At The End of Our Year
I was upstairs, pulling a piece of scotch tape from the dispenser when the doorbell rang. There were still two more presents waiting. Someone had arrived early. Smoothing the tape over the edge of wrap, I ignored the second ding-dong; Heero justified my stand by calling up the stairs, letting me know he'd answer the door.
Slapping a brightly colored bow on top of the florid print, I labeled the gift in hurried fashion and reached for the next. Holding the Baby's First Year book, I had to smile. Somewhere in the mound of Christmas treasure, another two or three presents for Relena were baby related. Two barely adult males in the infant section of Baby World was an open invitation for a smart sales clerk. My hope was that the neutral colors chosen would really be considered neutral. Nothing pink; nothing blue. We'd have to rectified that when the time came.
Voices rose from the downstairs hall and I looked to the opened door. It sounded like Quatre. I hadn't heard Trowa, but didn't expect to; he would be there none-the-less. These days, Quatre didn't go anywhere without him. Folding the edge of wrap over the baby book, I was surprised my fingers shook. It'd been nearly a year, and he still wore the brace. Doctors said he was lucky he was alive, let alone walking. The shuttlecraft accident had nearly taken away two of my - no, our - best friends.
I wanted to believe that Trowa felt the horrible rush of mortality that day as well. Not that he had ever said anything to me, but his eyes had changed. He'd always followed Quatre around with almost a laissez-faire attitude. Since Quatre's release from the hospital, Trowa raised devotion to a new level. I hadn't heard Quatre complain of being smothered, so whatever Trowa was doing, he did it well. A bit of curling ribbon, and that gift was done.
The doorbell rang again, and I didn't have to strain to hear Wufei on the lower landing. From the tone and a few choice words, his flight must have been worst than normal. I had to smile in thought, though I didn't envy the flight attendants. Relena's modulated tones assured me they had been able to travel together. When I called for confirmation a week ago, Relena indicated Wufei had a meeting and wasn't sure if it'd be finished in time to catch their flight.
Of all of us who fought for peace, Wufei and Relena ending up together had been a surprise. Though it shouldn't have been. The two were a match made up of obstinance and single-minded purpose for the better good of all. Theirs was a relationship that'd last longer than time - if only to prove it could.
The last gift was one duplicated for each of our friends, one we made for ourselves as well. In its own decorative box, a frame photograph lay. A motley crew: us five Gundam pilots with Relena, Hilde, Noin, Sally, even Howard, the picture had been snapped at one of the many celebrations shortly after the cease-fire had been called. It was the last time we'd all gathered for a formal - or informal - picture. Sally was no longer with us, having been killed in the line of duty the year before.
I ran my fingers over its cover. So many changes. Howard officially retired and lived on some tropical island, giving native girls hell. Hilde had lost the scrapyard to an unjust divorce settlement and now worked for the old competition. Relena had retired - temporarily, she said - from politics. Une took a step down in her position to spend more time with Mariemaia. Skiing in the Alps this year, I thought Une had said.
Noin and Peacecraft weren't able to make the trip back to Earth. Dorothy had declined at the last minute. This time of year was hard for her; reminders of her actions from one winter in the past were a nightly occurrence. Some days her fortifications were stronger than others. I had hoped she'd be able to make it this year. Watching her and Quatre verbally spar was almost as good as watching Heero shower.
Heero was at the door. He looked from the unwrapped box still in my hand to my face. I gave him a little shrug and a half smile.
"Hilde and Howard just arrived, and Howard wanted to see you." He was walking across the room, coming to stand beside me. "Everything all right?"
I watched as he sat on the bed next to me, his eyes on me. Instead of answering, I glanced at the pile of gifts stacked haphazardly behind me. Not one was labeled for me; not one was for Heero. Under the decorated tree in the front room, there were a handful of presents for a few of our neighbors. I turned back to Heero and nodded.
"Almost finished up here. How's dinner coming?"
He was answering my question, but I wasn't really listening. It wasn't that I didn't want to hear what he said; I wanted only to hear his voice, wanted to hear him tell me that everything was taken care of, that everything was normal without telling me.
When we first started planning this Christmas get-together, we had decided then that we didn't need presents from one another. And sitting on our bed, surrounded by pieces of our past, glimpses of our future, Heero's voice in my ears, and the sounds of our friends laughing, talking, and just being, I knew that decision had been a good one.
Heero was telling me about the difficulty of juggling cooking a turkey with baking pies, dressing and candied yams when I kissed him. When I pulled away, I had to smile at his expression.
"Not that I'm complaining," he said. "But, are you sure there's nothing wrong, Duo?"
This time I shook my head and turned to slap a label on the box I still held. "No, Heero," I nudged him off the bed and rose to stand beside him. "Everything is just right."