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Notes: 1) The mulled cider that they're drinking isn't the alcoholic kind, just the plain kind. (Well, as plain as mulled cider can be.) 2) Hope you enjoy!
December 25, AC 197
Duo stretched tiredly as he walked into his apartment building. He'd been woken up at an ungodly hour this morning by Quatre, who had been determined to have a 'Gundam Pilot Christmas Brunch', and then he'd been making the rounds of various friends he'd made over the past year who lived in the city; including the all-important stop at St. Mary's Orphanage, where he'd spent three hours distributing presents and telling stories. As a result, he was exhausted.
Not that he was unhappy about how he'd spent his Christmas - not at all.
It was certainly much better than the previous two. Two years ago, they'd spent the entire day on MO-2, watching as the worst injured from their battle were evacuated to the colonies, and hoping that Heero would show up. Then last year, that frantic flight to L3X-18999 to rescue Relena, and finding out that Wufei was on the other side that time...
No, there was almost no comparison between those and spending the day with friends who were more than delighted to see him. It had definitely been a wonderful Christmas.
Of course, he reflected, as he automatically keyed in his security code and opened the door to the lobby, it would have been even better if Heero had been there for the 'Gundam Pilot Christmas Brunch'. But Lady Une had requested that he run a training session for some the Preventers' new recruits on L1, and the session would have only finished yesterday morning - which hadn't left enough time for Heero to return to Earth for the brunch.
Besides, Heero doesn't seem to celebrate Christmas, Duo thought, pushing the call button for the elevator. He'd had high hopes last year, when Heero had shown up at the scrapyard on the twenty-third, that he'd be able to celebrate Christmas with his best friend; but then Relena had gotten herself kidnapped, and there'd been that whole mess with Barton that had resulted in Heero being in the hospital for three weeks after Christmas.
And knowing Heero, he'd probably shown up because he'd had some indication that something big was happening, and he'd just wanted Duo's help - which he'd gotten, of course, but still... For once, Duo wished that Heero would visit purely and simply as a friend, not because he wanted help with some problem the Preventers had asked him to look into, or because he was in the city working on one of his consultant jobs and he felt the need to keep contact with his allies.
Shaking his head at the way his thoughts had focused on Heero - something that was starting to happen more and more often of late - Duo got out on the fourth floor and headed down the hall toward his apartment, determinedly starting to whistle "Jingle Bells" as he did so. He'd had a wonderful day, and he wasn't going to let thoughts of how much he'd like Heero to treat him as a real friend - or more - get him down.
Slipping his key into the lock, Duo turned it, opened his door, stepped into his apartment, closed the door, started to reach for the light switch... and then stopped and stared in shock.
When he'd left this morning, the main room of his apartment had had a small, artificial tree on a side table, and a cord attached to the ceiling at opposite corners of the room where he'd hung the Christmas cards he'd received. Other than that, there hadn't been any real signs that it was Christmas.
A string of Christmas tree lights had been wound around his 'card cord'; there were indoor Christmas lights around the edges of the window; there was a wreath on the far wall, which had been looking rather bare since he'd taken down the collection of Hallowe'en masks last month; there were large cinnamon-scented candles scattered over the various small tables in the room; there was Christmas music playing on his one main indulgence, the state of the art sound system; and the glow of the candles and coloured lights revealed Heero sitting on the couch, a mug of what smelled like hot cider in one hand and a tray of finger foods on the table in front of him.
Duo's jaw dropped. "H-Heero?!"
It was hard to tell, with the coloured lights, but he thought Heero looked a little uncertain. There was no hint of it in his voice, of course... "Merry Christmas, Duo."
"Thank you, and Merry Christmas to you as well," Duo said, still half on automatic pilot as he stripped off his winter coat. He couldn't pull his eyes away from the sight of Heero, sitting in his living room, surrounded by Christmas paraphernalia that he must have put up himself. "Heero... you... when did you get here? Why are you here? How the hell did you get in past my security?"
A faint smile crossed Heero's face at that. "I got here two hours ago. Your security is good, but any of us can get past it if we're willing to take the time." The smile faded back into that peculiar expression of uncertainty. "And... I wanted to spend Christmas with you. It's... supposed to be a time you spend with friends and family... and you're my best friend..."
A grin split Duo's face before he could stop it - not that he was inclined to. The fatigue he'd been feeling when he walked in had vanished as though it had never been. "Sounds good to me!"
Heero's smile returned. "Here," he said, gesturing to the plate. "From what Quatre told me, you've been out making visits since you left the others this morning. I don't know if you've had anything to eat during that time, so I brought some things."
Truthfully, he was feeling somewhat hungry. He'd had dinner at the orphanage, but that had been two hours ago, and he hadn't really taken all that much. As with most organizations like that, they were perpetually strapped for funds, so Duo didn't really like to eat very much when he was there. He'd planned to just grab something from his freezer... but this was much better.
"Thanks, Heero, you're a lifesaver," he said, tossing his coat over the closest chair - Heero winced slightly at that, but Duo ignored it - and sat down next to his friend. "So what is there?"
"Turkey sandwiches, mostly," Heero replied, getting up and heading into the kitchen. Before Duo could open his mouth to protest, he'd come back out carrying another mug of hot cider, which he handed to Duo. "Here - it's store-bought, but I heated it up with mulling spices, so it at least tastes like proper mulled cider."
Duo blinked as he took the mug, letting it warm up his hands.
I know Heero's memory is near-perfect, he thought blankly, staring as Heero sat back down. But to remember that, with everything that was going on...
The shuttle flight from L2 to X-18999 last year, for the aborted rescue attempt, had taken several hours. Getting bored partway through, and irritated by the fact that Heero was ignoring him, Duo had started talking about previous Christmases. One of the things he vaguely recalled mentioning was that during the Christmas he'd spent at Maxwell Church, Sister Helen had received a care package from her family on Earth which had contained powdered apple cider and mulling spices. She'd made it as a special treat for Christmas dinner - and since then, the smell of mulled cider had always meant 'Christmas' to Duo.
He'd never even considered that Heero might have been listening carefully enough to pick that out, much less remember it.
"Thank you," he managed through a strangely tight throat, and took a sip in an attempt to cover it. Then he smiled. "It's really good, Heero."
Heero nodded. "Now, eat," he suggested firmly, pushing the tray in Duo's direction. "I know it's not exactly the traditional format, but at least it's turkey."
"Don't think I could manage the traditional format, truthfully," Duo replied, putting the mug down and taking a sandwich.
Heero imitated him, and for about a quarter of an hour, they ate and drank in a comfortable silence. Mostly comfortable, at least; truth be told, Duo was still wondering what was going on with Heero. This wasn't exactly like him. However, not wanting to break the spell, Duo didn't ask. He really didn't want to find out that this was either just a dream, or that Heero had some other ulterior motive for showing up.
Once they'd finished off the sandwiches and the carrot sticks that went with them, Heero disappeared into the kitchen again, and reappeared with another tray, this one containing mince tarts and a bowl of what looked like brandy butter, and refills of the cider.
Duo was starting to feel extremely puzzled. It was becoming more and more obvious that whatever else this was, it was not just a spur of the moment plan Heero had come up with. The 'Perfect Soldier' was good, but not that good. The lights, the wreath, the candles, the music, the food, the cider - it was all too well-organized, even considering that this was Heero. No, it was definitely not 'spur of the moment'.
He was going to have to ask, Duo realized, as Heero put the second tray down and joined him on the couch again.
"Heero, what's going on?"
Heero looked mildly confused at that. "'Going on'?" he repeated.
"All this," Duo said, waving his hand to indicate the entire room. "You didn't just arrive back on Earth, find out from Quatre that I was doing visits today, and decide to come over. There's too much planning for that. So what's going on?"
A hurt look flickered across Heero's face for just a moment before disappearing. "I told you, Duo, I wanted to spend Christmas with you."
Duo felt a twinge of guilt at the hurt in Heero's expression, but pushed it away. If he really was here just because he wanted to spend the time with Duo, that was good - but Duo wanted to know for certain. He'd ended up feeling hurt himself last Christmas, and he didn't want to have to go through that again.
"I mean, why the elaborate plan? Not that I mind the decorations or the food, of course - I'm just wondering why," he said.
Heero looked down at his hands and shrugged awkwardly. "Quatre told me about his plans for a Christmas brunch when I mentioned Lady Une's request to him. The problem was that I'd already told Lady Une that I would do it, and I could hardly cancel just because I wouldn't be back on time to join the rest of you for brunch this morning. But since I knew two weeks ago that I wasn't going to arrive back until this afternoon, I had enough time to get things ready. Originally I thought you were going to stay at Quatre's, and I was planning to invite you back to my apartment for dinner, but when I got there, you had already gone on your visits, so I decided to bring everything over here so you wouldn't have to go back out."
He's getting better at evasion, Duo noted to himself. Heero had done an excellent job of dancing around the main issue with details. Unfortunately for him, Duo wasn't inclined to let him get away with it. He wanted a real answer.
"I meant, why so elaborate? If you just wanted to have Christmas dinner with me, there was no need for the lights, the candles, all of that. So what is that for?" Duo persisted.
Heero gave another awkward shrug. "I... wanted to make it special," he admitted after a long moment. "Last year... I was hoping to spend a real Christmas with you; and then Relena was kidnapped, and Barton..." He shook his head in dismissal. "We didn't have the Christmas I wanted last year, so I decided to make sure that this year was better."
Duo blinked. That had been the very last thing he'd been expecting to hear. He'd been so sure, after they'd heard about Relena, that that had been Heero's entire reason for being there... and now to find out that his first hopes last year had been correct?
A wide, genuine smile crossed his face. "Well, I'd say you definitely succeeded," he said warmly. Heero looked up, and Duo met his eyes. "This definitely qualifies as both immensely better, and special."
"Good," Heero declared, relaxing again. "So, do you want to try the tarts?"
"Just try and keep me away from them!" Duo returned, grabbing one from the tray, and the companionable silence returned as they worked on dessert.
An hour later, the trays, plates, bowl, and the remaining food had all been put away, and Duo and Heero were sitting on the couch, sipping at more mulled cider and chatting casually about a number of things, from Preventer policies to Sally's subtle pursuit of Wufei (Duo was of the opinion that Wufei was oblivious to Sally's intentions; Heero argued that he was simply playing hard-to-get in hopes of making Sally do all the work). Duo had just mentioned that he wished Trowa would get around to asking Quatre out when Heero suddenly stood up again, an expression of consternation on his face.
"What is it?" Duo demanded.
"I almost forgot..." Hurrying over to the closet, Heero opened it and dug into the pocket of his coat. Then he turned around, a triumphant grin - an actual grin, Duo realized in shock - on his face, and held out a small package that had obviously been very carefully wrapped in seasonal paper. "Here - your Christmas present."
Once again, Duo blinked, dumbfounded. "Heero, you didn't need to--" he started.
"I wanted to." Heero's tone said that he wasn't going to accept any argument, so Duo just nodded and accepted the present as Heero handed it to him. "When I saw it, I immediately thought of you," he continued, and Duo felt the intensity of his gaze as he started unwrapping the present.
The wrapping paper covered a small, plain white box that gave no clues as to what was in it. Carefully opening it up, Duo moved a piece of tissue paper out of the way... and then just stared, breath caught in his throat, as stunned by the gift as he had been when he walked into his apartment to see Heero sitting there.
It was a delicate suncatcher of stained-glass, small but perfect. The design was a sandy beach, with ocean waves crashing against the rocky cliffs enclosing it, and the moon and stars shining down on it from the night sky. It was obvious why Heero had thought of him when he'd seen it: Duo's very first thought was the memory of breaking Heero out of the Alliance hospital, their landing on the beach, and helping a limping Heero over to the skiff Howard had sent to pick them up.
"It was the first time anyone ever suggested that they might be my friend," Heero said, very quietly, from beside him.
"It's beautiful, Heero," Duo whispered, still staring at the suncatcher, though he was very aware of what Heero had just said. "Exquisite."
God, the amount of thought Heero had obviously put into this... Even if he hadn't said what he just had, it would have been clear to Duo from this gift alone that Heero felt their friendship was important. It couldn't have been any clearer if Heero had shouted it at the top of his lungs - which image would have made Duo giggle at the very idea, if he hadn't still been so overwhelmed by the emotions the suncatcher implied.
Finally, he put the box carefully down on the table and looked at Heero - and moved by something, whether impulse or the look in Heero's eyes, leaned forward and pressed his lips to Heero's in a quick, gentle kiss. "Thank you."
It was Heero's turn to blink in stunned surprise. "Duo..." he murmured, reaching up to touch his lips with one hand. Then his eyes focused on Duo's face, and he smiled. Not his normal faint smile, but a real one, a smile that spoke of absolute delight. He was the one to lean forward next.
And as Duo wrapped his arms around Heero's shoulders and tugged until they were lying down on the couch, his thoughts - slightly fuzzy from the kiss Heero was giving him - focused on the fact that these had to be the two best Christmas presents he'd ever received.