On a clear night, the display of lights in the park would have been dazzling. Tonight, a Christmas Eve snow covered the trees and bushes, muting them to a soft glow. Duo held out his palm and caught a handful of snowflakes. They held their fragile beauty for a few seconds, then melted against the warmth of his skin. Pretty, but they didn’t last long enough. What was all the fuss about snow, anyway? Duo wiped his wet hand on his jeans and sidled closer to Zechs.
Zechs looked away from a display of animated reindeer and smiled down at him. The tense line he always seemed to carry between his brows had nearly disappeared, and Duo reached up to stroke his cheek. Sometimes he swore Zechs needed to touch the Earth, to draw strength from it, like the giant in that ancient story he’d read in one of the books in the library at home. It made coming back easier, understanding that about him.
“Nice place. Thanks for bringing me.”
“The pleasure is mine. I remember the lights here when I was a child—I’m glad they’ve started decorating again. During the war, no one did.” Zechs turned his head enough to kiss Duo’s fingers, but then he frowned. “Little one,” he chided gently. “You forgot your gloves.”
Duo grinned. “It’s an excuse to put my hands in your pockets.”
Zechs rolled his eyes and took Duo’s hand, wrapping his own gloved fingers around it. The leather was cool and smooth, but underneath, Duo felt Zechs’ warmth and steady strength. His grin softened to a tender smile, and he moved a little closer to Zechs’ side.
Hand in hand, they walked through the park, stopping now and then to look at scenes and sculptures. A few children ran ahead of their parents, squealing or shouting, depending on their ages, but mostly, the earlier crowds had thinned. Three boys started an impromptu snowball fight until their father herded them along the path. Duo watched them disappear around a curve, still laughing and trying to shove snow down each others’ necks. Cute kids, in a rambunctious sort of way. It took Duo a minute to realize that he hadn’t felt envy or anger watching them, just amusement. Well. Apparently time did heal wounds, after all. He stole a glance at the tall, blond man beside him. Time—and love. Love most of all. He rested his head on Zechs’ shoulder.
“Nope. Everything’s right.”
“You honestly don’t mind that I dragged you to Earth for Christmas this year?”
“Really. It’s okay. It was actually kind of nice of Heero and Relena to invite us. Anyway, the important thing is that we’re together.” Duo looked up at the snowflakes that glittered through the light on their lazy trek to the ground. “And I guess snow isn’t that bad.”
Zechs angled his head, his mouth twitching with a badly suppressed smile. “You missed it.”
Duo’s eyes widened in alarm. “I did not! I just said it wasn’t that bad.”
“All right. All right.” Zechs laughed. No bitterness tinged it, and it made Duo remember how much he liked that particular sound and that he didn’t hear it nearly often enough. “Stop looking like you expect me to propose a ski holiday.”
Duo laughed, too, though more in delight at Zechs’ obvious happiness than at the idea of trying to learn to ski. He tugged Zechs’ hand, and they started to walk again. The snow fell a little heavier, covering the sparse tracks of the other visitors. “Not very crowded tonight.”
“Christmas is tomorrow. I imagine people are too busy.”
“Yeah.” They stopped in front of a trio of lighted trees, but what caught Duo’s eye was the slab of marble obscured by the evergreens. He stepped closer, certain that no one was going to tell the Ambassador to keep his companion off the grass. He held back the branches with one hand, brushed the snow away with the other. In the lights from the trees, he could read the carving.
“In memory of those who gave their lives…” His smile faded, his eyes blurred as names and faces crowded his memory. He let the branch go, and it swept back into place, once again shielding the park visitors from the reminder of the past, of war and death. But he didn’t go back to the path, and when Zechs laid a hand on his shoulder, he jumped a little. Then he shook himself and turned around. He meant to smile, but he saw the same memories, just with different names and faces, reflected in his love’s eyes.
“I’m sorry.” He gave Zechs a slightly lopsided grin. “Guess I should have stayed on the path, like the signs say.”
Zechs put an arm around Duo’s shoulders and drew him away. “Baby, don’t look back. It doesn’t change anything.”
“It’s hard not to look back, being here.”
“I know.” Zechs sounded, not exactly sad, but grave, though he smiled when Duo slipped his arm around his waist. “Think about a good Christmas memory.”
“I did. I have exactly two of them, so it didn’t take me very long.”
Zechs gave Duo a squeeze, then stopped at a cart where a man sold hot chocolate and bought two cups. He gave one to Duo.
“Here. It will keep your hands warm.”
Duo took a deep sniff of the chocolate. “I do love you.”
He took a sip and sighed, lost for a moment in the distracting happiness of warmth and chocolate. Zechs knew him too well. They followed the path until it sloped up over a footbridge, and Duo stopped, planted his elbows on the handrail, and watched as the snow flocked the trees with white. He stole a glance at Zechs, who looked out at the trees and lights, too. His face, perfect in profile, showed nothing of his thoughts, which in itself made Duo wonder what he saw in the falling snow.
Don’t look back, Zechs told him. Too bad he didn’t take his own advice. Duo jumped into the silence before it grew too heavy to break. “When did you first know it?”
Zechs blinked, as though he didn’t quite follow Duo’s thoughts. “When did I first know you loved me?”
“No, silly.” Duo watched the steam from their cups waft into the snowy air. “The first time you knew that you loved me.”
“The first time I went away.” Zechs answered so quickly that Duo suspected he’d thought about the question before.
“Oh, come on. Seriously.”
“I am serious. When I left, I thought that I’d only be gone a few days, and I’d be busy. I didn’t expect to miss you the way I did. But I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I kept turning and expecting you to be there. Someone would say something and I’d think, ‘I need to tell that to Duo.’ I’d walk down a street and imagine walking with you. I went to bed, and you weren’t there. At first, I tried to tell myself that it was because I’d gotten used to you. But it was more than that. I missed you like I’d miss a part of my soul.”
Duo blushed. “You have to make everything sound so damn poetic, don’t you?”
Zechs chuckled, and Duo saw with relief that the brooding shadows cleared from his face. “What about you? I remember very clearly when you told me the first time that you love me. But when did you know?”
Damn. Didn’t change the subject fast enough. “Hey…we missed that display over there. I think they have some live animals. It looks cool—come on.”
Zechs tugged on Duo’s braid, enough to pull him up short. “Do you think you’re going to get out of this that easily?”
“No. But I figured it was worth a try.” Duo tossed his empty cup into a trashcan. “Finished?” When Zechs nodded, he threw his cup away, as well. “Can I put my hands in your pocket now?”
Zechs held out his arms, and Duo snugged against him, slipping his hands into the pockets of Zechs’ coat. “Warm enough, little one?”
“Mmm.” Duo pressed against Zechs. It felt good to lean against him like this, shielded from the snow, warmed by his body, breathing in his scent. While they stood like this, Zechs was his whole world, and that was okay with him. He wriggled, and Zechs wrapped him in his coat. “That’s nice.”
“So it is. But you still haven’t answered my question.”
“It was after you got back from that trip—I was sick, remember?”
Zechs nodded. “Poor baby. Of course.”
“I felt so fucking awful, and then you called, and I really wanted to see you, but…geez, I hadn’t taken a bath in, like, three days. I know I must have looked like hell, and I felt ten times worse than that. And I really hate being alone when I’m sick—” Duo’s voice shook just a little, and Zechs rubbed his back. “But no way did I want you to see me. So I made up some lame excuse about having to work late or something.”
“And I didn’t believe a word of it, because I could tell you were ill. Even your voice sounded tired.”
“When you showed up with a bag full of groceries and medicine and shit, I could have cried, I was so grateful. Of course, about two seconds later, I wanted to crawl under the covers and hide because I was such a mess.”
“You were a mess. But a beautiful one.”
Duo bumped Zechs with his hip. “But when I really fell for you was…nah, you’ll think it’s dumb.”
“It’s not poetic at all.”
“One poet in the family is enough, don’t you think?” Zechs lifted Duo’s chin, and Duo caught the scent of leather.
“You know how you made me clean up and change clothes, and you brushed my hair…”
Zechs smiled. “That was the fun part.”
Duo grinned back at him. “Oh, yeah. It was.”
“So that was when?” Zechs had a self-satisfied look, as though he’d known Duo’s answer all along. It gave Duo a perverse satisfaction to contradict him.
“You made me go back to bed and covered me up and everything…and then you put some kind of salve on my nose.” Duo looked up at Zechs. “I was such a goner after that.”
“Your nose? You fell in love with me because I put salve on your nose?”
“Why not? I had to figure that any guy who’d go that far was a keeper.” He winked at Zechs. “It just seemed like it summed up everything about the way you treated me. I’d just never felt so…so taken care of. I was so damn tired of taking care of myself. Not like I couldn’t do it, or anything—”
Zechs gave Duo a tender kiss. “Of course you can. But I heard your voice on the phone, and I thought, ‘Here’s Duo, trying so hard to make it, just to have some kind of a life, and no one’s helping. Someone ought to.’ And I knew that someone was me.”
Duo leaned against Zechs and watched the snow. A veil of white covered the trees, the ground, the path, and the city sounds were hushed and far away. It made Duo feel like the night waited for some wonderful possibility to be realized, and he decided that snow really was kind of nice after all.
“I’m glad it was.”
“So am I.” Zechs kept Duo close to him. “It’s getting late.”
“Yeah. Guess we should be going.”
“Tomorrow will be busy.”
Duo grimaced. Relena and her damned parties. At least at home, he and Zechs got to take Christmas off. Oh well. The food was always good. “I know.”
“So we’d better go.”
But neither man moved. Instead, they stayed on the little footbridge, content in each other’s arms, and in watching the silent magic of the falling Christmas snow.
*Thank you, Karina, for the title.