I'm getting this posted two hours before Christmas. Merry Christmas everyone and especially to my proofreader.

The Gift of Warmth
Bane's Desire

A Heero/Duo Christmas Story

Feeling the chill of the night seep through his winter coat and warm clothing beneath it, his breath hanging heavy in the air, Heero turned yet another corner and frowned, finding yet another empty city street and no sign of his partner. His lover told him that this was the area he intended to visit tonight. Duo came here, as he did every year, with his arms laden with more shopping bags than it should be possible for one man to carry.

Shifting his own armful to pull up the sleeve of his jacket, he checked the time on his watch. Duo said he'd be home by 10 p.m. It was now 11:18 and he was... concerned, though not yet worried. It wasn't as if the other man couldn't defend himself, but Heero couldn't help feeling protective of him, especially when Duo insisted on doing this holiday errand on his own. As his lover and best friend, Heero had come to accept the other man's habits and odd quirks. It was only fair, after all, because he had his own particular "quirks" that Duo had also learned to live with.

The streets appeared deserted but Heero knew better. Even though it was the one night of the year that people tended to stay inside their warm homes, enjoying their holiday traditions and decorations and surrounded by loved ones, he knew there were exceptions. For most of his life he'd been one of those exceptions, though not by choice. Reared and schooled by men who viewed his training as a gundam pilot to be an essential factor in winning the struggle for colonial independence, he'd known very little of affection or emotional attachment, and holidays such as Christmas had only represented a half day off from his normal training routine.

He hadn't known what he was missing at the time or that he lived an unusually cold and austere life until Duo Maxwell made an appearance in his life. With his unusually long hair and dressed all in black, the gundam pilot from L2 immediately captured his attention, and not only because the boy had shot him twice. After Duo rescued him from the Alliance hospital, he got to know the other teenager a bit. The braided boy's background and his way of thinking was so different from his own that he found him... refreshing. As time passed, he found Duo's uncanny ability to get a smile from him, a well-trained, disciplined soldier, and miraculously drawing out his reluctant laughter made him want to be closer to the warmth the braided boy offered. Then something changed. Duo's warm smile, directed solely at him, and the unspoken yearning in the boy's blue/violet eyes, holding a promise of something even better than friendship, piqued Heero's curiosity enough to draw him out of his cold Spartan existence. Despite years of training geared towards soldiering and blocking any emotion that might impede his abilities to fight, he found himself physically and emotionally wanting the other pilot. And like a little boy with a forbidden box of matches, he unable to resist the temptation of Duo's flame, regardless of the danger to his mission. He'd fallen irreparably in love with the brash, life-loving American from L-2, and in doing so he'd had to ease up on his own more rigid behaviors and to accept some of the other boy's peculiar ways, including his rather unusual idea of celebrating this particular day of the year with a custom Duo called "sharing the warmth".

Of course Heero had done his research regarding Christmas - since Duo insisted on celebrating it. He'd focused his study on how Americans traditionally observe the day, trying to gain insight to the popular holiday. In a country that had been the melting pot for people from all over the world and colonies since pre-colony1600's, he'd been dismayed to find that there was no single way to celebrate this particular holiday, but countless ones to choose from. After much consideration, he'd decided it would be easiest to just go along with whatever Duo wanted. He knew his lover had gotten his ideas for celebrating Christmas from the priest and nun who'd run the orphanage he'd lived in for a short while, so it made sense that he followed their example by leaving the warmth of their apartment every Christmas Eve to give warmth to others.

As he walked down the sidewalk, Heero's footsteps echoed loudly in the unusual stillness, and he thought about how his life had once been as dark and cold as this city street. He'd been a child assassin who learned to blend into a group of people while keeping an emotional distance between himself and everyone else. He'd learned to focus on his target, never losing sight of his goal. Thank fate, or rather Duo Maxwell for having reached out to him and determinedly pulled him out of his cold existence and into a life filled with new experiences, feelings and emotions that had been denied him in his youth. He was almost certain he'd been Duo's first attempt to bring warmth to someone who'd been left out in the cold, but on an emotional level rather than a physical one. Heero grinned, thinking of that audacious teenage boy from L2 who'd been patient, tenacious and, thankfully, successful in his quest.

During the three years they'd been together his braided lover had introduced him to many new experiences, including several holidays. For Christmas, Duo insisted on buying a cut-down and dying tree which always shed a ridiculous amount of pine needles onto their carpet. The American always set the thing in a stand and placed it in a prominent corner of their living room. He then set about putting copious amounts of lights and ornaments upon each and every branch and a blinking star on the very top. Tinsel, Heero found, was delightful to look at but a royal pain to get rid of. Strangely, long stray strands of silver kept showing up in the rollers of the vacuum weeks after all the holiday's decorations had been packed away, even though he could have sworn they'd swept away all evidence of the holiday.

Up ahead, a flickering light shone against the wall of an alleyway. Its movement suggested the light source was from a fire. He was familiar with these types of fires, having seen them built in metal trash cans by the homeless in an attempt to keep the cold from seeping too deeply into their bones, endangering their lives. The sound of several men laughing came from the alley, and as he drew nearer Heero could hear Duo's voice amongst them

Approaching cautiously, not wanting to startle whoever was with his lover, Heero's footsteps slowed when the forlorn sounds of a harmonica came floating out of the alley and into the street. Such a lonely sound, he thought. A male voice, deep, raspy yet clear, began to sing a song beginning with the words, Good Christian men rejoice. Several other gruff voices, someone definitely singing off key, joined in. Heero was surprised when he heard Duo's voice amongst the others. He didn't know his lover knew any such song. Moving closer to the building and setting his shoulder against the cold brick wall, he closed his eyes and listened. He loved the sound of Duo's voice, whether he was talking, grumbling, whispering suggestive comments, laughing or singing. He would often lay his head on Duo's lap and have his lover read from a book, letting his voice wash over him like a soothing balm.

The song stumbled to an end when no one could remember the rest of the words and a couple of deep chuckles followed the awkward ending. A moment of silence passed before he heard Duo begin to take his leave of them. Heero smiled, realizing he'd come just in time. Slipping around the corner, he paused at the alley's entrance and watched his lover shake the hand of each man surrounding the blazing barrel, all seven of them were wearing a new winter jacket, a gift of warmth from their newfound friend. As Duo broke from the group, Heero wasn't surprised to see his lover was missing his own coat and the heavy sweater he'd worn beneath it. Also missing was the hat and scarf Heero insisted he don before leaving the apartment that evening. His tender grin, aimed at his philanthropic lover, faded when his eyes lowered and he realized that Duo was walking through the alley in his stocking feet. Because the same thing had happened the year before and Duo had come home with a slight case of hypothermia, Heero had come prepared for such an occasion.

Moving quickly towards the street, Duo had his arms wrapped around his trim body and was vigorously rubbing some warmth into his chilled arms. It wasn't until he was almost to the sidewalk that he looked up and spotted the man waiting for him.

"Am I that late?" Duo asked with a guilty grin, and only then did Heero notice that Duo's watch was also missing.

"You are," he replied with only a hint of reprimand in his voice. As Duo stepped up to him, he held out the sheepskin slipper-boots he'd brought along, just in case. While Duo bent to put them on, he unfolded the jacket that had been resting over his arm and set it over his lover's shoulders.

"Where'd this come from?" Duo asked, slipping his goose-bumped arms into the sleeves of the new jacket.

"I've learned that you'll give the shirt off your back on this night if you thought someone needed it more."

Duo shrugged as he studied his new "gift". "I'm sure there's someone out here who could use this jacket, too."

"Oh no you don't," Heero said, reaching out to zip up the front of the down jacket. "Not tonight, but perhaps next Christmas Eve, if you want to. Are you ready to go home?"

"With you? Anytime," said the handsome man with the long braid and a happy, blue-lipped grin. Then leaning closer, he quickly placed a kiss on his lover's warmer lips. "Merry Christmas, Heero. Thanks... you know, for everything." Then looking expectant, he added, "Do you think you'd like to come with me next Christmas Eve? You know, give those in the cold some extra warmth and make some new friends?"

Heero bent his head until his forehead rested against the other man's. "I'd like that. A lot," he said softly with his heart swelling with love for this man who kept bringing him in out of the cold. He definitely looked forward to sharing this tradition with Duo, believing his lover's saying that what goes around comes around. If giving some warm jackets to strangers guaranteed he'd be wrapped up in the warmth of Duo Maxwell for the rest of his life, then he'd buy a whole truck full of jackets every year and give them out with a smile, especially if he had Duo by his side.

"I love you, Duo," he said softly, stroking the cold and rosy cheek under his fingertips. I probably don't say it enough, but I'll show you proof of it once we get back home." He stepped back just far enough to observe the look of pure happiness glowing on his lover's face, his eyes shining with love. "So what do you say to going home, getting out of the cold and beginning our own Christmas celebration."

"I like the sound of that," Duo said with a chuckle, obviously recalling how they'd celebrated their two previous Christmases together, spent mostly in bed. Turning, Heero wrapped his arm around his lover's shoulder and pulled the chilled man up against this side. His smile grew after feeling Duo's arm come around his back and hug his waist. Together they turned and began the walk back to their apartment. Heero noted that even though the street was still deserted, the night suddenly didn't seem cold any longer.

The End.

Christmas 2005