Title: A Christmas Tale
Warnings: Some angst
Spoilers: Entire series and EW.
Notes: You can thank my daughter for this, because after we watched this movie together on Christmas Eve, I confessed that I was a sucker for all variations of the same story. So I decided to write my own.
He hated this time of the year.
It wasn't the holiday itself that he hated. Although he'd never observed it, he'd known many others who had. Like most holidays, it was based on a fairy tale, but he tolerated the day's origins because it wasn't worth arguing over. Back when he might have enjoyed the debate, there hadn't been anyone worth the time to point out the flaws and inconsistencies in the tale. Today even the thought of listening to the same old story made him tired and irritable. Which brought him to the vellum edged card in his hand.
The seal of the vice foreign minister was unmistakable and for that reason alone he opened it, even though he knew without a doubt what it was. He had no desire to make merry this time of year, or any time, really, and the sooner Relena Peacecraft got that through her head, the better.
He tossed it in the wastebasket beside his desk and picked up the next envelope, slitting it open with his dagger.
The blade had been a wedding gift from Meiran's clan. He'd thought it lost long ago, but like the memory of his late wife, it was persistent. He didn't want to keep it, one more unnecessary reminder of his loss, but it was disrespectful to deliberately rid himself of it. He'd compromised by keeping it at his desk and using it for trivial tasks, to remind himself how meaningless his life had become since Nataku had been destroyed.
It didn't matter what the Preventers had accomplished, if anything. Without conflict, it was impossible to judge whether it was mere coincidence or if their police actions were the reason for the current reign of peace. To add insult to injury, Une had "rewarded" him with a promotion that left him chained to a desk all day.
It was better than what Po or Noin did with their flitting around the universe pretending to be heroes. At least he wasn't fooling himself any longer that any of his actions made a difference.
He heard the buzzer of the outside door, meaning the security guard at the entrance had just let the night janitor in. He glanced at the clock and scowled. It was later than he'd thought, and he still had all these diplomatic matters to review before passing them on to Commander Une or Vice Foreign Minister Peacecraft. That's all he was these days - a glorified secretary.
The door to his office opened, but he didn't bother to look up as he gestured to the wastebasket. "That's all there is," he grunted as he slit open another envelope, this one from the ambassador of Colony LX4338.
"Wufei," a familiar voice said. "I can't believe it's really you."
He looked up from his desk to see Quatre Winner standing before him. "Quatre," he said stiffly. "What brings you here?"
"I came to see if you needed a ride to Relena's Christmas party."
"You mean the vice foreign minister's party."
"No," Quatre shook his head. "I mean, yes, but..."
"Not interested," Wufei said, tossing the letter from LX4338 into Une's pile. "A bunch of people gathered around, currying favor with false promises and back pocket agendas. The vice foreign minister should know better than to waste treasury money that way."
"But it's Christmas, Wufei. It's good to show the world that we can all put aside our differences for one day. Sure, it's political, but that doesn't mean there isn't sincerity behind it."
"And that day just happens to be Christmas, because the television satellites can charge as much as they like just to broadcast it. You of all people should know it's about money, Quatre."
"No," another voice chimed in. "You mean you of all people know it's about money."
Wufei didn't bother to look up this time. "I thought you and Noin were on L3."
"We just got back," Sally told him.
"Just in time to recruit Quatre to beg your case."
"Wufei," Quatre protested, but Sally stopped him.
"It's OK, Quatre," she said. "Wufei was bound to figure out I asked you to come. Despite his lack of manners, there's a reason why Une appointed him as Intercolonial Liaison."
"I really would like it if you'd come, though, Wufei. We haven't seen you in years."
"That means I'm doing my job, then, doesn't it?"
Wufei glanced up, his reading glasses perched on the bridge of his nose. To Sally, he looked a little like a cartoon owl, despite the severe expression, but Quatre wasn't seeing the humor in it and had shut his mouth.
"I do wish you'd come," he said softly.
"And I wish to remain undisturbed, but some people," he glared at Sally, "seem to think my requests are entirely optional."
"Well, we'll be there if you change your mind-"
"Still, I hope you have a merry Christmas."
Wufei saw Sally raise her eyebrows slightly, and for that, he took it out on Quatre. "Bah, humbug."
Quatre started to laugh, thinking Wufei was joking with him, but the laughter died in his throat as he saw how pissed Wufei really was. "The offer stands," he said one last time, and with a quick glance at Sally, he left.
"Why are you still here?" Wufei asked.
Sally walked over to his desk and sat on the edge of it. She knew he hated that and was doing it just for that reason. "For someone who doesn't care about the holidays one way or another, you're taking it out on this correspondence."
He saw the uneven edges where he'd failed to slit the blade all the way through, and he yanked the letter out of the envelope angrily.
"If you really want me to have a merry Christmas, you'll leave me the hell alone."
"That's not being merry," Sally said stubbornly. "That's wallowing in self pity."
That angered Wufei more than anything else, and he flung the dagger down on his desk and got to his feet. "I do not pity myself," he said between gritted teeth. "I should pity you for your illusions. Some day your rose colored glasses are going to get you and your partner killed. War does not take a holiday."
She reached out to touch his arm. "Only time will tell." She stood up and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "We were friends once, Wufei. You may have forgotten that, but I haven't."
He looked back down at the pile on his desk until he heard the buzz of the door as Sally left the building. He stayed a quarter hour longer, just to be sure she was truly gone. He'd have stayed longer, but his eyes were tired and even with his glasses, it was hard to focus on the small print.
He grunted at the security guard who wished him a merry Christmas.
Christmas. A ridiculous time of the year, when people let their guard down and pretended to have good will toward others. At least he was honest in his distaste and he was on his guard all the time. He might be nothing more than a desk jockey, but at least someone near Une was still paying attention. Just because the last war had ended thirteen years ago didn't mean a thing, not while mobile suits were still being redesigned and manufactured.
Idiots, all of them, even Heero and Trowa, who had seemed the most likely to stay on their guard. Trowa had gone back to work with his sister, which was a waste of perfectly good talent. Wufei assumed Trowa was still a part of it, especially now that it was known as Bloom's Traveling Circus. Like any woman, Catherine's influence had made Trowa weak.
Heero he'd expected even more from, but he was even worse than Trowa, easily manipulated whenever Relena called. It was one thing to obey a summons from the vice foreign minister, but it had nothing to do with her position and everything to do with her as a woman. Heero was the worse of them all as far as that woman was concerned. At least Quatre hadn't let the Catalonia bitch lead him astray. From what Wufei had heard, Quatre was keeping his friends close and his enemies closer, for Dorothy was serving on the board of directors at Winner Enterprises.
It might still blow up in his face, but Quatre would be more likely to see it coming.
He remembered Quatre's plea to join them at Christmas, and decided that Quatre was no better. He didn't need a woman acting as his Delilah; he was soft hearted enough on his own.
He noticed little that went on around him as he walked home to his apartment. He'd taken quarters close to the Preventers building in a high security building with keypad locks and sentry alarms. He chose one with a single parking lot rather than a parking garage with many doors leading to the building, providing multiple points of entry. He owned a car, but rarely used it; he was usually at work and when he needed to stop for groceries, there were plenty of shops between work and home. He kept a vehicle on the premises in case he needed it for a hasty escape.
The leather gloves he wore were more for appearance than for warmth, but the short distance he had to walk didn't require much more than that. His hands were cold nonetheless and he fumbled with the keypad as he entered his pass code.
The red light flashed, indicating he'd entered incorrectly, and he removed one glove to try it again. After his second failed attempt, a vid screen emerged, only instead of the concierge, all he could see was snow. He hesitated before entering a third time, not wanting the concierge to offer to help him as if he could not remember his own security code.
The interference cleared, and Wufei spared only a glance at the screen before touching the keypad. It was enough, and Wufei's hand dropped to his side.
"No," he whispered. "No. You're dead."
The screen went blank for a moment, then the concierge's face appeared. "Sir?" he asked with polite disinterest. "Do you need assistance?"
Wufei punched in his code a third time. "No," he said as the door buzzed. He yanked open the door as the screen slid back into place, and he hurried down the hall to his apartment door. He was obviously overtired from staring at a computer screen for most of the day, and Quatre and Sally hadn't helped. What he needed was a drink.
It was too bad he didn't keep any spirits in the apartment. Liquor was for weaker men who could not face reality. He made himself a pot of tea instead.
It was a good thing that he'd done so, because the lights in the apartment flickered and went out, and when the power was restored, the electric heat was slower to respond. He took the cup of tea with him to bed where he could cup his hands around it for warmth. The silk pajamas he wore to bed would normally keep him warm, but tonight his bed was like ice. The clock told him it was only 7:00 in the evening, but it felt much later than that.
He pulled the blankets up to his chest and took another sip of tea before setting it on the nightstand and picking up his book. His toes were curled beneath the covers, it was so cold, and he could not focus on a single word before him. He pushed his glasses up on top of his head and picked up the teacup again, leaning over the steam and trying to convince himself it was making any difference in how cold he was. He would have to call the maintenance office, but since it was Christmas Eve, he'd end up getting their answering service. This was just one more reason why he hated the holidays.
He'd not realized right away that he'd dozed off with the cup in his hand, not until the creaking sound woke him. He looked around him, disoriented, as if he'd never seen the furnishings in his bedroom before. The cup tipped, and a spot of tea splashed on his hand, waking him fully. He set the cup down with trembling hands and looked about him. There was someone else in the room. He could see perfectly well in the distance, but the intruder was distinctly out of focus. He wished he'd kept the dagger with him now, but he would fight to the death with his bare hands if it came to that. He picked up the teacup again, in case he had to fling the hot liquid in his enemy's face.
"What do you want?" he demanded.
"Wufei Chang, I am here to bear a message."
Wufei shook his head. It was bad enough he'd imagined he'd seen Treize Khushrenada's face in the vid screen outside, now he was imagining the man here in his bedroom. "Ridiculous. You're dead, and even if you weren't, you would not be given such a trivial task."
"It is not as trivial as you may think," Treize's ghost told him. "It is a matter of more than just life and death. Death is easy."
Wufei wanted to retort that Treize should be thanking him, in that case, but he could not do it He felt the same despair he'd felt when Treize had died. He'd lost a worthy adversary but Treize had been more than that. He'd been a man to admire, one who put everything behind his beliefs. They did not agree in many things but they were both honorable, or at least that's what Wufei had aspired to.
He closed his eyes. When he was younger and had been plagued by nightmares, he'd sometimes be able to drive them away with conscious thought. Perhaps he'd be able to do the same now.
"You do not believe I am real."
"You're not," Wufei replied, and then wondered why he was answering aloud.
"I am just as real as you are."
Wufei opened his eyes. Treize's form was translucent, and Wufei could see the dresser behind him, right through his body. "I doubt that very much."
"What makes you doubt that I could be here before you, speaking as I am right now?"
Wufei rubbed his eyes with his thumb and middle finger. "Overtired. I'm overtired, my eyes are suffering from computer strain, and I didn't eat lunch today."
"Or supper," Treize reminded him helpfully.
"I'm hallucinating," Wufei decided. "No, I would not. I'm still asleep." He pinched his arm. "I felt that. It's obviously possible to feel pain in a dream."
"I am here, Wufei, and I do have a message for you. Pretending otherwise isn't going to change that." He picked at an imaginary speck of lint on his translucent sleeve. "There is much I could have accomplished, Wufei, had I lived. There is much you have accomplished since my death. However, there is so much more to be done."
Wufei sat up straight, forgetting his disagreement over Treize's existence. "That's what I've tried to tell her! Commander Une does not listen!"
Treize held up his hands placatingly. "You misunderstand completely. That's not what I meant." He looked past Wufei, at the clock on the nightstand, and sighed. "I don't have much time left. I have come to tell you that you will be haunted by three spirits."
Wufei shook his head. "I don't believe you."
"The first," Treize continued as if Wufei had not interrupted him, "will visit when the clock strikes one." He looked over at the digital alarm clock and sighed. "It will appear at 1:00 in the morning. The second one you will see the next night, at the same time, and the third before the last stroke...that is, at midnight." He looked at Wufei meaningfully. "Without their help, Wufei, you will be unable to escape the path that lays before you."
"What path? Your path?"
Treize shook his head. "I am not here to serve as an example, merely a messenger. I can beseech you to heed your visitors well, but beyond that, your fate is your own. You've always known that, however."
"Riddles!" Wufei exclaimed. "You disrupt my peace to say nothing at all!"
"One o'clock, Wufei," Treize reminded him. His form began to dissipate. "Do not remain ignorant out of stubbornness. Farewell, Wufei."
"No!" cried Wufei. "We have not concluded things between us! It was not supposed to end the way it did!"
There was nothing more he could say, because Treize's apparition was gone, if it had ever been there at all.
Wufei set the teacup down in its saucer and reached out to turn off the bedside lamp. He hesitated. Cursing his own weakness, he yanked on the chain, and the room became dark. He punched his pillow to arrange it to his satisfaction and lay down. The only reason he pulled the covers up to his chin was because it was still quite cold in the room.
Despite all that had taken place, it wasn't long before he fell asleep.