Okay, so it's been a while since I've written anything Gundam Wing, but I decided, since my Halloween fic was ff8, then Christmas is GW, all the way, which makes the next holiday Inuyasha(*wonders what the next holiday is* Valentine's Day?  Ugh, can I actually write a v-day fic???…it's such a waste of a holiday! *sweatdrops*) 

Uh, yeah, so anyway.  This year, we're spending Christmas with the G-Boyz!  And I thought I'd take the opportunity to explore an odd-pairing I've been wanting to try for quite a long time now.  So this fic will be Wufei x Noin! (and others) Woot!

Yes, you just read that right.  I got the idea early in the series when Noin and Wuffles first battle.  She's all "just a kid" and he's all "a woman, no wonder".  I thought it was a great scene and have wanted to try hooking them up ever since.  Well, it's been a few years and I haven't thought up the perfect plotline, so I'm going to try it here.  If I like it, I may do more in the future. Wouldn't that be fun?!? Anyone know of anyone else who's done this pairing out there?  Because if so, I want to read!  If not, then I suppose I'm christening the genre and want other people to write ficcies with this pairing so I can read!  (Let me know if you write a wu/noin! Pweaassseee!!!!)

Uhm, anyway, I never tried writing Noin before, so I hope she's at least remotely in character.  Not sure where this story is gonna go, but I plan on enjoying the journey!

Cheers.  Standard Disclaimers Apply.

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"From the Ashes" or "Merry Christmas, Chang Wufei"

by: Banshee Puppet

a GW Christmas Fic

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If you were hoping for a happy little Christmas story, turn around now.  Don't look back.  I have no happy memories of Christmas to share.  Everyone I care about is either dead…or with someone else…or, perhaps, also, spending the holidays alone, rather than spending them with me.  My name is Chang Wufei, and I'm the weakest man in the world…

Wufei stared out the window.  It was late, after ten, and the snow was falling outside of his quiet apartment, the one he used to share with her, Sally Po.  Sally.  He sighed.  Sure, things were never perfect between the two of them.  He was too stubborn, and she was too stubborn, and he was too closed-mouthed, and she was too independent, but for the most part, things were good.  That's what he'd always thought.  It had beat the hell out of being alone.  Apparently though, Sally hadn't felt the same.  But to hell with Sally.  He didn't care about Sally, not really.

He closed his eyes against the stark and lonely night and rested his head against the window frame.  There she was again, always, when he closed his eyes anymore, black hair covering half of her face, dark eyes.  She was beautiful, and oh how he hated her once.  Another weak woman, and a bleeding heart on top of it.  How would she ever survive in this war torn world like that?  But she had survived, somehow.  Had he underestimated her strength, or her luck?  He still didn't know the answer.  He only knew one thing.

Wufei opened his eyes and sighed.  "Luca…"

He wanted her.

DECEMBER 5, TUESDAY, 7 P.M., TWO WEEKS & FIVE DAYS PRIOR

"It wouldn't kill you to smile, would it, Wufei?  Duo is your best friend, after all.  I thought you'd be happy to see him.  We haven't seen any of our friends since Thanksgiving, and you insisted on leaving early because we had to work the next day," Sally said from the driver's seat of her jeep.

Wufei sat quietly, staring out the window.  He was getting lectured again, and for a smile, of all things.  He rarely smiled.  The woman knew that, so why was she so insistent?

"Just because I don't smile about everything, like that maniac I call a best friend, does not mean that I am not happy to be going to see him, Sally," he said flatly.  If she had so many issues with the way he was, why was she with him?  He wasn't trying to change her, but whatever he did always seemed to be the complete opposite of what she wanted.  Was he doing something wrong?  Must he banish all of his pride and integrity just to appease the woman?  Wasn't it enough that he stayed by her side, that he lived with her, shared a bed with her (even though she snored and he rarely got much sleep), tended to her when she was ill, followed her to that hideous mall when she felt like, ugh, shopping, and followed her into every inane boutique in the damn place, where she loitered for hours, and the, perhaps two, shops that he enjoyed in the entire insane maze, he was dragged out of by the bored woman in ten minutes, fifteen on a day when she was feeling particularly patient?  Wasn't it enough?  No.  Now she wanted him to smile too.   Duo would know he was glad to see him.  The would discuss old times. He would listen to the braided ex-pilot's jokes, inquire about his business, discuss work and assorted other things they had in common.  After dinner, he would even assist in the task of drying the dishes.  Duo would never question whether he was glad to be there; it didn't matter to the other man if he smiled or not.  But Sally wanted him to put on a happy face.  It just wasn't him.  Why didn't she get that?

"It's just a smile, Wufei," she sighed in exasperation.  "It's hardly the end of the world."

"If it is hardly the end of the world, then it should not matter if I smile or not," he stated blandly.

Sally groaned.  "You would think Duo's cheerfulness would wear off on you a bit, you big grump. You talk to each other almost every day."

"If you are so enamored with Duo's agreeable personality, Sally, perhaps you're dating the wrong man," he huffed, trying not to get angry, start yelling.  He bit his tongue, trying to control his temper.  He just didn't have the energy to fight with the woman any longer.

"Ooo!  You!  You arrogant asshole!  Maybe I am!" she snapped.

He just sighed.  This was all old news.  She called him that all the time.  Always threatened to leave.  But they stayed together anyway.  In truth, neither of them seemed to have anywhere else to go, in the end.  She would ignore him for a day or two, and then he would bring home one of those stupid girl movies she liked, with all the romance and love talk, inevitably fall asleep halfway through, and when he woke up, they would be fine again.  That's just the way it went.

They weren't on speaking terms by the time they rang Duo's door, but the others were used to that by now.

Duo greeted them with a smile and a hug each.  Wufei didn't hug back, not exactly, but he did reach one hand up to pat the other man's back a few times.

"Uhoh! Fighting again?!?" he moaned. 

"Your friend is a prick, Duo, no offence," Sally commented as she entered the room in a huff, calming a bit as she greeted her friends.

Duo raised an eyebrow at Wufei and sighed. 

"It's good to see you, Maxwell," Wufei stated flatly as Duo closed the door behind him.

"What happened this time?" he asked quietly as he took his friend's coat and hung it in the closet by the door.

Wufei sighed exhaustively.  "Sometimes, Duo, I think she wishes I were you."

Duo gave the other man a stunned expression, an expression that seemed a bit nervous.  Wufei narrowed his eyes.  What was that look about? 

"Wh-what makes you say that man?!?" he asked.  "That's ridiculous!  Me and Sally, yeah right," he laughed.  "Just imagine it!  Haha, we have NOTHING in common even!  Just imagine what the kids would look like—uuuggly!" he joked.

Wufei's lip curled slightly upward at that, just a bit.  "She tries to change me, Duo.  I'm growing tired of it."

"Cheer up Wu-man!  It's almost Christmas!  Think about who you hope to get for the grab bag?"

"Grab bag?"

"Sally didn't tell you, did she?  You were in the shower when I called, so…anyway, since we're all gonna be together for Christmas this year, we decided to do a grab bag.  You know, it's too expensive to get something for everyone, so we pick a name and get a gift for that person.  It's fun."

"If you say so."

"Cheer up!  You know she'll forgive you eventually.  She always does," Duo said with a slight sigh.  "Come on, you want to see the others don't you?  It's been a while since we were all together.  Une is even going to stop by with Marimaea, but they can't stay long."

"Marimaea.  Trieze's daughter."

Duo nodded.  "I know you like that kid, so don't try denying it."

"You are the only one who understands me, Maxwell."

"Well, ya know, you're a complex guy," he laughed.  "Oh!  Noin is here too, so try not to kill each other, okay.  I know how famously you two get along!"

Wufei rolled his eyes.  "Nearly as famously as she and Zechs, if I hear things correctly," he commented.  The two had been on-again/off-again for so long it was making everyone around them dizzy.  Even Wufei had noticed, and it was getting irritating.  If it wasn't meant to be, then it wasn't meant to be, and she should simply move on.  As it were, Wufei had always been better at giving advice than taking it.  Couldn't see the forest through the trees, in truth.

Duo smirked.  "I totally love when you crack a joke man!" he laughed.  "Even if it's in such bad taste.  Actually, they're off again, and it seems like for good this time.  Zechs has started seeing Catharine.  You remember her, right? Trowa's sister?"

"Yes.  The Circus girl.  She made me bad coffee once.  And equally bad soup.  I hope Zechs can cook, for his own sake."

"Alright, are you finished now smart-ass?  No jokes to their faces this time?  Do you promise to be good?"

"I will do my utmost to behave," he stated.

Three Hours Later:

"Alright. Alright!  Time to draw names!" Duo announced cheerfully.

Hilde applauded, from her place, well, all but in Trowa's lap.  That, Wufei had found to be the oddest of the couplings that had occurred after the war.  Duo and Hilde had dated for a bit, but found their relationship to be intrinsically platonic.  In fact, it seemed, since the war, only Heero and Relena had stayed together, and rather happily at that, as Zechs now seemed rather content with Catharine, Quatre had made amends with Dorothy, and now, Hilde and Trowa.  Now that Zechs and Noin were officially on the outs, that left himself and Sally the only other long term relationship among their friends that remained, and Duo appeared to change girlfriends like underwear, though he'd stayed single for quite a while now, for reasons that Wufei did not fully understand, and which Duo did not care to explain.  There was someone he liked, but from what Wufei could gather, that someone was otherwise involved.  Poor guy.  So that was where things stood.

Trowa said nothing, simply sitting with a blank look on his face and his hand around Hilde's shoulders.  She didn't seem to mind that he didn't smile much, unlike some people Wufei knew.  He glared at Sally as he thought this.

So, everyone picked little slips of paper out of a bowl that looked oddly like a football and Wufei closed his eyes against the oncoming stress headache.  Of all the rotten luck.  It had to be her.  And speaking of her…

"Can I trade!" Lucrezia Noin whined the instant she saw the name on her little piece of paper.

"No!" Duo insisted.  "That ruins all the fun!"

Noin groaned.  She had to get Mr. Bug-up-his-ass, of all people.  What did you get the person who hated you most in the world?  Other than heavy explosives, or a large sword, with which to murder you outright, that is?  Chang Wufei. Ugh.  Why me?  What did I ever do to deserve such rotten karma! 

She sighed.  Well, no choice but to make the best of it, I suppose.

Curious, Relena asked if she could peek, since Noin would obviously not be so upset if it was her, and peeked over the woman's shoulder before bursting into a fit of giggles and refusing to tell anyone else who the unfortunate woman had gotten.  Heero raised an eyebrow, a sign of mild amusement, and Wufei got up to go grump on the porch.

What the hell do you get a bleeding heart of a woman like Lucrezia Noin!?!  He was thinking he would just get her something generic.  A teddy bear and some flowers, or something.  Something simple that required very little thought or advanced planning.  Alright, one problem down.  Now he just had to stick it out until Sally would talk to him again.

DECEMBER 6, WEDNESDAY, 1:17 A.M.

Wufei walked back inside.  It was late, and as much as he enjoyed Duo's company, he wanted to go home.  Nearly all the others had left, and he didn't really have the faintest idea where Duo was, or Sally, who wasn't speaking to him anyway.  He was tired of sitting on the porch, tired of making himself useful around the house.  He just wanted to go home.  Was that so much to ask?

He made his way upstairs.  Duo's light was on, maybe he'd seen Sally. She probably fell asleep somewhere, unless she was so angry that she'd hitched a ride with one of the others, which wasn't unheard of.  She'd done it before.  Either way, Duo would probably know.  It was his house, after all.

He didn't knock.  He never needed to.  He was always welcome to interrupt Duo, whatever he was doing, so he just turned the knob. 

"Duo, have you seen…"  he started to ask when his throat went suddenly dry and his eyes widened. 

Duo was there, sure…butt naked.  And Sally, also was there, buttoning her blouse as the two kissed.  They pulled quickly apart as they heard Wufei's voice, totally busted.

"Wufei, it's not…!" Sally began to say.

Duo just looked away, ashamed, as Wufei ran out of the house, fumbled with the keys, got into the jeep and drove away.  It was exactly what he thought.  He could tell by the look on Duo's face.  Betrayed by his best friend.  That's what hurt the most, not that Sally had cheated on him, but that it was Duo.  Duo had been sleeping with his woman.  For how long now?  How long had he been lying to him?  Keeping secrets?  Going behind his back?  His best friend? 'I might run and hide, but I never tell a lie,' the other boy always said.  Never lie?  Yeah right.  Liar.  Liar. 

"Liar!!" he choked out.  His vision seemed a little blurry.  He must be really tired.  Very blurry, actually—he should probably pull over.  Oh, hell with it.  There wasn't anyone else on the road at this hour anyway. 

But bright lights and a loud horn told him otherwise.  Ah shit!!!  He swerved instinctively to avoid it, ramming the jeep into a telephone pole. Slam. His head hit the steering wheel.  His chest was so tight and he felt like he was going to choke, and his eyes were still so blurry…

"Hey! Hey kid!  Are you alright!"

Wufei moaned, flopping back against the seat.  Whoa, he was dizzy, and things were getting a little dark.  He reached up to his eyes to try to clear his vision and found moisture there.  Moisture?  Was he…was he crying?  He didn't realize he knew how.  And then everything went black.

DECEMBER 6, WEDNESDAY.  10:35 A.M.

"You wanted to see me, Lady Une?" Noin asked.

"Yes.  Thank you for coming so promptly, Noin.  I know today was your day off, but everyone else is occupied, and we're rather short-handed without Chang here."

"Chang?  He's always here," Noin looked confused, and a bit surprised.

"I got a call early this morning.  He was in a car accident late last night and is currently in South Lazarus Hospital.  I need you to go find out the details and see how he is.  How long he expects to be out."

"Yes Maam."

It made Noin feel kind of guilty about being so irritable about having to get him a gift yesterday.  It was just…they had never gotten along, really.  Got off on the wrong foot, most likely, and nothing more.  But, she was concerned.  Someone as strong as Wufei in the hospital…it just seemed sort of wrong somehow.

She spoke to the doctors.  Apparently, it was a fairly minor accident, but he'd bumped his head and passed out, so they were keeping him for the rest of the day for observation, though he seemed to be fine, just a bit disoriented.  He wouldn't talk to anyone.  Just sit there staring out the window.  The doctor supposed some sort of emotional trauma must have been the reason he was driving so fast, what caused him to run that light.  The doctor also said it had looked as if he'd been crying.  Wufei Chang? Crying?  It wasn't possible.  Tears just didn't suit a guy like Wufei at all.

She stopped at the gift shop on the way.  She just felt like she had to bring him something.  He was hurt, after all.

Wufei stared out the window.  It was odd.  He'd spent years of his life with Sally, but losing her didn't really hurt much.  It was who he lost her to, and the fact that they'd probably been going behind his back for quite a while.  That look on Duo's face, he couldn't shake it, just knew it was the truth.  But then, he should have seen it coming.  Looking back, all the signs were there.  He should have seen it, so why didn't he?

"It's not like you to be so careless," she said from the doorway.

He turned his head, and her eyes widened.  The doctor was right.  He wasn't himself.  It was in his eyes—something sort of…broken, disjointed somehow.

"Accidents happen to everyone eventually," he stated flatly as she walked into the room.

"I suppose that's true," she said softly.  "Here."  She held it out like a peace offering, a small metal box of chocolates.

"Candy?" he asked.

"Well, my choices were limited, you know.  You don't seem the type for flowers or teddy bears, or balloons, so I took a shot in the dark and got you chocolate."

Wufei took the box from her, putting it on the nightstand beside the bed.  "Thank you for the gift.  It was thoughtful, but unnecessary."

When he turned to face her all the way, she noticed that his forehead was bandaged on the left side.  She pulled a chair over next to his bed and sat down.  "Sometimes, it's good to do unnecessary things."

"Why?"

"Because you want to.  Feel like telling me what happened?  I'm going to have to file a report, unless you want to do it yourself when you come back.  I know how you like to keep busy, but I'm sure they'll have plenty for you to do when you return, you workaholic."

"I was overtired.  I shouldn't have been driving.  It was my fault."

"Fine.  I'll write that if that's what you want.  Now are you going to tell me what really happened?"

Wufei narrowed his eyes at her dangerously, but the expression broke as his head swam.  Ugh, what a headache.  He'd almost died more times then he could count; who would have imagined that a small bump like this would take down Chang Wufei.  It was unheard of.  He was much stronger than that—wasn't he?

"Something with Sally?" she asked, knowing the other woman had called out of work that day.

His eyes turned away from her as he stared at his hands.

Ah, so something did happen with Sally then.  Good guess, Noin.

"Sally.  I expect her things will be gone when I return home."

"Oh?"

Oh.  The way she said that reminded him of Trowa for a moment, a long time ago, the first time…when he had failed to kill Trieze.  He hadn't said that exactly, but the tone was the same.  And it forced his mouth open, though he didn't know what it was about that tone that made him talk.  Couldn't figure it out for the life of him.

"Perhaps she will move in with Maxwell.  They seem to be rather fond of one another."

Noin's eyes widened. So that was it.  "Oh, Wufei…I'm sorry."

"Worry about yourself, woman.  I'm fine, and I don't need your pity."

"Of course not.  You're Wufei Chang.  You don't need anyone, right?  Don't be stupid.  Everyone needs somebody."

"Only bleeding hearts and women think like that, so a weakling like you would definitely have that opinion."

"Cut the crap, Chang.  We both know Duo was your best friend.  That's got to hurt.  Underneath that gruff exterior, you're still a human being, and it's obvious that you're in pain.  Just because you try to hide it doesn't mean it isn't there.  Your eyes give you away.  And you may hate me, but do you really have anyone else to talk to?  Planning on having a nice heart to heart with Duo anytime soon?"

Wufei's fists clenched in his lap.  Duo.  He was severely pissed off at Duo right now.

Noin sighed.  "I guess yelling and making snide comments back and forth like we always do isn't going to get us anywhere.  Do you know about the phoenix, Wufei?"

"It's your new ms, isn't it?"

"The legend, stupid.  I named it Phoenix for a reason."

"No.  I'm not familiar with it."

"The Phoenix builds a city, which, some time later, he burns down, and dies with it.  But the bird is resurrected from the ashes of the city, and the cycle repeats.  Constantly dying and being reborn.  That's the basic idea, anyway.  There are a lot of variations, but I remember, hearing about the phoenix as a kid, I always wondered what came from the ashes.  Just another phoenix? Exactly the same?  I don't think that's true at all.  But I figure, people are a lot like that phoenix too.  Always changing, always evolving, leaving things behind and starting over."  Noin stood.  "Burn down your city, Wufei.  It may be time that we both stop living in the past.  I'll see you back at work on Monday."

"I can come back Friday."

"A day off wouldn't be the end of the world, Chang.  You work too much."

Wufei sighed slightly.  "Monday, then."

Noin moved to the door.  "Alright, see ya then.  And, hey, when you figure out what comes out of the ashes, let me know, alright?  I've been trying to figure it out forever, and all I know is, it must be something beautiful."

"Thank you…Noin.  …for the chocolate."

"Forget about it.  You can thank me by not doing something stupid like that again.  And, I guess you can call me Lucrezia if you want.  It's my first name, and I've been calling you by yours forever now.  Let's bury the past, huh?  There isn't much of that left to hang onto anymore anyway.  See ya."

Wufei looked at the metal tin when she left and lifted it as if he were judging it's weight and it was heavier than he'd expected. 

"A phoenix, huh?"

He shrugged, and opened the tin, popping a random piece in his mouth. 

"Perhaps."

DECEMBER 11, MONDAY, 11:47 A.M.

He was back at work, and hand removed the bandage on his head, though a decent, purplish bump and a few small cuts remained.  Everyone he passed kept noticing, looking at him, but saying nothing.  They didn't dare. What was the problem?  He was only human.  He made mistakes.  But he figured the rumor had gone around the office by now, about him, and Sally, and…Duo.

He'd turned on his computer this morning to find that the braided moron had left him ten emails of apology, though he was kind enough to not be so obnoxious as to freeze his computer with any of them until he actually read the stupid thing.  Wufei deleted them all without bothering to open them.  Like 'I'm sorry' is enough.  You lied to me, Duo.  I trusted you, and you lied to me.

"What are you doing right now?" a cheerful voice asked to his left, and Wufei looked up to find Noin leaning her chin and arms on the side of his cubicle.

"Working.  What does it look like?" he returned.

"Oh, so, nothing important then," she teased with a small smile.  He frowned at her.

"Finish up what you're doing.  I'm going to lunch in ten minutes, after I bring this to Lady Une," she said, waving a manila file around that she held in her right hand. "Come with me."

"Why?"  The question tumbled out of his mouth before he'd realized it.

"Because I want you to, stupid," she said before starting off towards Une's office.  "Ten minutes, Wufei!" she called behind her.

Wufei sighed and turned back to the pile of reports and requests on his desk.  He would be able to finish the one he was working on in ten minutes, but he still had about fifty more.  He didn't really have time for one of Lucrezia Noin's famous hour lunches. And why on earth did she want him to come.  Was it pity or…no, for all that Wufei had always scolded her over, she wasn't one for pity.  Self-pity, perhaps, self-recrimination, self-reproach, but towards others…pity would not be the right word.  As weak as she was, she worked very hard to make those around her strong.  It made little sense. 

But then their conversation from the other day struck him.  She was just burying the past and that meant burying the proverbial hatchet that seemed to be inevitably between them.  He could at least meet her half way, and if it didn't work out, then it just didn't work out.

He turned back to his paperwork when Zechs rounded a corner.

"Don't you ever get tired of tying up loose ends, Chang?" he asked.  Zechs Merquise.  They loathed each other when they'd first been partnered up, but they were friends now, for the most part.  They didn't talk much outside of work, but Zechs always said hello, sort of, and reprimanded Wufei for doing so much paperwork when they weren't on active duty, even though the main reason he had so much paperwork was that Zechs rarely did any of his own.  They both knew that he preferred active missions, they both did; it was simply where they excelled, but when there were no missions, when active duty was hard to come by, there was other work to be done.

"Don't you ever get tired of doing nothing?" he returned.

"I do plenty," Zechs laughed a bit.

"Sure.  Call Catharine. Hassle me.  Call Catharine.  Give me more of your paperwork to do.  Call Catharine again.  Another busy day in the life of Zechs Marquise."

They both knew that wasn't true. Zechs did do work, he just selectively chose what work he felt like doing, and gave the rest to Wufei, because well, he was a workaholic anyway and would do it for him regardless.

"You don't even have your coat on yet, Wufei!" Noin complained at him when she returned, causing Zechs to look back and forth between the two.

"I was working, woman."

"No you weren't!  You were talking to Zechs!" she scolded before all but dragging Wufei to his feet and handing him his jacket.

"You don't mind if I steal your partner for a while, do ya Zechs? We need food in our poor, neglected bellies!" she said as she took Wufei's arm, saying, "time to go," and taking Wufei by the forearm to drag him along with her.

Wufei had barely gotten his coat on, and was still shrugging into it when he found himself being dragged off.  "Hey! Luc-aah!" he yelped slightly when he nearly tripped over some fake foliage trying to keep up with her.  Defeated.  Defeated, by a woman…and a weak woman at that…Chang Wufei, you're getting soft.

Wufei frowned at the hot dog Lucrezia handed him.  When she asked him if he wanted sour kraut or relish on it, he asked, "no?"  In truth, he had never had either, and hot dogs were not exactly one of his staple foods, but he'd had plenty of experience with the scent of those foods, and was fairly certain anything that smelled that bad had to taste even worse.

Lucrezia laughed, apparently Sally hadn't been kidding when she said that "junk food and Wufei have something of a long-distance relationship.  They keep a long distance away from one another, the longer, the better, if he has any say in the matter."

"Ketchup or mustard, or both?"

At that question, Wufei just sort of looked at her.  Sure, he knew what ketchup and mustard were…but which one he wanted, under the circumstances…another matter entirely.  He was lost when it came to which American condiments he preferred.

Lucrezia laughed at the lost puppy eyes he gave her at the question.

"Alright," she said, reaching behind her for a packet of each and mixing them up between her hands until even she wasn't sure which was where. She shoved her closed fists out at him and said, "pick a hand, any hand."

The way he looked at her hands, you'd have thought he was trying to pick the right wire to cut on a bomb that needed to be defused, but after a moment's hesitation he pointed at her right hand, which she opened. "Ketchup it is! Here ya go."

Hotdogs dressed and soda (iced tea for Wufei) in hand, the two headed for a nearby park bench—or, to be more specific, Lucrezia headed for the bench, and with a lack of other options, Wufei followed.  It was December, sure, but today wasn't particularly cold.  Actually, it was a pretty nice day.

"Ah, this is great!  Nothing like getting out of that stuffy office for a little bit, right?"  Lucrezia sighed contently.

"This is what you do when you disappear for an hour?  You sit in the park?"  Wufei was beside himself.  An hour on a park bench?  Was she serious?  It was totally unnecessary.

"Look around, Wufei.  Just look.  Don't think about work or all the stuff you have to do for five minutes.  Watch the people, enjoy the unnaturally nice weather…" she trailed off, pausing.  "Can you think of a better way to spend an hour?…other than great sex, of course!" she joked.

Wufei flushed.  Even his ears turned red.  He tried to rebut her comment, but nothing but a helpless sputter forced its way out.  He'd never met such a brash woman in his life!  Sure, Meiran had been on the side of violent, always putting him down, and…but she would never have said something like that.  And Sally…sigh…well, Sally would comment on their sexual habits in private, but never in a public place like this.  In short, the topic, outside of closed doors, even just casually with nothing meant behind it was always forbidden for him.  Taboo.  And he refused to admit that somewhere, in the back of his mind, he liked it.  People who could speak so freely, more freely than he could ever bring himself to do—he was sort of drawn to them.  It was why he had always liked Duo so much, because the braided American always said exactly what was on his mind…until now.  Ugh.  Why'd he have to go thinking about that?  Now he was irritated and depressed again.

Almost seeming to sense the turn in his thoughts, Lucrezia stated, "they suck when they're cold, you'd better eat up."

"Oh. Right."  Wufei took a bite.  Hey, this was actually pretty good.  It was no home-cooked meal, but it made a decent snack, so he wouldn't be starving by the time he got home to eat dinner.  And she was right, it was a nice day.

… …

"When are you planning on doing your Christmas shopping?" Lucrezia asked as they started to walk back to the office after a long and companionable silence.

"I'm not sure I'm going to do any," he said.  "I'll probably just stay home."

"All alone?!? Don't you dare!  Wufei, it's Christmas!  I understand if you don't want to go to the party, but promise me that if you can help it, you won't just sit at home all by yourself and brood. Hey! I know!  If you can't find anything else to do, promise you'll tell me and I'll spend Christmas with you!"

Wufei was taken aback.  "Why?" he asked rather blatantly as the question entered his mind.  But then he corrected himself.  "I mean, what about the party?"

"What about it? Sure, I'd like to see Relena over the holidays, and all that, but it's not absolutely necessary.  We're friends and all, but it's not like we're really close.  I'm her big brother's ex-girlfriend.  How close can we be, really?"

Wufei had never thought of it that way.  He always just figured that Lucrezia Noin was part of their group.  He never questioned why or how.  She had been there during the war, had fought with them, that they would still think of her as only "Zechs's girlfriend"—the thought just…never crossed his mind.  He hardly thought of Noin at all, before recently, but when he did think of her, it was always as a woman, or a soldier, or just…Noin.  He only ever thought of her as herself, nothing more, even when he knew very little about her.  Was that just something about him, about the way he was?  Personally, he just thought the others, thinking about her like that—they were wrong.   She wasn't just Zech's ex-girlfriend, she was Lucrezia Noin, a person in her own right, and to think of her any other way was an injustice, not to mention that it wasn't fair to her.  When had he started thinking about what was fair to Noin?  He didn't know.  But ever since that day she'd showed up at the hospital and told him, 'you can thank me by not doing something stupid like that again,' he'd found that he couldn't really think about her the same.  That is to say, he was no longer quite as adept as he had once been at ignoring her presence.  He just couldn't think of her the same.  During the war, he'd found her reluctance to kill a weakness, but now, now that there was peace, he wasn't so sure.  It was a double-edged sword, really.  For Relena, pacifism had meant strength, but Noin's half-pacifism had been weakness.  It was a double standard.  Why hadn't he seen that before.  It was definitely a double standard.  Because, in this world, there were times when a person must fight, to deny that is as good as denying life, denying breath…but the respect for life, the desire not to kill unless absolutely necessary, this, also, had its place.  He had been a soldier too long perhaps, and it was a lesson he found now, once, long ago, so easily forgotten…easily forgotten with his wife's death.  Well, he was learning again.  'I can protect the flowers too, Meiran.  You'll see.'

"Well, keep me company while I do my shopping then!" Lucrezia said with a smile.  "Maybe it'll help you make up your mind, as to whether you have any to do or not."

"You want me to go shopping with you?"

"What?  Too much like a date?" she teased.  "I just hate shopping so much that I want a companion in my misery," she joked.  "You're really my only friend, you know, as bizarre as that is.  I can rely on you to be honest with me, even when I don't want to hear it, and I respect your opinion, even if you can be a real asshole, and I know your plans were probably just to sit in the office and do extra work anyway, sooo, Saturday, alright?  I'll pick you up at, say…two-ish?"

"…fine."

MONDAY, DECMBER 16, 3:52 P.M.

"Ah, this store is so cool!  I can't believe I've never been in here before!" Noin said cheerfully, arms laden. 

"You're very excitable, you realize," Wufei said, looking up.  Sure, Natural Wonders was a shop he actually enjoyed quite a bit, there was always something for a naturally inquisitive mind in here, and as it turned out, Lucrezia's mind was about as inquisitive as they come.  Hey, Wufei, check this out.  How does it do that?  …Oh! This is awesome!  Wow.  Look at all the stars.  …What did you say this was called again? A geode?  She'd been flitting about the store for thirty minutes, completely unable to decide what she wanted to buy more. 

"Yup!  What'cha lookin' at?"

He pointed at a quartz crystal hanging from a shiny silver chain, a little sad.

"Oh wow!!!! It's a rainbow!" she squealed, delighted.

He was a little surprised.  She got it.  She actually understood.  It was a rainbow.

"I was going to get it for Sally, but I doubt she would have really appreciated it anyway."

"Oh…yeah, you're right.  She'd probably just tell me, 'Wufei bought me jewelry again.'  She isn't much for jewelry at all, is she?"

Wufei shook his head.  "No, she says it gets in the way."

"Well, then maybe it's best to leave that rainbow for someone who will appreciate it, anyway.  I'm gonna buy these and hit that botique across the way, I'll only be five minutes, gotta pick up Relena's favorite perfume!"

"Wasn't the point of a grab bag so you don't have to buy for everyone?" he asked idly.

"Weelll, that's true, but…it's tradition!  I have to get it for her.  I just wouldn't feel right if I didn't.  Play nice now, I'll be back!"

Wufei fought down a smile.  He really had to admit, he was having fun.  It had been years since he'd been in the presence of someone who enjoyed interesting things as much as he did, and…

He looked down at the necklace again.

…she actually got it.

Lucrezia would definitely appreciate that necklace.  At least, much more than Sally would. 

"Can I help you with something sir?" the clerk asked, a nerdy looking fellow with calico glasses, but also, someone who did appear to actually like his job, one of the rare few.

"I'd like to buy that necklace please."

"Sure.  Do you want to have it gift-wrapped?"

"Yes.  Thank you."

What could it hurt?  He did have Noin for this silly thing anyway.  It wasn't as if he was buying her a gift for no reason.  Perfectly. Logical. Explanation.  For the moment, he was going to ignore the fact that he wanted her to have it.

SAME DAY, 4:17 P.M.

"I didn't figure you for an animal lover," Lucrezia commented.

"Animals are much easier to like than people are," Wufei said as he looked at the assorted cute fuzzy things.  "They're very straight-forward about their intentions."

A tiny brown kitten with white on its nose and the tips of it's ears, a ring on it's tail, and tiny white mittens stared up at Wufei.  She was an adorable little furball, though not as active as the others.  But she just stared at Wufei, even when he moved past her, and back again.  He couldn't resist smiling down at the little thing and reaching into the cage to scratch behind its ear.  "Like her.  She's the runt of the litter, but she's stronger than she looks, so none of the other kittens bother her.  She may not be as playful as the others, but she's still very friendly."

"You come in here to visit her enough.  You should buy her, Mr. Chang," the girl behind the counter said.

"Don't be ridiculous.  I haven't time for a pet."

"Maybe if you had a pet, you wouldn't spend all of your time working," Noin commented.

Wufei gave her a look and said, "don't you start with that again.  I like working."

"You like being busy.  You don't know what to do with yourself when you're not," she scolded.

"Have you got any more shopping to do, or are we done now?"

"Nah, we're done."

"Fine," he said walking out of the store.

"Fine, Mr. Grumpy-pants.  I'm coming."

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 17, 12:07 P.M.

"Hi! I was here with a friend of mine yesterday, remember?"

"Oh, hello.  You were with Mr. Chang.  I remember.  What can I do for you?"

"That kitten he likes.  I want to buy it for him as a Christmas present, but I can't pick it up until Christmas Eve.  So don't sell her to anyone else okay!" Noin said cheerfully as she picked up the little kitten.  "You want to live with Wufei, don't you?  I think you two were meant for one another."

The clerk laughed.  "Just give me your name and phone number and she's all yours.  You two make a cute couple.  Much better than that other woman who used to drag him out of here all the time."

Lucrezia blushed.  "Oh no no! We're just friends!  Actually, we used to hate each other's guts!" she laughed uncomfortably.

"Oh!  I'm sorry! I just assumed!"

"Haha.  It's okay.  I don't think Sally suited Wufei very well either."

TUESDAY DECEMBER 19, 5:46 P.M.

"…say that again," Lucrezia grinned from across the table. 

"Say what again?" Wufei deadpanned with a confused expression on.

"What you just said."

"Don't be stupid?"

"No!" she said, wagging her finger in his face.  "You said, "don't be stupid, Luca.""

"Oh."

"Oh?"

"I'm sorry?" he asked, not sure what he was supposed to say.  It just sort of came out.  He didn't know why he'd said it, really.  He'd never shortened anyone's name before.  Actually, he found it irritating when Duo did it.

"Don't apologize!" she scolded.  "I like it."

Wufei just blinked at her.

"It makes me feel like we're getting to be closer.  Good friends, or something.  I like spending time with you, Wufei, and I'm not just saying that.  You aren't nearly as much of a jerk as I thought."

"… …"  Wufei wasn't sure how he was supposed to reply to that compliment, which felt almost like an insult.  "Well, I suppose, I like spending time with you also."

In truth, Wufei had found that he really liked spending time with Lucrezia Noin.  He liked it so much, in fact, that he sometimes thought about her when she wasn't there.  He'd come to terms with the fact, in truth, that he was fond of her, perhaps, would not mind at all becoming even closer to the woman.  She was stronger than she let on, and she was strong in all the ways that he was weak.  She made him feel like he wanted to become stronger and weaker at the same time, but he was too much of a coward to say that he wished they could be more than good friends.  And also, it was very soon after what happened with Sally.  He thought it might just be a rebound thing, and didn't want to put Noin through that if it was.  But then, he had never compared Noin to Sally Po, not once; the thought had just never crossed his mind. 

Noin smiled, really smiled.  It was good to hear.  "I know that, silly.  You don't have to say it just because you think it's expected.  I'm not Sally, you know.  I don't care if you never change at all.  I think the proud warrior thing suits you pretty well, actually….that is, I mean…" Noin blushed a bit when she realized how that sounded.  "Not that I want to replace Sally, or anything, I just meant…"

"I know what you meant, …Luca.  But you're mistaken.  I said it simply because it was the truth."

Her heart was pounding, the way his gentle eyes laughed at her, the way she tripped over her words.  She'd never had this much trouble telling Zechs how she felt. Just let me stay by you a while longer.  But that wasn't the same thing.  Zechs was just mysterious and strong, it had been a natural attraction, but in truth, she found it turned out that he was more someone she wanted to emulate on some small level.  It was puppy love on steroids, nothing more.  But ever since the girl at the pet store made that comment about her and Wufei, she couldn't help but think about it when he was near.  Not only that, but she found herself noticing when he did something different.  Example: Yesterday, he had worn his ponytail a bit higher than usual.  The day before, he'd worn a blue shirt under his uniform instead of a white one, like he usually did.  And when she saw him in the gym working on his forms, instead of ignoring it, the way she had always done, she found herself mesmerized for a moment and wondering if he'd be willing to teach her.  It was so pretty, and the way he moved through it.  You could always tell a good martial artist, not because you wanted to watch them train, but because watching them train made you want to learn.  Because they just make it look so easy.  And she'd started having odd dreams about him teaching her kata, where he's perfectly detactched, as always, and she's a terrible student, but…and he looks at her when she's getting discouraged, the same way he always did, but his eyes, they were smiling, and she could almost melt under them, they were just like polished obsidian under sunlight.  She blushed as she remembered all this in the space of a moment.  Oh shit.  I'm falling for him.

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2:45 P.M.

Chang Wufei had been surprised by many things in life, but finding himself in Sally's arms this afternoon definitely took the cake.  How did this happen?  He had to do a mental rewind to remember.

Sally had asked to talk to him.  Actually, she flat out demanded that he'd better damn well listen to her apology or she was going to embarrass him by giving it over the intercom system.  And when she asked if he thought he could ever forgive her, he'd told her, "Frankly, Sally, I couldn't care less what you do, or who you do it with."

Apparently, she'd taken that as an I forgive you because the next thing he knew, she was hugging him.

He put his hands on her hips in an attempt to pry her away.  Stupid woman.  He was practically falling over his desk in the attempt.  Damn her height, he had no leverage.

"Hey! Wufei! Where're you hid…ing."  Noin's jaw dropped when she saw that she'd interrupted what looked rather like a steamy session of making up.  "Uh…nevermind!  I'll talk to you later!" she blurted out, running from the room.  She couldn't stand there right then.  Her stomach had tied into knots and she thought she was going to be sick.  She was going to ask Wufei tonight to say to hell with the party and just…spend Christmas with her, just the two of them.  She was going to tell him that she wanted to be more than good friends.  She was going to be brave, but…obviously, he didn't feel the same way.  She'd thought she'd read the signals right.  She thought he felt the same way but…obviously, she was wrong.  So she did what any self-respecting woman would do in that sort of situation.  She locked herself in a ladies room stall and cried her eyes out until she couldn't hold back the nauseous feeling any longer and threw up.  It had never been this bad with Zechs.  Never.  I love him.  Oh god, I love Wufei and he…and he's going to let Sally keep walking all over him.  He's going to, because, *sniffle* because she's the one that he loves.

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 22, 8: 25 P.M.

Wufei hung up the phone and sighed.  Ever since Sally had hugged him, by no choice of his own, Lucrezia had been avoiding him.  He hadn't seen her since, and she didn't answer her phone.  He'd left a message.  He knew how it looked, but he wanted to explain things to her face.  Not that he knew why she would care either way.  They were just friends, weren't they?  And Sally definitely understood where she stood now.  "I told you Sally, do what you want with Maxwell.  I don't care.  I'm beyond caring.  I have a new best friend, and someone who means a lot more to me than you ever have.  I might forgive you eventually, but for now, I would just like it very much, if you would back off and leave me the hell alone."  Oh yeah, Sally definitely understood now.  But, Luca…why did she react like that?  They were just friends, weren't they?  Had he missed the signals?  Did she actually feel the same?  He didn't dare hope then, and now…it might be too late, all because of stupid Sally.

"Luca.  Please call back.  I think you've misinterpreted something important," he sighed, leaning back in his desk chair.  He'd never realized how cold and lonely this apartment felt.  Before Sally, after Sally, he'd never noticed, until now.  He didn't even have a tree.  He had a small bonsai with  a tiny santa hat and two miniature bulbs that Noin had put on it as a joke.  His Christmas tree.  It was sparsely decorated, and sat in a lonely corner without anything else around it.  Right now, he was feeling like he could relate.  He'd been so isolated, but, then there was Luca, and she made him feel warm, and now…she was…

"Damnit damnit damnit!" he slammed his fist into the armrest irritably. "I should have just told her.  Chang, you're a coward, a total, fucking hopeless coward!"

DECEMBER 24, 9:38 P.M., CHRISTMAS EVE

"So, Wufei didn't come after all," Quatre sighed.  "So, I guess it's true, huh?"

Catharine nodded.  "What about Noin?  She looks so sad.  She's always loved Christmas.  What do you suppose happened?"

"Being alone on Christmas is really hard, for anyone," Relena commented as she brought over a fresh round of hot chocolate.  "I don't know what happened, but it looks like the person she really wants to be spending Christmas with isn't around."

"I wish Wufei was here.  I miss him.  I know it'll take a while for him to get used to the idea of, well, us, ya know, but it just isn't Christmas without him," Duo sighed.

"Well, he's being stubborn, as usual.  I apologized and everything, I thought he'd forgiven us, and I was thrilled, so I hugged, him.  Next thing I know, Noin's running out of the room and I'm deposited ass first on the floor.  That guy'll never change."

"What did you just say?" Noin's ear perked up as she looked at Sally, wide eyed.  Was that…had she just misunderstood?

Sally blinked.  "What, did you forget?  I think you thought you were interrupting something else."

"You just said, you were apologizing and hugged him?  That's it?"

"Uh huh."

"I.  I have to go! Sorry! Merry Christmas!" Noin screeched as she ran for her car.  If she drove fast enough, she might still make it.  She called the pet shop.  "Please. Please. Please! Somebody be there!" she hoped.

"Hello? Happy Holidays! Pet Central!" a girl's voice said.  There seemed to be some sort of Christmas party going on.

"Hi, my name is Lucrezia Noin, I was supposed to pick up a kitten…"

"Oh! It's you!  Yeah, we're having a little celebration.  I didn't think you were going to come.  She's here though, so, come get her."

"Thank you soo much!  I'll be there in about an hour." CLICK.

SAME DAY, 11:34 P.M.

"Come on come on come on!!!!" Lucrezia whined.  The last thing she needed now was a busted traffic light.  She was never going to make it.

SAME DAY, 11:54 P.M.

Wufei washed out his mug and put it in the dish drain.  Six minutes, and he would be spending another Christmas alone.  He wanted her here.  He was tired of being alone.  He sighed her name as he unbuttoned his shirt.  There was no point staying up for Christmas, if he was just going to be here by himself, with no one to celebrate with, not that he was particularly celebratory by nature, but…

His eye caught the gold wrapping on the box with her present in it and he sighed, startled by a knock on the door.

"Coming," he said drolly, wondering who it was until he opened the door to see an eskimoed-out version of Noin on the other side of the door. Coat, mittens, candy-stripe scarf and a wool cap, snow dusting her shoulders.  It was cold and wet out.

"Luca?!? What are you doing here?  I thought you were…"

"You weren't kissing her?"

Wufei's eyes widened.  "No.  Of course not."

Lucrezia was out of breath.  She'd run up three flights of stairs to get here on time.

She smiled and pulled his face up to meet her cold lips.  Wufei's eyes widened.  He definitely hadn't been expecting that, but, he couldn't think of a better gift, and let his eyes fall closed, let his lips do the talking for him, and they had plenty to say.

"Meow."

Okay, that definitely wasn't the message his lips had in mind.  He pulled back, blinking, looking for the source of the sound before noting the box beside the door.

"Luca? Is that…?"

Noin pulled off her mittens and lifted the little brown, slightly moist ball of cute little kitten fur from its box.  "Merry Christmas, Wufei."

Wufei smiled softly at the little brown kitten while Noin dragged the box inside and turned the lights on.

As if just remembering, he handed her to gold-wrapped box, and she grinned at what she found inside.  "You bought me a rainbow."

"You look like you ran all the way here. Why?  It's not like it's Christmas Day."

"I wanted to spend Christmas Eve with the person most important to me, stupid," she said, stripping off her winter layers, down to the green sweater and jeans she wore beneath and fastening the chain behind her neck.

"Luca, I…" 

The grandfather clock in the living room rang off the midnight hour.  "…Merry Christmas."

Noin smiled.  She knew what he meant.  After all, this time, he was the one who kissed her, and she could see it in his eyes.  He didn't have to say anything.

"I love you too, Wufei," she said as they sat down together on the couch.

"So…"

"So… …what are you going to name her?" she asked, gesturing to the kitten that was curling up comfortably into his lap while he pet her absently.

"I thought, maybe, Nat…" he stopped, shaking his head a bit.  "I think, I'll call her Meiran."

"Meiran.  After…" Lucrezia smiled.  "I think that's perfect.  That's a much better way to honor her memory."

"That Phoenix thing.  How long did you say until we have to burn it all down again?" Wufei asked idly, rubbing his thumb over the back of her palm while she rested her head on his shoulder.

"A thousand years," Lucrezia replied softly.

"A thousand years, just like this."

"It's a long time, but I don't mind.  Will you stay by my side, Wufei?  For the next thousand years?"

Wufei smiled.  "…fine," he whispered.  "That will be just fine."

Merry Christmas, Chang Wufei.

~The End~

~~~~

Happy Holidays Everyone!!!! May the season be filled with the people you love, and happy faces, and enough warm wishes to last the next thousand years.

Yours truly,

Banshee Puppet