They hadn't been together like this for a long time. Time has a way of causing people to drift apart, no matter how much they'd gone through together. But it was always times such as these that had a way of forcing people back together, so that five young men - once boys - stood around the freshly dug grave.
Duo was uncharacteristically solemn. Beside him was Trowa, who was next to Quatre, who had offered to say the proper rites - as Duo had seemed clearly stricken. He'd borrowed a book from the library and began to read from it:
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered her today to celebrate -"
Trowa coughed discreetly.
Quatre shot a reproachful look at Trowa, who pointed to the heading in the margin. "Oh, sorry, wrong page." Wufei scoffed and Trowa nearly chuckled, but Duo's uncharacteristic solemnity hushed the group to silence.
Quatre cleared his throat, tried again, "Friends. We are gathered here today to mourn the passing of..." and faltered, searching the audience for the words.
There was an awkward silence. Then a few stifled chuckles.
Duo, eyes trained to the floor, showed more than a few signs of frustration. His forehead was knitted and his heel trembled against the floor. His hands were folded in front of him, right over left, but steadily - as the chuckles started up again - his knuckles began to turn white. Quatre spotted the signs first, signaling to Trowa - who promptly tried to signal everyone else to be quiet before Duo snapped.
Unfortunately, the message was sent too late.
"God dammit!" Duo walked around the hole in the ground and snatched the book out of Quatre's hands. The audience, comprised of his closest friends, who were clearly not understanding the significance of this ceremony.
"Maxwell, honestly -"
"Oh excuse me, Wufei - sorry if my loss isn't important enough for you to mourn for!" Duo set his jaw, gripping the book in his hands, silently counting down from ten. Wufei shifted from one foot to the other, not trying to look as guilty as he felt. "Look I called you all here because I thought -"
"I don't want to know what you were thinking."
"Wufei, I swear, any other day I would --" Trowa and Heero both took an arm, in hopes to prevent Duo from launching over at Wufei.
"Now, guys, this is something that's clearly important to Duo..." Quatre ignored Wufei's huff and continued, "... and as his friends we should be here for him -" He paused, as if still searching for the right words. He looked down into the small grave in the middle of their small circle and began his address, "It -" He paused, but no one offered any correction, so Quatre strove forward, "... it meant something to all of us." Whether or not he felt it was true, it felt like the right thing to say.
"Don't do the 'nice guy' thing, Quat -"
"But he's right, Duo," Trowa took a step forward, between Duo and Quatre, as a precautionary measure. He rested a hand on Quatre's shoulder as if to offer some assurance for trying... then thought to offer his own condolence, "I remember when I first saw it -"
Quatre smiled, "Yeah, I didn't know what to think at first..."
"I don't think any of us did," Wufei accessed, folding his arms across his chest.
"...yeah. But watching Duo take such care - I mean, it was sort've inspiring," Quatre said sheepishly, his fingers combed some hair out of his eyes. Trowa offered a small smile and nodded in agreement for his two cents. But Duo still looked skeptical.
"It's true," Wufei added. He had to say something after all. "There was conviction. Dedication," he faltered slightly, taking a deep breath to continue - if Quatre and Trowa could manage, surely he could - "A dedication that was admirable. Even for something that could easily have been taken for granted."Quatre gave him a look, as if to say, 'That was the best you could think of?' to which Wufei replied with a scholarly shrug.
Quatre, Trowa, and Wufei were pointed stared over at Heero to say something. After all, he had yet to say anything at all. In fact, he hadn't been chuckling either... but no one had expected him to - but everyone had contributed somehow, it was only fair to expect him to say something nice. Duo chose to look down instead, rather than holding his breath.
A moment passed in silence.
And then Duo sighed and reached over for the shovel.
When at that very second, Heero had a moment of clarity: "It was always there with us, like we're always there for each other."
Duo's mouth dropped open. Quatre, Trowa, and Wufei passed a glance amongst themselves before collectively looking down thoughtfully.
Heero continued, "It won't ever be the same because we're different people now than we were then. Or whenever it was that we first remember seeing it.
"And even if Duo grows his hair back, we'll be different people by the time it does..." The miracle dwindled as Heero seemed to run out of steam, but Trowa picked up the slack.
"... Heero's right," Trowa hadn't meant to sound so surprised. "This is... kind of a big deal -" stopping short of saying 'An end to an era.' He looked down at his feet, clearing his throat a bit, "... Sorry I laughed, Duo."
"I am sorry as well."
"Me, too," Quatre finished off.
Heero's hand reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out the remains of a knotted up rubber band. Rolling it over his fingers a few times, he offered it up for scrutiny by the group before dropping it into the grave alongside the braid. Duo opened his mouth to say something, but was still speechless, shovel in hand. Heero brushed his hands together as if to say he was done paying his respects, nodded a goodbye with his chin. He turned away and walked in the direction of the swings, towards where the cars were parked.
The four remaining young men shared another last contemplative moment with the braid, now accompanied by an old rubber band, resting in the hole below.
"Jesus. How long do you think he's been carrying that around?"
"Better hurry if you want to ask him, Maxwell," Wufei said, looking over his shoulder in time to see Heero looking over his car door at them.
Duo looked over at Heero, who was looking right back at him, and then looked over at the three friends remaining. "Look, I hate to ask, but -"
"I think we can handle it," Trowa was trying to look serious when he found a shovel pushed into his hands.
"I always say we should get together more often -" Duo's foot caught on the corner of the sandbox, when he decided he would stop walking backwards. He looked over his shoulder one last time, "I'll call you."
Trowa, Quatre, and Wufei waved gingerly at the retreating back of their friend, which was slightly foreign without its customary braid.
This time, Wufei blinked.
"Did we just have... a moment?"
"Yes, Wufei. I believe we did," Trowa smirked.
"You think he'll call?"
Trowa didn't immediately reply. He was looking at Heero's car. Quatre's face coloured. Wufei pinched the bridge of his nose. The vehicle had moved, though revealed no signs of pulling out of the parking lot.
"... Perhaps. But not tonight."