Author: pyrzm
see ch. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Broken Warriors + Chapter 96
In the Bleak Midwinter

The laser surgery to repair the weakness in Wufei's chest was noninvasive and he began to feel better almost at once. He was still too weak to be released from the hospital, however, and the thought of spending his first real Christmas here left him depressed and prone to sudden bursts of self-pity when no one was around. Zechs's new arm was complete and a medical team from Sanque arrived for the fitting. This took him away from Wufei for hours at a time over the next few days, and though it ultimately was a successful installation, the lines around Zechs's eyes and mouth each night bore silent testimony to the discomfort involved. He made light of it, but Wufei could tell. Zechs would hear no more apologies from him on the matter, however. To make matters worse, the weather had turned foul, with gusts of rain and sleet beating against the windows.

Zechs was as loving and attentive as ever, despite his own discomforts, but somehow, that just made Wufei feel worse. This was Zechs's first Christmas in some ways, too, at least since he'd reclaimed his own identity. They'd planned to spend it together in Sanque, observing the customs of that country. Wufei felt perfectly comfortable observing the customs of another culture, and Zechs was not religious. It was simply going to be colorful and romantic and fun, an important first step in their life together. Even the prospect of a "duty visit" with Relena had not dampened his enthusiasm.

To have to be here, stuck in this room he was so dreadfully sick of, still dependent on nurses and drugs? It was as depressing as the view out his window.

All the same, he decided to make the best of it. He'd already borrowed Duo's laptop and ordered gifts to be delivered here. He had the money Kushreneda had willed him. He would show Zechs he could be generous, too. One of the nurses who had a crush on him was hiding the packages for him as they arrived. A few were more carefully hidden than the others and he blushed even thinking about them, wondering if he could actually get up the courage to give them to Zechs.

Heero was doing much better. The increased therapy was having a marked effect. They were scheduled to be released today, the 24th. With the time difference, they would be back in New Orleans in time to celebrate Christmas Eve, or Earth Fall Day eve, with the others. Wufei was happy for them, of course, and had gifts to send back with them, but self-pity welled up again whenever he thought about them leaving. For the past two years Quatre had begged him to join them, be part of their new tradition, and both years he'd stubbornly stayed away. Looking back now, he realized what a stunted, selfish person he'd been. They really had cared about him, and he'd been too blind and self-involved, and yes, perhaps a bit frightened of their newfound intimacy-- to appreciate it. Now he was going to miss it again.


Heero and Duo were discharged late that afternoon. They came by Wufei's room dressed to travel, with their coats over their arms. Sitting there in his wheelchair in his pajamas like an invalid, Wufei did his best to smile as they came in, but it took an effort.

"The gifts for you and the others are in that bag. Zechs just stepped out. I know he wants to say good-bye," he told them, his voice a little strained. Damn it, it must be the drugs they still had him on. He resolutely told himself he was not going to cry!

"Hey, don't look like that!" Duo exclaimed, seeing through his act at once. He came over and gave Wufei a hug. "Ya know, I think I saw him in the solarium on the way by. Come on, we'll all say good-bye together. And I want a peek at this new arm of his."

"No, really--" Wufei began, but Duo took command of the chair and wheeled him out of the room.

Heero fell in beside them with the coats and the bag. "You look sad," he noted in his typical blunt fashion.

"I'm just tired," Wufei mumbled. This was torture! Why couldn't they just have left him alone?

Thankfully, this floor had mostly emptied out for the holidays. They met only a few nurses along the way. As they approached the open door of the solarium, Wufei saw that there were lights on there. Perhaps Zechs had found someone more cheerful to play a game of chess with.

Duo wheeled him through the door and Wufei was shocked to find not only Zechs there, but Quatre and Trowa as well. Quatre was in a wheel chair, too, but he was positively beaming as he waved and said, "Happy Earth Fall Day, Wufei! You didn't think we were going to let you two spend your first one here all alone, did you?"

Wufei looked around at the others who were all smiling at him now, and burst into tears.

+

Duo had felt bad about leaving Wu and Zechs in the hospital over the holiday, and Yuki, too, but there was no reason to remain in the hospital any longer. They were both healing well, and Heero's emotional state was on firm ground at last.

They visited the boy each day and he was slowly letting down his guard and opening up. Heero talked him into agreeing to therapy to deal with the abuse, and then made certain that a reputable therapist was brought in. They'd already given him some presents, too, new clothes and a portable game system. The kid had been speechless, and then he'd cried. Heero was finding it hard to think of leaving him here alone when the time came to go home. Adoption was out of the question; he'd already looked into that. He and Duo were too young, and foreign, to begin with, not even taking into account their mental health history or lack of a permanent address. But Heero had managed to set up a trust fund in the kid's name and meant to make certain he did not end up on the streets ever again.

He wasn't happy leaving Wufei and Zechs here for Christmas, either. Wufei had no family and it was debatable whether Zechs did or not. He and Duo talked it all over with Trowa and Kat by vid phone. It had been Quatre's idea for them to come here instead.

"The kitchen isn't done yet and the garden's full of building materials. I'd love to escape the mess for a bit."

"Are you up to the trip?" asked Heero.

"Oh yes! I'm still having trouble with my left leg, but my back is much better."

"I'll find us a nice hotel suite," said Trowa. "One with a king-sized bed."

They'd felt a little guilty, keeping Wufei in the dark about their plans, but Zechs had insisted on secrecy. "He'll only make a fuss and try to talk you out of it."

He was probably right, but Duo still felt bad, seeing Wufei break down like this when they sprang the surprise on him. It was probably embarrassing the hell out of the poor guy, with Zechs holding him like that, right there in front of everyone. He got himself under control quickly, though, and Zechs looked oddly pleased.

"Looks like that new arm works just fine," Duo whispered to Heero.

"I told you they were good friends," Zechs said, giving Wufei his handkerchief.

"Sorry, Wu," Duo said, kneeling down by his chair. "But you're stuck with us this year. See, we even added you both to the wreath."

"The what?" asked Wufei, and then retreated behind his handkerchief again as he saw what Duo was talking about.

Trowa and Kat had brought the Earth Fall Day wreath with them. Trowa had made it their first year together and Quatre had sent Wufei pictures.

The wreath was fashioned out of artificial greenery, like a regular Christmas wreath, but the big floppy bow was silver and instead of the usual decorations, there were six small, hand-painted Gundams. Duo had made the original five--they'd included Wufei right from the start, even though he wasn't there--and Trowa had made a little Tallgeese and added it next to the Shenlong. Zechs had actually been piloting a Leo that day, but the Tallgeese had been his suit of choice and he'd asked Trowa to use that instead.

The wreath was hung on the back of a chair by the hospital Christmas tree, and the others had already piled their presents there. Unbeknownst to Wufei, Duo, Heero, and Zechs had all been out shopping yesterday while he took his afternoon nap.

When they finally got Wufei calmed down, he called in one of the nurses and whispered to her. She went out, and came back pushing a wheelchair loaded with brightly wrapped gifts. There looked to be nearly a dozen, in every size and shape.

"I did some shopping of my own," Wufei confessed shyly, watching as his offerings were added to the pile under the silver tree.

Duo had charmed the hospital administrator into giving them the use of the room for the night. In keeping with past tradition, massive amounts of Chinese food and beer soon arrived for the evening feast and Duo had found an orderly who was willing to buy a bag of weed for him. Heero scowled a bit at that.

"Hey, it's Earth Fall Day!" Duo told him, exchanging a wink with Kat. He'd taught the little blond to smoke the shit that time he'd stayed at his desert base. It had been one of their first bonding rituals. Proper as he'd seemed at the time, Kat had taken to it like a duck to water. Duo also noticed that Zechs looked pretty pleased with this development.

While Duo rolled blunts with practiced ease, Trowa took five small flat packages out from under the tree and handed them around. "Welcome to Earth Fall Day eve," he said with mock solemnity, giving Zechs and Wufei theirs. "One of our many ancient traditions is the Earth Fall Day Eve Dress Code. Each year one of us chooses a theme and everyone must dress accordingly. The first year Duo won the toss and chose the theme. Duo's choice was 'Nudity.'" With a magician's flourish, Trowa produced a handful of photos and passed them around. These were some of the more tasteful pictures taken that night, but Wufei blushed anyway and quickly handed them back. Heero grinned. Zechs lingered a bit too long over them for Wufei's liking.

"I might have guessed," Wufei growled, taking the pictures from his lover and giving them to Duo. "I'm not doing that. Not even for you."

"No, it's different every year," Duo assured him. "Of course, no one says we can't repeat a theme now and then."

"We decided to go by ascending order after that," Trowa continued. "Last year, I chose an island theme." The pictures were less risque this time, grass skirts and loud shirts. Quatre had opted for a coconut shell bra.

"We all got lei'd that year," Duo quipped.

Trowa and Kat rolled their eyes.

"So it's my turn this year," Quatre continued. "Since we had two engagements in the group, I decided we should go for something romantic. Go on, open your boxes."

Duo eagerly opened his. Quatre had refused to tell him what he was up to. It was a really small box. Duo ripped off the shiny silver paper and lifted the lid, then grinned at the contents. Inside were a pair of black silk boxer shorts covered in shiny red lip prints, a black 'beater' style tee shirt and a black leather cock ring with silver heart-shaped studs. Everyone else had gotten the same outfit, even Zechs and Wu.

Duo looked up to find Wufei eyeing the cock ring skeptically.

"Is this a bracelet of some sort?" he asked.

Kat had come prepared. He snapped a picture of him holding it just as everyone else burst out laughing. He also caught the immediate shift to outrage a moment later as Zechs whispered the explanation in Wufei's ear.

"OK, everyone go get changed," Quatre ordered.

"You aren't serious!" Wufei gasped.

"Come now, mei. It's tradition," Zechs said.

"You knew about this?"

"Not in detail, my love. But 'when in Rome', as they say."

"We're in Tokyo."

"Same thing," said Duo. "C'mon, Wu man. Pleeeeese? Heero's going to wear his, aren't you baby?"

"Of course," Heero replied, already peeling off his shirt.

"You would do anything that braided menace asked you to," Wufei pointed out.

"True," Heero pulled the tight black shirt on and it molded itself to his toned chest and belly. Duo's mouth watered a little and the others smirked--except Wufei, who just stared.

"And Kat and Tro came all this way just so we could finally be all together," Duo wheedled, seeing Wufei still adamant. "Gee, Wufei, you wouldn't want to hurt Kat's feelings, now, would you?"

Quatre helpfully gave Wufei a big-eyed, imploring look, complete with pout.

Wufei lasted about ten seconds under that combined onslaught. Or maybe it was Heero's abs under that shirt. "Very well!" he snapped. "But I get to wear my yukata. And no pictures!"

"Dream on, 05," Duo laughed. "Go on, Zechs. Get your boyfriend changed. We'll make do here. Hurry up, the food's getting cold."

The four of them who remained stripped and changed. They'd all been intimate enough with each other not to be embarassed at a little nudity. Heero did turn away, when Kat and Trowa put on each other's cock rings, but he gamely held up his to Duo.

"Shall I?"

"God, I love you!" Duo breathed, biting his lip as a rush of lust hit.

Heero kissed him, then reached into Duo's black silk boxers and slipped the leather band around the base of his stiffening cock behind his balls. Duo winced a little as Heero pressed the snaps home, then gasped as a warm hand cupped his balls and stroked up his cock. The combination of the caress with the snug constriction of the ring made him want to go celebrate in private. Suddenly he was very anxious for Heero to resume he role as primary top.

"My turn," he sighed, and made a slow, teasing job of snapping the leather band into place. Heero was trembling a little and had his eyes closed by the time Duo was done. When Duo settled the waistband of his boxers back into place, there was a considerable tent in the front of them. Heero grabbed him and gave him a passionate kiss, caressing his ass through the black silk and rocking his hips against him. Glancing over at the others, he found them doing the same, only Kat still had his hand in Trowa's boxers. Duo closed his eyes and happily concentrated on what Heero's tongue was doing to his. He broke away with considerable regret.

"I don't think Wu is ready for this." He gave Heero's erection one last stroke. "Down, boy!"

"I hope we haven't pushed Wufei too fast," Quatre said, noting how long the others had been gone. "I really only meant it as a joke."

But Wu and Zechs were both smiling when Zechs wheeled him back in. They were both wearing the required outfit and looked hot as hell, even if Wufei had his ratty old blue bathrobe on over his. Zechs was robeless, and Duo got a good look at the new arm. Like the last one, the only thing that distinguished it from the real thing was the silver locking band. It was several inches higher than the old one, he noted with an inward wince.

Duo was about to ask if they were wearing the entire outfit, when Wufei held up his right hand, showing Duo the cock ring snapped snugly around his wrist. The heart-shaped studs twinkled in the colored lights of the Christmas tree.

"I rather like my bracelet," he said.

Duo gave Zechs a quick once over as everyone laughed and Kat snapped more pictures, noting the man's own smug grin. If Zechsy was wearing the cock ring, it wasn't around his wrist.

Trowa had brought a portable radio. He found a station playing cheesy Christmas music and they sat down in a circle on the floor and ate the Chinese with chopsticks straight from the cartons and washed it down with beer. Afterwards Duo lit up a couple of joints for dessert and they passed them around. Heero discreetly passed, sticking to beer, but Wufei toked like a pro.

"You've done this before, I see," Zechs chuckled, watching him with amusement.

Wufei held the smoke for a moment, and then exhaled and replied with a chagrinned look, "I don't make a habit of this anymore, but yes, I have."

Trowa took the joint and Duo saw mischief in his eyes. "You've only smoked alone, I think, judging by your technique. You're wasting half the hit." He took a long pull, then leaned over to Quatre and blew the smoke gently into his mouth.

Kat inhaled happily and kissed him. "Second hand smoke. I love it!"

+

Heero reveled in every moment of his first holiday, and felt a warm, quiet wonder at being here with these young men, his friends. Not so very long ago he'd had to watch from a distance, through photos and news feeds. He'd never imagined himself in the heart of their little family.

He didn't mind Quatre's choice of theme. The room was warm and everyone looked very sexy. Even Wufei was falling in with the spirit of the evening. Heero caught him exchanging charged looks with Zechs and smiling that new, secret smile of his. Heero realized that he and Wufei had been the last to let go of their wartime selves and it had cost them both dearly. Love had saved them both.

When they were done eating he couldn't help pulling Duo close and wrapping his arms around him. He wasn't sure if the cock ring was helping or making things worse. He did know he was going to make love to Duo before this night was over. He waited until Duo had taken a puff on the joint, then captured his lips with his own and sucked the pungent smoke from his mouth.

"Decided to be wicked after all?" Duo asked, surprised but cuddly.

"Just this once," Heero said, taking the joint from him and sucking in a mouthful of smoke to share back with him.

"Present time!" Quatre announced when they were all pleasantly buzzed. "We usually do it tomorrow, but since we're headed back home then, we'll do it early this year."

Duo had discussed things with Trowa and Quatre, and coached Heero and Zechs on the gift buying rules. Each couple bought something nice for each other, and a gift for the other couples to share. Wufei had been out of the loop, but done the same anyway.

They'd were all already wearing their gifts from Trowa and Quatre. Wufei had gotten everyone antique absinthe glasses and silver absinthe spoons. Zechs gave them bottles of very good champagne. Duo and Heero gave each couple nicely framed sketches Heero had done of them.

Then it was time for the couples' gifts. Heero took a small package from the dwindling pile and handed it to Duo. "This is from me."

Duo opened it, and found a tiny, beautifully wrapped box inside. This turned out to be a black velvet box. Heero took it from him, then rose up on one knee and opened the box to reveal a heavy platinum band with a gorgeous oval-shaped indigo blue stone set into it.

"I wanted to ask you more properly," he said, smiling up at Duo. "Will you marry me, Duo Maxwell?"

"You know I will, baby. Is this an engagement ring?" Duo gasped. It was beautiful.

"Yes. The man at the jewelry store said it is quite common nowadays, for men to wear them, too. It's a Burmese sapphire, the birthstone for September, which you've chosen as your birthday. He also claimed that according to tradition, the stone brings health, wealth, longevity, happiness, prosperity, and fame to the wearer. I wish all those things for you in our life together." He took the ring from the box and slipped it onto Duo's finger. "There is a wedding band that goes with it. You get that later."

Duo kissed him, and then retrieved a tiny package hidden in the tree. "I think I better give this to you now. Looks like we shopped at the same store." He knelt in front of him as Heero unwrapped an identical box. "You never gave me a chance to ask you at all, and now you beat me to it twice. Heero Yuy, will you marry me?"

Inside the box was a ring identical to the one now twinkling on Duo's finger, set with the same blue stone. "The January stone is garnet, and that just didn't look like your kind of thing. I picked this one because it's the same blue as your eyes. And I like all that stuff you said it was supposed to help you with, too." He slid the ring on Heero's finger and kissed the back of his hand. "I love you, Heero, and I wanted to give you this on this day. Now we have better memories for it."

"Damn, you two are so sweet!" Quatre exclaimed, tearing up. "And you didn't even buy them together, but they match!"

"Well, there aren't that many guy's engagement rings to pick from," Duo admitted. "But I guess we have kinda the same taste, too. Or maybe that guy at the store recognized us and figured out what we were up to. He was looking at me kinda funny! Anway, I love it, Heero. It looks really good on both of us."

Heero couldn't think of anything better than kissing him again, by way of an answer. He hadn't really thought about wearing one himself, but now he couldn't imagine taking it off.

"I would like to give you your present now, Zechs," Wufei said, taking a tiny box from the pocket of his robe. "If you would give me a hand, I will kneel, too."

"There's no need for that, my love," Zechs told him. "We're both already on the floor."

"Very well, then." Wufei opened the little box to reveal a platinum band with a large round diamond set into it in a circle of gold. "It is an old Earth custom, I believe, to give one's intended a diamond."

Zechs's pale blue eyes went wide as Wufei reached for his new left hand. "Mei, this is--It must have--"

Wufei gave him a warning look, and then kissed his hand tenderly. "Diamonds are said to endure forever, and the circle is endless. Such is my love for you."

"Mei," Zechs murmured. He kissed him again, then gave him his right hand instead. "I know it's not traditional, but I'd rather wear it on the real one."

Wufei smiled and slipped it onto his ring finger. "We seem to be capable of making our own traditions."

"I need a tissue," Quatre sniffled from Trowa's arms.

"Man, talk about your G-factor. We are sooooooo gay!" laughed Duo.

"I prefer to think that great minds think alike," said Zechs, presenting Wufei with a now very recognizable little box. This ring was masculine, like the others, and set with a large ruby.

"It is your stone, as we've already determined. I hope you don't mind another, but I do so love you in red." He kissed the back of Wufei's left ring finger. "I told you I was saving this one for something special. Wear it always, to remember my passion and deep devotion to you, my beautiful Wufei."

Quatre blew his nose loudly into his tissue. "This is the best Earth Fall Day ever! I don't know how we'll ever top this!"

"Actually, Duo and I have one more gift to give you and Trowa," Heero told him, and pulled an envelop with a bow stuck to it from behind the tree.

"Hey, you're breaking the rules," Quatre told him as he opened it. "You're only supposed to--- Oh Allah! Oh my fucking god! Heero, what the hell?"

He and Trowa both stared down at the bank draft.

"It's not a gift, exactly," Heero explained. "I'm offering to buy into your show as an investor. I know it's nowhere near what you stand to lose because of all the delays, but I thought it would help."

"Two hundred thousand?" Trowa gasped, finding his voice at last. "Heero, I know you hacked money during the war, but this--You and Duo need to think of your own future!"

"It's OK, really. I had an unexpected inheritance recently." Heero exchanged a look with Zechs. "I have plenty of money, and I really want to do this. I told you, it's an investment. Also, Duo and I are willing to perform in your show until Quatre is able to return. It is one of your selling points, is it not? Having Gundam boys on stage? I know I'm not trained for that exactly, but I thought some of my abilities from the war could be modified. I've very strong and agile. I could--well, I'm sure you could think of something?" He trailed off, not sure of their response. Quatre looked stunned. Trowa was giving him a blatantly appraising look.

"You are very strong," he murmured.

"People will go nuts!" Quatre exclaimed. He wiggled over to them and threw his arms around them both. "It won't even matter what the act is. It's enough that it's you! And Duo. God, you're so gorgeous we just have to paint you silver or something and have you stand in the spot light!"

"Ah c'mon, Kat! There's gotta be something fun I could do. I'm pretty agile too!"

"He is," Heero agreed. "And supple."

"I don't suppose you want in on this, Zechsy?" Duo laughed. "You'd cause quite a stir."

"I already have, thank you," Zechs laughed. "The Sanque Parliament will soon be debating whether a potential heir to the throne can have a spouse of the same gender."

"What if they say no?"

Zechs hugged Wufei. "Then Relena better keep up her claim and have a few heirs of her own. I have no interest in ruling anyway, and certainly not without 'the man I love' at my side."

Duo laughed. "You are such a G-boy, Zechsy!"

"Thank you, Duo. So, what other traditions must be observed?"

"Ummmm, well--" Quatre suddenly looked a bit uncomfortable.

"We generally get really stoned and make out," Trowa finished for him.

"All of you?" asked Heero.

"Just messing around," Duo put in hastily. "Strip poker, spin the bottle, that kind of thing, until we pass out."

"Strip poker would be a very short game in these outfits," Zechs chuckled. Wufei just looked scared.

"That first year we started naked and had to put clothes back on every time someone lost a hand," Trowa mused, grinning.

"Yeah, well, most of us aren't up to major drugging this year, and Wu, you've been a good sport. Don't worry, we're not going to embarrass you any more--this year, anyway," Duo told him.

"I'm sorry, it's just that I am not used to such---pastimes." Wufei had turned almost as red as the stone in his ring.

"We know that. It's quite all right," Heero assured him. "No one would expect you to---"

"I've never played this 'spin the bottle', but I do understand the concept," Wufei went on before Heero could finish. "If--if the rest of you wished to keep up that tradition, well--I suppose I could try. That is, if you don't mind, Zechs."

Zechs stared at him a moment, then grinned. "Not at all."

++

Argh! Total sap, I know! I never intended to go the whole "Christmas" route. It just worked out that way, time-wise. Sorry. Blech! Back to good honest lemons, lust, and angst soon, I promise! Feedback appreciated.

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