Wufei came in September, looking harried. He wanted to spar, and Heero needed the exercise, so they went for best two out of three, and then best three out of four, and then best four out of five, and then it was just about time for dinner. Heero had never seen anyone chop onions with such ferocious precision before. He took out the white plates with the blue border and said, "Do you want water or tea?"
The evening sun fell in through the kitchen window. Wufei ate all the pickled cherry tomatoes and played with his chopsticks until he broke one of them, and Heero took the other one away from him. "We weren't getting anywhere with the drug cartel. I should have worked harder."
Heero got up to clear the table. "There's some fruit on the counter."
He'd painted the kitchen walls that summer, pale grey washed with a hint of blue. Picking a pear from the fruit basket, he turned to toss it to Wufei, but Wufei sat with his head in his hands and stared at the table. "Sally volunteered." His shirtsleeves were wrinkled. "She's pregnant."
Heero threw the pear anyway. "Congratulations," he said, and Wufei turned in the chair and caught it, just barely.
The pears were almost overripe, leaking thin, sweet juice down their chins. They sat outside in the back garden with the windows open, and listened to a taiko concert broadcast live from Kyoto. Wufei left at midnight with a brown paper bag full of pears in one hand.
Duo came in November, soaked to the skin, teeth chattering, jacket bundled up in his arms. He tumbled through the door and thrust the jacket at Heero, sneezed three times, and wrung his hair out all over Heero's dry shoes. "Found it down by the bus station," he said. "I guess it was a summer pet that grew out of its cute."
Heero untangled the wet jacket and found a half-grown cat, grey-striped, who hissed at him and sank its claws in his wrist. It leaped from his arms and ran deeper into the house, and moments later, Heero heard a crash from the living room. Duo took off after it, and Heero followed, waiting for the next crash.
There was no cat food in the kitchen, of course, so Duo cut up the chicken livers for the cat and called out for Thai. He was still in Preventers uniform pants, and barely noticed when the cat tried to climb up his legs. Heero wore shorts; he noticed. They argued over what to order, and over who would pay for it, and over who got the last noodles.
Rain hammered against the windows. Heero had run into a snag with his latest project, and he outlined the security system to Duo, who sprawled on the floor and picked holes in it. The cat was sick under the kitchen table, and Heero hit Duo over the head with a rolled-up newspaper until he cleaned it up.
Duo slept on the couch under a crocheted afghan and took off early in the morning after finishing the cereal. He left the cat.
Quatre came for Christmas. He put two bulging paper bags down on the hall floor, and the cat promptly jumped into one of them and overturned it. Quatre laughed. The cat, called Red after an incident in the garage with a couple of paint cans, ran and hid under the couch. "I don't really celebrate Christmas," Heero said.
"I don't really, either."
All the packages, though wrapped, were unlabeled. They piled them on the kitchen table and walked around the house, room to room. Heero noticed that some of the plants had died; he was not very good at caring for them. He threw the dead ones out, and Quatre wiped the windowsills clean of dust. Going into the bathroom to wash his hands, Heero noticed the toothpaste spatters on the mirror. He opened the cupboard under the sink and got out the cleaning supplies.
They cleaned the house from top to bottom. Quatre got bleach stains on his expensive shirt and mislaid his tie somewhere. Heero scrubbed the floor tiles in the hall until the brush broke in his hand. Quatre took it away from him and pulled him into the kitchen to open the packages. One of the things Quatre had bought was a heavy fruit cake soaked in alcohol, and they cut off slice after slice and ate it right out of the wrapper, grimacing at the sweetness, getting a little tipsy.
Quatre stayed for three days, and his car got snowed in up to the windscreen wipers. They built a snowman in the back garden and put Quatre's tie around its neck; the cat had chewed on it. While they were talking about a snow fort, Quatre got a phone call, and instead they dug out the car, and Heero asked Quatre if he wanted a cat, and Quatre said no, not really. He waved as he drove away and nearly steered the car into a snow bank.
Relena came in February, when it seemed the sun would never come back. She hadn't called to let him know she was coming, and there was only tofu and rice for dinner, but she said she liked it. She wore her hair up these days, neatly tied back with clips and pins, but when they'd done the dishes and moved into the living room, she tugged it down to hang loose all along her back and sat on the couch with her bare feet tucked up under her, and Heero got out the chess board.
They played for a long time, in silence, both of them concentrating deeply. The cat crawled out from under the couch and consented to sit on the back rest and watch, but when Relena looked up abruptly in the middle of a tense move, it took off.
She made coffee for both of them, grinding fresh beans she'd brought with her, heating milk and using the tiny electric whisk to beat it into a froth. The smell of it filled up the house. Coffee always tasted bitter. He lay on the couch with his head in her lap, and she read from a book of old French poetry. He didn't understand a word, just listened to the sound of her voice and slept for a while.
When he woke up, it was close to midnight. Relena's legs had gone numb, and she had to sit and wiggle her toes for a while before she could walk, but she wouldn't let him apologize. "You needed the rest," she said. "I think I nodded off for a while, too."
After she'd gone, he found that she had left the bag of coffee beans in the refrigerator, fastened shut with a bright pink plastic clip.
It was early April when the beat-up station wagon pulled up in the drive, license plates mud-splattered into unreadability. Heero opened the door and walked outside in his stockinged feet. Gravel dug into his soles. Trowa got out of the car wearing dark blue workman's coveralls and heavy boots. His hair was longer. Heero walked right up to him, and Trowa wrapped his arms around Heero and leaned his head against Heero's shoulder. "I'm home."
The coveralls smelled of oil and dirt. Heero grabbed them and tugged Trowa back to look him in the eye. "I don't care if you're the best candidate for the job," he said. "I don't care if none of the others have your experience at going undercover. I don't care if Sally is going to have triplets."
Trowa raised an eyebrow. "Is she?"
"You're never going to be away from me that long again," Heero said, and kissed him.
Much later, when they drew apart a little, the sun had broken through the clouds, and the cat was lying curled up on the front steps. Trowa's eyes were clear and calm. "No," he said, "no, I'm not. I won't."
Heero took a deep breath. The yellow crocus by the corner of the house was changing from bud to bloom. The winter was over.