It Must Have Been the Mistletoe + Part 3 (cont)

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Curled up on the rug in front of the fireplace, Duo pushed his sopping wet bangs back from his face and waited as Heero removed unmelted snow from his long hair. Flicking the last flakes of snow from Duo's braid and untwisting it to start brushing it dry, Heero said firmly, "Tell me what's wrong, Duo. I know that something is bothering you and that it has something to do with our relationship, but I haven't been able to figure out what it is." Catching Duo's chin and turning his head so that their eyes met, Heero told him, "You have to start telling me when I do something wrong or simply miss out on something, Duo. If you need to know something, for god's sake, ask me!"

'But what if I don't want to know the answer,' Duo thought silently. 'What if I'm afraid that I already know the answer and I just don't want you to confirm it and end any hope of us ever being more than best friends? What if this is one of the fears that started when you first put "us" on hold and just kept growing as time went on without that changing?'

"Duo..." Heero insisted. "Tell me."

Turning his head away from Heero, Duo started hesitantly, "I... I need..." Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes in a silent plea that he was wrong, Duo said in one long rush of words, "I need to know why you've never made love to me. Is it that you don't desire me in particular, or have you realized that you aren't really attracted to guys after all? Is that why you never offer to go beyond kissing and cuddling, or is there some other reason?" 'Please, please, let there be some other reason... I don't know what the hell it could possibly be, but please let there be one...'

"WHAT?! " Horrified, Heero dropped the brush and scrambled around to kneel facing Duo. "Duo! Why the hell would you think something like that?! Duo, I... Open your eyes and look at me, love!"

As Duo reluctantly lifted his lashes to meet Heero's eyes, he fought to hold back the tears welling up behind them. 'I will not cry, no matter what he says, I will not cry,' he swore silently. 'Oh shit, too late...'

Gently wiping away the damp trail trickling down Duo's cheek with a shaking hand, Heero swore, "Dammit, I've fucked up again. Duo, love, I'm sorry you thought that. I..." Pausing, Heero shook his head. "Duo, I didn't intend to mention this till early on the day of Christmas Eve. I wanted to surprise you. I talked to Relena and Dorothy and they said it would be okay with them if it was a double wedding. I'd assumed, based on your background at the church and the fact that you still wore this..." Reaching under Duo's chin, he snagged the chain around his neck and pulled the cross out in view before continuing, "...that you would probably prefer to wait till our wedding night to make love for the first time. I thought I was being romantic - I never, ever imagined that you'd think I didn't desire you!"

Flinging himself into Heero's arms, Duo let the tears of relief pour down his cheeks. "It was just... after all the delays... I thought..." he tried to explain.

Holding him close, Heero reassured him, "It's okay, I can see why you were worried." Trying to lighten the mood, he continued in a half-playful tone, "I never realized it before, but while I've told you how much I love your sense of humour and your intelligence, how much I value your friendship and your loyalty, I've never told you how heartbreakingly gorgeous you are, how breathtakingly beautiful you look with your hair down, how devastatingly sexy..."

Heero's list was abruptly cut off as Duo captured his mouth in a passionate kiss. While Duo wasn't about to spoil Heero's romantic gesture now that he knew what was going on, there were plenty of other things that they could do between now and Christmas Eve...

Later, lying on the rug in front of the fireplace, Heero stroked his hand gently through the still-damp chestnut tresses spilling over his unbuttoned shirt. He dropped a tender kiss on the top of Duo's head, provoking a tiny, sleepy murmur and a wriggle to snuggle closer. 'God, Duo, I'm so, so sorry,' he thought. 'What have I done to my confident, irrepressible Shinigami? If I'd just set a time limit when I made that idiotic request five years ago, we wouldn't be in this mess now. You'd have been waiting for me on the day the time limit expired, ready to insist on picking up where we left off. By leaving things "on hold" indefinitely, I left us each expecting the other to signal when it was time to resume our relationship and so delayed that resumption by years. I've managed to wreck your confidence in me and in yourself where our relationship is concerned by misinterpreting your uncharacteristically cautious attempts to clue me in that youwere ready and waiting. And now I've gone and worried you again by not making it clear that I want you as well as love you.' Tugging a blanket off the couch and flipping it over the pair of them, Heero silently hoped that all of those needless fears would be taken care of once they claimed each other on Christmas Eve. Claimed each other both legally, in the wedding ceremony, and physically, in their marriage bed. 'And I swear love, I'll do everything in my power to make sure that you never have reason to doubt that you're both loved and wanted ever again...'

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The sound of church bells ringing out Christmas carols in the nearby town was faintly but clearly audible as the wedding guests arrived at the estate. Brightly burning candles enclosed in glass globes to shield them from the wind lit the driveway and the wide path leading to the house with a much warmer light than the harsh security lights normally in use. Une nudged Sally and pointed at the three sleighs lined up off to one side. "Guess that explains why Iria was so excited when she called to say she'd meet us here," she observed.

"You never know, it could be for the other pair," Sally responded semi-seriously.

"Don't even joke about that," Une said, shaking her head. "Those two are almost definitely going to have a very bumpy relationship for the foreseeable future. They're both extremely headstrong and opinionated; just learning to get through the day without squabbling continually is going to take a major effort. I can't imagine either of them being foolish enough to make such a serious commitment just yet."

"And that would be a very correct assumption," Zechs said, greeting the guests as they entered the mansion. "Merry Christmas, Une, Sally." Pointing to the ever-present mistletoe in explanation, he gave each of the women a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "G and J arrived earlier along with Howard. I think Duo was a little bit nervous about having invited J without telling Heero until they were getting out of the car, but other than a raised eyebrow Heero didn't say a thing. He just accompanied Duo to the door and greeted them all quite politely. The two of you were the last to arrive, so since everyone is here now, the ceremony will be beginning very shortly."

+

The brief, simple civil service over with, the three newly-married couples were kept occupied accepting congratulations while the sleighs were being brought around to the front door. Cabins at a nearby ski lodge had been rented to give the newlyweds some privacy to start their new lives together. They would return to the estate for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, after which everyone would have to make a reluctant return to everyday life. Meanwhile, however, they all intended to make the fullest possible use of their remaining vacation time.

Having been thoroughly lectured by first Howard, then G, on his responsibility to make Duo - referred to by each as simply 'my boy' - happy, Heero had to wonder exactly what J was busy discussing with Duo, who was listening with a very serious look on his face.

"Look after him, Duo," J said earnestly. "You're good for him - you broke through that detached shell created by the damn training and taught him to care, to make friends, to love. I made a lot of mistakes raising him, but he's the closest thing to family I've got. G and the others told me at the start that treating a child as a science experiment was a mistake, but I was so determined to create the 'Perfect Soldier', a weapon capable of finally winning justice for the colonies, that I wouldn't listen. By the time I realized that compact bundle of power and determination had worked his way into my cold, bitter heart, it was too late. I'd already permanently destroyed any chance of him seeing me as anything more than a mentor at best, and a cold, manipulative, calculating bastard at worst."

Shaking his head slightly, Duo told the old scientist, "It's not the training that he can't forgive and forget. If anything, he's grateful that the abilities you taught him got him through the war in one piece. The problem is what he sees as your total detachment in ordering your 'weapon' to self-destruct. He can't reconcile that with what he sees as your sudden, out-of-the-blue, desire to be 'family'."

J sighed, slumping. "His previous capture - that time that you broke him out of the hospital - led me to believe that if he was caught again, he really would be treated as a science experiment once they finished trying to get information out of him. I knew there was very little chance of them getting anything out of him - not that any of you really had any information beyond your own immediate mission anyway - and suspected that, particularly since he was known to be the one that shot down that shuttle, death would be preferable to whatever they had in mind for him. It was far from an easy decision to make and I've questioned it many times over the years. I was overjoyed to find out that he had survived and remained free, though I suspect he would believe it was only because my 'weapon' had exceeded expectations..."

"No, not now that I know what your reasoning was," Heero spoke up from behind J. He reached out to steady the startled old man as he tried to whirl around only to be betrayed by the inflexibility of his prosthetic leg.

"Heero!" J exclaimed in surprise.

Studying the scientist for a moment, Heero inclined his head slightly. "Perhaps you would like to join Duo and I for dinner from time to time," he offered. More than that, he wasn't prepared to give just yet, but he was willing to give J a chance to prove the truth of his words.

Caught by surprise, J managed to reply, "Yes, I would enjoy that."

An awkward silence fell for a few moments. "We'll give you a call in a few weeks, then," Duo contributed in response to the uncertain, questioning glance Heero directed his way.

Heero gave him a small smile of gratitude before holding out his hand and saying, "I believe our ride is waiting, love."

+

Moonlight gleaming off freshly-fallen snow made the night almost as bright as daylight. The swish and squeak of sleigh runners over snow and the bright jingle of sleighbells added to the distinctly unreal, dreamlike feeling of the experience, though the bitter cold was enough to convince Duo that this was no dream. Shivering, he pulled the pile of heavy blankets higher around his neck and tried to snuggle even tighter against Heero's warmth.

"Cold?" Heero asked, concerned.

"Y-y-yes," Duo responded, teeth chattering.

Pulling Duo completely onto his lap in the tight confines of the sleigh without letting any cold air sneak in under the blankets was a bit tricky, but Heero managed. Wrapping his arms around his spouse and holding him tightly to his chest in an attempt to share his own body-heat, he called to the driver, "Are we almost there?"

"Another five minutes or so," came the response.

Wishing that he'd thought of Duo's sensitivity to extreme cold when Dorothy suggested the romantic-sounding sleigh ride, Heero asked softly, "Would it be better if we got out and walked? There'd be less wind and the activity might warm you up."

"N-no, n-not d-dressed w-warm enough. N-not w-waterproof b-boots."

'Damn. And here we have fuck-up number what? I'm losing track, I'm screwing up so often. I hope the damn cabin has a jacuzzi so I can get him warmed back up again...'

When they finally came to a stop in front of the cabin a few minutes later, Heero lifted Duo off his lap, jumped down from the sleigh, then turned and lifted his shivering companion into his arms and quickly carried him into the cabin. Ignoring everything else, he headed straight for the bathroom, spotting the filled and steaming jacuzzi with relief.

"Better now?" Heero asked several minutes later, holding his no-longer-shivering spouse against his side as they sat in the warm tub.

"Much," Duo sighed, leaning his head back against the edge of the tub.

"Sorry. Again," Heero said, thoroughly disgusted with himself. "I never even thought..."

Twisting around, Duo pressed his fingers to Heero's lips, "Stop it. It's not your fault. I didn't dress warmly enough. Relena warned me that riding in a sleigh was colder than just walking around outside. I underestimated just how much colder it would be. And if I'd admitted my error sooner, we could have turned around and went back before I got so chilled."

Resting his hands on Heero's shoulders, Duo drew himself around to half-float facing him. "Heero, everything that goes wrong isn't your fault. I make my share of mistakes too. If I'd been more honest with you about my feelings back when you asked to put our relationship 'on hold', things would have gone a lot smoother. Even if I wasn't prepared to refuse, I should have asked for a specific time limit or at least a date that we would re-evaluate the situation." Seeing the startled look on Heero's face, Duo said wrily, "Hindsight is 20-20, huh? I see the same thing has occurred to you. We both made mistakes, love, and we both paid the price. We just have to learn from those mistakes and try not to make them again. You're getting better at picking up on when something's bothering me even if you still can't tell what it is. I'm trying to remember that I need to come right out and tell you things, not rely on you guessing them based on subtle clues in what I say or do."

Pushing himself away from Heero, Duo stood and climbed out of the jacuzzi. Unfastening his braid, he shook his hair loose to hang around him in waves before bending to offer Heero his hand. "Just in case I'm being too subtle now," he whispered huskily, "I do believe that you promised to show me just how much you wanted me on our wedding night. Well, this is our wedding night - so what are you waiting for? Make love to me, Heero."

The water was still sloshing wildly in the jacuzzi, waves splattering over the edge of it, as Duo's startled laughter at being flung over Heero's shoulder, carried through to the bedroom, and tossed onto the bed was replaced by murmurs of growing passion.

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Looking around the gathered friends - no, not just friends, family - counting down to the New Year, Iria smiled in satisfaction. The month-long "holiday house party" had succeeded even beyond her wildest dreams. Her baby brother was unlikely to work himself into the ground with a handsome husband to go home to - and the same applied equally to said husband. Having a circus headquartered at a previously staid Winner estate was going to take some getting used to, but her nieces and nephews would be delighted. Her smile grew as Duo bounded across the room to glomp her and thank her for "the vacation - and all the mistletoe", he added with a wink, pointing above her head before pressing a brotherly kiss to her cheek and dashing off to attach himself to his husband again. Her gaze passed over the quietly glowing faces of Dorothy and Relena, both completely free of tension despite the knowledge that in just two days they would be announcing their marriage to the entire Earth Sphere. Reaching the last, most surprising and unlikely couple of the group, she couldn't help shaking her head slightly in disbelief. "Zechs and Wufei. Never in a million years... There must have been something in the water..." she murmured to herself.

"No, don't blame it on the water," Rashid told her, materializing at her side with surprising quietness for such a large man. "Blame it on the mistletoe." As the countdown reached zero and couples kissed to start the New Year off right, Rashid pointed above her head and reminded her, "Mistletoe," before bending to press a kiss to her startled mouth. Relaxing into a warm kiss from a man she had spoken with at length every day for the past month, and not just about his eight young charges, Iria had to agree, 'It must have been the mistletoe.'

OWARI

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Lyrics to "It Must Have Been the Mistletoe"

It must have been the mistletoe
the lazy fire, the falling snow
the magic in the frosty air
that feeling everywhere
It must have been the pretty lights
that glistened in the silent night
It may be just the stars so bright
that shined above you
Our first Christmas
more than we'd be dreaming of
Ah, Saint Nicholas had his fingers crossed
that we would fall in love!
It could have been the holiday,
the midnight ride upon sleigh
the countryside all dressed in white
the crazy snowball fight!
It could have been the steeplebell
that wrapped us up in its spell
It only took one kiss to know
It must have been the mistletoe!
Our first Christmas more than we'd be dreaming of
Ah, St. Nicholas must have known that kiss
would lead to all of this!!
It must have been the mistletoe
the lazy fire, the falling snow
the magic in the frosty air
that made me love you!
On Christmas eve our wish came true
That I would fall in love with you
It only took one kiss to know
It must have been the mistletoe!
It must have been the mistletoe!
It must have been the mistletoe!

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