A Time to Remember
"Saaa! I'm hungry! Aren't any of you guys hungry? My stomach's growling fit to -"
"Not loud enough, apparently. I can still hear your voice."
"Na~ni?! That's low, Yuy!"
"Maa, maa," Quatre shushed, trying to calm the air between the indignantly pouting Shinigami pilot and the quietly scowling Wing pilot. "We're supposed to be enjoying ourselves today, guys. It's not often we get a chance to do this, ne?" The blonde's gaze alternated between a pair of cobalt blue eyes and another pair of violet ones. Today was one of those rare days, once the war had claimed their lives. None of them had received any mission details, and coincidentally, all five of them were in the same location at the same time. It was a chance too good to waste.
Today they had a chance to throw off the mantle of responsibility and at least pretend to be normal civilians. Today they could be the teenagers they were supposed to be, but were not allowed to.
Duo stuck out his tongue at Heero, catching the other boy off-guard.
"Why you -!" Sputtering, the dark-haired Japanese reached out, grabbing Duo's braid in a fist and gave it a hard yank.
"ITAI!" Duo yelled, grabbing onto Heero's fisted hand and trying to pry the strong, ruddy fingers off his hair. "That HURT! Leggo, you maniac!"
Ironically, Heero and Duo played their roles too well.
Wufei's quiet voice broke through the ensuing ruckus caused by one cussing long-haired boy tussling for control of a long hank of hair with a grinning dark-haired boy, interspersed with one blonde's futile attempts at peacemaking. "You two fight like a bunch of girls," the Chinese boy sniffed disapprovingly.
"NANI?!?" Two voices questioned simultaneously, braid forgotten as Heero and Duo stared at the pony-tailed boy standing a few feet away, arms crossed.
"Girls," Wufei repeated, stressing the word with a derisive tone as he stood his ground.
Not for long, though.
Quatre blinked as the speed with which Heero and Duo chased Wufei down the street blew up a slight breeze.
"Aaaa!!! Taasuketeeee!!!" Wufei's yell floated from around the corner.
"Trowa?" Quatre turned to the remaining pilot. "What happened?"
"Aa. You tried your best, Quatre. Let them kill themselves. They'll stop when they realise it's lunchtime."
Duo lifted the half-bun, peering at the meat patty secreted between the bread. Grinning, he looked up, nudging the boy beside him. "Ne, Heero? Do you want your pickles?"
Heero glared at the braided boy - who, fortunately, was immune to the patented Yuy Glare of Death - as he held onto his Big Mac. "Why?"
"Your disposition's sour enough, you don't need them, ne?"
"DUO!" Quatre, Trowa and Wufei cried out in exasperation, effectively drowning out the longhaired boy's startled "Eep!"
"E-heh! I was just joking!" Duo sweatdropped as four pairs of eyes glared at him. And even the ebullient Duo Maxwell could not withstand the weight of eight staring optical orbs that threatened to swallow him alive if he didn't shut up.
"I think I'd better shut up," Duo muttered, ducking his head sheepishly.
"Good idea," Wufei agreed. "Best one you had all day!"
Duo snarled as he bit into his burger, pretending that it was Wufei's -
Uh. Better scratch that, Duo thought. He wanted to *enjoy* his lunch.
Beside him, Heero stifled a chuckle. As annoying as Duo could be, he wouldn't want him any other way. Duo's exuberance for life and total abandon when it came to appreciating whatever little joy their day-to-day existence offered was the total opposite of Heero's outlook. Duo provided him with the balance he needed.
Duo kept him sane.
Under the cover of the table, Heero nudged Duo's leg with his own. The braided boy paused in mid-munch, looking quizzically at Heero through his long bangs.
"Here," the Japanese boy said softly, fishing out a piece of sour vegetable from his burger and handing it over to the surprised American.
"Saa... Thanks, Heero," Duo grinned, accepting the morsel. Munching on it, he leaned towards the Japanese boy, winking mischievously. "You wouldn't happen to want the rest of your ice-cream, do you?"
The rest of the meal proceeded as one might expect when five teenaged boys got together over burgers and fries. Especially when one of them had the distinctive knack of causing a minor riot over who could have the last chicken nugget.
"Duo! Where do you put everything?" Quatre finally piped in, a frown puckering his brow becomingly.
"I'm a growing boy! I've got very high metabolism -"
"You've already had two Big Macs, a sundae, fries, -"
Trowa burped. "Oops. Excuse me," he said softly, leaning back into his seat.
"Waaa! You took the nugget!" Duo wailed, noticing the empty plate. "No fair!"
"Well, you two were too busy arguing," Trowa grinned, glancing at a bemused Quatre.
"Still," Duo huffed. "That wasn't very sporting."
Heero sighed and signaled to a passing waitress. "You could always order some more, you know."
"I know," Duo chuckled. "But it's not as much fun."
As the waitress took down their additional orders, a red balloon floated in front of Duo's face, startling him enough to cause him to jump. "What the-?!" Reflexively, he reached to grab at the floating object by the string attached to it.
"Mister? That's mine. Can I have it back?"
Duo blinked at the small voice, noting the small boy standing nervously some ways off. Apparently, the balloon had escaped its owner's small hand and had floated across the rather large room from where a barely-in-control birthday party was being held. The child looked at him imploringly, nervously stepping on his own shoes as he awaited Duo's decision.
Duo grinned. "Here," he said, handing the runaway balloon back to the child.
"Thank you!" the child laughed happily, grabbing at the string and bouncing away. "Oh!" The child stopped, and ran back towards Duo. "Here. You can have this," he smiled broadly, handing a colorful party favor to the braided boy.
"Arigatou," Duo chuckled at the child's expansive gesture. "Are you sure you won't need it?"
"It's okay," the boy giggled. "I can get more from Mama," he explained as he skipped away, red balloon bobbing jauntily in his wake.
"Don't let it get loose again," Duo called out after him. "You might not be so lucky next time."
"I won't," the boy cried over his shoulder as he ran back towards the party. "Thanks again!"
"Oi!" Heero nudged him in the ribs. "Your nuggets are here. Eat them already."
"Huh?" Duo turned back towards his companions. "Oh.. yeah," he said quietly. "You guys can have them. I'm not hungry anymore." He turned back towards where the small boy had disappeared.
Heero raised an eyebrow in surprise, but shrugged it away as he pushed the nuggets toward a more appreciative audience.
After what Duo had consumed earlier, he shouldn't be surprised.
Heero stared at the closed door. Something was definitely *not* right. But whatever it was, he couldn't pin his finger on it. But something was definitely wrong....
The boys had arrived back at their safehouse earlier in the afternoon, after spending the whole morning in town doing 'normal' things. Or what the others had considered 'normal'. Heero just took their word for it. Nothing untoward had happened that afternoon, when they returned. They had each retired to their own preferred activity: Wufei to his meditation, Quatre to his reading, Trowa to his hand weapons and Heero to his laptop.
Well, Duo had declared that he'd be taking a nap. It wouldn't have surprised Heero much - in fact it didn't, really - but Duo had been uncharacteristically quiet after lunch and throughout the journey back to the house. And he'd retired to his room without much of a fuss and hadn't made an appearance since.
And it was dinnertime now.
The rest of the boys had decided on a late dinner in view of the size of their lunch. But even then, Duo had still not appeared. The end of the world must be nigh, Heero smirked as he rapped lightly on Duo's door. "Duo?" he called. Only silence answered him. From the kitchen, Heero could hear the other boys talking as they prepared to start eating.
"Oi Heero! Tell Duo the food's getting cold!" Quatre's voice sang out.
"Hn!" Heero turned the knob and opened the door. Darkness greeted him. The only light seemed to come from the partially curtained window where soft moonlight managed to steal through. And this little light limned a still figure seated at the desk propped against the wall opposite the door.
"Duo?" Heero whispered. Somehow the situation warranted silence, and unconsciously Heero had succumbed to the implied solemnity of the darkened room. The figure remained still, apparently not even noticing Heero's presence.
Heero frowned as his fingers fumbled for the light switch. Finding it, he flicked it on, squinting at the sudden brightness emanating from the fluorescent light on the ceiling.
"Wha-?" Duo jumped, whirling around to face Heero in the same instant. "Oh. It's you." His voice dropped back to a hoarse whisper and he returned to his seat, resuming to once more stare out of the half-curtained window.
Heero's gaze flickered over the untouched bed, and back towards the strangely quiet boy. Duo was leaning against the back of his chair in an almost boneless sprawl, his legs splayed out under the desk as his fingers played with a colorful cardboard trumpet, decorated gaudily with a bright blue feather. "Dinner's ready," Heero said, voice flat and toneless. Absently, he noted that the braided boy had not changed out of the shirt and jeans he had worn earlier in the day.
*Don't tell me he's been sitting there all afternoon? *
Duo didn't acknowledge him for several moments, but finally the longhaired boy shifted in his seat and straightened up in his chair, turning towards him. "You guys go ahead. I'm not hungry," he said softly with a small smile on his lips before once more turning away from the puzzled Japanese pilot.
Heero's brow knitted into a frown, noting the melancholic lilt in the uncharacteristically subdued voice and the almost-embarrassed way Duo seemed to avoid his eyes. "You sure?"
"Yeah." A soft sigh.
Debating between leaving Duo alone and prodding him to come out of the room, Heero's fist clenched over the doorknob, pushing the door slightly so that a soft creak broke the silence. A sound that Duo took to signal Heero's exit.
"Heero?" Duo called, his head lifting slightly and turning partially towards the door.
"Switch the light off, 'kay?"
Late that night, Heero sat before his laptop, sifting through half-forgotten news reports and historical records. Something had affected Duo today, and he had to find out what. The others had expressed puzzlement over the longhaired boy's absence at dinner, but had soon gotten over it as dinner progressed. But Heero remained disturbed, even though his face might not betray his feelings. As he ate, his mind went over every minute detail of the day, searching for the one point in time where his friend had suddenly changed into someone he barely recognized.
And as he ate, he remained stumped. Whatever had caused Duo to fall into this strange funk, it didn't have anything to do with the present.
So it must be something from his past...
And as Heero's fingers flew across the keyboard, an old scan of a newspaper article caught his eye. It was a small piece, buried among more important news of its time, barely worth a second glance.
If not for the headline it carried: "Maxwell Church celebrates Annual Event." The date on the article was familiar and with a start, Heero realized that it was ...
As Heero read the short article, realization dawned upon him. He read further about how the church would choose one day of the year to celebrate its orphans - a day when children who never knew when they were born were given a time to remember...
Happy smiles. Delighted laughter. Sounds of crumpling brown paper and opened boxes.
Squeals of joy. The warm tightness of a loving hug.
**Thank you, Father.**
Softly, Heero opened the door to Duo's room. It was unlocked as usual and Heero frowned. Sometimes Duo trusted too much. In these times, that could be a dangerous quality to have. The room was pretty much as he'd left it, the Japanese boy noted. Perhaps darker, as night had not given up its hold on the new day, even though the first tendrils of sunlight had started to spread across the sky. He hadn't realized that it was nearly dawn.
After finding out last night, Heero had quietly left the house, searching for something that would bring his partner back. He hadn't entirely succeeded, unfortunately. But Heero didn't consider it as a totally failed mission. He had found the next best thing - well, the only thing one could find at four in the morning anyway. It would have to do.
Duo still sat at the desk, but now his slight body was slumped over it in sleep; his head cradled in his arms folded across the desk. The long chestnut hair gleamed in the soft dawn's light; sometime during the night, Duo had drawn open the curtains and now the light could filter in uninterrupted. Heero sighed as he came closer, peering at the relaxed face of the sleeping boy from whose slightly open mouth came soft exhalations that didn't quite qualify as snores. At times like these, he could almost forget how annoying Duo could be.
The corners of Heero's mouth tilted upwards slightly. Almost, but not quite. However annoying Duo could be, it was part of him. And anything that was part of Duo made him into what he is now. Anything that was part of Duo, made Duo...well, Duo!
And Heero wanted Duo back.
"Duo," he called softly, shaking the sleeping boy's shoulder. Duo opened his eyes blearily, jerking upright at the same moment.
"Whu- Itai yo," he groaned, reaching to rub the crick out of his neck.
"Happy birthday, Duo," Heero said softly as he placed a small iced cake on the desk before the surprised boy. Duo looked up at him, eyes wide, all traces of sleep gone. His mouth hung open in shock momentarily before he snapped his jaws shut. But Duo continued to stare at the suddenly flushed face of the Japanese pilot.
Finally, several wordless moments later, Duo tore his eyes away from Heero's face and looked at the small cake. A tiny candle flickered in the middle of it, its soft light casting shadows over the scalloped iced edging.
Duo grinned, and promptly leaned forward, blowing the candle out in one soft puff. That little deed done, he turned back to Heero, huge grin still plastered across his face.
"Arigatou, Heero," Duo sniffed, throwing his arms around Heero's waist and burying his face in his belly.
Heero tensed momentarily, caught off-guard by the sudden gesture of affection but slowly, his hands crept up to rest lightly on Duo's shoulders, savoring the quiet moment of memories past.
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