Author: Sunhawk
friendship, AU 1+2 - humorous chibi angst.

Prickles

Santa Claus came to the orphanage on Christmas Eve. Duo didn't remember, because he hadn't lived there before that year, but the other kids said, so he knew it was true.

Santa came and there was a big dinner and the food was all special, and Santa ate with them right in the big room in the basement of the church. There were even special plates. And even better... a very special dessert.

A was a tradition, the older kids said, all serious. There was a special pudding and if you got the pudding cup with the little charm in it, you got to be the first to sit on Santa's lap and you could ask for your most special wish. All the kids would get to sit on Santa's lap, but only the charm let you ask for something extra special.

Duo knew it was true because all the older kids said so. Heero had doubts, but he was only a month older than Duo, so Duo didn't think that should count as really being older. Even Quatre remembered the charm from last Christmas, though all he really remembered was the squealing and excitement when Otto found it.

Duo would have asked Otto, but he didn't live there any more. Which just made Duo even more sure that the charm worked. Otto must have asked for a home, right?

So Duo was determined to get the pudding with the charm so that he would get to be first to sit on Santa's lap and could ask for the most specialest of all wishes.

He wouldn't tell, of course, because if you told your wishes they didn't come true... everybody knew that, even Wufei who didn't believe in the charm, or Santa, or even Otto really.

Wufei said Otto was a plant who was supposed to make the other kids think it was possible to get adopted, when it never really happened. Duo didn't understand about Otto being a plant, because he hadn't really been green, but then... Wufei was kind of grumpy and Duo thought he made a lot of stories up. Like the one about not having recess any more when you got to the big kid's school. Because that was just crazy.

But it was Christmas Eve and Santa was there, eating dinner with the kids just like the older kids had said, so Duo was just as sure as he could be, and so excited he could hardly eat. He was sitting next to Heero, who was his bestest friend, and Heero was eating his vegetables for him because his tummy wasn't happy about the green beans. He was too 'wound up' Sister Helen would say and she would ruffle his hair and tell him to calm down and eat his dinner if he ever wanted to grow any bigger than a minute. Which didn't make much sense to Duo, but sometimes Sister Helen was kind of like Wufei... you just nodded and hoped they didn't try to explain.

Heero ate all his vegetables for him, and most of his ham too, because Duo was scared he wouldn't get his dish of pudding if his plate wasn't cleaned. And if he didn't get his pudding, then he wouldn't get his chance at the charm, and if he didn't get the charm he'd never be able to ask for his special, secret wish.

And then the dessert came and when the nice kitchen lady put it down in front of him, Duo was too scared to pick his spoon up. He closed his eyes tight and with his hands holding each other tight under the table, he asked God and the angels and just for good measure, Superman too, for the charm to be in his cup.

But then he couldn't open his eyes. He was just sure that any minute somebody would call out that they had found the charm, but nobody did, but still Duo couldn't open his eyes and dig in the pudding cup. He could hear the clink of spoons on glass all around him... but... he was afraid.

An elbow nudged him, and Heero grabbed his hand and shook him. 'Duo!' he whispered from real close. 'Look! I think you have it!'

And Duo's eyes snapped open and there really was a funny looking lump sitting in the middle of his cup. Duo stared at it and then stared at it some more and his heart hurt in his chest and he looked up at Heero. 'You really think so?' he whispered back.

'I know so,' Heero told him with a bright smile. 'Now get it out and show Sister.'

In the end, Heero had to get it for him and wipe it off on his napkin and press it into Duo's hand and call Sister over to show her.

Sister Helen laughed happily and patted Duo's head. 'That means you get to go see Santa first, Duo,' she told him.

Somewhere across the table, Quatre whispered, 'I knew it!' and something else, but Heero shushed him and then nudged Duo with his elbow again.

'Go on,' he said. 'Don't make Santa wait!'

Duo looked up at Sister Helen and she nodded to him and that was finally all it took. Duo scrambled out of his chair and ran down the aisle between the tables to the chair set up special for Santa. The charm was clutched tight in his hand, his other hand wrapped around to make double sure he didn't lose it.

When he got to the end of the row and stopped, Santa caught him under the arms and lifted him up into his lap. 'So, little Duo... are you ready for your present from Santa?'

Duo nodded his head until his upset tummy started to feel worse and he stopped. Carefully, he opened his hand and showed Santa the magic charm. 'I got the charm,' Duo proclaimed. 'So I get to ask my special wish.'

Santa blinked at him for a minute before asking, 'Special wish?'

'Yeah,' Duo explained, kind of confused about Santa not knowing already. 'If you find the charm you get to ask for something special.'

'Well,' Santa told him, sounding kind of funny. 'All Santa's presents are special, Duo.'

That didn't sound quite right to Duo and he started to feel that icky prickle in his eyes that meant he was going to cry. He hated doing that because the older boys laughed at him. Well... they used to, until Heero punched Milly and gave him a black-eye. 'But I get to ask?' he pushed, the charm laying on his palm and suddenly looking kind of small and silly. For the first time, Duo noticed it looked like a little heart.

'Well,' Santa said kind of gentle like. 'Why don't you ask, and we'll see what we can do.'

Duo wasn't happy with the sound of Santa's voice... it was like that one that Father Maxwell used when the answer to something was going to be no. But Santa had said to ask, so Duo closed the charm in his fist again, as though the power came from holding on tight and he said, as clear as he could, the words he'd practiced really hard for months and months. Just in case.

'I want my Momma to be alive again.'

The room was really kind of quiet then, as though everyone was holding their breaths to hear better, like you did when you were listening outside windows that you weren't supposed to be. It took Santa a long time to answer and Duo had a bad feeling, but he just squeezed the charm as tight as tight could be and didn't even care that it hurt his palm.

'Oh Duo,' Santa finally said, and his voice didn't sound jolly any more. 'Even Santa can't do that. I'm... sorry, but... Santa is in charge of toys and... things like that. I can't bring your Momma back. Nobody can.'

'Oh,' Duo said and he said it very carefully, because the prickles were worse and he really didn't want to cry in the middle of the dinner hall in front of everybody, especially with it so quiet.

'Would... would you like to ask for something else?' Santa asked him, sort of gentle and kind, but Duo just shook his head. There hadn't been any room in his head for another wish, so he didn't have one. He opened his hand and looked at the charm and then squirmed off Santa's lap and ran back toward his seat. Santa said something, and Sister Helen said something, but Duo didn't hear them over the prickles that were in more than his eyes now. Breathless, he stopped next to Heero's chair and grabbing his wrist, pressed the charm into his hand.

Duo tried to tell Heero to take it. He tried to tell him not to let it go to waste. He tried to tell him all kinds of stuff that wouldn't come out. But Heero just nodded and Duo guessed he got it anyway, because he took the charm and held it tight like you're supposed to. Heero didn't run back to Santa, but he marched. Marched like Sister Helen when she was after the kid who broke the front window with a baseball. Only Heero's sneakers didn't make that clack-clack noise like Sister's shoes did.

Heero marched up to Santa, showed him the charm like it was a magic thing like in the movies, and said clear and loud what his special wish was. 'I want Duo to have a new Momma, then.'

And Santa... buried his face in his hands.

The prickles got real bad then, until they weren't just prickles anymore and Duo had to run back up to Santa's chair, because he wasn't real sure just how much trouble you got into for making Santa Claus cry, but he figured it was probably worse than tracking mud into the church. Maybe even worse than the kid that broke that window.

Duo figured his bestest friend was in, what Trowa called deep do-do, and he ought to be there beside him. Especially since Heero had used his magic charm special wish for him.

The whole room was quieter than Father could make the church be on Sunday when he said 'let us pray', and when Duo got to Heero, his best friend looked scared too so Duo reached out and took his hand.

'Uh oh,' Duo whispered, wide-eyed and not even upset that the prickles had spilled down his cheeks. If anybody laughed, Heero would hit them anyway.

'What'd I do?' Heero whispered back and they just stared at each other until Sister Helen came and put a hand on each of their shoulders. Duo knew they were in really big trouble when he saw Sister Helen was wiping her eyes too and he took a deep breath when she steered them out of the room.

She took them down the hall and sat them on the bench outside Father's office, which was always bad, but then she tousled their hair... which was usually good.

'You two just wait here for a minute, ok?' she told them and Duo was happy she didn't sound mad. She walked away making that clack-clack noise and Heero looked at Duo with wide eyes.

'Do you think the elves will come and punish me for making Santa cry?' Heero whispered, and Duo squeezed his hand tight.

'But elves are short... aren't they?' Duo said, trying to reassure, but Heero just frowned.

'We're short too.'

'Oh yeah,' Duo had to agree and they were quiet, listening for the clack-clack of Sister Helen coming back. Duo sighed.

'We should have eaten the pudding first, now we won't get any.'

Heero sighed too and began to swing his legs. 'Yeah. Guess so. Maybe Quatre will save us some?'

Duo swung his legs too and the bench squeaked beneath them. 'Nah. He'll just eat it.'

'Maybe,' Heero conceded and for a minute they just listened to the creak of the bench.

'You're my bestest friend,' Duo blurted, the best he knew how to say thank you, when he wasn't sure about the what for part.

'Yeah,' Heero said and rubbed at his nose with the back of his hand. 'Me too.'

Duo nodded and changed the swinging of his legs so that he was backward from Heero and the squeak changed. Heero grinned at him but then they heard the clack-clack of shoes and they stopped grinning and stopped swinging and held on tight to each other's hands.

Sometimes when a kid was bad, they had to read from the bible until they could say the verse without the book. And sometimes they had to sweep the whole floor of the church. And sometimes, if they were really bad, they didn't get dessert for a whole week.

Duo kinda figured they'd be in for all three and he really wished they'd gotten to eat their pudding.

At least when Sister knelt down in front of them, she wasn't crying anymore, and Duo figured that might be good.

Figured it was even better when she actually smiled. When she held her hand out for the charm, they turned it over, and when she asked about the magic part they talked over each other to tell how it was supposed to work. She wanted to know who had told them the story, but Duo and Heero weren't sure about that part at all and didn't say. Sister didn't seem too upset, and Duo felt better that he hadn't been a rat. Being a rat was bad.

'The charm was just an old church tradition,' she explained, 'to decide who got to sit on Santa's lap first. It isn't magic at all, and there is no special wish. I'm... sorry you thought there was.'

Duo hung his head while the prickles came back and Heero patted his back the way Father did sometimes when somebody fell and got hurt.

'I'm so sorry, Duo,' Sister said to him and stroked a hand over his hair again. 'I know you miss your Momma, but nobody can bring her back.' Duo nodded, and kind of wished they could stop talking about it. He was pretty sure they weren't in trouble any more and he kind of just wanted to go back and see if his pudding was still there.

But then Sister's voice changed a little and she was slipping something over Duo's head. 'But you know what? Santa can't give people for Christmas... they have to come from God. And I think God gave you somebody pretty special right here.' And she slipped something over Heero's head too. When Duo looked at the little necklace, he was surprised and couldn't help blurting out, 'But it's broken!'

Sister Helen laughed softly and took his little necklace and held it up to Heero's. They fit together and made a heart just like the charm! And there were words, but they were too big for Duo to read. 'What's it say, Sister?' he asked, but it was Heero who answered.

'Best friends,' he said and grinned wide. Duo grinned back because it was truer than true.

'Now why don't you two go back to the dining hall, I think Santa has some toys waiting for you,' Sister smiled, patting them both on the head again. Duo hated it when Relena did that, but he liked it when Sister did it. Relena patted too hard.

'And the elves aren't coming to punish me?' Heero asked, and Sister made a funny noise like Duo had never heard. She rubbed a hand over her face and for a minute Duo thought she was doing that funny thing she called crossing.

But all she said was, 'No elves. I promise.'

'Ok!' Heero grinned and jumped up from the bench, tugging Duo down the hall. 'Let's go eat our pudding!'

'What if Quatre ate it already?' Duo wanted to know, and Heero got that look like just before Milly ended up on the floor.

'Then I'll punch him,' Heero said and Duo grinned happily.

Behind them, Duo heard Sister sigh and say something about strength, but he figured it was one of those things that he didn't really want explained.

He had pudding waiting, after all. And maybe a new toy. And best of all... a bestest friend who would always be there to punch people who needed it.


End

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