The Christmas Arc
Part Seven: The Gift
by D.C. Logan
Heero looked at the sealed envelope in his hand and the ring in his fist. It was so much to take in at once.
He set the envelope in his lap and held the ring up to the light to see the symbol cut into its surface and better read the engraved word on the interior. It hadn't changed in all the years since Quatre had given the ring to Heero, and he'd exchanged it for Duo's. Holding the physical evidence of Duo's death in his hand hit him with a visceral impact in dark, secret, and desperate places a printed report could never reach. Places where he'd locked away his hopes. But Duo would not have let this ring leave his hand while he lived, of that Heero was very sure. A ring, eternity, an arc without end. He remembered transferring it from his hand to Duo's that Christmas Eve so very many years ago. Now it had come home after its long lonely journey.
He held up his own hand and compared the two rings, once so similar. The features on the ring Duo had given him had dulled and blurred over time. He didn't remember when he'd developed the habit of turning it about his finger during times of stress or when remembering Duo, but touching it had always soothed him, almost like the physical contact or understanding touch of his long dead lover. He took the newer ring between two fingers and pushed it over his swollen knuckle until it nestled with its mate. The two rings belonged together. And they would remain so until the day his physical body died. His heart had already passed on long ago, his body just hadn't realized it yet.
What would happen to him after he opened the letter? He thought briefly about burning it, so his hopes could stay alive, and sighed deeply. But that would be doing Duo a disservice, and would be an injustice to his memory.
He hesitated a moment more. Then, his decision made, he shook the contents down to one end and tore the envelope open with his fingers, carefully saving the small bits of paper that escaped.
He reached in the envelope and pulled two sheets of paper free. He glanced over them, both had been folded along different lines. And though each page was in a different hand, neither was in Duo's familiar loose script. He sighed, not knowing what it was he'd been expecting, but feeling disappointment just the same. And he selected one of the pages at random.
You don't know me, and I can't say I've even more than heard of the Eve War or much about Gundams, other than tales my father told me. But I'm third generation Sweeper, and there's still those left that knew of and talk about young Duo Maxwell.
Us Sweepers have been looking for stray cargo vessels for years now. It's well known that the one of us to find and return the contents of Container Vessel XJ31924-HKF677 would get the bounty posted all those years ago. So we've been searching.
My dad knew Duo before the war. Said he'd been a stowaway on a Sweeper ship and became a ship mascot after that, and picked up some of the trade from there. Said he was quick with tools, fought tooth and nail for any cause that took his fancy, and couldn't be kept where he didn't want to stay. Said he thought Maxwell'd come back and join our numbers after the Gundams were gone, but I guess he was happy with what he was doing. Dad didn't remember much more, but that was years ago and Dad's memory isn't what it used to be.
Well anyway, we found that container you were looking for drifting in space. It was a wonder we ever found it really. Without the aid of the newer detection software, it would have stayed out there even yet. I thought The Search was a legend. Even in these times, every Sweeper has to memorize the call numbers on that box before they could go out to scavenge space solo. Imagine my surprise to be the one to find it. I towed it back to the closest dockport so we could open it in relative gravity.
Me and my mates opened it in the cargo bay. Not much inside, some empty cartons, and I'm sorry to say, your friend. He looked fresh dead. Space preserves you good, but I guess you of all people would know that. He was wearing a space suit, but I think he knew his time was up, since he'd taken off his gloves and relied on the atmosphere left in the container.
I don't know if you want to read this part. But I guess you of all people have a right to know how this letter got to you. Your friend, I guess he wanted real bad to leave you a letter.
When we went into the container, we found the metal walls covered with blood. Wasn't until Fred came in that he saw it was words. Guess your friend didn't have anything to write on the walls with, so he cut the end of his finger and wrote with what he had in him. It was real weird, the blood being so fresh and all still. He left a note on the wall for whoever found him as well, guess that means me. Basically begging whoever found him to copy down all the words and take the ring off his hand and make sure both were sent to any of the surviving Gundam pilots of the Eve War. Guess that would be you.
I sure don't envy him dying like that. He didn't have anything in there with him, probably thought he was deadheading back to the moon station on an empty for refilling. Probably expected to be out of that box within an hour or two. But you know by now that the cargo containers were cut loose, and just kept drifting.
This was the last one of the twelve that went missing. He didn't have a light with him, and the one in his suit wasn't turned on—likely he was trying to save battery power. I guess when he figured something was wrong, he decided that he wasn't gonna be rescued, and figured that the time he had left was better spent leaving a message to you than just dying in the dark and cold. I'm sorry I had to be the one to tell you all this. He musta wanted to get this to you something terrible. All he went through to get it written down.
Us Sweepers took care of burying his body. Normally we just incinerate remains and such, but Tommy—he's the mechanic on the station—figured you might want to come visit sometime, so we put him here so you could come visit him whenever you like. Just come to the station and ask for Crazy Tommy the Sweeper. That's my dad.
Heero moved the letters to one side so he wouldn't wet them with his tears, and tried to gather up the frail shreds of his composure before shifting one page behind the other...
...And found his heart speaking back to him from across the void of empty space and many years. Duo's voice spoke in his mind with all its familiar cadences, young and vibrant, never roughened by the passage of age and time.
I'm so sorry, so sorry that I'm not at home and warm beside you. It was my fault, all my fault. I should have trusted more, I should have believed in you more. I should have listened to my gut feelings more often. But that time is past. And I missed the opportunity to tell you once again how very much I love you. I would give anything, anything at all, for one last moment with you. But it doesn't look like you're going to be able to rescue me this time—as you've rescued me in so many ways that counted over the years I've known you.
I want you to know that the best times of my life were the times I spent with you. Being near you, living in your life beside you, loving you and being loved in return. What we had was real, it was true, and it was worthy of remembering.
I know you Heero. And I know what you'll do to yourself when you realize what I've done. Promise me Heero, that my stupidity won't destroy two lives when only one has to suffer.
Promise me that you'll let me go, that you'll do something meaningful with your life, that you'll love again. That you'll appreciate the little things I worked so hard to point out to you, that you'll see them on your own. Sunsets on earth, snow in winter, a warm drink on a cold day, the scent of fresh rain, a cup raised in friendship.
Please Heero, be at peace with yourself and please try to survive this. I know it will be hard for you, but you're strong, you've survived alone before, and I know you can prevail. I'm more sorry than I can say that I'm not going to be there with you for all that lies ahead.
And don't think about the bad times we had together. The worst moments with you far outreached the best moments I shared with others. You said it best, remember? That we didn't have easy lives before we met, so we couldn't hope for an easy life together. And it wasn't always easy Heero, you know I don't lie. But it was still time with you, and sometimes the difficult moments served best to remind me how truly beautiful the good times were.
So my dearest Heero, my sincere and genuine thanks for all the shared moments, good and bad, horrible and wonderful. I know I was loved in all the ways I could be loved, and in the end, that's all that truly matters. I'm sorry we couldn't grow old together. My best friend, my dearest lover, my eternal companion.
I love you.
Heero didn't feel the tears that tracked down his face and fell on the synthetic paper. They pooled in small lakes in the crinkles and creases. He wasn't aware that he was softly moaning in reaction to the pain of his soul being crushed. And he didn't realize that his body was quietly rocking back and forth in grief.
His arms wrapped tightly about his chest, his two precious letters clutched to his heart. Words from the grave. Words that still held enough power to twist his heart and tear his soul. It was over. All the waiting was over. But instead of filling the void Duo's absence had created, all he could hear were the closing words of the letter, in Duo's bed-warmed voice, repeating themselves over and over in his mind.
He had a place to go now.
It felt strange to be leaving, it had been so many years since he had voluntarily left the orderly house, the well-tended gardens, the familiar space he'd made his home.
"Thanks for coming Wufei."
Wufei nodded in quiet understanding. Heero had shared the letter from the Sweepers with him. And had asked him, politely, if he'd be willing to accompany him on his travels to the station. After all the years of distrust, he couldn't help but be pleased at the hesitant extension of friendship between them. It was a start.
Crazy Tommy the Sweeper fit his description perfectly: balding, squat, and insane. But he was good enough to give directions to the two odd old men looking for a dead spacer's grave. He hadn't any idea who they could be, or why they had bothered to travel so far. He remembered a new grave vaguely, his son would know where it was for certain—but he was out spending the money he'd gotten for bringing in something from space a few weeks ago.
The two old men, one with a long black walking staff, the other with a walk younger than his years, carefully followed the directions to a small patch of earth that served as both the local park and cemetery. No grass or plants lived in the recreation area—water was too valuable a resource here at the extreme limits of the newly developing colonies. They walked out to an area where small markers had been set at regular intervals into a low wall. Wufei and Heero moved carefully along the wall, reading each of the plaques as they went. Then Heero saw a bright, newly set plate further down the path and hurried over to read the inscription.
Wufei cursed quietly under his breath and moved as quickly as his bad leg would let him—struggling to keep pace. He reached Heero's side just in time to see him reach out to lightly touch the inscription before doubling over and dropping hard to his knees with a gutteral moan.
"Heero! Hey Heero!" Alarmed by his reaction, Wufei reached awkwardly down and shook Heero's shoulder.
And then he looked at the plaque. And understood.
(I miss you Heero)