Hanami

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Setting: Takes place between series end and Endless Waltz. More specifically, it slightly overlaps the beginning of Endless Waltz, but takes place before Heero's appearance.

Warnings: Mild shounen ai hints.

Pairing: Implied, albeit subtly, 1+2+1

Spoilers: Yes. Mainly series end and beginning of Endless Waltz, but some references made to other episodes.

Entry in the 2003-2004 Maxwell-Yuy Addiction Winter Fic/Pic Contest.

~~~~~

Duo struggled briefly to cut through the Virgo's thin gundanium armor. The alloy was still in high demand after the tentative peace had been reached, even if its sale and distribution was under careful scrutiny by the Earth Sphere United Nation.

The suit's generator was a lost cause, as a gaping hole was in its right shoulder. Duo's imagination allowed him to visualize the smoke that had billowed out when the mobile doll met its destroyer. It was a way to pass the time, envisioning the battles the suits may have been involved in and trying to guess which side had dealt the final blow, sometimes wondering which Gundam pilot might have been responsible. He could play that game with the Virgos in a way he just couldn't with the mobile suits that had human pilots.

A sun flare caught his attention, and his eyes glanced at it briefly before returning to his work. Every now and then, it happened. He relived that heartbeat of memory, the moment when it seemed that the falling piece of Libra would crash to earth despite their best efforts to avert it from happening.

They'd all done their part in preventing Zechs Merquise's vision from becoming a reality, but when that last defiant bit continued its doomsday course with the planet below, it had been understood that it was only fitting that Heero be the one to tackle it head on. He'd survived detonating his Gundam; even Wufei must have acknowledged Heero's unnatural knack for survival, to have surrendered the buster rifle instead of going after Libra's calling card himself.

Duo supposed it was possible that Wufei had doubted his dedication to the cause, or lacked faith in his own ability. By letting Heero have all the glory, perhaps he knew that the job would get done. He hadn't been at all surprised when that particular mission was successfully completed.

Duo didn't spend any more time on that thought. He had spent enough wondering at his own motives, in the end, to worry about what had driven the others.

Quatre he'd understood. The two of them had spent some time talking after the self-detonation of the Wing Gundam. It had bothered him on some level at the time, but not really surprised him. They'd all known that they might be left with no recourse other than to hit the little red button, but Heero had an unhealthy love for his. The first time Duo had laid eyes on Heero's Gundam, the self-detonation sequence had already been activated. At the time, he hadn't realized the mobile suit's pilot was still alive, or even who it was. He'd merely recognized the golden opportunity that was lying under the ocean.

Then he'd met Heero.

It seemed at one time as if his life couldn't get any more complicated, until he'd tried to save the fair maiden from the evil villain determined to kill her. Real life was not a fairy tale, that was for sure. As if he'd needed any more reminders of that.

Two gunshots were fired, and somehow that had thrust him into the role of a predator of innocents. Heero was as far from innocent as you could get, at least that's what Duo had thought at the time.

While Relena Darlian and he had exchanged witty banter, Heero had managed to force himself to pursue his mission objective, namely to destroy the evidence his Gundam represented.

Duo had been fascinated with that scrawny pain in the ass ever since.

He tried not to think of the others too much after they'd parted ways, but on days like this, when a glint of light was visible in the distance, he would swear it was Wing Zero, flying back towards them, the destroyed remains of Libra burning up in the atmosphere and no longer presenting a threat to earth. It hadn't stopped that day, hadn't even slowed down. Heero had just flown past them and was gone in the opposite direction as if he'd never been there and had never been a part of saving the world. No farewell, just an unnecessary "Mission complete" over the com link, and he was gone.

He didn't like to think about Heero, but sometimes he couldn't help it.

He wouldn't have been surprised if Heero had decided to cash in his chips and followed through on his death wish at some point, except he'd heard Heero's voice, full of grit and determination and stubborn force, over the com link.

If Heero said he was going to survive, he would.

Duo knew that, but he'd been relieved all the same to see the evidence in the form of Wing Zero in bird mode after the final destruction of Libra. Something about seeing Heero's Gundam in flight seemed like it should represent more, but perhaps he was getting overly sentimental in his old age.

He smiled bitterly. His old age. At his best guess, he couldn't be more than sixteen.

~~~~~

One day seemed much like another, so when he first spied the figure approaching, he was surprised at the break in the monotony.

He was floored, however, when he watched the way that figure moved.

The person's features would have been impossible to make out at this distance, even if they weren't in the vast openness of space, both dressed in bulky vacuum suits and helmets.

What struck him were the similarities between the movement of that suit and another, a much larger suit, one that he'd had the opportunity to observe on more than one occasion. It was his imagination, he decided, brought on by his minor indulgence of memories the previous day regarding their near brush with Armageddon.

He'd swear that person was the embodiment of Wing Zero.

Heero.

It continued to approach him. Distances were difficult to judge in space, with little in the way of landmarks, but from the size of the figure, it had to be a fair distance away.

As it neared, it became much larger. Where was the ship that had brought it?

A large mangled piece from Peacemillion was still orbiting the earth, and it was likely blocking Duo's view of the answer to that question.

Well, he wasn't going anywhere, so there was no point just waiting for the person to approach him. He still had a job to do.

He used a thermal cutter that gave him a brief sense of melancholy on days like today. It was used to dismantle and dissect the various mobile suits that could still be found floating around, but its green blade brought back unwanted memories of his old partner.

Over time, the keening sense of loss had softened, but he still missed Deathscythe. He'd agreed with Quatre that sending the Gundams into the sun was the best thing they could have done, but it didn't make the loss any easier to deal with.

It was like watching his first Gundam being destroyed all over again. Quatre was the only one who seemed as attached to his mobile suit. He had some weird connection to Sandrock that was on par with Duo's attachment to 'Scythe.

The most emotion Trowa ever showed for Heavyarms was his comment about something the Gundam had taught him, and that was after all had been said and done. Wufei seemed to revere his, possibly worshipped it, but hadn't really bonded with it.

And Heero...

It was always a mystery what made Heero tick. Not really more so than guys like Trowa and Wufei, but for some reason, he never cared as much about the others. He did spare some consideration for Wufei's motives when they were in that cell together, which pretty much summed up most of his interaction with Trowa, as well.

He wasn't really all that surprised to discover that the figure he'd spied was indeed Heero Yuy, man of intrigue.

A voice he hadn't heard in nearly a year was filling his helmet, competing with the oxygen from his tank. He hadn't known it possible to choke on the sound of someone else's voice.

"I need your help."

That had closed the deal right there. No explanation, no details, nothing except a simple statement.

I need your help.

Heero seemed the type who would be more than just reluctant to accept help. Most likely viewed it as an intolerable weakness.

Heero could have wanted Duo to do anything from painting a house to lending him money to wooing a girl, and he'd have agreed, just because Heero had needed help, and he'd come to him for it.

He didn't once think that he had been a last resort. The thought never even crossed his mind.

~~~~~

Heero didn't give him any details. Just dragged him away from his salvage work. Duo had made hasty excuses, joked about how a savior-of-the-world's work was never done, and followed Heero to the shuttle he'd acquired from who knew where.

There was no daylight in space. The light waves were absorbed into the inky blackness in a way that only a space traveler would understand.

Duo had a million questions, but had learned from his first few attempts at engaging Heero in conversation that it would be a waste of time to ask them.

The shuttle was currently on autopilot, and Heero was gazing out one of the windows. Whether he was staring at his own reflection or into the never ending void of light, Duo didn't dare ask.

"It's winter where we're going," he said, for lack of anything better.

"Space," Heero said.

Duo was sure he hadn't heard right. He blinked a few times.

"Trowa said space is like a never-ending winter," Heero clarified. "Unending, uncaring cold."

"Right," Duo said, not sure why he was agreeing. Sure, it was cold in space. Everyone knew that. At least everyone he knew. The further you were from the sun, the colder it was. The colonies depended on their climate controls to support life, because without them, the cold would be nothing more than an insidious killer, slowly draining the life from the colonial inhabitants.

He didn't like the analogies that came to mind. He'd done his best to put that behind him. Not half a day with Heero, and he was back to thinking in terms of black and black.

"Well," he said at last. "You stopped the never-ending winter on earth."

"We did," Heero corrected.

"So says the 'heart of outer space,'" Duo said sarcastically, wondering why he felt the need to antagonize Heero.

"Quatre is rather idealistic at times," Heero said.

"What did you think when Wufei gave you your buster rifle?"

"I didn't. I just accepted it."

Heero had to be the king of speaking in riddles. He'd have made a hell of a fortuneteller. Hell, after all his time working with the Zero system, maybe he was one.

"That's right. Just another one of those things that only you could accomplish, unlike the rest of us poor mortals."

Heero turned from the window to stare at him with those piercing eyes of his. If he'd thought outer space was cold, it was nothing compared to feeling like Heero was looking down on him.

Then Heero was back to looking out the window without a word being spoken.

"Heero?"

Heero made a noise that might have been taken as encouragement to continue, so Duo did.

"What...what happened after you blew up Wing?"

"I survived."

Duo was tempted to use his braid to strangle him.

"Obviously," he said dryly. "You're made of gundanium, I think."

"No," Heero said quietly. He sounded almost hurt.

After a few moments in which neither of them spoke, Duo barely heard Heero's faint, "Duo?"

"Yeah?"

Heero seemed startled, but didn't turn around to face him. Just kept his eyes riveted on whatever it was he saw. He didn't respond. Perhaps he hadn't realized he'd said anything and was trying his best to pretend he hadn't.

Duo would swear he heard a faint longing in that voice, and he wasn't sure what it was Heero wanted from him.

"So what did you and Trowa do between your little walk with the angels and your joining in the party after Quatre and I got things hopping at the Singapore Spaceport Base?"

Quatre had been so sure the other pilots would understand what they'd hoped to accomplish by their blatant attack. They'd made no attempts at subterfuge. The blond pilot always seemed to have an unquenchable optimism.

Duo hated to admit he was right, too. He had been on the verge of giving up, recognizing the futility of what they were going to do. He'd felt it cut like a knife as Colony D denounced them as enemies, encouraging the other colonies to do the same. It had been expected, but a knife wound still hurt whether you saw it coming or not.

Then Wufei's dragon claw had appeared out of nowhere, and he'd goaded Duo into continuing to fight the good fight.

Quatre had been near ecstatic as visuals of Heavyarms and Wing engaging in battles elsewhere had appeared in their cockpits. If he hadn't been strapped into his chair with the harness, Duo might have expected to see him hopping up and down.

He'd been so pumped up on adrenaline at the last minute show of support, it had taken him a while to realize that Heero was supposed to be dead.

All this ran through his mind as he waited for some sign that Heero might answer his question.

He did. With a question of his own.

"What did you and Quatre spend all that time doing other than attracting attention to yourselves?"

There was no derision in his voice, just a hint of curiosity.

"I asked first."

Heero shrugged his right shoulder.

"We talked about lots of stuff," Duo said. "Compared the mission objectives we were given. How we were told not to worry about the colonies. Examined our motivation, our shared thirst for revenge." Thought about you, Duo added silently. Realized how fucking stubborn you were, how willing you were to die for what you believed in.

"Until I fought him in the Mercurius," Heero said thoughtfully. "I would not have pegged Quatre as the vindictive type."

"It's the ones who seem either quiet or innocent that surprise you the most," Duo said.

Heero said nothing, but he lifted his right hand and gently touched the tips to the glass.

"Trowa accompanied me as I attempted to right a few wrongs," Heero said quietly. He fell silent, then added a few minutes later, "he let me borrow his Gundam so I could fight Zechs again."

"What is it with you and Zechs, anyway?" Duo asked. "What happened on Block A?"

Heero and Zechs had been engaged in a battle that had nothing to do with stopping the errant piece of Libra hurtling to the earth, not until Quatre had informed him that intervention was needed. Of course, by then, Heero had cut one of Epyon's arms off, so the fight was as good as done.

"He destroyed the rest of Libra, so I could live," Heero said. It was unclear if he was being disdainful or was genuinely confused by the other man's motives.

"But he didn't destroy the rest of it," Duo pointed out needlessly.

Heero merely shrugged again. "It's the thought that counts." This time there was an unmistakable amount of respect in his tone.

Duo mulled over the little bit of info Heero had given him.

Trowa had accompanied Heero on some personal mission. Trowa had been there to provide Heavyarms for Heero to use in a battle that was little more than a personal vendetta. Trowa, who had picked up Heero's lifeless body with his Gundam, had obviously also been the one to nurse Heero back to health.

In fact, Heero even remembered Trowa's comment about what it felt like to be adrift in space, so much so that he felt it important enough to comment on.

Duo felt like he'd been punched in the gut, and he knew what that felt like, as Trowa had literally hit him there when he'd been posing as an Oz soldier. It seemed Trowa had a knack for insinuating himself in places where others could not.

He didn't care for the hollow feeling the realization left him with.

"When I was enrolled in school, under your name," Heero began, once again surprising Duo. "I found that all mention of Heero Yuy's assassination was wiped from the annals of history. It was like he'd never existed. Like he'd never existed," Heero repeated softly.

He fell silent, and Duo had nothing to say to that.

"From what J has told me," his voice cut into the silence. "My background includes some Japanese ancestry. It doesn't mean much, living on the colonies, but I felt compelled to see what that meant." He sounded vaguely apologetic.

Duo assumed that meant Heero had been on a quest to find himself, desperate to find something beyond what others saw.

While O had been kicking the shit out of him, Duo had heard the others discussing what had been going on. J had referred to his 'weapon' a few times, and if Duo wasn't busy trying to keep from puking up blood, he might have realized sooner that he was talking about Heero. He hadn't spared much thought to that afterwards, as the next time he saw Heero, he'd been thrown into the same cell. And all Heero could do was throw it in his face that he'd botched his mission. He hadn't much cared if J had called Heero a canker sore by then.

"Winter," Heero said, "is a time when animals go into hibernation, flowers die, deciduous trees lose their leaves for the season."

His fingers were stroking the glass. Heero would run his fingers in a downward motion until the tips would bend backwards, then would lift his hand and place it back on the glass at shoulder level, only to repeat the process.

"The sakura...it blossoms in the spring," he said. "The trees look bare and lifeless, but there are tiny little buds of life there, just waiting for the spring thaw." It was clear Heero was quoting something he'd read, as Duo doubted he'd actually ever seen a sakura tree before.

"It's a time of anticipation," Heero said. Duo had to move closer to make out the words. His reflection stared back at him over Heero's shoulder.

"Winter finally gives way to spring, and the hanami begins." He finally turned to face Duo, and his eyes lit with a yearning so powerful Duo felt that familiar punch in the gut feeling. Heero didn't explain hanami, but he had a pretty good idea what it was.

Heero needed his help.

He still wasn't sure why, but he thought perhaps Heero was looking for something, something that was waiting just beyond the winter.

Whatever it was, maybe he was looking for it, too.

And maybe they'd find it together.

~ End ~

~~~~~

Hanami refers to "flower viewing," specifically for the sakura (cherry blossom) which is Japan's national flower. People go to shrines and parks for the 'hanami' which is a time for celebration. It's also a peak tourist season.