Sorry for this late update. I know I'd pegged the update date for April 7th but my er… muse just didn't come. But now it has so, I hope you'll find this chapter to your liking. At least, I hope so.
(3rd Person POV)
The tall compact figure of the Maguanacs Captain stood frozen in disbelief, eyes pinned on a most familiar figure stepping out of one of L3's cargo ships. Dressed in solid black from head to toe and tell-tale braid replaced by a lengthy ponytail, Duo Maxwell - a.k.a. 'Shinigami' and ex-pilot of Gundam Deathscythe – strode languidly across the cargo bridge, eyes sparkling behind narrow glasses as he sighted Rashid's shocked person.
Halting in front of the astonished Maguanac, Duo's lips twisted into his trademark manic grin, " Yo."
" Master Duo!", exclaimed the hulking Arab as he recovered from his initial shock, " You're alive!"
Duo gave him a mocking hurt look before expressively rolling wide eyes, " Of course I am. Whoever said I was dead?"
Finally interrupting the stumped Maguanac, Deathscythe's former pilot smiled apologetically before clamping a friendly hand on the taller man's shoulder. "No need for excuses Rashid my man…" then throwing a slight wink, " Shinigami disappears whenever he wishes it. And If I don't care to be found, then I WON'T be found."
At that half-joking, half serious quip, Rashid visibly relaxed enough to grace the short young man beside him a polite yet warm smile. " Of course… Master Duo. ". Dark eyes skimming over boxes and cases of weapons being unloaded from the L3 cargo ships, he ventured to say further, " We're very grateful for all this. As you well know, Master Quatre has abolished all level 5 weapons on the colony and with what has been happening, the past few hours have been quite…difficult."
A gruff voice muttered grimly behind him, " Ha! Now that's an understatement!"
Swiftly turning at the remark, dark Arabian eyes met pale blues set in a lined face.
" Par!", admonished Duo catching on to the argument that was about to start should no one step in to placate the two war veterans.
" Leave them be. Whether other colonies adapt policies we think are a weakness, that is none of our business."
The head of Hanazawa Corps. Special Ops gave a slight nod of acceptance and did an about-face, leaving both Rashid and Duo to finish their discussions.
Smiling at his trusted officer's antics, Duo turned back to Rashid, eager to resume their conversation.
" So!", violet eyes sparkled with anticipation, "What do you have for me?"
Everything felt surreal… at least, to me.
I watched as the familiar figures of Quatre's elite special force strode to and fro past me and into my ships' cargo bays. I've fought alongside these brave men a few times during the war yet, I just can't make myself believe that I'm with them again. I felt like giving myself a good kick in the ass but of course, that's not possible… so I settled for staring instead.
Rashid himself gave me a few hard curious looks. I don't blame him for that. A five-year disappearing act doesn't exactly leave anyone hopeful, especially when the missing person per se refuses to be found and drops all sorts of communication between him and his old life. What I did, was kill Duo Maxwell, Gundam Pilot. I had chosen to leave that life and make a new one. At least, that was what I was hoping I could do…Bu then the past just had to catch up with me.
Tcch! Should've known!
It always does.
In the background, I listened half-heartedly as Rashid summed up intel-gathered information.
" The Queen's supporters have gone underground; a good number of them civilians. Others have stayed but refuse to leave their homes. I don't blame them. They have no place else to go and are too scared considering the rebels have made their threats real. They call themselves "The Liberation" and their leader, Commander Johann Dutroix gave implicit orders to kill anyone who even utters the Peacecraft name. Master Quatre has been in regular communication with the rebel faction, negotiating for a three-par Peacetalk between Earth, Colonies and The Liberation…Negotiations are not doing too well. Dutroix wants the Queen and Commander Une executed, the Gundam Pilots under his command…"
I quirked a brow at that wildly bold demand.
This Dutroix guy must be really bonkers.
Rashid continued, " He threatens to attack the colonies and destroy L4 and L1 should we not give in to his demands."
Okay… he's a bloody murderer who lost his marbles at childbirth. Figures.
" Qat's plans on a counterattack?", I asked. Knowing the blondie, I knew he'd never go down without a fight.
The Maguanac Captain was about to reply to my query when his eyes darted to stare at something over my shoulder, his tense demeanor relaxing into a calmer façade. I didn't need to look behind me to know what – or rather, WHO – stood there. I bet Rashid, or maybe Abdul, had notified them soon as they saw me step out of my ship.
Fighting to calm my nerves and quell my habitual fidgeting whenever I was nervous, I settled on keeping my outward appearance relaxed and pasted a grin on my face as I turned to meet my former comrades-in-arms. We stared at each other for the first few minutes. Them in disbelief with traces of anger and hurt – not that I blame them for that. And then, there's me… just looking… and waiting.
Quatre was the first to break. His blue eyes - now a bit narrower than the last time I saw him - went teary as he took one step forward. And another…then another… and ended up running towards me finally engulfing me in a tight warm hug.
" Duo…", he whispered as I found my face smothered near his collarbone, " Welcome back."
I blinked and to my surprise, felt some wetness from my lashes.
The heck! Was I crying?
" Hey Q.", I murmured softly.
He finally released me from his tight hold and took a step back, eyes roving my person in slight surprise. Behind him stood Trowa, and with the way they seemed to gravitate so closely to each other, I'd bet half my fortune – not that I have any – that the two have been as close as ever, if not closer, all through my absence. I noted not having heard him creep behind us and decided that the circus clown was as silent and cat-like as ever. His one green eye uncovered by brown bangs stared at me in quiet reservation but with certain warmth. Wufei stood beside him, and I noticed the Chinese still held that stiff snobbish look of his – very much the Chang Wufei I knew before. But the way he carried himself now seemed softer around the edges and his dark eyes glimmered with what seemed to be relief and welcome… and I hope its for seeing me again.
To my surprise, I noticed all three of them towered over me by more than a few inches. While I had grown by only a mere two inches during those five years and had never grown out of my lean, slight frame; the three of them were broader of shoulder, had more muscle… What the heck! They looked the epitome of masculinity!
Movement somewhere at my far right caught my eye and I shifted my gaze to the last of my four friends… the one I've been having uncontrolled heart palpitations for…Heero.
He stood several feet away from the rest. The only one who had not moved a muscle upon seeing me alive and well. And God! How he's changed!
I refuse to lie…I refuse to say that I haven't thought of him the past five years, because I HAVE thought of him. Having Ryuen with me had dulled my constant walks through memory lane and it had faded later on, only to gradually creep back into my stubborn brain after his death. Memories had been banging in my head even more as I had neared L4. I knew that he was going to be here and I had prepared myself for everything. I had prepared myself to face the perfect soldier yet again.
But the person who stood before me was different from the one I remembered. Gone was the rather short, poker-faced Asian teen. In his place stood a tall handsome stranger, dressed impeccably as a Preventer Special Agent. He was as tall as Trowa at six feet and two inches. Broad shoulders, narrow hips and a face that had lost its youthful softness and now showed-off aristocratic Asian features met my gaze. Blue eyes the shade of the deepest ocean glared at me from under dark lashes. I had forgotten how intense his eyes could be.
Shaking myself out of my hypnotized stupor, I stepped forward still meeting those eyes of his, refusing to release his glare.
" Hey… Heero."
A flicker of surprise passed his eyes before it settled again and he decided to glare at me full force. I stifled a chuckle at that. It seemed he still hasn't lost his signature 'Glare o' death'. Strangely, I found myself relieved by that fact.
Hmmm… I guess nothing much has changed after all. Personality-wise that is.
" Nice of you to drop in Maxwell.", Wufei muttered beside me under his breath.
I turned to my Chinese friend and grinned. Should've known he'd still insist on calling me by my last name even after five years.
" Just doing you guys a favor Wufei.", I quipped at him with a teasing wink. His surprise at my calling him by his first name, and quite properly at that, almost made me laugh. Well, THEY might not have changed a bit, but Duo Maxwell certainly has!
Heero had finally crossed the few feet of concrete that separated him from us and now stood in front of me. He had turned the volume of his glare down a few notches but was still looking at me strangely. I just couldn't place that look of his, but for some reason, it made me sad.
Quatre's curiosity and excitement finally got the better of him and he grabbed me by the arm, pulling me behind him all the while talking non-stop as we strode away from the docking bay.
" Where on earth have you been Duo? We've scoured every damn nook and cranny looking for you for 3 years! We finally just gave everything up after that, thinking you were either dead or just hiding somewhere and not wanting to be found. "
He stopped walking and abruptly turned to look at me with a rather hurt look in his eyes, " Didn't you want to be found?"
I stayed still at that question. Beside me, Wufei and Heero both threw expectant and slightly angry looks at me. Heero most especially had reached out to grab me by my elbow, his grip tighter than usual. His gaze was hard and uncompromising. I sighed inwardly, knowing that Trowa was probably giving me a look along those lines as well.
I met Heero's eyes unwavering and murmured loud enough for everyone else to hear, " Let's go somewhere quiet. We need to talk."
Even after years with Ryuen and having servants at my beck and call, I still found myself awed and speechless as Quatre led us inside what he called the, " Blue Room". Not much of it was blue, except for the sofa and a rather sinful looking chaise-lounge but boy was it freaking HUGE! A fur carpet covered the entire floor space while an artificial fireplace lent the room a warm feel. Very… comfy. Resplendent, yes… but comfy.
Quatre squeezed himself beside Trowa on one of the smaller sofas while Wufei sat stiffly on the edge of the chaise and critically studied its rather… antiquated design. I on the other hand, decided to land my ass on the widest sofa of the lot and propped my boot-clad leg over the low center table. Imagine my shock when Heero suddenly sat a few inches beside me in the same sofa.
" Talk. ", he said in his unforgettable don't-fuck-with-my-mission voice and proceeded to give me a 100 full death glare. Ouch.
Shrugging my shoulders, I threw him a wary look. " Um…where do you want me to start?"
Quatre hmmphed right at me and rolled his eyes in some annoyance, " Start with, WHY THE HECK DID YOU LEAVE?", he demanded.
Eheh… blondie's one straightforward guy! Ain't he?
" I just had to Q… It was something I needed to do."
He threw me a rather hurt, betrayed look and asked, " We were a team Duo. Friends as well… How could you have just left everything like that!"
Beside him, Trowa laid a hand on his shoulder. A move of comfort I must say I envied. Watching the two lovers just made me look back too much… it made me remember my regrets with Ryuen… with them, my friends… with Heero.
I met Trowa's green gaze and I was stunned by the soft look of comprehension his eyes – or eye, rather – reflected. I almost smiled. I guess now really is the time to bare all… no more evading the truth. It was my time to be honest.
Taking a deep breath and quelling that vulnerable feeling that ate my insides, I took a step forward.
" I… It's just that you all had something Quatre; you… all of you knew where you wanted to be! I didn't. I wanted to find my purpose again, live for myself and just move on."
" Maxwell you idiot, you had us.", Wufie said gruffly from the side. I met his dark eyes that were filled with more than a little anger and some sadness. He went on, " Une offered you a place at Preventers and you only needed to grab it! You could've…"
" No!", I cut in rather adamantly. That won looks of surprise from all of them. Beside me, I felt Heero visibly stiffen.
" You don't understand. I wanted to know my purpose.", I continued as I stared into his eyes, " Your sense of honor and justice made that a fitting purpose for you, much like yours too, Heero."
I turned to meet confused deep blues with a smile, " Protecting peace has been the center of your universe since… well, since forever! It's your mission."
A pained look crossed Heero's face at my remark. Whatever THAT look meant, I didn't dwell on it. " Your mission is your purpose."
"Quatre?", I smiled at my obviously hurt blonde friend, " Your purpose was to make Trowa happy, and Trowa's was to make you happy. You both cancelled each other out."
I chuckled at Quatre's stunned look, " I bet your both bent on the same purpose even now."
The quiet was deafening. I dropped my gaze after that and it settled on a clenched fist – Heero's to be exact - sitting just inches away from me. The way his fingers dug into his palm revealed just how upset he was, which shocked me to no end. He had always been the strong one. Always calm, hostile as hell and a reigning perfectionist in everything he did. Which was exactly why I annoyed the hell out of him when we were still Gundam Pilots. I couldn't understand why I'm affecting him so much…after all, amongst the five of us, I was the one he least liked… and from what I remember of him, I still am.
" We looked for you."
I looked at Heero in some surprise.
" I… We went through every database; earth, colony… ships… looking for you. Took us three years before we decided to halt the search.", he went on gruffly. I winced. I could hear the accusation quite strongly even before he uttered the dreaded words.
" You dropped all contact.", he accused me.
Well… He's right about that.
I sighed. " I was in L3 actually."
Heero's eyebrows shot up at that, " What do you mean? We searched there as well and we didn't…"
" That's because my employer…er, ex-employer preferred to keep my identity hidden.", I admitted rather awkwardly.
" Why?", he demanded. Around me, my three other friends had leant forward, all wanting to hear exactly what I've been doing.
So, I took another step away from my hiding place.
" I was head of security for Hanazawa Ryuen and the job kinda called for a lot of secrecy. And Ry…Hanazawa-sama thought it a bit attention-grabbing having it known publicly that his chief bodyguard used to be Shinigami, Pilot 02. And well, that's kinda why you couldn't trace me anywhere."
Whew… I almost slipped there.
Quatre had a curious look in his eyes as he gave me a thoughtful glance, " Hanazawa? Founder of L3s major industry pillars, and renowned business tycoon? I met him a couple of times for business, that is, before his unfortunate death two years ago."
I gulped nervously at that. Damn! Should've have known that Q would've touched base with him a few times.
" That was two years ago…", Wufie pointed out, " Considering that he had died already, I'd have thought that you'd contact us soon after."
Heero zoomed blue eyes on me yet again and finished the line, " But you didn't…why?"
I went quiet at that. Should I tell them? What will they think once they know? What will Hee-… no! I will not think that! Heero and I were never meant to be. Building my hopes up and falling in love with him the second time was just too risky. I couldn't afford to fall in and out of love again. I wouldn't be able to live through that again! I now had other responsibilities… Now, I am not alone.
Having resolved all that by myself, I looked up at Heero and started to answer, " Because…"
Then the door to the blue room banged open.
We all jumped, our hands on our hidden holsters and turned our heads towards the door.
I met eyes, a reflection of my own, except for those few hazel specks.
Talk about good timing.
Looking adorable in denim overalls, Ran scuttled towards where I sat and launched himself on my lap. With a big grin on his face, he rewarded my cheek with a wet, sloppy peck and settled himself comfortably.
Around me, everyone was quiet. You could hear a pin drop.
I first turned to Heero and stared him in the face, " Um…I guess…"
Wufei recovered from his shock and commented with a snort, " I guess this is WHY." Still, he couldn't keep the shock out of his voice.
From my lap, Ran was staring up at Heero and vice versa. Both seemed rather fascinated with each other. I shifted my eyes on Heero and noted with some confusion that familiar pained look on his face. His eyes glittered with some anger but also seemed dull. As if he had lost something. The guy was confusing as hell I tell you!
" You…You…he…", Quatre was stuttering from where he sat, his blue eyes wide and formal demeanor gone. He looked like someone who'd gotten the greatest shock of his life. Trowa, except for the slight widening of eyes, remained collected. A look of uncertainty had entered his face though, and I could see him glance at Heero every few seconds. Strange.
Ran had finally broken away from Heero-gazing and looked at Quatre, big violet eyes blinking at the blonde's stare. Then, he smiled.
" Hi!", he piped. I stifled a chuckle as Quatre gaped.
But it seemed Ran had succeeded in charming the pants off of Quatre Raberba Winner since the blonde was suddenly squatting in front of me and eye-to-eye with my son.
" Hi there! I'm Quatre.", he gave Ran a beautific smile.
" I'm Ran.", my son replied, rather politely I must say. " Are you Papa's friend?", he asked curiously.
Quatre nodded then waved a hand around, " Yes, and so is everyone else here."
The door to the room swung again and Mylene stepped inside. Though not a hair was out of place, she was obviously a bit out of breath. Most probably from chasing my son around the base.
" Duo-sama! Excuse us please!", she breathed, "Ran was just…"
Raising a hand to calm her down, I gave a wry smile, " No problem here Mylene. Go, um…take a break. I'll watch him."
" Are you sure?", she asked me.
I nodded in reply, " Yes, I am. Now go!"
Watching my son's nurse exit the room, I tapped a hand on Ran's head and met his wide eyes. I proceeded to gently reprimand him and chose to ignore the looks the others were giving me. " Behave now. We're not home so you need to be at your best behavior. Remember what Mylene taught you?"
He nodded slowly at me and pouted, " But I was only looking for Papa…"
" I know.", I replied with a sigh, " Now shush. I'm discussing something very important with my friends. Alright?"
He nodded his head, his short braid bouncing at the motion. " Okay."
The guys remained glued to where they sat. Watching as Ran arranged himself comfortably on my lap and closed his eyes.
Glancing to make sure that he wasn't disturbing the boy, Trowa finally spoke, " You didn't tell us you married."
" I didn't."
Heero, to my surprise, pounced at that statement, " You're not?" he remarked with some confusion, " What do you mean?"
I made a face at him and slumped dejectedly on the sofa, " It's a long story."
" I have time.", came his tight-voiced reply.
I looked up and was rather surprised to find his face only inches away from mine even as he towered over my person.
I looked around, noticed the looks on the others' faces and blew my bangs away from my face.
Oooh boy… This was going to be a long day…really long.
I spilled blood and guts in telling them my story. I left some parts out of course. Some things are just… my own.
Funny thing is, I felt numb about it all. I just couldn't feel anything. It was like watching myself from a looking glass.
" So you mean HE's Ran Hanazawa, THE child billionaire? ", Wufei asked in disbelief.
I nodded tiredly, " Yup. He's that alright, and I'm his… guardian of sorts. Technically, I AM his biological father so I do have some say in the matter."
Beside me, Heero couldn't seem to stop gazing at the slumbering Ran (Yes! He's actually asleep now.). His gaze shifted to me and I shivered. He had a soft glow in those blue eyes of his; something I've never seen there before, and it was giving me some strange feelings. Feelings I just felt like I didn't want on my plate.
" He looks very much like you.", he murmured to me and smiled.
I gaped. Wait. Did he really just smile? At me? Shit!
I felt dizzy. He'd changed too much. I was treading on different grounds now and I was just plain confused by everything.
I caught Quatre holding a hand over his chest, his face puckered with worry. Damn! I mentally berated myself. I had forgotten about that space heart of his. He seemed to have latched onto what I was feeling though and threw Heero a sharp look before speaking.
" Heero. I almost forgot. Abdul has been going through the rebel mainframe systems and stumbled on some codes he couldn't break. He's down at the Tech Center working on it and I think he'll need your help on this."
I watched as this bit of information transformed the new Heero into the perfect soldier I knew. Stoic and cold. My eyes followed him as he stood and crossed the room. Wufei had stood up as well to follow after him, muttering something about checking weapons before exiting through the door as well. I almost missed the significant looks him and Quatre exchanged. Good thing I miss nothing when it comes to these guys.
Now, two pairs of eyes studied me and my sleeping charge.
Quatre sighed. " We've missed you, you know."
His sincerity was all in his face and I couldn't help but smile, " I know. So did I Q-ball."
He finally giggled at my playing his nicknames. " I haven't heard anyone call me that in years!", he said.
" That's because Duo's the only one who dares to call you anything else besides Master Quatre.", Trowa remarked deadpan.
He has a point there.
" How old is he?", Trowa asked as he laid his eyes on Ran.
"Going three.", I replied.
"He's wonderful.", was Quatre's dreamy reply.
I watched with some amusement as he threw his tall silent lover a curious pleading stare. The latter on the other hand was doing his best to avoid meeting Quatre's look. I snickered. Ha! In case he drowns in those blue pools and doesn't come up again. These two are just too adorable for words.
" So how have you been doing guys?", I asked. I could see the relief on Trowa's face at my interruption.
" Besides the fact that we've all grown to be taller than you?", teased Quatre. I scowled.
"Just teasing you!", he chuckled.
I rolled my eyes at him, " Well besides that… what've you guys been doing?"
" I'm busy with WEI of course. I've some projects lined up that could last a whole lifetime if not more.", was Quatre's noncommittal answer.
"What about you Tro?"
He shrugged at me, " I'm WEI's head of security. Sometimes I do stuff for Preventers as well."
" Wufei is still with the Preventers… Zechs is his partner, sometimes Heero.", Quatre continued and peeked at me from under his bangs at the mention of my ex-partner's name. I struggled to keep the expression on my face neutral.
We three sat in silence for a while until Quatre decided to break it, " Heero's missed you the most you know."
I looked at him abruptly at that comment, eyes wide with shock and disbelief. Yeah right.
" Don't sugar-coat the damn thing Q.", I admonished, " I realize he must have been pretty pissed since I had led him to think that I would be joining Preventers. I didn't mean to but… I just needed to settle some issues."
Quatre rewarded me with a sad knowing smile. He also wore an exasperated look on his face as our eyes met.
" It's funny.", I murmured, almost too softly for them to hear.
I smiled, " That another war is what's getting us all together again."
The two of them seemed surprised at my comment and went quiet.
" But…", I started. They both gave me expectant looks. I could almost hear them wanting to shout: Finish it!
" It's good to see everyone again… I'm glad."
The command center brimmed with activity. Rashid had been ecstatic with the equipment I had brought over. Apparently, a lot of them were exactly what they needed to re-construct the Leos. I stared down at the bustling world of techs, mechanics and scientists running to and fro across the area. Trowa and Wufei stood beside me. Watching carefully as the mobile suits were reconstructed and repaired by the staff. I could see several of my own staff working alongside Quatre's people. I smiled. I'd never have thought that so many would be wishing to join me in this desperate fight for life.
" By the way, where's Zechs?", I asked, turning my gaze amusedly on Wufei. He had gone rather red in the ears at my question that I almost could not contain my laughter.
" For your information Maxwell…"
"Whatever! Merquise is currently acting as bodyguard for the Queen, if you must know."
I wanted to tease him further except that I glimpsed a tall lean figure with a mop of messy brown hair striding across the tech area below and into one of the break rooms. Muttering my excuses and ignoring the knowing looks that had occupied the faces of my two friends, I swiftly made my way towards the break room. Heero had been avoiding me like the plague since that first day almost a week ago and I hated it. Though I've resolved myself to not make any attachments this time around, I just couldn't live with this not-talking-or-looking-at-each-other… thing. I still consider him a friend and I refuse to lose over…whatever it is that's keeping us from being friends.
I knocked lightly on the door before uncertainly poking my head inside the room. His eyes met mine and I fought to repress that warm shiver I keep having around him. " Hey.", was my weak entrance.
Okay. That didn't go too well. Try again.
I stepped into the room and closed the door quietly. My eyes glued themselves on my boots as I fumbled and played with the buttons of my favorite trench coat.
We stared awkwardly at each other for a moment and then smiled. I relaxed a bit after that and decided to lean on the door.
" You first.", he murmured, still refusing to release my gaze from his.
I shrugged, fighting to stop my fingers from moving," I… I just wanted you to know that I never meant to keep things from you that night… you know, during the party? I… I didn't want to lie to you, so I decided to not tell you everything instead and I'm sorry for that. I looked up to you during the wars you know?"
"Duo…" he interrupted but I cut him off, wanting to forge on.
" Listen! I wanted to be like you so much. I wanted that focus, that strength to just finish the mission and make it. You were perfect during the war… in every way, and I wanted that. I wanted it so much… But I couldn't. I was just different and I had ways of my own. Most of them unconventional, but it pulled through for me in the end. I should've been happy then but something just happened and I couldn't stop it. I wanted to, but I couldn't so I… so I decided to leave and find myself."
Silence met my outburst. I looked and almost jumped since Heero was now right in front of me. Looking down at me with a strange glimmer in his eyes.
" Did you find yourself?", was his quiet question.
I blinked. What was that?
" Did you… find yourself?", he repeated. Is it just my imagination or is his face suddenly closer to mine? Confused, I shifted my eyes back to my feet. They looked more…reassuring.
" In the end, I decided not to find myself for I already had. It just took me some time to accept it. " I gave him a sad smile. " Ironic huh?"
A look of concern and worry filled his eyes and he murmured, "What do you mean?"
I sighed and closed my eyes, " I am Shinigami. And I will always be him."
Memories flowed in my mind's eye. I remembered that last night with Heero and the guys, the night I had decided to start my new life. I remembered Ryuen and those heart-wrenching moments when we knew our hearts had to keep silent, I remember Ran, the first he was in my arms, alive and well. I remember meeting Heero again after five years of absence and that strange warmth about him that scared and lured me at the same time…
" Duo…", Heero whispered.
I could feel his breath on my cheek. He was close. So very close… My lashes fluttered open and I gazed into pools of deep blue.
Then darkness embraced me.
(Flashback 1 – 6 years ago, towards the end of the War)
"Hey Heero! Wait up!" I called after the slender figure walking ahead of me.
He threw me a pissed-off glare but decided to stop walking and give me time to catch up.
"Be quiet.", he muttered at me soon as I neared him. He proceeded to walk on, ignoring me as I followed him closely behind.
On a sudden impulse, I grabbed his arm and swiftly started running through the thick woods, but still mindful of the branches that could hit our face at any given second. Behind me, Heero staggered and sought to escape my grip. I winced as he slightly twisted my arm but kept on. We were almost there. Minutes of running through the woods finally gave way to a small clearing, and in the clearing was a pond surrounded by a bunch of daisies basking under the sun. I had discovered the place while doing some recon and had loved it at first sight.
Releasing Heero's arm, I squatted on the grass just beside the pond and started make ripples with my finger. Behind me, my ill-tempered friend remained quiet.
I don't know how long we remained there. Just basking in the silence. For once, I heard nothing. No screams, no gunshots, no sound of crushed metal, no explosions, just silence. It was… peaceful.
(Flashback 2 – 3 years ago, the Hanazawa main mansion on L3)
" Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness – for then
The spirits of the dead who stood
In life before thee are again
In death around thee – and their will
Shall overshadow thee: Be still."
"Well that's rather grim… don't you think?", Hazel eyes looked at me from behind slim reading glasses.
I shrugged, " It's Poe. Of course it's grim. " I squinted my eyes in an effort to decipher the words in the book on my lap.
Sitting across me in his favorite high-backed chair, Ryuen sighed in exasperation and stood up to cross the room. I could hear him open one of the drawers in the far corner of the study. Seconds later, he returned and halted right in front of me and dropped something on my lap.
He had retrieved a pair of narrow glasses with black rims.
I snorted. " I don't need glasses."
He rolled his eyes at me and settled himself again on his chair. " Yes, you do."
"No, I don't."
"Be quiet and wear the damn glasses."
I squinted. Urrrgghh! Light…too bright!
" Duo… alright?"
I found it quite an effort to even blink. But I did.
I found myself drowning in worried blue eyes.
Heero's to be exact.
"What happened?", I murmured softly. My mouth felt like I'd eaten cotton for breakfast, lunch and supper. Yuck.
"You fainted.", he replied to me. I felt one callused hand cup my cheek.
Still weak, I struggled to sit up from what I now identified to be a narrow hospital bed in the Base's clinic. Heero continued to hover near me. Looking at him, I took notice of the distraught look on his face and his pale pallor. Do I really affect him that much?
" Why'd I faint?", I asked. I almost never get sick so for me to faint was really quite… alarming.
" Stress and a fever. ", Heero replied, " Why didn't you tell us you've been working non-stop for three weeks straight?"
The accusing and concerned glint in his eyes took the breath out of me as it finally registered in my brain that Heero seemed to really care. Care about me. I winced inwardly… no. It was nothing. He had softened enough to be more friendly and warm but that was it. No point in digging up already dead dreams and expectations. And then I suddenly remembered. RAN.
" Ran…" I muttered to myself and fought to sit up and get off the bed. But Heero stopped me.
" I'll get him.", he said and with a parting smile, left me to my own devices.
Geez! What a time to be sick! A war's about to explode, I haven't seen my son… God! I had a lot of work to do!
Suddenly the door to the clinic opened and in stepped a very familiar-looking female doctor, her thick brown braids falling over her shoulders.
" Sally!" I exclaimed.
Sally Po smiled at me warmly and winked, " Well…I haven't treated your injured ass for… well, quite a long time."
I winced. " Right. Just stress and a fever; Heero already told me. Can I go now?", I pleaded widening my eyes a bit. I was rather out of practice but hey! No harm trying right?
She clucked her tongue and glared at me for what was worth, "No. You will stay in bed for the night. Just in case."
I started to protest only to be told to shut up.
" I don't need one less Gundam Pilot.", pointed out Sally, " Not yet and certainly not today."
The door opened again and Heero stepped inside, with the whole gang in tow. Oh Great! Just what I need.
Ran stood beside Heero gripping his hand, violet eyes tearful and watery as it sought me out. Seeing me awake and smiling, he laughed and bounced towards the bed. With an amused smile, Heero lifted him by the elbows and sat him on the edge of my bed.
Damn heart fluttering again. Geez!
"Are you okay papa?", asked Ran with a wobbly smile.
" I'm fine pet. Just tired.", I chuckled, " Were you good while I wasn't looking?"
" I was!", he piped before squirming under my blankets and settling to stay beside me.
"We were rather worried.", Quatre admitted and stepped forward to stand beside the bed.
Wufei rolled his eyes at me, " Would've thought that with a lay-about like you, rest would be the last thing you'd forget."
Mylene and Hayato stepped forward from the door as well. The latter held such a guilty look on his face upon seeing be in a clinic and obviously sick.
" Duo-sama. I should've insisted that you rest before we even decided to go on this trip. It was remise of me and I apologies."
I waved a hand at him and grinned, " Hayato, the time I'll listen to you will probably be the time I conceive and have babies. "
Quatre snorted and struggled to stifle a laugh. Sally and Trowa were doing their best not to smile while Wufei turned bright red. Heero remained impassive but the amusement in his eyes was obvious.
"Now people! Time to leave the patient and let him rest. All of you have a lot of work to do you know! Chang! Merquise is asking that you meet him this evening. Yuy, Barton and Winner, Une just called and wants you in her office pronto. Now go!"
Sleepily, I watched as each of them piled out of the room. Sally was rather amusing to watch; the way she'd drive them away like a hen was fun. Finally, only Heero was left hovering near the door. Casting Sally a fleeting look, he crossed the room again to stand beside my bed and looked down at me. His eyes had that strange warmth again and he gave me a smile I've never ever seen on his face before. It was gentle and lo- No! I will not say it! I won't.
" We will finish that conversation."
I quirked a brow and gave him my most innocent stare.
To my utter shock, he chuckled.
He raised a finger to trace the line of my cheek. His other hand ruffled Ran's head of chestnut hair.
And then he left. A whispered word escaped his lips and me in my weak state, didn't catch it well enough.
I must be imagining things. I thought he'd said the word: CUTE.
Nah. I'm just dreaming.
Sleep came…and I welcomed it.