Author: Calic0cat
Started & Completed: Dec. 25-29, 2002
Genre: Romance, Angst
Pairing: Eventual 1x2x1, 3x4x3, 5+6+5, DxR, surprise pairing at end (het)
Rated: R
Warnings: AU(?), OOC, Swearing
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

Notes: Set in December A.C. 202. Written for Sita Seraph's xmas fic challenge to write a fic inspired by the song "It Must Have Been the Mistletoe".

'Thinking'
"Speaking"
+ = Time passing or scene change

Author's Notes: (Author stomps in, glares at muses, and drops fic with a hefty *thud*. Darned angst muse, turns a perfectly good 5-page humour fic into a 30+ page monster... Even had to waste a perfectly good title...) I had no intention of writing a *third* holiday fic this year, but Sita Seraph's challenge wouldn't leave me alone. This was supposed to be romance/humour again, but my so-far-nameless angst muse decided to make a contribution along with my romance/humour muse Quin (who may have got a little carried away in the sheer number of pairings...), so this is definitely angstier (more angsty? whatever...) than anything else I've posted so far, though there is still some humour and the requisite happy/sappy ending. Feedback is appreciated.

It Must Have Been the Mistletoe + Part 1

Quatre woke slowly. Damn, did his head ever hurt. Cautiously opening his eyes, he recognized his own bedroom. That was strange - the last thing he remembered was standing up to speak at the WEI board meeting. As he attempted to sit up, a soft voice exclaimed, "Finally! Careful now, you've been out quite a while..." As Iria hurried over and helped him sit up, Quatre moaned and raised a hand to his head. Anticipating his question, Iria informed him, "You passed out in the middle of your speech to the board and hit your head on the table as you fell. No sign of a concussion, but you've got a real doozy of a black eye."

"How long was I out?" Quatre asked anxiously. "I was supposed to go straight from the board meeting to Preventers HQ to go over the budget proposal with Une."

"Yes, you were. Yesterday. You've been out for over 24 hours, Quatre. You can't keep going like this. You simply cannot keep putting in 10 hour days at WEI then another four to six hours at the Preventers. When was the last time you went for a horseback ride? Went swimming? Visited any of the other pilots? Spoke to anyone regarding anything that wasn't work-related? Did anything that wasn't work-related?"

"But there's so much to be done, Iria! I can't simply stop."

"Quatre, everyone has to eat and sleep occasionally! You're twenty-two years old and you're burning out!" his sister said, voice rising in worried exasperation.

"You asked about visiting the other pilots - when would I do that?! They're working just as many hours as I am! We all have our debts of conscience to pay, sister. Sleep? None of us can sleep more than a few hours before the nightmares come. The more tired and stressed we get, the worse the nightmares get. The worse the nightmares get, the harder it gets to sleep, and the cycle just keeps repeating itself. And the good doctors that trained us put a lot of effort into building up our resistance to all forms of drugs, so most sleeping pills won't even work on us!"

"You didn't have this problem sleeping when Trowa..."

Quatre cut her off abruptly, "No, and neither did he. But we were just very good friends, starting to explore the possibility of becoming something more, and as the demands on our time built up, we simply... drifted apart. As did Duo and Heero. Trowa and I at least have the excuse of being on different colonies most of the time. They live in the same Preventers apartment building and still barely see each other unless they happen to have a mission together!" Half under his breath he added, "Or at least that's what Duo told me the last time I spoke with him almost six months ago."

"Well, that's all going to change for the next month at least. I've spoken to Catherine, Lady Une and Sally Po, and Professor G. All five of you are being given forced leave from all of your jobs, not just Preventers, for medical reasons, as are Zechs and Relena who are working themselves into the ground just as badly. Dorothy will be coming as well to keep Relena company and because she has been keeping equally terrible hours trying to ease some of Relena's workload. Une, Sally, and myself will be dropping in from time to time to make sure that you are all following doctor's orders and not doing anything work-related. From now through until after New Year's, the eight of you are under strict orders to be the teenagers you should have been given the time to be after the war instead of moving straight into all the responsibilities of adulthood."

"Iria, it's a lovely thought, but..."

"No buts, Quatre. I'm speaking as your doctor now, not your sister. The WEI board has already been informed and several of our sisters have stepped up to take over various aspects of the jobs you've been trying to do all alone." As Iria turned to leave Quatre to rest, she added casually, "Oh, and just in case you were thinking about sneaking some work along... I've located some old friends of yours and hired them to go along and look after the house, run interference with the media, and so on..."

A feeling of impending doom slowly creeping over him, Quatre hesitated to ask exactly who she was referring to. The question became unnecessary a moment later as a booming voice that he hadn't heard in several years echoed through the room.

"Master Quatre, you really should take better care of yourself!" the voice scolded.

"I'll get you for this, Iria," he muttered under his breath as the owner of the voice swept over to the bed to begin fluffing pillows and fussing over him.

"Do not worry about a thing, Master Quatre, I, Rashid, am here to look after you!"

"As are the rest of the Maguanacs, most of whom are currently involved in getting the estate you are going to ready," Iria informed him with a wicked smirk. "Well, except for those delegated to pick up the other houseguests..."

+

"What did you say?" Trowa demanded in disbelief.

"Abdul is here to pick you up for your vacation," Catherine repeated calmly, handing Trowa's already-packed bags to the Maguanac in question.

"Cathy, I can't go on vacation now! We have extra performances scheduled from now right through Christmas! And Une almost always calls me in for extra hours in December as well!"

"Not this year," his sister informed him. "After your medical the other day, Sally put you on leave. Your stress level is through the roof; your blood pressure is too high; you're underweight, overtired, and simply unfit for duty. Once I informed the ringmaster, he put you on leave as well. If you're not fit for even desk duty as a Preventer, you're sure as hell not fit to be walking a tightrope or working with the lions."

"But..."

"No buts, Trowa," she scolded firmly. "You're going and that's final. You aren't the only one either."

"I am simply glad that I am not the one who drew the short straw and ended up having to fetch Master Wufei," Abdul said, chuckling slightly. "Poor Hamid... I hope he took Rashid's advice and took earplugs along..."

+

Hamid swallowed a chuckle. He suspected that it would not be wise to let the irate Chinese man know that he found his ranting amusing. Or rather, he found it amusing in light of the fact that the petite blonde doctor it was directed at appeared to be completely unimpressed by it, continuing to unpack work-related items from Master Wufei's bags with a total lack of concern for the stream of complaints directed her way.

"You're going, you're not taking anything work-related with you, you're going to have a good time, and that's final," Sally finally said, cutting in as Wufei paused for breath.

"There is far too much work to be done for me to go gallivanting off on some - some - vacation for an entire month!" Wufei stated, grimacing as if the word "vacation" had a truly sour taste to it.

"That may have been the case in past years," Sally told him very seriously, "but not any more. The Preventers have enough well-trained agents now. No one needs to be working 16 hour days, not even Chief Une! And all of you have enough vacation days saved up to take six months off." As Wufei opened his mouth to continue his protests, she held up a warning finger and cautioned him, "And if you keep this up, I'll make you take them all. At once."

Muttering under his breath, Wufei grabbed his remaining luggage, only to have Sally neatly snag his laptop case out of his hands.

"Nice try, Chang," she said, "but I don't think so." Turning to Hamid, she smiled apologetically, "He's all yours. Try not to throttle him before you get there, please. He is one of our best agents when he isn't so exhausted that he's putting completed paperwork in the wastepaper basket instead of Une's 'In' box."

"It only happened once," Wufei muttered grumpily. "And I'd like to see her try taking Yuy's laptop away from him like that..."

+

Une sighed. She had hoped Heero would be a little more accepting than this. Oh well, at least he always followed orders...

"Heero Yuy! You are taking a month's leave and you are going to the estate with the others and you are going to take part in any and all activities suggested and you are going to have a good time and you are not taking that damn laptop with you! And that's an order!! Am I making myself perfectly clear?" she growled out, glaring right back at him.

"But..."

"No buts! Are you questioning a direct order?"

"Chill out, Une-chan," another voice said from the door of Heero's apartment. "If he promises to use the laptop for personal things only, no work stuff, can he take it?"

Meeting the darkly-shadowed eyes of Heero's best friend, Une realized that there must be something more involved with the laptop than what she'd assumed. "Nothing work-related," she warned, turning back to Heero.

"Agreed," he said with a faint hint of relief in his voice. "Arigatou, Duo," Heero said, directing a tiny nod in Duo's direction.

"No prob, 'Ro," Duo responded, leaning heavily against the doorframe. "Une, G already filled me in. No arguments here, but when are we gettin' picked up? I should prob'ly get somethin' to eat first 'cause Sally's on my back about losin' weight again and I worked through lunch so's I could get over to the mads' lab early... Then G gave me a scoldin' and sent me back here..." He stifled a yawn and gave Une a weary, slightly abashed, grin.

"In other words, the last time you ate was breakfast?!" she exclaimed, throwing a glance at her watch. "Duo Maxwell, no wonder you keep losing weight! Yes, you damn well better get something to eat if the last time you ate was nearly twelve hours ago!"

"I had an energy bar and a coffee at lunch while I worked," he protested.

"I haven't had supper either," Heero volunteered, "so since Chief Une seems to feel the need to supervise every item I pack, why don't I let her finish packing for me, and we can go get a meal at that Italian place down the block that we keep meaning to try?"

Looking from the tired grin that nevertheless reached Duo's eyes in a way she hadn't seen for quite some time to the tiny, hesitant smile on Heero's usually sternly set face, Une wasted no time in contributing, "That sounds like a great idea to me. Whoever's coming after you can wait, so take your time and have a good dinner. Now go on, shoo!" Watching as the two young men exited the apartment, Une felt a distinct stab of guilt. How had they all overlooked the state that their brightest and best were slowly but steadily slipping into? Even Sally hadn't noticed anything beyond her usual battle with Duo to eat properly until Iria drew their attention to a distinctly ominous pattern. The pilots, Zechs, and Relena (and therefore Dorothy) were all well on their way to burning out at incredibly young ages. Their abilities had been so badly needed in the first few years of peace that they had never been given a chance to recapture any of the youth they had sacrificed to earning that peace. Nor had they really even had a chance to enjoy the peace that they had fought so hard to achieve. Instead, they had all placed any semblance of a personal life "on hold", gritted their teeth, and dug in for a different sort of battle - that of maintaining the hard-won peace. By the time things became more stable, everyone had settled into a routine of overwork that had simply continued. That was going to have to change. Hopefully a month away from the pressure of work and in the company of others facing the same problems would help get that change underway. Then once they came back, she and the others would have to make sure that they stopped taking their "indestructible" young colleagues for granted and kept things from slipping back into the same pattern again.

+

"So G scolded you?" Heero asked as he and Duo were seated at the restaurant.

Duo gave him a wry grin. "Yeah. I walked in the door of the mads' lab and he pounced. Dragged me off to a window so's to get a good look at me in natural lighting, looked me up and down, then laid into me." Waving his arms around wildly in an uncannily accurate imitation of G, he mimicked, "How the hell do you expect to be creative and inventive when you're undernourished and overtired, boy?! How many times do I have to tell you that just because you learned to ignore hunger on the streets that doesn't mean you should do it now? I thought I'd taught you better than that, boy! I sure as hell didn't spend all that effort trainin' you and buildin' that damn machine of yours to get you through the war alive just to watch you kill yourself with work now we've got peace!" Dropping the imitation, Duo continued in amusement, "He went on like that for a good ten minutes, then sent me back home with my tail between my legs like a naughty little puppy." Shooting a cautious glance at Heero out of the corner of his eye, he mentioned casually, "J said to say hello from him and that he wants to see you when you get back. Somethin' about another lead on tracin' Odin's travels before what you remember, but whoever it was he needed to talk to wouldn't be available till after the holidays."

Heero made a noncommittal sound of acknowledgement. Where G's relationship with Duo tended to fall somewhere between fatherly and that of a favourite uncle, J's with him was considerably more strained. J seemed sincere enough in his desire to remain in contact with him, perhaps to even take on more of an uncle role than mere mentor, but he couldn't entirely forget or forgive the apparent ease with which J had ordered him to self-destruct all those years ago.

As the waitress arrived at their table and Duo started to order, Heero snorted. "No, you will not have an extra-large soda," he stated. "No caffeine, Duo. We're being picked up, if you fall asleep in the car it won't matter."

Sticking his tongue out at Heero and starting to relax for the first time in longer than he cared to think about, Duo retorted sarcastically, "Oh fine, why don't you just go ahead and order my whole dinner then since you don't agree with my choices?"

Smirking, Heero went ahead and did just that, ignoring Duo's surprised protests. After the waitress had left the table, he leaned forward and asked quietly, "Why don't we do this more often, Duo? When did we stop doing things together? Why did we stop doing things together?"

"Because practically the only time we're in the same place at the same time is when we're on a mission together? Because the more time we spent together, the harder it got to take multi-month-long undercover assignments away from each other? Because we agreed to put our own feelings aside and put off exploring any possible 'relationship' until things settled down, but somehow that time never came?" Duo shrugged unhappily, drawing his braid over his shoulder and starting to fiddle with it agitatedly. "All of the above? I dunno, Heero. All I know is that I'm just so damn tired. Physically tired, mentally tired, emotionally tired. Tired of workin' all hours of the day and night, tired of not bein' able to sleep more than a few hours at a time, tired of bein' alone. G, Une, Sally, & Iria are right, at least 'bout me. I'm burnin' out, and fast. If the dreams weren't so damn bad, I'd never get out of bed 'cause I can't think of one fuckin' reason why I should."

Looking at Duo more closely, Heero realized with a start just how thin and drawn his face was. Any trace of baby fat was long gone from his face, leaving his chin even more sharply defined than before. The hollows under his eyes were dark, almost bruised in appearance. Those amethyst eyes that had sparkled with vibrant life even during the worst the war could throw at them were dull and shadowed. The long braid was neat and clean but had none of the silky sheen of health that it used to.

Despite the fact that he himself was newly returned from nearly three months undercover and before that Duo had been the one gone, off on Mars testing some new terraforming gadget from the mads' lab, Heero cursed his negligence in not noticing his best friend's condition sooner. Reaching across the table, he stilled the restlessly fidgeting hands, gently removing the now-unravelling braid from their grasp. 'I'm sorry, Duo,' he apologized silently. 'Those invitations to come over for a movie night or supper or any of the other things you've left notes on my desk about over the past months - no, more like year - must have been your way of asking if maybe we could finally try exploring that relationship, and my own overtiredness and frustration with being bogged down in paperwork and red-tape led me to dismiss them as nothing more than your old over-exuberant energy looking for an outlet. I never even noticed that all of that energy wasn't there anymore. Me answering most of your notes with nothing more than a "Sorry, I'm too tired" or "Sorry, I'm too busy" sure as hell must have seemed to you like I was saying I either wasn't interested in or wasn't ready for a relationship when the real problem was that I didn't realize you were trying to tell me that you were. I wasn't too happy about this enforced vacation when Une told me about it, but now I've changed my mind.' Offering Duo a small wry half-smile, he said aloud, "The only reason I'm getting any sleep myself is that I'm using some of the meditation techniques J taught me to get back to sleep after the nightmares wake me up. Unfortunately, even that's losing it's effectiveness since the dreams come sooner each time I go back to sleep. And I know what you mean about no reason to get out of bed. It seems like I spend more time tracking what turns out to be some petty criminal and doing paperwork than anything else. That's made me even more grumpy and anti-social than usual, and I'm afraid your invitations over the past months have fallen victim to that. I'm sorry. Maybe the two of us can put this month off to good use?"

Giving Heero a half-startled, half-hopeful look, Duo nodded very slightly, "I think I'd like that."

+

Relena quickly shoved one last shirt into the suitcase and slammed the lid shut before Zechs could stop her. "You're going, and that's final!" she told him firmly. "Between running my security staff and working for Une, you're working yourself into an early grave! I don't care what anyone else has told you, being able to count someone's ribs when they're wearing a bathing suit is not sexy."

"Relena! " Zechs exclaimed, blushing. "Little sisters should not be discussing what is or is not 'sexy' with their brothers!"

"Fine, then pretend that I said it," Dorothy chimed in as she entered Zechs's bedroom. "Because she's entirely correct."

Flipping his hair out of his face exasperatedly, Zechs growled, "I don't have time for this! I'll agree that you two definitely need a vacation, but I'm fine! "

"Alright then, if you don't go, I don't go," Relena said sweetly. "I'm sure that I have more than enough things to do to keep myself busy even if someone," she directed a mock-glare at Dorothy, "has cancelled all my appointments and speaking engagements for the month."

Caving in, Zechs threw up his hands in disgust, "Oh fine, I'll go then. Just be prepared for a miserable month. Chang still hates my guts, you know. And I won't win any popularity contests with Yuy either."

"And Duo and Quatre get along with everybody, so they cancel the other two out, and Barton usually just goes along with Quatre or at worst remains neutral, so you have nothing to worry about," Dorothy told him flatly.

"And if Heero is nasty to you, I'll just follow him around saying, 'Hee-ee-rr-ooo, please don't fight with my brother! Why can't we all just get alo-o-o-ng...'" Relena whined in a perfect imitation of her own wartime self. Then she was forced to duck as two pillows were hurled at her and two voices exclaimed in unison, "Don't you dare! "

+

It had been midnight by the time he and Duo had been delivered to the Winner estate hosting the "holiday house party" as Iria and the Maguanacs were calling it. And here it was, just after 03:30 and Heero was ready to give up on sleeping for the night after waking from nightmares for the third time. Recalling that he had seen a banked fire glowing in a fireplace on the way in, he gathered up a blanket and pillow and headed off to see if a change of location would help. Reaching the room, he spotted a reading lamp switched on and a blanket-wrapped form curled up in the nearest chair, reading.

"Duo? What are you doing up?" Heero asked. "How long have you been down here?"

"Couldn't get back to sleep after the first round of dreams woke me," the braided figure shrugged. "It was around 3 when I gave up and came down to find something to read."

"Why didn't you just come crawl in with me like during the war?"

"I figured you'd have offered when we got here if that was okay," Duo mumbled, avoiding Heero's eyes.

Dropping into a crouch in front of the chair, Heero reached out and tilted Duo's face up to meet his eyes. "Duo, this is me, Heero, remember? I don't do subtle and I'm hopeless at either catching onto or dropping hints because it just doesn't even occur to me. I'm sorry that I missed my cue, but it's supposed to be your job to remind me of those little social details, remember?" he finished half-jokingly, winning a rather wan half-smile for his efforts. Considering the time and Duo's very subdued state, he decided that it wasn't worth trying to move back upstairs. Instead, he put another log on the fire, arranged his pillow and blanket on the couch, then forestalled any argument by simply scooping Duo out of the chair and transferring him to the couch.

"Hey! What's the big idea?!" Duo demanded.

"The 'idea' is that hopefully what worked during the war will work now and we'll both get some more sleep," Heero answered, crawling in between Duo and the couch back and pulling the blanket over them both. "Now go to sleep!"

"Bossy as always," Duo muttered, snuggling back against Heero's chest. It didn't take long for them both to doze off, waking briefly as first Wufei, then Quatre, then Trowa, wandered in, spotted the others, then found a comfy chair or rug to curl up on and go back to sleep. For the first time in months, they all slept soundly. If one occasionally stirred towards waking, the soft breathing of the others quickly lulled that one back to sleep again. That same soft background sound and the long-absent yet still familiar sense of security in the presence of such deeply-trusted company held the dreams at bay just as it had in the past.

+

About to enter the library to rebuild the fire, Rashid stopped in his tracks at the sight in front of him. A fond smile crossed his face as he recalled the many times during the war that a similar scene had greeted him in a Winner safehouse. Heero was lying on his back on the wide couch with Duo draped across him, Duo's braid clasped in one of Heero's hands. Trowa was sprawled on the thick rug in front of the fireplace, and although a blanket trailed down from an empty chair, Quatre was curled against Trowa's side, head pillowed on Trowa's arm. Wufei slept in a semi-sitting position in a large wing-back chair, legs tucked up and resting against one arm of the chair. Silently withdrawing from the room, Rashid very carefully pulled the door closed and took up position beside it. He intended to make very sure that no one disturbed the peaceful sleepers within before they woke on their own, even if he had to stand guard all day.

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