Duo's Carol

leejeeg

A Christmas romance-by now y'all know how I do. Enjoy. I hope. Felicidades to all.


It was getting late. Duo had been driving for what seemed like hours but was in reality barely two. The night was cold and crisp; the inky sky denoted the hour. Duo would be glad to finally arrive home. The house was small and cozy, nothing fancy but he loved it because it was his.

As he drove he watched the road noting the darkened landscape rolling past his BC Mustang. The car was one of the few indulgences he allowed himself. Duo wasn't much for fancy things, luxury belonged to people like his best friend, Quatre Winner. Not that he did not enjoy a little pampering once in a while, but he felt guilty when he indulged, knowing there were so many people on earth and in space who barely made ends meet-and many more who didn't. He lived as austerely as possible.

He yawned hugely, exhausted from his activities at the orphanage on L2 and the shuttle ride back to earth and now the car ride back home. Duo wished he could travel to L2 more often, but between his work responsibilities and his finances it wasn't possible. Still, he'd done what he could. The help he gave Sister Bernard and Father Costas was appreciated. In two days he had patched up most of the church roof, hauled all the refuse to the dump, shoveled the walk of the colony artificial snow which was gritty with a weird salt/silt amalgamation, helped serve lunch and supper, read stories to some of the younger children and painted the church hall interior. Sister Bernard said he was an angel in the guise of Superman-a super hero from BC comic books, but Duo shrugged. He hadn't done enough as far as he was concerned.

The kids were fun to be around. It made him a little sad though. After the wars were over, later when he had completed his high school education, Sally Po of the Preventers put all five Gundam pilots through a battery of medical tests. Duo had suffered from borderline malnutrition, corrected to some degree by advanced nutrient supplements and regular, healthy meals, but his height topped off at five foot seven. Certain tests revealed that somewhere along the line Duo had been exposed to mumps, most likely as a child, thus rendering him sterile. Duo could not remember having had the mumps, but as he told Sally rather glibly, "I had distractions like trying to get enough food so I wouldn't starve, ya know? So I don't remember a lot 'bout my childhood-it's not as if there was much I'd want to remember."

Duo had come to terms with the fact that he'd never father a child. Perhaps he overcompensated with the orphans of St. Dennis, but he truly enjoyed children; he liked how certain things lit up a child's eyes: an ice cream cone, a doll or toy car, the magic they felt at Christmas. Duo desperately wished he could feel that magic. It had been a long time since he had felt it, or much of anything at all.

It was beginning to snow. Duo used to love living in Jersey Annex in the beginning when he'd first moved there to be closer to work. The winters were picturesque, snow often tumbling gently from the sky.

Duo used to love how the sky became that weird lit up slate color after having been so dark-he called it Moon Gray. He also used to love looking at the sky; his fellow pilots had thought he was homesick, but truth be told he really did not miss L2 that much. The colony held good and bad memories for him in equal measure.

For some time now Duo found little enjoyment in anything. He just felt a kind of numbness inside. This year for some reason the feeling intensified.

Duo decelerated as the road grew slicker. The wind was gusting now, making the snow swirl wildly. It looked like it would not take much for this flutter to become a full-blown storm. The exit sign came into view and Duo sighed in relief. Only another two miles and he'd be home.


Duo awoke and padded into the kitchen to start a pot of strong coffee. He opened the refrigerator and took out what he needed to make bacon and eggs. He looked out of the kitchen window at the sight of white all around. There was a time when such a sight would have filled him with joy. Now he just shivered a little from the draft coming from the kitchen door that led out onto the backyard.

After he ate his breakfast he dressed for work. Duo was an infiltration instructor for the Preventers. It had taken a lot of cajoling from Une to induce him to join but in the end what tipped the scales was the money. Duo would make a good wage with which he could further aid orphans and the like. He did not hate the job but if given a chance to make the same pay doing something else, he would have opted for a job with less violence attached to it. There was one perk: he got to work with two of the other former pilots on occasion. Une tired to keep them apart, it was obvious that she feared their collusion. At least that was what Chang Wufei maintained. It amused Duo no end.

Duo entered his office and attempted to organize things before his next class. There was a light rapping on the door, which was slightly ajar and Quatre Winner appeared. "Merry Christmas, Duo," the wealthiest person in Space greeted him. Duo rolled his eyes. "Whatever-you crazy Arab."

"That's the spirit, Scroogigami," Quatre laughed, not offended in the slightest by what to him was an endearment. "Are you still turning my invitation down?"

"Yup. No offense, Cat but I just want to be on my own for Christmas."

Quatre frowned. "This is the second year in a row, Duo. I don't understand-what changed? You always seemed to love the Holiday so."

"I dunno-I guess I don't like all the commercialism. I mean-you celebrate and you're a Muslim! Besides, I don't want to try and find a date and all that."

"Trowa and I just want your company. You don't need a date." Quatre was sure his Space Heart was telling him that there was something else going on with his friend. The waves of depression were strong enough to pull him under. Furthermore, Quatre was fairly certain he knew who was behind Duo's decline into almost antisocial behavior and the irony was not lost on him. "Please come Duo. For me?"

Duo rolled his eyes. "No way, Blondie. Sell your puppy dog eyes somewhere else."

"Duo..."

"Tell you what," Duo cut him off, "I'll come for your New Year's wing ding, 'kay?"

"Promise?"

"Yeah-tell the Big Bang I'll be there."

Quatre chuckled. Duo's nickname for Trowa tickled him every time. "I will hold you to that and more besides."

"Eh?"

"Yes. You will come and take your vacation with Trowa and me. "

Duo began to protest, "but..."

"No buts." Quatre continued, "Duo, you work very hard. I know all about the charitable work you do and while it is highly commendable you still need a little time for yourself. You are right, Christmas has become obscenely secular, but I celebrate the intent, which was and still is, I think, the gift of love. I don't suppose that is necessarily a Christian province, do you?"

Duo scratched his head, unsure if he understood all of his friend's words. "No-uh, well, I suppose-not."

"Did you know that Christmas trees and other traditions were rooted in winter solstice rites?"

"Huh."

"Yes-they somehow became wedded to the birth of Christ, a manipulation of the Catholic Church. Many good things came from it. But not shopping and the ridiculous practice of 'Black Friday'."

Duo swore he saw Quatre shiver in revulsion.

"I will return later so we can have lunch."

"Okay."

"See you later, then."

Freshly showered and fed, Duo lounged on his sofa watching the news. It had been a long day; his thoughts kept drifting back to his lunch with Quatre and their conversation:

"Duo, you should just quit if you are not happy with the Preventers."

"It's not that simple."

"I think it is."

"Well, you never had to work for a living."

"True, but I can feel how unhappy you are."

"It isn't the job-honest."

"Then what?"

"Nothing. I'm fine."

"I remember a while back, we had a conversation about your discomfiture with us after the war. You felt that after your purpose had been served you did not fit in."

"Yeah, I remember."

"You have been to school. You are very intelligent. You learned how to behave in polite society, so why do you still exude this lack of confidence?"

Duo colored violently. He was extremely uncomfortable discussing his lack of couth. "Can't we just eat? You're making me feel really self-conscious."

"I apologize. That was not my intent. I guess I must have reminded you of your debauchery as well."

Duo had spent several months drinking and carousing until he sobered up courtesy of his friends Hilde and Howard. He had been at loose ends after the war. He had not expected to live and no one had expected him to, especially Dr. G, and he did not know what to do with himself.

Duo groaned. "Quat is making me relive my mistakes some sort of fucked-up Christmas carol for you?"

"Duo!" Quatre looked around to see if anyone had heard his outburst. He returned his gaze to Duo who looked absolutely mortified. There was no way he could broach the true topic of discussion he originally planned. "I'm sorry," he repeated sadly.

Duo knew Quatre had only acted out of concern for his well-being but at the moment the last thing he wanted was his best bud's sympathy. Why can't anyone understand that I just want to do Christmasmy way?


"Are you sure, Quatre?"

"Absolutely, Heero. He is at the address I gave you. You could wait for New Year's Eve, I suppose, but I rather think there is some urgency."

Heero frowned at this. Sometimes the blond Arab managed to exaggerate the most minute things, but something niggled at him, made him feel like this was not the case this time. He tuned back in to the phone. Quatre was saying something about having a room in the guest cottage available despite anticipation of his overlarge family.

"Heero, I am glad you have returned. We have all missed you."

Heero grunted softly. He felt guilty about abandoning his war time friends some five years ago, but he'd had enough of the fight, had enough violence and destruction to last a lifetime.

Five years ago he packed all of his worldly possessions into a case and went on what the Australians used to call a walkabout.

At first he merely wandered, taking in sights and sounds of earth. It was so different from L1; a living, breathing planet. It was wild. It was intense. It was breathtaking in a fresh, natural way and Heero had enjoyed his forays into nature immensely.

When the novelty wore off, he took a few university level courses. He learned to be a real student as opposed to a teenage terrorist posing as a student. But Heero had had an extensive education under Doctor J and there was little that challenged him academically.

His stint as a student helped him develop additional social skills; those he did not learn from Relena or Duo. And blessedly there were no further stalking attempts by the former-she was now quite busy advocating and overseeing the new peace.

Heero had one deep regret. He wished that there had been a way for him to do what he needed and still keep contact with Duo. But Duo was committed to running the scrap yard with Hilde Schbeiker and Heero thought it would only be a matter of time before their business partnership blossomed into a romantic one as well. He was not one to stand in the way of anyone's happiness, particularly Duo's.

But how he missed him.

It would have been a simple thing to email Duo, keep in touch, but Heero was afraid to learn that Duo moved on with his life. So he tried to do the same, hoping that there was still a chance with Duo.

In all that time Heero kept an eye on his friends. As he grew more sure of himself he contacted Quatre, explaining his intent and goals. He asked Quatre to keep his effort to contact him secret because he was not ready to see everyone yet.

In that time loneliness factored and he dated a couple of lovely women but that eventually ceased and gave way to the realization that it was not an inability to socialize correctly that made him want to date less and less, it was the fact that after five years of roaming he had come to the inescapable conclusion that he was in love with Duo Maxwell.

Thus his return was not strictly fate, it was the result of contacting Quatre in the hope of getting a handle on the braided pilot. It was startling to discover that Duo was neither in business with nor married to Hilde. That except for his jaunts to L2 and his job with the Preventers he had all but become as secluded as a hermit. His once jovial, life of the party, friend had become lonely and isolated. To make matters worse Quatre suggested very strongly that he thought Duo was suffering from depression.

Unacceptable.

Heero quickly exited the shuttleport and hailed a taxi. He was headed to New Jersey Annex.


"Quatre, come to bed already. There is nothing else you can do. You have exceeded your meddling quota."

Quatre turned to face his sleep-disheveled partner. Trowa looked somewhat enticing in rumpled pajamas and bed hair wildly askew. "It's not meddling" he replied, slightly defensive. "Duo's hermit act has gone far enough. I am concerned about my friend."

"But perhaps you should let Duo know you have sent Heero to him uninvited. It could get...ugly." Trowa smirked. Duo was known for his temper, it was legendary.

Quatre followed his spouse to their bedroom. "It is a calculated risk, my love."

"It will be-when Duo finds out it was your idea. Really, my heart, you should let people make their own decisions."

Quatre moved to embrace his lover. "Now what if I had done that with us? Where would we be then, hmmm?"

Trowa leaned in to a tender kiss. Quatre had a point.


The snow was still falling steadily. It had snowed for two days since Duo returned from L2. It was soft and peaceful, feather-like flakes gently descended to the earth, almost in a surreal manner. Duo watched from the back porch. It was sublime. One of the reasons he settled in this part of the earth was because of the lovely winters. Winter was artificial on the colonies which meant they were predictable and measured; in short, boring. There was just no replicating the earth's weather patterns.

Duo sipped at a cup of now tepid hot chocolate. One thing was missing this Christmas and it was not the singers caroling, wasn't Christmas cookies or eggnog-wasn't even the gaiety of the holiday soirees. Duo's heart yearned for someone to share it all with, the solemnity of the holiday, the tranquility, the joy.

He sighed, and gathered himself together. Love was not for him-long ago he learned the painful lesson that to love and be loved in return would result only in heartache.

Duo used to love Christmas. He had always done his utmost to celebrate the season as Sister Helen and his self-appointed namesake Father Maxwell taught him. He would get all caught up in the anticipation and excitement; children were wonderful to be around at Christmas time.

But Five years ago everything changed. Duo's heart was shattered and the only way he could deal with it was to remove himself from painful reminders. He had to make a living so he could not completely cut his friends out, but lately he had been avoiding them as much as possible. He knew he was hurting Quatre and by association Trowa and even Wufei. And Hilde and Howard had left many emails which he did not answer. He did not want to hurt his friends but it was getting harder and harder to pretend that he was okay, and he had a strong feeling that Quatre suspected as much. Damn Space Heart.

Duo was flat on his back on the couch. His arm was extended and he was drooling from the corner of his mouth. He was off today and catching up on much needed rest. Christmas Eve was tomorrow and his dreams had nothing to do with sugarplums.

He started awake when he heard a strange sound. Looking around the room he could see nothing amiss. He thought maybe it was one of those weird things-dreaming a sound or hearing a voice when there was none. Glancing at the mantle clock he was surprised to see that it was only five thirty. He had had a couple of beers, the most he would do to celebrate during the holiday.

There was a creaking sound by the door followed promptly by a thud. As Duo hurried to locate his firearm he had the crazy thought: when out of the night there arose such a clatter. Surely it was not Santa.

He was at the door with the speed he was known for. Recklessly wrenching it open he was stunned to see a very sheepish looking Heero Yuy standing in at least an inch and a half of snow on his front steps, several packages and boxes and a duffel bag scattered around him.

Duo's mouth was dry and his lips were temporarily stuck as he struggled to make sense of the situation. Another holiday classic came to mind: the vision before him must be due to poor gruel. Duo shook himself. "Heero?" he croaked. "Wha-are...is it really you?"

"Hello Duo. Can we go inside? It's pretty cold out here."

Duo stepped aside to let him through, his expression, stunned.

Heero sighed; the warmth was a welcome relief.

"How did you find me? Wait, no, let me guess-a certain blond rat."

Heero chuckled. Only Duo would have the temerity to refer to the richest man in Space that way. "Yes, but don't blame him entirely. I kind of badgered him until he gave me your location.

Duo's face screwed up into a peculiar expression. "Yeah, I bet you didn't have to try that hard."

"No," Heero admitted.

Duo returned to gaping at his former war comrade. Heero wore a thick champagne-colored cable-knit sweater over crisp navy blue jeans that were sodden from about halfway down his shins. "I didn't hear a car-how did you get here?"

"I did take a taxi from the shuttle port, but it seems you live in a remote part of this town, the taxi driver refused to drive this far in, said the snow drifts were famous. So I walked the rest of the way. He was lucky it is the Christmas Season-I toyed with the idea of not giving him a tip, but it is the season for giving, isn't it?"

Duo laughed even though he did not want to. Heero was full of surprises.

"Duo, I am sorry for barging in on you. I-uh, I did not come empty handed, though."

Duo looked at Heero, interest piqued. "What do you mean?"

Again Heero smiled, shyly. He held up one of the bags he had brought with him and shook it a little. "I have some supplies-for dinner. That is if I have your permission to use your kitchen to cook."

"Wow Heero, you sure can cook," Duo said, patting his stomach. Then his violet eyes narrowed a bit. "Oy-since when? If I remember correctly you could barely boil water for ramen."

Heero grinned. "It's a...skill I picked up during my walkabout."

"Yeah, about that," Duo said, growing serious, "why Heero? Five years and not a word."

"It's complicated Duo. Listen, I'm tired out from the shuttle flight. You mind if I crash for a couple of hours?"

Duo frowned. He was not happy that Heero hadn't answered his question, but he knew from experience that a tired Heero was an uncooperative Heero and a dangerous, Heero. He feigned insouciance, shrugged and said, "sure, Heero. Couch ok?" knowing full well that it would have to be. He cringed inwardly, hating this stupid game they were playing once again after so long.

Heero settled on the plush sofa after receiving a couple of blankets and a pillow and fell asleep almost instantaneously.

While Heero slept, Duo flitted about the house nervously, trying to make sure that everything was neat and clean. He resented it that Heero had dropped in unannounced; he'd had no chance to make himself or his home presentable to guests, not that Heero was a guest. He wasn't sure what Heero was to him now, certainly friends would have kept in touch during the last five years, and they hadn't so Duo had assumed naturally that the friendship had ended.

Of course, if he were to be completely honest with himself he would admit that he could have tried harder to keep in touch, but the way Heero had masked his movements-Duo had taken that as a clear message: Keep away.

Duo emerged from his bedroom freshly showered and dressed and Heero had just awakened from his nap. Duo noticed that he had lost the weariness on his face that had been present when he arrived earlier. He wondered why his friend? was so tired.

Heero rose to his feet and made quick work of neatly folding pillow and blankets and stowing them near the couch. He turned to Duo and with a smile said, "I'll make us some supper."

A little more than a half hour later they sat at Duo's small formica table eating the best Fetuccini Alfredo Duo had ever had, along with some delicious French bread and a green salad. Duo sat back in his chair when he was done and patted his full stomach. "Heero-that was phenomenal. Thanks."

"I'm glad you liked it," he replied, pleased that he had impressed Duo. But he had more in mind than merely impressing the braided man. He rose to collect their dirty dishes from the table. He was not surprised that Duo did not offer to wash since he had cooked their meal, not surprised at all, he was expecting this to be a battle. Duo watched him intently for a moment and then rose and left the room. Heero washed dishes with the efficiency of a soldier, but he whistled a tune he'd heard some time ago-Silent Night. Duo had sung it for him years ago.

Heero found Duo sitting in front of the vidscreen watching a news program. The perky brunette newscaster smiled as she and her co-anchor wished everyone happy holidays, and Heero noted the miniscule frown that crossed Duo's face for a scant moment. Not for the first time did he wonder if Quatre's assessment of their friend had been correct. He feared it might be-that Duo was experiencing some form of depression. Heero knew that the ailment came in many manifestations and the time was right for "seasonal" depression, but Quatre had said that it had been building in Duo gradually for the last twenty-four months.

Heero was no expert on psychology but he did know enough about the subject to understand that a cure was not easily had. But his plan which he had formulated since he departed the shuttle port was simple. He hoped it would work.

"Duo, isn't tomorrow Christmas Eve?"

There was that small frown again. "Yeah. Why?"

"I noticed you haven't decorated...I remember how fond you have always been of this holiday and..."

"Haven't been in the mood," Duo interrupted. "Besides," he continued, " I just returned from L2."

Ah, yes, Quatre mentioned that Duo spent a lot of time and money helping out the Saint Dennis Orphanage, the facility which replaced Maxwell Church.

At least Duo still felt strongly about something. But Heero was still concerned. "Well, I thought it would be nice to get a Christmas tree."

Duo gaped at him as if he had llamas coming out of his ears.

Heero grinned. "I know I've never been much on celebrating holidays-in fact I have no definitive religious beliefs, but I can appreciate the true sentiments of the season. And I like Christmas trees." He shrugged sheepishly. "I think they're pretty and they smell nice."

Duo had finally recovered the power of speech while listening to Heero's uncharacteristic request. He looked intently at the former pilot of Wing, the teen who had won the war for the colonists, who saved the earth, the teen who had once hurt Relena Peacecraft's feelings, the young man who had joined the Preventers peace keeping force only to quit suddenly and disappear for so long, returned here, to Duo's home and charmingly asking for a Christmas tree. Duo was sure his synapses were misfiring. All the same he didn't see how he could refuse. "Okay," he simply said.

Okay. Duo had said okay and Heero was encouraged. Knowing Duo as he did, he was not lulled into a false sense of security-he knew Duo was angry with him. The only question was when the explosion would come-not if, but when.

Duo tossed and turned in his bed nearly the entire night. Heero's presence on his couch was definitely having a distracting effect. He was glad that he had some time off from work as he finally drifted off to sleep at five thirty a.m.

Grey enveloped him as he stood by the water, jagged rocks edging the place in which he stood. The water was rough, crashing loudly against the shoreline and Duo's gaze was drawn upward, riveted as he watched the Gundam flare and then explode, burning fragments clattering down all around him. He was not able to avert his eyes and caught the terrible sight of Heero Yuy falling toward the sea, afire.

Tears streamed down his face as he watched.

Suddenly he was transported. The site of his dawning terror was now Maxwell Church. Sister Helen lay in his small, helpless arms as the light in her eyes dimmed. The church burned brightly in several places; sirens could be heard in the distance, Glass was shattered and glittered in spots all around them. Father Maxwell lay farther away, body crumpled and still.

Again Duo's eyes streamed tears of pain and regret when once again the scene changed and he stood watching as the L2 Plague consumed his closest friend and protector, Solo.

Duo bolted upright in his bed, tee shirt and hair and face soaked in perspiration. He gulped in three deep breaths before his heart rate began to slow and stabilize.

He looked to the foot of the bed and was surprised to see Heero standing there. Surprised and a little embarrassed.

"Nightmare, Duo?"

He bit down on a sarcastic response. No duh, genius. "Um, yeah, I guess. Why are you in my room?"

"Sorry. I heard you talking in your sleep and I only came in when it escalated to shouting. Would you like to talk about it?"

The look Heero received was a bastard mix of amusement, incredulity and a spark of anger. "No, I'm fine-and let me just add how freakin' weird it is for you to make that offer?"

Duo fully expected some sort of angry retort or for Heero to just leave. He did not expect the laugh his statement got.

"Yeah, I guess it does sound odd for me to offer to talk about anything, much less something like a nightmare, you know? Something that can make a guy feel vulnerable. I've changed in the last few years. Okay-going now." Heero left the room a little awkwardly, completely missing the stunned look on Duo's face.


After showering away the sour tang left by his nightmare Duo felt a bit more human and made his way into the kitchen. Part of him hoped that Heero would have decided to leave, but another part of him was really hoping for breakfast.

"I hope you like French toast," Heero said with a smile as he handed Duo a full, steaming cup of coffee, one cream and one sugar.

Duo's eyes widened as he sipped at his mug. "All this time and you actually remember how I take my coffee?"

"Just observant," Heero shrugged.

Duo made his way over to the stove. "I thought you said there was French toast?" He could smell a delicious aroma but it was not coming from the stove.

"Hn. In the oven." Heero proceeded to extract a hot baking pan from the oven. It was filled with many slices of golden brown Italian bread which had been stuffed with cranberries and cream cheese, and soaked in a custard mixture. There was even cranberry syrup.

Duo took a bite and closed his eyes in pleasure. "Oh, man, this is incredible! What is that yummy orangey tasting flavor?"

"Grand Marnier. Do you like it?"

"Like it? My mouth just had an orgasm," he replied around his second mouthful.

Heero eyed him, one eyebrow raised. "Thanks-I think."

After breakfast Duo was concerned by Heero's behavior. Heero was scurrying, for lack of a better word all about the place, displaying a disturbing familiarity in Duo's house. "What are you doing, Heero?"

Heero looked up from the shelves he was dusting. "I'm cleaning-for Christmas Eve. We have to decorate before it gets too late."

Duo frowned. He could not count the ways that this did not compute. "Heero, stop."

When Heero failed to comply he rushed over and wrenched the feather duster (hmm, he had not thought he even owned one of these things) out of Heero's hands. "No, Heero. I do not want my house decorated for Christmas."

"Why not? It's always been your favorite holiday."

Duo's anger simmered, getting ready to boil over. "Since when do you know anything about me-including my favorites?"

"I remember Duo. Five years did not erase my memory."

"That doesn't give you the right..."

"I know it doesn't," Heero answered calmly. "I know we have to talk and I know something is bothering you. Maybe we should get that out of the way before we resume our celebration."

That made Duo laugh, but it was bitter. "We are not celebrating anything!"

"Duo, you are so very angry-well, I guess it is better than the depression you have been exhibiting."

"The what?"

Heero swallowed thickly. In for a penny in for a pound. This was going to be explosive, but despite Quatre's assertions that Duo needed intensive therapy and anti-depressive medications, Heero thought that his friend just needed a good purge.

"We-that is Quatre and I feel you have symptoms of clinical depression."

"You and Quatre, huh? That no good, blond-headed meddlesome bastard!"

Heero could not help the grin that spread across his face. This grin only served to wind Duo up.

"Who the hell are you two to go around psychoanalysing me behind my back? What the fuck do you know about it, anyway? You sonofabitch! You left, okay, friendship over, right?!"

"Duo..."

"Assuming we were ever friends in the first place!"

"Duo, I-"

"What? You left, just like everyone I have ever given a damn about! It's not like you ever liked me anyway-you pushed me away, you hit me a few times, although I'm mostly mad about the Mariemaia thing..."

"Duo, believe it or not I am your friend."

"How can you say that?"

"Because it's true. But, I really think we need to talk about something first."

Duo sat on the sofa and leaned back. The pleasure of his breakfast was completely gone and for the moment his angry outburst left him feeling drained. Heero placed himself in a chair by Duo and wondered if Duo would feel like he was at an analyst's office. He sighed. "Duo, we think you have signs of depression because it seems you feel no enjoyment in things anymore, especially things you used to treasure, like Christmas."

"Again, what the fuck do you know about it?"

"I know Howard and Hilde haven't heard from you in months and are worried, I know that you have been sullen and humorless. I know that two years in a row you failed to show up at Quatre's holiday party."

" Yeah-well, you didn't show either. Wait 'til I see that Quatre-I'm gonna rip him a new one."

Heero shook his head sadly. "Duo, not all of my intel comes from Quatre. I have been watching you for the last three years."

"Ww-what?" Somehow this was far more disturbing than Heero and Quatre having discussed his mental state.

"When I left, I kind of kept tabs on everyone, but I watched you in particular. It is not very difficult to monitor Quatre-he is most visible in a public capacity, perilously so, as I have advised him many times. And where Quatre is, Trowa is not far behind. Wufei is a Preventer as are you. Not as visible, but I have never been unable to find out what I want to know."

"But why not just keep in contact? I don't understand." Duo sounded so hurt, Heero felt it as a palpable thing.

Heero rose from his seat and went into the kitchen. He returned shortly with glasses of water for each of them. "I wasn't spying on you," he said softly.

Duo's eyes were on him, large and glassy. "What then?"

"I had to leave all those years ago. I needed to discover what I was, if I could be more than an emotionless killer, a terrorist. Believe it or not, I never enjoyed any of my actions during the wars. Peace hard won by blood is something that pained me. I always believed that what Relena advocated was impossible, yet I wished that it was not. My nights were terrorized by nightmares for a long time, Duo. I had a lot to atone for-a lot to regret."

"I heard that you offered up your life as some kind of vengeance for the victims' families. Idiot."

Heero laughed lightly. "I am grateful that no one took me up on it."

Duo's eyes closed. He was so tired. He shifted until he was fully stretched out on the couch. "You kept in touch with the guys," he accused.

"And you drifted farther away. I'm surprised that you still go to L2."

The turnabout of topic worked as Duo responded, "hey! I wouldn't let the kids down-ever!"

"Then why did you attempt suicide last May?"

"I didn't attempt sui-oh, you mean when I nearly blew up? Hey man, I was doing my job. If I hadn't grabbed that bomb, the whole hospital would have been blown to bits, believe me, I know about things that go boom."

Heero couldn't help but smile. "I know you do-but lately you haven't been careful, Duo. You have been taking unnecessary risks. It's as if you've given up."

"Yeah well..." he trailed off and got up from the sofa. As he went toward the bathroom Heero was sure he heard him say, "better me than someone who has someone to love."

So that was it. Quatre had been right-Duo was depressed because he was lonely.

Heero was excited but tense. This could work out.

Or not.

Duo returned, taking his time. Heero wondered what he was thinking, he looked so pensive. When he took his seat he looked at Heero and said, "look, buddy, you guys can stop worrying, okay? I guess I have been kind of antisocial, but it's something I gotta work out for myself. I'm not trying to kill myself, okay?"

"Okay." Heero knew that Duo still adhered to his policy of truth-telling so he trusted his word and was greatly relieved.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"About what?"

Heero rolled his eyes in exasperation; Duo had to be the most obstinate person he'd ever known. Okay, maybe Chang was a little more stubborn-but not much. "Tell me what's bothering you?"

"Why should I?"

Heero was encouraged by the fact that Duo did not deny that something was bothering him. "Because I want to help you."

"Why?"

"I just do, Baka!"

Duo winced at the Japanese insult. It had been a long time since he last heard it and he wasn't pleased to hear it now. It hurt his feelings when Heero called him an idiot, brought forward all of his old insecurities and made him feel inferior.

Heero made note of the wince and instantly regretted the epithet. Calling Duo names was so far out of range of what he was trying to do. "I'm sorry, Duo. I was out of line, falling back on bad old habits."

Shocked Duo sputtered, "yeah, well, yeah-you were outta line, Yuy. An' what's more I don't have to take that crap from you anymore."

"No, you don't."

"Stop being so damned agreeable," Duo scowled.

Heero stilled, waiting for his next cue from Duo. After a long moment the braided man rose to his feet and said, "well? I thought you were set on decorating this place."

Heero rose to his feet. His smile could not be contained. "Yes. Good idea."

Even though Heero hadn't gotten too far drawing Duo out, he felt that progress had been made. An angry Shinigami beat out a sad Shinigami any day of the week. And Heero dared to think that decorating the house with tinsel, garland and other holiday-themed pin-ups had been fun, for both of them.

It was four-thirty and Heero talked Duo into going out to find a Christmas tree. He had noticed a lot over on Sycamore Avenue, five blocks away from Duo's house and they headed out, braving the deep snowdrifts and frigid wind.

The lot was quiet, most customers having purchased their trees well before Christmas Eve. Most of the rows were empty so the remaining trees had been moved as to be more visible in the unlikely event that anyone would stop by, so the proprietor had been eager, to say the least, when Heero and Duo appeared.

Heero haggled with the owner, reasoning that thirty credits for a tree on Christmas Eve was a very good offer, while the latter declared that since they were out to buy so late in the game, sixty credits would be a bargain, particularly since he knew all the other lots in the vicinity were already closed.

Duo did not care one way or the other, although his sense of frugality suggested that they forget the whole thing. But in the end he let Heero deal with it and together they carried the six-foot Frasier Fir back to the house. Duo even sang a couple of Christmas carols along the way.

"It looks a little crooked," Heero remarked as they positioned the tree off side of the fireplace. Duo had chopped plenty of wood before he left for L2 and they had a blaze in the hearth warming the room.

Duo looked critically at the tree. "It's fine, Heero." A sudden darkness overtook his features. He left the room abruptly, leaving a confused Heero in his wake. It was stupid to suppose that a few decorations and a tree could solve everything. It had felt so good though, to share those things.

Heero decided to let Duo alone for the time being.

Duo had fled to his bedroom and had actually dozed off for about an hour. He rubbed his eyes sleepily and stared out into the now darkened room. Gradually he became aware of music coming from the living room. Christmas music.

Heero had put the stereo on. Acting all familiar again-anger flared in Duo. Why had Heero come to him, now of all times? When his life was bleak and black, excepting his few jaunts to the orphanage, when he was so weary and raw. Why now?

Duo sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. All of a sudden he was on fire to know just what the hell Heero was about. He launched himself up and out of the room. "Okay Heero, I want to know why you're really here."

Heero spun around from his position near the hearth. He gently placed the log over the fire, dusted off his hands and rose to his feet. "Can I have a seat?"

Duo waved his hand impatiently. "Whatever. Just start talking."

"Where should I start?"

"How about with why you did not contact me-and don't think I didn't notice you shifting me off topic before."

It figured; he should have realized that Duo was too sharp to be derailed for long. "Okay-you're right, but I want something too-I want you to tell me what's been bothering you."

Duo grimaced. "I should've known you'd pull something."

Heero shook his head. "Not pulling anything-just give me something and I'll give you something."

"Fine," he gritted out.

Heero sat down. He gestured for Duo to do likewise, he had no desire to get a neck ache looking up at him. "I did not contact you because I needed the distance. I was confused."

This surprised Duo. "Confused about what?"

"My feelings. I needed to understand them better, so I left. I did a lot of odd jobs and eventually went back to school, earned a couple of degrees. I learned to communicate better."

"Not with me," Duo grumbled.

"True. It's your turn, what's eating at you, causing you such anger and sadness?"

"It's a lot of things: the nightmares-they're about everyone I've ever cared for, dying on me, or just leaving. Evidently I am not meant to have anyone care for me."

"That's not true-you have a lot of friends..."

"Yeah, friends," Duo said dejectedly. Duo thought of those he'd lost and began to get caught up in the memories.

"Tell me what happened."

"I was about seven and I was living at the Maxwell Church. Sister Helen and Father Maxwell were very kind to me, to all of us orphans. But then the Alliance showed up and I made a deal with them-to save the church. I stole a mobile suit, but when I returned the church had been attacked; fire, blood and glass everywhere, I found Sister Helen, I gathered her in my arms and she died telling me that God loved me. I never understood that," he gave a little chortle, "not until recently anyway. Little Janie at the orphanage told me not to hate God-that He gave us the ability to choose and we so often blame Him for our choices."

"She sounds wise beyond her years."

Duo smiled, a tender smile-the first genuine one he'd seen since he arrived. "There was a time when I really believed all those deaths were my fault-even Solo's."

Heero remembered the name of Duo's childhood friend, he had mentioned him once. "The L2 plague claimed his life," it was a statement.

"Yeah," Duo shook himself, "yeah," he said with a little more heat. "It's your turn."

"You know some of my background, don't you?"

"Yeah, you had a crazy scientist calling the shots too-J right?"

"Right. My life was altered permanently when I was told I was an orphan. I was taken in by Odin Lowe, an assassin. He taught me a great deal about the various ways to kill a man. I never had a name in those days-Kid was how he usually referred to me.

I think he assassinated the real Heero Yuy. I was given the name as a code. But then Odin was killed and I drifted into the hands of J. My training was completed, along with a few...modifications. Then I was deployed in Operation Meteor, and well, you know the rest.

"The point is that my feelings, my emotions never developed properly. I knew a hundred ways to kill a man with his own necktie, but I could not manage the least of the social graces. So I spent a lot of time and effort on my walkabout learning to be human."

"It affected you that badly?"

Heero shrugged. "I was referred to as robotic more times than I care to admit. I-I didn't like it, it made me feel bad.

"Also, I had to attempt to make amends for some of the heartache I caused. I understand what the orphanage means to you, Duo. Your turn."

Duo got up and went over to the boxes of ornaments they hauled out of the closet. There were several left, Duo selected one and hung it on a fragrant branch of the tree. "I thought I really was Shinigami-bringing death to those I loved."

"Duo..."

"Yeah, I know it's stupid. I, I'm just not worthy, I guess."

"Worthy?"

Duo placed another ornament. "Of love. It has been a very lonely last few years."

Heero got up and searched for another ornament to hang. It was a pretty plastic angel. "I wanted to become a better man."

"You have always been a decent guy, Heero," Duo sighed.

Heero picked another ornament, a green glass ball and placed it on a branch.

"I wanted to do better. I made a mistake. I waited too long."

"Huh?"

Heero turned to face his friend. "I wanted to do better-for you, Duo."

"For me?"

"Duo, during the first war there were only two people who went out of their way to befriend me: you and Relena. I wanted to be worthy of your friendship. And then I realized that it was more than that and that scared me. I left so I could make sense of my feelings for you."

"What are you saying, Heero," Duo asked breathlessly.

"I'm saying that -wait a minute, it's your turn now."

Duo groaned. "I was shattered when you took off without a word, but it really killed me when I accidentally found out that you were keeping in touch with Quatre. I thought you hated me."

"Never."

"Could've fooled me." Duo looked a little pained. "I kept wondering why you didn't want contact with me, kept wondering what I had done..."

"Oh Duo," Heero moaned, "I am so sorry. I just wanted to do right by you."

"Why?" It was nearly a wail.

"Because, because all that time ago, I fell in love with you."

Duo staggered backward, the shock of Heero's admission knocking his legs from under him. "Duo!" Heero cried out, reaching for him. Duo let him pull him to his feet.

"Damn it Yuy, that was cruel," Duo said shakily. He tried to pull away but Heero held fast. He looked him in the eyes. "I didn't know, Duo."

Duo looked away. "Know what? There's nothin' to know."

"Don't Duo, please."

"Let me go." Duo squirmed in his hold but the smaller man wasn't budging. "It's too late man, give it up."

"No," Heero said softly. "You said you have been lonely. You have been angry with me for leaving. I think that maybe, you have some feelings for me."

"What does it matter? Too much water under the bridge. I'm too scarred inside and out, you don't want me."

"Oh, but I do-I'm desperate for you. The question is, how do you feel about me?"

"I hate you-you left, you, y-y-you hurt me, man, I can't..." Duo dissolved into tears. Heero hugged him tight and for a few seconds Duo melted into the embrace. Then he pushed him away harshly. Heero never saw the right hook coming, he just sat on the floor dazed, wondering how he got from point A to point B.

Duo loomed over him, and he resisted the urge to back away. "You fuckin' bastard! To think I wasted time loving you only for you to completely disappear. Do you know what shit that made me feel like? You broke my heart-I mean, I didn't think that you could feel that way about me, but I at least thought we were friends! Damn you, you sonofabitch!"

Heero rubbed his jaw and debated the wisdom of getting off the floor. He decided to stay put for the moment. "I did it for you, you stubborn asshole! I was trying to be a better man for you! I didn't ever want you to call me a robot again!"

"I never called you a ro-oh yeah, guess I did. Sorry 'Ro."

There had been an infiltration mission at a suspected Oz weapons factory. Heero had worked with his usual perfect efficiency. When he deigned to speak to Duo at all it was in terse, clipped monotone. Duo had said that it was worse than working with a robot. And that had hurt his feelings.

"It hurt my feelings that the man I was falling in love with thought me less than a robot."

Duo's face softened. "I really am sorry. I know how that must've felt-every one of those 'bakas' you tossed at me cut. Damn it-if only you'd told me."

"And who taped your mouth shut?"

Duo laughed. "Ya got me there. Here, 'Ro," he said extending his hand to pull Heero to his feet.

They shared a brief, sheepish smile. Then Heero's expression sobered. "Why did you never find someone?"

"Why didn't you?"

"Absurd hope."

"Ditto."

That won a hearty laugh from Heero. "It's too late, huh?"

"Um, I, uh, that is to say..."

"Duo?"

"Yeah?"

"Look up."

Duo did as he was told. Dangling from the ceiling was a sprig of Mistletoe. "Oh," he said, confused. "When did that get there?"

"You love Christmas traditions."

"I do."

Heero leaned forward. "Merry Christmas Duo."

Duo met him half way, leaned in close. "Merry Christmas Heero."

The kiss was sweet.

It became passionate in a hurry.

Later, when they snuggled against one another in Duo's bed, content and sated, Duo said, "Can I assume you'll be coming with me to Blondie's New Year's Eve party?"

Heero took a moment to thoroughly kiss Duo. "Yeah-and afterward, too. Love you, Duo."

Duo laughed and snuggled in closer. "Love you too, 'Ro."

End

Merry Christmas