CAUGHT BETWEEN THE BANISTER

Part Seven: The Banister

Disclaimer: don't own them.  Don't want them.  Don't need them.  I'll tell you if anything changes, but don't hold your breath.  Wouldn't want you to pass out or anything now, would we?

Warnings/Rating: Not much here to speak of.  More than a few "hints" of shonen ai and yaoi.  There are a few psychological references, if you can catch them.  My usual insanity.  Fun stuff like that.  This part is rated PG-13 for a few four-letter words and some gratuitous romantic subplot type things.  Don't get too excited, though.

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Mike came by the next morning.  I hadn't gotten around to sleeping the night before, so I'd been awake for a while and I'd been doing a lot of packing.  I was running out of things to put into boxes and was trying to decide if I wanted to bother cleaning up or not when Mike knocked on the door.

"Hi, Duo!" he said cheerfully, greeting me with a grin.  "I can't stay very long because my dad says I'm supposed to be in trouble or something, but he also said to come up and see if you wanted to come over for dinner tonight!  That means you two are friends again, right?  You're gonna come, aren't you?"

I smiled.  "I would love to, Mike, but I really can't."

"Oh, well, that's okay too.  You can come over some other time!"  He looked around me and into the apartment.  "Why are all your things in boxes?"

"Well, you see..." I sighed.  There wasn't going to be an easy way of doing this.  "I'm moving away, kiddo."

"To a different apartment?"

I shook my head.  "Nope--to a whole different colony chain, kiddo.  I'd really feel weird if I stuck around here.  I need to get my life back on track and I can't do that the right way if I stay here."

"Why not?"

"It's...  Look, Mike, it's hard to explain, but I have to go and meet a shuttle at four-thirty.  I'm sorry, I really am.  I'll write to you if you want, though, and your dad can read the letters out loud for you until you learn to decipher my handwriting, and I'll send you presents on your birthday, I promise."  A thought occurred to me.  "Hey, when is your birthday?"

"Jūni-gatsu tōka," he said, wiping his nose.

It took me a moment to translate that.  "December tenth.  Got it."  He looked surprised and I grinned.  "Hey, I used to work with your dad.  I had to pick up at least some of the lingo if I wanted to understand what the heck he was saying."

"Oh."  Mike was staring at the floor.  "I don't want you to go."

"I don't want to go either, kiddo, but I--"

"Then don't go!"

"Michael, leave him alone," Heero scolded as he rounded the corner and came into view.  He rested a hand on top of Mike's head and looked at me.  "You're leaving the colony?"

I cringed and nodded.  "Yup."

"Why are you doing that?"

I couldn't look him in the eyes, but that was all right because he wasn't meeting my gaze either.  He was going to be relieved when I left, no doubt about it.  "It's...  It's just time for me to go.  You understand that, right?"

"I suppose.  Well.  Would you like a ride?"

Ouch.  I knew he wanted me out, but that hurt.  "Well, I just figured I would take a taxi or something.  They aren't that expensive, after all, so I could probably afford it.  And Wu-bear told me to call him if I needed anything so he could wire me some cash if I absolutely needed it, or--"

"I'll take you in my car," Heero said firmly.  "The taxis here are...  Well, it will just be easier for me to give you a ride.  And it will give us a chance to talk things over and perhaps you will change your mind."

I didn't really believe that he wanted me to change my mind, but I agreed to let him drive me anyway, mainly because I wanted a chance to say goodbye to Mike, but also because I was hoping to save on cab fair.  So sue me; I'm cheap.

A few hours passed and before I knew it I was in the passenger's seat of Heero's car with Mike and all of my luggage in the back seat.  Heero had a fairly nice car, too, although it wasn't really to my tastes.  The interior was all leather and it smelled great--and there were cup holders!  You don't see many cars with cup holders these days, which is really a shame.  You see, cup holders are just as important to a car as a radio is.  Without all those little essentials, a car just isn't really much of a car.

The station, when we finally got to it, was crowded and bustling; everyone seemed to be doing something and they were rushing every which way.  Heero decided that he and Mike had to help me get all my stuff out of the car and over to the shuttle's luggage carrier: it would be sent off the next day to follow my shuttle and would be there waiting for me when I got off of the thing.  Once we'd put down all of the luggage--except for my backpack, which I was taking on board with me--Heero pulled me aside to talk.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked me.

I shook off his hand.  "It's just something I've got to do, man.  This is all too much for me and I've got to get out of here."

He scowled.  "You're running away."

"I am not."

"You're not?  Then explain what you are doing this for!  You can start a new life here if that is what you really want to do--Michael would be thrilled if you stayed."

I shook my head.  "No.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to pick up my shuttle ticket."  I walked away from him and over to the ticket counter lines.  Mike found me just as I reached the front of the line and he approached.

"You and my dad still don't like each other, do you?  That's why you're leaving us," he accused.

I flushed, remembering recent events, and shook my head.  "That's not exactly true, Mike.  Look, your dad and I--"

"Hey, buddy, you're holding up the line!  Are you going to get your ticket or not?" the guy standing behind me grumbled.

"Yeah, just hang on," I said.  Then I turned back to Mike.  "As I was saying.  Your dad and I used to be really good friends and all that, sure, but we had a really bad fight and it's not something we can go and forget just like that.  It's a little like the fights Bulbo and Mindy are always having on the television, but we may never be able to make up for it.  Do you understand?"

"No," Mike said stubbornly.

I sighed.  "All right, it really doesn't matter; all you need to know is that stuff happens that sometimes you just can't bring yourself to forget about.  And then there's really nothing you can do about it."

The man behind me cleared his throat.  "Look, buddy, some of us have shuttles to catch.  We don't have all day!  Are you gonna buy a ticket or not?"

"Fuck off, man!  Can't you see I'm trying to have a heart-to-heart with the kid over here?" I yelled.  Then I turned back to Mike.  "Your dad and I can't be friends again, not ever.  Too much time has passed for something like that to happen."

"Mindy and Bulbo are always saying and doing bad things to each other but they always end up being friends again, no matter what!  They just say they're sorry and things are okay again!"

"Sometimes it's too late to say sorry, kiddo."

"Mindy always says that it's never too late to say you're sorry."

I smiled cynically.  "Mindy is wrong."

Mike swiped at his eyes and I was a little disturbed to see that he was actually trying not to cry.  "I don't think she's wrong," he insisted, "and I think you and my dad can still be friends!  You just have to make up and then you'll be okay again, you'll see!  And then we could all live happily ever after, just like in my stories or like on the TV!"

"Happy endings don't happen in real life, kiddo.  I hate to break it to you, but it's true."

"Oh, for heaven's sake," the man behind me grumbled.  "Hurry it up, will ya?"

"Fine, fine, keep your pants on."  I turned to the ticket booth.  "I reserved a ticket this morning for one Duo Maxwell.  You have it?"

"One moment sir and I'll check," the man in the booth said.  He started looking through his things and then nodded, slipping an envelope through the slot thing.  "That's fifty-nine credits, sir."

"Great."  I handed the booth man my card and took my ticket.  He slipped my card back through the slot and nodded.

"Have a nice day, sir."

"Will do.  Thanks!"  I turned around and led Mike away from the booth with me.  "Sorry, kiddo, but there's nothing I can do about it anymore."  I looked at my ticket with a critical eye.  "All right, I need to find platform forty-two.  Any idea where that is?"

"No," Mike said sullenly.

I smiled.  "All right, that's fine.  I think it's over that way," I said, pointing to my left.  "Where'd you put your dad?"

"I'm here," Heero said, coming out of the crowd with a frown on his face.  "And I would like to mention that I do not approve of what you are doing."

"You say that like it matters to me anymore," I responded.  "Anyway, I think the platform I'm looking for is over... this way more," I said.  "And I'm pretty sure I can find my way there by myself, so you guys can vamoose is you want."

"We'll see you off," Heero said determinedly, following me to the platform.

It took a bit of time to find platform forty-two, but when we did I was impressed by just how busy it looked.  Families were saying goodbye and giving out their parting hugs and stuff like that and getting on the shuttle in tears.  Other people were efficient and quick about it, getting on the shuttle with only a wave for the people they were leaving behind.  I decided I wanted to be on of the efficient people, so I waved and started on board.  Mike stopped me.

"Duo!" he cried, rushing forward.

I turned around again.  "What's up now, kiddo?"

"Don't go," he begged, hugging my leg.  I knelt down and gave him a proper hug.

"I have to, kiddo.  'May your wishes all come true and every dream be found; may God be ever near and joy be all around,' Psalm 37:4," I recited.  "Any idea what that means, kiddo?"

Mike shook his head, eyes suspiciously moist again.  "Nuh-uh."

"It's a religious thing and, roughly paraphrased, it means that you're going to be just fine.  I just want what's best for you, Mike."

"But the best thing for me is you!  Why can't you and my dad just try to get along?  Wufei said you were best friends back when you were fighting the Wizard of Oz!  Why can't you guys just be friends again so you can stay around?"

"Because your dad and I just don't work well together," I responded.  "We've gone too far to turn back and start all over again.  Does that make any sense?"

"You're saying that you and my dad can't ever be friends," Mike said sullenly.  The tears were starting to really pour down his cheeks now and boy did I feel guilty.  "But Wufei said--"

"Grown ups say a lot of things, Mike, and most of them are dead wrong.  Wufei especially.  He likes happy endings too much.  In his stories, the prince and princess always ride off into the sunset and get their happily-ever-after ending and nothing ever goes wrong for them.  But life usually just doesn't work like that.  Besides, you don't need me hanging around."  I gave him a hug.  "You're going to be just fine.  You and your dad are going to forget all about me sooner or later, just wait and see.  Then this will all seem like one big dream.  It'll be okay, I promise."

"I like Wufei's version of the story a lot better," he sobbed, latching onto my neck.  "Please don't leave us, Duo!  I want you to stay!"

"I can't, Mike."  I sort of peeled him off of me and then I stood up.  "Now I've got to go.  My shuttle leaves in five minutes and I still have to get my bag checked.  I'll see you when I see you."

He sniffled, wiping his noise with his sleeve.  "I'll miss you."

"Ditto.  Mike?"

"Yeah?"

"Big boys don't cry."

He wiped his cheeks with the back of hid hand and looked up at me again.  "Okay."

I ruffled his hair.  "Good boy.  Bye, Mike."  I picked up my backpack and walked away then, leaving him there on the platform, crying softly to himself and trying not to let anyone see his tears.  I didn't look back.  Hell, I had a shuttle to catch; I didn't have time to watch him bawl!

Christ, don't look at me like that!  Of course I felt like a heartless bastard, what do you expect?  You can't just abandon a kid like that without feeling really awful!  I felt like my heart was being ripped in two pieces and all of a sudden I didn't know if I was doing the right thing or not.  I didn't want to leave Mike like that, but I knew that it was only going to hurt even more if I waited a few weeks or whatever and then left.  Even now I'm wondering if maybe my real reason for leaving the colony was to keep Mike from hurting too much.  Of course, that could just be my mind making excuses again.

Anyway, the baggage check was quick and not very thorough, so I managed to get on the shuttle in record time.  The shuttle itself was roomy, but all sorts of people were walking around the place, trying to find their seats and stuff like that and it made everything seem really crowded.  The seats were also pretty close together, which made it hard to get around and I just knew that the ride wasn't going to be a really comfortable one.  But I found my seat, stowed my backpack in the compartment by my feet, and sat back to enjoy the ride.

Problem was, I had a window seat that faced the platform I had just left.  So when I looked out of the window, I saw Mike in his father's arms, crying into Heero's shoulder, and I saw Heero doing his best to comfort the boy.  It was a little weird because that sweet and caring demeanor just seemed so very different from the hard, cruel warrior I'd known so long ago.  And that's when it occurred to me that Heero had changed; he wasn't the cold-hearted bastard who had left me to die and had killed hundreds of thousands of people, not anymore.  Now he was just Heero, a real live person with feelings and emotions and the whole spiel.  He wasn't a robot anymore and he wasn't a monster, he was a human being.  Heero had changed--he'd gotten out of the banister.  And suddenly I wanted to be out too, more than anything in the world, and I just knew that the only way to do that was to get off the shuttle and get back on that platform with Heero and Mike.

I had to get off the shuttle and I had to do it immediately.

I started to undo my seat belt and grab for my backpack, but one of the flight attendants spotted me and came over to make me stop.

"Sir, the shuttle is about to leave the station.  Please stay in your seat."

"No, I've got to get off.  Sorry."

She frowned at me.  "Sir, the automated system has already initiated the count-down.  There's not enough time for you to get off the shuttle unless we stop the system and start it over again and that would put us too far behind schedule.

"No, you don't get it!  I have to get off!"

"Sir, you can't do that.  We'll be leaving the station in less than a minute and we can't open the doors for boarding or unloading until we stop at the next station."

As if on cue, the automated shuttle system started the countdown.  "Preparing to leave the station in thirty seconds.  Please be seated and buckle your seat belts.  We will experience some minor turbulence, but it is nothing to be--" and it continued.

I couldn't be too late, I just couldn't be.  "Let me off of this god-damned shuttle!" I yelled, struggling to my feet and pushing my way into the aisle.  The attendant started looking on her belt for something, probably her stun-gun device, so she could stop me, but I was saved by some sort of commotion closer to the front of the shuttle.

A man had forced the doors open and was addressing the passengers.  "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid you'll have to get off of this shuttle.  A fuel pipe was severed and it is too dangerous to lift off with it out of commission."  He was the shuttle maintenance man, I realized, judging by the regulation jumper thing he was wearing.  "You will be relocated onto platform twenty-six.  The shuttle will leave in twenty minutes."  When no one moved, he cleared his throat.  "Everyone get off!" he repeated loudly.

Everyone started looking around for their stuff.  The flight attendant looked at me wide-eyed and I grinned at her.  "Just call me Psychic Bob," I said with a wink.  Then I grabbed my bag and darted out of the shuttle before anyone else could even step into the aisle.

I was the first one out and I was immediately attacked by a five-year old bundle of energy, who latched himself onto my waist.

"Duo!  Don't go, please don't go!  I don't want you to leave and neither does my dad!  Please please please promise not to leave us!"

When I answered, it was Heero I was looking at.  "All right, Mike.  I promise."  Mike cheered and hugged me tighter, cutting off my air supply.  When I finally managed to catch my breath, I smiled apologetically at Heero.  "I'm sorry," I told him.  "I get it now--it wasn't your fault."

Heero smirked, but it wasn't a mean smirk at all.  "I knew you'd see that eventually," he said.  "So what are you going to do now?"

"Oh, I don't know.  Find a warm gutter to sleep in, maybe, or beg Benny-the-bastard-landlord to give me my apartment back.  Something like that."

"I've got a better idea."

"Oh?  And what would that be?"

He smiled kindly and pulled me closer to him.  "This," he whispered just before his lips caught my own in the most wonderful kiss of my life.  He smelled a lot like shuttle fuel and I thought I knew why, but that was absolutely okay with me.

When we stopped molesting each other's mouths, I grinned.  "You know what?" I began.  "That sounds like a pretty good idea to me."

"Good."  Heero took one of Mike's hands.  "Come on, it's time to go home."

Mike looked at me suspiciously.  "He means all of us, right?"

I laughed.  "Yes, kiddo, he means all of us."

He responded with a grin.  "Good."

And so we went home.

Anyway, that's the end of my happy little tale.  Well, not quite the end, I guess, but it's definitely the best place to stop, you know?  Because nothing too major has happened in the two days that have passed between then and now.  Comparatively nothing, anyway.

I got a call from Wufei not too long after we all got back the other day.  He and Kyla had a little girl who, according to Wufei, resembles him more than she does Kyla.  The conversation went a little something like this:

"It's a girl," he told me as soon as I picked up the phone.  He had a huge grin plastered on his face, which sounds sticky but really isn't.  "We named her Sterling."

"What does she look like?"

He paused, thinking that over.  "Have you ever seen the Flintstones?"

"The old cartoon with the cavemen and the dinosaurs?  Of course I have--that's a classic cartoon and you know how I feel about the classics."

"Well, do you remember the little green alien that would occasionally follow the main characters around and make their lives a living hell?  Kudzu?"

I smiled.  "I think you mean the Great Gazoo."

"Sure.  Well, she looks a little bit like that."

It took a moment for me to let that register, but when I did I was shocked.  "What?"

He started to laugh, the bastard.  "You are as stupid and gullible as ever," he said between chortles.  "Hang on and I may have a colony to sell you next!"

I hung up on him then, but he called me back after he recovered and we talked a lot more.  Heero got pissed because I was taking major whaps at his phone bill, but I pointed out to him that it was my phone in any case and that I would pay him back eventually, so he calmed down.

Yeah, I'm still living with Heero and Mike in their apartment.  We had to sort through all of my crap after we retrieved it from the shuttle's luggage carrier and then we had a bit of a yard sale, so to speak.  I made a good amount of money that way.  Who knew that I could have accumulated so much stuff in such a short time?  Well, we kept all of the important stuff and Heero practically ordered me to move in.  I think he believes he owes me or something.

Well, the first night at Heero's place was a little weird, especially so far as the sleeping arrangements were concerned.  I started out on the couch but Heero started feeling guilty around midnight and made me switch places with him so he was on the couch and I got the bed.  That made me feel pretty bad, of course, and so around one o'clock in the morning I made him switch back.  This happened a few more times before we started to quarrel and such (quietly, though, so we didn't wake up Mike) before we finally decided to save ourselves the trouble and share the bed.  Hell, it wasn't as though we'd never done that before.

Did you know that Heero's a cuddler?  I'm serious, he is!  Once he falls asleep he curls around anyone or anything that may be in that bed with him.  When I woke up the next morning, his limbs were all entwined and tangled up with mine.  I felt like a big teddy bear or something; that was definitely okay with me.

Mike seems to think we're having a sleepover or something and he gets a real kick out of it all.

Heero goes online a lot now, looking for a new place on a good, kid-friendly colony or even on Earth, if he can afford it.  I asked why he was suddenly so willing to leave the colony but he only smirked and told me that circumstances had changed.  I think it may have something to do with Stacey, but who knows?  He wouldn't say.

I did finally find out what it is Heero does for a living, though, and it was definitely a total accident.  I happened to answer the phone when his boss called--that was a fun conversation.  The boss lady was pissed that he'd left midway through on his business trip, but I explained the situation to her, being careful to leave out a few incriminating details.  Would you believe that Heero works for a security company?  His job is to test out all sorts of security systems all over the galaxy, find the problems, and then fix the bugs.  And when I say he tests out the security, he really tests it out.  Heero's paid to shoot things and run.  How cool is that?  Anyway, his last trip, the one that was cut short, was to the Preventers, which was why Wufei was told to pass along that message from Lady Une.  Quite a coincidence, huh?

When I asked Heero for details on his job, he just shrugged and said he mainly just designed and fixed security systems.  It involves a lot of computer work and the occasional business trip and he says that he hates it.  He told me that he was going to get a new job after the move.

Speaking of which, Heero asked me if I would come along when they moved.  He knows that there's nothing left to keep me on this colony and that Mike would love it if I came.  There was the added bonus that the two of us are definitely a little more than "just friends" right now and that we could heat up that relationship a little if I came along.  He told me that last night, after we put Michael to bed, and he took his sweet time explaining his motives in great detail.

You can interpret that however you want.

I told him that I'd have to think about it, but there really isn't anything much to think about, when you get right down to it.  I want to go with them, of course, and there's nothing stopping me anymore.  There will be more job opportunities for me no matter where we go and I'll be able to keep an eye on both Mike and Heero.  I'm not about to let him run away again.  Besides, I can't deny that the sex is great.

I've recently been toying with the idea of tracking down Quatre and Trowa, although I'm going to run the idea by Heero first.  I don't think he'll care, given that just yesterday he mentioned having Wufei, Kyla, and the new baby over sometime, after we've settled into the new place.  And it should be easy enough to find Quatre and Trowa, right?  I mean, Quatre is one of the richest men alive, second to only the Peacecraft family, so far as I know, and Trowa is probably still good friends with Quatre.  It would be nice to see them and have some sort of reunion and catch up on things and all.  That would be great, right?

Of course it would be.

Heero and I have been exchanging a lot of war stories lately, between his on-line real estate project and my excursions with Mike.  There's a lot of stuff that I'd forgotten about and a lot of things that scared the shit out of us back in the war but makes us laugh ourselves to death now.  It's great to talk about that sort of thing again--Wufei and I always avoided the subject.  I mean, just yesterday we were talking about--oh, jeez, look at the time.  Sorry about that.  You probably want to be on your way, don't you?  All right, I'll get on with it.

Since no story would be complete without a bunch of lessons, I guess I should tell you what this whole thing taught me.  So here goes...  For one thing, sometimes you've got to go back in order to forward.  And little kids like Mike are experts when it comes to throwing your life in your face and then helping you fix it.  Jeez, just hanging around with Mike taught me that if you keep digging you're eventually going to reach the other side of the earth.  If you just stop in the middle or quit altogether, life is just going to be a real hellhole.  You've got to finish things every so often.  And I've learned that dreams come true, whether you want them to or not, and that happy ending do happen more often than you'd think.

Most of all, though, I've learned that sometimes in life you get caught between a banister, but you almost always get out of there eventually.

Even if you do occasionally need some help.

THE END