I'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS.

Author: Quoth the Raven (jenfunnoda )

Pairings: 4x3, 1x2, 6x5

Warnings: lots of angst.

Archive: Yes, if you want to, just please ask me first.

Author's Notes: See end of fic for explanations. I wrote this fic for personal reasons.

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"Yo, Quatre, when's Trowa going to be here, man?" Duo complained. "We can't start the party without him!"

Quatre laughed when some of his younger nieces and nephews voiced their rather vocal agreement. While none of the family were Christians, their father had approved of the Christmas ideals of peace and goodwill to others, and so had encouraged the celebration of the holiday amongst his children. And so it was that every year, the entire Winner clan and a good few other people descended on Quatre's house for a giant Christmas party on Christmas Eve. With a good portion of Quatre's sisters married, and with children and stepchildren of their own, plus the Maguanacs and *their* families, plus the pilots, not to mention Miss Relena Peacecraft, the so-called Queen Of The World and her brother Milliardo... well, it made for a big party, both for the guests and for the media. And although the party had in reality started a little while ago, many of his young nieces and nephews were clamouring for quiet, interesting Uncle Trowa, who entertained them with all sort of tricks and hardly ever scolded.

"Trowa will be here later, Duo," the blond explained calmly. "He's gone to pick up his sister Catherine from the shuttle port - he refused to let her catch a taxi. He'll be here in about half an hour, Catherine ought to have just reached the port. He told us to go on with the party in the meantime. And yes, before you ask, there's some beer, wine and champagne on that table over there for those of us who aren't Muslim or underage."

With a war-whoop, Duo was off, dragging Heero with him. Quatre raised his eyebrow a little to see Wufei and Milliardo heading for the table as well, but he reflected that a member of the Peacecraft family and his lover were probably expected to drink champagne, for some bizarre media-related reason. Of all the pairings to be made, he'd never expected Wufei and Milliardo to become attached... then again, he knew both of them had had strange relationships with the late Treize, a man who seemed to command respect and worship as easily as his acts inspired rage. Maybe it was more than met the eye... but now that they both were happy, Quatre refused to go deeper than the surface. People were entitled to keep their secrets, and as long as Wufei was happy, well, he wasn't going to complain. Besides, now that the war was long finished, Milliardo was really a very nice man.

He looked around, smiling. Most of his sister's children had been mollified when they realised that Uncle Trowa was bringing Aunt Catherine along with him - Aunt Catherine was such fun, and together she and Uncle Trowa could do such clever, funny tricks. Quatre smiled, eyes softening as he thought of his husband hurrying home with his new sister in law. [We've only been married for three weeks - it feels like only an hour - it feels like forever.] Laughing, he turned and headed for the centre of the happy chattering throng, hoping that Trowa would take heed of his request and hurry straight back.

**************

At the spaceport, Catherine hugged Trowa hard.

"Catherine, oxygen!" Trowa complained teasingly. Catherine grinned and let him go, holding him by the shoulders and examining him. "Quiet, little brother. This is the first time I've gotten to see you as a married man!"

"You saw me at the wedding, Catherine!"

"So? You went off on a two-week honeymoon and left me to go back to the circus all by myself!" With dramatic snffles and such, Catherine laughed. "Oh, Trowa, I'm just so happy for you. How is everyone? Most importantly, how's Quatre?" she asked with a sly smile.

"Quatre's fine. He can't wait to see you, you know how he loves to throw a party, especially the famous Winner Christmas party. Everyone else is fine too, you'll see them at the party. And what about you? How is everyone at the circus? How are the lions? Most importantly, how's Adam?" Trowa imitated his sister's words, but with an innocent air rather than her sly teasing tone as he asked about her fiancee.

Huffing, Catherine tossed her head and smiled, showing off her ring for what must have been the thousandth time. Trowa pretended to study the emerald set on Catherine's finger, though in reality he knew perfectly well exactly what it looked like.

"Hmph. Making fun of your big sister like that, see if I talk to you again, Trowa!" she laughed.

Smiling, Trowa led Catherine out to his car, letting her in the passenger side before sliding into the driver's seat and buckling the belt, starting the car and carefully pulling out, watching the road. He grimaced slightly, the weather was really quite terrible to be driving in, and the traffic was thick. If it hadn't been the time of year it actually was, no doubt the roads would be near empty.

With a sigh, he checked the rearview mirror for a fraction longer than necessary, trying to make out if the driver behind him was indeed a safe distance behind - people did tend to crowd so, even in such terrible conditions.

It proved a costly mistake.

"Trowa!" Catherine screamed in horror, and Trowa's attention was wrenched back to the road in time to see a car veer out of its lane to head directly for them -

Time slowed, time sped.

Trowa wrenched the wheel around hard, trying to avoid what he already knew was inevitable.

He felt the car jerk to the side: hopefully that would ensure that Catherine's side of the car received as little impact as possible -

A crash.

A scream from Catherine, abruptly cut off -

Silence.

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Laughing, Quatre watched as two of his small nephews ignored their parents' stern warnings to behave and to brag to their other cousins that they could do cartwheels every bit as well as Uncle Trowa, yes they could. Smiling, he shook his head, even as he was accosted by his harried sister.

"Quatre, will you PLEASE stop that clown husband of yours from trying to make my children into little monkeys?"

"Yes, yes, Cyprenia, I'll tell him..." Quatre soothed, though inwardly he thought that prissy Cyprenia's sons suffered enough without having some fun and harmless exercise denied them too.

[Come to think of it... Where *is* Trowa? He should have been home almost an hour ago! Probably stuck in some horrible traffic or something. Dammit, I asked him to leave earlier, but would he listen, no... oh well, I'll talk to him later. We'll have our own little Christmas party tonight...] A distinctive gleam flickered in his eyes as he pondered that. He had had their room set up especially with a few... interesting little treats... as a special surprise.

"Whatcha smiling at, Q?" Duo was tipsy - not drunk, thank goodness. Everyone remembered LAST year's Christmas party all too well. Heero, Wufei and Milliardo all exchanged glances with Quatre at the memory.

"Oh, just Trowa's Christmas present - well, one of them, in particular." Duo nodded. Quatre always loved to shower Trowa with gifts, and no doubt couldn't wait till the morning.

A hand descended gently on his shoulder, and Quatre jumped a little, looking up into the stern visage of Rashid. He knew that Rashid did not approve of Christmas the way his father had, but to look so... solemn? "Ah, Rashid," he smiled, "What is it? You startled me a little."

Rashid remained silent. And as Quatre studied him, puzzled, he realised that Rashid wasn't just solemn, he was - sad? "Rashid?" he tried again, bewildered.

"Quatre-sama... may I speak with you, privately?"

Beginning to worry, Quatre said, "Of course." Leaving the room, he found himself tagged by Duo - and where Duo went, Heero also went. Wufei and Milliardo followed as well, at Quatre's silent permission - something was not right, they could all sense it.

Once they were in the quiet, empty hall, Rashid spoke. "Quatre-sama... there was a phone call. Trowa-sama, and Catherine-san... the hospital called you."

All traces of festivity were wiped from Quatre's mind in an instant. "What's happened?"

"There's been a car accident, Quatre-sama. Apparently a drunken driver left the correct lane and hit the car Trowa-sama was driving. He's in the police station being charged at this moment." Unconsciously, the huge fists flexed. [If I had this man in my hands... jail would be unneccesary for him. How dare he walk out of his car with a cut on his forehead? A cut!]

Quatre was pale to the lips, frightened. "How are they? Are they hurt badly? Will they be able to come home tonight?"

Rashid hesitated. "No. Catherine-san suffered multiple fractures in her legs and arms, and a broken rib and jaw. She will be in the hospital for a long time, and has had to be sedated."

"Oh no," whispered Quatre, lips white with distress. He was very fond of Catherine, and Trowa would be devastated to know his sister was so badly hurt- "Trowa! Is he all right? How badly is he hurt?"

Rashid mutely shook his head. A cold knot formed deep in Quatre's body. [No.] "Rashid!"

"I'm sorry, Quatre-sama. I'm so sorry. There was nothing that could be done. I'm sorry."

Duo grabbed Quatre, who looked like he was going to collapse on the spot. But Quatre simply said, quietly, "Let go, Duo, please." Breathing deeply, he looked up at Rashid. "We're going to the hospital. Now."

No one in the room dared argue with that tone. Rashid nodded. "As you wish, Quatre-sama."

*************************

The hospital was unnaturally bright, sterile, a horrible emptiness about it as nurses walked briskly by. Quatre sat by the bed of a figure swathed in bandages and completely still except for the steady rise and fall of her chest. Could this really be the spirited, energetic Catherine he knew? He couldn't tell, he could hardly even see her. But he could talk to her, couldn't he? "Allah, Cathy... what happened? Please tell me. Please tell me they lied and that Trowa's in another bed somewhere in this place, please, please?" A voice intruded into his ears, but it was not either of the voices he would have sold his soul to hear at that moment. It came from outside the room.

"Well, you must've at least heard about it."

"No... but then again, what's another car crash this time of year?" The second voice was bitter. "Just all in a day's work, isn't it? Tis the season for the funeral director to be jolly because now he can afford to go on a holiday in January."

"Yeah. Feel sorry for this girl though. Had to sedate her with all her screaming. You should've heard her yelling. From what she was babbling, she actually saw the steering wheel get shoved right through her brother's chest. Guess she had a reason to scream. Anyway, I'm off duty now, and she's your patient. Hope your shift is better than mine's been."

"Yeah. Bye, Sheila." The second voice was weary, and loaded with the care of cleaning up the mess left by the annual season of joy. Walking into the room revealed a short, tired looking woman of about fifty, with eyes that had seen too much. She stopped short when she saw the silent boy by the bedside, horror animating her previously dulled features.

Without a word, Quatre Raberba Winner left his sister-in-law's bedside, and went out to where he knew his friends were anxiously waiting for him. White-lipped, he thought dazedly, [At least he can't have suffered much. He must have died instantly, thank Allah he didn't suffer...]

He had to clean out those fruits and other surprises from their bedroom - his bedroom - and end the party.

He had a funeral to arrange, and a certain driver to prosecute the full extent of the law.

And then he had to do the hardest thing of all.

Grieve. And let go.

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On a headstone in the Winner garden, a month later:

TROWA BARTON-WINNER
AC 180 - AC 200
YOU ARE LOVED.
FOREVER.

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This fic is dedicated to Ian Evans, my best friend, and his brother Danny Evans, who I barely knew but was a soul larger than life. Recuperate soon, Ian. Rest in peace, Danny.

Minna - don't let the holiday toll go up any further.