Author: Sunhawk
Heero POV. Touch of angst-lite, lot of sap, some unrepentant fluff, but mostly just silly friendship stuff.
(Christmas 2006)

Starting Traditions

There were a number of reasons I had not expected to see my partner in the office that Wednesday morning. One, it was the week before Christmas and we were down to those dead days that usually meant a lot of time behind a desk, doing a lot of paperwork. A period of time that Duo traditionally took some of his many, many unused vacation days. Two, even if he had been working, he would have had far too much to do getting ready for the children's Christmas party, to be at his desk. Everyone in the Preventer's organization was encouraged to take on some form of charity work outside their normal duties. Wufei, for instance, taught martial arts to troubled teens, twice a week. Trowa was heavily involved with an organization that worked to rehabilitate abused and neglected animals for work with the elderly and the handicapped. Quatre spear-headed the Winner reconstruction foundation, and worked on an actual construction crew at least once a month.

But nobody was involved in quite as much as Duo was, mostly with the orphan's charities, and the Christmas season always ran him ragged, trying to keep on top of everything. It was the only reason he ever used vacation; because there was too much to get done and work too.

But most importantly, I had not expected to see my partner in the office that day because he was supposed to be at home on three weeks medical leave. His volunteer duties had been turned over to another agent, and his Preventer duties I was in the process of taking care of myself. So I was more than just a little surprised to see him come struggling into our shared office that day, wobbling unsteadily on his crutches and looking quite pale and drawn.

'What the hell are you doing?' I said in what I hoped was a conversational tone, and it got me a lop-sided grin.

'Attempting to get to my desk without falling over something?' he tried, and I sighed, getting up to make sure he managed that part since he was starting to list alarmingly to one side.

'Will it do me any good to point out that you're not supposed to be out of your apartment, much less at your desk?' I asked, as I put a hand under his arm to make sure he stayed the course.

He tried a chuckle but it fell short of the mark, and with another sigh, I steered him away from the desk, heading him toward the small couch on the meeting room side of our office instead.

'Heero...' he began, but when he couldn't stop the grimace of pain as I eased him down to sit, he gave it up. 'Ok; maybe just for a minute.'

'Put your leg up,' I commanded. 'And tell me what you're doing here.' It ended up being something I had to help him do, and when we were done, he was doing a bad job of trying to hide what a strain he was under. 'And why aren't you taking your pain pills?'

He huffed a breath, obviously winded, and gave me another of those impish grins. 'Well... they make me drowsy,' he explained.

'They're supposed to,' I informed him, and gave him a glare that he couldn't not answer with that cocky attitude of his

'But that makes it a bitch to drive,' he quipped, and dragged another of those long suffering sighs from me.

'Please tell me you did not try to drive yourself down here,' I pressed, and his reply was to stare at me. Not telling me... just as I'd said. 'I really can not believe you,' I grumbled and was just trying to decide where I should start the lecture, when Wufei stuck his head in our office.

'Hey, Yuy,' he called before he'd gotten past the door frame. 'Rumor has it that Maxwell's car is parked... Duo?'

Duo waggled his fingers in a sheepish little wave. 'Uh... hi Wufei.'

'What the hell are you doing here?' Wufei demanded, coming the rest of the way into the office to stand shoulder to shoulder with me so we could glare down together.

'That was the part we were just getting to,' I said dryly, giving Duo a look that said we damned well better be getting to that part.

'Really guys,' he tried, ignoring the glares. 'I'm ok. I just need to try to work at least...'

'Work?' Wufei blurted, cutting him off. 'You're not even supposed to be up on your feet more than you have to be! And you most definitely are not supposed to be in the office! Does the Commander...'

'No,' Duo began, shifting in obvious discomfort and looking from one of us to the other with a growing look of... upset? 'I haven't talked to the Commander yet. I was hoping that I could manage to get a half day in before...'

'Duo?' another voice suddenly asked, and Quatre was coming into the office behind us, the concern on his face echoing that in his tone. 'Did I hear Duo's voice?'

'Yes,' Wufei was quick to confirm. 'The idiot just showed up and thinks he's going to stay and work!'

'What?' Quatre asked, elbowing his way in between Wufei and me. 'You've got to be kidding me? You're on mandatory leave until mid January! You aren't supposed to be here!'

'Well,' Duo tried. 'It isn't exactly mandatory. I mean, nobody actually said...'

Quatre cut him off with a snort. 'Of course nobody ordered you to stay home! Nobody thought they had to, after what happened!'

'I thought I might try a couple of hours was all,' Duo replied, his voice fading toward something that was thinking seriously about being pleading.

'It's pointless,' I growled, frowning down at him, taking in the pale face and how stark it made the stitches in his forehead seem. 'There is nothing going on here that needs your attention. I can handle...'

There was a rap of knuckles on the doorframe and Trowa was there saying, 'Hey guys, I know this sounds nuts, but Wilders down on two swears he passed Duo in the lobby...' before he even got in the door, but then he cut himself off when he got far enough to see our partner reclined on the sofa. 'Or... not so nuts.'

'Hey, Trowa,' Duo said, smiling brightly and obviously preparing to try his snow job again.

'Duo,' Trowa acknowledge with a nod, moving in to stand with the rest of us. 'Did they change some sort of policy that I don't know about? Jumping out of an exploding helicopter is no longer enough to get you a couple of days off work?'

'Apparently, Maxwell has a different copy of the handbook than we do,' Wufei responded drolly before Duo had a chance to.

Duo gave up on the wide grin he'd been attempting to win Trowa over with and fell back on the denial he'd been shoveling at me since he'd staggered through the door. 'What difference is it sitting here, than sitting at home?' he wheedled. 'Not like I'm really doing anything. I just need to...'

'You just need to be at home,' Quatre supplied for him. 'Sleeping. Resting. Recovering. And not working.'

'If it's some kind of macho thing, Maxwell,' Wufei cut in. 'You do not need to impress anybody. I'm pretty sure everybody in the building has seen the footage on the five o'clock news by now.'

'And it's not like you don't have more then enough vacation accumulated,' Trowa supplied, leaning down to glare at Duo in his turn. 'You're usually off this week anyway.'

'And you're going to take off this week and then some!' I added, just trying to take control of the conversation again. 'I am taking your car and you back to...'

'He drove?' Quatre snapped, looking wide-eyed between me and Duo and when I nodded confirmation, I thought he was going to rupture something. 'Duo, are you insane? You're not supposed to be driving on that medication you're on...'

'He's not taking it,' I interjected into the middle of his rant and he just threw his hands up in the air in disgust.

'Of all the pig-headed...' Trowa began and Duo suddenly blurted,

'Guys!' in this aggravated, frustrated tone that... suddenly deflated into something that was more like... a plaintive little whine. 'Please?'

It stopped us all cold. Duo Maxwell does not beg. Not when caught between a terrorist with a hand grenade and a three story drop, and certainly not when dealing with his partners. It bought him our undivided attention if nothing else.

'Look,' he explained, talking quickly, as though he thought he only had so long to make his case. 'I have to at least be able to manage to work three hours a day. That will qualify me coming back to part time and... and then I can force the Commander to give me the kid's Christmas party back. Please, guys... Garrison has it all screwed up. I just have to be able to do this.'

Somehow... it was not at all what any of us had been thinking, and rather left us staring at him. I guess I'd assumed it was just more of Duo's signature stubborn streak. That need he seems to have to tough things out.

'What do you mean, screwed up?' Wufei asked gently and Duo sighed, perhaps relieved that we were at least going to hear him out.

'He's changed everything!' Duo blurted and sat forward in his zeal to get his message across. 'He's planning on bringing in all this gourmet chocolate and the kids aren't going to touch that stuff! He's totally changed the menu and is having the dinner freaking catered! It's supposed to be for the kids, but that idiot is trying to turn it into some kind of social event; those kids are going to be freaked out by all that fancy crap. And worst of all, he canceled Mr. Tams! That old guy has been playing Santa Claus for the area orphanages for thirty years; the kids all love him, and they're not going to know what to make of that store front, fake-bearded...' he had to stop to catch his breath, and I could see him fighting off a cough. The smoke inhalation was just one of the things he was supposed to be at home recovering from.

'Ok,' Trowa soothed. 'We got it. Garrison never has been the brightest bulb in the box, but that doesn't mean that somebody else...'

Duo shook his head. 'I tried talking to the Commander about somebody else taking it over, but she says Garrison hasn't technically done anything wrong.'

When he paused for a slow breath, making sure he didn't get a coughing fit going, I cut in. 'We will handle it then. And now I am taking you home.'

'But Heero,' he said, and turned those midnight blue eyes my way. I shook my head before he could even get started.

'It's not that hard to fake a body. Just give me your account passwords,' I smiled at him. 'Now are you ready to go home, or do you need to rest first?'

'You mean it?' he had to ask, though the slow smile that was spreading across his face was just plain relieved. I had no doubt he'd have done whatever he needed to, but it would have cost him.

Beside me, Quatre grinned. 'I think we can manage. Where's your coffee mug? A man struggling to work despite his injuries would need some caffeine.'

'And his desk would need some more paperwork on it,' Trowa joined in, glancing at Wufei who chuckled and shook his head.

'Best get the phone off do not disturb, since he's technically 'here'.'

Duo sagged back against the cushions and sighed. 'Thanks guys. I can't tell you what this will mean to the kids.'

'You ready to go?' I asked then. 'You can give me Mr. Tams number on the way to your place. We'll take your car and then I'll just drive yours back and forth the rest of this week.'

'Be sure and park it in the handicapped section; it'll be more obvious,' Trowa muttered distractedly as he pulled paperwork out of Duo's desk and artfully arranged it on the surface. Quatre had already gone to fill Duo's coffee mug and Wufei was fiddling with the phone.

'I'll e-mail Garrison and claim you worked part of yesterday too, and get the process started for you to take the party over again,' Wufei told Duo as he punched buttons. 'We'll have it half done before we even need to inform the Commander that you're back.'

I gathered Duo up and took him home when he looked like he was being tempted to start hugging people.

For the next three days I started my day by coming in and filling Duo's mug and rearranging the papers on his desk. Trowa started his by chatting with the gossipy receptionist about how amazed he was with Duo's dedication to the job. Wufei would phone me every morning and call me 'Maxwell' several times while there were people within ear shot of his office. Quatre would log into Duo's e-mail from his office, respond to everything he could, and he and Duo consulted on the phone about mid-morning over the things he couldn't.

Duo was always 'running a few minutes late', or 'just gone down to records' or 'had left a bit early because his leg had been hurting'. People always just missed him, either coming or going. 'Duo' would always e-mail them later to see if they still needed help.

It worked surprisingly well. And surprisingly easily. Wufei had control of the charity party wrested away from Garrison that same day, with the Commander's backing, though she did show up the first two days in our office to check on Duo's condition herself. The first day she went away with a frown, muttering something about macho men and helicopters. The second day she just smiled and didn't come back again, so I suspect she figured it out. Something that actually made me feel a little better about our upper management.

Quatre and I spent our time, when we weren't pretending to be Duo, putting things back to rights with Duo's event. It was time consuming even with Duo's documentation and notes, and I wondered how in the hell he had been getting it all done by himself.

Things were right on track until the night before, when something was said in front of Duo about who was picking him up for the party.

We were sitting around Duo's living room, with him ensconced on the couch, sharing a celebratory dinner of Chinese take out and congratulating each other on a job well executed. Duo was pleasantly drugged, as he was supposed to be, and had been chuckling in between bites of dinner at some of our more amusing bits of subterfuge. But Quatre's innocent question had brought a rather sober look to his face and he'd informed us, 'I can't go.'

'What?' Trowa asked. 'After all this work? What are you talking about?'

'Well,' Duo explained rather patiently, as though he were working the words out around his haze of pain relief. 'all the work was for the kids. The party should go off without a hitch thanks to you guys, but... I can't go.'

'You said that already,' Wufei told him. 'Now tell us why.'

The look on Duo's face seemed to indicate that we ought to know already, so there was a hint of 'duh' in his tone when he said, 'they can't see me like this. It'll just scare them.'

'You've worked so hard...' Quatre began, but Duo only shook his head in a gesture he seemed to have trouble getting stopped.

'Batman never lets anybody see him all beat to hell,' he informed us, as though it were some great truth. 'You can't mess with the kid's heroes. Heroes have to be strong and invincible.'

'Well, you sure as hell looked invincible with that knife in your teeth and that fireball at your back,' Wufei muttered. 'But that hardly seems fair; you've been looking forward to this all year.'

'S'ok,' Duo muttered, and I took the box of rice from his hand before it had a chance to slip from his fingers. 'The kids are what're important.'

'To you,' Quatre murmured, taking the chopsticks from Duo's other hand. 'And you're what's important to us.'

We launched into a new campaign high on the success of the first, plotting our plan of attack with Duo slumbering peacefully beside us. Damned if a one of us would see him miss out on something he'd worked so hard for. Something he loved so much.

Party night arrived and Trowa and I went over to Duo's place to execute phase one of the operation. Trowa is a rather gifted make-up artist, specializing in disguises that could pass a close inspection. The kind that might be given by small children in close quarters.

'Come on, guys,' Duo sighed when we showed up at his apartment. 'I told you...'

'You told us what the kids couldn't see,' Trowa told him genially. 'So we are going to take care of things.'

'And just how are you planning on hiding a broken leg?' he jibed, eyeing Trowa's makeup case as it was set up.

'We're not going to try,' I informed him. 'That, you got in a skiing accident. Skiing accidents are not scary.'

'But...' Duo began, and Trowa cut him off.

'No talking,' he said blandly. 'I'm working here.' Then he set to covering the bruising on Duo's face.

I watched Trowa work for a bit, amazed as always, by what he could do. Duo was quiet, since he'd been told to, but I could see the doubt in his eyes and knew he was building a list in his head of all the reasons this was a bad idea. I waited until just before Trowa handed him the mirror, to deliver the low blow.

'The kids have been asking for you,' I said, and watched him staring at his own reflection. 'I heard they won't let anybody else light the tree.'

I knew we had him when he had to ask, 'You really think this will work?'

Trowa snorted and snapped the lid shut on his case. 'You doubt my skills?'

It made Duo laugh but he sobered up quickly at the odd feel of the makeup on his face. 'What... what shouldn't I do?'

Trowa grinned at him. 'Well, obviously don't rub at it, and if the kids are too close, just kind of keep moving...'

I went to fetch a clean change of clothes while they went over The Wearing Of Professional Makeup 101.

We had him cleaned up, dressed up, and out the door in twenty minutes. He even let us carry him down the stairs, saving his strength for the main event.

I was relieved to finally see the excitement stirring in him by the time we got to the church. Wufei met us in the parking lot, and before Duo was even out of the car, was pressing pills and a water bottle into Duo's hands.

'Here,' he said, smiling as he inspected Duo's face. 'Take these; I got something from Sally that will dull the pain but won't knock you out. Not as strong as your other medication, but it should help. Nice job, Barton.'

Duo dutifully took the pills and we got him out of the car, letting him use the crutches in case any of the kids saw. Quatre met us at the side door and settled the last piece in place; a fuzzy red and white Santa hat that totally hid the stitches that even Trowa hadn't been able to do anything about.

'Show time,' Quatre grinned, and Duo grinned back, finally giving in completely to the thing he wanted so badly.

We moved Duo into the midst of things and if anyone realized how much of a strong-arm guard the four of us were around him, they didn't show it. We had our own set of hats to help make Duo's new apparel less obvious, though ours were green and white. In my eyes, it made it even more apparent how we moved around him, blocking the more exuberant, and intercepting hugs that came with a five yard rush.

The kids were ecstatic. Duo talked about how they loved their 'Santa Claus' but they loved their 'Agent Duo' just as much. He really was a hero in their eyes, one of their very own and they basked in his attention like flowers blooming in the sun.

I had not lied, the party could not start until the tree had been lit, and nothing would do but Agent Duo do the honors. There was a squeal of approval from the hoard of children and then Santa Claus finally made his appearance and some of the pressure eased.

We settled Duo in a comfortable chair and he teased us as me moved around him, of 'setting up a perimeter'. It was an apt description though, and Wufei teased him back about being 'command central'.

Quatre took up the position of the inner circle, helping the kids sign Duo's cast while he and Duo embellished stories of a ski trip that even I was having trouble remembering never happened, by the time they were done.

Trowa and I took up flanking positions, staving off more than one bid for lap time, with redirections toward the pizza table and the waving of brightly colored bits of candy.

Wufei was our agent at large, moving out to retrieve food and drink for the troops, and passing messages. 'Sally says more water, less soda,' he reported on one in-bound trip and Duo found the lady in question in the crowd and stuck his tongue out at her. She merely smiled and waved from across the room, saluting him with her own cup of soda.

Duo himself, sat ensconced in his command chair, watching the proceedings with a keen eye, and averting several disasters before they ever happened. 'Somebody get Mrs. Wise to take Billy down the hall... he's gonna throw up any minute.'

He was one part field commander, one part favorite uncle, and one part over-grown kid himself. He had an eye on everything, pointing out when the pizza was running low, and somehow knowing when some kid needed to be brought to him to have some slight straightened out. He soothed hurts, and shared jokes, and gave of himself with abandon, trusting us to keep him from giving more than he had to spare.

But somehow... he always seemed to have just enough to spare.

Duo Maxwell is a personality that draws the world to him. I've often thought that it's a good thing he isn't the type to covet power, because he'd be a force to be reckoned with. But maybe that was part of what made everybody so willing to do for him... his own total selflessness.

I know I personally was more than happy that night, to be right where I was, doing what I was doing. And that's saying a lot, because that sort of venue is completely not my thing. But when Duo is that glowingly happy... you just wanted to be part of whatever he was up to.

I don't think any of us would have missed it for the world.

Quatre had just passed me a warning, noting that Duo's breathing had become shallow and measured. A sure sign that he was nearing the end of his endurance, when the announcement went out that Santa Claus had to get back to the North Pole. It seemed to signal the end of things, and we waited it out rather than trying to move out under the curious eyes of the kids. Wufei passed Duo one of his regular pain pills when it looked like we were getting close, and I knew we'd pushed it to the limit, when Duo just took it without question.

By the time the last little one had come and said goodbye, Duo was more than ready to be done. We didn't even let him try the crutches on the way out.

He dozed on the way back to his place, struggling awake when we got there, but not even fighting it when Quatre and I lifted him from the car. Trowa made quick work of the makeup while Wufei heated some tea and soup and we ended with Duo settled on his couch where it was easier for him to lever himself up and down, and the coffee table could be shoved within reach.

'I'm glad we didn't let Garrison ruin that,' Trowa observed idly, while we watching Duo sip at his soup, his meds finally taking the shadow of pain away from his eyes.

'They just need to put him in charge of one of the charity fund-raising events,' Quatre said, obviously thinking about it as he gently swirled his tea around in his mug. 'That's much more up his alley.'

'Something where his own pretentiousness won't get in the way?' Wufei asked, with a wry chuckle.

'Let's be charitable,' Duo scolded. 'It's Christmas eve.'

Trowa joined in with his own dark laugh. 'That was charitable; he didn't call him a pompous ass.'

'He meant well, I suppose,' I tossed in, just to balance the opinions for Duo's sake. He nodded his agreement and sat his empty soup mug on the coffee table.

'He just doesn't have the same reference points,' Duo commented, and I could see his eyes finally getting heavy.

Reference points. An interesting turn of phrase for what he was talking about. A... charitable turn of phrase. Garrison, as the Commander had said, had never really done a thing wrong in the brief weeks that he'd had control of the Preventers' annual orphan's Christmas party. But he had never understood. He was a man who had never lacked in his life, and if he had children, they would never lack either. He couldn't possibly understand the comforts that came with the familiar. The stability that came from tradition. The joy that came from, what to him was mundane. Pizza to a man like Garrison was not special enough for a Christmas party because he probably had it every weekend. You have to gauge the rightness of your decisions by first looking through the eyes of the child. Something Garrison couldn't do. Something Duo couldn't not do.

The other part of that thing that made us all so willing to do for him. How could you not want to give him the world when faced with the knowledge of those very reference points? When faced with all that he had become despite them.

There was no answer to Duo's comment, and when I glanced around the room, I thought perhaps we were all thinking the same thing.

'How about you try not to take on any terrorists with high explosives this time next year, Maxwell,' Wufei teased, just to break a mood that could have gone somber.

Duo chuckled. 'Mark my calendar for me, and I'll try to remember.'

'No swan dives after Thanksgiving,' Trowa suggested. 'You always have way too much to do.'

'Wonder if we can just have you restricted to desk duty for the entire month of December?' Quatre asked idly, grinning when Duo threatened him with, and then threw a couch cushion, at him.

'Or,' I ventured, 'maybe I'll sign up to co-sponsor with you next year.'

I thought Wufei was going to choke on his tea. 'You?' he blurted. 'But you never sign up for anything!'

I glanced down into Duo's suddenly wide-awake eyes and found surprise there, but a hint of something else that looked... hopeful?

'Well, maybe I never saw the reward before,' I answered Wufei, and Duo smiled a wide, understanding smile.

'I suppose the odds of you both being out of commission at the same time are higher at least,' Trowa drawled. 'Though if Duo can't make it, I want to be there to see you taking gum out of some little kid's hair.'

'Piece of cake,' I smirked at him. 'I've seen how Duo does it now.'

'You going to able to tell when some kid has had too much pizza before the... uh... 'accident' like Duo can?' Quatre snickered and threw the pillow at me that Duo had thrown at him. I caught it and flipped it idly in my hand.

'Oh, I have to be there to see you handle your first marriage proposal from a five year old, Yuy!' Wufei grinned, almost falling over when the pillow winged back his way.

'I'll teach you all my tricks before next year,' Duo said, and though he looked tired, he looked happy too. 'So... sounds like a plan to me; we'll all be there with our little fuzzy hats on.'

There was a chuckle or two, but nobody really objected. The cushion was tossed back to me and I slipped it back behind Duo's leg and it wasn't long before he fell asleep. Quatre and Wufei took the mugs to wash while I gathered together all our 'little fuzzy hats' to take home and pack away for next year. Knew darn well the guys would just lose them otherwise.

I found Trowa in the kitchen carefully marking the day after Thanksgiving.

'No heroics beyond this point' it read. We were still grinning at each other when Quatre reached between us and penciled in 'violators will be grounded'.

Wufei paused behind us to read over my shoulder. 'I think you need to ground him before the violation.'

'Maybe we could just convince him to take vacation for the entire month?' Trowa offered, and it made Quatre chuckle.

'You know, we do have access to his e-mail account. Wouldn't really be hard to set something up before he's back at the office...'

I couldn't help glancing toward the living room where Duo was sleeping. 'Am I sensing a new plan?'

'A vacation, perhaps?' Trowa asked. 'A real one? Before he launches into next year's party?'

'No skiing though,' I had to toss in. 'That would be tempting fate!'

It got me a chorus of dark chuckles of agreement. 'Someplace warm then,' Trowa said, the idea obviously growing on him. 'Where he can't get to a phone or to his e-mail.'

'He's going to kill us,' Wufei said, though he hardly sounded repentant about that fact.

Quatre only smirked. 'But it should make for a much merrier Christmas.'

'God bless us, every one, then,' Wufei chuckled. 'Because the Commander sure as hell won't!'


End

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