A/N: For the Black Rose on her birthday. I even stuck in a little birthday greeting for you, Rose! Have a good one and a good year.
Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Wing and am making no profit from this fan fic.
Without The Countdown
Relena Darlian had decided that A.C. 205 would be the year she ended on her own; she would stay home, make a fire, and get through the dozen or so files that required her signature before celebrating the arrival of A.C. 206 by going to bed early and sleeping in the next day.
Of course, she expected public backlash. That the Vice Foreign Minister of the Earth Sphere Unified Nation would remain unseen on New Year's Eve was just short of scandalous. Where was she, fellow politicians and their gossiping spouses would ask. Did she leave the country to visit her mother? Maybe she was meeting a lover in secret with the hope that festivities would draw attention away from her. These would be the questions not directly posed, but hinted at in the morning Sanq Kingdom papers. Very few people were ever able to accept that she might simply want to spend a quiet evening with a book rather than don a ridiculously expensive dress and have dull chitchat with other spotlighted members of society.
As she was known for her yearly attendance of a party on Colony L4, Relena had phoned Quatre Raberba Winner personally to let him know that she would be staying on Earth. Quatre had understood at once, looking as though he too quite wanted to let someone else host the biggest bash in outer space this year. He had, however, assured her that he would tell everyone she wished them a happy new year and would save her a glass of champagne just in case she changed her mind.
She was grateful to know that "everyone" – specifically the three other Gundam pilots beside Quatre that she saw every year – would not knock her for her decision, although Relena could hear Duo's voice rather loudly in her head, exclaiming that she was "pulling a Heero" by staying home.
Maybe I am, Relena considered when she scribbled her name on the final document that demanded her attention for the evening. Satisfied with herself, she didn't bother packing the files into her briefcase to be taken in the next morning and instead turned off her desk lamp and headed out of her office toward the kitchen. On her way she admired the Christmas decorations she hadn't yet had her staff take down – that would happen tomorrow, when stringed lights and colored ornaments became officially out of season. Relena enjoyed the holidays, no matter how much others at work accused her of being a workaholic.
Upon reaching the kitchen, she promptly opened the refrigerator door. She had sworn to herself that she would not have another piece of the cheesecake Pagan had made on Christmas day and would instead give the final slice to one of the maids. However, she had excused the whole of her staff for the evening, and even Pagan had attended a poker game at one of the clubs in town, which left Relena alone – just as she preferred.
She found the sought-for treasure on a covered paper plate and removed the plastic wrap. The Vice Foreign Minister backed out of the fridge and, thinking of hazelnut coffee that would really enhance that dessert, pivoted.
The paper plate tumbled out of her hands and turned upside down. Cheesecake splattered on the floor, and she felt cold hit the arch of her left foot. Her voice, when it came, was filled with a curious blend of exasperation and knowing. "Heero."
Heero Yuy regarded her with a stern look on his face, as though it was abnormal and thus wrong that she was standing in front of the open refrigerator in a pair of black cotton sweatpants and an oversized green sweater, her now empty hands coming to rest admonishingly on her hips. "Relena," he replied, growling tone more accusatory than greeting. He went on with a statement. "You knew I'd be here."
Relena gave a half-sigh. It couldn't be a full sigh because she couldn't entirely blame him for sneaking up on her. But she wasn't about to resist facing him down. "Yes, I did."
"And you knew that because…?" When she didn't present him with an immediate reply, Heero folded his arms and sent a deep scowl straight to her expectant eyes. "You relieved your guard detail, Relena."
"That's not true," Relena countered. "There are two Preventer agents still stationed at the front gate."
"Two agents that were easily distracted by a shot fired across the street. Both of them ran to check it out, leaving the palace's main facility wide open to enemy infiltration because the normal watchmen inside the perimeters were given the day off." The man formerly known as Pilot 01 was positively glaring now. "Your inept guards are most likely standing around right now, scratching their heads because there was no discernible disturbance where the shot was taken."
"That's because you took it," retorted Relena.
"That isn't the point." Heero chose to ignore that he was one of a very select group of people who could move so undetectably in favor of winning the argument. "You also sent your house staff home."
"I do that every year!" she cried defensively.
"Which is fine," he went on, "because you are annually on the L4 Colony Cluster on New Year's Eve. This year, you're here, and you're alone."
And now Relena could no longer keep the smile from cracking on her face. "No, I'm not, Heero."
Now was also the same moment that her ever-so-slow-on-the-uptake ex-Gundam pilot fiancée realized her train of thought. "You knew I'd be here," he repeated, "because…"
"Because I sent the guard detail home," Relena nodded.
"And because you knew I'd be here…"
"I sent the staff away." Pleased with him for using that famed brain of his, Relena let her arms fall from their akimbo position and grinned. "Of course, you've rudely surprised me and caused me to drop the last piece of Pagan's homemade cheesecake. There's strawberry topping on my toes."
Some of the tension in his shoulders visibly fled his body, and Heero's eyes traveled, not to her feet, but to her left hand, from which a small yet stunning diamond glittered. He had given it to her exactly two months ago, when she had agreed to marry him. By this time next year, Relena mentally noted, he wouldn't have to sneak into her house on New Year's anymore.
"You didn't go to Quatre's," he commented all of a sudden as she when to the counter to retrieve a roll of paper towels from beneath the sink. "Why? You go there every year."
"Well," Relena replied as she bent over to clean cheesecake off her beautiful tiled floor, not noticing the way Heero evaluated the curve of her spine, "I thought I'd skip the formalities. Besides, I always have to work on the first of January, and the shuttle ride back from L4 doesn't take off until four in the morning. I thought I might not start off the year looking an exhausted mess." Straightening, Relena smiled at him as she tossed the soiled towel into the trash. "And you never go to Quatre's anyway."
Heero grunted an acknowledgement and followed her into the living room just beyond the kitchen. He started the fire for her, a wordless apology for the loss of her cheesecake. "If I went, I'd know a total of five people, including you." He turned, and Relena watched the rising blaze silhouette him from behind. "And I'd rather be here."
That was how he said it, Relena thought. He didn't use the bland three words that became little more than a thoughtless phrase for so many people. He instead found certain scenarios and used them to communicate what she meant to him. The actual term love was never truly needed. "I know," she murmured as he joined her on the couch. She immediately pulled her toward him for a kiss, but Heero maneuvered around her until she was on her back below him. Then he kissed her, the kind of kiss that led to more. Light from the fire flickered over the pair, as though the flames danced in delight for them.
Perhaps Heero truly was offended by her sweatpants and sweater, considered Relena in amusement. He certainly was in a hurry to get them off of her.
She had dozed off but came to only shortly after him. Relena was beginning to recognize the certain dazed expression of his that indicated he had recently been asleep. Her gaze zeroed in on a wall-mounted clock. "It's past midnight. We missed the 'happy new year' part."
"Did you want to count down?"
"Are you kidding?" She scoffed, but a grin pulled at her cheeks. "Listening to a bunch of half-drunk people count backward from ten is very annoying. Impressive though, considering how mindless some of the Councilmen's wives are. I'm always surprised they make it past five."
She was rewarded for her dry humor with a brief, rumbling laugh that she could feel in her own chest as Heero held her against him. The fire was dying down, but it was doubtful that either of them would be getting up to revive it anytime soon. The scent of him was making her feel drowsy again, and she reached for a blanket on the back of the couch, covering them both.
She heard Heero's voice in her ear right before her eyes closed again. "Happy new year, Relena."
"Happy birthday, Heero," she murmured in mistake, asleep too quickly to hear him laughing at her again.