So This Is Christmas (cont)

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Lady Une activated the large wall screen she used for briefings, then turned to her audience. Relena, Sally and Noin were watching her alertly, tensed and ready to discuss whatever emergency had unsettled her so.

"Ladies." Une clasped her hands together, fiddling with the remote control. "I have to admit, this is... well... only peripherally Preventers business. Very peripherally. In fact, it's stretching a point to call it Preventers business at all."

The other women looked at each other, confused.

"This is a recording of a vidphone call I made just a short while ago," Une said, pressing a button on the remote. Static fuzzed the wall screen, then cleared to show 'now ringing, please wait'.

"Ladies!" she declared triumphantly, a wicked smirk beginning to curl her lip. "I now present to you... documentary proof of at least one reason why Chang Wufei married Duo Maxwell!"

Duo flashed onto the screen in all his tousled morning glory.

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Outside, Zechs blinked. "That was Noin," he said slowly. "I'd know that whistle anywhere."

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"Oh, wow. He's grown well," said Sally admiringly.

"Oh... my..." Relena was blushing beet-red, but never took her eyes from the screen.

"Rewind! Rewind!" cheered Noin, bouncing in her seat.

"There'll be plenty of time to rewind later," Une said, smiling. "Keep watching; now we have 'why Maxwell married Chang'."

There was a pause.

"Oh... MY..." Relena started fanning herself with Lady Une's mouse mat.

"He's grown too," Sally commented, eyes sparkling.

"No kidding. You know, the first time I saw him I said he was only a baby. Damn, but he's developed!"

"Now we get to the scary bit--"

"Oooh! Look at those EYES!"

"Flex! Flex! Oh, muscles!"

<<--will not allow this nonsense to ruin Duo's Christmas.>>

"And there's the OTHER reason Duo married him," said Relena quietly.

There was a solemn silence for nearly three seconds.

"Okay, NOW rewind."

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"I don't know what's going on in there, but I think they're enjoying themselves," Zechs said, one ear pressed to the door; all pretence of decorum had been abandoned. "I wish she didn't have an electronic lock -- I'd be able to hear something through a keyhole!"

"Any luck?"

"Relena just said 'oh my' again. And Noin said something about rewinding."

Heero kicked his ankle. "Someone's coming."

When Trowa and Quatre came around the corner, Zechs was leaning nonchalantly against the wall next to Heero.

"Good morning, Heero, Zechs. Is Lady Une in her office? I'm supposed to be having a meeting with her and Relena, but we're running a little late this morning." Quatre shot a quick glance sideways at Trowa.

"It's not my fault," Trowa said, raising an eyebrow at him. "You're the one who--"

Quatre's hand was suddenly over Trowa's mouth. "Only the first... delay... was my fault. I refuse to take responsibility for anything else."

Trowa was smirking when he took his hand away, but didn't disagree.

"Relena's already in there. So are Sally and Noin," said Heero.

"They seem to have started without you," said Zechs.

"They wouldn't let us in."

Quatre blinked. "Oh? Why not?"

"They wouldn't say."

"Let's see if they'll let you in, shall we?" Zechs knocked firmly on the door.

There was a surprisingly long pause; then the door opened a crack and Lady Une peered out. "Yes?"

"Quatre's here," Zechs said, trying to angle his head to see past her without being too obvious about it.

"Quatre--? Oh! Yes, I remember -- hold on a second." And she closed the door.

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Une turned to the other women, holding the door closed. "Quatre's here!" she hissed. "I forgot he was coming! We'll have to stop."

Sally and Noin pouted; Relena looked thoughtful. "Why don't we invite him in?"

Everyone else looked at her as if she were insane.

"We can't do that!" Sally protested.

"Why not?"

"He's a guy!" Noin pointed out.

"Noooo! Really?" Relena rolled her eyes. "He's also a very sweet gay guy who will probably enjoy this as much as we are. And we can trust him to keep his mouth shut."

They all looked at each other.

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Quatre was staring wide-eyed at the door. Trowa looked enquiringly at Zechs and Heero.

"That was out of character."

"We know," they chorused.

"Something's definitely going on."

"We know."

"Any idea what it is?"

They shook their heads. "Heero hasn't got any bugs in there and I can't hear a damn thing through the door," Zechs volunteered.

Trowa was just opening his mouth to respond when Lady Une and Sally opened the door, grabbed Quatre, and yanked him inside. Sally paused just long enough to smile sweetly and waggle her fingers 'hi' at Trowa before she slammed and locked the door.

All three of the men left outside stared incredulously. Finally, Heero spoke.

"All right. First it was interesting. Then it was suspicious. Now it's surreal."

"And it's damn annoying, too!" Zechs agreed.

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Quatre abruptly found himself in a comfortable visitor's chair with four women smiling evilly at him. "Um... Lady Une, what is going on?!"

Une grinned and waved the remote commandingly at the screen. "Watch and enjoy, Quatre, watch and enjoy!"

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A couple of minutes later...

"Okay, we have another whistle from Noin, another 'oh my' from Relena, and that's the third 'oh dear' from Quatre," Zechs announced.

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As the recording rewound (for the umpteenth time), Noin leaned over towards Quatre. "Sooooo, Mr Barton-Winner," she purred, "any comments on how your other half measures up to that?"

"Noin!" Relena squeaked, aghast.

Quatre raised a calm eyebrow. "Why Lucrezia, I'm surprised you'd ask. You should know by now I'm not the type to scr-- ah, kiss and tell." He smiled wickedly. "Why don't you ask Ms. Yui?"

"Oh no! No, no, no! Leave me out of this!" Relena said frantically, flapping her hands.

"And of course," he continued smoothly, "you wouldn't expect us to tattle without volunteering some information of your own, hmmm? How does Zechs 'measure up'?"

"Oh, yes," Sally said, leaning forwards. "Do tell!"

"Ah-- well-- I-- you see-- ack!"

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Wufei walked into the kitchen and paused, watching Duo bounce happily in front of the stove as he transferred food from pan to plate. His closed, angry expression slowly melted into regret. *Damn it, why now, when he's so looking forward to this break?*

"Duo..."

Duo spun around, balancing a plate of pancakes, eggs and bacon on one hand and brandishing a metal spatula in the other. "'Fei! I made your favourite--" Then he registered Wufei's uniform, and his face fell.

So did the plate.

Wufei dove and managed to grab it, rescuing all but one slice of bacon. Placing it carefully on the bench, out of the way, he braced himself and looked back at Duo's face.

Huge violet eyes, shimmering with unshed tears...

*Oh, shit. I swear, that onna is going to regret this!* Reaching out gently, he gathered Duo into his arms, taking the spatula and flicking it into the sink before it could smear grease all over his jacket.

"Love... please, Duo, don't look like that. It's only until tomorrow afternoon. I'm sorry."

Duo dropped his head onto Wufei's shoulder and sniffed. When he spoke, his voice was suspiciously muffled. "More frozen skiers?"

"Yeah." Wufei's voice was so disgusted that he got a watery giggle in response.

"I'll go get changed."

"No." Wufei's arms tightened, holding him still. "Your leave hasn't been cut."

Duo's head popped upright at that. "But-- who's backing you up?!"

"Noin."

"Oh. That's OK, I guess... but why?"

"Because you are going to finish decorating the tree -- I'm sorry I didn't finish it last night--"

Duo snickered, still suspiciously bright-eyed but getting his cheerful mask back under control. "I'm not. You had someone more fun to do."

"--*ahem* cook the turkey and whatever else still needs to be done. That way, we can still have a great Christmas reunion. Right?"

"Right."

Wufei kissed him gently and stepped back. "I don't really have time for breakfast--"

"Aah, that's okay." Duo waved dismissively. "I'll just eat your share too. Hey, I eat half of it even when you're here!"

On his way to the front door, shrugging into his overcoat, Wufei paused and looked back. Duo was standing in the doorway, smiling; but it didn't reach his eyes, and his hands were twisting a dishcloth into knots.

"Duo, I promise... I'll be home for Christmas." He turned, reaching for the doorknob, and continued in a dark voice. "Even if I have to dig those damned skiers out with my bare hands and kick them down the mountain..."

The door closed behind him.

The smile faded from Duo's face. He stood there a while longer, staring blankly at the door, until there was a tearing noise and he looked down to see that he'd twisted the dishcloth so hard it had ripped.

Slowly, he turned and walked back into the kitchen. The dishcloth went into the garbage pail; he picked up the plate of cooling food and stared at it for a moment, then dumped it too. The plate clattered into the sink and Duo dropped into a chair, slumping forward onto the kitchen table.

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Une hit the stop button, glancing at her watch. "That's it for now, ladies and gentleman."

"Awwwww!"

"I'm expecting Chang to turn up in five minutes at most, Sally. Do you really want to be sitting here watching that when he gets here?"

"Ah, yes, well--"

"The door is locked," Noin put in helpfully.

"That won't stop him if he wants in. He knows my vidphone automatically records everything; he's going to want to wipe this call."

"Ah. Right."

"And of course I'm going to have to let him."

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Zechs jerked back from the door, rubbing his ear. "Owww... that was loud!"

Heero looked up from where he was chatting to Trowa. "I heard it too-- what was it?"

"For some reason, they all screamed 'NO!' at once!"

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"Now, now," Une tutted virtuously, "I can't refuse to let him delete it. After all, it does contain... personal material. And I can't say it has to be kept because of 'immediate importance to Preventers operations'."

"Female staff morale?" Noin muttered hopefully.

Everyone else sighed.

"However... consider these early Christmas presents." She held up a handful of video discs.

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Trowa, Zechs and Heero looked up as the door opened and the room's occupants filed out.

As Noin walked past, she leaned over towards Trowa and muttered, "Now I know why they call Quatre the 'terror of the negotiating table'. Brrr!" Turning her head, she called out, "Lady Une, I'm just going to get my cold weather gear; if Chang arrives before I get back, could you tell him I won't be long?" Receiving a nod in answer, she walked off.

Trowa blinked after her, then turned to Quatre. "What's she talking about?"

"Ah... nothing really important," Quatre insisted, blushing slightly. "I just... turned one of her own arguments against her."

Trowa looked pointedly at the blush, but didn't comment.

Heero wasn't so reticent. "Relena, you're bright red. Is something wrong?"

"Ah-- no, no, really I'm fine," she blurted out, fanning herself faster.

"Are you sure? You--"

Une leaned out of her office and interrupted. "Relena, may I have my mouse mat back?"

Relena blinked at the object in her hand. "Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't realise-- here."

"Thank you."

She started fanning herself with her handbag instead. "Um... Sally, shall we go and get a drink?"

"Sounds like a good idea. Shall we?" Arms linked, they left. Heero glared suspiciously after them, but didn't follow.

Une turned to the remaining four. "Gentlemen? Is there anything further?"

"No... I don't believe so," Quatre mused. "Guys?" The others all shook their heads.

"In that case, I have quite a bit of paperwork to do, and Chang Wufei will be here soon for his assignment."

"I thought he started his holiday today," Zechs said curiously. Quatre blushed a slightly deeper shade of pink.

"So did he," Une said dryly. "Unfortunately, Fate -- along with some singularly stupid specimens of humanity -- has conspired otherwise. Noin will be going backup for him."

"Ah; I see." Though why that would cause all this fuss and secrecy, I don't see.

"Hello, Wufei!" Quatre chirped, blushing furiously. Luckily for him, nobody seemed to notice.

Wufei stalked down the corridor towards them, acknowledging Quatre's greeting with a stiff nod. "Quatre. Trowa. Zechs. Heero. ...Lady."

"Chang." Une stood aside and gestured gracefully towards her office door. "Please, come in; Noin will be along shortly. If you'll excuse us, gentlemen?"

The door closed behind them.

"Well... she's back in character, at least. What was that all about, Quatre?" Heero said.

"Ah... nothing you need to know," Quatre said nervously, slowly backing away.

"Really, Quatre," Zechs purred, moving up beside Heero, "you know we won't settle for an answer like that."

"Ask Noin and Relena!"

"We're asking you."

"Er... Trowa! Help!" And he was off at top speed with the other three pelting after him.

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