Spirit of Redemption
Completed, August 2001
With a sigh of weariness, Heero Yuy dropped his dark blue duffel bag onto the burning asphalt with a solid thunk, leaning back slowly to ease the knots of tension in his aching spine. Hearing a satisfying crack, he sighed again. Shielding his eyes against the sun's glare, he let his burning gaze travel about his surroundings with an almost weary distaste.
The streets buzzed with cars making their merry mechanical way along the city roads. To and fro, people hurried along their way– to work, to play, to nowhere in particular – with a mindless ease born of long practice. All about, there was the comfortable sense of a lazy Sunday afternoon. Heck, there were even children playing in the nearby park, torturing the ducks or happily kicking a ball around, doing whatever it is that children naturally do while oblivious to the world around them.
Heero wrinkled his nose. It was a bad habit he'd picked up somewhere that he simply couldn't break. The Perfect Soldier, and he couldn't break a simple habit… Heero sighed again. Every place he went, wherever he looked, every nook cranny niche he peered, there was the niggling and unbroken sense of calm. Peacefulness radiated from every street corner. The Preventers must be doing their job too damn well…if they even had a job to do at this point in time, Heero reflected.
The years after the last conflict had been good. Trade between Earth and the colonies had flourished, thanks to the discovery of new resources out on the mining satellites by Winner Inc. Crime rates were down. The faces of missing people on milk cartons were down. Even lost pet notices on telephone poles were becoming something of a rarity.
But…it was good. It was what he had wanted and fought for – what all of them had fought for. And God be damned if he wouldn't fight to keep it this way… The only problem was…there was nothing left to fight. And that, Heero concluded, was exactly what was so damn wrong with everything. He was a soldier. He lived – and died – for the mission. It didn't matter how many people he'd had to kill – they were all necessary sacrifices. Necessary. Vital. His mission. But his mission was over. Peace was to be his final redemption. Or "was supposed to be" his redemption, Heero mused thoughtfully.
And therein lay the problem: Heero did not feel redeemed. And he hated it.
He could still see the faces of his victims screaming and the disbelief in the innocent eyes whose lives he'd taken. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw corpses, death, destruction – and a young girl holding a small yellow flower, his mind whispered – and it never ended for him.
The war was still raging. Everywhere Heero went, he saw peace. But not for him. Never for him. And he hated it.
Slowly shouldering his duffel bag, Heero walked on, stopping every now and then only to check the worn map he carried, never mind the fact that his photographic mind had already committed the entire thing to memory. Checking the map reassured him that he did indeed have a destination in mind…
Deep in his own thoughts, Heero didn't notice the little girl selling flowers on the street until she jumped up and blew a puff of dandelion seeds into his face.
"Achoo!" Heero sneezed helplessly while the girl giggled.
"Sorry sir!" She gave Heero an unrepentant grin, ignoring the cobalt glare being leveled directly her way. The girl carelessly tucked a tangle of strawberry blond curls behind her ear. "Wanna buy some flowers?" she asked cheekily, holding out a bright yellow daisy. A distant wave of memory brushed its way past Heero, but he ignored it and would have shaken his head no but his eye was caught by a small clump of unassuming blossoms tied with a purple ribbon.
"These are…forget-me-nots?" he asked the girl, slowly picking up the tiny bouquet of delicately blue flowers. These were Duo's favorites…in fact, the last time he'd seen the grinning Deathscythe pilot, Duo had thrown a bouquet of them out the window of the shuttle departing for Earth. Heero smiled at the memory. He'd caught the small bundle on reflex and waved back at Duo before the window had been shut with numerous curses from the plane's personnel. Heero had managed to catch one last glimpse of Duo flashing him his trademark grin complete with a "V" sign. That baka… The girl's voice brought Heero back to the present.
"Yep, ya got it in one!" she grinned at him. "For memories."
"I thought those were rosemary…" Heero murmured. "How much are these?" he asked, fishing through the pockets of his jeans for a dollar bill. He'd taken to wearing them instead of the damned spandex ever since a purple-eyed demon had shrunk them and bleached them all white as a prank…although he had his suspicions over who had contributed to the whiteness. Probably Wufei, Duo's usual partner in mischief. For such a seemingly quiet and scholarly boy, Wufei could play pranks (and usually did) with the best of them. He'd even one upped Duo before…not a mean feat, considering.
The girl shook her head. "Those aren't for sale mister. They're the Father's favorites and he buys 'em every evening. Pays real well too," she grinned.
"How about those flowers over there? What do those mean?" Heero pointed to the violets, another little clustered bouquet of a deep blue-violet color that reminded him of…something…
"The violets? They mean faithfulness, among other things. They're hard to find roun' these here parts, so they cost more." The girl grinned impishly.
Heero rolled his eyes and fished out another bill. "Brat," he commented, a brief smile lighting his features.
"Thanks sir!" The money disappeared without a trace into bottomless overall pockets. "I learned from the best!" The girl gave him a saucy grin and winked as she handed over the little bouquet.
"From this 'Father' of yours I gather," Heero remarked wryly, accepting the offered flowers as he turned to go.
"No less," she replied happily. "He sez he used to be just like us."
"Street rats," she said simply, beaming a sad smile at him. "Just coz there's peace don't mean there ain't street rats no more. We're all orphans. But the Father takes real good care of us."
The sweet air of coincidence wafted over Heero's thoughts. "This Father of yours…what is he like?"
A sunny smile stretched from ear to ear. "He's really really nice, sneaks us food and stuffs! Everyone really really likes him. He's really pretty too! And he fights like the devil! Some stupid fool was trying to chase us off the street and Father came over to stop him and the dummy wouldn't listen, more fool him, so Father tried to give him a good talking to. That idiot got angry and hit Father across the face, so then Father got this really scary look in his eyes and said, "You don't know who you're messing with!" – wow, we've never ever ever seen Father get mad before; he's usually so nice tempered! – and anyways, Father got really ticked off and he just gave this really creepy grin and beat the bloody crap right out of that SOB right then and there in front of the church and the other priests and monks and all came out (since it's a multi-religion church and all) and applauded. Only it was pretty funny cuz this Asian monk (I think he's a monk… He's Chinese and he's really awesome; he taught us how to fight and all) was really ticked off at Father and wanted to know why he always missed all the fun! Oh, by the way, his favorite flowers are gladiolus! Father just started laughing his head off and said, 'Oops, sorry! Guess Shinigami hasn't had so much fun in ages and wanted to come out and play!' and what does Shinigami mean mister? Huh huh?" The girl started tugging at Heero's sleeve, staring at him with big blue eyes.
Heero blinked. "God of Death," he replied automatically, in a daze.
"Thanks mister! That's a really cool name! He's such a cool guy too, for a priest. You should meet him! I bet you'd really really like him too! And…" Heero clapped a hand over her mouth, his mouth twisting in an ironic smirk. How many times had he silenced a certain braided baka the same way?
"Don't you ever stop talking?" Heero asked, bemused. She shook her head, her eyes crinkling up at the ends. "Didn't think so. He never shut up either." He released her.
"Who mister, who who?" she chanted.
"A close friend of mine who I've been looking for…for a long time. My best friend, in fact," Heero smiled.
"Ohhh…don't worry, I'm sure you'll find him. So he's a talker too huh?"
"Father talks a lot too. The Chinese guy's always telling him to shut up cuz he can't think straight with a blue jay cawing in his ear all the time."
"I'll bet he does," Heero smiled ruefully. "In fact, I think I'll go pay him a visit."
"Cool! Tell him Daisy sent you!"
"Daisy?" The image of a bright
yellow flower flashed through Heero's mind.
"Yep, that's me! Father gave me that name."
"I'll tell him…" Heero said softly, waving at her with one hand as he cradled the bouquet of violets with the other hand.
"Oh wait! Here! Give these to the Chinese monk! I can never remember his name!" she called, throwing him a cluster of Baby's Breath. Surprised, Heero caught it and shot her a questioning look. "It's a running gag I've got going with him! He likes gladiolus since they're 'warriors' flowers' and he think Baby's Breaths are for 'onnas'…but I keep telling him they mean "pure of heart" and it's just perfect for him, but he refuses to accept them cuz they're so 'girlish' he says."
That sounds just like him, Heero smirked inwardly. "I'll give them to him. And thanks!"
"No prob! By the way, you look cute when you really smile. Flowers, get your flowers! Buy one get one free!" Daisy called as she waved bouquets at the passing people.
Heero raised an eyebrow and sighed. So that was why she'd thrown him another bouquet. Apples never fall far from their trees, he thought bemusedly. Heero grinned. The expression felt almost…right. Then he looked up at the towering spires of the cathedral, and walked in.
Heero wasn't sure what he really expected to find as he slowly opened the beautifully carved doors of the cathedral. Maybe a sermon by a fire-and-brimstone type of preacher. Or maybe a quietly praying congregation. It certainly wasn't a little group of unruly looking boys happily munching their way through a mound of chocolate bars in what Heero would have easily labeled the ugliest room he'd ever had the misfortune to set eyes on.
Heero cleared his throat. "Hi."
The boys looked up in alarm and immediately bolted, leaving their little stash of stolen goods, except for the one boy Heero was quick enough to snag by the back of his collar. "Not so fast…I need to ask you a few questions."
"I don't know anything! You can't make me talk!" The boy stuck out his tongue and nailed Heero with a glare. Heero smirked. The kid was good. But he was better. Heero narrowed his eyes and gave the boy a glare of his own. All one hundred and ten watts of Heero's pure blue-eyed glory hallelujah praise the lord just kill me before he glares at me that way ever again so help me god glare.
The boy gulped. "You're good mister," he said wide-eyed with awe.
Heero's eyes never left his. "Thank you," he replied with a smirk. "Now, where can I find the Father?"
"What'd ya wanna talk to the Father for?" the boy asked suspiciously. "Ya ain't one of those troublemaker people are ya? Cuz if ya are, ya better know that no one messes with him and lives. You ain't no match for him either mister."
Heero glared at him again. The boy matched him. Shakingly, but he matched him. Heero was impressed. So, the Father inspired such loyalty in his little disciples did he? Heero could see why. He dispelled his glare with a rusty smile.
"Nope, I'm not one of these 'troublemakers'…I'm just an old friend who'd like to talk to him."
"Oh…that's okay then," the boy shrugged. "He gets lots of those lately."
"Oh really?" Heero looked amused.
"Yep, a really nice blond guy and this one dude with really strange hair came by the other week. They were cool…had lots of chocolate on them too."
"Speaking of chocolate…where'd all these come from?" Heero picked up a discarded Hershey's dark chocolate wrapper. The boy blushed.
"Umm…they're the Father's…we kinda…err…'borrowed' them…heh."
"If my memory serves me correctly, these are his favorites aren't they? His 'I'll kill everyone and anyone I ever catch stealing these little babies from me' favorites no less, hmmm? I'm guessing that if you're found out, Father will hang you from the battlements?" Heero purred.
The boy nodded, a sickly look appearing on his face. "You…you won't tell him will ya mister?" the boy asked hopefully.
"Of course not…"
The boy heaved a sigh of relief.
"If you'd like to show me around here first?"
The boy nodded vigorously. "Sure! Anything!!! This icky room is only the greeting room anyways…Father says that every church should have one…for unwelcome guests! Anyways, come this way!" He quickly made the discarded candy wrappers disappear, then grabbed Heero with a chocolate covered hand and led him through one of the side doors into an outdoor walkway.
Once outside, Heero caught his breath in wonder. The scene before him…was beautiful.
The walkway was paved with large gray stones lovingly polished to a dull shine and neatly lined with small bushes of gardenias. The sweet aroma from the white flowers wafted all along the stone walkway. Nearby, trellises full of red climbing roses intertwined with white ones climbed several feet into the air to frame a graceful arc over the path. Tall evergreens and ferns lined the wall at their right, which created a striking contrast to the aged red brick covered with dark green ivy. It looked like the careful planning of someone concerned with a natural order of beauty. However, all about the floor grew untamed tangles of multi-colored ground covers while here and there peeked freesias and a multitude of other scattered flora. Heero sighed internally. Knowing Duo, he'd happily bought packets and packets of flower seeds, mixed them in a big bowl, then run down the stone path scattering them to the winds to give the tidy picture a dash of infectious chaos. The resulting effect was both wildly eccentric and uniquely lovely.
As Heero followed his guide along the stone path, he couldn't help but notice the numerous sparrows chirruping their cheerfully cheeky songs. "Why so many sparrows here?" Heero asked his guide.
"Father likes 'em…says that he can relate. Sparrows are 'harbingers of death'* and all that…and they talk a lot."
"Aa. What, no ravens or crows?"
The boy grinned. "Oh, ya wanna bet? Father's got a pet raven named Hades and there's crows all over the church spires."
"By the way, my name is Drei," the boy stuck out his hand. "Father thought it'd be funny to name me in German for some reason. Drei's short for Dreizen, or the lucky number we all know as thirteen."
"You don't mind that much do you?" Heero shook his hand.
"Ha ha! Nope, at least it's unique…and I have my own name. Besides, Father says that I live up to it."
"Chocolate as testimony."
"Um…yeah…" Drei looked at his feet sheepishly. "Among others."
"Anyways…come on, I'll show you the other gardens!"
"Is the entire church surrounded by gardens?"
"Yep! All sorts of gardens…rock gardens, water gardens, you name it we got it. It's not only good for meditation and calm, but it also brings in our main source of revenue from guests all over Earth and Space who're looking for a bit of peace. Father never asks them for anything, but they feel as if they've got to give large donations in return." Drei shrugged. "I say it's great, but Father keeps trying to give them their money back. So what garden would you like to see first? That circular area right ahead is where the road divides to each one. It's tiled with the Ying Yang symbol and called 'Center of Balance'."
Heero chuckled briefly. Wufei's idea he'd wager. "Actually, I'd like to see the water gardens."
"Okay sure! Hey, there's Wufei! Wuuuuuu!!!" Drei waved wildly at a robed figure seated at the center of the circle and ran over to him. The figure looked up and scowled. Heero ducked behind a conveniently situated giant sago palm to watch.
"My name, for the last time, is WUFEI!!! Insolent brat!" Wufei stood up fluidly and brushed off imaginary dust from his pristine white robes.
"Father calls you Wu," Drei accused, pointing a finger at the glowering Wufei. "And stop calling me brat!"
"Maxwell does as he chooses. You, on the other hand, can still be disciplined. And pointing is considered very rude," Wufei said with a smirk as he quickly tossed the boy over one shoulder and began tickling him mercilessly. "And brat fits you very well."
"Ahhh!!! Does not! Stop it!!! I'm sorry Wu!"
"Wu?" Wufei purred, not ceasing.
"Wufei, dammit, Wufei!!!" Drei gasped for air.
"Now, are you going to forget that anytime soon?"
"As soon as you put me down," Drei quipped, grinning.
"Thought so. Beat it Drei, I'm meditating." Wufei laughed and tossed the boy in the air where Drei carelessly flipped and landed on his feet. Wufei nodded in approval.
"Can't. I'm showing a guest around. Says he's a friend of Father's. Hey, where'd he go? He was just here!"
"Oh? Who?" Wufei's sharp eyes scanned the perimeter. His eyes widened as they met with a set of amused cobalt blue ones peeking through the leaves of the giant sago palm. Wufei gave a rare grin. "Well, look what the brat dragged in… Heero Yuy no less! I knew I'd forgotten to lock the doors this morning."
"Hn. As if doors could keep me out." Heero stepped out from behind the palm.
"They're gundanium. Covered in wood." Wufei smirked.
"From Howard's salvage yard," Drei added helpfully.
Heero snorted and tossed Wufei his duffel bag. "As if that'd do any good."
Wufei didn't even bother to look inside it. "You haven't changed a bit, Yuy," Wufei laughed and held out his hand.
Heero smirked, gripping Wufei's outstretched hand. "It's been a while."
"Understatements as usual? It's been at least 3 years to this day."
"I've been busy."
"So have we all," Wufei sighed, looking around him and grimacing. "Maxwell's been on a sugar high all morning and now you're here to boot. Guess I'm going to be damage control again."
Heero gave a rare laugh. "How is Duo by the way? And what the hell possessed you guys to open a church?"
Wufei gave another grimace. "Duo…is fine." Wufei sighed, giving a black scowl. "In fact, he's better than fine. He's a hyperactive little demon who's decided to regress to early infanthood for the sole purpose of making my life a living hell! I'm at the end of my wits, I'm dying for some peace and quiet, and unlike everyone else who comes here I'm the only one not getting any! Injustice!!! This morning I found ladybugs crawling around in my tea stash and someone stuck a cage of crickets in my closet somewhere so I didn't get a wink of sleep last night and now Maxwell's going to be so happy to see you he'll turn into a living tornado and I'll have to sweep up the entire Church grounds again like when Trowa and Quatre came!!! I hate my life." Wufei moaned.
Heero patted him on the back. "You love it and you know it."
"Yeah yeah, try to cheer me up," Wufei sighed and waved a hand negligently around. Drei grinned.
"Heck, Wufei loves the complaining more than anything else! If Father wasn't so awful, he'd have nothing to complain about and he'd get bored," he snipped.
"Shut. Up." Wufei grated, blushing. Heero snickered.
"Well, where's Duo?"
"Fine, ignore my valued company in favor of the purple-eyed demon," Wufei grumbled good-naturedly.
Heero smirked and slung an arm around Wufei's neck. "The two of you are funnier to watch than just you."
"So I'm entertainment now, am I?" Wufei groused and pushed Heero's arm off. "I'm not an arm rest! You've been picking up Maxwell's bad habits."
"Oh shut up. Come on, walk with me to find Maxwell, and I'll tell you about the Church." Wufei huffed and led the way down a cunningly wrought walkway done in a cross pattern. "He's usually in the attic at this time."
"You'll see," Wufei smiled.
"Alright." Heero let it go at that and followed Wufei along the path,
Drei tagged along after them, trying unsuccessfully to trip Wufei by stepping on his robes. Wufei simply smiled beautifically and sidestepped one particularly forceful attempt whereas Drei tripped himself and fell onto his rear.
"Young ones these days, trying to mimic my greatness and failing," Wufei commented serenely to Heero. Heero smirked.
"Stuff the ego Wu," Drei snarled, picking himself up.
"A bruised dignity is very painful. Might I recommend the Japanese rock gardens to consider this aspect? The sand needs to be brushed."
Drei looked pained. "Not again! I hate doing that!"
Wufei kept smiling. "Oh, about that chocolate…"
Drei's face went white. "You wouldn't."
Drei stuck out his tongue sullenly. "Fine fine, I'm gone. You suck."
"I hate you." Drei muttered as he walked off, kicking a stone along the way.
"Oh, and Drei?" Wufei called after him.
"Sucks to be you!"
"Sit on it Wu!" Drei whipped out his middle finger.
"Do that again and you won't have anything left to sit on once I'm through with you."
Drei eeped and ran off quickly.
"You're good with the kids," Heero commented lightly.
"Discipline. It's all about discipline." Wufei smirked. "And blackmail."
Heero laughed and handed Wufei the bouquet of Baby's Breaths. "Speaking of which, a girl out front asked me to give you these."
"Daisy again. Darn that girl!" Wufei smiled, accepting the delicate white flowers with a rueful look. "I keep telling her gladiolas, but she's just as stubborn as Duo."
"They all are."
"Makes them easier to deal with. In my vast experience, the little ones still aren't as difficult to deal with as that over aged baby."
"Over aged baby?"
Wufei sighed and looked long suffering. "He's awful. Don't ask what he's done to me. Please."
"I'm sure you've given it all back and better."
"How well you know me." Wufei gave a sly grin.
"So, about the Church?"
"Ah yes…" The two continued to walk along the path as Wufei started to talk about the Church.
"After the incident with Mariemaia, I didn't really know what to do with myself. I went to visit the land of my ancestors, but the confusion stayed. About then, Sally came and asked me to join the Preventers…so I did, as all of you know since all of you joined as well," Wufei smiled.
Heero nodded in agreement.
"Anyways, after you left and no one knew where'd you gone, Duo left too."
"I know. I saw him at the shuttle port."
"What? When did that happen!?!"
"Hi. Mit. Su."
Wufei's eyebrow twitched. "You've changed."
"Well, anyways, before Duo left, he told all of us that he was going to realize a lifetime's dream and made us all promise to come and visit him once it was completed. So we promised him. Who wouldn't…" Wufei sighed.
"He gave you 'The Look' didn't he…"
"Don't ask. It was the worse one yet."
"Aa. I feel for you."
"Thanks. So, then Quatre left to take over the family business and Trowa left to go back to his circus. I stayed with the Preventers for a while longer, but didn't feel like I was redeeming myself – here Heero nodded understandingly – for my actions during the war. Sally asked me to stay longer, but I declined." Wufei walked a bit slower as he reached up and plucked a zinnia bloom. "By then I'd started wondering what Duo was up to, so I pulled in a few favors and found out that he was, not surprisingly, on Earth. The surprising thing was, the amount of information I pulled up on exactly what he was doing on Earth."
"Building the Church?"
"Mmmm. And not just any Church. The media called it a miracle."
Heero looked around. "I can see why."
"No, it's not just the surroundings. This was before the Church was actually built. Duo was going through the paperwork at this point, and just starting to get everything together. The miracle was how he was managing to pay for it all. That baka," Wufei continued wonderingly, borrowing Heero's favorite nickname for Duo, "financed his entire project through donations."
"Donations? For all of this?" Heero asked speculatively.
"Yes. That braided idiot spent a little over half a year traveling Earth Sphere asking for donations. Rumors spread like wildfire all over the world by word of mouth. The rich, the poor…everyone contributed to his 'Church'."
"He always was a good speaker."
"It wasn't just speaking. It was, as he said, a dream come true."
"So you managed to catch up to him then?"
"Of course. I caught up to him in California. He was preaching to the boardwalk while slurping at a melting ice cream cone…"
"The funny thing was, everyone just listened to him. Whatever it was he said to them, they believed him."
Wufei grinned. "You think I was stupid enough to get that close? I do value my sanity. Those people looked brainwashed."
Heero smiled. "I'm not surprised. Duo's got a way of making people listen."
"You don't say. I went up to him after the people had trickled off."
"He glomped you didn't he."
"You expected less from him? You're so going to get it once he sees you."
"Aa. Is there enough time for me to run?"
"Too late. You've already entered the Gates."
"So after he finished strangling his old partner in crime, we got to talking. Turns out that his lifetime dream was to build the world's greatest monument to peace. Something that represented the antithesis of war, a physical way of reminding people not to fight. Something to show humanity what they would be sacrificing. So he built the Church."
"I thought Duo was the one who complained that over half of the world's wars are started over religion."
"I tried that tack with him too. He just grinned and said it was because they had each other to fight. The place he wanted to build would be for everyone…rich, poor, Catholic, Christian, Buddhist…anything in the world that you wanted to be, the Church would be a sanctuary for you. A haven, of sorts. Duo envisioned it having everything possible from every known culture in the world. We've got temples replicated from Ancient Greece, imported from China, and architectural wonders that haven't been seen in millennia. The gardens are unimaginable. Duo had everything planned down to the very last detail."
"And this was completed…when?"
"The very same year."
"Impossible," Heero stated.
"I thought so too. But you underestimate Duo, the human tornado."
"Even for Duo it'd be impossible."
Wufei chuckled. "No, I didn't mean Duo built it by hand himself. Once he'd convinced people that it could become a reality, the Church built itself, piece by piece. See that?" Wufei pointed to an area off the path's right, where several redwoods and sequoias towered over a dirt path leading off towards the side. "All organically grown from specimens frozen in the 20th century. Donated, imported, and planted by the Society of Natural Preservation. SNP also contributed the bulk of the Church's vegetation. Everything else was the same. Company after company, person after person, built a part or parts of the Church and shipped them over. Like a puzzle, the grounds and buildings were slowly put together."
"Gardens don't seem very religious to me," Heero commented.
"It's not, Yuy. Duo didn't only want the Church to be just about religion. He wanted it to be a monument of peace, remember. A symbol. Peace means protection. Maxwell's Church guards the last remnants of times most humans have long forgotten existed. To Duo, the Church fulfills the idea he's had since childhood of what a Church should be. Protection. Care. A sanctuary. Redemption."
"I take it he's completely rewritten the classical definition of the word 'church', hm?" Heero asked, amused.
"Rewritten? He's hacked it to pieces and burned the remainder. In reality, this 'church' is not really a church."
"Could've fooled me."
"Ha ha. At the opening, Duo was asked what he wanted to name it. Everyone, from Relena and Dorothy to Lady Une and the Preventers, watched him as he completely blanked out." Wufei snorted. "Until then, I don't think that even Duo quite believed that his dream would come true. He hadn't thought of a name. So he decided to call it Maxwell's Church…after the first real home he ever had."
Heero nodded, remembering the story.
"We have an orphanage as well…talk about multi-functioning…" Wufei gave an exasperated sigh. "Maxwell said he wanted everything and he certainly meant everything. For simplicity's sake, everyone just calls it the 'Church' for lack of any other word to describe it. Its main function is a museum, in actuality."
"A museum of humanity? Hn. It fits. It's just the kind of hare-brained scheme Duo would come up with."
"You're telling me? I wanted to call it Maxwell's Folly, but I was overruled."
"And that surprises you…because?"
"Shut up, Yuy."
Heero's lips twitched. "So…you're a monk?"
Wufei stopped and pinned Heero with an incredulous look. "Monk? Who said that?"
"I am NOT a monk!" Wufei ranted.
"Then what are you?"
"A teacher, dammit!"
"YES!" Wufei scowled. "Brats! If they think they can just slap a label on me and expect me to cave over to their demands like Maxwell does… Monk! My royal ass! Just because they call him 'Father'… Good grief!"
Heero smirked. "So how'd Duo manage to drag you into this mess?"
Wufei sighed in resignation. "One word Yuy. One word. He looked at me, and said, 'Please'."
"Ouch…" Heero started laughing, the rusty sound echoing down the lane.
Wufei shrugged helplessly. "I had nothing better to do, and once he'd infected me with his enthusiasm, I decided to stay and help make his dream a reality. It was something…honorable. What we're doing now…I feel as if I'm making a difference in others' lives…and helping them to create something worthwhile. These children…are amazing. It seems like such a burden for them to carry, but they're already holding our future. Someday, they will have to guard the peace we've fought for." Wufei's eyes gleamed.
"Do you feel redeemed?"
Wufei paused in his thoughts, twirling around the zinnia blossom he'd plucked by the stem. For a while, neither of them said a word, and just continued to walk quietly. At last, Wufei turned to Heero and offered him the flower. "Yes. I feel redeemed."
Heero plucked the flower from Wufei's hand and said softly, "I envy you."
"You'll find your own redemption some day, Heero," Wufei said with a knowing smile. "I did. And I never thought a person like me could ever earn such a thing."
"What flower is this?" Heero changed the subject.
"A zinnia. Quatre gave us bushes of that stuff. According to him, it means 'thoughts of absent friends'. Appropriate, coming from someone who carries everyone he's ever met in his heart."
"Aa. How are him and Trowa?"
"They're…happy. With Quatre at the head of Winner Corporations, relations between the colonies and Earth are thriving. We keep telling Quatre that he overworks himself, but he just grins and claims that he's never been happier than now when he can indirectly help everybody. Trowa, as I mentioned before, went back to his circus. They travel both Earth and the colonies to perform. Spreading joy and laughter to people everywhere, and all that great stuff." Wufei grinned.
"Ever the cynic…" Heero commented.
"It's a way of life," Wufei said placidly, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, after the two of them came to visit for a week, creating tornado Duo phase one, they became loyal devotees as well…" Wufei laughed. "Quatre keeps trying to donate as much as he can to the Church through as many hidden little companies as he can create. Duo keeps trying to filter them out and scold Quatre for it. Trowa just watches and secretly stuffs hundred dollar bills into the donation boxes when the two of them are squabbling. Duo had a fit when he finally found out who it was, but Trowa hid out in the gardens somewhere until Quatre calmed Duo down and convinced him to keep it."
Heero shook with quietly suppressed laughter. "Who'd ever have thought that Trowa would end up to be the most evil-minded of us all?"
"Really," Wufei agreed. "But they're happy. And most importantly, those two finally got together."
"State the obvious, Yuy. It only took how long?" Wufei grinned, stopping in front of a black iron gate. "Ah, here we are. Shinigami's own domain. Typical, eh?"
Heero looked up. Above the gates, surrounded in a simple but elegant grillwork, read the following phrase: "Death: As you are, so once were we; as we are, so shall ye be."** By the sides of the gates grew deadly nightshade and specially created roses, so red they were black.
Wufei gave a quiet chuckle and gave the gates a light push. "As Duo says, 'Every Heaven must have a Hell, or who will ever learn to appreciate Heaven?'…I believe he's right. If he wants to fill the role of demon, who am I to stop him?" The gates swung smoothly open and the two boys continued along the walkway. The tiles changed from the grayish white cross pattern to an intricate dark gray one. Up ahead, was a comfortable looking two-story cottage.
"Not that you haven't tried, of course," Heero remarked, as they entered the gates.
"Of course," Wufei said serenely. "I know better."
"Certainly. Nod head and agree."
"Where did you start to pick up sarcasm? I'm impressed."
"It was a by-product of constant association with two remarkably sarcastic people of my immediate acquaintance. Not voluntary, of course."
"Said the person who voluntarily came to visit."
"So he claims."
"He pleads insanity before the jury."
"Too late. Your sentence has been declared," Wufei intoned solemnly, giving Heero an evil grin. "MAXWELL!! You have a visitor!" he called, pounding at the door. A floor mat at the doorway read, "Abandon all hope ye who enter here."
"Coming Wu! Hold your horses!" A cheerful voice called from the top floor.
"I'm doomed aren't I?" Heero stated, deadpan.
"You ask that now? More fool you," Wufei patted Heero comfortingly on the shoulder. "Nice knowing you. Duo, open up already!" Wufei banged the door again.
"Wish I could say the same."
"I'm not the person about to be glomped to a living pulp."
Footsteps could be heard on the other side of the door pounding down the stairs.
Heero rolled his eyes. "Now I lay me…"
"…down to sleep!" A voice finished, as the door was yanked open and a bundle of black clad energy tumbled out and collapsed into a little pile at Wufei's feet. Heero ducked behind Wufei. "Oi! Wufei, what's the big idea? Ya gotta use the bathroom or something?"
"If I had to use the restroom that badly, you'd be missing a door."
"Yeah, you would do that, wouldn't you?" Duo grinned. "Nature calls and she ain't got an answering machine, eh? Wufei ignored him, grinning sadistically.
"You have a visitor Master Duo," Wufei drawled.
"Well, show him in," Duo drawled back, purple eyes twinkling.
"Can't. He's too busy hiding behind me."
Duo gasped mockingly. "It's not that terrifying to behold me is it? Oh I know, he's gasping in awe at my wonder." Wufei snorted.
"I beg to differ," a nasal voice said softly. Duo froze. The grin on Wufei's face stretched even further as Heero stepped out from behind Wufei.
"Hee…Heee….Heeeee?!?!" Duo's mouth dropped open.
"Hee. RO." Wufei supplied helpfully, stepping over to one side. Heero glared at him helplessly.
"HEERO!!!!!" Duo shouted, launching himself into Heero's reluctantly waiting arms, where he proceeded to bury his head into Heero's chest while simultaneously securing a vise-like grip on Heero's ribs.
"Help. Me." Heero managed to rasp out to a highly amused Wufei as Duo tightened his grip.
Wufei calmly blew on his fingernails and rubbed them off on his robes. "Music to my ears," he said serenely.
Duo took that as encouragement to squeeze harder.
After Heero finally managed to extricate himself from Duo's death grip – Wufei looking rather downcast when the inevitable happened – and convince the disbelieving Shinigami that he was, in fact, real and not a holographic projection or a figment of Duo's overactive imagination, Duo invited both of them inside immediately.
The interior of Duo's house was surprisingly neat and tidy, reminding Heero of the expression "everything in its place". From what he could see, the place was decorated in a neo-modernistic fashion, heavy with Asian influence. The walls were a lightly pleasing off-white color, presenting a stark contrast to the black carpeting. Upon one wall hung long scrolls with exquisite brush paintings of tigers and dragons bordered in silver and black. Each was inscribed with ancient Chinese proverbs in beautiful calligraphy. A phoenix flamed in vibrant red and orange inks graced a gold-laced scroll above the glass-encased fireplace. The other wall held enormous bay windows, which let in a pleasant glow of light. A state-of-the-art entertainment system took up the remaining wall. All the furniture was covered in soft black leather with colorful throws draped haphazardly about them. A small coffee table rested on the circular Chinese rug dominating the center of the floor. A black lacquered vase filled with pussywillows and etched in gold graced its glass surface. White tiling, done in a similar cross pattern to the outside path, ran its flowing way from the front door down the hallway to a twisted staircase leading to the second floor.
Duo himself hadn't changed a bit. Unlike Wufei who'd grown taller and maintained a lean muscular build, Duo still remained slight and wiry, retaining a more delicate look. He'd sprung a few inches and his braid had gotten a bit longer, but that heart-shaped face had stayed open and cheerful, and his demonic violet eyes shone with a light all their own.
"I don't believe it," Duo kept saying incredulously, as he led Heero and Wufei to his living room. "Heero no-one-knows-where-in-the-seven-hells-he-is Yuy finally got around to getting his ass where it was supposed to be! I just don't believe it! Are you sure you're not a ghost or something?" Duo frowned, poking Heero in the ribs with each question.
"…Would you like me to prove that fact to your immediate satisfaction?" Heero asked dryly, lowering his voice suggestively. Duo's jaw dropped as his eyes widened.
Wufei cackled, turning away from them quickly to hide it.
"Not like that, Wu you closet hentai!" Duo blushed, shaking Wufei back and forth as Wufei's cackling became not so quietly repressed laughter.
"Oh?" Wufei managed to gasp out, holding onto the arm of a sofa with one hand while trying to hide his grin with the other. "What do you say to that Yuy?"
"Aa. A simple misunderstanding." Heero smirked.
"Were you hoping for a demonstration of Heero's tangibility, Maxwell?" Wufei asked, raising an elegant eyebrow slyly.
Duo blushed even redder. "Shut up Wufei, or I'll beat the living crap outta you."
"You?" Wufei raised the other eyebrow incredulously. "You weakling; I could pin you any day!"
"And probably has," Heero commented.
Wufei flushed, looking away. "Have not!!!"
"Well…" Duo drawled, looking thoughtful. Wufei glared while Heero chuckled.
"I have not!" Heero and Duo just looked at him with identical half-smiles born of long practice on their faces. "Augh! Dammit people, get a life!" Wufei threw up his arms and huffed, stalking into the kitchen. Headache…
"I love teasing that boy… He can dish it out, but he just can't take it," Duo laughed, throwing himself happily into a deeply sunken circular sofa and curling up on the cushions. "Have a seat already Heero! My furniture doesn't bite!"
Heero eyed the soft leather with trepidation. They might not bite, but he'd swear that if he sat down he'd never be able to get up without help. He'd sink into them and be lost forever.
"Heero, SIT. It's not that soft." Duo said, looking slightly amused and exasperated. Heero finally chose to sit gingerly at the edge of a lazy looking armchair. "Like the room? It took forever to hunt down those scrolls! I finally found them at this little antique store on L3 while I was visiting Trowa's circus."
"And the sound system?" Heero asked sardonically.
Duo looked towards it proudly. "Best system in the world. Who'd've thunk that our little war harridan Dorothy was an electronics freak? She rigged the whole thing! I looked it over and tweaked it a bit myself, but that girl did one helluva job!"
"Dorothy gave this to you?"
"Yep! She and 'Lena came to visit about a month after the opening and they started hassling me about how I could build the whole damn thing and not even think about where I'd live…so Relena nagged until I promised to build this cottage. Then she insisted on helping me with the interior decorating."
"You actually let her help?"
"Yeah…" Duo chuckled ruefully. "She's not that bad…when you actually learn to pay attention to her. She's got great taste…and I certainly can't complain about her connections. When that girl wants something done, it gets done. Like that!" Duo snapped his fingers with a grin.
"Yeah, so when 'Lena was done, Dorothy played critic and threw in some more personal touches…like that sweet baby of a sound system."
"You didn't let them do your room did you?"
Duo eyed Heero with innocently wide eyes. "Didn't let them even touch the second floor. The whole floor is my little 'Attic'. There's no actual ceiling to the second floor; the roof is the ceiling. But you'll see what I mean. It's not sunset yet anyways."
"Yep. You'll see why I love my Attic so much."
"What does the sunset have to do with it?" Heero asked, confused.
"You'll see…patience Heero, patience. The good things in life are worth waiting for." Duo admonished, shaking a finger. Heero just eyed Duo speculatively. "Oi! Wufei! Did you die in the kitchen or do you need me to dump a bucket of water on your head?" Duo called.
"Shut up Maxwell," Wufei scowled mockingly as he walked back to the living room precariously balancing a tray heavy with snacks and refreshments. "Since you never bother to serve your guests I took the liberty of doing it for you."
"The reason, my dear dear servant, is that you do it oh-so-well for me." Duo waved a hand at Wufei, grinning madly. "I don't even have to get off of my ass."
"Your lazy ass, you mean!" Wufei rolled his eyes, setting down the tray on the coffee table. "Here Yuy, help yourself. You do remember how to eat don't you?"
"Aa. Open mouth, insert food, chew, and swallow."
"Good boy," Duo cheered. "See Wu, he's not that helpless!"
Heero scowled at them. "Just because J made me eat those damn vitamins all the time doesn't mean I can't eat real food."
"Yeeee…ah. The person who didn't even know what pizza was," they chorused, looking at each other. Heero ignored them and took a biscuit.
"You still remember that?" he asked them.
"You couldn't make us forget a thing like that no matter how hard you tried," Duo sighed dramatically, grabbing a fistful of chips and stuffing them into his mouth cheerfully while Wufei watched with morbid distaste as he sipped at a cup of jasmine tea.
Heero eyed the two of them. Both gave him a look that said, "Don't even try."
"So what have you been up to Duo?" Heero asked, leaning back very carefully into the cushioned back of the chair.
"Everything! After the last time I saw you, I…" Duo started. Wufei quickly crossed over to him and clapped a hand over his mouth. Duo glared.
"No. You will not relate the entirety of the last three years to Heero in 3 seconds flat. I'm not giving you mouth to mouth if you pass out."
Duo gave him sad little puppy dog eyes.
Duo began making little whining sounds.
Duo shrugged and turned back to Heero. "Can't win 'em all," he smiled winningly. "You don't know what you're missing, Wu old boy," Duo sighed melodramatically, pursing his lips in Wufei's direction and fluttering his eyelashes.
"Suit yourself. You're still missing out."
"My life retains its enjoyment in little ways. I don't intend on sacrificing them anytime soon."
"Heero, please control your pet. He's foaming at the mouth."
"Overdue for a rabies shot."
"Hey!" Duo said indignantly. "Whose side are you on anyways?"
"Not fair. He's got to take a side, huh Wu?"
"Where's the fun in that? This way we get to mess with his head more."
"…You're awful Wu," Duo said admiringly.
"I live for it Duo. And it's almost sunset."
"Ah! You're right!" Duo looked at his watch and leaped up off the circle couch. "Dammit, let's go!" he shouted, pulling Heero from the clutches of the armchair.
"You go ahead," Wufei said, relaxing full length on sofa. "I've seen it before. I'll just take a little nap until you two get back."
"Beat it Maxwell," Wufei murmured, melting into the sofa. "I'm sleeping."
"Humph. Fine. C'mon Heero, we don't need that fussy cat." Duo pouted, pulling Heero in the direction of the staircase.
"Aa. Coming. Reluctantly," Heero smirked.
Duo speared him with a look. "You've changed. You learned sarcasm!"
"Wufei said the same thing."
"Wonders never cease! Great minds think alike."
"Bite me Yuy."
Heero smirked. "Don't tempt Fate."
Duo sighed. "Yeah, I'm already on her hit list. C'mon up." He led the way up the twisted stairs quickly while Heero followed at a more sedate pace. Duo stopped every few steps to jump up and down, telling Heero to hurry up. Heero kept his pace while Duo nearly pulled his hair out in frustration.
"Hurry! Or you'll miss it!!!!" Duo ranted, dancing in an excited fury.
"Aa…coming," Heero sighed, as Duo gave up and zoomed up the stairs first in his enthusiasm.
As Heero climbed to the top of the stairs, he looked around curiously. The second floor was…breathtaking. The floor was covered with incredibly soft, white carpeting. In one corner of the room, an artificial waterfall trickled quietly into a small spring while another thin stream of water flowed into a hollow bamboo reed measuring out the passing time in quiet taps. White pond lilies floated calmly on the pool as soft lights illuminated the waters. All around the room, Duo had carefully constructed short walls of varying height out of light and dark grey stones, filling the cavity with soil and planting star jasmines in them. A light scent lingered in the air. In the center of the room were two large semi-circular couches, also white. Inside the hollow formed by the couches was a small, circular table draped in a white crocheted tablecloth. But the most amazing thing was the roof. The smaller triangles each held great circles of wonderfully stained glass done in glorious patterns. One was done in heated colors of red, orange, and yellow. The other one was filled with cool greens, blues, and purples. The two lengthwise triangular portions sported enormous pentagon-shaped panes of heavy, sparkling clear glass. Long triangular backed floor mats, perfect for sky watching, lay next to those windows, and a telescope stood by one of them.
"I'm…speechless…" Heero said softly.
Duo snorted quietly. "Heero? At a loss for words? What's this world coming to?"
"Shut up," Heero commented absently, looking around in amazement.
Duo grinned and bounced over to plop onto the white cushioned seats. "Sit, Heero!"
"Hn," Heero said, as he also vaulted over, taking a seat next to Duo who was avidly facing the western stained glass window, done in cool colored patterns.
"Now, you're going to get a chance to see something that only a few other people in this day and age have ever seen in their lifetimes. Or will ever see, for that matter. Watch, Heero. Watch." Duo said softly as the sun began to set.
No sooner had Duo finished speaking when the sun hit the stained glass at just the right angle, flooding the room with a dazzling spectrum of color. Blues danced across the waters, while greens illuminated the jasmines and shades of violets played havoc with the white interior. Duo sat happily, turning his head this way and that and directing Heero's attention to where certain colors glowed as the sunset continually moved them in endlessly infinite patterns across the floors.
"I can see why you did this room in white, now," Heero said softly as he watched the colors dance like so many soft flames.
"Oh, that's not the only reason," Duo stated cheerfully. "It's the most comfortable place in the house and plus, I get a great view from the regular windows. I started missing outer space, so I put them in so that I could play amateur astronomer."
"You already know all the constellations though," Heero remarked dryly.
Duo gave Heero a sly look out of the corners of his eyes. "Hey, a guy can show off every now and then can't he?"
"Can I help it if I'm too good to be true," Duo shrugged and gave Heero a helpless look.
"Aa," Heero sighed, slouching a bit.
"Aww….ya mean it?" Duo cooed, snuggling up to Heero. Heero glared at him and poked Duo in what he knew from great experience to be a particularly sensitive spot.
Duo let out a strangled sound as Heero jabbed him. "Oh…don't even! Tickle war!" Duo yelled, pouncing on Heero immediately.
The following scuffle managed to take them all over the floor until the two battle weary boys finally collapsed onto the floor mats.
Duo was cackling madly. "Got you. I finally got you Heero! I found your damn tickle spot!!!"
Heero snorted, breathing heavily from the tussle. "Baka. At least I'm not ticklish everywhere."
Duo stuck his tongue out and protectively wrapped his arms around his ribcage. "Meanie. But who would have thought that the only spot you'd be ticklish would be the base of the head?"
Heero shuddered. Duo had managed to get past his defenses in order to run fingers lightly and quickly around the base of his skull, sending shivers up and down his back. Heero winced at the thought.
"I missed these mock fights," Duo sighed, flipping onto his back to gaze at the stars beginning to come out. "It's really been a long time, huh Heero?"
Heero sighed as well, relaxing next to Duo and also looking out towards space. "Aa. Too long. I'd almost forgotten how…fun it could be."
"I'm fun personified," Duo grinned, turning to Heero and waggling his eyebrows lewdly.
Heero snorted and smacked Duo lightly on the head. "I thought it was trouble," he said lightly.
"That too," Duo replied loftily. "Ah, forget it. Just relax for a while." He flopped back down onto the floor mat happily with a little groan of satisfaction.
"You're still suffering from jellybones syndrome aren't you."
"Hush you. I like having jelly for bones. It's very…very…"
"Limp? Useless? Lazy?" Heero suggested.
"I was going to say comfortable," Duo laughed, rolling over and using Heero's stomach for a pillow. "Ouch, you still work out don't you? Damn thing's as hard as a rock!"
"Some of us like to keep in shape," Heero smirked, poking Duo's stomach. Duo stretched lazily.
"Watch it, Yuy," Duo said in a darkly humorous voice. "I might start to think you're jealous of my lithe figure."
"Mmmm?" Heero started playing with Duo's long braid. "I can't believe you still have the braid," he said lightly.
"You love it," Duo replied, taking out the rubber band. "Besides, it holds a lot of memories for me…I could tell you stories woven into each inch of that thing."
Heero began lightly combing Duo's hair out the way he knew Duo liked. "I know," he said quietly.
The two of them just stayed like that for a while, Duo lying with his eyes closed on Heero's stomach, while Heero kept running his fingers slowly through the long chestnut tresses.
"Mmmm?" Duo kept his eyes closed, but Heero knew he was paying attention.
"When did you come up with the idea for the Church?"
Duo opened one eye. "Didn't Wufei tell you already?"
"Only a little bit."
Duo closed his eye again. "You know about my street rat days already, huh?"
"I only know what you've told me," Heero replied.
"Then you know enough to know that it wasn't a great way to grow up," Duo said bitterly. "We had to steal to eat, and people even begrudged us the little we took. It wasn't fair. I always said that it wasn't fair. But everyone just told me that life just isn't fair and ya gotta deal with it."
"Life was never fair to begin with."
"The hell it isn't! It's not fair because some people just don't care enough to give the little it takes to help someone else out!" Duo burst out, sitting up and pinning his eyes on Heero's. "Ever since I could think about it, really think, I thought, 'Why can't we have a place somewhere that belonged to everyone? Where everyone could stay, regardless of belief, race, or religion?' It'd be a beautiful place," Duo continued dreamily, laying back down on Heero. "There'd be everything there…everything that people took for granted that children like us never got. There'd be people there who cared about you and wanted to make you feel as if you were worth something!"
"Everyone has worth," Heero said soothingly, petting Duo's hair.
Duo purred at the sensation. "That's not what I grew up believing," he said softly. "It took a long time, and a lot of life, to convince me of that."
"You always made us feel as if we were worth something," Heero said quietly, remembering his days under Dr. J's tutelage. Until he'd met Duo and the others, he thought he was nothing but another machine of war. Duo had changed all that. All of them had.
Duo smiled. "Because you were all worth something. To me. I wanted everyone around me to believe that they meant something to me. No one knows better than me what it feels like to be poor, starving, and worthless, not to mention trying to save the entire freakin' world at the same time," he grinned with a ghost of Shinigami's former maniacal smile. "Anyways, the thought of having a place to belong to stayed with me all during the war. Y'know, I never really believed that we'd ever win the war. At times it got so bad that you guys and that dream were the only things that kept me going," Duo continued.
"We all felt like that though," Heero said as his fingers paused momentarily.
"I know," Duo smiled understandingly. "But everyone feels it differently. So when it got really bad, I hugged that dream close and swore to myself that one day, once the war was over and there was real peace, I would build that place. It never crossed my mind to make it a Church. I just wanted a place for…"
"Everything," Heero intoned.
"Yep," Duo grinned sheepishly. "What good is a dream if it's not impossible? It makes the realization of that dream all the more wonderful. Wufei told you about the naming of the place, huh?"
"Aa. Duo my-mouth-never-ever-shuts-itself Maxwell was speechless."
"Shut up. Yeah, so I completely blanked out. Even with all of my talk, I really never thought it'd be possible. Yet there I was, standing at long last in front of the building I'd dreamed about for so damn long. It felt so…right. As if I belonged here. And as I stood there, I found myself thinking about the only other place that felt like home to me."
"Got it in one," Duo said softly. "God rest their souls; they would have loved to see this place."
Heero patted Duo's head. "Wherever they are now, they're proud of you."
"I hope so," said Duo wistfully. "I never stop thinking about them and hoping that I'm doing something they would approve of."
"They would approve of this. Of whatever else you do…the less said the
better," Heero let the words trail off teasingly.
"Oh, shut up," Duo laughed. "Hey, I can't be an angel all the time!"
"Truer words were never spoken."
Duo hmfphed and turned so that his face rested on Heero's chest. "So, what brings you here Yuy?" Violet eyes watched him curiously.
"I was looking for something," Heero said, looking out at the sky as he spoke. Duo just waited quietly for Heero to finish. Giving a soft sigh, Heero turned his burning blue gaze from the stars and addressed the lounging God of Death. "Duo…"
"Have you…have you found your redemption?"
"Redemption?" asked Duo, confused.
"Aa. Redemption for what we did during the war…for the crimes we've had to commit, the innocents we've had to kill. For everything that comes back to haunt you in dreams and nightmares. What you see when you close your eyes to think."
"Redemption, huh…" Duo mused thoughtfully.
Duo looked at Heero seriously and gestured out the other window, where the spires of the Church were visible in the night sky. "This entire Church is my redemption. I built not only my dream, but the dreams of others. This place will stand as a testimony against war for as long as it exists, and even when it's gone, it and its lessons will never be forgotten. I'd die a thousand times over to build it again."
"But…it's redeemed you? You feel as if what you've done in the past is justified by it? That it makes up for everything you've ever done that you've felt regret for?" Heero asked desperately.
Duo eyed him speculatively. "I wouldn't say that it's redeemed everything that I've done," he said slowly. "But…when I think back on my life and my part in the war… I feel that it redeems the actions I had no choice but to take. I'm Shinigami, the God of Death, and I can't bring people back to life. I can't take back what I've done. But I can sure as hell make them worth the price I, and others, have had to pay. That's my redemption."
"…You're lucky," Heero said sadly. "I've searched everywhere…the colonies, Earth, outer space…and I still can't find redemption for what I've done."
"So you came to our humble church?" Duo said lightly.
"It was, as I said to Wufei, a complete accident. I literally fell at its doorsteps," Heero said ironically. "I was just going to the one spot on my map that I hadn't been to before."
"And here you are…"
"Yes. And here I am," Heero said. "And I think…that I almost had the answer earlier. When I saw the lights from the glass…"
"Isn't peace the soldier's redemption though?" Duo asked.
Heero gave him a wry grin. "I thought so too. It was the only thing that kept me going through the war. That I would have peace as my redemption for selling my soul to the battle." Heero shrugged.
"It's done nothing for you?"
"It was good at first…but after the Mariemaia incident, the nightmares came back. I kept wondering, 'What if there's another conflict? What if the Soldier never dies?' So I've been traveling since then…to find something. Guess peace isn't my redemption after all," Heero finished forlornly.
Duo sat back up and gave Heero a smile he'd never seen on that cherubic face before. "Maybe something the original Father Maxwell said to me will help you then," Duo said with that strange smile. "It's helped me get to this point."
"What is it?"
"The answer to the eternal search for redemption."
"Really? There's an answer?" Heero looked desperately hopeful.
"Of course…there's an answer to everything. You just have to find it and understand it," Duo said lightly, ruffling Heero's hair as he leaned onto Heero's shoulder.
"What…what's the answer, then?" He was so close. He could feel it.
Duo paused. "Forgiveness," he said.
Heero looked at Duo stupidly. "Forgiveness?"
"Yes forgiveness, my doubting disciple," Duo said with a grin. "Humans can grant forgiveness…parents, brothers, sisters, lovers, friends…a girl selling flowers on the street…it doesn't matter who it is…as long as there is one person who forgives you…then there is redemption."***
Heero paused to consider this. "So…if someone forgives what you've done…then you've been redeemed?"
Duo started laughing. "In a nutshell. But you can't oversimplify a concept like that. Everyone's got to find his own definition of forgiveness. It's only then can you feel at peace."
Heero fell into a contemplative silence, staring out the large glass window into the night. Duo said quietly next to him using his shoulder for a pillow and counting the stars. He'd almost finished naming the visible ones when Heero spoke.
"Do you…do you forgive me?" Heero asked tentatively, still watching the night.
Duo turned to look at Heero, who resolutely faced outside. The woebegone look on Heero's face tugged at his heart. "Oh Heero," Duo said laughingly, collapsing onto Heero's shoulders and giving him a brief hug. "If I could forgive you for mutilating Deathscythe for parts, I could forgive you for anything."
"Really?" Heero asked softly.
"Yes, you big baka," Duo said fondly, slipping an arm around Heero's waist and snuggling close. "For you, I'd give you all the forgiveness I could possibly give to anyone in the world."
"Honto…Dude, look at all the Japanese I've picked up from you over the years!"
"What about the slang I've picked up from you?" Heero retorted.
"Hidoi waaaaa!" Duo teased.
"Aa," Heero said unthinkingly.
"See how easy that was?" Duo tilted his head and gave Heero that smile again. Heero only looked more confused. "Oh, think about it later…we're about to get a surprise!" Duo said, looking excitedly out at the sky.
As Heero looked outside, he could see nothing at first. Then, slowly, slowly, a light mist of glowing greens and blues cut their lighted paths across the skies. Heero gave a soft gasp of recognition. "It's an aurora borealis!"
"Otherwise known as the Northern Lights. Yep," Duo grinned. "Have you seen one before?"
"No…" Heero gazed on in wonder.
"Well, now you've seen two things here that you've never seen before."
"Aa…" Heero looked on in wonder.
For a long while, neither said anything. Both were simply content to sit and watch Nature's spectacular show.
"Ne…Duo," Heero said softly, as the lights floated above.
"Hmm?" Duo's eyes stayed fixed on the natural wonder.
"I think I know what you mean now."
"Huh? About what?"
"Forgiveness. I think I'm starting to see it. But I've got to search a little bit more before I fully understand it."
"I know," Duo said quietly. "You'll be back though won't you?" Duo asked, not looking at Heero.
"Of course," Heero said gently, hugging Duo towards him.
Duo let himself be held for a little while before pushing Heero away with a little grin. "Okay, that's all you get for staying such a short time."
"So I get more if I stay longer?"
"…What if I stayed indefinitely?"
"You'd certainly be welcome to…but we'd have to negotiate," Duo teased. "You get the couch."
"No thanks. Those things would eat me alive."
"I keep feeding them Wufei, but they keep spitting him out," Duo said innocently.
"You will come back though, won't you?" Duo asked.
Heero nodded, then remembered the flowers he'd bought from Daisy. It seemed a bit melodramatic now, but he brought out the withered little bouquet of blue violets and offered them to Duo. "Here. For you."
Duo took them and examined them curiously. "Blue violets…how appropriate. Faithfulness…" he said with another strange smile. "Thank you."
Duo stood up and offered Heero a hand. "C'mon, we'd better go wake up that grouchy bear Wu before he wakes up complaining of a back ache from my sofa again."
Heero took the offered hand and lightly got to his feet. "Coming," he said. Duo grinned and led him back down the stairs.
As they slowly made their way down the stairs in the dark, Duo slinked over to the couch, where Wufei was lightly snoring, and pounced.
"AHHHHHHHH!" Wufei yelled, launching himself straight into the air. "Damn you Duo! You spawn of hell!!!!"
Duo collapsed on the ground laughing. Heero tried to keep a snicker from escaping but it was a mission failure.
Wufei eyed both of them with death in his eyes. "I. Will. Destroy. You."
"Better luck next year?" Duo ventured.
"There won't be a next year for you Maxwell," Wufei said ominously. A yawn broke over his death glare. "Unfortunately, I'm too tired to properly punish you," Wufei blinked, and settled for hitting Duo on the head.
"Ouch…" Duo sulked. "You hit hard."
"Shut up. Good night," Wufei yawned again, padding towards the door before turning back to look at Heero. "Oh, will you be here tomorrow Yuy?"
"I'm leaving now."
Wufei looked dismayed "So soon? We didn't even get a chance to act like nostalgic old men."
Heero chuckled. "There'll be times for that in years to come," he said.
"True, true," Wufei sighed, walking back over to Heero and giving him a rough hug. "It was great to see you again. Come back or else," Wufei ordered, stalking towards the door.
"Bye Wufei," Heero called softly after him. Wufei didn't turn around, but briskly raised a hand in acknowledgement as he traced his way along the moonlit stones. They watched until he was lost to sight.
"That's our Wu," Duo said affectionately. "He hates long goodbyes and any kind of farewell. He hid out when Quat and Tro left too. Couldn't find him anywhere…"
"Where does that boy live?" Heero asked, amused.
"At the top of the Church spires…his whole 'I'm the Master of all I survey' act," Duo chuckled. "So…you're leaving now too?"
"Aa," Heero said with a smile, reaching up to brush Duo's bangs away from the sad violet eyes.
Duo swallowed a lump in his throat that wasn't there a while ago. "Alright. Be seeing ya then. You know where to find me," Duo added, shuffling his feet a bit.
"Hmm?" Duo didn't look up.
"Look at me," Heero ordered, tilting the other boy's face up. Duo took a deep breath and met Heero's intense gaze. "I will come back. When I find my redemption, I'll come back. I promise."
"I know you will," Duo said smiling. "That's why I'm letting you go."
"Such faith," Heero smiled back.
"You promised," Duo chuckled. "I'm holding ya to that Yuy."
"Get outta here Heero. Before I change my mind and tie you to the man-eating sofa," Duo laughed.
"Bye…" Heero lingered a moment longer, looking expectantly at Duo.
"Oh, alright," Duo threw up his hands, and stalked forward to give Heero a hug. Heero just put his arms around the black clad figure, holding on tightly to the one anchor he'd always come back to.
Above them, a shooting star fell. And Duo Maxwell made a wish.
"Oi! Mister!!!" A spunky young girl with strawberry curls called out. "I think you forgot something!"
Up ahead, a tall man casually dressed in T-shirt and jeans turned around. The wind whipped at his unruly dark brown hair as he smiled and walked back to the girl selling flowers on the street.
"And what did I forget?" He asked with a slight smile on his features.
"You forgot to buy flowers from me," she said with an impudent grin.
"Oh? How about those violets and baby's breaths over there?"
"Coming right up! It's two for one today!"
"Must be my lucky day then," the man remarked wryly, fishing for dollar bills in his pockets.
"Here you go mister!" the girl said as she handed him the bouquets.
"Thank you. Here's your money."
She quickly counted the bills, stopping at an extra one.
"Hey! You gave me an extra dollar!" she called after the man walking off.
He turned around again with a smile. "Could you ever forgive me?" he asked, a sparkle in his deep cobalt eyes.
"I think I can find it in my heart to do just that," she laughed, turning around and pocketing the bill.
"Thank you, Daisy," the man said as he walked up and disappeared through the beautiful doors of the Church."
"Hey! How'd you know my name?" Daisy turned back around to find that the man had already gone. "Oh well…cool tip!"
As the man entered the awful looking welcome room, he wasn't surprised to find a group of teenaged boys happily munching on stolen chocolates from their mentor's little stash.
"Beat it kids, before the Father scorches your ears with unholy words," he smirked as they scattered. Halfway out the door, one of the boys stopped and looked back at him carefully.
"Hey…I remember you! You've been here before!" the boy said excitedly. "You're the guy that was here 5 years ago!"
"You remember," the man said, pleased. "Drei, right?"
"Ya got it," the boy winked. "Want me to show you around again in exchange for not telling Father about the chocolates?"
"Of course! This way," he called, leading Heero through the door he remembered so well, into the gardens beyond. "I bet Wufei's out there meditating again. He never gets bored of that!"
"Are you still trying to trip him?"
Drei sighed. "Yeah…that bastard's just too damn smug for his own good…I'd love to see him fall, just once. But he's too damn fast and too damn good! But I'll get him someday," the boy grinned.
"Someday," the man said with a chuckle. "Like never."
"Probably," Drei shrugged. "So why should that stop me from trying?" he laughed. The man agreed with a nod of his head.
"Oi! Wuuuuuuu!" Drei called out as they approached the center of the garden paths. "We've got another visitor!"
The figure in the center of the circle stood up and scowled. "Drei! I am MEDITATING! What part of 'peace and quiet' do you simply not comprehend!"
"All of it," Drei grinned. Wufei rapped him on the head lightly, before turning to look at the visitor. As his eyes met the amused blue ones of the visitor, they widened. A large smile broke out on Wufei's face as he gave the man a brief, fierce hug.
"Damn, it's good to see you again!" Wufei said. "Duo will be ecstatic."
"Aa. I know."
Wufei turned back to Drei with a grin. "For this, I'll forgive you interrupting me again."
"You're too kind," Drei laughed. "What chore do you have up your sleeve today?"
"Go study for your placement exams," Wufei said serenely.
"Aw, man! How the hell do you always manage to pinpoint exactly what a person never wants to do?" Drei scowled and went off in a huff.
"Still good with the kids, eh?"
Wufei laughed. "Now it's just of matter of not letting them catch up to my vast knowledge. Kids learn fast."
"Of course, they'll never surpass you, ne?"
"Of course," Wufei said loftily. "C'mon, this way. Duo'll kill me if he finds out I've kept you to all to myself for five whole minutes."
"He would, wouldn't he," the man said, amused. "Here." He held out the baby's breaths.
Wufei grinned. "You remembered. That damn photographic memory of your again. You don't ever forget a thing do you?"
"Thought so," Wufei sighed, leading the way down a path the man had only walked twice before but knew like the back of his hand.
As they crossed the black iron gates guarding Duo's cottage, the man watched five years of searching for his redemption flash before his eyes, coalescing into the figure that flung open the door at Wufei's call.
"Heero!" Duo said in a breathless voice, having run full speed down the stairs.
"We found him wandering around outside again," Wufei said with a grin. "Holding flowers and talking to himself."
"I'm sure you did," Duo laughed. "So Heero, did you finally find what you were looking for all this time?"
"I found it a long time ago," Heero replied. "I just didn't know it till now."
"Well, then you took your damn sweet time getting here, didn't you?" Duo grinned, his violet eyes sparkling.
"Aa," Heero agreed. "Forgive me?"
Duo's grin stretched even wider. "Where are my flowers?"
"Here," Heero smiled, holding out the bouquet of violets. Duo ignored the offered flowers and swept Heero into a crushing bear hug, to Wufei's amusement.
"You're here now. I forgive you everything," Duo whispered huskily.
"I won't forgive you if you break my ribs," Heero complained, patting Duo on the head. Duo laughed and released him.
"Come in already! I saved the sofa just for you, Heero!" Duo opened the door and waved Heero and Wufei inside.
"Coming," Heero said with a smile as he closed the door after them.
*According to Stephen King's The Dark Half…
**From The Demon Archer (don't like this book that much, but the quote caught my eye and I thought, DUO!)
***A translated quote from a manga called "Sentimental Assassin" (loosely translated title from Chinese)
Daisy – innocence and purity
Forget-me-not – true love, memories, keepsake
Gladiolus – strength of character, sincerity, flower of warriors, natural grace
Violets (blue) – watchfulness, faithfulness, I'll always be true
Zinnia – thoughts of absent friends