Word Count: 2,973
Warnings: vaguely implied shonen ai, mild angst, Duocentric
Notes: In response to a request by Dacia on LJ community fic-on-demand to write a fic based on Don McLean's Crossroads. Additional inspiration provided by a pic posted by gwy on the 1x2-fans LiveJournal community.
"Heads up!" the shout came from across the scrap yard.
Duo glanced over at the source of the commotion and a smile teased at the corners of his lips. It looked much the same as when he'd last been here. When had that been? One year? Two?
It seemed a lifetime.
He watched them work for a while before turning and walking toward the trailer that served as the office of operations. He rapped on the door a few times before walking in.
It was empty.
"Hilde?" he asked, not expecting an answer. If she'd been there, she'd surely have not let anyone waltz in unannounced without coming out to greet them personally. First impressions were important, and no one liked to feel as if they were less important than a catalogue listing or computer spreadsheet.
He looked around the office. She'd rearranged the furniture. The layout drew the eye to the desk rather than the walls or windows. Duo nodded approvingly at the neatly arranged stacks of paper. There were just enough to make it look like the place was busy, but not so many that it appeared that the business was disorganized. The right balance between laid back and professional, something that was essential for a scrap yard. Customers came looking for specific parts, not for a dog and pony show or investment potential.
He walked around, checking out the notices on the bulletin board, some printed earlier that week, others stating the returns policy in no nonsense terms. He reached up and lifted the edge of it, noting the slight discoloring of the page, and his own signature next to Hilde's, back when he'd been her partner.
Duo released the paper and ran a hand through his too-long bangs, noting that it was well past time for a haircut. He wandered over to a smaller fabric colored board that hadn't been there before and studied the posted photographs.
There were close up pictures of some of the more unusual parts that had come through the yard: a carburetor to an ancient motorcycle model; the circuit board from a computer that hadn't been backward or forward compatible during its short run; the choke barrel, grip cap, and buttplate of an antique Remington, gleaming like new.
It had always been a little bit like a scavenger hunt to Duo, finding the rare, small market goods among the crates marked MISCELLANEOUS. Usually there were stock items mixed in, things like ball bearings by the gross, and idler arms and rockers, sometimes a few odds and ends, but their specialty tended toward being a salvage yard where one could find almost anything.
At least that had been the case before he'd grown weary of it and moved on. That had been when he'd enrolled in college, just because Heero had mentioned it one day. Except Heero had been the one to stick with it, whereas Duo had become listless and felt a bit of wanderlust strike.
He thought perhaps Heero had already done the backpacking across the plains thing during his extended absence - something that had curbed the desire to keep moving and to avoid staying in one place too long.
He'd found out he wasn't far off the mark, not entirely. Heero had indeed led a rather nomadic lifestyle, but it hadn't been aimless. First he'd caught up with Trowa and the circus and stayed with them for a while, then he'd worked with Sally and Wufei in training a few of the newer Preventer agents in hand to hand combat. Following that, Heero had taken music lessons with Quatre.
That had bowled Duo over, right there, but especially when he found out Heero wanted to learn how to play the flute. He'd bitten back an innuendo then and there, not wanting to rain on Heero's parade. He had a feeling if he said something to upset Heero, he might never be able to repair the damage.
Duo hadn't been proud of himself, feeling that way about a soldier who'd blown himself up and been put back together good as new. It wasn't that he didn't think Heero had any feelings, really, it was just that Heero didn't seem the type to be easily hurt.
Maybe it had been Duo's own desire to be wanted and to feel a sense of belonging, and he'd simply transferred those same traits onto Heero.
Heero had been doggedly determined to finish school, and he'd never bothered to declare a major. He hadn't wanted to graduate with a degree; he'd wanted nothing more than to interact with others, to see if he was capable of fitting in now where he couldn't very well during the first war.
Heero had wanted to learn things and to experience what he'd missed during his younger years.
That Duo could understand, but it had always seemed like Heero was just working undercover, posing as a student, but not actually one in truth. To hear stories about student protests, those were things Duo could relate to. Listening to Heero talk about precolonial philosophy or a brief period of art history, on the other hand, never ceased to floor him.
Duo had found himself pulling the stories out of Heero, however. He'd wanted to hear about how Heero had responded during a debate. He'd been eager to know what extracurricular activities Heero felt were complete wastes of time that did little to cover the illicit activities that went on, and which he found intriguing enough to participate in.
Duo wanted to pretend he'd not given up, and that he, too, had kept himself on one track, rather than wandering aimlessly through life, but although he might be able to fool others, he knew better than to try kidding himself.
He ran his fingertips along the surface of the spare desk in the office, the one that used to be his. Looking at his fingers, he was surprised to see not a trace of dust. He found it oddly depressing.
Although he had been the one to physically leave the yard and attempt something else, Hilde was the one who had truly moved on.
The whispering sound of the door closing behind him felt like more of a farewell than Hilde's exuberant hug had over a year ago.
Duo rolled the ladder over to the next shelf, scooped up one of the books on his cart, and nimbly climbed the steps until he reached the shelf he needed. He slid the book in between two others, straightened one that had fallen over, and slowly backed down the ladder.
He pushed at the cart, wheeling it to the main aisle, then went back to move the ladder all the way toward the wall, out of the way of anyone browsing that particular shelf. He looked up and down the rows and over the tables in between. There seemed little chance of that happening.
He picked up the top book on the cart and flipped it open with one hand, glancing at it while he turned the corner. A collection of nursery rhymes. He skimmed them, turning a few pages at random, and shook his head.
Violent little things. He wondered if hearing those sorts of tales as a child would have frightened him at all. He doubted it.
He found the section where the book belonged, and just as he reached up overhead to slide it in place, he was struck with a sudden impulse. He flipped open the back of the book and pulled the small card out of the pocket.
Duo sighed. He had no idea why he'd thought that perhaps Heero Yuy had once signed the book out, but it would have made an interesting topic of conversation. Assuming, that was, that he actually planned on speaking to Heero.
He mulled that over as he finished his task of returning books to their shelves. It seemed that he was overdoing the "hiding" thing. He'd never intended to shun his friends. He'd just felt a stab of jealousy, seeing them all with a place in life, a direction.
He should have been just as capable of fitting in, finding his niche, and putting the past behind him. Nothing made him all that special, after all, that he should carry more guilt or suffer from more nightmares, yet it seemed as if everyone else had no trouble carving their own future from the same block of soap.
Self-pity wasn't something Duo was proud of, but that didn't make it any easier to shake himself free of the doldrums that plagued him the rest of the day.
A brief chime of the bell on the desk drew Duo's attention, and he looked up in irritation, ready to snap at the intruder, when Heero put his fingers to his lips and pointed to the sign hanging posted on the front of the main desk of the library.
Duo resisted the urge to tell Heero, in obscene if nonverbal language, just what he thought of that suggestion. He gave a wan smile and pointed to a door nestled between the fire extinguisher and a rack full of periodicals.
Heero nodded and went into the back room. Duo made him wait a full five minutes before following.
"What brings you to this part of the solar system," he asked as soon as he'd shut the door behind him.
Heero bowed his head for a moment, then met Duo's gaze again. "It just seems like the holidays are a time you're meant to spend with those you're closest to."
With a start, Duo realized what Heero meant. His eyes flew to the wall calendar. The cartoon mouse was wearing a red hat trimmed with white fur. How had he missed that?
"'Tis the season," he said wryly. Heero gave him a playful punch on the shoulder.
"Yes," he said, "'tis."
"Hope you don't mind flapjacks and barmcakes."
"Heero," Duo said, throwing an arm over his shoulder, "we have seriously got to work on your slang vocabulary."
Christmas dinner had been a sedate affair, both of them staying up and exchanging theories on what the others were up to. The next morning the weather was unseasonably warm. Heero called Duo from his hotel and suggested they go out for a ride.
They took the motorized scooters to the shoreline, parking them on the asphalt before trekking over the deserted beach. Together they stood there, staring out over the ocean. Despite the fact that he missed outer space, Duo didn't think he'd ever outgrow his fascination with the expanse of water.
"Are you familiar with Aesop?" Heero asked out of the blue.
"Best known for his fables, all teaching some sort of moral. Died a good hundred years before the birth of Socrates," Heero said.
"Father of the Socratic method."
They both stared out over the water, watching the waves crash onto the beach. "That's sort of the way Sherlock Holmes solved crimes, isn't it?"
Heero chuckled. "In a sense."
"So," Duo said, "disproven any of the axioms that used to shape your future?"
Heero was silent. The wind ruffled his hair and his jacket rippled with the breeze, but he kept his gaze fixed out over the ocean.
"Why did Une threaten the colonies?"
Duo thought he'd misheard Heero at first. "Une? Freaky scary lady?"
There was no response, meaning Heero was still waiting for Duo to answer his question.
"Because she knew we'd kick their asses if she didn't pull out all the stops."
"Was it effective?"
Duo was sure that he'd somehow missed a page of the script Heero was following.
"Heero, buddy, if you remember, you blew yourself up."
"I would do it again."
"You're a real piece of work, Heero," Duo said, turning his gaze from his friend to the sand. A cigarette butt protruded from the fine grains. Duo covered it with his toe. Out of sight, out of mind. Just another sign that there would always be people who didn't respect the planet.
"There was a shepherd boy," Heero said softly. "Who was tending his flock, and became bored. From the top of the hill where he sat, he began crying for the villagers to help him, as a wolf was attacking his flock.
"However, when they reached him, the boy just grinned at them, pleased they'd fallen for his phony cries for help."
Despite his anger at Heero, Duo responded. "Yeah, yeah, I know the story."
"What happened at the end?"
"He got in real trouble, the flock scattered, and the wolf had a nice lunch, because no one came to help. He paid for stirring up shit when he was bored."
"Did Une ever once seem bored to you?"
Duo didn't justify that with a response.
Heero's next words were nearly lost in the wind. "Nobody believes a liar. Even when he's telling the truth."
They walked back to their bikes in silence, riding them to back to town and turning them in. While the proprietor repaid Duo's rental deposit, Heero waited for him outside.
"My car is that way," Duo said, pointing toward one of the side streets.
Heero nodded. "Duo," he said. "I have an ulterior motive for requesting your company."
"Lay it on me."
"I'd like you to attend my graduation."
Duo stared at him. "You're graduating?"
Heero shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Yes."
"I thought you couldn't be bothered to pursue a piece of paper with your name on it."
"It is my name, though, isn't it?" Heero tilted his head to the side. "As much as yours belongs to you. I'd like to see the name Heero Yuy connected with something more than an assassinated leader and a terrorist."
He looked away again. "I would like it to mean as much to me as Duo Maxwell means to you."
Duo sighed heavily. "When is it?"
"Can't see any reason why not."
Heero nodded, still not meeting Duo's eyes. "I'll e-mail you the information."
"It's a date then."
This time Heero glanced at him sideways. His posture seemed just a little less rigid. "I'll be in touch."
Duo watched Heero walk down the street, then turned and headed in the opposite direction.
The sound of the oven timer prompted Duo to get up off the couch. He slid a Kevlar mitt on his hand, removed the frozen dinner, and set it on the stove to cool. He fanned the meal a few times before removing the oven mitt and hooking it back on the side of the refrigerator.
He turned to his laptop computer and booted it up, watching the digital clock on the computer's wallpaper as the seconds kept ticking, straight through from 13:58:33 to 13:59:00.
Time marched on, regardless.
He scrolled through his electronic documents and found the one he was looking for.
University of Neo Japan - Two hundredth Commencement. Yamamoto Auditorium. 2:00PM
Duo remained seated, watching his computer screen, until his supper had gone from hot to barely lukewarm. He shut off the laptop when the desktop letters glowed 14:28:59.
He seemed to constantly be retreading old paths. He'd been back for months, and yet had avoided returning to this site. Now that he was here, he stared at the massive hospital building, seeing not the clean slate gray brick, but the steeple of the church, and the indulgent smile of the priest who had taken him in.
Duo shook his head. The last thing he needed was to resurrect ghosts, long since dead and buried. Of course, he reminded himself, they wouldn't be ghosts if they were still alive, would they?
His eyes fell on the cornerstone of the building, and the dedication that was engraved there. It was the last name he'd expected to see.
In memoriam - Heero Yuy AC 140 - 175
Only those who are dead and buried have ghosts, Duo?
He turned and walked away.
Two weeks later, he made arrangements to face one of his ghosts.
He owed this one an apology, after all.
Another train rushed by, this one going in the opposite direction. Duo shoved his hands in his pocket and shivered. His coat billowed out in front of him and his braid slapped against his sleeve. He flicked it back over his shoulder and glanced up at the clock.
Eight minutes late. Duo was beginning to hate military time. If he ever bought another watch, it was definitely going to be analog.
Another fourteen minutes crawled by before he heard the roar of an oncoming train, and he leaned forward slightly, turning his head to face it as if that might make it pull to a stop in front of him faster.
Despite the urge he had to greet his guest, he hung back near the wall, waiting as each passenger disembarked. After an elderly woman with a Great Dane and a young man in military dress came the familiar head of tousled brown hair, a duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
Heero's eyes met Duo's from across the platform, and a few quick strides brought them face to face. Heero reached out a hand and closed it over Duo's shoulder. He smiled warmly.
"Just because you don't know what you're looking for," he said, his voice soothingly familiar, "doesn't mean you won't know when you've found it."
Duo looked into those eyes of brilliant blue, and recognized in them the same uncertainness that faced him every morning as he looked in the mirror. He'd been a horrible friend to not realize that he wasn't alone.
He tentatively returned Heero's smile. "Better late than never?"
A brief squeeze on the shoulder told him all he needed to know.