For a Child's Smile / Part 2


The ride was pleasant even though they were all crammed inside the small car. Duo was sitting in the passenger seat, while Trowa and Quatre sat at each of Hikaru's side in the back. Heero glanced at the rearview mirror every once in a while, making sure that his son did not feel distressed by the extreme closeness of strangers. But Hikaru didn't have time to feel any distress. Quatre was leaning over him a bit, helping him out with the robot he was building. The young man seemed thrilled to play the role of an uncle. Trowa also seemed rather content as he handed them the parts from the box, a smile reflecting in his emerald eyes.

A hand sneaked over his palm as he shifted to fourth gear. He looked up, straight into a pair of shining violet eyes. Duo's warm hand gave him a light squeeze before retreating. Heero looked at him, stunned, studying Duo's profile as the young man kept his gaze locked forward, looking out the windshield. The road forgotten, Heero gazed at Duo's firm neck, clad in a white turtleneck shirt. Duo was even more handsome than he remembered. Unconsciously, he sighed.

"We haffta talk." Duo said quietly, his gaze still locked on the windshield.

Heero nodded, returning his attention to the road. "Aa" He whispered back.

But what was he going to tell Duo? He couldn't even bring himself to think about what he'd been through in order to get Hikaru, let alone speak about it to another being. Even if it was Duo. Especially because it was Duo.

There had been something between them in the past. He was a heartbeat away from falling completely in love with the braided young man, his best friend. He wasn't worried because of the fact that they were both males. The issue of gender never even crossed his mind. He followed his heart wherever it led him. But as it turned out, his heart led him away from Duo, to Hikaru. To a son he loved more than anything else in the whole wide world. His life with Hikaru, for Hikaru, because of Hikaru, was all he had known for the past two years. He did not regret it. Not one bit. Not even when he had been used and treated like a whore. Not when his heart shattered one crack at a time whenever raising the child had proved too much. Hikaru broke his heart and then mended it, a thousand times over. So caught in the world of parenthood, Heero's heart drifted away from the love that began to blossom in it so long ago.

And now he was sitting in the small, closed space of a moving car, together with both the objects of his affection. He was confused and anxious to resolve this situation, to talk things over with Duo, but Hikaru came first. Ever since that fateful night when he held his son for the first time, Hikaru always came first. He hoped with all his heart that Duo would be able to understand that.

He parked the car in front of a modest apartment building, pulling up the handbrake a bit too forcefully. He was nervous, but he tried to keep his mind occupied on simple things, like what kind of salad he was going to make for lunch. He got out of the car, watching Quatre hold the door for Hikaru. The little boy jumped out of the car without sending Quatre a glance, holding his robot – now complete – in his hands. The boy did not move until Heero was by his side and the group walked into the building.

Duo and Quatre were chatting about something of little importance as they entered the elevator. Once inside, Hikaru turned to Heero and showed him the robot. Heero smiled and reached for it. Examining the little pieces of gray plastic, he said: "Did you finish it already?"

The little boy shook his head. "I still have to color it."

Heero smiled to himself. Hikaru liked coloring. He bought the boy a large art kit for his birthday, a kit that included everything the boy needed for his artwork: crayons, scissors, markers, watercolors, paintbrushes, glue, drawing pencils, liquid paint, colored pencils... it was the largest kit at the store. By giving him the kit, Heero hoped that Hikaru would understand that he didn't have to hide his hobbies under a mattress anymore.

"That's great," Heero said, petting the boy's hair, "we can get started on it when we get home." He handed him back the robot and they all walked out of the elevator.

Duo was the first to comment about the apartment, whistling in awe and complimenting Heero on the interior decoration.

"I see why you didn't want to tell us about having your own place," he said jokingly, "you didn't want my house warming gift to ruin the décor!"

Heero excused himself to the kitchen while the rest of the guests settled in the cozy living room. The apartment was small, but none complained. Hikaru stood for a moment by the door, debating whether to follow Heero into the kitchen, or to sit with the strangers who knew his fathe—Heero so well. Quatre and Duo were chatting on the couch while Trowa sat on a single armchair, the large gift lying on the floor beside him. He could hear Heero opening the cupboard in the kitchen, followed by the sound of clashing china. He was probably making coffee. That was boring. He looked back at the colorful paper wrapping his gift, and then walked towards the armchair.

Looking up at Trowa, he asked: "Can I open it now?"

The quiet young man with the solemn green eyes turned to him and smiled. "Of course," he said, reaching for the large box. As he placed it on the coffee table, Duo and Quatre paused their conversation and turned to look at the boy.

"Go on," Quatre encouraged, "Open it."

After a short moment of hesitation, the little boy walked to his gift. He placed two small hands on the smooth surface of the box, and then slowly began to unwrap it. He wanted to prolong the moment of anticipation, even though he was dying to know what was the second gift he ever got.

Heero came out from the kitchen with a tray loaded with cups, sugar, tea and coffee. There was no room on the coffee table, since the rectangular box was so big, so he stood and waited patiently for Hikaru to finish unwrapping his gift.

The little boy gasped in awe, his eyes wide, as the present was finally unraveled. It was a HUGE electric road racing set! It had a large racing track to assemble, with loops, S shaped curves, fences, struts, and even a bridge! There were two flashy looking rally cars with REAL headlights and two plunger style hand controllers. It was the coolest thing he EVER saw! Even Heero looked stunned at the sight of the magnificent kit.

"Quatre," he said, somewhat flabbergasted, "you shouldn't have..."

The blond young man dismissed the statement with a casual wave. "Oh please!" he called, smiling for all he was worth, "Hikaru's my nephew, isn't he?"

"Yeah, but you make all of us look like cheapskates!" Duo grunted jokingly. He turned to look at the little boy, who stood marveled before his newest toy. The little boy looked nothing short of adorable as he stood gaping at his present. Duo couldn't help but smile wistfully, for a moment seeing Heero as a little boy. The father and son looked so much alike.

"Help me make some room," Heero asked Trowa, still holding the heavy tray. Trowa reached for the racing kit, surprised when Hikaru used his little hands to help him put it on the floor. Heero placed the tray on the table. He gave Hikaru his mug first, filled with steaming hot chocolate. The child took his beverage and sat down on the floor in front of the kit.

"I'll help you build it after lunch." Heero promised before he walked to the dining table – just between the living room and the kitchen – to bring a chair.

Hikaru couldn't wait that long and while all the adults around him began their silly conversations; he put his coco aside and began pulling out different parts out of the large box.

An hour later, the doorbell rang. Hikaru, who was sitting on the floor surrounded by various track parts, looked up at the door. He was busy examining one of the colorful rally cars; so once he saw Heero get up to answer the door, he returned to his doings.

"Oh! Finally Wu-Wu man has arrived!" Duo declared joyfully, making Hikaru frown. Wu-Wu man? He couldn't help but picture some funny looking man wearing a fluffy bunny suit standing behind the door with a carrot in his hand. Or maybe he was a clown. Alex Milandano brought a clown to his birthday in kindergarten last week. He didn't want a clown in his birthday! They made him nervous because they were so happy all the time.

However the person standing at the doorway was, by no means, a clown. It was a grumpy looking Chinese man with black hair and dark eyes. He was wearing some kind of uniforms, a brown leather jacket with the letter 'P' on it, and in his hand was a small plastic bag.

"Sorry I'm late," he said to Heero who had opened the door for him, "The meeting took longer than I thought and my flight was half an hour late."

Heero nodded, gesturing for him to enter. "Don't worry about it, Wufei, you said not to wait for you."

"Yeah, so I ate the cake all by myself!" Duo called teasingly, grinning. "Sorry Wu-Wu, you'll have to settle for the leftover dog food."

"Maxwell," Wufei greeted with a slight nod of his head, walking into the living room. "It's great to see that you're still a loud mouthed idiot, as always."

"And you're still the same I-got-a-stick-up-my-ass workaholic!" Duo countered back, standing up. He walked up to Wufei and gave him a great bear hug. "Man did I miss teasing you!"

"Duo! You're suffocating him!" Quatre called, stomping his foot childishly on the floor. They were all up on their feet now, greeting their friend. Laughing, smiling, teasing, punching each other playfully. Even Trowa, the quiet one, was hiding a giggle! Hikaru looked at them from his place on the floor, a confused expression on his little features. What a strange family he had!

"Hello," Wufei greeted, finally turning to Hikaru. He crouched before the little boy, his eyes softening as he scanned him from head to toe. When he noted that the little boy was uncomfortable with that kind of attention, he smiled kindly. "I'm Chang Wufei, and you must be the birthday boy, correct?"

Hikaru nodded, sending a short glance behind his bangs towards the plastic bag the man was holding.

"Well, it's nice to meet you, Hikaru." Wufei continued and behind him, Duo whispered something in Quatre's ear, giggling. Hikaru looked at them with a frown.

"I heard that." Wufei droned as if a part of some routine, rolling his eyes. Hikaru turned to look at him, a baffled expression on his little face. He didn't hear a thing!

"Here," Wufei said, his tone soft once again. He handed him the bag. "This is for you."

Hikaru reached for it. His third gift for the day.

"Ohh... did you pick it yourself or did Sally do that for you?" Duo asked teasingly.

Blushing, Wufei rose to his feet. "Maxwell, shut up."

Heero came to sit on the floor next to his son, close enough so that the boy could feel his warmth. Hikaru liked feeling Heero next to him.

"What did you get this time?" Heero asked softly and placed a gentle hand on Hikaru's shoulder.

The boy pulled his third gift out of the plastic bag, withdrawing a small, colorful box. It was smaller than the first two gifts. He opened the box, Heero sitting patiently by his side. In the background, the four guests were sitting together, talking. Hikaru was happy that Heero still took the time to be with him, even when they had so many guests. He was afraid that Heero would stay with his friends all the time and forget about him. He feared that Heero would realize that his friends were more fun than he was. Then, he won't like him anymore!

Hikaru never saw Heero smile at anyone but him, but yet now he was smiling at all these people in their living room. They were special to Heero, he could tell. He never had anything special before but he wanted it so badly! The presents were great, but they weren't special. The moment in the coffee shop, when Duo and Heero were playing with him, felt special enough, but it wasn't something he could keep.

He wanted something he'd always have. His own special thing in the world. Something that was only his, which was meant solely for him. That's what made things special, wasn't it? If they were unique and no one else had them, they were special. And because they were so special, they were supposed to make someone happy, right? If he had something special, he would be happy. He'd love that thing so much!

But what if he didn't deserve anything special? Hikaru wondered, looking down at the box in his hands. He sighed quietly, his blue eyes sad. What if he was really such a bad boy, like the Doctors always said, and he didn't deserve it?

He felt the tears threaten to come, but he fought them. Crying was not allowed. He was a bad boy if he cried. Bad boys don't deserve anything special.

Heero looked at his son, an anguished look in his eyes. The little boy was sitting with his shoulders slumped, holding his gift in limp little hands. He seemed upset, and Heero's heart went out to his little boy.

"Do you need any help opening it?" He asked softly and placed a hand on the boy's frail shoulder. So small his son was, and yet his heart held more pain that his little body could ever contain. How he longed to gather Hikaru into his arms and protect him from the demons that plagued his young soul. However he knew that shielding the boy would not help him deal with his pain. By building protective walls around the child, he will only end up locking Hikaru with his demons. He wanted to help Hikaru deal with his pain; the way Hikaru had unknowingly helped him.

"Hikaru?" he whispered worriedly, brushing a few of the child's bangs aside, "what's wrong?" He tucked a few stray hairs behind the boy's ear and caressed his cheek softly.

The boy shrugged and shook his head, as if shaking Heero's hand away. Heero sighed and pulled his hand back, dejected.

Hikaru opened his gift. It was a sophisticated Gameboy, along with five small discs. Hikaru had seen Albert Nikon play with this in kindergarten once. He said his mommy bought it for him after he had his tooth pulled out at the dentist. Everybody thought that Albert was really cool for having the small computer. Hikaru had been curious about it too, but he was too shy to approach Albert like the rest of the kids and ask if he could play with it too. Now he had one of his own.

And that meant that it wasn't special. None of the presents were special, because other kids had them too.

The little boy bowed his head down and sighed. He really liked the gifts at first, he was very happy to have them, but they... they weren't what he really wanted. He wanted something that will be only his. Only his! Something special.

Heero looked down at the little boy, a look of despair in his eyes. Hikaru seemed to be getting sadder by the minute. What was wrong? What was he doing wrong? Was the birthday a bad idea? Was it too much? He had hoped... he had hoped to see Hikaru smile today. Finally, after all these long months, he had hoped to see his son smile. He wanted to raise a smile on his lips, to see his eyes light up. For a moment, he thought that he'd done it. Hikaru seemed to be warming up to the other pilots. He seemed interested in the presents. But now he was regressing back to his sad and lonely little self. What was wrong!

He often doubted his capabilities as a father, questioning his qualification as a parent to a boy who was so much different than other children his age. Children who, beyond the physical aspect of the thing, didn't have to learn how to smile. Children who would jump excitedly and hug their uncles for giving them such great birthday presents. Hikaru wasn't like that. Hikaru never smiled.

Heero was always threading on thin ice next to the boy, afraid of doing the wrong thing. Afraid of failing him, again and again. It's been a year since he "adopted" his own son, and not a hint of a smile had graced the child's lips. Even today, when he was certain that Hikaru was more or less content, the boy did not smile. In fact, right now, the boy seemed upset. What was he doing wrong? What must he do to gain his son's affection? He didn't want to sink back to the somber mood he felt that morning, but he couldn't help it. A moment ago he caressed his son and the boy pulled away, shaking him off like an offensive thing. His own son, whom he struggled for day and night, brushed him off.

For a year Heero had felt as though he was standing at the edge of a cliff, about to tip over and fall. Now, he was an inch away from going over the edge and plundering into darkness. Today, on his son's birthday.

Trying to keep his act together, Heero hurried to disappear into the kitchen before anyone, especially Hikaru, would notice that he was upset. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a few containers, piling them up in his arms. He had prepared the meal the day before, knowing well that he will have no time for it today. He placed the food in various dishes, some decorative, some simple, and warmed the food. He placed a heavy pot of soup on the stove, the roast beef and potatoes in the oven and the rice and chicken – Hikaru hated beef - in the microwave.

While the food warmed, he pulled some vegetables out of the fridge and began chopping them into a salad. His movements were harsh, the knife landing fast and furious on the cutting board. He needed to vent off some steam without letting his frustration show. This day was not about him. Nothing was ever about him. It was all about Hikaru. The show must go on. He'll keep himself going, despite the mental exhaustion of nineteen years without a moment of rest. He'll keep going, and maybe one day, just maybe, it will be worth it and Hikaru will smile.

He could hear laughter from the living room. The guys were having a good time. It was a small comfort to know that he had managed to bring all of them together again. Who would have thought that he, the most unsocial of the group, would be the one to initiate this reunion?

Looking over his shoulder, beyond the kitchen doorway, he saw Duo settle down next to Hikaru, taking interest in the racing track he was building. Heero sighed and turned back to his cucumber, chopping it brutally. Hikaru never allowed him to play with him. It was understandable, though. Duo was very easy going. Heero was the living proof of how easy it was to open up to Duo. He was aware of how irresistible Duo's charm was, but that didn't mean that it hurt any less. Hikaru preferred the company of a near stranger to the company of his own father. How could it be that after all this time, Hikaru was still rejecting him? He loved him so much! Didn't Hikaru know that?

He threw the small cucumber cubes – Hikaru liked the salad sliced into tiny pieces - into a large glass bowl and then raised the knife high in the air, bringing it down mercilessly on a poor red tomato. The round vegetable split to half under the violent assault. It wasn't fair, Heero mused, listening to the sound of laughter drifting from the living room.

Quatre joined Duo and Hikaru on the carpeted floor; curious to see what kind of track they were building. Duo was busy explaining excitedly to Hikaru about the principles of acceleration, momentum and what it all had to do with the loop he was holding. The little boy seemed dumbfound and confused, for all he cared about was building a HUGE track and making the car race through it. On the sofa, Wufei was sipping tea while speaking to Trowa. The sound of cutting drifted from the kitchen once in a while. It sounded violent. Angry.

Quatre looked up at Duo, his gaze conveying his worry as he looked over at the other side of the track, where Duo sat. Duo looked back at his friend and nodded his head in understanding. He handed Hikaru the loop and patted lightly on his head.

"See where you can make it fit, kiddo," he said as he stood up, "I'll be right back."

Hikaru shrugged and returned his attention to the game. Quatre nudged himself closer to the boy and helped him connect the large loop. Duo made his way into the kitchen.

"Hey," he said softly, walking up to Heero.

The young Japanese man was standing by the kitchen counter, his back to Duo.

Duo inhaled deeply, enjoying the scents of fine cuisine. "Hmm... what smells so good?" He asked and leaned on the kitchen counter, right next to Heero. He watched his friend cut a tomato to small pieces, his eyes concentrated on the task.

"Roast beef and some chicken." Heero answered rather solemnly.

Duo's smile didn't waver. "Really? I didn't know you cooked."

"I have to." Heero muttered, turning away from Duo as he threw the chopped tomato into the bowl. When he placed the cutting board back on the counter, Duo handed him the lettuce. Heero began tearing it apart, and Duo watched, crossing his hands over his chest.

"I'm waiting." He said after a long period of silence.

"For what?" Heero asked, as if ignorant.

Duo rolled his eyes. "For the revival of Christ! What else!"

Heero sighed, throwing the lettuce into the bowl. "I'm just tired, Duo. That's all."

"And yet you still found the strength to karate-chop your veggies!"

Heero gave out half a chuckle but didn't say anything more. He reached for a carrot.

The silence returned to the kitchen. Duo watched Heero's hands work to peal the carrot, his eyes narrowing slightly as he noted that Heero's fingers had become very slender. He had lost a lot of weight since he'd last seen him, though he looked healthy.

"It must have been hard." He finally said, turning his gaze up to look at Heero's face.

The young man sighed but said nothing. He threw the carrot's peel into the sink.

"You could have called, yanno."

"I know." Heero answered calmly, cutting the carrot.

Leaning forward a bit, Duo placed a hand on Heero's shoulder. "You don't have to go through this alone."

"I'm not alone." Came the automated reply.

It was Duo's turn to sigh. "No offense, Heero, but Hikaru's not much of a shoulder to lean on. Too short, yanno?"

That earned him another small chuckle. Heero shook his head and turned to add the carrot into the salad. "Baka."

Duo smiled faintly, as if to confirm the statement. He waited a few more seconds before speaking again.

"You did wonders with that boy," he said, his eyes dead serious, "I can tell."

Heero remained silent. He added some olive oil to the salad.

"I can only imagine what he was like when you first found him. Knowing how you were when we first met, I mean"

"Stop." Heero said, cutting him off. Duo closed his mouth.

"I don't want to talk about it." He muttered, before he returned to spice the salad.

"All right," Duo said, nodding his head seriously, "I can respect that. But can I say one last thing?"

"As if I can stop you..." Heero mumbled, smiling weakly.

Duo offered a weak smile in return, and then looked at him seriously. "The last thing your child needs is for you to give up on him. You mean the world to him, Heero. Maybe you can't see it, but I'm telling you as someone who had the chance to observe things from the side. Your son loves you."

Heero looked up at him, their eyes meeting for the first time since Duo entered the kitchen. There was a helpless, lost look in his eyes. A plea for understanding, for reassurance. For someone to come and sooth the pain.

Duo smiled at him gently, reaching for his hand.

"Nothing would hurt your son more than you leaving him." he said, looking deeply into Heero's eyes, "You're getting through to him, Heero. You must know that. It wasn't easy for me reaching you, but we both know that I did."

Slightly embarrassed, Heero looked away for a moment.

"Looking at yourself," Duo continued, "on what you've been through, on who you've become, can you honestly tell me that Hikaru is a hopeless case?"

Heero looked up at him again, a new radiance of strength in his blue eyes. "No," he said, "I can't."

Duo smiled, proud of his friend. "He'll make it, Heero," he whispered in reassurance, "both of you will."

Back in the living room, Hikaru and Quatre raced against each other on the newly built track. Wufei and Trowa watched the match silently. Even though there was no cheering and no calls of excitement, the atmosphere in the small living room was pleasant. Hikaru sat on his knees, the controller held tightly in his little fist as he watched his green, black and blue rally car race through the track, ahead of Quatre's car. It was the fifth round of the match – the last one – and he was going to win!

He glanced up briefly when Heero and Duo walked out of the kitchen, carrying a set of six plates and cutlery. He realized that they were going to set the table – boring! - and returned his attention to the game.

They settled around the table and Hikaru joined them reluctantly. He sat at his regular seat by the dinner table. Usually the table was much smaller, only for two or three people, but Heero unfolded it and now it was big enough for all of them.

Heero served him his meal first, chicken with rice – because he didn't like beef – before serving the others. When everyone began eating, they complimented Heero for the cooking. Hikaru had to bow his head so no one would see him smirking. They had no idea how bad Heero used to cook before. When Heero first took him in he was the worse cook ever! He couldn't make anything yummy no matter how hard he tried.

"I must say, Heero my man, that your cooking skills have FINALLY improved!" Duo declared happily, raising a glass of water in the air. "A toast, my friends, to the man who has made the impossible possible! Chef Heero!"

Everyone laughed, and Heero scowled, as they all had a toast. Hikaru just looked at them and frowned. For some reason, he didn't like the idea of other people knowing how much Heero had improved. He liked to think that Heero improved because of him. It was something... special, maybe. It angered him to know that those people knew Heero so well, that they knew stuff that he didn't. If they knew about the bad cooking, they knew about a lot of other things. And because they knew it, than it didn't make it any special! Can't he have even ONE special thing! Why did everyone else deserve something special but he didn't! It wasn't fair!

After lunch, Heero made some coffee and brought out the birthday cake. He placed the large chocolate cake in front of Hikaru, and placed a warm hand on his shoulder.

"You have to blow out the candles and make a wish."

Hikaru looked up at everyone, and they smiled at him. He sighed and turned to look at the cake. It had five candles on it, and a sixth one in the middle. Mrs. Goldberg always said that it was there to symbolize the next birthday. Hikaru couldn't help but wonder what his sixth birthday would be like. Will he still be here, with Heero, or would the Doctors catch him by then? Will he have something special by then? Anything at all. . ?

Closing his eyes sadly, the little boy leaned forward and blew out the candles. He wished with all his heart for something special. Something that was just his to love and to cherish. Something that was there just for him. His own, special thing in the world.

Duo and Quatre clapped their hands joyfully and Hikaru opened his eyes. Everyone was smiling. Of course they were smiling. They were supposed to smile in a birthday. There was nothing special about that.

Heero cut the cake and served it to everyone. They chatted happily over coffee, as Hikaru sat silently and ate, brooding.

Late at evening, the small group finally departed. Wufei left first, his job as a Preventer demanding that he'll leave early. Quatre and Trowa were soon to follow; saying farewell with a few hugs and promises to meet again. Duo stayed and offered to help Heero clean up.

The two worked silently as Hikaru watched some television in the living room. The little boy kept sending odd looks at Duo, suspicious as to why he stayed. Duo only smiled in return, which made the boy look away stubbornly. He liked the thought of Hikaru being envious of him. It meant that the boy cared for Heero much more than he let on. Hikaru was very subtle, so much like his father.

At nine PM Heero went to tuck his son to bed. He returned to the kitchen, where Duo was sitting, and offered to make some tea. Duo accepted, glancing at his wristwatch.

"I better get goin' soon or I'll have one hell of a time finding a motel." He said to Heero, who stood by the stove. His back was turned to him as he busied himself with the tea.

"You can stay here," he said, slowly turning to look at Duo, "if you want."

Duo looked up at him, surprised. "You don't mind?"

"Don't be a baka, Duo." Heero muttered and turned back to the stove. "We both knew that I'd offer it eventually."

Duo stared at Heero's back for a second, and then smiled. He followed the young man's movements as he prepared the tea, his violet eyes shining warmly.

"You've changed, you know that?" He said softly, wistfully.

"I supposed I have," Heero said as he served the tea to the table. He placed a teacup in front of Duo, looking him straight in the eye. "Do you mind?"

He received a warm, soft, smile in return. "Not at all."

Heero nodded, hiding a smile, and sat down as well. They sipped their tea in silence. Duo tried his best not to look at Heero all the time, but his eyes betrayed him and acted on their own.

He had missed Heero. He had missed him far beyond the sight of dark unruly hair framing his handsome features. Far beyond the deep blue depths of his bottomless eyes. He had longed to sink in those wild oceans again, yes, but that was not all he had missed.

What he had missed most was the feeling of being next to Heero. There was an air of calm, silent, strength around the young Japanese man. Something soothing, yet intense. Something only Heero radiated. Duo knew that he was not the only one who felt it. Relena had felt it too. Anyone who met Heero felt it. Hikaru must have felt it as well; otherwise, he wouldn't have agreed to stay with Heero.

There was something in the air around him, something only Heero possessed. Something that could assure the most troubled heart. It was something that gave hope to the despaired.

Heero was the kind of person who could make someone feel better just by making a small promise. A promise that felt real. A promise that would surely be kept. It was Heero's confidence, his pure devotion, that made people believe in him. It was what made Hikaru trust him. Duo was certain of it.

Duo knew, without a doubt, that it was that exact 'something' which was helping Hikaru to recover from his hardship. Without Heero, the little boy would have been lost to despair. He would have lost his faith in men's heart. Heero's strength, his love, his devotion, his absolute and honest loyalty to both himself and the ones he loved, was healing Hikaru's heart.

And yet, Heero was not aware of the power he possessed. That ignorance was also his gift, a blessing to anyone who knew him. It was the reason that his actions were so honest, so pure. So real. His motives were always ingenuous and in a way, innocent. That was what made Heero so alluring. So... utterly beautiful.

"I'll go make the couch." Heero said tiredly, placing his teacup on the table. He got up and looked at Duo. "There are some clean towels in the bathroom."

"Thanks man," Duo replied with a smile, "I think I'll take the offer. Space flights always make me feel so sticky!"

Heero smiled faintly in return, his eyes shining tiredly. He showed Duo to the bathroom and then went to fetch some clean sheets.

When Duo came out of the shower, the couch was made, covered with clean white sheets and a thick blanket. A dim light illuminated the small living room, casting soft shadows everywhere. It was raining outside, the rain tapping against the window, which reminded Duo that it was winter. It had been a very sunny day - suitable for a birthday, he mused - but now that the sun had set it was rather chilly.

Heero stood by a large window, watching the raindrops slide down the cool glass. When he noticed Duo he turned and offered a small smile.

"Make yourself at home," he said, pushing himself away from the window, "I'll be in the shower."

Duo nodded and threw himself on the couch, exhausted. With a heavy sigh he turned on the television and began to surf through the channels. It was only 21:45 PM, too early for him to sleep. And beside, he was there for a purpose. He had to speak with Heero. Things have been left unsaid for too long.

Coming back to Earth to see Heero had been a tough decision to make. He hadn't spoken with Heero since the Mariemaea conflict. The last time he had seen him - conscious - was on L3-X1999, when Heero had punched him in the gut before taking off to retrieve Wing Zero. Afterwards he only saw him lying unconscious in a hospital bed, recovering from a series of surgeries that were meant to save his life.

There was never a chance to talk, which was good enough for him back then, because he had no idea what to say. They had sex three times and he still didn't know what it meant. Aside from an act of desperation in need for human contact, he failed to see the meaning behind their actions. And there was a meaning. He knew it. He felt it. He just didn't want to accept it.

His life had been harsh ever since he could remember himself. He spent most of his childhood on the streets. He had witnessed too much death and destruction. Anyone who ever loved him eventually died in his arms. His more adult life – he considered himself to be an adult since he was eleven years old – hadn't been any easier.

After the war Duo found that he was sick and tired of the constant struggle that was his life. He knew he wasn't the only one. The others had their own burdens to bear, Heero among them, but when the war ended Duo couldn't care less. He wanted some time for himself and only himself. That's why he took Hilde's offer to help her in the salvage business. It was a mindless job, a carefree life, which was just what he needed at the time: nothing complicated. No thinking.

He went back to space in the hope to clear his minds from the blood and gore that littered it. He spent hours alone in space, just floating around the colony's structure, trying to merge with the great black nothingness.

It didn't make things better, though. His troubles were still there. Dark shadows loomed over his soul, flooding his being with darkness. It was no wonder he had started drinking. But that too was behind him now.

And all that time, Heero was here, on Earth, still struggling. While he had been trying to run from his problems, Heero had been facing his problems head-on. Raising a son! It suddenly dawned on him! Heero had a son! He couldn't afford a moment to rest, to deal with his demons, with his past, with his jumbled up emotions.

No wonder Heero looked so tired.

Duo looked up as Heero walked out of the hallway, showered, but just as tired as before. His eyes narrowed in compassion as he watched Heero move slowly towards the couch. He probably still had nightmares, night after night. It showed. Now that Hikaru was finally asleep, Heero didn't bother much to cover up his exhaustion, his pain.

As Heero sat down on the sofa, Duo suddenly realized how small Heero looked. Worn-out from life. During the war, Heero hardly spoke about his past, but the little he did let out was not pleasant to hear. There was a heavy burden resting on his shoulders, even now, after all this time.

"You look beat, man." He commented, trying to keep it light. "Anything wrong?"

"Long day." Heero managed a tired reply, gazing numbly at the television. In the pale blue light of the TV screen, the young man seemed even more jaded. There were heavy bags under his eyes; dark circles that made the nineteen year old look so much older. But still beautiful. Always beautiful.

Duo inhaled deeply, taking in the clean scent of soap that Heero emanated. He gazed at him lengthily, flooded with memories.

He remembered the month when they were held captive on the moon base. OZ kept dragging Heero out of the cell to use him as a test pilot for the new suit they were building. They pushed him to the limit, giving him little time to sleep and hardly ever feeding him. Heero always returned exhausted from the tests and he had to force some food into him.

An image of Heero lying curled against his lap, lacking even the strength to breathe, came to his mind. He was sweaty and he smelled bad. His hair was a mess; tangled bangs sticking to his damp forehead. His lips were parched, badly cracked, his skin pale and his cheeks hollow. His blue eyes were closed, trying to finally rest. Seeing Heero lying there, barely alive, was when Duo had first realized how truly beautiful the young man was. Back then, in that dark cell, Heero's beauty shone for the first time. There were no masks; he didn't have the strength to keep them on. Nothing could hide his beauty, his soul, from being seen. And back then, at that awful prison, Duo's heart crumbled before Heero's beauty.

He remembered how he had saved some food for Heero but the other pilot had refused to wake. He moaned in protest, trying to escape into slumber. Duo shook him hard and begged him to eat. After much pleading, Heero opened his eyes and slowly turned to look at him. His large blue, blue, eyes shimmered wearily in the dark, so tired, yet still warm. "All right," he had whispered through cracked lips, smiling despite himself, "just shut up already..."

In that exact moment, Duo fell in love with Heero. He remembered it so vividly it was almost as if he was still there, in that prison, holding Heero's fatigued body in his arms.

He did little to pursue the new emotion during the war. There was never a right time or place. After the fall of Libra, Une arranged it so they (the pilots) could stay in a hotel on Earth, where they could relax and spare no expenses. Wufei refused. Quatre was still in the hospital and Trowa stayed with him; and so Duo found himself sharing a hotel suite with Heero. Neither of them wanted to be alone.

It was strange at first. Just before the final battle on Libra, they lost their virginity to each other. They didn't speak afterwards since Heero went to Libra, to save Relena. Being in the same room with him was awkward, to say the least. They didn't speak. All Heero wanted to do was sleep. Duo was also drained, but Heero slept even more. For hours Duo sat in front of a mute television set, unable to close his eyes, while Heero lay sleeping on one of the beds.

When Heero was awake, he was silent. He didn't speak a word, which worried Duo. He found himself speechless in front of Heero's silence. The first three days after the war were spent in complete and utter silence. The only sound in their suite was the clashing of cutlery when Duo ordered room service and they both sat down to eat.

Heero's hands trembled when he ate. Duo knew that the other boy was certain that the only reason he was staying with him was because of that temporary weakness. Duo was determined to prove him wrong. And he did. He got through to Heero somehow. In a desperate act to reach out to one another, they slept again. Afterwards, they stayed together, not as lovers but as friends.

Now Duo couldn't help but wonder what went wrong. Why didn't it stay like that? The night before the rise of Dekim Barton and Marimaea they made sweet, passionate, love. It had been the third and last time they slept together, and the act felt like it was so much more than sex. Both their bodies were whispering slow, tender 'I love you's.

The morning after, Heero left to find Relena. And when the whole situation was finally resolved, Duo left too. He left Heero lying comatose in a shady hospital room, not even saying goodbye. He just let go of Heero's limp hand and... left. He left him because...

"Is that what you did back then?" Heero's quiet voice suddenly pulled him out of his musings. He looked up and straight into Heero's cobalt eyes. The young man was looking at him with a piercing gaze. The light from the television made his eyes shine eerily.

"That night, in Brussels," Heero continued, "Did you look at me like that before you took off?"

A moment passed silently. Duo swallowed. He couldn't tear his eyes off Heero's.

"Look at you how?"

"Like it hurts."

Duo looked away, ashamed of himself.

"Like you..." Heero whispered, but his voice trailed off. He sighed, taking a moment to compose himself.

"Because if that's true then I..." he paused, his voice faltering, "I don't understand why."

Duo's eyes widened and he looked up at Heero again. There were no words for him to say, except for one.

"Heero..."

The young man shifted uncomfortably on the couch. "I wasn't in any condition to know you were there, shikashi..."(1) he looked away, casting his gaze down, "when I woke up, Relena told me that you've left."

He turned back to face Duo, his features anguished, hurt. "Why?"

A huge lump had formed in Duo's throat. He forced himself to swallow. He looked away, unable to bear the sight of Heero's hurt eyes. No. He had to. Heero had to see his eyes when he told him this. He deserved nothing but the truth from him.

"I guess..." he began, hesitant under Heero's sharp gaze, "I guess that it was very comfortable for me to just... to leave it to Relena." He whispered, looking straight into Heero's eyes. Oh how he wanted to look away when those blue jewels narrowed in pain, but he resisted the urge.

"I wasn't sure how you felt for her, or... or even if you felt anything for me." Duo continued silently. Heero was about to say something, but he stopped him.

"I knew you cared for me as a friend and... maybe... maybe even more than that, but..." he paused, shaking his head wildly, "Ok, I mean, in my defense let me just remind you that two out of the three times we had sex you went off to Relena the next morning."

Again Heero was about to protest, a bit angered, and again Duo stopped him.

"But that was just an excuse. Something I kept telling myself over these last two years, each time I thought about you."

"Duo..." Heero whispered, his gaze softer, understanding.

Duo shrugged helplessly, staring at his hands. "When I visited you in the hospital, Relena said she had everything covered. She said I could go rest. She said I could leave it all to her."

He turned to face Heero again. His eyes begged desperately for understanding.

"She gave me a way out, yanno? She offered an opening and I... I took it." He lowered his gaze, ashamed. His hands began fidgeting. It was hard to look at Heero again.

"I... I figured it would be better. I mean... she's got everythin' to offer you... and you... you seemed to be kinda fond of her, so I... It was easy to tell myself that I didn't fit that equation."

"But Duo..." Heero started again, anxious to speak a few words.

"A stupid excuse, I know. But it was the easy way out! I didn't want to get myself into anything complicated anymore... after all that happened... I... I needed a break, yanno? I had to sort things out. Even if I..."

Duo stopped, catching himself before it's too late.

"Even if you what?" Heero whispered, leaning closer to Duo.

"Even if I..." Duo repeated slowly, turning to face Heero. They were close now. Very close. Their lips were nearly touching.

"Even if I loved you." Duo completed, his lips brushing against Heero's as he whispered the words.

"Do you still..?" Heero asked against Duo's lips, his voice slightly shaking.

Duo sighed, closing his eyes sadly. He leaned his forehead against Heero's, tired all of a sudden. He felt Heero's warm breath brush against him as the other man sighed as well.

"Things are very different now, Duo." He mumbled, pulling away.

Duo looked at him, hurt.

"I have Hikaru now." Heero whispered, his eyes shining sorrowfully.

"You can have us both." Duo insisted, reaching for Heero's hand. Heero pulled away, shaking his head.

"It's not that simple." he said, bowing his head in shame, "You have no idea what I had to do for... for Hikaru... I..." his voice faltered, "I can't. I'm sorry."

Duo sighed, dejected. He bowed his head as well.

"So now what?" He asked, hoping Heero had the answer.

Only silence answered him. He looked up at Heero and his heart clenched painfully when he noticed the tears lingering to Heero's eyelashes, gathering at the edges of his closed eyes.

"I don't know either, Duo." Heero whispered, opening a pair of shining blue eyes. He smiled sadly, helplessly. Almost hopelessly.

Again Duo remembered that moment in the moon base, when Heero opened his eyes and turned to look at him. It was that same look, those same big blue eyes. A grateful look, a final thanks before a final goodbye. Heero had been certain that he would die in that prison. That's why he had acted the way he did. And now he gave him that same look, as if knowing that they will never meet again.

"I'm going to bed." Heero mumbled, getting up heavily. "Goodnight." He said and then walked towards the hallway.

"Heero, wait." Duo pleaded, reaching a hand up as if to pull Heero back to the sofa. Even though he was out of reach, Heero stopped, his back to Duo.

"We can get through this." Duo insisted, looking anxiously at Heero. He heard him sigh. "Can't we?"

"I don't know if I can, Duo." He admitted silently, and then disappeared into the dark hallway. He closed the bedroom door behind him, his hand shaking with emotions. The wild beating of his heart told him that he had done something terribly wrong. He will have nightmares tonight. That was certain.

He felt his way in the dark, searching for the bed. Under the covers, he curled into a fetal position and did his best to disappear. At least for a little while, he didn't want to exist. However like on most nights, there was no escape for him. Soon after falling asleep, he found himself in the center of a dark room, blue lights flashing around him.

Unfortunately, he still existed, standing in the middle of a shady nightclub.

Takatori was throwing a big party for all of his associates. They were members of an exclusive club, a club of wealthy men who shared the same interest. The same perversion. Against his will, he was forced to be a part of that gathering.

Most of the other participants were drug addicts who would do anything for a few credits. Nothing bothered them as long as it was for the drugs. He on the other hand, was forced into it because he was Takatori's whore. A pet. A docile doll that was supposed to follow orders. And he did. Because he had to. He had to get close enough to his owner. He had to find his son!

The club was dark, lighted in blue. The shadows were everywhere but on him. He was kneeling on all fours on a small stage, set in the middle of the room. The crowd was watching him, their eyes everywhere on him. They were cheering.

He closed his eyes to avoid the humiliation, but it was still there. There was no escape, even into the sanctuary of his mind. The crowd's cheering made sure of that.

'Go! Go! Go! Go!'

He clenched his fists and closed his eyes tight, tears leaking down his cheeks.

The crowd cheered.

The tears kept flowing, making the cheering louder. He wanted to die. He didn't want to do this. He tried to picture his son in his mind's eyes. He tried to imagine himself making breakfast and sending the little boy to school. He didn't even know what his son looked like!

'URGH!'

The pain intensified; and the crowd cheered.

He didn't want to see it! He didn't want to be there! The dirty looks, the foul hands! Make them go away!

"Hottoite... Hottoitekure! ...just go away... onegai..." (2)

Their sullied words and fervent calls flooded him, insulting his very being. It hurt!

"Okino..." he cried Takatori's first name, "please... make it stop..."

Sometimes if he begged enough, his owner pitted him and stopped the humiliation. It didn't happen in that party, though. There was too much at stake for the perverted businessman. That night Heero had been tormented like never before.

Duo was watching from the crowd, violet eyes wide with shock and disgust.

"NO! DON'T LOOK!" He begged, the tears blurring his vision. "Yosomi! Duo! Mirunai!" (3)

But Duo still stood there, horrified, watching as he was toyed with on the stage.

And for that, he cried.

In the living room, Duo lay on the sofa, staring at the ceiling. Heero's cries drifted from the hallway, hitting him straight in the heart. He never heard Heero cry before. He had seen his eyes shine with tears, slivery droplets sliding silently down his cheeks, but never did he hear him sob so brokenly.

He was having a nightmare, that was certain. Duo was very familiar with nightmares himself. It was no surprise that Heero had them too. Still, two years have passed since the war. Time should have healed some scars, or at least, made them more bearable. Whatever nightmare Heero was having sounded intense. His heart ached for his friend.

"...no... stop... no more... no more... onegai..." Heero's voice whimpered silently through the apartment.

'I don't know if I can, Duo...' He had whispered just two hours ago.

'You have no idea what I had to do for Hikaru...'

He had a feeling that it had been something of that sort; only he hoped that it was not the case.

"...iiya... iiyada... no. . . " (4)

Duo closed his eyes tight, trying to block out the sound. There was so much pain in Heero's voice, so much hurt. What had been done to him? Why?

"Heero..." the name slipped out of Duo's lips and he opened his eyes. He couldn't lie there and do nothing while Heero suffered. Guilt flooded him, burning in his chest. How long had he been facing these nightmares alone? For how long did he suffer alone at night?

Wasting no more time, Duo threw the blanket aside and ran to Heero's bedroom.

He opened the door slowly and peered inside. A pale trail of light fell from the door and onto the bed. As Duo opened the door further, it expanded, revealing the slender figure lying curled under the covers.

Heero was breathing heavily, his body trembling. A small whimper escaped his lips. The helpless sound echoed in the room and stabbed Duo in the heart. He stepped inside, opening the door fully.

As the light from the door flooded the bed, Hikaru suddenly looked up. His fierce cobalt eyes shone in the dark, pinning Duo so hard he could not move.

Duo halted, taken aback by the sight. The little boy was sitting on the bed, behind Heero's curled form, his small palm petting Heero's hair. The boy was silent, his features blank.

Heero whimpered again, shuddering on the bed.

"Hikaru..." he cried desperately, his fingers twitching against the pillow, searching. "Hi...ka..."

Duo watched, amazed, as the little boy slowly turned to look at Heero and reached for his hand. Heero's fingers clenched tightly around the little palm and his breathing calmed.

Hikaru looked back at Duo. His gaze was intense, as if daring him to speak about the sacred moment.

For a few long moments, all Duo could do was stare at the little boy. The youngster was a fascinating riddle. He half expected the boy to jump like a dear caught in the headlights when he entered the room, but instead the kid looked at him with an eerie calm. So much like his father.

"Doushite..? I-itai..." (5) Heero slurred, his head trashing against the pillow.

Hikaru turned to him again, a compassionate look in his blue eyes. It was the first time Duo had seen them soften. Wordlessly he watched as the child carefully leaned towards his father and wrapped his small arms around him. Hugging Heero's torso, the little boy placed his head gently on Heero's shoulder and closed his eyes.

In a matter of minutes, Heero's body relaxed and he drifted into a peaceful slumber.

Hikaru opened his eyes, his head still resting on Heero, and looked up at Duo.

Duo blinked, coming out of his daze. They looked at one another for an endless moment before Duo smiled. His smile was wide, warm and honest. His eyes shone gratefully. With a slight nod of his head, Duo turned around and closed the door behind him.

Hikaru remained motionless on the bed, holding Heero.

It wasn't often that he came into Heero's room like this. He only did it when Heero cried too loud. He knew what it felt like to have nightmares. Heero always came to his room when he had bad dreams. He wasn't sure if he was allowed to do the same for Heero, but so far the man didn't wake up when he came, so he allowed himself the risk. It was the least he could do.

And now Duo saw him. Will he tell Heero in the morning? Will he sell him out? Duo was a very good friend of Heero's, so he'll probably tell. Then he will get punished for... for doing something wrong. Even if... even if he wasn't so sure if it was wrong. It made Heero feel better. How can it be wrong?

Still, he knew for certain that such actions deserved punishment. When Duo will tell Heero about it he'll hide in the laundry room and that way Heero won't find him.

The little boy looked at the closed door, his gaze troubled. He hoped Duo wouldn't tell on him. He didn't want to spend the rest of his life hiding in a laundry closet!

With a sigh, the little boy turned to look down at his fath—supposed father. The man was sleeping peacefully, exhausted from his nightmare. It had been a very bad one. Hikaru could tell. Heero never cried that hard before. It scared him. It scared him to know that there was something that even Heero was scared of. If such a thing exists, how could Heero protect him?

He better make sure that he could still fit into the closet in the laundry room. He was five now so that meant he was bigger. He'll have to choose a different hiding place if he was too big for that closet.

He stayed by Heero's side for a few more minutes, making sure that the nightmares were really gone, and then climbed carefully off the bed. He exited the room as silently as he came, closing the door behind him.

On the way back to his bedroom he noted that the TV was on, its light flickering softly on the hallway walls. He stopped, looking towards the living room. There was no sound coming from the television, but he could hear Duo's breathing. He stood silently, listening, and after careful consideration began making his way towards the living room.

He stopped at the end of the corridor, looking at the sofa. Duo was sitting slumped on the couch, the remote in his hand as he flipped through the channels. He looked tired and a bit... sad. It was strange to see a person like Duo sad. His eyes shone just like Heero's did when he was upset. It made him feel sorry for Duo.

When Duo finally noticed him he turned to look at him blankly. For a few long moments they just gazed at one another, before a big, fake smile spread on Duo's lips.

"Hey, kiddo," he said cheerfully, "how about some warm milk?"

Hikaru frowned, studying the man's smile. He didn't like Duo's smile. It wasn't real. Heero's smiles were sad, but at least they weren't fake. What was the point of smiling if it's fake? That's even worse than lying. He knew that Duo was upset, so why was he trying so hard to smile? What was the point?

"What do you say?" Duo encouraged, something almost desperate in his eyes.

Hikaru shrugged.

The fake smile got bigger. "Great." Duo said and pushed himself off the couch. Hikaru followed him to the kitchen.

He sat by the kitchen table, his little feet dangling in the air, as Duo moved around the small room, searching for a small pot and milk. The child followed him with his eyes, drawn to the way the strong kitchen light caught on Duo's hair, making parts of it glitter.

The man's braid was messy, nearly falling apart, yet still it danced around him as he moved. It moved slowly, though. Like it was sad.

"Why do you have such long hair?" Hikaru finally asked, looking up at Duo.

The young man was standing by the stove, his back facing Hikaru. He shrugged and turned on the stove.

"I dunno," he said, "It's something I've always had. It's... it's special to me."

Hikaru followed him with eyes as the young man went to the fridge to get the milk. He could tell that the answer, unlike the smile, had been honest.

"It's always been there," Duo continued, pouring the milk into the pot, "even when other things weren't."

Hikaru looked down at the table and sighed. "It must be nice." He mused out loud, hardly noticing that he spoke.

"What is?" Duo asked with genuine interest, turning around to face him.

"Having something special." The little boy said as he turned to look at Duo with a pair of anguished blue eyes.

Just like Heero's, Duo mused.

"Something you always have." Hikaru added quietly, casting his gaze down. "Something that's just yours."

A warm smile touched Duo's lips as he looked at him compassionately.

"What are you talking about, Hikaru?" he asked, taking a seat in front of the boy, "You have something special too. Something so much better than just hair!"

The boy looked up, frowning. "What?" He couldn't possibly mean the presents, right? They were great, but not that special.

"You have your father, Hikaru." Duo said, his eyes warm and serious. "You have a farther who loves you and will always be there for you. Always. That's something very special."

Confused, Hikaru watched as Duo turned away, sighing longingly.

"I'm the one who should be jealous of you, not the other way around." He whispered into the air, like he didn't mean for him to hear it.

Hikaru bowed his head and looked at the floor, confused. Something he'll always have. Something that was only his. Someone who was there just for him.

Heero.

On the stove, the milk was boiling, leaking from the pot. Duo hurried to shut off the heat. Hikaru looked at him, a new sense of understanding in his young blue eyes.

How many times did Heero mess up while cooking, burning the food and then having to clean up the mess? He tried so hard to do things right. He even asked their next-door neighbor, Mrs. Shellywoods, to give him some cooking lessons. He didn't tell him about it, but Hikaru found out one day when Mrs. Shellywoods saw him outside in the hallway and asked him how Heero's cooking was going.

Heero tried so hard for him. He cried alone at night but when Hikaru had a nightmare he was always there to make him feel better. No one made Heero feel better, but yet he tried so hard to make others happy. To make him happy. Suddenly he felt guilty for never trying hard enough for Heero.

"There you go, birthday boy." Duo said, handing him a mug full of warm milk. "Drink up."

Hikaru looked up at the man, tears in his eyes. He could tell that Duo was shocked to see him cry, but he didn't say anything. Hikaru was grateful for that. Silently, he took the mug and bowed his head as he drank.

Duo placed a plate with two pieces of the birthday cake on the table and then took a seat. He sighed lengthily before sipping his milk.

Hikaru concentrated on his own drink. He could feel warm tears slide down his cheeks as he stared thoughtfully at the white liquid. Heero always threw in six blocks of chocolate to make it sweeter. He sighed, closing his eyes sadly. Heero did a lot of things just for him. Special things, like hot chocolate and trips to the park. He knew how to do things just right for him. Like cutting his veggies real small and never bothering him when he closed himself in his room.

"You shouldn't feel bad about it." Duo said, his voice soft and thoughtful.

Hikaru sniffled, but didn't look up. He took a small sip from his drink, also tasting his salty tears. When he was sad, Heero sat with him and petted his hair, never saying a word. No one else came that close. No one was that special.

Suddenly, Duo chuckled and Hikaru looked up to see him smile. "Man! That was some birthday, huh?" He declared cheerfully, not a hint of sadness in his eyes.

Hikaru stared at him, stunned.

"I had so much fun! With all that racing we did... and man, can your old man cook! Who would have thought! Yanno, back in the war the best he could improvise was a space ration smeared on some dry bread! Talk about disgusting! Yuck!"

The little boy stared at Duo, confused by the sudden stream of cheerful words.

"He really improved, I'll tell you that!" Duo concluded with a resolute nod. He reached for a piece of chocolate cake and threw into his mouth. "Yup. No doubt about that!" he said, chewing, "Kinda makes you wonder why, huh? I mean, it takes some sense to figure out you're a bad cook! And with Heero, well, sheesh, I think that bad cooking was in his genes! I wonder what finally knocked some sense in to him!"

Hikaru gaped at the braided young man, speechless and confused.

"Ah! Never mind!" Duo continued babbling, waving his hand dramatically, "Whatever it was, I'm grateful for it! Otherwise that birthday meal would have been a total disaster! Right?" Duo laughed loudly, almost over-acting. His violet eyes betrayed his act, though. They were looking expectantly at Hikaru. Something almost desperate hiding behind the laughter.

Hikaru saw it, but didn't say a thing. He looked down at the half-eaten birthday cake as another fat tear made its way down his face. Blinking away his tears, he smiled faintly.

He had fun baking the cake with Heero. He had fun baking the cake because he did it with... with his... with his father. That's what made it special. Anything he did with Heero was special. Like baking cakes, building a castle, eating breakfast and going to the park. Everything could be special as long as you did it with someone special.

The little boy sniffled and reached a hand up to wipe away his tears. He looked up at Duo, his eyes thankful.

Duo smiled at him softly, a warm shine in his unique violet eyes. This time the smile was real. Hikaru could tell. He could feel the understanding they shared at the moment. Heero was very special to both of them. And for some unknown reason, Hikaru didn't mind sharing his special person with Duo. He knew that he would always have Heero no matter what. He was his father.

"C'mon, champ," Duo said, smiling, "Back to bed."

Hikaru finished his drink and let Duo guide him back to his room. He even let Duo tuck him in and kiss him goodnight. He found that he liked the man's smile, but only when it was real. Duo's smile was warm. Very warm. His goodnight kiss felt like warm honey. Just like Heero's. No. Just like his father's kiss.

Yawning sleepily, the little boy curled under his colorful blanket and slipped into a calm, pleasant, sleep.

When he woke up the next morning, Duo was gone. He walked into the living room, still his pajamas, and saw that the covers Duo used last night were neatly folded on the couch. The apartment felt a little emptier and that's how he knew that Duo wasn't there anymore.

There was a sound of dishes clashing from the kitchen. Hikaru looked up and saw Heero pass by the kitchen door as he crossed the kitchen, heading to the fridge. He could see a pan on the stove. Pancakes by the smell of it.

He walked towards the kitchen and stood silently at the doorway. Heero looked like one big mess. His sloppy sweats were too big, making him look so small, and his hair was all over the place. His features were haggard from lack of sleep. Hikaru could tell that he was very tired. He was so tired that he didn't even notice him coming. Usually he did, and then he smiled. Hikaru had a feeling that after last night's nightmare Heero was not in a smiling mood.

Silently, the little boy walked into the kitchen. He looked up at Heero as the man turned away from the fridge. The young man jumped back a little when he saw him.

"You didn't give me a birthday present." Hikaru stated, looking at Heero with an intense gaze.

"What?" Heero let out, dumbfound. His features were unshaved, and very pale.

The little boy sighed in exasperation. "Everyone else gave me something, but you didn't." He tried to pout; like he knew other kids do, looking at Heero with hurt blue eyes. "Why?"

For a long moment, Heero just stood there, gaping at him. Finally, he sighed and turned to the stove. "I wasn't sure if you'd like it." He admitted quietly, stirring the pancake mixture.

Hikaru stepped closer to him. "Can I have it now?"

Heero paused the stirring, his shoulders tensing. He slowly turned to look at the boy. "Sure." He said, something painful in his eyes. Hikaru didn't understand why it was there. Was Heero afraid that the present was not good enough? Anything he'll give him will be special. Didn't he know that?

No, he didn't, Hikaru realized sadly. Heero didn't know how special he was. He never told him. He thought that it was not allowed. He thought that he'd get punished for it. He thought that Heero would leave him if he did anything wrong.

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Heero would never leave him! He was his daddy! Daddies don't leave their sons!

He had to let Heero know that he loved him. He had to let him know so he won't be sad all the time. He wanted Heero to be his daddy. He knew now that Heero wasn't like the Doctors. He'd known that for a while now, maybe even from the very beginning, but he was afraid to admit it. He was afraid of Heero leaving. But... but that was stupid! Heero was the one who saved him from the Doctors. He protected him. He... he loved him. You don't leave someone you love, right?

He looked up when Heero walked back into the kitchen, holding a large, slender, present.

"Happy birthday, Hikaru," he whispered as he handed him the present.

The little boy allowed himself a smile, knowing that it will stun Heero, and reached for the colorful box. He placed it on the kitchen table, feeling Heero's anxious eyes follow his every move. Slowly, he opened his gift, cherishing each second. This was the most important gift. The most special one. It was a gift from his daddy.

When he finally unwrapped it, his eyes widened in joy. He gaped at the colorful present, speechless not by choice but from shock. It was a HUGE art-kit! It had TONS of different crayons, markers, watercolors, liquid paint, colored pencils... it had EVERYTHING!

How did Heero know? How did he know that he liked drawing so much! How could he know?

It didn't matter why! It didn't matter at all! It was the best gift EVER! He couldn't wait to start coloring and drawing!

Swiftly, he turned around and gave his father a big, tight hug, clutching the man's knees for he was so short.

Caught by surprise, Heero froze, unable to respond as his son hugged him for the first time. Looking down at his child, he could see the little boy was smiling. His eyes were closed, tears sliding down his cheeky face, and yet he was smiling. Hikaru was smiling.

Gravity pulled him down by force and he fell to his knees, his arms dangling limply at his side. His son was smiling... Hikaru was smiling...

Tears began flooding his own eyes. Slowly, he reached up and drew the boy closer to him. Hikaru shifted to hug his neck, burying his little face in his chest.

"Thank you for being my daddy..." the boy whispered, his childish voice shaking with tears.

A small whimper escaped Heero's lips. He drew the boy closer, hugging him tightly. He pressed his face against the top of Hikaru's head, inhaling deeply in an effort to stop the tears.

"No Hikaru..." he whispered softly, "thank you... thank you..."

The child's hug tightened around his neck, his small arms trembling with the emotions racing through his little body. He never allowed himself to feel so much before. It was hard.

"I love you, daddy... I'm sorry I didn't tell you before... don't get mad at me..." he cried, shaking his head against his father's warm chest, "I'm sorry... daddy... I'm sorry..."

It felt strange calling Heero 'daddy', but it also felt right. He could feel deep down inside that he will never call Heero by his first name again. He'll keep calling him 'daddy' until it won't feel weird anymore. He'll keep calling him 'daddy' so he'll know how much he loves him. He'll keep calling him 'daddy' because it was true. Because that's what made him special. That's what made Heero his and no one else's.

"Hikaru..." Heero cried, gathering the boy into his arms like he was trying to swallow him with his body. "I love you too, Hikaru... so much... itsumo..." (6)

This time it was Hikaru's turn to whimper. He fought the sobs that were about to come, feeling them build up in his throat. His father's hug tightened around him. He knew it was okay to cry. He knew that he was safe, here, in his father's arms. He didn't have to hold back anymore. He didn't have to hide anymore. So he cried. He cried hard, the broken sobs tearing out of his chest, out of his very soul. There was a lot of pain and fear to cry out and he shed them all into his father's shirt, letting it soak all of his misery and pain.

"Daddy... daddy..." he cried over and over, shaking his head as he struggled with himself.

Heero held his son tight, his heart breaking at the feeling of Hikaru's small body tremble in his arms. "Shh..." he soothed, petting the child's hair, "I'm here... I'm always here, Hikaru... itsumo..." He promised over and over, kissing Hikaru's messy hair.

Time had no meaning as both father and son remained in an eternal embrace, kneeling together on the kitchen floor. A great load had been lifted from both their hearts, the last few barriers around their souls finally breached. Their love for one another was all that mattered. No more pain. No more guilt. No more fear. Only love. The unconditional love between a father, and a son.

Eventually, Hikaru's sobbing calmed. He drew away from his father, looking at him with glittering blue eyes. Heero smiled down at his son and wiped away the last of his tears.

"You don't have to go to kinder if you don't want to." He said softly, petting the child's hair.

Hikaru sniffled and rubbed his eyes. He shook his head, sniffling once more. "No... I wanna go..." He mumbled, rubbing his eyes with his sleeve. Kindergarten was a part of his routine. He needed the routine right now.

"All right," Heero said, ruffling his hair, "then go get dressed."

The child nodded and ran to his room. Heero hurried to finish breakfast and while Hikaru ate he went to change. They left the apartment hand in hand.

On the way from the car to the kindergarten's gate, Hikaru ran towards his father and held his hand tightly. It made Heero smile, which raised a small smile on Hikaru's lips as well. Mrs. Goldberg was very surprised to see the child arrive with a smile.

"Hello Hikaru," she said sweetly, "did you have a good birthday?"

The father and son exchanged a knowing smile before the little boy turned to the woman. He nodded his head, smiling. Mrs. Goldberg smiled kindly.

"It certainly shows!" She said, laughing good heartedly. She turned to Heero, her eyes shining with pride as she looked at the young father. Heero returned a grateful look, nodding his head slightly. The woman turned back to Hikaru. She noted that he was holding a small, colorful, robot in his hand.

"Why won't you go show your new toy to the other children?" she offered, "I'm sure they'll be thrilled."

For a moment, he hesitated, taking a small step back to hide behind Heero. The young man knelt next to him, holding his hand. "Do you want me to stay?" He asked softly, petting the boy's hair.

Hikaru looked up at where the other children were, then back and Heero. He shook his head and then leaned forward to hug his father. "No," he whispered into Heero's neck, "you don't have to, daddy."

He could feel Heero's heart jump when he said the word. It made him smile. He wasn't the only one who had to get used to speaking and hearing that word. It was somewhat of a comfort.

"I'll see you at noon then." Heero said, pulling back gently. He placed a warm kiss on the child's forehead before standing up again. Hikaru nodded and then followed Mrs. Goldberg into the main hall. Heero stood there watching for a few moments before finally leaving.

He could not believe the sudden change that happened practically overnight. Hikaru, his son... he had changed so much. He knew he had only one person to thank for that overnight change. And he'll be damned if he won't see him before he left Earth.

Early that morning, when he had woken up, he found that Duo was already gone. His blanket was neatly folded on the sofa, a note on top of the pile. In a few short sentences he thanked Heero for the hospitality and told him where he would be staying for the following week. Apparently he had booked a motel room before coming to Earth. The sneaky bastard simply didn't want Heero to know about it. He had planned on staying the night whether he was offered to or not. Heero wasn't mad. It was typical Duo. Stubborn and decisive. There was nothing to be angry about. In fact, he was grateful.

After leaving Hikaru's kindergarten, Heero drove to the motel where Duo was staying. It was a cheap, modest motel, located in the center of town.

It took Duo a while to open the door. He peeked outside and for a few long moments just stared at Heero. His violet eyes were dim and bitter.

"Are you going to let me in?" Heero asked calmly even though his heart was beating frantically. It was one of the many privileges of finally being aware of his emotions.

Duo shifted his weight from side to side before finally unlocking the door-chain.

"Sure." He mumbled, keeping eye contact as he opened the door fully.

He looked like hell, and that was an understatement. His features were tired, haggard and unshaved. His black sweats hung sloppily over his broad shoulders, his hair undone and sticking in every direction. His violet eyes were too dim for Heero's liking. It was almost as if he hadn't expected Heero to come.

Sighing, Heero walked into the room, giving it a quick once-over. It was tidy enough, aside for the bed where the sheets were tossed aside. The TV was on, some soccer game playing on the screen. He also noted the bowl full of sunflower seeds peels and a bottle of liquor sitting on the nightstand by the bed. It seemed completely full.

Duo closed the door behind him and it made a soft 'click'. He slowly turned to Heero, his eyes waiting for him to pass judgment.

"You were drinking?" Heero asked, concerned.

Duo sighed, shaking his head. "No," he said, walking towards the liquor bottle.

"I was going to, but I didn't." He picked the bottle up against the window, looking at the golden liquid glitter in the sunlight.

"Did Q-ball tell you I had a drinking problem?" He asked, slowly turning back to Heero. The other young man looked at him with a flabbergasted expression.

Duo sighed and placed the bottle back down. He shrugged.

"Yeah, well, figures. Q-ball has been keeping quite a few secrets from us, hasn't he? Make me wonder what else the dude knows..."

Heero bowed his head shamefully. "There's a reason I didn't want you to know..."

Duo gave out a bitter chuckle. "Heero, relax. I ain't complaining. I didn't want anyone to know 'bout my good friend Jonnie Walker either. I understand." He picked up the bottle again and gazed thoughtfully at it.

"Q-ball would KILL me if he knew I was holding one of these again..." he mumbled, his eyes narrowing. In a swift movement he turned, and threw the bottle into a near garbage can.

"Lets keep this between us, shall we?" He said humouredly, though Heero found little humor in the matter.

"I'm so sorry, Duo." He said, looking at him with anguished blue eyes. "I had no idea..."

"Just like I had no idea that you were being used as someone's fuck-toy." He said harshly, but not accusingly. Heero flinched in response.

Duo smiled apologetically. "You talk in your sleep." He explained, remembering the sight of Hikaru comforting Heero when he slept. He wanted so badly for Heero to know about it, but he could never betray the little trust Hikaru had placed in him.

Heero's features had paled dramatically, and he bowed his head, trying to hide.

"There's no use blaming ourselves for the past." Duo said with a sigh, dropping down on the bed. He sat quietly for a moment, looking at his shoes.

"I'm glad you came." He finally said, looking up at Heero. "To tell the truth I thought it would take you a bit longer."

Heero sighed, slumping his shoulders. Slowly, he sat down on the bed, next to Duo. He reached for Duo's hand, looking into the young man's eyes.

"It must have been hard for you. I'm sorry I wasn't there to help."

Duo offered him a sad little smile. "I'm the one who left, remember?" He gave Heero's hand a light squeeze.

Heero smiled faintly in return.

"You keep blaming yourself for crap, buddy, and I ain't liking it. You dun haffta worry 'bout me, man. I'm doing fine. Really."

"Shikashi," Heero began, lifting his head up to look at Duo. His eyes shone with both helplessness and pain. "I want to worry about you, Duo. I... I miss worrying about you. I miss you." He sighed, bowing his head again.

"I never had a chance to tell you back then... something always interfered... it never felt like the right time..."

"I know, Heero. I know." Duo said, squeezing Heero's hand after each word. He looked at Heero with a pair of compassionate eyes, violet jewels that shone with love for the man beside him.

Heero turned to look at him, hesitation flickering in his eyes. "Duo, I..." he began slowly, licking his lips, "I... love you."

Duo smiled tenderly, a lovely, joyful smile. The kind of smile that Heero had missed most of all.

"I know that too, silly." He said, cupping Heero's palm in both his hands.

"Otherwise it would have been a whole lot harder to come back."

"So you..?" Heero mumbled, drowning in Duo's eyes, blinded by his heavenly smile. "Do you... still..?"

Duo's smile widened, becoming almost angelic. "Don't be a jackass, Heero. Of course I do." He leaned forward and placed a small, sweet kiss on Heero's cheek. He let his lips linger onto Heero's warm skin before slowly turning to whisper in his ear. "I love you too, Heero. I never stopped."

They leaned forward into an embrace, drawing closer to each other even though it never felt close enough. Heero rested his head on Duo's shoulder, feeling Duo's firm arms wrap around his waist. Duo pulled him deeper into him, engulfing him with his warm body.

"Last night I was... confused," Heero admitted quietly, speaking against Duo's neck. "I didn't think I could handle a relationship right now..." he sighed and turned his head up to look at Duo eyes.

"But I was wrong." He said, trying to convey so much in mere words. "I need you in my life as much as I need Hikaru. It's so hard... to deal with everything alone... You were right, Duo. Sometimes... even Hikaru is not enough."

He bowed his head in shame and sighed. "Sometimes I feel so... alone."

Duo listened quietly, his eyes shining in compassion. He tightened the hug around Heero and kissed his hair softly.

"Heero... you're not betraying your son by saying this." He assured him, running yearning fingers through Heero's fine hair. "Hikaru is only five years old. There's only so much he can do for you..."

Engulfed in Duo's embrace, Heero nodded his head slightly. He reached to hug Duo harder, his fingers also desperate for the contact.

"You don't know the things I... I had to do to... I... I'm so sorry..." He whispered, burying his face in Duo's chest. Images of what had been done to him under Takatori's care assaulted him and he cringed, pressing closer to Duo's firm body.

"Shhh... Heero... shhh... it's okay..." Duo whispered, caressing him gently, "I understand... it's okay... It's in the past now, Heero. It's over... shh..."

Despite the horrific humiliation he endured as Takatori's whore, Heero's body still ached for contact. He ached to feel warm skin against his. The sensation of flesh around him, inside him.

He surrendered to Duo's kisses, letting the other man slowly lay him down on the bed. Their clothes were peeled slowly, delicately, before their hunger for each other exploded. They moved against each other desperately, sweating all of their past misery into the sheets. Duo's hands were all over him, strong, firm and warm. They burnt him with their touch, making him feel desirable again. Duo's touch melted him into the sheets, releasing something both sweet and wild inside of him.

For once, he forgot himself in something intimate, something that was all about him. Something that left no room for other things. For once he felt like he was all that mattered. The bills would come later. Tomorrow. Hikaru would come later. The consequences will be there later. Everything was for later. Right now, there were only he, and Duo.

Their lovemaking was fierce, almost feral. It was the liberation of the past and the beginning of the future. So many wonderful, hopeful, meaningful sensations built up inside of Heero, adding to the eternal warmth that surrounded him from the inside. Everything was finally as it should be.

On Duo's bed, he soared up to the sky, melting into the clouds and then falling down like rain. He landed as softly as a feather, dissolving into the sheets. Sleep engulfed him, warm and pleasant, leaving room only for love and elation. He fell asleep in Duo's arms, warm and content.

Careful not to wake his lover, Duo detached himself from Heero's embrace and headed to the shower. Once done, he sat on a chair by the bed and just gazed at Heero slumber. The light from the window outlined Heero's nude frame, who lay sprawled carelessly under the white sheets. He seemed relaxed, unlike last night when his body was curled into himself to escape the nightmares. Heero's features were lax, finally at peace. His skin seemed warm, smooth and radiant of life. His hair glittered in the soft winter sunshine. His lips were red, wet with kisses. In the heavenly light that flooded the bed, Heero truly glowed.

Duo licked his bottom lip and smiled to himself. He made Heero glow.

About half an hour passed by silently before Heero slowly awoke. He stretched lazily on the bed, extending his long limbs like a sleepy cat. He turned to lie on his back and opened his eyes, blinking against the light. Duo watched him silently, waiting for reality to register with Heero.

"What time is it?" Heero finally asked, his voice still husky from unforgotten lust.

Duo smiled at him gently and approached the bed. "Twelve thirty."

"I have to pick up Hikaru at one thirty." He said, almost disappointed. He sighed and turned to lie on his side, the sheets tangling around his nude body. He looked up at Duo as his lover came to lie down beside him, wearing nothing but a white bathrobe.

They turned to look at each other, smiling. Heero reached for Duo's hand and entwined their fingers.

"Thank you," he whispered, looking at Duo.

"What for?" Duo asked, confused.

Heero smiled shyly, shifting on the bed again. He shrugged. "For wiping the dust off my sexuality..." he mumbled, pulling himself closer to Duo. He rested his head in Duo's lap, inhaling his scent deeply. "For making me feel like me again."

Duo smiled, squeezing their entwined hands. "Thank you for letting me." He whispered back, reaching another hand to pet Heero's hair.

They remained silent for a while, touching each other lightly with the tips of their fingers. Heero turned so he could face Duo.

"You're welcomed to come over for lunch." He offered. His voice was clear perhaps for the first time since their reunion in the spaceport. The burden of pain and sadness had been lifted from his tone of voice. His features glowed, as well as his voice.

"Maybe even dinner, if you like." He added as an afterthought, a smile on his handsome features.

"I'd like that very much." Duo replied, also smiling. He gently brushed Heero's bangs aside. "I mean, now that you've finally learned how to cook, I can take the risk." He added playfully, toying with Heero's bangs.

Heero smacked his hand away. "Baka." He said, his eyes glinting with mischief.

Duo laughed good-heartedly, his burden also lifted. Heero laughed as well, nuzzling his face in Duo's soft bathrobe in an attempt to hide his laughter. He was still shy about laughing.

"Do you think Hikaru would mind?" Duo asked once their laughter calmed.

Heero sighed thoughtfully. He contemplated the question for a short while before answering.

"I suppose that he'll just have to get used to it." He said, turning to face Duo. "Because I don't intend to give up either of you."

"I'm sure he'd understand." Duo reassured him, caressing his face tenderly.

"I hope so too." Heero said, snuggling closer to Duo.


Hikaru walked out of play school, his little backpack bouncing up and down. His head was bowed and his messy bangs swung from side to side as he walked, staring at his shoes. Many children came running out of the door, shoving him aside as they ran towards their parents, screaming excitedly. The little boy looked up, carefully, and glanced at them from behind the shelter of his bangs. He watched as they run up to their mothers and hugged them tight, laughing when they were caressed.

He was about to bow his head down again, to pretend that he did not exist, but then he saw something from the corner of his eyes. He stopped walking and looked up, his eyes wide.

Standing behind the gate, next to a small red car, were Duo and Heero, his daddy. Duo was leaning casually against the car, hiding behind a pair of sunshades. Heero stood next to him, watching the children running out of the gate, his eyes searching the crowd.

Hikaru stood in the middle of the pathway, looking at the two men, as the children around him ran to their parents.

This was the first time that Duo came to pick him up from kindergarten. It was not unusual for Duo to be around his daddy. Duo was around quite often, actually. At first it was weird to have someone new in their apartment all the time, but Duo was easy getting used to. Hikaru found that when Duo wasn't around, the apartment felt emptier. He knew that his daddy felt the same way too.

Duo made them smile a lot. He chased away the dark rain cloud that hovered above Heero all the time. There was only sunshine around his daddy and Hikaru liked that because it made Heero's eyes shine with a bright blue shade. His father's smiles were no longer tainted with sadness. When he smiled, it was still as real as before, but much, much, brighter. Surrounded with so many smiles, Hikaru couldn't help but smile too. He found that there were so many reasons to smile and he regretted not seeing them before.

Watching Sunday morning cartoons with Duo was always fun and it even made him laugh! Picnics in the park with his daddy and Duo were always a reason to smile, especially when they fooled around and chased each other. Duo would always catch him when they played tag and then lift him up in the air and spin him around so fast he couldn't breathe from laughing so much. Sometimes he would scream for his daddy to rescue him from the braided maniac. It was fun!

There were so many things to smile about now that he had a small family. Even though things were not always perfect. Heero and Duo fought a lot, mostly about silly things like washing dishes and spending money on things they didn't need, but the fights never lasted long and they always made up in the end. Hikaru knew that they loved each other a lot. It was a bit strange – okay, more than just a bit strange– because they were both boys, but he supposed that as long as they didn't sleep naked together like on TV then it was okay. Besides, Duo made his daddy happy, he made them both happy, so even if they decided to do something crazy like kissing, he would forgive them. He loved them both very much and he was not afraid to admit it.

Hikaru was not ashamed of his gradually forming family. He drew many pictures of his little family in kindergarten and Mrs. Goldberg hung them next to all of the other pictures the other children drew. Because Duo had such a long braid everyone thought that he was a mommy, but Hikaru corrected them. He didn't want to pretend that Duo was a girl. He didn't feel like he had to. The children made funny faces but he didn't care and just kept drawing pictures of his family because he liked having one. His family was special, unlike any other family in play school. His family was the best because it was special. Because it was his, only his, and he loved it very much.

Looking at his family now, waiting at the other side of the gate, a wide smile spread on Hikaru's lips, lighting his eyes with glittering blue. He waved at the two men and then ran out of the gate, smiling widely. He took his daddy's hand, squeezing it tight, and then reached for Duo's hand as well.

The three made their way to the car, hand in hand, in hand.


OWARI.

1 Shikashi: But, however.

2 Hottoite: Leave me alone; Onegai: Please.

3 Mirunai, Yosomi: Look away.

4 Iiya, iiyada: No, stop.

5 Doushite: Why; Itai: It hurts.

6 Itsumo: Always.