Author: Sunhawk

The Best Christmas Ever

It was going to be the best Christmas ever. I had decided on that sometime just after Thanksgiving. I had spent that holiday as I had all my holidays since the end of the war. Alone, doing my best to just pretend it was any other day. I had resolved that I would not spend any more holidays like that. Any more days of any kind, like that. It was time I did something besides sit around feeling sorry for myself. Time I stopped missing the company of people who obviously didn't miss mine. The day after Thanksgiving, the official first shopping day of the season, I had found something to do with myself.

So here it was, Christmas Eve and I was hovering just outside the doors of the third church I had visited tonight. All of them within a mile of the site of the old Maxwell church; the closest I could come.

I hovered by the door for selfish reasons. Father Maxwell would have scolded me, but still... I could almost see the twinkle in his eye as he hovered at my shoulder, waiting for the exclamations from within. We weren't disappointed.

"Holy Mary, Mother of... !" The voice rang through the church at my back, and then, "Sister Elisabeth! Sister... come quick!"

I had heard enough; my gift had been found. I smothered a chuckle, almost turned to grin at a non-existent Father Maxwell and made my way back to the street. Third stop, but best reaction. That was the last of the money I had earmarked for the churches. I had considered using part of it to have a memorial built at the site of the old church; the site of the Maxwell church massacre. But the voice of Sister Helen had admonished me for thinking of the dead, when there were living orphans and homeless that could use the help.

As I walked down the darkening street, my steps were light. Yes; this was going to be the best Christmas ever. This was so much more rewarding than sitting around drinking myself into a stupor until I couldn't think straight enough to remember how damn lonely I was.

I had decided on dinner out this Christmas Eve, at the local diner just up the street from my apartment. A place I ate almost all my meals if truth be told. I find cooking for one to be a depressing occupation. Besides; the cook at the 'Riverside Inn' was much better at it than I was. It wasn't much to look at, the Riverside; there was no river and it wasn't much of an Inn, but the people were good folk.

I splurged a little and bought a steak, flirted with Agnes the waitress like I always did. She called me 'Sugar', I called her 'Angel' and we pretended that she wasn't old enough to be my Mother. I left the money for my meal on the table while she was otherwise occupied and ducked out before she had a chance to notice that I had left a hundred dollar bill to pay for a ten dollar steak dinner.

I stopped to listen to some carolers on my way home, even though I knew it would only remind me of the choir singers when I was a kid. Some of them had been in the church that night all those years ago, and to this day I can't hear choir music without remembering that. I tossed a twenty in their little brass pot and made my way home.

Just as I reached the steps of my building, it began to snow. I stopped for a few minutes and just stood in the street with my head thrown back staring up into it. If you look straight into the snow as it comes down, you can almost lose the ground; can almost imagine yourself out between the stars again. Snow. It really was going to be perfect.

I made my way upstairs and went into my empty apartment, locking the door behind me and wandering the empty rooms out of long, old habit. Securing the area. I had to laugh at myself out loud. It had been two years but I still had to do this.

No electric lights tonight; Christmas Eve is a night made for candlelight. I moved through and lit several, placing them about the place on large glass plates, so that even if they did fall over, they couldn't ignite anything. I still had a little problem with fires.

The electricity bill had been paid to the end of the month, so I still had the power to turn on the radio and tune it to a station that was playing Christmas music. I listened to the Carol of the Bells as I unbound my hair and prepared for my shower.

I think I had known that coming back to L2 was a mistake when I had first done it. Getting rid of the furniture and making my other preparations to leave hadn't taken all that long. I had never really moved in; had never set down roots here. Never bothered with a lot of possessions. I think I had known all along that I wouldn't be staying.

I took my shower, taking great pains to wash and condition my hair. I stood by the bare window in the living room and combed it out afterward, watching the snowfall. It had snowed that night as well.

I combed my hair until it was almost dry and then braided it tight, imagining the voice of Sister Helen singing softly at my back; imagined her hands were the ones weaving my hair into it's perfect plait. I tied it off and checked the clock; I still had an hour.

I found myself singing along softly with the radio, and was amazed; I had not sung since that night. Sister Helen used to tell me I had a voice sent from Heaven by God just to brighten her day. I had sung in the choir and my occasional solo performances had never failed to make Father Maxwell smile. I had not sung since the night it had all gone to Hell. I shook my head ruefully and went to get dressed, finding the old clothes still in the back of the closet after all these years. I dressed in the white shirt and black priests outfit, feeling oddly self-conscious. It was hard to remember a day when I had dressed like this all the time. I had to chuckle at my own audacity. It seemed right for tonight though.

When there was a half an hour left, I poured myself a glass of wine and washed down a couple of aspirin. The radio was playing 'Silent Night' and I stood by the window watching the snow, sipping my wine until the song was over.

I had time for one more walk through the apartment, double-checking my preparations one last time. I found myself smiling; my heart felt unburdened for the first time in... forever.

It truly was going to be the perfect Christmas; the best Christmas ever... it was going to be my last.

The thing they don't tell you in the history books? The Maxwell church massacre... was on Christmas Eve. The choir had been in practicing for the service that would never happen. The rebels broke in. A small boy made a decision that seemed the right one at the time he made it. He was wrong... and the world ended. Fifteen minutes before Christmas day, the church had gone up in flames, but most of the people inside were already dead. It snowed.

I checked the envelopes in their place on the kitchen counter, each carefully labeled and addressed; Quatre Winner, Trowa Barton, Chang Wufei... and Heero Yuy. My final goodbyes to those I had grown to care for. I had agonized over those letters since the day after Thanksgiving. I wasn't even sure they would care, but I could not just go without saying something. Those letters were carefully worded to hopefully bring them a certain understanding of why I had done what I was about to do, without bringing the slightest reproach on any of them. Without assuming a relationship with them that I had no right to lay claim to. They lay together, bound with a red ribbon next to the envelope containing the detailed instructions for the things I had not been able to dispense with myself. The rent was paid until the end of the month, as was the electric and water. All the furniture and most of my other possessions had been sold off to supply part of the money that had gone to the churches today. All the food was gone, so that nothing would spoil if it took time before they found my body. I put the keys to the front door in that envelope now, one of the last things that needed doing and finished my walk through.

I had settled on slitting my wrists. Drugs are too unreliable. A gunshot would have drawn attention. I wanted to make damn sure that no one had a reason to investigate until there was no doubt I would be long cold. No one who knew me here on L2 knew me well enough to know where I lived, except my landlord. He would have no reason to come here until the next rent payment was due.

At eleven forty-five tonight, I meant to step into the bathtub and slice both my arms from wrist to elbow. It would have been nice to believe that I would go to join Father Maxwell and Sister Helen. But I knew, if all that Heaven and Hell crap really existed, just where little ol' Duo Maxwell would end up.

I posted my note to the landlord on the bathroom door, warning him what he was going to find if he opened that door and suggested that he just walk away and call the authorities. Then I set my wine glass on the side of the tub along side my razor blades and went to watch the snow fall for the last fifteen minutes of my life.

It was starting to pile up outside, covering everything in a pristine blanket that hid all the ugliness of L2 from sight. It was the best Christmas ever; everything was turning out just as I had planned.

Until the knock sounded on my front door. I froze, trying to think who it might be. My landlord? He never came here unless something needed to be fixed or I was late with the rent. Could Agnes from the Riverside have traced me here? I doubted it; she didn't even know my name. One of my neighbors? Possibly; maybe old Mrs. Masters from upstairs with one of her fruitcakes?

I remembered at the last minute to remove the note from the bathroom door, and went to answer it. I had no intention of letting the woman in. I would accept the damn fruitcake or cookies or whatever she had to offer and I would send her on her way. I hadn't been planning this night for the last month only to have it interrupted by my busybody neighbor.

All my pre-thought out lines were to deal with little old ladies and I was caught completely flatfooted when I opened the door only to find my ex partner in crime standing there.

"Heero... ?" I managed to sputter, my mind running in panicked little circles trying to figure out what in the hell he was doing in my doorway after all this time.

"Hello Duo." He said in that voice that never fails to send goose bumps chasing up my arms.

All I could do was stand there with my damn fool mouth hanging open. He smiled at me, a little amused, I think. I could see his eyes flick around; taking in every detail of what he could see passed me.

"Going to invite me in?" He asked softly when I didn't speak and I really didn't have a choice but to step aside and let him enter.

"I... I wasn't expecting... company." I sputtered out and was shocked when he actually laughed.

He moved into the living room and his eyes continued to roam about the place. I tried to kick my brain into gear and think what might be lying out in the open. Shit; this was not good.

"You should hire yourself an interior decorator, Duo. This place could use some work." A joke? From Mr. Stoic-stick-up-the-ass? My God; people really can change.

"I... I'm moving." I lied, and cringed. I'm really not all that good at lying. That's why I don't do it all that often.

"I guess I'm lucky I caught you." He said, standing in the middle of the room and turning around slowly, looking the whole room over. There was absolutely nothing to see but a handful of candles sitting on the floor and the windowsill.

"Last night here." I told him, sounding a little better, since it wasn't really a lie.

He stopped turning and just stood looking at me.

"I thought you gave that outfit up." He observed, cocking his head a little as he regarded me.

Damn. I had forgotten what I was wearing. I reached up to touch the collar self-consciously, "Uhmmm... for the occasion." I temporized.

He gave me a strange look and turned as though he was going to go look through the rest of the apartment. I panicked, thinking of the envelopes lying on the kitchen counter.

"Let me get you something to drink." I blurted, rushing passed him and through the kitchen door. I shoved the envelopes into a drawer as fast as I could and went fishing for a glass, remembering suddenly that the only one I had kept was sitting on the side of the bathtub.

I turned away from the empty cupboards to find that he had followed me into the kitchen and was doing that same, slow look around thing in here that he had done in the living room. I knew I was looking flustered and tried to quit.

"I... uhhhh, forgot. I didn't keep any other glasses. All I have is a bottle of wine."

He gave me that same, searching, quizzical look again and just shook his head, "No thanks; I'm fine."

My eyes found the clock and I realized that my time had come and gone. The best laid plans, and all that. I sighed and decided that it didn't really matter what time it was; death had waited for me this long... it could wait a little longer.

Some of my nervousness faded with that almost unconscious decision and I hopped up onto the counter and gave him a grin, "Can't even offer you a place to sit, man; sorry. All my stuff's on the way to the new place."

He smiled back at me and just folded his arms across his chest, "Doesn't matter."

With most of the evidence stuffed in a drawer under my butt, I felt a little safer, and my mind actually started to function.

"Heero... as nice as it is to see you; it's been two years. What are you doing here?"

He moved a step closer, "It's Christmas." He said with a shrug, "I came to see you."

He just stood looking at me for a bit, and I was the one who broke eye contact first. Damn; he made me feel like my thoughts were printed across my forehead in bloody red letters.

I knew I was blushing, and I tried hard to quit. When I glanced up again, I swear he was closer than he had been when I looked away. God; I had forgotten how much being in a room with him effected me. I didn't know how to answer what he had said, so I changed the subject all together.

"So... what have you been up to?" I asked, looking down at his feet so that I didn't have to stare into those deep blue eyes of his.

"Just... just figuring out what the hell I am without a war to fight." He said softly, his voice full of wry amusement.

My eyes came up to meet his without my meaning to do it. He caught me with those eyes and I found I couldn't look away. I shivered.

"And... and just what are you?" I stuttered, not half believing I was having this conversation.

He chuckled, "Almost human."

I blinked at him stupidly and I suddenly wanted some of that wine.

He cocked his head at me again, "And what have you been up to?" He asked, voice little more than a whisper.

I shivered so hard it was more of a shudder, "Not... not much. Working. Getting by."

"Salvage business not all that good?" He asked, his eyes pinning me to the spot and damned if, somehow, he wasn't a little closer than he had been a second ago. I swear I hadn't seen him move.

"How... how did you know I got into salvage?" I asked, leaning back against the cupboard and trying to look nonchalant.

He smiled gently, "Oh, I've kept up with what everyone has been doing."

My throat suddenly felt dry and I wasn't even sure why, "Hang on a second." I blurted, "I'll be right back." And I fled to the bathroom.

My hands were shaking so bad I dropped the stupid razor blades twice before I got them stuck in the medicine cabinet. I found the note I had laid on the sink when I had answered the door and folded it up tightly, hiding it in the cabinet as well. I took a couple of deep breaths and a big gulp of wine. What in the hell was my problem?

I came out with the wine glass in hand and a grin plastered on my face, "Hey, Heero! It's officially Christmas; how about a drink?"

I fetched the wine and refilled my glass before handing him the bottle. I started to raise the glass to my lips, but he stopped me with a gesture and smiled, raising the bottle in toast.

"Here's to friends when you need them." He said in that soft voice again and I felt the goose bumps run up my spine. He clinked the bottle gently against my glass and we drank. I resisted the urge to down the whole thing.

"Your turn." He said with a smile and I blinked at him for a minute.

"Peace." I finally said, my voice as soft as his had been, "Here's to peace."

He nodded faintly and brought the bottle and glass to meet again with a quiet chime.

"To peace." He repeated and drank with me.

He was somehow too close to me again, and I moved uneasily away, wandering back into the living room. God, I wish I had furniture, something to sit on and try to maintain something akin to a normal conversation.

Now was not the time for this; being around Heero flustered me at the best of times, tonight... tonight I could barely contain my nerves.

He followed me and I went to stand by the window again. It was still snowing. I saw his reflection come up to stand behind me and we watched the snow fall for a small space in silence.

"Reminds me of outer space." He said with a melancholy note in his voice and I sighed.

"You miss it too?" I asked before I could stop myself.

"Oh yes." He said, and I could see the tiny smile on the face of his reflection, "In those days, when we weren't fighting there... it was the closest thing to peace I ever felt."

I leaned my head against the window frame and took a sip of my wine, "Yeah." I sighed, "It was cold and quiet... there weren't any voices there... "

His face in the glass turned sad and I felt him move closer. I had let myself get trapped. His hand came to rest on my shoulder and his voice came in a mere breath.

"Duo... you're trembling."

I shivered and closed my eyes, "It's cold here by the window." I lied.

"You're lying." He whispered and he was so close I could feel the heat from his body, "Why are you lying to me?"

"Heero... " I sighed and tried not to let his name on my lips make me shiver again, "Why are you here?"

"I came to see you." He told me again and I heard the sound of the wine bottle being set on the windowsill.

"Why?" I asked again and both his hands were on me now, holding me gently by the shoulders. I couldn't open my eyes; couldn't bear to see his face reflected next to mine in the candlelit window.

"I think... " He said so close I could feel the stirring of his breath, "I think you needed me."

I couldn't answer him; I couldn't find my voice. He moved his hand long enough to take the wine glass from my numb fingers and set it aside and then he was turning me to face him.

"Duo... tell me you need me." He whispered and his voice was gentle and there was something in it I would have sold my soul to hear even a year ago.

"Heero... " I moaned and couldn't stop the shiver, "I... I... "

I was suddenly awash with horror over what I had been about to do; what I had almost done. My knees felt weak under me, but his hands on my shoulders kept me from sagging to the ground.

"Tell me you need me." He said again, his voice insistent and firm.

"I need you." I whimpered and felt the truth of it echoing up through me.

"Open your eyes." He sighed and I realized that his hands weren't just on my shoulders any more, but were wrapped around me, tight and warm and I started to shake in earnest, "Open your eyes and tell me you need me."

I blinked my eyes open and found myself just inches from him, his bottomless blue eyes staring into mine, "Heero... Heero... help me." I had not meant to say that. Had not meant to let that slip out. I was horrified and tried to push away, but his arms were as strong as ever and he wouldn't let me go.

"Let me help you, Duo." He told me, his voice tender and soft, "I want to be here for you."

I searched his face and was afraid to believe in what I thought I saw there. This was something I had dreamed about until I had lost my ability to dream.

"Why?" I asked him again, not able to say more.

"I need you too." He told me, arms tightening around me, "We need each other. I... I'm just sorry it took me so long to figure it out."

I wondered at the changes in him. Wondered at his ability to be so open with his feelings; his ability to embrace the emotions he had so long denied.

"Help me... help me figure things out too." I told him; suddenly desperate to not be in the dark place I had found myself in.

His arms around me loosened, and he slipped his hand into his pocket, pulling out a familiar gold chain with a small gold cross dangling from it. My heart thumped painfully in my chest. I had put that cross in the envelope that bore Heero's name, the one in the kitchen where I had left Heero alone while I ran off to the bathroom to hide the razors. Damn. He knew.

I couldn't meet his eyes as he reached to fasten it back around my neck. It felt oddly better having it back in its place.

He tilted my chin up and forced me to meet his gaze. His eyes were sad as they searched mine.

"Duo... I'm sorry I wasn't here. Sorry it took me so damn long... " It was his turn to shiver.

It made me bold and I slid my arms around him, "You... cut it pretty damn close, Yuy." I told him and his arms came around me in a convulsive embrace that threatened to cut off my air.

"I know." He sighed and his voice shook, "I know."

"How... how did you come to be here... tonight?" I asked him then.

It took him a long moment to answer, "I've been... watching you. Monitoring... I saw the sudden liquidation of all your funds... saw you... I... I got worried."

With reason, I didn't say out loud. I rested my head on his shoulder and somehow the burdens didn't seem so heavy any more.

"Come back with me." He said suddenly, his voice apprehensive; losing some of the steady confidence he had held since he had walked through my door, "Come home with me."

"Home... " I whispered against his shoulder, "I... I've never had a home before."

"Let me be that for you." He whispered, voice thick.

I drew back and looked at him, "What are you offering me?" I asked, suddenly unsure of the ground. Doubting the reality of the dream in my arms.

"Everything." He breathed, "Anything you want. Me. A life together... "

I still couldn't quite trust it, "Love?"

He took my face in his hands and held my gaze, letting me see what was in his eyes, "God... yes." He told me fiercely and finally kissed me and all my doubts washed away.

"Yes." I panted when I could and almost wept from thinking about how close I had come to losing this. A half an hour... just another half an hour...

He seemed to understand where my thoughts had flown and we held each other tight for a while, just holding on. Outside the window, the snow fell thick and white, covering over the past in its clean, cold mantel.

Inside, in Heero's arms, it was warm and safe.

It had turned into the perfect Christmas after all.

End

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