by Dyna Dee
I love December. In fact, I think I love everything about it. As I walk through the main shopping district on L-4, I watch those shoppers passing around me. People meandering down the streets with their arms loaded with brightly colored packages, for the most part, have smiles on their faces as they shop for the holiday. The children that toddle along at their sides have a special sparkle of anticipation in their eyes as they gaze at the tantalizing and bright red, green and white displays of toys and games or representations of Santa Claus and his workshop in various store windows. The whole atmosphere within the colony seems to be filled with a happiness that isn't always displayed during the rest of the year.
I chuckle to myself as I remember an incident that happened just a short while ago. I stood next to a man in an elevator in a department store who unconsciously hummed along with the Christmas music that was playing over the store's sound system, a contented smile on his face. I joined in and was rewarded when he turned to me and we exchanged a smile and a Merry Christmas greeting. That was nice.
The strands of small white lights glowing on the branches of the many trees inside the colony blink like stars in distant galaxies and there's just a general feeling inside this tin can called L-4 that smacks of peace and good will towards men. Yeah, I wax sentimental this time of year.
I shift the packages in my hands once again as the handles wear into my skin. They're a lot heavier than I thought when I started walking. I look up again only to see the taxis passing by have their lights out. It's impossible to catch a cab today, with everyone bustling about buying last minute presents. Well, not so last minute. It's December 20th, the day I've always set aside to do my holiday shopping. The crowds are enthusiastic and the merchandise in the stores is on sale at a discount of twenty-five to fifty percent off with merchants hoping to unload some of their excess stock. The perfect combination to make me a happy shopper.
I begin my walk along the busy city streets towards home and then realize that I'm going to be late for dinner again. Quatre doesn't have a lot of rules for living in his home, but he firmly adheres to a couple, namely; always wear pajamas and a robe outside the bedroom, especially if there is any staff in the house, be discreet with our affections towards each other in the main rooms of the house when anyone other than ourselves is present, and always try to be home for dinner. Quatre thinks it's a good idea for us to connect with each other after a day of working, to keep in touch with each other's lives. And believe me, there's usually a lot of "keeping in touch" going on under that table and beneath the hired help's eyes, despite the rules.
As I think about the approaching holiday, I feel a touch of melancholy start to creep into my good mood. This Christmas will be much more different from last year. Heero won't be coming and neither will that creepy Alex. A shudder goes through my body as a few of those memories and feelings come back to me. It's easier to shrug them away now, especially when I remind myself how much my life has changed in a year's time. I'm happy now and I feel good, in every way possible. I'm in great shape both physically and mentally. I feel healthy and whole, and my job with Quatre is fulfilling. I'm really helping him in his daily contacts with other companies, clients, and potential future business ventures, and the media. Quatre says I'm a natural and that I'm really lessening the burden that's been placed on him. It's nice to know I'm needed and useful to someone I owe so much to.
I look down at the weighty packages in my cramping hands. I hope they like what I've purchased for them as gifts this year. I hesitated in my holiday shopping, wondering whether or not I should buy a gift for Heero, like I've always done. It felt odd not to, so I bought him a silk shirt, the color of his eyes. I'll have one of the guys send it to him.
Heero had continued writing and calling the other guys over the last few months, and they in turn tell me how he's doing. He's respectfully supported my decision to not make contact with me until I'm ready by not e-mailing me. Funny, sometimes I feel jealous that the others get e-mails from him and I don't, even though I'm the one that requested it. Wufei told me he still doesn't know I live here on L-4 with them.
Quatre warned me about a month ago that he was going to invite Heero up for Christmas and asked how I felt about it. It's his home, and I figured he could invite whomever he wants. He said he and the other two really want Heero to come for the holiday. What could I say?
It all turned out a moot point anyway as Heero replied to the invite saying that Une wouldn't give him anymore time off. He'd used up all his sick and vacation days in getting treatment for his addiction. While a part of me was relieved when I heard it, I found that another part of me felt disappointed. From the moment I'd accepted Quatre's news of the extended invitation, I'd lived with a mixture of quiet dread and anticipation of seeing him again. If I'm honest with myself I have to admit that, even if he did treat me like a second class friend, I still miss him. No one plays one on one on a basketball court like Heero, and no one else has ever made my heart skip when they entered a room like Heero had.
I make a haphazard dash across the street, the heavy laden shopping bags thumping against my legs. I barely avoid a speeding car as horns honk all around me and I yell at them that pedestrians have the right of way, even if they aren't using a cross walk. I finally make it to the other side; life, limb and Christmas presents all accounted for. I uncomfortably shift the handles in my hands again. They hurt, dammit! I think I'm actually getting blisters. Continuing my walk towards home, I'm thinking about Heero again and that I'm just about ready to talk to him. Maybe after the holidays I'll e-mail him and see how he's doing. If that goes well I'll give him a call, maybe. The other guys tell me he's doing really well, that his road to recovery has been nothing less than remarkable, so much so that he's cut his visits to his shrink from three times a week to one, with the doctor's approval. I'm glad. I honestly want him to be happy.
I see the neon lights turn on for a coffee house half a block ahead of me and decide I'll drop in, have a cup of coffee and give my hands a rest. I'm already late for dinner so, once I'm sitting and have my hands wrapped around a cup of coffee, I'll call ahead and explain my absence so Quatre won't worry.
The line was short, and less than five minutes later my favorite brew is warm between my hands as I take a seat at the small table located in the back of the coffee house. My shopping bags sit securely, piled neatly in the empty chairs at sit on either side of me. My hands are stiff from carrying the heavy-weight packages for so long, but the hot coffee cup seems to help loosen the curled fist I was afraid for a moment was a permanent condition. I've only got about a half mile to go and I figure it will go a lot faster after this pit stop. Pulling out my cell phone, I turn it on and check the messages and see that Quatre has left several for me since I turned it off. I feel guilty now. I should have called earlier so he wouldn't worry. I speed dial the house and after two rings, Esta, the downstairs maid, answers the phone.
"Winner Residence," she announces in her middle eastern accent.
"Evening Esta," I greet her. "How was your day today?"
"Master Duo." Oh, oh, her voice is in a scolding tone. I swear, some of Quatre's hired help think they're our parents sometimes. I'm twenty one years old and I really don't need a household full of doting and scolding step-in mommies and daddies.
"You are late for your dinner. Master Quatre is anxious for you to return. Are you delayed at work?" she asks in her nosey-caring manner.
"No, I've been Christmas shopping. In fact," I pause to tease her, hoping to butter her up. "I bought you something quite wonderful."
"You did?" she asks, her voice beginning to sound excited. "You don't need to do that Master Duo, but you are very kind to think of me."
"I think of you all the time, Esta." I continue our usual teasing game. "You do such wonderful things for me, how could I not buy something for my special girl."
"Have you been drinking?" she asks, and I can hear the frown on her face by the tone of her voice.
"Just coffee." I tell her. "Could you tell Quatre I'm on my way? I'll probably be there in another half hour."
"You will miss all of dinner," she chides me as if I'm a child.
"But you'll make sure a plate is left for me to warm up later, won't you sweetheart?"
"You know me too well, Master Duo," she says with a humorous chuckle. "And you flirt too much. You must save it for someone it will influence."
"So you're not interested in me?" I ask with a smile on my face and a pout in my voice.
She laughs again and I note once again that it's a lovely sound. "Just come home. I'll relay your message to Master Quatre. And hurry," she admonishes me. "The guests for Christmas have started to arrive."
"Thank you love," I say in closing, only to hear her snort in a lady-like manner and hang up the phone.
That was fun, and taking a sip of my cooling coffee, I close my eyes to enjoy the warmth and flavor of it and picture the white haired, sixty-plus year old woman I've just phone-flirted with. I think I do love that lovely lady after all.
Just as I thought, the last half mile to the house goes much faster. The colony's temperature has been decreased as the evening hours approach and the lights above dim considerably. It's almost dark by the time I reach the front steps and trudge up them with my almost unbearably heavy packages and blistered hands. When did I get so soft that I get blisters from carrying shopping bags?
I set the packages down next to the door and fumble for my keys in my pant's pocket only to have Esta, her timing as perfect as always, open the door and greet me. She takes my jacket and bags and peeks into the top of them. As her eyes scan the beautifully wrapped presents, I take a quick appraising look at the lady I've come to know so well. She's neat and trim, that's the best way to describe her. She's worked hard all her life and that's probably the reason for her wiry figure. Her mostly grey-white hair is pulled back into its customary bun at the back of her neck, and on her thin and narrow face is placed the small, but kindest of brown eyes. She really is a sweetheart to me as she is with the other guys, a kind of a grandmother/mother to all four of us.
"They're all wrapped," I tell her, smiling at the curious look on her face. "You can have Katon put them under the tree when he has a few minutes."
"That rascal," the older lady says with a shake of her head and an indulgent smile that I see quite often on her aging face. "I can't keep track of him. He's supposed to be setting the lights on the house but I have an idea he might be off chasing that poor chauffeur, Claudette.
She talks about her thirty-five year old son as if he were a rambunctious child. I'm pretty sure she must talk about each of us former gundam pilots in the same way. We are all like her unruly children that she has the onerous chore of keeping in line.
"Now off with you." She shoos me off towards the rec room. "The others are in the recreation room with company. You can find your dinner in the kitchen after you do the proper greeting."
There she goes, instructing me subtly on how to go about in "proper society" by greeting your guests before seeing to your own comfort.
I can't remember who is scheduled to arrive first for the holidays. Quatre usually has at least two of his sisters and their families here to help us vicariously re-live through his nieces and nephews what we missed as children.
"I'm home!" I call out my usual, playful greeting before I am within twenty feet of the doorway, anticipating the hugs and fun that come from Quatre's smaller family members. "Ready or not, here I come." The kids love that line and know that it signals playtime when Uncle Duo says that phrase.
I enter through the open door with an anticipating smile on my face, feeling all is right in my world. Two feet into the room I stop dead in my tracks. With my eyes on the guys, I see the are all sitting on the couch in front of the television with a look of wariness on their faces. My head slowly turns to the right of them to our visitor sitting in the overstuffed armchair, which happens to be my favorite sitting place, and I'm stunned into silence and immobility when I recognize Heero as the person sitting there. I stare mutely at him for several moments, our eyes lock onto one another's and all I can think of is, "Oh shit!"
"I'm home! Ready or not, here I come."
We all hear Duo approaching, and he calls out the greeting he always gives my nieces and nephews as he's the prime player in the game hide and go seek. I feel the overwhelming tenseness in the room, and not all of it is coming from Heero. Wufei, Trowa and I are just as anxious about this first and spontaneous meeting between the two estranged friends.
We watch as Duo comes through the open door with a broad smile on his face which falters as he looks at us, sensing something is wrong. A look of shock appears on his face when he turns his head and takes in our unexpected guest. He and Heero's eyes lock onto each other and everything in the room comes to a silent stand still. Duo looks stunned, and the only utterance that comes from him is a strangled phrase, "Oh shit!"
Heero stands immediately and moves towards his former best friend, and I grab hold of my lovers' hands as they sit in tense silence next to me watching and waiting to see what's going to happen. The waves of emotion rolling off the two men before us is nearly overwhelming my senses. There are so many emotions being felt within the room that I can't distinguish a single emotion. The best way I can describe what I feel would be to describe it as a cacophony of dissonant notes played by a large number of different instruments.
Dressed semi-casually in dress slacks and a dark blue, long sleeved sweater, Heero moves to stand in front of Duo and offers his hand. "Hello Duo. It's good to see you again," he says politely.
Duo for his part, blinks like an owl. "I...I thought you weren't coming?" he manages to get out, and my heart aches for him at his discomfort, not that Heero's is any less. "Didn't you tell the guys you couldn't take any time off?"
"I made time off, this was too important," Heero replies lowering his unshaken hand then steps back to give Duo some space. "If you're too uncomfortable with me being here, I'll leave," he offers with a downcast expression.
We all wait nervously as several moments pass and watch as Duo contemplates what to say. Finally, he shakes his head. "No," he answers with a bit more confidence in his voice and manner. "You've come all this way, you should stay."
"I don't want to push you into accepting me, Duo," Heero says quietly. "But it is good to see you. I've missed you."
Duo closes his eyes for a moment and replies, "I missed you too, Heero, and I was just thinking on my way home tonight that I was going to e-mail you after the holidays."
That piece of news is like a gift to us all. Heero has really lamented his lost of Duo to the rest of us. Through his heart-wrenching confessions over numerous e-mails and phone calls, the three of us have come to learn that Heero loves Duo, and that sadly, he always has. Heero has tried to explain to us why he had rejected Duo several years ago, and that Dr. Penrose was helping him to work through his misconceptions concerning his worthiness to be happy and loved. The three of us have kept that knowledge to ourselves, knowing how Duo feels about Hero and how badly he's been hurt by him. We can only sit back now as mere spectators and watch the two former friends as they re-define their relationship.
"I've made so many mistakes, Duo." Heero continues, inching closer to the person he cares for more than anyone he'd ever known. "But I'm getting better, though I'll always have some form of addictive behavior. Dr. Penrose says I just have to challenge my impulsive desires in other healthy directions."
"So you've given up dating and sex altogether?" Duo asks dubiously, and there is no humor in his voice as he looks seriously into Heero's face.
"Let's just say that, as my recovery is progressing, my only dating partner seems to be Mr. Right Hand."
A small smile inches up on Duo's face even as I try to hide my surprise at Heero's admission of self-gratification.
"Hey, I happen to know his twin brother quite well," Duo replies with a teasing smile and extends his hand out to Heero. "Meet Mr. Cummings."
They both grin and chuckle in good humor as they shake hands once more and the tension in the room eases considerably. Then as their laughter fades to smiles, Heero takes a step closer and brings his hand up to place it against Duo's cheek and, with his thumb, he strokes the soft skin just beneath it.
I watch Duo's reaction closely. At the first touch, his eyes widen in surprise, but then he slowly closes his eyes and leans into Heero's gentle touch. My heart fills with their emotions and I squeeze my lovers' hands, keeping them as my anchor. "There's so much love there," I whisper, letting them know what I am experiencing.
Heero is studying the handsome face before him. And it seems as if he can't resist the need or temptation any longer as he leans forward slightly and places his lips on Duo's. It feels a little bit strange to be included in on such a tender moment, but I remind myself that several times we included Duo as a part of our love making. He's always taken the role of an outside participant, not actively joining in as my lovers and I share our love for each other with him present. Each time he's joined us he's allowed one of us to give him release either by hand or mouth, but he never reached out to us other than kissing and holding. I've sensed in the past that he didn't want to do anything further with us, but that he somehow felt happy and content in witnessing the true love Wufei, Trowa and I have for each other. I knew from long talks with Duo that a true and lasting love was what he was waiting for when it came to sex. Maybe it's a premonition, or maybe wishful thinking on my part, but I believe from the feelings I'm getting from both Heero and Duo that our long haired friend might just be getting what he's always wished for and what he's been waiting for.
Duo doesn't move at first, accepting Heero's lips but not doing much in return. That brings concern to me for a moment, but then suddenly his arms come up and wrap around Heero's broader shoulders. He definitely is initiating the deepening of the kiss with Heero happily following his cue.
Then suddenly a new, stronger emotion enters the room and I bolt up from the couch and watch in alarm as Duo grabs Heero's shoulders, spins him around and pushes him back until he slams his back him into the wall next to the room's doorway. The painting on the wall to their left is knocked off of its hanger and falls to the floor with a solid thud.
I try to go to them, to intervene, but firm hands keep me back. "Let them work this out, Quatre." Trowa whispers into my ear. I look up to see Wufei looking first at Trowa and then to me, nodding his agreement. We turn to watch what is going to happen between our two friends.
"Do you mean it Heero?" Duo asks in an angry hiss. "Is that kiss because you really wanted to kiss me or is it your addiction acting out? I swear to you," he continued in a low threatening voice, "if you're screwing with my head again, one of us is not going to walk out of this room alive."
Heero remains docile in Duo's grip, not fighting the painful hold that is on his upper arms, keeping him pinned against the wall. "I mean it Duo." He replies softly, his eyes on his angry looking friend. "I've wanted to do that since our second mission together."
Duo stumbles back and I can feel thoughts of confusion filling him. "What do you mean?" he asks, with a perplexed look on his face.
"I've loved you for years, Duo. In fact, you're the only person I've ever loved." Heero's heart is reflected in his eyes, silently beseeching Duo to believe him.
Those words seem to sting the long haired young man, and Duo abruptly turns away from Heero to look out the window on the other side of the room. "Dammit Heero, you know I've loved you for years. Do you realize just how much it hurts to hear you say that? To think of all the pain and suffering you've put me through," Duo says sadly.
I can feel Heero's heartbreak at Duo's words, but my two companions can clearly see it in his face as he approaches the braided man again to appeal to him. "I'm sorry, Duo. But during the war I felt I couldn't give into my feelings for you. I didn't understand them to begin with, given my training to remain as emotionally distant so I could carry out my missions, and I was always just one order away from destroying myself along with my gundam. I was driven by my addictive need to see the mission completed, and you were a complication I couldn't deal with, so I didn't. Then after the war I was too...sullied." A look of self-loathing forms on Heero's face as he continues. "I've dealt with death all my life, Duo. It was either kill or be killed. I could see you loved me, but I felt that any one else other than myself would be better for you. I was a cold warrior with no purpose. You helped me survive when I should have eliminated myself after the wars as a weapon of war that was no longer needed. But without the missions or my laptop to give me purpose, to fill that empty need to achieve a goal, I turned to something altogether different, and it helped me keep you safe from me and out of my thoughts and dreams."
He steps forward until he was just behind the braided man, still turned away from him. "I wasn't worthy of you then, and I'm even less worthy now," Heero says in a pained voice, a look of worry on his face. "But Dr. Penrose tells me I have a right to be happy, and Sally said I should try to make myself a better person and then go looking for true happiness." He pauses a moment and I can see him take a deep breath before he puts his hands on Duo's shoulders and turns him around. "You are the only person on earth or the colonies that has ever made me happy, Duo. I...I love you, and I want to learn what that means." A sad look of resignation overcomes Heero's face. "I'm tarnished and used, Duo. I'll never be truly ... worthy of you, and I won't blame you if you don't want me, but I had to try and let you know how I feel."
Duo suddenly lunges forward and I gasp in alarm, thinking he's attacking Heero. I'm more than relieved to see he has instead embraced Heero with both arms and is currently squeezing the life out of him. Heero is happy to follow Duo's example and holds the slender American tightly.
"If you can give me another chance, Duo, I want to start our relationship slow." Heero continues as he holds Duo to his chest. "That's something I've never done before. I want to be your friend again and build the level of trust we once had with one another. Would that be alright?"
"Sounds perfect," Duo answers in an emotion-filled voice. He then pulls back and looks curiously at the man in front of him. "How do we do this when I live here and you're on Earth?"
"I don't live on Earth any longer," Heero grins sheepishly. "I quit my job to come here, so I'm basically jobless and homeless."
"No you're not," I speak up quickly. "You're home right now, if everyone agrees, and there's more than one job you can fill at Winner Corporation."
Both men, arms still loosely holding each other smile at me and then shyly at each other. "So, what do we do first?" Duo asks Heero with a growing smile.
Heero gives him his own beautiful, soft smile, his love for Duo evident in his face. "We celebrate Christmas like we always do," he answers. "Then I want to take you out for dinner and bowling, and after that, lunch and pool. Then let's try one-on-one basketball. Do they have any go-cart racers here?"
His questions are cut off by a quick, enthusiastic kiss from Duo, and my heart all but soars at the happiness that fills the room. I have an idea that Duo is going to like the month of January from now on.