Four hours later, Heero pulled up his cruiser to 132 Oak Street, wondering if it was too late. He realized he could have called Relena - he did have her cell, after all - to make sure she was still awake, but he didn't want to risk putting their evening plans in jeopardy. Although now the evening was long gone, along with most of Christmas Eve.
He eyed the clock on his dashboard. 11:29 p.m. Duo would tell him that this date was now veering dangerously into "booty call" territory.
But then he and Relena both kept unorthodox working hours. To people in their line of work, this was basically dinner time. It had taken him longer than he'd liked to deal with the tow and make sure all of the train passengers had safely unboarded before he could race over to the station and file his paperwork. Then he'd gone home to shower and change, forgetting that he still needed to stop at the store.
He checked his phone once before exiting his vehicle, just in case Relena had called or texted him not to come. There were no messages from her, and there were lights on throughout the house. Heero cast a tentative glance in his rearview mirror, and straightened his shirt collar.
He left the cruiser parked on the street in front of the house, although there was room next to Relena's car in the driveway. Wouldn't want her neighbors or passersby making any assumptions.
He carried his purchases in one hand and went to press the doorbell with the other, but the door opened before he had a chance.
"Hi!" Relena said breathlessly. "You're here." She pulled the door open wider so he could step inside. She was wearing an oversized white cable-knit sweater and dark fitted jeans, looking even prettier than she had earlier out in the snow, but in a cute and cozy way. It made Heero want to draw closer to her.
"It's not too late?" he asked as he stepped into the foyer.
"Of course not. I knew you were working late." She smiled up at him. "I'm glad you made it."
Heero immediately took in their surroundings. The house was old, probably built in the late 1800s or early 1900s, with old-fashioned patterned wallpaper and all-wood floors. Relena struck him as the type of girl who had an appreciation for antiques and those sorts of thing. The staircase leading upstairs was right there in the foyer, with a dining room and kitchen to the left and living room to the right.
"You didn't have to bring me anything," Relena was saying, taking in the bouquet of flowers and gift bag he was holding.
"Well, when you see what it is, you won't be impressed." Heero handed her the meager gifts sheepishly and shrugged out of his coat. She smiled and tilted her head toward the dining room.
"That's quite all right. I'm impressed you managed to find an open store this late on Christmas Eve! What is even open right now?"
"Pharmacy," Heero admitted. To his relief, Relena laughed.
"You're cute." She sent another dazzling smile his way. "Anyway, have a seat."
Heero was surprised to see that the dining room table was set with china, a tablecloth and real napkins, complete with a bottle of red wine and candles.
"Are you hungry?"
He realized he hadn't had a chance to eat since ending his shift. "Yeah, actually."
"Good." Relena beamed at him. "I'll be right back."
Heero took a seat, reaching for the bottle of wine and turning it over.
He set the bottle down like it was on fire, tugging at his shirt collar. Maybe it was already hot in there. He distracted himself by studying the patterns in the dark green wallpaper when Relena returned, carrying a steaming plate. She set down steak, mashed potatoes and green beans in front of Heero, complete with gravy in a silver boat.
"When did you have time to do all this?"
She grinned at him. "I write fast. Anyway, I figured you'd be hungry after working late."
She was too good to be true. Heero gaped at her.
"Relena…" Suddenly his throat felt dry. "No one's ever… done anything like this for me before." He looked up into her light blue eyes. "Thank you."
"Of course!" Relena smiled brightly. "It's Christmas Eve! You have to have a nice, sit-down dinner. It's pretty much mandatory."
Heero wondered, as he took a bite of steak, how much Relena actually knew about him. Had she arranged all of this on purpose?
Relena busied herself opening the wine with a corkscrew while Heero ate.
"Aren't you having any?" he asked.
"Oh, I ate earlier." She waved a hand. "So don't get too excited. I basically just heated this up for you."
"Well, it still tastes good to me."
She smiled warmly at him. "Good. I'm glad." She sat down across from him and poured a glass of wine, offering it to Heero. He gratefully accepted and washed down his steak and potatoes. Then she poured one for herself.
"So." She took a slow sip, eyeing him above the glass. "How do you normally spend Christmas Eve?"
Heero swallowed. "Working."
"Every year?" Relena tilted her head and frowned.
"Pretty much, since I was eighteen."
"And before that?"
"This an interview, or what?" Heero attempted a smirk, so she'd know he was joking.
"Sorry." She rolled her pretty blue eyes. "Old habits. I'm just curious."
Now he could see how she got all of her scoops. Heero took another swig of wine.
"Before that," he answered her slowly, "I was passed around in the foster care system. Then I graduated high school, went to college for criminal justice, and eventually ended up here."
Relena's eyes widened. "You're… an orphan?"
Heero nodded. "Yeah." It wasn't something he'd shared with many people, although Duo knew, since they'd worked together for years. Heero didn't like to rehash his sob story if he could help it.
Relena's eyes were large, and curious. "Did you… ever know your parents?"
"No," he answered tersely. But it was clear Relena wanted him to continue, so he did. "My mom had me young and gave me up for adoption. I was given her information but never looked her up." He paused at the part that always made him pause. "Then I found out she died of cancer a few years ago." He didn't know why, but saying the words still never made him feel anything. Which almost made him feel guilty, because he figured it should.
Relena gasped, her hands flying up to her mouth. "How awful! Heero, I'm so sorry." She reached a hand across the table to clasp his. Heero shrugged.
"It's all right."
"And… your father?"
"I don't know the guy who impregnated my mother," he said flatly.
"Wow…" Relena gave his hand a squeeze. "I'm sorry. I know this must be hard for you to talk about."
She shook her head sadly. "No one should be alone for the holidays."
"I know. But you shouldn't be alone like that."
Heero could sense her sincerity, but he didn't understand where her compassion for him was coming from. Why she was in love with him, as she said.
"I'm nothing special," he said simply.
"You are," Relena whispered. "You're wonderful."
Her words struck him in a way he'd never experienced. He'd never heard anyone say they loved him, let alone that he was "wonderful."
He didn't even know where to begin.
"Look who's talking," he said with a faint smile. Relena blushed.
"So you don't think I'm a brazen hussy for inviting you here, and plying you with alcohol?" Her eyes twinkled at him over her glass. Heero couldn't help but chuckle.
"Not at all. Why would I think that?"
Relena shrugged. "Some people would."
"Gossipy church ladies." Relena's eyes rolled playfully. "Their tongues were wagging when they heard about my broken engagement." She shrugged again and took another sip of her wine. "Obviously I must be up to some type of trouble." Heero frowned.
"What church ladies?"
"Oh, you didn't know?" Relena lowered her glass and smiled slyly at him. "My father is a prominent minister. And I'm his disobedient daughter."
"Where is he a minister?" Heero asked. "Somewhere local?"
"Sort of." Relena sighed. "St. Gabriel's. In the city." She raised her glass back to her lips. "Ever heard of it?"
Heero shook his head. "No, but I'm not exactly the religious type." He couldn't remember the last time he'd stepped into a church for something other than a minor theft investigation or well-being check. He wondered how that affected his chances with Relena.
"Neither am I, really," she said breezingly. "I mean, it's how I was raised, but I consider myself more spiritual than anything else."
Her words piqued his curiosity. "So… you believe in miracles then?"
Relena nodded excitedly. "Of course. Don't you?"
"Hn…" Heero paused to sip his wine. "I don't know. Never really thought about it."
Although, after tonight, he was starting to…
Relena laughed lightly, the rim of her wine glass poised at her lips. "I believe everything happens for a reason. And that's why we're here tonight."
Heero's lips quirked. "I'm here because you invited me."
"And, as it turns out, you were alone. And so was I." Relena lowered her now-empty glass. "What are the chances that the both of us would be working Christmas Eve, and neither of us would have plans?"
Heero shrugged. "It happens."
"For a reason." Relena flashed a grin, and nodded toward Heero's glass. "You're out of wine."
"So are you," he quipped. She laughed and reached for the half-full bottle.
"Another round, then?"
Heero nodded, hoping he didn't seem too eager. "Yes, please."
Heero finished his meal, and helped Relena drain the first bottle of wine. She opened a second, but it didn't seem like either one of them was up to polishing it off. After dinner, they had retreated to the sitting room, where they sat a ways apart from one another on the sofa, both struggling to finish their third glass of wine.
"I always had such a crush on you," Relena blurted, her words immediately chased by a vibrant flush scrawling across her cheeks.
"I know," Heero said, feeling emboldened.
"Did you?" Relena landed a playful punch on his bicep. "How come you never said anything?"
"Because…" Heero said slowly. "You were getting married."
"Yeah…" Relena sighed and shifted in her seat. "Although I wasn't really getting married. I mean, I didn't have any real, concrete plans, or anything."
Heero's brows knit together as he processed her words. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Relena said, inching closer to him. "It always seemed too stressful, you know? I didn't even want to think about it. So I kept putting it off, and putting it off, and then…" She paused, frowning. "I realized."
"What?" Heero was hanging on her every word.
"What it was I really wanted." She smiled shyly at him, blinking beneath her dark lashes. "And then, nothing else seemed to matter."
Heero felt his throat turn to paper. He reached for his glass. "Was your family pissed when you called it off?"
"A little." Relena set her glass down on the coffee table before them, and reached for a nearby throw pillow, hugging it to her chest. "But, ultimately, I think they just want me to be happy."
"Good." Heero found himself scooting closer to Relena on the couch. "You deserve to be happy."
"Why is that?" Relena quirked a brow. "Why does anyone?"
"You do," said Heero, "because you're a sweetheart." Relena's face lit up at his words.
"Heero…" She leaned in, and so did he. And then, the sound of the front door opening sent them both scrambling apart.
Heero bolted upright, his officer instincts kicking in. "What's that?"
"My roommate," Relena hissed. She put a finger to her lips and made a shushing sound, and reached over and clutched Heero's arm as if they were doing something covert. He barked a laugh at her antics.
"What's the problem?" he asked, as a pair of footsteps sounded in the adjoining foyer. A woman's voice uttered a low oath.
"God, it's cold in here," the voice complained from the hall. "Rel? You home? There's a cruiser parked out fr-"
The voice stopped short, and Heero looked up to see a tall woman with braided light brown hair peering into the living room. It was dark, save for a few candles Relena had lit earlier.
"Oh. You have company," the woman said, arching a brow as she looked at Relena. "This a new love interest, or just a friend?" Heero bristled at the frank remark, and Relena blushed.
"Sally," she said, straightening in her seat. "This… is Heero. He, uh…"
"Heero Yuy," Heero cut in, standing and offering the woman his hand. She looked to be a few years older than Relena, although he couldn't quite tell if she was in her twenties or early thirties. She had a youthful disposition, but a certain world-weariness about her. She was wearing what looked to be a rather expensive blazer over a pair of scrubs.
"Lieutenant Detective Heero Yuy," Relena added, proudly. She smiled at Heero, and he couldn't help but smile back.
Sally shook his hand firmly before dropping it and turning back to Relena. "He's cute," she said with a note of approval, otherwise ignoring Heero's presence entirely. "Sorry to interrupt your date, or whatever this is." She and Relena shared a nervous laugh.
"It's fine," Relena said, gesturing vaguely toward Heero. "We were just… getting to know each other a little better."
Sally's brows waggled. "Oh, I see." She glanced to Heero, then back to Relena. "Well then, by all means, don't let me interrupt." She tipped her chin in their direction. "Is that pinot noir?"
Relena picked up the half-empty wine bottle. "Yes, but I think we're all set with this… Would you like the rest?"
"Would I?" Sally gave a snort as she reached for the bottle. Relena handed it up to her, and Sally took a swig directly from the bottle.
"Merry Christmas," she said with a grin.
"Merry Christmas," Relena and Heero both echoed.
"Ugh. You two are adorable," Sally said with a roll of her eyes before she turned her heel and disappeared up the stairs. Heero looked blankly to Relena.
"She's a doctor," Relena explained. "She works even crazier hours than I do. I suppose that's why we get along."
"Makes sense," said Heero, wishing they could get back to where they had been a moment before. But had they lost the momentum, already? He couldn't help but resent Sally's interruption…
"This is her house," Relena added, sweeping her hands. "We met when she placed the ad for a roommate. Before that, I was living with my parents in the city, and commuting here. Can you believe that?"
Heero nodded vaguely, wanting to rewind the past couple of minutes. But suddenly, the house felt a little too crowded for his liking.
"Want to go for a walk?" he said abruptly. Relena eyed him strangely.
"Now? In the snow?" She glanced at the slim watch on her wrist. "But, it's after midnight-"
"Then it's already Christmas," Heero said, as if that bolstered his reasoning. He extended his hand toward her. "Do you want to?"
"All right." Relena smiled and gave him her hand.
Moments later, they were both bundled up in coats, hats and scarves, holding gloved hands as they traipsed along the snow-covered street.
"Dashing through the snow…" Relena sang softly as she clung to him. Heero chuckled.
"You're crazy," he said. He felt her hand squeeze his, and his heart soared.
"Are you gonna arrest me for public intoxication?" Relena's eyes danced up at his as they walked together. Heero laughed again.
"Nah. I'm off-duty." Not that he could imagine arresting her for anything, even if he was on the clock. "And that would be hypocritical of me." The wine was definitely having an effect. Not that that was a bad thing...
Relena continued to sing playfully as they made their way down the street, avoiding snow that had yet to be shoveled or plowed. It was well after midnight and the road was abandoned, but there was plenty of light illuminating the path before them- from the round, silver moon and dusting of stars above, to the twinkling Christmas lights that beckoned from warm, cozy homes on either side of the street. How many times had Heero driven up and down these streets, and never noticed how magical everything looked, all lit up at night? His mundane, everyday surroundings were transformed, and he knew it was partially due to the season. But more likely, the stirring in his heart had more to do with the small, gloved hand holding his own, and the long, blond hair tumbling out of a pom-pom hat.
"In a one-horse open sleigh…" Relena paused her song and tipped her head to look up at Heero. "Don't you wish we could take a sleigh ride right now?"
"Yeah," Heero said casually. "Sure." He didn't give a damn what they were doing, he realized, as long as they could be together. He would do anything she asked.
"We should find a sleigh, and steal one." Relena's eyes sparkled up at him in the starlight.
Except maybe that. Heero chuckled.
"Sounds like a good way to make the police log," he joked. "Where would we find one of those, anyway?"
Relena shrugged. "You never know… Have you seen the movie 'Christmas in Connecticut'?"
"Can't say that I have," Heero replied. He was sure their taste in films was very different.
"Well, it's about a woman who has to pretend she has a farm, a husband and a baby so she can host an American war hero for Christmas, or she'll lose her job," Relena explained.
"Sounds old-fashioned," Heero said.
Relena laughed. "It was the nineteen-forties. Anyway, she and the soldier fall in love at, like, first sight-"
"Naturally," Heero quipped. "And then they live happily ever after?"
"Naturally," Relena responded coyly. "But only after the soldier figures out she was making the whole thing up, and that she's actually single, and makes a move on her…"
"During a stolen sleigh ride?" Heero guessed.
"Uh-huh." Relena smiled up at him, her cheeks flushed. "So. Do you believe in it?"
"What?" Heero had no idea what they were talking about any more. Not that he minded.
"Love at first sight." She fixed him with that sharp, journalist's stare of hers - she could be quite the interrogator, when she wanted to be - and Heero felt his own cheeks warm.
He thought back to when he first saw her, around two years ago, when she came bounding into the police station looking for a copy of that week's log. Her eyes were bright and energetic, and Heero couldn't help but think they were the bluest things he'd ever seen. Along with her long, blond hair, she had the effect of a sunbeam bursting through the dark, dusty station. In all his years working in that small town, Heero had never encountered anything or anyone quite like Relena Darlian.
She was peering up at him shyly, and there was a hint of teasing in her eyes. Heero thought he knew what that look meant; at least he hoped so. And so he decided to do what he'd wanted to from the first moment he laid eyes on her.
Keeping her hands in his, Heero bent his head toward Relena's and crushed his lips to hers. Her soft lips instantly yielded to his, and Heero deepened the kiss. And, there in the snow, Heero felt a new warmth rush through him, and a contentment that rooted him to the spot, and yet was enough to lift him off the ground.
He had been alone for so long, navigating his life on his own, he never even realized how lost he really was.
Heero felt Relena's hands come to rest on his chest, pressed against his wool peacoat, and he couldn't help but pull her a little closer. It struck him how odd they must have looked, kissing in the middle of the street like that, and wondered what the guys back at the station would have to say. But, then, he didn't really care. He had found something he'd been missing all along, and he never even realized just how much he missed it. Love. So this was what it felt like… like taking a flamethrower to his frozen heart.
After a long moment, they broke apart. Relena's face was flushed, as if they weren't out standing in the cold. Heero couldn't help but smile wryly. They didn't seem to have any trouble lighting a fire all their own.
Her eyes were gleaming as she tugged on the lapels of his coat.
"You never answered my question," she teased. Heero huffed a laugh.
"I thought I just did."
"No…" Her eyes were still shining. "You didn't say it."
"What?" Heero's heart hammered against his ribcage. "That I love you?"
"Yes." Relena tugged on his coat again. "That."
Heero sucked in a breath, and his lungs filled with the cold. "Relena… no one has ever said that to me before. And I've never had anyone to say it to."
Relena looked crestfallen. "But why?"
Heero shrugged. "I've been alone."
She tipped her head, and the sad look in her eyes vanished. "Not any more." And before Heero could utter another word of protest, Relena leaned up on her tiptoes and pressed her lips to his. Heero held her tightly and allowed himself to get lost in her kiss. After their faces parted, they rested their foreheads together. And, as they had the tendency to do, Relena's eyes were holding his hostage.
"I love you, Heero," she whispered fervently. "I have always loved you. I wish I could have told you before. But I-"
"You were trying to do the right thing." Heero finished her thought for her. Relena nodded.
"So were you," she said coyly, her lips tugging into another smile. "That is, assuming you felt the same way…"
"I did," Heero said immediately, grasping her firmly to him. "I… You're the love of my life, Relena."
Her eyes widened, and quickly filled with tears. "Oh, Heero…"
"I just don't understand why you love me," he said quietly, finally giving voice to his doubts. Relena just shook her head to the side.
"Because you're kind, and thoughtful. I could see it in your eyes," she said softly, her own eyes still brimming with tears. "I recognized something in you, right away. You… you're unlike anyone else I've ever met," she whispered.
Heero felt his throat go dry, hearing her put words to the feelings in his own heart - what he felt for her.
He removed one of his gloves and lifted his hand to Relena's face, using the back of his hand to gently wipe her tears away.
"Relena…" It felt so good to say her name, to see the smile that went all the way to her eyes, the ones that had the power to ensnare him. "I love you, too," he said at last. "I always have."
Relena's tears spilled over then, and Heero leaned in to kiss them away. He pressed his lips to her cheek, and her skin was cold against his, despite the flush that colored them.
"Let's get you back inside," he said, and began to lead the way back toward her house.
"Can you stay?" Relena's cheeks immediately darkened. "I mean, if that's too much to ask-"
"Is it too soon?" Heero wondered. He glanced back down at Relena. Her face was still flushed, and brighter than the colored lights that shone from the nearby houses.
"I mean… I don't think so," she said calmly. She looked back up at him, and her lips twitched. "We may end up being the talk of the town, though…"
"Just do me a favor." Heero glanced at her warily.
"What's that?" Relena arched a brow.
"Don't write anything about me in that paper of yours." Heero cracked a tiny smile. Relena laughed and squeezed his arm.
"No promises," she teased. "But this can be off the record."
Heero couldn't help but laugh along with her as they strolled together through the snow.
A/N: Because you asked for it, and so nicely... I give you part 2 of what was supposed to be a one shot. I hope you enjoyed it! My goal was to have part 2 done before Christmas, but due to various family events and bouts of merrymaking, I haven't had a chance to wrap this up and post it until now. And honestly, it was so hard to squeeze this love story into such a short tale! I can't tell you how much I want to expand this AU into a series! Currently trying to contain all my crazy emotions... Key word: Trying ;)
Merry Christmas, dear readers, and Happy New Year!
Love love love,