Pairing: Established 1x2; a single hint of 3x4
Summary: (OneShot. Humor.) The horrors of last minute Christmas shopping.
Warning: Minor language, and a few potentially offensive remarks, I suppose. Not to mention this is a bit late in the season. At least it's still winter.

Just about everything here is based on real events. No, seriously. Bah, humbug.


On (the Day Before) Christmas
Hades' Phoenix

"It's an ornament exchange."

"…A what?"

Folding the card back down, Heero slipped it back into its envelope with his natural meticulous care. "An ornament exchange is a party where the participants all bring a single ornament and…exchange them."

Duo rested a chin on the other's shoulder and peered down at the ornate, parchment-grade envelope as though it were part of a particularly strange species. He poked at it warily, half-expecting it to bite. "Is it like some rich-people thing?"

"I don't think so," Heero said slowly, tilting his head as he gave the question some consideration. "I remember one of the students at the high school we attended undercover complaining about having to host one with his parents, so it must be a middle-class 'thing' as well."

Duo was no longer surprised by the most inane details his partner tended to memorize and file away. He just nodded sagely, the motion making Heero's shoulder sway. "Nah, it probably is. You ever notice how those stuffy bastards spend their money on the most useless shit, and the poor are the most efficient with their cash? God made the world backwards, I tell you."

Wisely, Heero forewent a theological debate with the self-proclaimed Shinigami. He placed the invitation to the side on the kitchen table and picked up the rest of the mail, sifting through it and tossing the junk postcards with an expertly aimed throw towards the garbage can. "I'll send an acceptance to Quatre tonight."

"Aw, Heero, do we have to?" Duo sighed dramatically, stepping back and shrugging out of his Preventers jacket. His ID tag, clipped to the front pocket, had a skull and crossbones doodled on it with black marker.

"No," came the simple reply. "Do you really not want to?"

"Well, I'd hate to leave Quatre to the harpies," he admitted in a martyr's voice.

"They're his sisters, Duo."

"Even worse."

"And most of the people will likely be politicians."

"Dante's seventh level of Hell," Duo deadpanned, sticking out at his tongue when Heero raised a brow at him. "I'm kidding. Actually, I'm really not. About the Dante part." He loosened his much-loathed tie, idly wondering if ties in general had been a subtle hint to office workers everywhere that hanging oneself was an effective means of escaping the rat-race. Or garroting coworkers. "Ne, go ahead and sign away our fates. At least it'll give me the chance to make fun of Quatre and Trowa."

Heero leaned a hip against the edge of the table, arms crossed loosely and a small, amused quirk on his lips. "Shall I also call police headquarters and make a reservation for two?"

"Hey man, you swore never to speak of that incident again," Duo said warningly, slinging his jacket over his shoulder and striding off with falsely wounded pride to their shared bedroom. "Wufei was the underage drunk, not me. Wasn't my fault he couldn't hold his liquor in front of a cop on New Year's Eve."

It had started with a certain pilot growing more and more depressed about Treize's death and the war as a whole as the night went on. After much baiting and bickering with a sympathetic Duo, a very inebriated Wufei had told the first policeman he found exactly what he thought of the judicial system. It had not ended well—except for Duo, who spent the night in a holding cell laughing his ass off.

Smiling secretly to himself, Heero left the two bills and a Christmas card from a well-meaning neighbor, as well as Quatre's invitation, in a neat pile on the counter. This would be their third Christmas party since the end of the Eve Wars (only second after Marimeia's short-lived revolution), and it was typically hosted by Preventers to provide extra security for the high-profile politicians that attended. However, a few weeks ago Heero had found a loophole in the security net when he decided to test it for himself, not trusting the work of other engineers, and so Quatre—himself a reserve Preventer agent and former Gundam pilot—had graciously offered one of the Winner mansions for the cause.

Duo, who threw his own one-man party at the thought of the annual event being cancelled, had had a conniption fit.

"Oh, fuck!"

Heero patiently waited as Duo reappeared from the bedroom, dressed down in a pair of pajama bottoms (that hung dangerously low on his waist) and a shirt that was little too big (with silver buttons and black sleeves that partially covered his hands), and a world-class scowl.

"Do you know what this means, Heero?" he demanded, hands on his hips and his braid swinging behind him like an angry cat's tail. Figuring he meant something that had nothing to do with silver buttons and how easily they came undone, Heero blinked and let him continue. "We have to go shopping."

"We go shopping all the time," the Japanese boy said with a furrowed brow.

"For groceries. Motor oil and wrenches. Sometimes we get a little adventurous and go for the cherry-flavored lube. But this is like…a woman's domain. I mean, Christmas ornaments? I've never even had a damn tree. Why couldn't Quatre have made it easy and gone for the sex-toy party?"

"Would you really want to see fifty-year-old-plus senators looking at images of sex toys?" Heero asked dryly. Duo wrinkled his nose.

"God, can you imagine? Senator Benedict or President Thomson, drooling over dildos and plugs and—shit, now I can't get it outta my head! Heero, where's the power drill? I need something strong enough to get to the frontal lobe of my brain."

Heero rested an arm on Duo's shoulder and met his eyes. "Duo, they're just Christmas ornaments. We'll pick up two, then head over to Quatre's, and nothing will be different. How hard can it be?"

xxx

"'How hard can it be', huh?"

Heero did not even deign to grunt a reply. He and Duo, after battling mid-morning traffic, a full parking lot, and a large group of people that failed to understand that sidewalks were put there for a reason, were standing in front of a display that spanned several rows and carried every style of ornament imaginable. Glass shone and glitter sparkled, lights flashed arbitrarily and tinny voices sang carols over and over.

"Jesus, it's like an epileptic's nightmare," Duo said in horror. "I can feel the convulsions coming on already."

"Let's just get this over with," Heero sighed, and reached for the nearest dangly bit of gaudiness. Duo stopped him.

"That one's cheaper. And less ugly."

"Jesus looks like he has hydrocephalus." Indeed, the Christ child's head was larger than Mother Mary's arm.

"Maybe, but your angel has the face of a hooker. Just look at that painted smile."

"Duo, it's porcelain. Of course it's painted," Heero pointed out with some exasperation.

"It's also eight bucks. Who would pay eight bucks for that thing?"

"A blind man," Heero returned dryly, then winced when he realized that his partner's humor was rubbing off on him.

"That's just cruel. Oh, look at this one. Mary's getting rather cozy with that angel chick. No wonder the three wise men were so eager to get in on the action."

Heero wandered farther down the aisle, searching for something that was not knitted, battery-powered, or cost as much as his laptop. Something that resembled a neon-green hamster made his sense of simplistic style cringe in horror, and he quickly moved on.

"Duo?"

"Hmm?" The other boy was smugly pushing every button on a display of singing snowman plushies, raising a blood-curdling cacophony and earning a glare from a woman whose toddler had started crying.

"What do you think of this?"

He held up a heavy, spherical ornament of glass, pitch-black except for the silver paint streaking it from the inside. Ducking the icy looks of several irate parents, Duo sought refuge behind Heero and inspected the almost football-sized ornament critically.

"It's frickin' huge."

Obviously. Heero said nothing.

"It'd probably look like a black hole on whatever tree some poor bastard tries to hang it on." And it was only a few credits. "Heero, I want it."

"Let's just get two and go."

"No way, man," Duo grinned. "That's tacky. Like two girls showing up at prom wearing the same dress. It just isn't done."

"How would you know? You've never been to one of these parties," Heero pointed out logically. Duo scoffed.

"Same principle applies."

"I found it."

"…So?"

"So, it's—finder, keeper, right?" Heero hesitated slightly, often unsure when resorting to popular colloquialisms.

"Exactly. And I've got it, so now we get to find you one." Duo set the monochromatic ornament gently into the basket hanging over his forearm so that he could rub his hands together dramatically in the universal fashion of all villains.

Some sixth sense prickling the back of his neck, Heero quickly stepped forward just in time to avoid a woman's cart. The woman, clearly not paying attention, recoiled in surprise and pulled the cart back over her foot.

"Shit, Jesus fucking Christ—"

Heero and Duo both listened in amazement as the woman cursed fit to turn the air blue.

"Wow," Duo murmured with some awe. It had been some years since he had met anyone else with such profane creativity.

The woman happened to glance up at the shelf next to her. There was a row of little nativity scenes, some with the hydrocephalus-inflicted Jesus, others with the questionable Mary and angelic companion, and her eyes widened.

"Oh shit—I mean, God damn—fuck, I—well, crap. I'm sorry, God, I'm sorry, sorry, sorry…" She seemed to finally notice Heero and the madly laughing Duo, and sighed. "Well, He knows I'm a mess anyway."

Picking up a carton of ornament hooks, she tossed them carelessly into the cart and pushed it into the next aisle. Duo took one more moment to get his snickers under control, and Heero just shook his head.

After suffering through more blindingly-colored ornaments and children running underfoot, the two managed to escape the devastated Christmas aisles through the toy section with the addition of a simple little blue-and-white glass ornament.

"Mommy, I want that—"

"Mommy. Mommy. Mommy—"

The two pilots blinked when they passed a boy standing in the middle of the action figures with his arms thrown wide, yelling, "Daddy, I want all these toys. Make Santa bring me all these toys!"

"How does he know he wants all of them? There's too many for a single child to appreciate them all, let alone play with them," Heero wondered aloud. Duo shrugged.

"I don't know. Our presents were being able to skip our chores for the day and stay up late listening to stories."

They quickly evacuated the toy section—Duo faked a seizure passing through the entirely pink aisle of dolls—and stared in dismay at the obscenely long lines winding in front of the registers.

"You know," Duo said casually with a significant look at their two measly, small products, "there's always door number two."

For a split second, Heero truly considered the oblique offer of a five-fingered discount. While he, as a former terrorist, could handle such large crowds without blinking an eye, he sincerely disliked them, and it did seem silly to wait half an hour to make a thirty-second purchase.

"No," he said finally, giving up on trying to find the fastest line and simply picking the closest one. "It's not a big deal."

A few minutes later, he seriously reconsidered.

The man in front of them had a large pile on the conveyor belt, and the last item was a woman's black bra that looked, to Heero's inexpert eye, like a size double-D.

"Hope that's for his wife," Duo said under his breath, and his face scrunched up when he realized that the man's hand never stopped moving. "Oh Lord, Heero, he's squeezing it!"

He was.

"It looks…painful," was Heero's final judgment, watching the man's fingers take a bit too much joy out of the soft material while the middle-aged face never altered expression.

"It makes me very glad not to have breasts," Duo said firmly. "Wait, are those cauliflowers?"

They were. Two heads of cauliflower sat between the molested lingerie and the rest of his purchases.

"I mean, I'm certainly no expert, but if women's breasts looked like that then a hell of a lot more men would be batting for the same team."

The rest of the wait was spent in uncomfortable silence, both of them trying not to look. Even Heero, who had grown up in a sterilized laboratory and learned about the human social norm from psychiatrists and textbooks, was disturbed.

When their turn finally came, it took them twenty-eight seconds to pay for their two ornaments and hightail it out of the store. Unfortunately, it took another three hours before they got home, because in all the holiday excitement a truck had backed into their efficient little car and phone numbers had to be exchanged.

xxx

"Hey, you two! Merry Christmas! I hope you got here all right—"

The dining hall (since the Winner family would never settle for something as mundane as a dining room) was tastefully strewn with tinsel and lights, all four corners with their own bedecked tree and false snow outlining what would later become the dance floor. Quatre met the two at the door himself in all his smiling, cheerful glory, though it dimmed a bit when Heero silently thrust two packages into his hands and stalked inside. He looked to Duo questioningly, but the thief just grinned ruefully and slung an arm over the blonde's shoulders.

"Let's just say that Ozzie prisons have nothing on the winter holidays."