledged his presence, then raised his eyebrows in a question. Knowing what he was asking, Heero nodded.
"Guess who's here, Quat?"
Of course Heero was given the phone and old acquaintances were reunited once again. All in all, he was happy with the reception he received from Quatre and Trowa. They politely asked him where in the hell he'd been and after confirming that he was indeed Odin Wells, they commented favorably on his books. Quatre also spoke to him about the shuttle ticket he'd given Duo for Christmas, as he had for the past six years, and asked him to use his influence in convincing Duo it would be a good thing for them to see each other again. They exchanged addresses and phone numbers before Trowa was put on the line.
The two former comrades made small talk for about five minutes, then Trowa abruptly changed the subject by saying out of the blue, "Don't you dare hurt him again, Yuy. Duo's been through a lot and he doesn't need any added stress or hurt."
Seeing that Duo was hanging on his every word, Heero replied, "You've got nothing to worry about." After several wishes for a Merry Christmas, the call ended.
"Are you hungry?"
Heero shook his head. "Not yet, but I think this is the designated time for you to open your gifts." He moved to the Christmas tree, where he'd placed his bag of gifts the day before. Choosing the smallest present first, he returned to Duo and placed it in his hands. "Merry Christmas," he said before dropping a quick kiss on the long-haired man's lips.
The expression on Duo's face was split between looking worried and eager. "Like I said, I didn't have a chance to buy you anything, Heero," he said as he sat down with the present on his lap.
"Christmas is more about giving than receiving, right?"
"Well, yeah but..." Heero silenced him with a quick kiss.
"Your letting me be here with you for Christmas is the best gift anyone has ever given me," said Heero, and he drank in the sight of his lover, knowing he'd never tire of looking at him.
Still somewhat embarrassed by the lack of a gift, Duo's gaze returned to the gift on his lap. "Thanks, Heero."
With a little urging he opened the gift and seemed genuinely pleased at the new winter scarf and cap. Another gift was a pair of expensive gloves that happened to fit perfectly. The last gift was the largest and the most expensive of those that Heero had purchased, and for some reason it failed to bring the pleased smile to Duo's face that he'd anticipated. "Don't you like it?"
Duo seemed pensive as he replied, "These are really expensive, Heero. You really shouldn't have spent so much money. I don't think I should accept this."
"I want to buy you nice things, Duo," said Heero as he cupped the other man's warm cheek to turn his head in order to see his eyes. "I've earned more money from my books than you can imagine, so you might as well get used to me buying you things."
The violet-eyed man's pensive mood abruptly changed to one of wariness. "What do you mean?"
Saying what was on his mind wasn't usually a problem for Heero, or putting his thoughts on paper, but speaking about what was in his heart was much more difficult. For both their sakes he had to take a chance and tell Duo how he felt and what he wanted. "I want you by my side Duo, like you were always meant to be. I don't care anymore that you married Wufei, all I know is that I don't think I'll ever be happy if you're not with me."
"Heero, I..." Duo stopped there, his eyes searching Heero's, and it was impossible to notice the faint crease forming between those cinnamon colored eyebrows, an indication that Duo was troubled about something. A wave of anxiety wash through Heero as he waited for the other man to continue. Duo's pride, he concluded, was standing between them. The boy from L2 had always prided himself on being self-sufficient and independent, and Heero had little doubt that he'd ever change. He wondered if accepting gifts he couldn't afford on his own was viewed by Duo as a sign of failure. Well, he'd have to help Duo overcome such notions, for he had a mind to purchase anything and everything the American ever wanted or needed.
Sidestepping what he'd just said, Heero tried again from another angle. "Just think of this as a way to see your friends more often. If you can't or won't fly to L4, you can visit with Quatre and Trowa from the comfort of your living room." Duo's hand moved over the box, as if he were touching the most precious thing in the world. Seeing his resolve weakening, Heero pushed just a little more. "Please. It would really make me happy if you'd accept this."
Closing his eyes, Duo gave in, although it was clear he still had reservations. "All right. If your sure it's not too much." Then Heero kissed Duo until any hesitation was well and truly forgotten.
When at last they broke apart, Duo bent and carefully set his gift down on the floor. Then turning back to Heero he grabbed the other man by the shoulders and purred with a feral gleam in his eyes, "Now let me show you just how grateful I am, and not just for the gift, but that you're here with me on Christmas day also."
Heero had somehow forgotten how aggressive Duo could be when he wanted to top. Those memories, deliberately tucked away for many years, were quickly recalled when he was abruptly pushed down onto the sofa and the braided man proceeded to kiss each portion of skin that he deftly uncovered. A fierce desire to have the other man's body bare and pressed against his own swept over him, especially when his sweater was lifted and a hot, wet mouth began to explore his chest and stomach. It took all his concentration to undo the tie around Duo's robe, his intense craving to see Duo naked again helped to keep his hands steady enough so he could accomplish the simple task while the other man drove him to distraction. Before long, they were both divested of most of their clothing. Duo's robe was fully open and loosely draped over his shoulders while Heero was left with only socks on his feet to ease the chill of the room.
Duo's hands seemed to be everywhere, and where those hands were Duo lips were soon to follow. But just as the long-haired man began to move lower the sound of small voices outside preceded the ringing of the doorbell. Boo, laying on his rug by the fireplace, sprung up and began barking as he moved towards the front door.
Heero followed Duo's line of sight to the front window, and only then recalling that the curtains were partially open. Then Duo was up and pulling his robe on as quickly as possible, tying the sash tightly before tossing a blanket that lay over the sofa at Heero. "Coming," he shouted in the direction of the closed door.
Moving to the front door, the braided man put his hand on the latch, then checked to see that Heero was decent before opening it. Out on the porch stood five children of various heights, and it was impossible to tell by their snow clothing if they were male or female. "Merry Christmas," Duo greeted them with a broad smile and a blushing face.
Five minutes later the two men were completely dressed and out the door, rapidly building up a supply of snowballs for what Heero had learned was a yearly neighborhood battle. All the children and many of their parents joined in for two hours of exhausting play. Boo seemed to be enjoying himself with the other neighborhood dogs, chasing each other and barking at the flying snowballs as they were hurtled from one side of the street to the other. Eventually the younger children wore out, and everyone decided it was time to go inside and warm up.
"Duo!" Both men had just reached the front porch when Reinhold Kleib called out.
"My family would be pleased if you and your guest would join us for dinner this afternoon." The forty-something man said with a grin. Reinhold had been on their team, lofting snowballs like a pro at their neighbors who lived on the opposite side of the street, which was how the teams had been formed for the morning's battle. Though they hadn't spoken much to each other during the two-hours of play, Heero now detected an Austrian accent from the man who had bright pink circles on his cheeks from the cold weather and the robust activity.
Duo glanced at him and asked, "Would you mind?"
Sensing his lover really wanted to join the family for a more traditional meal than soup reheated from the night before, Heero nodded. "Sounds nice."
Dinner, they learned, was in one hour, which didn't leave the two men time to do much but get cleaned up and presentable. Because of the small bathroom, Heero waited for Duo to shower first, and had time to think over the events of that morning. Duo hadn't actually responded to him when he said he couldn't be happy without him. He had intended on speaking further with Duo, asking him to let him stay and to marry him, but he'd gotten distracted by their attempt to make love and then the snowball fight. Now they were going to the neighbors to have dinner and possibly spend the afternoon. Tonight, he told himself, he would speak to Duo tonight.
The phone rang downstairs. With the shower still running, Heero knew Duo wouldn't be able to hear it. He debated for only a moment about whether or not he should answer it or let the machine pick it up. Less than thirty seconds later he had scrambled down the stairs and was reaching for the receiver. "Hello?"
There was a long pause that followed before a recognizable voice demanded, "Who is this and where is Duo?"
"As bossy and demanding as ever, aren't you, Chang?"
Another pause before a tentative inquiry came. "Yuy?"
For some reason Wufei's asking for Duo twice in a short amount of time irritated him. "In the shower." His voice was a bit clipped as he answered the other man's question.
When Wufei spoke again, some of the edge that had been in his voice previously was gone. "How are you, Heero?"
"I'm doing well. How about you?"
"Couldn't be better," the Chinese man answered. "I tried to call earlier but no one was home."
"We were out playing in the snow with the neighbors."
"So you're the company Duo spoke of yesterday."
"Yes, I came into Old Castle a couple of days ago."
"I know you'll think this is none of my business, but what are you doing there?"
"You're right, it is none of your business." When Wufei said nothing more, Heero continued. "I came here to get some answers, to put the past behind me and move on."
"And have you gotten what you wanted?"
With a sigh, Heero ran his hand through his messy hair. "I've received very few answers but more than I dreamed of."
"I'm not leaving here unless Duo comes with me."
A long moment of silence stretched out after that statement, and for a moment Heero wondered if the other man was still on the line. Then quietly, Wufei asked, "What does Duo have to say about this?"
"He's going to say yes." And Heero truly believed that there could be no other outcome when he asked Duo to marry him. "I love him."
"Has he told you why he and I married?"
"He won't speak about you at all. Why is that?"
"I suppose he believes he has his reasons and I'm not one to speak out of turn. But I would tell you this, Heero; don't suppose that Duo will fall into your plans just because you want him to. Eight years is a long time, and Duo's had a rough time during several of those years. He's a changed man from the boy you knew during the war."
Looking up with the phone still at his ear, Heero had to lean back a bit to see up the stairwell. Duo was standing on the first step, a towel wrapped around his wet hair and another tucked in around his waist.
"Wufei's on the phone for you," he called up. "Put a robe on before you come down. It's a bit cool down here."
"Alright. Tell him I'll be right there."
Turning his attention back to the phone, Heero asked, "You heard?"
"I did. Listen," Wufei began again, but now in a more hurried voice. "Not that you've asked for it, but I'll give you some good advice; tread carefully. There are things that you obviously don't know about him and I'm not at liberty to say much, but I can tell you that over the years, Duo has isolated himself, has physically cut himself off from myself, Quatre and Trowa. That he let you into his home is rather remarkable, but don't be overconfident in your plans for him. Get him to tell you why we married and ultimately divorced."
"You harbor no animosity because of the divorce, do you?"
"None at all. We divorced by mutual agreement when the time was right. Duo and I are and will remain good friends."
Hearing the stairs creak, Heero knew his time had passed for learning as much as he could from Wufei about Duo and their marriage. "Duo's here. It's been nice chatting with you, Wufei."
"Thanks," Duo said with a grin as he accepted the receiver from Heero and began a lively conversation with his former husband. Heero motioned to Duo that he was going to take his shower, and reluctantly climbed the stairs to do so instead of hanging around and piecing together whatever bits of the conversation he could manage.
Duo was in the bedroom when he exited the bathroom and was in fact slipping on a pair of jeans. He turned to Heero with a happy grin on his face. "Did Wu tell you he's engaged?"
"No he didn't."
"He asked Sally Poe last night and she said yes. Guess they're going to try for a summer wedding."
Heero turned with his shirt in his hand and asked, "Isn't he gay?"
For only a brief instant, Duo looked startled by the question, but he quickly composed himself to answer. "Ah... I guess you could say he's bi-sexual."
"And how do you feel about this announcement?"
Without missing a beat, Duo replied, "I'm happy for him. He and Sally have been dating for three years now. I say it's about time he pulled his head out of the procrastination bucket and asked her." Then glancing at the alarm clock, Duo picked up his brush and began the task of combing out his towel-dried and slightly damp hair. "We better hurry. We've only got fifteen minutes until we're expected for dinner."
The afternoon passed quickly. The two men enjoyed a meal with the Kleib family. The food, left over from their Christmas dinner the night before, was plentiful and delicious and the family was lively and entertaining. The passage of time was only marked by the need to turn on the lights as the house darkened. The Kleib children proudly showed off their gifts, amongst which was a board game, which everyone joined in playing. It was past nine o'clock when he and Duo were able to make their way back to the now dark house. It had been a long day, a wonderful one, really, and Heero hoped to enjoy more like it in the years to come. He couldn't recall being happier than he was now, and in order to ensure that happiness continued, he was more determined than ever to marry Duo as soon as possible. Tonight, he promised himself, he would ask Duo tonight despite Wufei's earlier warning.