Wufei's hands were trembling as he lifted the blanket up. The sun had risen, for there was light in his bedroom, and he jumped out of bed. The clock read 5:00, and he rushed to his laptop, drumming his fingers on the table as he waited for it to boot. Finally he could take it no longer and ran to the window. He threw it open and leaned outside, where, by some miracle, a lone car was driving slowly down the street. Wufei was near to overjoyed when he saw the woman get out and toss a rolled newspaper up onto the porch across the street.
"Hey! You!" Wufei called down, and the woman looked about him before locating the voice that had called him.
"What? I haven't driven up on anyone's walks," she yel up at him. She pointed out the tire tracks behind her. "See?"
"I don't care about that. Can you tell me what day is today?"
Even from this distance, it appeared as if the paper courier was rolling her eyes. "Christmas Day, all day."
"Then I haven't missed it after all. Thank you!"
He slammed the window shut and turned away, then went back to the window and threw it open again. "Hey!"
She had just opened her car door to get back in, and when she looked up at him this time, it was clear she was beginning to doubt his sanity.
It didn't matter, because Wufei was busy folding a hastily scribbled note into a paper airplane. "Would you deliver this just down the road, at the Preventers building?" Without waiting for an answer, he sent the airplane flying toward the street. He held up a small plastic card. "I'll give you this for your trouble as well." He dropped it straight down, and the woman watched it spiral a few times before it finally hit the ground. She hesitated before picking it up.
"I promise," Wufei said. "This is not a setup and I'm not trying to trick you. Consider it your Christmas tip."
The credits loaded on the card didn't amount to much by Wufei's standards, but it was likely as much as the courier made in a month of delivering papers. She picked up the card, saw the currency amount embossed on the corner, and stuffed it in her pocket before chasing Wufei's message down the street. "I will do that for you, sir! Merry Christmas to you!"
Wufei closed the window again and tore at the buttons of his shirt so he could refasten them properly.
Whenever there was a holiday, Une tried to be fair with scheduling. Those who requested time off she tried to accommodate, and those who had not were scheduled in four to six hour shifts. Une herself always took the earliest shift, so she'd be the one to receive his message.
He rushed through his morning ablutions, skipping the shave altogether and washing his hands and face. He combed his hair with wet fingers, not even ensuring that it would lay flat, and he grabbed his coat and gloves on his way out the door.
It was cold outside, and he felt it all the more with his head still wet, but he'd never felt more alive. This wasn't the same frigidness that emanated from the third spirit. This was the sort of cold that he could feel tingling his skin from the outside in rather than the other way around.
The coffee shop he passed every day was closed for the holiday, but it did give him an idea. When he reached the Preventers building and made his way to Une's office, she looked up in surprise until she realized it was Wufei.
"I got your message," she said, gesturing to a wet and crumpled scrap of paper on her desk. "But as I told you yesterday, you don't have to come in until noon."
"I know," he said.
She nodded, looking at him with something akin to pity. "Yes," she said. "You do." She gestured at a stack of mini-disks at the edge of her desk. "If you insist on staying, these intercepted messages need to be deciphered. Heero is our best cryptologist, but..." she trailed off and gave a little shrug. "Well, since he's not on Preventers payroll, I can hardly ask him to do this for me today. If you're up to it, I could use the help." She turned back to her computer terminal.
Wufei set down one of the coffees he purchased from the downstairs vending machine. "It's no mocha latte," he said apologetically, "but Merry Christmas."
Une's fingers slipped off the computer screen where she'd been sorting through field reports. She looked at the steam coming up from the paper cup and then at Wufei.
"Thank you, Wufei," she said. "Merry Christmas to you, too."
He left her to her work and went to his office. After setting the second cup of coffee on his desk, he turned on the computer and removed one of the mini-disks from its case. By the time he'd gone through all the messages on the first three disks, he could see why Une wanted to call Heero in on this. These had not been written using a simple replacement code. Even with all the intercepted messages they had to work with, there was no consistency to the characters used, which meant that they'd likely been created using a machine based cryptographic system. He tried using the computer to simulate the machines they had in their database, but he lacked the experience that Heero had with breaking allegedly unsolvable codes.
He sat back in his chair. Heero's only connection to the Preventers was as a free lance consultant. Heero's obvious disdain toward routine and procedure was something Wufei had always viewed as a reckless bohemian lifestyle. It was that rigidity of thinking that had driven Meiran to distraction during their time together.
Wufei rubbed at his eyes. It had been a long, tiring night. He glanced at the little clock in the corner of his computer screen and saw that it was nearly 8:00. He snatched the coffee off his desk and strode down the hall to the library.
She wasn't there, nor was she at her desk when he checked there.
He returned to Une's office, where he found her poring over a schematic instead of packed up and ready to leave for the day.
"I thought Sally was relieving you at eight."
"She was," Une replied without looking up. "But that was before." She did glance at Wufei then. "That's right, you weren't there last night so you wouldn't know. She's fine," Une assured him hurriedly. "She just slipped on the ice and-"
There was no need to finish her explanation, because Wufei was already out the door. The thunk of a full coffee cup hitting the bottom of the wastebasket would normally be reason for annoyance, because she really hated when people failed to empty out their cups before tossing them out. Today, however, she merely smiled, picked up the message Wufei had sent earlier that morning, and smoothed the wrinkles from it.
She'd suspected something like this five years ago, but it was nice to be proven right.
Wufei walked for several blocks before realizing he would make better time if he hailed a cab. He was in the middle of dialing one of the local taxi services when a sleek black limousine pulled up beside him. The back window rolled down, and Quatre Winner's head peeked out.
"Wufei!" he exclaimed. "Can we give you a lift?"
Wufei shoved his phone in his pocket and wasted no time opening the door. To his surprise, Quatre wasn't alone. Trowa was seated next to him, and Heero and Duo were on the seat perpendicular to theirs. Wufei sat across from the latter two, nearly losing his balance as the limo pulled away from the curb.
"To what do we owe the pleasure?" Duo asked. "Maybe taking in the sights?"
Trowa gestured toward the sidewalk. "He's not kidding. That's what we're doing."
Wufei turned to look out the window. He'd noticed, but he'd never really looked, at the decorations in the storefronts. Many were trimmed with traditional holly and berries, and a few more used silver and white snowflakes to simulate a winter wonderland. There was one, however, that looked like an act of vandalism. It was a shoe store, but the shoes in the window appeared to have been thrown about haphazardly. It wasn't until they'd nearly passed the shop that Wufei figured it out. They were dancing; or rather, they had been situated in various poses as if there were invisible dancers in the window. If he'd not been here and his friends had tried to explain it to him, he wouldn't have been able to picture it. The scene felt alive.
They pulled up in front of a simple brownstone apartment building, and Wufei had the door open even before they came to a complete stop. He had one foot on the ground and his head and shoulders out the door when he looked back. He looked at his friends, at the faces of each one of them, and he felt their shared excitement.
"Merry Christmas," he said. "and thanks."
After the door slammed shut behind him and they watched Wufei run up the steps to the main entrance, Duo asked, "And how did we know he was coming here?"
Quatre held up his cell phone, showing the text message he'd received from Une. "Modern technology. It's a wonderful thing."
Wufei was inside the building before the limo pulled away, punching at the elevator button impatiently. The digital readout over the elevator door didn't appear to be working and he had no idea what floor it was on, and after tapping his foot and pacing back and forth, he was tired of waiting and ran to the stairwell.
Six flights and the length of the hallway later, he'd reached Number 703. He was breathing hard and he leaned one hand against the wall to prop himself up as he lifted the knocker and rapped it several times.
He could hear movement inside, but it was a while before the door finally opened. The reason for the delay was apparent the moment he saw her. Sally's right leg was in a cast. Fortunately it was below the knee; a break in the femur would not only have been excruciatingly painful, it would have made it next to impossible for her to move around.
"Wufei," she said. "This is a surprise."
"What the hell happened?" he asked, sweeping her up in his arms and kicking the door closed behind him. He deposited her gently on the sofa, making sure her broken leg was propped up on a pillow, and sat on the edge of the cushion next to her.
"It happened when I was leaving Relena's party," she said. "I hit a patch of ice out front and slid into a car."
Wufei's eyes nearly popped out of his head. Une hadn't mentioned anything about a car being involved. He took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. "It's not like you to be so clumsy," he said, then mentally kicked himself for the insult.
Sally's cheeks turned slightly pink. "I might have had a little more to drink than I'm used to. We were in a celebratory mood."
Wufei waved his hand in the air impatiently. "I don't think either Noin or Mariemaia wanted you to get so hammered over their news that you got hit by a car."
Sally's cheeks had gone from pink to bright red. "For your information, I was not hammered. I had three drinks. I was...buzzed. And if you'd really wanted to monitor my alcoholic consumption" she said, poking him hard in the chest and nearly knocking him off the couch. "You should have gotten off your ass and join-"
Her words were cut off by Wufei's lips against hers. She splayed her fingers against his chest in protest, but when he tilted his head slightly and deepened the kiss, she found it hard to remember why this was a bad idea.
The stubble on his face was rubbing her cheeks, reminding her how he looked first thing in the morning. Her fingers crept behind his head to curl in the hair at his nape. She'd forgotten how soft it was when he wore it loose like this, and she shivered when his hand covered her breast. His thumb rubbed against her nipple, causing it to harden, and she twirled a lock of his hair around her finger and tugged as hard as she could, pulling Wufei's head with it. They were both panting heavily when their lips broke contact.
"Wufei, I can't do this again."
He reached for her hand and laced his fingers with hers. "Sally..."
"No." She shook her head but did not meet his eyes. "We've been down this road before. This," she pulled her hand free and gestured between them. "is not real. I appreciate your coming here to check on me, but this is not going to work out because-"
"I love you."
"-misplaced guilt. I- what?"
"I love you." He got down on one knee and clasped her hand in both of his. "I was an ass..."
"To put it mildly," she murmured.
He ignored her. "...and a bully, and an insensitive prick. I was afraid. Not," he rushed ahead, "of you, or of loving you, but of losing you."
"You're losing me now," she said, but she was smiling, and her eyes were shining brightly.
"I'm just a man," he told her, "and I've made mistakes, but the biggest mistake I could make now would be to let you go without a fight."
She shook her head, afraid if she said anything, she'd begin to cry.
"Sally, you're one of the strongest women I know, and you deserve better, but I can't imagine living the rest of my life without you by my side."
She wasn't sure if it that was Wufei's idea of a marriage proposal, but it was definitely the most romantic thing that had ever happened to her, and it was coming from the least romantic man in the universe. Wufei wasn't the only one who was afraid, but there weren't a lot of second chances in life.
"OK," she said, nodding. "OK."
It was just one year later, on New Year's Eve, when she knew what Wufei's idea of a marriage proposal was. He asked her at the First Annual Preventers New Year's party, an event that he'd not only suggested to Une but had chaired the committee for. She'd known what she was getting into when she slid the ring on her finger, but Wufei was already pushing his luck by taking away her glass of champagne at the stroke of midnight.
"I was about to drink that," she protested.
He shushed her with a quick kiss and spun her around just so he could pull her close, her back pressed against his chest. They stayed that way as the fireworks began, and at some point, Wufei slid his hand down to her belly, caressing it lightly with his thumb.
A series of Roman candles lit up the sky, followed by several red dahlias. When the finale was over and the last flicker had faded to nothing, there was a round of applause, followed by the honks and squeals of the noisemakers that had been provided for each guest.
Sally hadn't realized how lost in her own little world she'd been until Quatre Winner, who had apparently been standing next to them the whole time, lifted his champagne glass.
"To new beginnings," he said, and everyone who still had a glass raised theirs to toast the sentiment.
Sally could still feel the warmth of Wufei's fingers pressing against her abdomen. His proposal had taken her by surprise. Each time they'd been intimate, they'd been almost militant in their precautions, so despite the gesture, there was no honorable, hopelessly outdated reason for him to have popped the question.
Wufei nuzzled the side of her head, a sign of affection that was over almost as soon as it had begun. The sound of an infant crying caught her attention and she looked over to where Noin and Zechs were standing. They were oblivious to everyone else, cooing over their son who had clearly not enjoyed the fireworks as much as everyone else.
On their other side, one of the guests, the husband of one of the physical trainers, stumbled over the leg of a chair. He knocked Wufei's elbow as he tried to steady himself and upturned the half full champagne glass. Some of it spilled down the back of Sally's dress; the rest splashed somewhere between them. Sally heard the distinct sound of liquid hitting leather, meaning Wufei's shoes had taken the brunt of it. She'd picked them out for him from a shop not far from the Preventers building and given them to him for Christmas. For some reason he'd insisted on saving them for the party tonight, and now they were likely ruined. Sally waved away the man's apologies and turned to snag the now empty glass away from her fiance. She placed it the stone ledge near the doors, not noticing when it wobbled and fell into the bushes. She was too busy taking Wufei's hand, damp with champagne, and placing it right below her rib cage. He kissed the edge of her earlobe and she felt the prick of happy tears behind her eyelids. She leaned back, trusting him to support her weight, and gave his fingers a squeeze.
To new beginnings.