11-11-2003

Title: #9 Remember
Series: The Holiday Series
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Completed: November 11, 2003
Genre: Yaoi, Angst, Holiday Fic
Pairing: 1x2x1, background 3x4x3
Rated: PG-13
Warnings: OOC, Swearing, Angst
Archives: At Lev's Lair http://www.gwaddiction.com/levlair/ and at http://calic0cat.freeservers.com/ (my site) and at Mediaminer.org under Calic0cat. Anyone with archive permission for my other fics can help themselves.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

Notes: Ninth in the Holiday Series (written for Remembrance Day (Canada) aka Veterans Day (US)). The quotations in the fic are from the poems "For the Fallen" by Laurence Binyon, "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae, and from the song "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg (from the musical _Les Miserables_).

'Thinking'
"Speaking"
*** Time passing or scene/POV change

Author's Notes: Feedback is appreciated.

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The morning was dreary and damp. It had been raining steadily earlier but now it had slackened off to a chill, fine mist that gradually saturated hair and clothing, leaving everyone cold, wet, and miserable. Duo's bangs clung damply to his face. His Preventers dress uniform was heavy with moisture, uncomfortable and not the least bit warm. The damp, grey morning combined with the reason for everyone's presence at the memorial cemetery to create a chill that was bone deep. Duo shivered and tried to keep his teeth from chattering as he recited,

"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home..."

Duo managed to finish the quote without his voice breaking but it wasn't easy. As he laid the floral wreath at the base of the massive Gundanium memorial engraved with the simple inscription "Remember", he bit the inside of his cheek in an attempt to keep his emotions under control. He really hadn't expected to have to take such an active role in the memorial service. And of all the things that he could have been asked to read, that brief poetry excerpt really hit home with him.

Solo would forever be a cocky, street-smart preteen in his memory. Sister Helen's face would never be wrinkled with age. He would never sit down with Father in the church kitchen to enjoy a cold glass of milk and some of Sister's freshly baked cookies... Duo swallowed hard, struggling to maintain his composure as he returned to his position in the line of Preventers on the podium.

***

Watching Duo's face as he walked towards him, Heero wished that they were here as part of the audience, not as an honour guard for the service. Had they been down amongst the crowd, he would have been able to pull Duo into a comforting hug. As it was, they were both on duty and the most he could manage was something very subtle. Once Duo had resumed his place, Heero shifted a fraction sideways, his shoulder bumping against Duo's in a silent gesture of support. The motion was tiny, something that the crowd gathered for the service would never even notice, yet Heero knew that Duo would understand the wish to comfort that it conveyed. The tiny pressure of Duo leaning very slightly into the contact confirmed that.

Relena's voice rang out, clear and firm. "So wrote the poet Laurence Binyon of the First World War. Centuries have passed since then but the face of war has not truly changed. The reasons behind the Eve Wars were no different at heart than those behind the French Revolution, the American Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, or a hundred other conflicts, large or small. And the impact of war cannot be counted in military casualties alone. Nor in the number of deaths as a direct result of battle. Not only do many die as an indirect result of war but all of those deaths have a lasting impact on the lives of others as well. On the lives of friends, of family, of comrades."

Relena moved aside as Une stepped forward. In a slightly strained voice, Une began,

"There's a grief that can't be spoken
There's a pain goes on and on
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone
Here they talked of revolution
Here it was they lit the flame
Here they sang about 'tomorrow'
And tomorrow never came.
From the table in the corner
They could see a world reborn..."

Even as Une's voice faltered, Zechs was moving to take her place. His voice was drawn with sorrow as he continued the quote,

"Oh my friends, my friends, forgive me
That I live and you are gone.
There's a grief that can't be spoken
There's a pain goes on and on
Phantom faces at the window
Phantom shadows on the floor
Empty chairs at empty tables
Where my friends will meet no more."

Smoothly, Relena reclaimed the microphone. "The First World War was supposed to be the 'war to end all wars'. Yet the Second World War began within less than a quarter of a century. The First Eve War ended with the hope that we had forged a lasting peace. A mere year later, we faced war again."

Once again, Une's voice rang out, loud and clear this time,

"Oh my friends, my friends, don't ask me
What your sacrifice was for
Empty chairs at empty tables
Where my friends will sing no more."

Heero flicked a quick glance down to Wufei's position in the honour guard. His face was schooled to impassive solemnity but Heero could see the twitch of tension at the corner of his eye. Wufei hadn't entirely come to terms with his own involvement in that conflict even now; he had admitted to the rest of them that he wasn't quite certain why he had been so readily drawn into Mariemaia's forces. It wasn't as if he'd given peace a chance before deciding that it was flawed; he'd gone almost directly into the ranks of the new rebel army after the peace negotiations ended.

The echoes of Une's voice were still fading when Relena spoke, her voice sorrowful, "The First World War brought tanks and planes and chemical weapons into battle for the first time. The Second World War brought radar and the atom bomb. The Eve Wars brought mobile suits and space cannons capable of devastating a planet. Humankind finds new ways to fight, new ways to kill. In war, Death is the only constant."

***

This time, it was Wufei who stepped up to the podium. In the clear, crisp tones of a scholar, Wufei began,

"In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below."

Duo winced as Wufei spoke, wondering whether anyone was going to walk away from this *without* raking up the most painful memories possible both for themselves and for the others present. He knew that Wufei had to be remembering one particular field filled with flowers as he spoke. The story of Wufei's Nataku - of the reason that Wufei fought - had been shared during their time in prison together. He had shared his own stories, his own reasons, in return. That had been the first time that he had felt he could truly begin to call Wufei "friend".

Wufei's voice cracked slightly as he continued,

"We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields."

Watching Wufei's taut expression as he returned to his position, Duo resolved to make sure that he didn't slip off on his own at the end of the ceremony, at least not before they had a chance to speak to him. He might want the privacy but he deserved to have support at least offered. 'Heero and I have each other, as do Quatre and Trowa. But Wufei's on his own. He should already know that we're here for him if he needs us but it won't hurt to remind him of that...'

"Let us hope that our current peace lasts," Relena said. "No, not 'hope'. Let us *work* to *ensure* that it lasts. It is perhaps too much to expect that there will never be another war. That peace will endure from now on. But it is not too much to hope and work towards that goal. To remember the cost of war and strive to avoid ever having to pay its terrible price again.

"If we cannot entirely eliminate war, let us at least be able to tell our children and our children's children that we have done our very best, tried our very hardest, to do so."

Listening to Relena's speech, Duo realized that she was finally growing up. Part of him was sorry that her innocent confidence in the everlasting power of peace was no more. But the rest of him was glad to hear the maturity in her new message. To hear her acknowledge that peace was not inevitable, that it would require work to maintain it. That it was impossible to expect that there would never again be war.

***

As Relena called for a minute of silence to remember those lost, Heero cast his gaze over all of those assembled on the platform. Everyone there had cause to remember and to mourn those lost, directly or indirectly, to war. To mourn both friends and foes. 'None of us truly enjoyed killing, though there were times when battle rage brought us close to glorying in it... Dangerously close...'

Except, of course, when the heat of battle had faded, the memory of that almost-glorying had remained to sicken them. Remained to haunt their dreams, their nightmares, even now.

'And of course, the faces of those that we killed populate them as well...' That thought had Heero sliding a half-step sideways, bringing his arm into reassuring contact with Duo's again. He wasn't looking forward to tonight at all; the odds were good that they would both have nightmares. A lot of painful memories were being stirred up by today's events.

The minute of silence ended with Relena repeating her reminder to remember the losses, the sacrifices, and to work for peace. Then they were all stepping down from the platform, collecting trowels and bulbs, and moving off to plant them around the base of the memorial and scattered throughout the grounds. Heero noted that although a few members of the crowd wasted no time heading off to the warmth and shelter of their vehicles, most remained to help in the planting.

Heero stayed close to Duo's side as they headed off with their planting supplies. He was cold, wet, and miserable so he knew that Duo would be in an even worse state. 'At least we're off duty now. We'll plant these as quickly as possible and head home. A warm bath, hot drinks, and an afternoon spent curled up on the couch together swathed in blankets sounds like a very good idea right now.'

***

"Heero? Duo?"

'Aw, crap.' Duo bit his tongue to keep from repeating the sentiment out loud. He just wanted to get done and get out of here. He was soaked right through and his braid was heavy with moisture. A whole lot of memories, both good and bad, had been stirred up by the ceremony and being cold made the memories of his L2 years even more powerful.

Reluctantly, he turned towards the owner of the voice. Relena was far from her usual elegant self. Her neat braids were drooping and her bangs were plastered to her forehead. She was evidently just as cold and wet as the rest of them. Duo grudgingly gave her credit for sticking this out to the end. At one time, she would have made her pretty little speech from beneath the shelter of an umbrella then flitted off to give a press conference from someplace warm and dry. Today, she'd toughed it out along with everyone else. No special treatment. And she'd even hung around to participate in the flower planting.

"Thank you for agreeing to take part today," she said politely. "I know that it was - difficult - for everyone involved."

The hitch in Relena's voice as she spoke reminded Duo that she, too, had lost someone very close to the war. Her adoptive father, the only father that she remembered.

"Remembering isn't easy," Duo agreed quietly. "But it's necessary."

Heero's fingers slipped through his own cold, muddy ones and squeezed gently. "We have to remember the past if we want to avoid repeating it. Pretending that it never happened achieves nothing," Heero added.

Relena flicked a glance down at their joined hands and swallowed hard. Gamely, she raised her chin and smiled a bit weakly. "You're right. Pretending achieves nothing. We all have to grow up and face reality eventually. Whether we like it or not.

"Again - thank you for taking part. Now, please excuse me, I have other thanks to extend." With a gracious nod, she turned and headed across the grass towards another cluster of participants.

"She's really grown up..." Duo murmured softly. Relena had pretty much avoided them both ever since Quatre's fireworks party. He really hadn't known what to expect from her. Polite resignation was a hell of a lot better than bitterness or anger.

"She has," Heero agreed. "Finally." There was a definite note of relief in his voice. "Let's finish planting these last few so we can go home."

Remembering his earlier determination not to leave without speaking to Wufei, Duo looked around for him. "Sure. But first I want to make sure Wufei's okay..."

"He's going home with Quatre and Trowa," Heero assured him. "I spoke to him earlier.

"How does a hot bath, hot drink, and an afternoon curled up together under lots of blankets sound to you?"

Duo sighed in anticipation. "Absolutely heavenly..."

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