You know, when big deal things like wars are over, you sort of expect… something.
Something beyond the round of parties and award ceremonies. You sort of
expect things to change. But it’s funny how, after the last of the
confetti is swept up and the politicians all trot off to figure out how
they can spin things to support their own agendas, all you have left is
a bunch of people standing around in an awkward silence. You suddenly realize
that those people you’d been calling partner and buddy and comrade?
You realize you don’t even know their real names.
Hell… half of us didn’t know our own real names, so maybe
it shouldn’t have mattered, but in the end we all just sort of mumbled
something appropriate and wandered off the stage in our own separate directions.
There were some obvious choices there, Quatre had a big deal family to
go back to take charge of, and Trowa had that gig with the kitty-cats and
the tights. Wufei? The Preventers had his number before the guy finished
wiping Gundam dust off his hands. I ended up trying that whole L2 thing
again, and Heero had apparently heard the phrase ‘walk-about’ in
there somewhere, and just up and took off. It was weird and kind of inevitable
all at the same time. Not like we’d known each other since kindergarten
I made some effort to stay in touch, made the rounds every now and again,
as best I could, but nothing much ever came of it. Until that loon Barton
escaped whatever psyche-ward he should have been locked up in, and trotted
out his little red-headed protégé and shook Heero Yuy back
out of the woodwork.
Second time around, realizing the odds were decent he’d just up
and vanish again, I made more of an effort early on. Actually got an address
from the guy and everything.
We’re a weird little bunch, when you get right down to it; not exactly
the Scooby Gang or the Brady Bunch or… whatever your cultural reference
of choice is. Not a damn lot in common really. There’s only so much
reminiscence you can do about ‘that time on the moon’. Or ‘that
time you blew up my Gundam’. But still… there was an undeniable
I worried about us, to be honest. That’s part of why I do go out
of my way even through the awkward bits. Quatre, I’m pretty sure,
will spend the rest of his life trying to make up for the things he did.
He put the kind of focus into rebuilding and running his dear old Dad’s
company, that he put into his piloting. I actually made the time to visit
the guy now and again, and made sure he took an afternoon just to hang
out with me. It wasn’t much, in the grand scheme of things, but I
hoped he’d learn one day that it was ok to take an afternoon off
here and there for his own sake.
Trowa, it seemed to me, spent just a little bit too much time trying to
blend in and fade away. I understand not liking the notoriety, but that
whole clown thing was just kind of seriously odd. Guy really needed to
ditch the mask and settle someplace for more than a week at a time. I didn’t
hunt him down the way I did Quatre, but we did talk on the vid phone now
and again. I think it helped keep his head in the real world. I kept hoping
one day to have him answer my call from someplace that isn’t a tent.
Wufei and I were just never going to be lunch buddies no matter how you
sliced it, so most of our communication was through email. The man waffled
back and forth between needing anger management classes, and needing therapy
for his guilt, like a kid on a swing set. I like to think I make some sort
of difference in the guy’s life, even if I’m just somebody
to vent to when he gets too fed up with all the protocol and red-tape of
his new job, though I have no delusions that he’d lose a lot of sleep
if I stopped.
Heero now, he was a bit of a puzzle. He’d been MIA for something
like a year, and I hadn’t had the same opportunity to build any kind
of comfort zone with him. Was he still consumed with guilt over that pacifist
thing? Or had he really put it behind him with that psycho ‘here’s
a gun; have at’ routine he’d pulled? Was he lost? Floundering?
A secret double-agent for the FBI? A closet Doris Day groupie? I had no
idea. And while I would have loved to know all there was to know about
the mysterious Mr. Spandex… I have to confess I was a little nervous
about scaring him off again. Especially since I wasn’t really positive
just what sent the guy into the recesses of Never-Never Land in the first
I’ll also admit to a bit of difficulty being objective in his case,
while I’m in the confessional box here. Whole lot easier to stand
back and psychoanalyze the ex-teammates that I wasn’t carrying the
emotional torch for, if you know what I mean. Too easy for a vague fantasy
about him spending that year wishing that I’d come after him and
sweep him off his feet, to color my perceptions.
So I tried to keep my pining to myself, and just forge a quiet sort of
connection, while I made sure I didn’t pressure him so much that
he decided Never-Never Land was a better place to stay.
I emailed a lot, and made vid calls. I was careful to keep my reality
checked, and focused on just trying to be a friend. Making sure I was available.
Keeping the welcome mat out. Not letting my fantasies get out of hand.
Time just sort of slipped along like that. Amazing, really, how fast the
months go by. But I did have a life to tend to. Not like I spent all my
waking moments playing cheap therapist to my war buddies. I owned half
a salvage yard that boasted twenty full time employees, after all. It was
good I had not grown up having a lot of time to spare; made it easier not
to miss it. I think the first Christmas that came and went after the Mariemaia
up-rising, I sent Heero an e-card and made time to give him a call on Christmas
day. Not like I figured the holiday meant huge amounts to a guy with vaguely
Japanese heritage, but it still sucked to be alone when everybody around
you was not. Both were received well. In fact, I got an e-card in return
with penguins in Santa hats that was pretty funny.
The cards became a tradition at every random holiday after that. You can
find the things for every occasion from the big ones like Christmas, to
the truly obscure ones like Hug Your Goldfish Day. Sometimes I tossed off
a real world card too, just to strengthen that tie and maybe point out
that he had my address too. I’m not real sure when the little gift
thing started. I think he said something in an email about it being cold
in Brussels. Hilde had been knitting scarves for a local charity group,
and I got her to make me one in a nice tank-top green. It was almost a
joke, but not quite, all at the same time.
I got a tiny little stuffed ground hog on the next Ground Hog’s
day… there was a joke about the weather that I’ve forgotten,
but the thing sits on my computer at the office all the same.
I take a lot of crap from Hilde about the shipping costs to send ‘junk’ dirt-side.
Girls don’t seem to get the weird joys of guy-gifting.
Anyway, it went on like that until Christmas, and somehow it wasn’t
just a gag-gift that got boxed up and mailed off. Stuff that seemed perfect
for Heero just sort of kept accumulating, and Christmas seemed to be enough
of a big deal holiday that I could kind of get away with sending it. A
book I thought he’d like, a knit hat that Hilde had ended up making
to match the afore-mentioned scarf, a box of sweets of the kind I’d
seen him indulge in at one of the after war parties. Hell, I don’t
even remember what all. But it was neatly wrapped, and carefully packed,
and sent off at an exorbitant cost to be there in time for the holidays.
I imagined him opening the stuff on Christmas day, sitting in his apartment
and maybe even thinking of me fondly. Or at least bemusedly. Either way,
I guess, as long as he wasn’t marking the day all alone and forgotten.
I’m not much of a one for the holiday myself, but the rest of the
world makes such a big deal out of it, that it’s hard to just ignore
I called him that afternoon, Brussels-time, and he chided me for going
over-board, but then we spent a half an hour discussing the book he was
already three chapters into. It was nice to realize I’d nailed that
one. Maybe he wasn’t a complete mystery to me anymore after all.
We went on that way, building a weird, long-distance sort of friendship.
I worried about him sometimes, wondering about his quiet life. He seemed
content, but I wondered if it was really so. It made me think about trying
to make a trip dirt-side to see him in person. But then I realized from
talking to Quatre, that he really wasn’t in much contact with the
others, and I worried that pressing for something beyond our current contact,
might just push him away. He seemed happy with the way things were, so
I guess I decided the boat did not need to be rocked.
We won’t get into the size of the box by the second Christmas. I
got a little panicked the day after I shipped it, thinking that I maybe
shouldn’t have gone so over-board, but then I got my own box, and
it was just as full of odd-ball things, that I didn’t feel so awkward.
Things just sort of seemed to fall into my hands all year long, and sometimes
something had to be sent right then, one cannot just ignore things like
Kick A Can day, but mostly they piled up in the closet and another Christmas
box was born. I imagined him savoring the box and sitting down Christmas
morning with a mug of… something hot. Coffee, maybe? And picking
through the box for just the right place to start. I wondered if he was
one of those people who carefully picked the tape loose and saved the paper,
or if he was a rip and wad type. I hoped some of the stuff made him laugh,
and I hoped some of the stuff maybe even gave him a warm/fuzzy.
But mostly I just hoped it kept him from feeling lonely.
Which brings us around to the current season of sparkle and shine. I had
actually been ahead of my game for a change. I’m usually rushing
around at the last minute, gift wrapping and gift buying and organizing,
and have to spring for last minute, expedited shipping. This year, not
only had I gotten the Schbeiker-Maxwell Incorporated toy drive going on
time, I’d actually done my shipping with room to breathe.
So I actually had the spare attention to notice that I didn’t get
the usual report from Heero when his box arrived. I had to poke via email,
and his response was slow in coming. I found it out of character, but… well,
it is a busy time of year. But then my Wright Brothers Day e-card was late.
And then I didn’t even get a virtual chuckle over my First Day of
And somewhere in there I started to get worried.
I’m not really sure I can even say why, I just had this weird feeling.
Something was just not quite normal, and it’s been my experience
that when things aren’t normal, they are generally not ‘right’.
I think on some level I’d harbored a fear that Heero would someday
get bit by the wandering bug again, and would just vanish like he had the
first time. I suppose I’d hoped that my friendship would be enough
to keep him from just disappearing without a word, but who knew for sure?
And how strong was a friendship that was mostly virtual anyway? Sure, we
saw each other in the flesh every once in a while… Relena would get
a wild hair about once a year and throw one of her parties, but that was
hardly where iron-clad friendships were forged.
What if he was being unresponsive because he was busy liquidating his
life? Divesting himself of his worldly belongings in preparation of tossing
a backpack over his shoulder and walking off into the sunset again? He’d
done it once without batting an eye, the history was there.
What if I’d been wrong about him being content with his quiet, solitary
life? What if I’d missed the signs and the guy was depressed? Hurting?
Lonely? What if with all the ‘being there’ I’d tried
to do, I hadn’t been there enough? Hadn’t been there in the
After a couple of days, I couldn’t even think about Heero without
my chest hurting.
Hilde didn’t even question the vacation time; we’re mostly
shut down from Christmas to New Year’s anyway, and not like I didn’t
have enough time accumulated.
Guess I paid those exorbitant last minute shipping fees after all; I was
just shipping myself instead of a package.
Remind me never to travel that close to Christmas again. The shuttle port
was a nightmare of bodies; harried, hurried, short on the holiday spirit
bodies. While every fiber of my being was telling my time was of the essence,
every person I encountered seemed bent on slowing me down. Just getting
through customs was a lesson in patience, but getting a taxi took more
like divine intervention. I was on the verge of throwing myself into the
street in front of one, when I finally got lucky. Or maybe you have to
reach the right level of desperation before you qualify for one. And then
I thought I would strangle the guy when he turned into one of those talkative
‘Where to, Mack?’ he asked in a cheesily bad New York accent
that made me do a double-take.
I gave him the address and then added a little, ‘And I’m kind
of in a hurry,’ at the end. My imagination painting a scene of me
arriving to find an empty apartment.
All it won me was a snort and a shake of his head as he pulled away from
the curb. ‘On Christmas eve? I’m so surprised!’
I conceded the point with a sheepish chuckle. ‘Suppose you’ve
got me there.’ I caught him eyeing me in the rearview mirror and
tried to ignore it.
‘Just late to the party?’ he prodded. ‘Or something
I frowned out the window at his nosiness. ‘Interesting?’
‘Taxi Driver? Collateral? The Fifth Element? Seen ‘em all,’ he
enthused. ‘I’m waiting for my interesting ride.’
‘Sorry,’ I informed him. ‘Tonight’s not your night.
Just headed to a friend’s place.’
‘Then what’s the big rush?’ He grinned, and it was disturbing
me how he was spending as much time looking at me in the rearview as he
spent watching the road.
‘Like you said… it’s Christmas eve,’ I grumbled,
hoping to put him off the topic with the tone of my voice. I really wasn’t
in the mood to discuss my vaguely unsettled feeling over Heero.
‘Come on, man,’ he grinned, switching lanes with a suddenness
that left me using my elbow to keep from sliding into the door. ‘You
don’t look like you’re happy to be heading where you’re
heading. You sort of look like you got a sour stomach.’
‘Well,’ I hedged, irritated with myself for not being able
to just tell the guy to mind his own stupid business. ‘Maybe I’ve
actually got a sour stomach.’
‘Nah,’ he told me, lifting his chin a bit so he could give
me a closer once over in the mirror. ‘You didn’t even look
green on that last turn.’
I met his eye in the mirror for a second, but then just didn’t reply.
He chuckled and turned his attention to his driving as he stole a red light. ‘You
just look like a guy with a story is all,’ he said, not deterred
at all by the lapse on my side of the conversation. ‘Just down from
the colonies with nothing but a duffle and a jacket that’s not really
warm enough for this weather? You’re in some big hurry all right.’
It jerked my attention back from where I’d been gazing pointedly
out the window, and I frowned at his profile, not bothering with the mirror.
‘Chill man,’ he smirked happily to himself. ‘I just
picked you up in front of the off-world shuttle port, and the duffle and
jacket are kind of right there to see. Doesn’t take a detective.’
‘You’re a very observant person,’ I remarked noncommittally. ‘And
you’re awfully interested in other people’s business.’
‘People are interesting,’ he shrugged, seeming to decide all
at once that he needed to make a right hand turn, and cutting off a pick-up
truck in the lane next to us to do so, and there was the blare of a horn. ‘This
job would be boring as hell otherwise. Everybody has a story of some sort.
Some are just more interesting than others, and you look like an interesting
I couldn’t quite contain the snort. I suppose war-orphan, Shinigami,
Gundam pilot, terrorist, freedom fighter, hero of the Earth sphere, salvage
yard owner might be considered ‘interesting’.
‘Now see,’ my driver grinned. ‘That look right there
just says you got all kinds of stories to tell.’
‘Not today,’ I repeated. ‘Today I’m just going
to see an old friend for the holidays.’
‘She sick or something?’ he said, looking at me funny and
I wanted to tell him to please watch the road instead. ‘You look
kind of worried whenever you say that.’
‘He,’ I corrected automatically and then wanted to kick myself
for letting the guy get anywhere with his fishing. ‘And no… he’s
He chuckled, spinning the wheel in his hands. ‘That look on your
face says otherwise; that’s the look of a worried man.’
I frowned, glaring at the back of his head. ‘And that’s the
look of a nosy man.’
‘Just bored,’ he admitted. ‘This time of year is usually
better for interesting stories; rough times.’
‘Rough?’ I had to question, thinking of the state of the world
in general. ‘The economy is fine…’ I began, but he just
‘Not that kind of rough,’ he corrected. ‘This time of
year just brings out the bad for people. All the glitter and shine and
crap… just makes people sad in the long run. Too much build up that
can’t ever be lived up to. They say the suicide rate is highest this
time of year.’
I thought I’d give myself whiplash turning to stare into the mirror.
He just chuckled knowingly and forgot me for a second while he changed
lanes. Don’t know why the guy always had to move two or three at
‘Nothin’ like that,’ I muttered and went back to looking
out the window. It was not a word I had let myself think even though that
was probably the root of my biggest fear. Dumb, I told myself, but still
couldn’t help wanting to rub at my chest… it just felt tight.
I opened my mouth to ask if we were getting close, but then closed it again,
afraid he’d just laugh at me.
Dumb. A stupid thought. Heero Yuy was not a quitter. Not the kind of guy
who would give in to any sort of depression. He’d get up off his
ass and go out and do something about it… wouldn’t he?
Or would he know how? How much did I really know about Heero? We talked
about books and movies and things from our shared time during the war.
We talked about world politics and the weather and sometimes the other
guys. But feelings? Dreams? Fears? Not so much.
What did I really know about his life? About his situation? About how
What if my trying not to push had ended up just… holding him at
arm’s length? Maybe I should have pushed for more?
‘That’s what they all say…’ I heard mumbled from
the front seat, and it took me a second to realize what he was saying.
‘You really ferried around that many depressed people?’ I
snapped, getting seriously tired of making conversation with the guy.
‘This time of year just makes crap worse,’ he replied, not
responding to my angry tone of voice. ‘S’all I’m saying.
Guy might be ok the rest of the year, but then here comes the holidays
and everywhere you look it’s all about families and loved ones, and
a guy who’s all alone might start getting down. And if they was down
already… well, it just makes crap worse, like I said.’
I tried to remember if Heero had seemed… ‘worse’ at
Christmas before. Had he gotten unresponsive before, and I just hadn’t
noticed? I was usually so damn rushed, our office manager teased me that
sometimes she thought I was going to meet myself coming or going. Had I
missed it? Was Heero suffering and I just never took the time to see it
before? Had I let him down?
‘Don’t worry, buddy,’ my driver soothed. ‘We’re
I nodded and went back to staring out the window, watching the displays
of brightly colored lights that seemed to just be everywhere. I guess maybe
it would seem depressing to a person who maybe only had a box full of silly
presents from a guy who couldn’t even be bothered to come in person,
waiting for him Christmas morning.
I gave in and rubbed at my chest.
When we pulled up in front of Heero’s apartment building, the driver
wished me a Merry Christmas as I threw some bills in his general direction,
but I can’t remember if I replied… I was too busy hauling my
butt out of his cab.
Heero’s apartment was on the third floor, and I took the stairs
rather than wait on the elevator, Heero had complained before how slow
I was not at all prepared to burst out into a hallway filled with people.
My first thought was that it was some kind of weird fire-drill. My second
thought was that it was an actual fire. My third thought was that I was
in the wrong place.
It appeared to be a traveling Christmas party. There were people standing
around with drinks in their hands, and people making their way up and down
the hall, milling in and out of the open doorways of apartments. There
were garlands and lights and a little tree at the end of the hall. There
was laughter and talking and the blare of Christmas music and a small group
trying to sing along. Somebody’s yippy little dog ran by. Somebody
at the far end of the hall laughed boisterously and somewhere I could hear
the faint sounds of what sounded like the end scene of ‘It’s
A Wonderful Life’.
I just stood there. I imagine I looked like a deer in a spotlight with
its mouth hanging open. I did turn at some point in there, to look back
at the door I’d just come through to verify that I was indeed on
the third floor. Then I thought to scan the hall, but there wasn’t
a single door that was closed… Heero was not down there somewhere
hiding from the chaos. From what I could see of the doors, they were all
decorated to the max and I couldn’t even have begun to find the numbers.
So I just continued to stand there, feeling kind of lost and pretty confused
until I’d just about made up my mind that the best course of action
was a quiet retreat.
And that was when this petite little blonde lady wearing a Santa hat with
bells on, smiled at me widely and made the quiet part of retreat not really
possible. ‘Who are you looking for, sweetheart? You look lost and
I managed a sheepish grin and rubbed at the back of my neck. ‘Well,
I think maybe I came at a bad time…’ I began and she just poo-pooed
‘Good Heavens, honey!’ It’s a party! The more the merrier!
Tell me who you’re looking for and I can probably find them for you!’
Woman was enthusiastic; I had to give her that. The yippy dog proved to
me hers when it trotted up to sit at her feet, cocking its head and looking
at me quizzically.
‘Well,’ I stammered, feeling more and more the fool. ‘I’m
an old friend of Heero Yuy’s, but I kind of didn’t call ahead…’
That was all it took though, and she didn’t let me get out any more
before she was turning on her heel and jingling her way down the hall,
waving at me to follow. ‘Oh, Heero will be thrilled to see you! He
was in Fox’s apartment watching movies the last I saw him. Come on!’
I didn’t know quite what else to do, so I dutifully followed the
dog who was following her and we made a mini parade as we went, apparently,
to Fox’s place.
We passed a door where I could see nothing but tables laid out with cookies
and pies and cakes and God only knows what else. We passed a door where
people just seemed to be sitting around talking quietly. We passed one
where I think there was some kind of game going on. It was like a block
party. Only indoors.
Then we got to the movie apartment and there was Heero, laughing with
a room full of people as what’s-his-name hugged his family and the
little bell rang and somewhere an Angel got their wings.
I just wanted to flee. I felt like all the things I’d been thinking
were written all over my face. I wanted to go back and find that cab driver
and deck him for feeding my stupid delusions. I wondered if he laughed
all the way back to… wherever cab drivers go when they’re done
for the day.
But there wasn’t time, because the jingly lady was announcing me,
and Heero was turning away from the television and looking at me and all
I could do was grin weakly and waggle my fingers in his general direction.
It helped that there wasn’t any hesitation in his answering smile. ‘Duo?’
‘Uh… surprise?’ I managed, but things just got even
more bizarre when the jingly lady turned back to grin at me even wider.
‘You’re Duo?’ she gushed. ‘Oh, I can’t wait
for Heero to show us what you sent this year! Why on Earth didn’t
you just bring the presents with you, if you were planning on coming?’
Well… so much for my collected and cool entrance.
‘Shipping is cheaper, Meggan,’ Heero told her, leaving his
chair and coming toward us as the credits to the movie ran. ‘Especially
for boxes that damn big.’
I had been fighting a blush, and lost the battle as Meggan giggled and
Heero laughed. There were introductions then and I heard a dozen names
that didn’t stick with me for more than five seconds. I was appalled
that my boxes and cards were, apparently, well known around those parts,
and couldn’t lose the blush no matter how hard I tried. Somebody
waved some bottles in my face until I chose one, and somebody else offered
a plate of cookies that were just too pretty to eat. Somebody directed
me to the apartment where the ‘real food’ was supposedly spread
out, and my head was spinning within minutes.
I was… somewhat appalled at myself. Embarrassed wasn’t the
half of it. How had I had it so wrong? I had so missed the mark on the
whole situation, that it wasn’t even funny. Busy… the guy was
just busy. Weren’t we all at the end of the year? Hell, with all
the stuff I normally had going on around the holidays, maybe I seemed distracted
and distant too. There had certainly been plenty of times, in years past,
where I’d put off sending a message or two. It made me doubt my own
intentions. Had I wanted Heero to be sitting in his apartment all alone
in the dark on the verge of ending it all or running away… just so
I could come and… what? Save him? Whisk him away? What?
Beyond what I had expected to find, there was the bigger question… what
had I wanted to find?
It was the touch of Heero’s hand on the small of my back that brought
me out of my musings. He was laughing at his neighbors and obviously ushering
me toward wherever his apartment was in all the chaos. ‘How about
we let the poor guy stow his gear, before you all drag him off and stuff
him with Christmas cookies?’ he teased and I found myself moving
across the hall under his guidance.
His apartment was the Christmas carol one. It was another tilt to my reality.
He’d been saying something, but the tree in the corner of his living
room with the tasteful white and crystal ornaments distracted me. Everything
was so not what I had thought, that I guess I was just floundering a little
I couldn’t help the hesitation in the doorway of his place as he
tugged on my backpack. ‘Uh… Heero, I really should have called
before just showing up like this. Maybe I should wait and come back later
when you aren’t… you know… in the middle of something?’
He stopped and gave me a funny, kind of cocked head look that reminded
me of the yippy little dog. ‘Duo, it’s no big deal. It’s
an open party… half the rest of the building will wander through
at some point. Trust me… there’s more than enough food for
I ducked my head and just couldn’t quite lose the weird feeling
of floundering. ‘Yeah… but you don’t need me here…’ I
heard myself say, and felt the ache of the statement right in the center
of my chest. There was a meaning there that went beyond a guy who’d
dropped by unannounced.
I don’t think he could possibly understand the double-meaning, but
something made him stop and really look at me. He gave me a soft little
smile, took my backpack away from me and said, ‘Yeah… but maybe
I want you here.’
I didn’t know how to answer that and then he was walking away into
the depths of his apartment with my stuff and I was kind of stuck anyway.
I took the moment to look around and realized that the brightly wrapped
packages under the tree were the ones I’d sent, carefully laid out
and damn, but there really were a lot of them.
I turned away from the sight, embarrassed again, and found myself looking
at the display on his front door; everybody seemed to have decorated, like
it was some sort of contest. Heero’s was made up of tinsel and cards
taped to the door, and it took me a moment to realize that a lot of them
were ones I had sent him in years past. Though there were others, and I
think that maybe said something that I would ponder on later.
Heero was suddenly back from the other room, standing there with me looking
at the cards. He tapped at one of the sillier ones and grinned. ‘I
think that’s my favorite,’ he said, and then he gave me that
soft little smile again. ‘I’m glad you came.’
I decided in that moment to let go of my embarrassment and to just go
with the flow. Maybe this hadn’t been such a bad idea after all.
‘Me too,’ I told him and we went to find some cookies.
Fiction : GW :