Duo the Elf
by Dyna Dee
Irritated by the repetitive ring of his phone, Agent Duo Maxwell looked away from his computer screen to glare at the damn persistent object that kept distracting him from his work. It seemed to have rung every couple of minutes since his arrival that morning, with unnecessary distractions that were keeping him from getting his report filed. With a long-suffering sigh, he picked it up and, with no small amount of effort, kept the irritation he felt from out of his voice as he addressed the caller.
"Agent Maxwell, this is first floor security, Agent Rudnick. I have two packages down here that were dropped off for you by a messenger from Saint Ignatius' Catholic Church. Do I need to search the contents or are you expecting this delivery?"
"Yeah, I was expecting it. It's just a Santa Claus suit and candy packages for the Christmas party the church has for the homeless tonight. I'll be down to pick them up before leaving."
"You're going to be playing Santa?"
Duo frowned, not liking the distinct sound of amused skepticism he'd heard in the other man's voice. "As a matter of fact I am. You got a problem with that, Rudnick?"
The foolish man on the other end of the line chuckled, obviously amused by the idea of the slight of build and not very tall man he was speaking to playing the part of Jolly Old St. Nicholas. "No. No problem at all," the man snickered. "I'll keep it here for you... Santa." The sound of amused laughter was followed by the click that signaled the other man had hung up.
"Jerk." Duo hung his own phone up rather forcefully.
"What was that all about?"
The braided Preventer looked over to the desk sitting adjacent his own and answerd his partner, Heero Yuy. "The idiot down at the front security desk was giving me grief about playing Santa Claus for the kids at St. Ignatius tonight. Geeze, I'm just trying to be helpful 'cause they didn't have anyone else to do it." His eyes narrowed as his partner's lips twitched.
"You're a bit on the young and lean to play Santa Claus convincingly, aren't you?"
"Have you ever heard of pillows?" the braided young man asked. "Those guys you see on street corners aren't all naturally round. Well okay, maybe more than half of them are, but I'm not about to disappoint a bunch of little kids at Christmas." He looked back at his computer and mumbled, "All kids should have something magical to believe in, especially if they don't have anything else."
The two men went back to the quiet state they'd enjoyed before the phone rang. Several long moments passed with the braided man purposely ignoring the fact that his partner was staring at him in a thoughtful manner.
"What about Quatre's party? You're going to make it home for that, right?"
Duo thought he detected a note of worry in Heero's otherwise bland, even-toned voice. The five former gundam pilots made a point of spending their holidays together since Quatre was the only one who had family and they hadn't been on speaking terms with him since the end of the wars. In many ways, the five former comrades had become each other's family. And even though Heero would never say it out loud, not one to show any form of weakness, Duo knew his partner craved and enjoyed their companionship.
Sadly, their shared pasts of being trained gundam pilots, fighting for their colonies, had segregated them from other more "normal" people at work and society in general. They had been young when they'd flown their gundams to Earth, too young by normal standards to have been soldiers in two wars with the freedom of the colonies weighing heavily on their youthful shoulders. Even now, a year later, they were barely legal. At eighteen, they were much younger than any other Preventers, and most of the older men and women who worked under them seemed to resent their higher ranks as well as taking orders from and answering to someone so young.
And so it was that he and his friends not only shared a unique past and experiences, good and bad, but also an inimitable connection with each other that no one else could come close to or truly comprehend. In some respects, they were old souls in young bodies, seasoned soldiers with very little innocence left. Basically, they stood out like sore thumbs in any crowd ... except when they were with each other. That was one of the main reasons Quatre had purchased a large two-storey house near their work place and the five former gundam pilots, turned Preventers, moved in together. Wufei, Heero and himself shared the upstairs of the house while Quatre and Trowa shared the downstairs. It was a comfortable arrangement that pleased all five colony-born young men. They spent most of their free time together playing basketball in the nearby park, watching T.V. or playing card games, going out to a movie or local attractions now and then or just sitting at home and talking.
Looking at his best friend again, Duo smiled, a simple action that seemed to ease the worry lines that had formed between Heero's eyes. "Don't worry. I wouldn't miss Quatre's party for anything. The dinner at the church is at five thirty and the program's at six thirty. I'm scheduled for a seven o'clock appearance and should be home by eight."
Heero nodded and turned back to his work with a slight smile on his lips, pleased with their plans for the evening. But Duo knew that because he'd given his ever-efficient partner a time table, he'd have to be home by eight or there would be a search party prowling the streets looking for him. It was irritating sometimes to have a partner and best friend that lived by exact timetables, but Heero's few faults were easily overlooked in knowing that someone really cared whether or not he showed up. It was sobering at time to know that he was no longer alone in the world, answering only to himself. He was now privileged to have four competent and trustworthy friends watching his back, just as he watched theirs.
Today was Thursday, December the twenty fourth, Christmas Eve. Most of the people employed by the Preventers organization left their offices at three o'clock that afternoon in order to get a start on their holiday and three day weekend. In the welcomed stillness caused by their departure, Duo persisted in finishing up his report on the case he'd labored over for two months and had successfully finished the day before. All his work had culminated with the arrests of fifteen dangerous men belonging to a weapons smuggling ring. The only casualty in the raid had been Heero's sports car, but it had been a necessary sacrifice in stopping the small pick-up truck holding several arms dealers trying to escape capture. He went over it one more time, making sure all the information was clear, his numbers exact and that the entire report was typed error-free to ensure there would be no mistakes on his part to mess up the prosecution of the shitheads sitting in the Preventers' cells in the lower levels of that building.
Being so engrossed in his task, he didn't notice how late it was getting to be until Heero put a hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I'm going now. I'll see you at eight."
"Yeah, I... holy shit!" He caught sight of the time displayed on his computer. It was six fifteen. "Dammit, Heero. Why didn't you tell me it was this late?" He saved his work and quickly shut down his computer before jumping up from his chair and running for his jacket hanging on the standing coatrack in the corner.
"I thought you said you didn't need to be there until seven," Heero said, frowning. Unbeknownst to most people, Heero didn't like to have anyone mad at him, especially his close friends. Knowing that, Duo reigned in some of his notorious anger for his friend's sake.
"I wanted to go home to freshen up first, grab some of the pillows off the couch and then change into the Santa suit. Now I won't have time. I'll have to get the costume at the front desk, change in the bathroom downstairs and catch a cab to St. Ignatius."
"I'd offer to give you a ride, but my car is in the shop," Heero said, and only three other people would recognize the look of guilt on his face. In seeing it, Duo felt guilty himself in blaming Heero for his own lack of awareness.
"Look, Heero. I'm sorry. It wasn't your fault, man. I was rushing to finish my report on the Lansing Case and lost track of time. It's my own fault that I'm running behind. I'm not mad at you, all right?" The tension lines around the corners of Heero's eyes lessened. "You go ahead. It'll take me a couple of minutes to get ready, then I'll call a cab. See you at home around eight, okay?" Then pointing his finger at his friend's face, he added, "I put my gifts for you guys under the tree this morning, so no peeking, buster." He wasn't teasing. They all knew Heero was notorious for unwrapping and sneaking a peek at his gifts.
"Alright, at eight," Heero confirmed, letting his friend know he'd be worried if he didn't show up on time.
"Eight, or there about," Duo replied with a grin, then threw his arm around Heero's shoulder and guided him out the door while the Japanese teen hit the light switch on the way out.
Evidently Shinigami's glare still worked as it managed to diminish the goofy grin that had been on Rudnick's chiseled, five o'clock-shadowed face when Duo came to collect the two items at the front desk. The Santa suit was obviously in the large red box, and on the floor by the security guard's feet was a sturdy-looking, green, cloth sack that was gathered at the top by a thick white cord and was the approximate size of size of a large plastic garbage bag. He left the sack at the security desk and took the box with him, intending to find the nearest restroom to change.
After waving goodbye to Heero and watching him go out the front door of the building to catch the last bus of the day, Duo turned and rushed to the first floor restroom, nervously checking his watch. He had a little over a half hour to get dressed, catch a cab and make it to the other side of town. He cursed himself again for not watching the time more closely.
He was glad to see that the restroom was empty, which meant he didn't have to change in a cramped stall. Setting the box on top of one of the sinks, he removed the lid and then stood for a moment looking with disbelief at the contents inside. He wasn't the most experienced person when it came to holidays, never having celebrated them as a kid, but he was pretty damn sure that Santa Claus wore a red suit with a white fur trim on the edges. What he was looking at didn't fit that bill, not at all.
The envelope on top of the pile of clothing was simply addressed to Dear Mr. Maxwell. He picked it up, opened the flap, and pulled out a card, noting the beautiful, feminine penmanship.
Dear Mr. Maxwell,
This morning we were blessed to have a volunteer from the community express a desire to play Santa Claus for tonight's event. We appreciate your willingness to help, Mr. Maxwell, but our volunteer already has a natural beard and a round belly that will please the children with his likeness to Santa Claus. Unfortunately, our Santa has a bad back and can't lift or bend with any ease. We're hoping, with your willingness to be of service and in the spirit of the holidays, that you'll agree to be Santa's helper. This position will include leading the children to Santa, lifting them to sit on his lap and handing the toys to them after they have spoken to him. The costume is enclosed in this box. I know this is short notice, but we truly do need your help.
May the Lord bless you for your generous spirit,
Sister Mary Margaret
St. Ignatius Parish.
Folding the note and shoving it into the pocket of his jacket, he looked for a long moment at the box's contents. Then with great trepidation he picked up the top corners of the garment, which had been neatly folded with care so that wrinkles wouldn't form, and held it by the shoulders with the tips of his fingers as he pulled it completely out of the box. His eyes, wide with disbelief, then looked down into the box to see what the rest of the costume entailed. "There's no way in hell," he whispered, horrified at the costume before him.
At a quarter to seven, he came out of the bathroom with his cheeks as red as the red and white striped leggings he wore under the short green jacket that was trimmed with white fur around the edges. His work shoes, now costume covered, clicked loudly on the linoleum floor, but even that sound didn't manage to block out the slight jingling of bells as he walked through the deserted hallways of the building devoid of its usual bustling. Rudnick turned from his post at the front desk at the sound of his approach and, after doing a double take, his mouth dropped open and his eyes widened comically.
"If you value your life, you won't say a word," Duo warned in his best threatening tone as he pointed a menacing finger at the man. "Not now, not ever and not to anyone else, you got that Rudnick? If I hear any rumor about this in the office, I'll know who started it. Understand?"
The man proved to be prudent by not saying a word, only nodding his head that he did indeed understand. His eyes, however, slowly traveled from the long, tasseled green cap with fur around the front edge and a round ball at the tip, down the cheery green velvet jacket, the skintight red and white striped leggings, then lowered to the shoe covers that were red felt, curled up at the toes, with a bell dangling on each tip.
"Shut up," Duo snarled humorlessly in seeing the man's suppressed humor dancing in his scrutinizing eyes. Rudnick, most likely a decade older than the renowned Preventer agent, picked up the large green cloth bag and held it out, losing the battle at trying to keep a straight face. "Do you want me to call you a cab?" and asked, and small noises coming from his throat signaled he was struggling to not burst out laughing
"I've got my cell," Duo answered sourly, his holiday spirit sorely dented with his embarrassment. Oz, he thought, couldn't have humiliated him as much as a certain sweet, little do-good nun expecting him across town had.
With the red box, now containing his work clothes, tucked under one arm, he grabbed the green sack from the other man and his arm dropped unexpectedly from the weight. "What the heck is in there?" he asked.
"I checked it out," the dark-haired security man answered, openly smiling now. "There are fifty small cellophane bags, each containing an apple or an orange, candy and a coloring book with crayons."
"It weighs a ton," Duo complained, slinging the heavy sack over his shoulder."
"Thirty to thirty-five pounds is my guess," Rudnick stated as he watched the man dressed as an elf dash to the front doors. Duo just wanted to be out of sight of the security man who called out a Merry Christmas to him as the doors closed behind him. Unfortunately, the bag on his back got stuck in the door. Once he managed to tug it free and get out of sight of the glass doors and the amused Rudnick, he put down the green sack and opened the red box to fish out his cell phone from his jacket pocket. He dialed information, got a hold of the cab company that informed him a car would be there within five minutes. Checking his watch, he noted that by the time the cab arrived, it would leave him only ten minutes to get to the church.
Putting his phone back in his jacket pocket, he closed the box once again and stood, putting his back against the building as he waited for the cab and pointedly ignored the cars that drove by. Unfortunately, his appearance didn't go unnoticed as he'd hoped. It seemed every other car either honked their horn at him or the people inside put down their windows to shout out something stupid or inappropriate. He resisted giving them the finger, not knowing if there were children in some of the passing cars. It wouldn't do for a little one to see Santa's Elf giving someone the bird.
The cab showed up after four minutes and the slightly out-of-sorts elf in was in the back seat of the four-door sedan in less than five seconds after it came to a full stop. The cabbie, a bearded man with a red turban wrapped around his head, turned to greet him with a white toothy smile on his dark face. "If you can get me to St. Ignatius in less than ten minutes, I'll triple your tip," Duo said, forestalling the man's comments on his attire.
"You got it," was the man's heavily accented reply. He then promptly turned around, slammed the car into drive and shot out into the street, ignoring the horns that blared in complaint around them.
Duo had to give the man credit, he was all business behind the wheel and swerved with reckless abandon around the slower traffic. The usually fearless Preventer agent held tightly to the door handle as the cab careened wildly around a corner. He was getting a whole different perspective of being in a wild car ride while not being behind the wheel. Now he kind of understood why his friends always insisted one of them drive when he volunteered to take them to their destinations in one of Quatre's cars. He'd always been an aggressive, fearless driver, approaching the road in the same manner as he did piloting Deathscythe in battle, but he was finding it downright scary to be in the back seat of this cab with a maniac at the wheel with no means of controlling what was going on.
Then suddenly the driver swore in English as he hit a patch of ice and the car began to slide and spin out of control. "Take your foot off the break," Duo yelled, clutching the door even tighter. "Straighten out! For God's sake, man, straighten the wheel out!"
The cab continued to spin until it gracefully careened into a parked city bus. The crash was loud and jarring, but thankfully the point of impact was on the opposite side of the car from where the man dressed as Santa's Elf was sitting. The force of the crash flung the Preventer onto the seat where he tucked his head in his arms and closed his eyes as metal bent and glass broke and flew into the car's interior.
From his curled up position, Duo realized that the vehicle had stopped and that, surprisingly, he was all right. Slowly sitting up, he looked around. They were in an older part of the city, as far as he could tell, where the businesses were more mom and pop and definitely closed on Christmas Eve. Hearing a groan, he remembered the driver and leaned forward to see the man slumped over the steering wheel.
"Hey, man, you alright up there?" he asked.
The turbaned man turned to him with a sick look on his face. "I'm gonna lose my job over this. Look at my car."
Duo did indeed look at the half of the car that had been crushed when it hit the back corner of the larger bus. No doubt it was totaled. Looking down at his watch, he realized he couldn't do anything to ease the man's worry because he only had a few minutes to make it to the church.
"How far is it to St. Ignatius?" he asked, pushing the undamaged door open and getting out, wrestling the heavy green sack up from the floor where it had gotten wedged between the front and back seat.
The cabbie stared at him as if he were crazy, so Duo took a good look at his surroundings to try and figure out where he was. It was dark and the store fronts were unfamiliar. He realized the driver must have taken a few short cuts in order to get him to his destination on time. "Look, man, just point me in the right direction and I'll get there myself."
"You can't leave now," the man objected with alarm. "The police will need to make a report."
Duo thought for a moment that he should tell the man his name and vocation, but dressed as he was, he really didn't feel like talking to a couple of local cops only to have word get out that a Preventer, dressed as an elf, was in one of their reports. He'd never live it down if word got back to his office.
"Listen, I'm late. Have them come to the church in an hour if they need my statement."
The stunned, turbaned man only blinked in reply as the impatient elf turned and ran down the street, the large green sack slung over his back making a loud, rhythmic sound as it joined the long braid of hair that bounced up and down against his back as he ran, the faint sound of jingling bells following in his wake. His passenger was out of sight by the time the cabbie had the presence of mind to realize that the young man hadn't paid the fare, the promised tip and was running in the wrong direction.
Duo came to that same conclusion after running several blocks but kept on running when the sound of his rapid footsteps drew the attention of several large dogs rooting around in an alley trash can. He evidently was a good enough reason for them to drop what they were doing and chase after him. He ran for a few more blocks with his breath coming out of his mouth in white, cloudy puffs. Several times he dodged the persistent dogs, narrowly missing having his ass bitten when one of them lunged at him, his teeth catching the back of his short jacket and ripping some of the white trim off the bottom. At the sound of the fabric tearing, Duo had decided that he'd had enough and suddenly turned on the dogs, swinging the large green sack and hitting both large dogs in the head with one fell swoop. They were both knocked down and whimpered as they cautiously got up and backed away from the growling elf. Seeing that he wasn't going to be chased any more, Duo pointed his arm past the dogs and ordered, "Go home!" Then after watching them turn tail and run, the braided elf turned and walked rapidly as he continued on his not so merry way.
Scanning his surrounding, he still didn't recognize any of the buildings. He'd only been to St. Ignatius a couple of times, but he was sure he'd see something familiar when he got close. His steps slowed as he looked around for anyone who might be able to give him directions, but it seemed that on Christmas Eve everyone else was inside celebrating. He ground his teeth together in frustration, thinking he should just call and get directions or maybe another cab. Then, suddenly, he realized that he'd forgotten the red box in the wrecked cab that carried his clothing, wallet and his cell phone. Damn!
Why are the streets so dark? he wondered sourly. The temperature seemed to be dropping further and he could see flakes of snow beginning to fall. And though the jacket he wore was thick enough to keep his upper body warm, his legs, garbed in some sort of latex-type of material, were covered with goose bumps and his knees were beginning to knock together from the cold. He walked quickly walked to the end of the block and turned the corner, hoping to find some help. Unfortunately, the next street looked as unfamiliar, dark and forbidding as the one he'd just come down with the exception of a strand of Christmas lights blinking in some of the dark storefront windows. How in the hell could he be so turned around? he wondered. He walked several more blocks until he finally came to a corner store, one that was open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Poor schmucks, he thought, feeling sorry for any person having to work those kind of hours as he entered the brightly lit establishment.
Thankfully, the store was empty of customers, and the only person he could see was a man who looked to be from India, standing behind the counter watching a television that was playing some odd music video, sung in some from of the Dravidian language. "Can you tell me where St. Ignatius is?" he asked the store clerk.
"One mile south," the man answered, not taking his eyes off the television screen.
"Which way is south?"
The man turned with a look of irritation on his face to answer, but then his eyes widened in seeing the person doing the asking. Duo bit his tongue, desperately wanting to ask the guy what the hell he was staring at, but then reminded himself that he needed the man's help.
Again there was that inevitable look of laughter in the man's eyes as he pointed to a direction over his shoulder him that Duo guessed was his answer. Straightening his back, he walked out of the store with as much dignity as he could manage in his striped leggings, curled toed shoes and green, ripped furred jacket. A loud guffaw followed him out the door.
Half a block down the street he became aware that he was being followed. Then as his luck would have it, two dark figures suddenly jumped out in front of him from the dark doorway of a business.
"Give us your wallet," a high-strained voice commanded.
Looking with disgust at the figure speaking to him, Duo snorted. "You've got to be kidding me."
The sounds behind him drew nearer, and he hoped it was someone who would back him up rather than join the two in front of him. With the way his evening was going, he should have known better.
"Frisk him, Jack," the other figure in front of him ordered. "I've got a gun trained on you, Hobbit, so don't try anything and we might just let you go."
"I'm an elf, you idiot," Duo ground out between gritted teeth. "Does it look like I have a wallet on me, you dimwit. I'm in an elf costume and headed to St. Ignatius'dinner for the homeless. Kids are counting on me, man, so I'd appreciate it if you'd just let me be on my way."
"What's in the bag?" the voice behind him asked.
"Candy and kid stuff."
A chuckle came from one of the shadows. "I kind of like those shoes."
"No way, dirt bag," Duo moved to a defensive stance. "These belong to the church. You wouldn't steal from a nun, would ya?"
"Open the bag, elf boy," the voice behind him ordered with a threat in its tone.
Duo's eyes narrowed as he readied himself for a fight, and with a predator's grin he hissed, "Make me."
Five minutes later Duo was on his way again, limping slightly and pressing his fingers tightly against a cut on his hand that he'd gotten from the blade of a knife one of the idiot kids had drawn on him in the skirmish of three against one. He wished he had his cell phone so he could call the police to pick up the three unconscious teens, presently laying in the snowbank. He was pretty sure they wouldn't freeze to death, but he thought a good case of blue balls for attempting to mug him was their just desserts. At least his costume was still intact, well mostly, maybe a little scuffed. He kept going, thinking he couldn't be far now. Unfortunately for him, Lady Luck had followed everyone else and was no where to be found. He didn't get more than another half a block before he was tackled, blind sided by another would-be mugger.
He hesitated entering yet another corner store, its lights burning brightly through the windows into the darkness outside. He paused just beyond the extending light's glow to look down at himself. His red, curled-toed shoe covers were scuffed and wet from fighting on the snow-lined sidewalks. His leggings were torn at the knees with his scraped and bloody kneecaps were showing through. His jacket shared the same fate as the shoes and the fur trim, ripped from the garment in the back by the dogs, looked almost beyond repair. With a deep sigh he decided he looked like some kind of indigent elf instead of Santa's helper.
Resigned, he walked into the store, the green bag still intact and slung over his shoulder. A middle-aged Asian man was sweeping the floor and looked up at his entrance. "Are you O.K.?" the man asked with genuine concern.
"Let's just say I've had better nights. How far is it from here to St. Ignatius?"
"About a half mile, but I think you've missed the dinner."
Duo blinked, coming to the understanding that the man believed he was one of the homeless who went to the church for a holiday meal. He was about to straighten the guy out, but then thought better of it when his eyes lit on the clock. It was seven forty-five. Those two fights must have taken him longer than he'd thought and now he was really late. Santa, hopefully, showed up at seven, and he was pretty sure someone would have volunteered in his absence to help him hand out presents and lift children onto his lap. He felt a wave of depression wash over him. He'd let people down again. Then feeling the weight on his back, he thought that if he could get there before eight, maybe he would be in time to pass out the goodies. He could do a half a mile in fifteen minutes, even limping, if he didn't stop to chat. The electronic bell at the store's entrance went off, signaling the front door had just opened behind him.
"Thanks," he muttered to the store employee and turned to leave the store to finish his journey. He stopped abruptly when finding himself looking into the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun held by a large muscular man in a trench coat wearing a brown ski mask over his face.
The dark eyes behind the mask slowly raked over his costume, or what was left of it. "What the hell are you supposed to be? A fairy?" The condescending questions came from the would-be thief and Duo could see a snide smile growing on the chapped, fat lips that were framed by the cap's cut-out space around the man's mouth.
"I'm Santa's helper, you asshole," he snapped back, then moving with the speed he was well-known for, he flung over his shoulder the heavy green sack filled with goodies for little children and soundly smacked the masked man up the side of his head with it and then ducked. The gun went off and the loud report resounded throughout the small grocery store, putting a large hole into the Slurpee machine, causing the red, blue and brown sweet and sticky ice drink to spill out onto the floor.
Duo rolled into one of the aisles, losing his elf hat in the process. He then picked up the large can of tomatoes and hurled it at the intruder's head. It missed because the man dodged it, but it hit him in the arm and the idiot dropped his gun. Diving back in the direction he'd come from, the elf/Preventer went for the gun at the same time the masked man did. A tense wresting match ensued with both men fighting for control of the lethal weapon.
The larger man had a slight advantage with his bulk and weight over Duo's more compact body, and the fist that connected with the left side of the Preventer's face didn't help matters when his head began to swim. Using his street smarts, he strategically situated himself and forcefully brought his bloody knee up, which connected with the man's crotch, doubling the robber over so that Santa's little helper could wrestle the gun out of the man's hand. Jumping to his feet, head spinning, Duo pointed the gun at the curled up and moaning masked figure on the floor. He bent carefully to pick up his fallen hat and one-handedly set it back on his head, realizing too late that it was dripping with Slurpee. "Freeze, you shithead. I'm Preventer Agent Maxwell and you're under arrest." Suddenly all his frustration over the entire messed-up evening spilled out of the braided man as he focused his angry glare and words on the pained man, still writhing on the floor. "What the hell do you think you're doing, robbing a hard-working person on Christmas Eve? Where the blazes is peace on Earth and good will towards men, huh? Does this section of town not realize it's Christmas? It's Christmas, dammit! What the hell is the matter with you people?"
The store's employee popped up from behind the counter as the battered looking elf continued his tirade while holding the large gun on the robber. He immediately began to dial the phone and frantically informed the police dispatcher of what had just happened, then asked them to hurry because the man dressed as an elf sounded a bit derranged..
By the time the police showed up, made the arrest and took their statements, Duo looked despondently at the clock on the wall. It was eight fifteen. He'd messed up royally and let Sister Mary Margaret down. His shoulders slumped in defeat.
"You okay, son?" one of the arresting officers asked, a worried look directed to the scruffy elf.
"Yeah, it's just been a really shitty evening."
The right side of the man's lip twitched. "Yeah, I can see that. Are you the elf that was a passenger in the taxi that collided with the bus?"
"And the elf that left three unconscious muggers on a snow bank?"
"They attacked me first," Duo defended himself in a flat voice.
"Were you also responsible for the mugger who was left under a street lamp, hog-tied with his own belt?"
The head with the crookedly placed, wet and sticky hat on it nodded.
"Are you also the missing person reported by Preventer Agent Heero Yuy?"
"That would also be me," he sighed dejectedly.
"Anything else I should know about?"
"I was supposed to be at St. Ignatius by seven o'clock to hand out goodies to the kids."
"Need a lift?"
Duo nodded. "To the church, please, so I can apologize."
A friendly hand came down on his shoulder. "Look at it this way, son, the night can only get better."
Duo tilted his head to the side and gave the man a wearied glare. "Ya wanna bet?"
The man laughed and ushered the pathetic looking elf out of the store and into the front seat of the squad car. His partner was already in the back seat with the apprehended would-be robber.
The ride to the St. Ingatius was short and silent. When the squad car came to a stop in front of the brick church with the tall steeple, Duo sighed yet again, resigned to the task ahead of him.
"Don't worry, son. Sister Mary Margaret's bark is worse than her bite," the officer driving the car said, an amused expression on his face. "Merry Christmas."
"Yeah, you too." He realized he'd returned the sentiment with zip enthusiasm, but it had just been that kind of a night. Then with a sudden thought, he turned around to look at the unmasked thief in the back to give him his last two-cents. "But not you, you bastard. You should be ashamed of yourself, robbing someone on Christmas Eve."
He got out of the car, clutching the less-than-new looking green goodie bag, shut the door and then turned to look at the church with a soft light shining through the stained-glass windows. He moved to the stairs and began the short climb to the front doors. Hesitating to enter, he cracked open one of the doors to see the church was lit inside by candlelight and the congregation was singing Christmas songs. Looking down at himself, he realized he couldn't go in there looking like he did, so he shut the door and decided to wait until the service was over to find the good but probably disappointed sister to apologize.
Shifting his legs and rubbing his arms, he tried his best to keep warm as the temperature lowered further. Closing his eyes, he attempted to clear his mind of the night's events. This was not the way he imagined his Christmas would be.
"Look mommy, it's a homeless elf." At the sound of the little girl's voice, his eyes snapped open. The mother and daughter had come silently out of the Church's front door, dressed in their coats, hats and scarves against the cold winter's night. He moved to the side to let them pass as the mother held her hand out to him. Curious, he put his own out and felt something dropped into it. Drawing his hand in, he stared at the five credit chip the woman had set in his cold and cut palm. "Merry Christmas," the little girl beamed while her mother offered him a smile filled with sympathy before they quickly walked down the stairs, leaving him standing feeling dumbfounded. He moved to the shadows as the doors opened again and people began to spill out, smiles on their faces as they made their way back to their warm homes or shelters to continue their Christmas celebrations.
He waited until they were gone, his teeth chattering by this time as a result of the cold, then slipped into the interior of the church, taking in the bows of pine and holly, the poinsettias and white lights that decorated the walls and pews. Thick red and white candles on large candelabra stands gave the big room a soft, warm glow. He breathed in the scent of the pine and scented wax and felt some of the tension drain from him. Moving forward, he was determined to find the priest or someone else who could direct him to Sister Mary Margaret.
Turning around at the calling of his name by a familiar voice, the ill-fated elf's eyes found his friend and partner in the corner behind the door. Seeing Heero there was like walking through the front door of their home and a feeling of pure relief flooded him. He suddenly felt safe and knew that everything was going to be alright now that Heero had his back. His friend stepped forward, his expression was one of concern as he scanned his body from the frozen, stained cap to scuffed-up, curled shoes, a question in his eyes.
"Long story," Duo sighed, showing his relief at Heero's presence.
"You okay? We were worried when you didn't show up."
"It's been a screwed up night, Heero. Can I tell you about it later? I need to find Sister Mary Margaret to apologize."
"She's in the back," he told her. "The party's still going."
Taking his elbow, Heero led the weary volunteer towards the back door of the church and down a corridor to a reception hall. When Heero held the door open for him, he was surprised to see the room was still occupied. Santa, dressed in the traditional red suit, sat on his faux throne with a child on his knee. Duo's eyes widened in seeing to the left of the jolly old elf was Trowa, gift in hand, ready to present it to the child on Santa's lap after he finished his visit. To their right, Quatre was speaking to the next child in line while Wufei had a camera in hand and was taking pictures of each child as they spoke to Santa Claus.
"We decided to pitch in when you didn't show up, knowing you'd get here sooner or later, even if you had to crawl here. We know how you live up to your commitments."
Duo's previous bad mood and glum outlook on this Christmas began to lift. He turned with the intent of saying something to Heero, to express his gratitude for his friends picking up where he'd fallen short, but couldn't find the words that would express what he felt in his heart. On impulse, he stepped forward and embraced his friend, holding Heero tightly. "You guys are the best," he whispered.
"So are you," Heero said, hugging him back.
"Well look what the cat dragged in," an elderly woman's voice said from behind him.
Duo let go of Heero, readying himself to face the music. He turned to see the angelic face of the older woman that belied the tiger underneath. The nun took in his appearance, the dirty costume, torn leggings and bloody knees, the dried blood on his hand as well as the bruise on the left side of his face that would no doubt leave him with a black eye. The frown on the woman's face softened. "Are you all right?"
Duo nodded, his eyes cast down to the floor. "I'm sorry, Sister. I really did try to be here, but one thing after another happened. I'll pay for the costume."
"No need." She smiled with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "It was donated just for tonight. I doubt we could ever get anyone else to dress up like this again."
"What?" Duo tilted his head, trying to figure out the meaning behind her words.
Suddenly, there was a click and a flash of light. After blinking at the suddenness of it, Duo turned to see Wufei grinning behind the camera lens. "That's not exactly the picture I expected to get of you in that costume."
A light of understanding turned on in Duo's mind. "You guys set me up!"
"For the costume, yes," Heero answered, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "But not whatever it was that happened to you on the way here."
"You did this, Heero? You pulled a practical joke on me? On Christmas?" Duo couldn't believe his ears. He'd certainly had his hand in some creative pranking, but the others really hadn't been able to pull the wool over his eyes... until now.
"Trowa came up with the idea," Heero said, looking a bit sheepish.
Wufei chuckled. "After Sister called the apartment and left a message about getting your measurements for the Santa costume, telling us you'd volunteered to be Santa Claus for this dinner, Trowa came up with the idea and Quatre did the research and purchased the outfit." The Asian teen couldn't seem to help laughing at the whole setup. "You make a pathetic elf, Duo, but you definitely would have made the scrawniest Santa in history."
"I should be fighting pissed at you guys," Duo said darkly.
"But it's Christmas," the Sister interjected. "A time of good will and forgiveness."
"You've still got the bag with candy," Heero noted, looking to the scruffy bag that had been dropped unheeded to the floor when they'd first entered the room.
"Yeah, although I used it as a weapon on a couple of dogs, muggers and a convenience store robber." Both of his friends looked at him in disbelief, then to the bag. "Somehow the idiots didn't figure it out that there's no way I can carry a wallet on me in this getup."
"What's this." Heero took his wounded hand in his own and lifted it, showing the bloody five credit chip.
Duo looked down at the gift he'd been given and a slow smile came to his face. "It's good will towards men," he replied.
"Let's get this candy handed out," Wufei said. "Quatre had dinner set back until we get back home. Looks like we're almost done here."
Duo nodded and watched as Heero grabbed up the bag and loosened the top to peer inside. The braided man could only imagine that the contents, which he'd never even seen, were crushed beyond use. The sudden bark of Heero's laughter, joined a moment later by Wufei after he'd put his head next to Heero's to see what was so funny, further dismissed the bad evening. His friends' eyes sparkling with laughter, even if it was at his expense, was one of the best Christmas gifts he could ever receive.
"And so the prodigal elf returns." Trowa's quiet and humored voice announced his presence and Duo looked up to see both he and Quatre approaching them. He dismissed the blond's expression of worry with a dazzling smile of his own as his spirits lifted further.
"Merry Christmas, guys," he said, smiling warmly at the four boys he considered his family.
"Duo, what..." Quatre began but was cut off by the shabby-looking elf.
"Later, okay? Let's finish up here so we can go home."
From behind Trowa and Quatre, the man dressed as Santa came up to the group of five. Duo looked at him warily at first, then relaxed as he sensed something familiar about him. The other guys smiled, like something was up.
In a gruff voice, heavily put on, the scraggily-bearded man boomed. "So where has my tardy elf been, hum? Beating up all those fake Santas that ring bells next to the charity kettles?"
Duo's eyes narrowed, trying to figure out who the person was under the Santa suit. "So did you guys find this replacement Santa in order to get me into this ridiculous outfit?"
"Yes," the four answered all together, with Quatre snickering.
"What? You don't recognize Father Christmas?" Santa's voice boomed out the question, while his more than merry blue eyes twinkled with humor.
Duo looked questioningly at the bearded man before his eyes suddenly widened when he realized who Santa really was. "Howard?"
Santa leaned forward and, after a quick look around to see that no one was looking, winked an eye at his wayward elf while giving a tug on his short grey beard to show it was indeed authentic. "You look damn good in tights, kid."
The other people in the hall turned at the sound of a surprised yelp to see what the ruckus was in the back of the room only to see their laughing Santa enthusiastically tackled to the ground by one bedraggled-looking elf. Seeing the good sister and the other young men who had helped that evening standing around the two, laughing with amusement at their actions, they relaxed. Seeing that the toppled Santa was also laughing and the elf laying on top of him was hugging him like a favorite teddy bear, the spectators turned back to their celebration, glad to see that even an apparently our-of-luck elf had found himself a little Christmas joy.