8-12-2001

'All's Fair..." (2/?)
A "Gundam Wing"/"Tenchi Muyo" fusion fiction
Persephone_Elysian

Another chapter done... And this one is a loooooooong one. Maybe it will help make up for my severe lack of postage over the last month. I have been working though and hopefully I'll have another chapter of Testament out before school starts back up over here (August 22nd).

Story Notes:

This thing is very loosely (and I do mean very loosely in some parts) based on Tenchi Muyo (the OAV series)(and occasionally I steal a character or two from Tenchi Universe...but I'm mostly sticking with Tenchi Muyo here) with the GW characters playing the parts of the Tenchi gang. Some of the relationships of the GW characters are therefore very, very different (as you'll see in this first part).

Thank you to Chele and Keya for beta-ing this first part for me. *I'm looking for another beta reader for this story, if you're interested--please email me.*

Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Wing and its characters. They are the property of Bandai, Sunrise, and their respective copyright owners. Nor do I own Tenchi Muyo and its concepts; they belong to Pioneer and other respective owners.

Warnings: 2+1, eventually 2x1, some humor, angst, and other such wackiness... I'll add more warnings as they apply.

Feedback? Pretty please? With a cherry?

'...' indicates thought

***

 

Chapter One

 

Duo crossed his arms and glared from his rocky perch at the charming scene being played out in front of him. 'In spite of me,' he thought silently, casting a venomous look towards the shrine at the top of the hill.

Winter had given way to an early spring, the snows beginning their slow melt into green shoots. A few wildflowers, more hardy and resistant than their cousins, were making an appearance, breaking the monotony of green with specks of pale orange-rose and periwinkles. There were no cherry blossoms in bloom yet; it was still too soon for that but it wouldn't be long, he thought with a cursory sniff of the air. It was going to be a lovely spring, probably complete with lots of blue skies and breezy golden warm days.

He hated it. He hated all of it. He resented being surrounded by so much beauty and unable to take part in any of it. He resented the unending boredom and hopelessness, the malaise of days unspent, the yearning for freedom that built to a fever pitch offering him no respite. He had endured seven hundred odd years of such days and if he had to sit through one more, he might very well go insane. 'If I'm not there already.'

Catherine walked past him, headed towards the water's edge with a diaper and pained expression in hand. Duo snickered, then huddled deeper into his seat, like some stormy Buddha.

'Why are they here?' He sulked, scratching the side of his nose, more out of bored habit than to satisfy an actual itch. It wasn't as if he could go anywhere else. Oh, no. He was imprisoned here, his physical body trapped by wards and seals, leaving his restless spirit to amuse itself. Which, he reflected, wasn't the easiest task when you no longer possessed a body. Floating around was all well and good, so was being invisible but it really sucked that he couldn't do anything with either. And there were so many practical jokes he could play just given the chance. And physical form, he thought sourly, making a face. He thought about making one at the woman breezing past him again, drippy cloth diaper in hand but then gave up, realizing if she couldn't see it, what was the point?

He sighed, smacking the heel of his palm against his knee, eyes inevitably drawn back to the three humans sitting in his clearing. Okay, it wasn't really his clearing in a technical sense but it might as well been. The natural rock formation that held him sat here and no matter how far he wandered from "himself," he always returned here. It wasn't all that bad a spot, he guessed. Or rather it wouldn't have been, had he the freedom to choose to be here.

Unfortunately, other people thought it not such a bad spot either. Like Catherine and her silly husband. With spring in the air, someone had gotten the bright idea that a picnic was in order. Although he felt no hunger of any kind, Duo's stomach rumbled with the remembered sensation of eating, of the dazzling myriad of tastes that there were to be enjoyed. The first thing he'd do as soon as he got out of this would be to eat a long dinner, seven, no, ten courses' worth of the best cuisine this galaxy had to offer. Well, maybe not the first thing, but it was in his top three of things to do, preceded by kill Trowa and kill Trowa again. He rubbed his hands together with no small amount of satisfaction at the thought. Seven hundred years was a long time to hold a grudge and he'd had a lot of time to think and plan.

Catherine's shouting giggle drew him from more pleasurable thoughts in time to see her being swung around and around by her husband, the man's hands so large around her slender waist that she almost seemed like a child. With her skin flushed and hair charmingly tousled, Catherine was pretty, Duo admitted grudgingly. Although he had no interest in her save for her proximity to Trowa, he would have been blind to miss her. Like those wildflowers out there, Catherine was in bloom, a rose having found its glory early and all the more startling because of that. She was pretty and vivacious and utterly unlike her father. No, Catherine was her mother's daughter.

Duo had strong memories of Trowa's wife, a willow-like woman who had always seemed trapped between one act of graceful motion and another, her dark eyes flashing or softening depending on her mood. He remembered those dappled afternoons she had sat under that same tree Catherine had set their picnic under, painting or stitching for hours at a time, sometimes with Trowa, but often without him. Everyday, sometimes for a space of time as minute as an hour, she had visited this place, and he, resentful of her presence at first, had grown to accept it, even welcome those brief moments. Moments that gave him time to observe her, to break free from the unyielding nothingness of his existence. Her interests had interested him and there had been so many questions he had wanted to ask her, questions that had fallen on deaf ears. Only those gifted could see him and no matter how he might have wanted it, Midii wasn't one of those people, just as Catherine wasn't. However, even that hadn't mattered after a while, the silence nearly companionable as he sat with her, sometimes reading over her shoulder or watching her sketch a dandelion. The years had past and he had forgotten the truth of mortal existence, even as her hair had grown soft with gray against a face that seemed more sunken and wrinkled with each visit. The warning signs had been there and he had missed them.

And then, one day, those visits had stopped. No more paintings, no more books, no more Midii. It shouldn't have mattered. She hadn't been his wife. He hadn't even known her, not truly, not as a person knows a person or a man a woman. He shouldn't have cared but he had. Midii had been his island, almost his, but not. And the loneliness her presence had driven back renewed. Renewed with such a sharp, angry ache that he stayed away from the little one, putting as much distance as he could between them. He wanted no more pretend closeness, no more frustrations at being unable to share or touch or even talk with another being. It was enough to know that Midii's child was growing strong and healthy, her little body and face more like Trowa with little of her mother in those strong features. No, in that respect, she was completely Trowa's. Her hair was darker, more reddish than brown-blonde, but her eyes were the same. Her smile was Midii's smile though, and he felt a pang at seeing it. He wondered if Trowa felt a similar sensation at it. He hoped so. He hoped it hurt him and wounded him but whether it did or not, Trowa kept to himself, eternally serene. Damnably so, in his opinion.

"Treize!" Catherine shrieked, "Put me down. Come on. No, no, no. Don't do that! You know how ticklish--"

The pair tumbled to the ground before his eyes, rolling around as if they weren't that much older than the baby in the carrier under that tree. Duo watched with something akin to wistful jealousy as their frenetic playing slowed then translated into another kind of play. Soft giggles became throaty and lost as mouths met again and again, hands travelling. Duo raised an eyebrow. Evidently, little Cathy had grown up more than he'd first thought.

Not enough though to stop the deepening flush in her cheeks as she lifted herself up and cast a guilty look at the baby carrier. "Treize, we can't-- We--"

Her husband placed a finger against her lips, causing her to fall silent before rising and pulling her up as well with a gentle kiss. Then he tugged her away from the tree, just beyond the clearing and into a thickening swatch of trees.

"Treize, maybe we shouldn--"

Her protests fell feebly, even on Duo's ears and were soon lost as their tense, eager bodies glided through the trees, disappearing into the green. Duo smirked and floated to his feet, off the rock and over to the tree, one hand resting against the bark as he prepared to launch himself off and into the brush after them. After all, how often was he treated to dinner and a show these days? He smirked.

The sound of a rattle and a low gurgle stopped him, dragging his attention backward to meet the beaming grin of a chubby four month old. Heero waved his purple and red ring rattle at Duo then put it in his mouth, gumming it and covering it with saliva. Duo scratched the back of his neck and then with a shrug moved over to sit down next to the blue and white baby carrier. This was the closest he'd been to Heero since that night they'd brought him home. There was something this child, something dangerous and mysterious; like his powers for one and his ability to affect Duo and detect him. Trowa could do all those things, sure, but Trowa was an adult and in full control of his abilities. Uncontrolled power was a dangerous thing depending on who wielded it. Duo wasn't sure he wanted to be around an infant that might accidentally blast him because he was unhappy with his wet diaper.

"Hey, kid," he said, then made a kooky face at him, pleased as the child erupted into giggles instead of wails. "Guess I should be glad you're such a good-natured little thing, huh?"

Heero babbled at him, guttural sounds that might have been mistaken for words had Duo not known that it was too early for that yet. He had learned some things from watching Midii with Catherine. Duo waggled a finger in front of his face, those tiny blue eyes tracking his movements before widening as he leaned in and tweaked his nose. Heero's eyes crossed as he tried to stare down his nose at Duo's fingers. As much as he was loathed to admit it, the kid was cute. Very cute. He'd have to be to keep his parents from killing him all those nights Duo heard him screaming from the woods. He'd learned from eavesdropping, that Heero suffered from colic. While he was sweet and angelic once awakened, trying to put him down was something of a nightmare for his parents. He did not like being left alone and Duo blamed that on Catherine's willingness to pick him up at the slightest sound.

There went those arms again, waving around as if he were trying to flag Duo's attention. Duo shook his head and held his hands up," Sorry, kid. I can't pick you up. You're going to have to scream for Mommy if that's what you want."

Heero's lower lip quivered as his tiny brow ridged and Duo braced himself for the impending explosion. That tiny mouth opened, lips pushing a gurgled sound that soon turned into a bubble of spit that was very nearly as large as half Heero's face. Earlier complaint now forgotten, Heero stared enrapt at the glistening, gooey bubble dripping into faceted colors under the sunlight. His body squirmed as he puckered, trying to push more air into it. The watery bubble wavered, millions of tiny bubbles in that huge one all seeking to expand for that small fraction of a second. Then the pocket burst, spit exploding and splashing everywhere, on Heero, on him.

"Oh yuck," Duo grimaced, wiping at the dampness on his arm. 'This is what I get for standing too close.' He stilled, eyes widening as he studied the bit of baby drool running down his arm, over his wrist and down his fingers, his very solid looking arm, wrist, and fingers. 'What is--' Hesitantly he let his other fingers skim the now slick surface of his arm. Wet. His fingers felt wet. He felt wet. And slimy. That was beside the point, of course. The point was. he felt. Something. Anything.

Encouraged by this, he reached out and buried his hand in the ground beside him, hoping to feel the warmth of sun-drenched earth and the rough of grass. His hand seemed to pale again, touch stolen as if his hands had been wrapped insulated gloves, unable to feel or register sensation. He clamped down on the disappointed cry lodged in his throat, closing his fist and still feeling the dampness of Heero's saliva there.

"What," Duo growled, peering out of the fringe of his bangs at the tiny infant watching him in fascination. "What are you doing to me?!"

Babies, he decided in that instant, had the best poker face in the universe. Heero's sapphire eyes were wide, free of any malice or foreknowledge. If the child were doing anything and he had to be, it was without intent. That guileless face did nothing to lessen his frustration, but he felt some of his more immediate anger die away. Being angry at a babe was about as productive as getting mad at a rock. You could do it, you could expend a lot of energy on it, but when all was said and done, what had you accomplished?

Duo blew a raspberry, the noise loud and apparently funny sounding to the child who after being initially startled, started giggling and clapping his hands together, the action noiseless but nonetheless conveying approval. Duo paused then did it again, this time with more noise and exaggeration. Heero laughed then scrunched his face up and blew loudly in imitation. Duo laughed along with him, genuinely surprised. He reached down and tickled his chin. "Not too bad. No, not bad at all."

Encouraged by his reaction, Duo reached out, brushing his hands under the babe's arms, causing a massive squirming explosion as Heero cooed. "I think someone is ticklish," Duo teased, applying a bit more pressure.

It did not have the desired effect. Instead, Heero grimaced, trying to wriggle away from his touch, his eyes tearing up.

"Oh, no," Duo jerked back his hands which only had the effect of making Heero cry harder. "No, no. Damn it. I mean, no. Not damn it, 'cause you shouldn't hear language like--- Oh hell. I mean."

'What the hell do I do?' Realistically, he should just leave. Cathy would return eventually and Heero might actually cry himself to sleep in the interim. However, he was reluctant to just wander off and let the child cry. No matter how much good it might do the little monster. 'Well, where does that leave me? It's not like I can.' He glanced at his hand again. He had tickled the child, the child could feel him, and vice versa. Could he do something as monumental and inconsequential as pick the boy up? The idea alternately frightened and enticed him. If he failed, it would only serve to crush and frustrate him sooner but if he succeeded.

'One way to find out,' he thought grimly, reaching down again, this time brushing the strap holding the child in the stroller. He gritted his teeth, expecting that strange void of feeling but to his surprise, he felt the woven texture of the black buckle, warm from Heero's body. Fingers moving quickly, before this bit of hope could flit out of his grasp, he unsnapped the contraption and pulled it over Heero's head. His hands fluttered, unsure of how to do this. 'Not like I've had a lot of practice,' he grumbled, before settling on a motion similar to the way Midii had picked Cathy up. He slid one hand underneath Heero's soft, round head and the other under his body, slowly, with extra care, lifting him upward. Heero continued to sob and with his squirming, nearly toppled out of Duo's tenuous grip. Duo tightened his hold, nearly jerking the child against him. This wasn't as easy it looked, he acknowledged. He felt as if he were about to drop or crush the child with each passing moment.

The thought occurred to him as he sat there and juggled the child around in his arms, of just how easy it would be to reach down and snap his fragile little neck. Or to drop him on that all-too-soft head, watch it smash into the dirt, and solve one of his problems. And it would hurt Trowa. The thought of that was almost enough to make him damn the consequences and give into those darker impulses. Maybe he would have had not Heero chosen that moment to turn that trusting watery gaze at him, sniffling as he fisted Duo's robe. Never mind the fact that he was drooling all over Duo or the fact that he was rubbing his runny nose all over the front of Duo's garb. There was just something about that chubby, sadly hopeful little face. Something that against his better judgement caught hold of his hand and refused to release it. Cradling the child with one hand, he reached out, lightly touching his soft fine hair, then down to his tear-stained cheeks. Heero caught hold of one of his fingers in a tight grip, dragging it to his mouth, sucking and gumming it.

"You're too cute for your own good," he informed the little one, but his tone lacked its customary bitterness. The warm weight in his arms no longer seemed as heavy and with each passing moment, he loosened up, his grip no longer a race against the gravity that seemed ready to snatch Heero from him.

With as much gentleness as he could muster, he lowered his body, until he was stretched along the blanket, Heero now lying beside him. Twin fists waved then snatched handfuls of hair and tugged, causing Duo to wince in discomfort.

"Okay, okay. Let go of my-- Owie," Duo grumbled, his head being tugged downward again. He knit his brows and opened his mouth to bellow but then gave up as sparkling eyes grinned at him before tugging again. "C'mon, kid! Duo's hair is not a toy. I -- ouch. That hurts. I have a very tender scalp, you know."

He managed to disentangle one tiny fist but the other held firm, sliding down a bit but still holding tightly to the lock of hair, using it as a sort of leash as if he feared Duo would get up and leave him. So he settled on tossing the rest of his hair over one shoulder and then leaned on his elbow, head lowered just enough to prevent any unwanted tugging. Heero contented himself with rolling the trapped hair around in his grip, causing it to twist this way then that way. 'Evidently, my hair is a fun toy after all,' Duo thought with some amused asperity.

It was amazing how little it took to keep the kid entertained, Duo marveled, after another string of silly faces followed by a few well-placed stomach raspberries. He'd been hesitant about the second until that first high-pitched giggle had touched his ears. Heero liked it and he liked listening to Heero laugh. Duo felt.strange. So light and at ease, his earlier anger gone as fast as a cloud passing overhead. For the first time in years, he lost track of the time, the afternoon growing deeper in when he heard those bushed twitching.

He reared up in panic as Catherine's laugh shattered the warm quiet, his hair slipping out of Heero's hand as Duo leapt up and into the air away from the picnic blanket. Heero's eyes followed him, lower lip trembling before he started wailing again. For him. For Duo. No one had ever done anything like that. Not ever in all the time he could remember.

He hovered, watching as Catherine picked her son up, cooing at him and bouncing him. And try as he might, he couldn't bring himself to turn away or draw closer. Instead he just lingered, watching, wondering at what had happened, at all the strange feelings he felt turning inside him. So many questions, so much he didn't understand except for one thing.

He'd see Heero again. Soon.

***

Time passed as time so often does, running through a sieve, as restless as rainwater and just as muddied. Heero grew and Duo was there with him, every cry heard, every crawl watched and encouraged. He was there when the boy said his first word (which sounded more like 'Duo' than the 'Dada' Catherine insisted it was, or so Duo thought) and he was there to see his first steps, holding out invisible arms to the child. Invisible to everyone but Heero, that was. Time passed but Heero's ability to see Duo remained unchanged. Catherine's home became more familiar and more inviting, although crossing the threshold each time cost him pain, the pain of being condemned to watch and never truly participate in anything. Except in Heero, except in the fascination he viewed the world with. Occasionally, that sense of wonder was contagious and Duo found himself just as excited by events as the child.

They were pals, secret pals, and thick as thieves. Or at least they were as soon as Heero was able to understand what that meant. The days took on a new meaning with Heero running behind him, sometimes stumbling to keep up on his stubby childish limbs. And somehow, at some point, it no longer mattered to Duo that he couldn't feel the sun shining warm on his hair or the wind or even the wet of the rain. His world narrowed to a point beyond those considerations and rested solely in the palm of Heero's small hand.

Days passed, spent chasing butterflies or puppies or playing in the mud. Nothing was mundane anymore, everything had taken on a new meaning for him. As bittersweet as it was, life had taken on a new feel, a new zest and Duo, hungering for it and the connection he had always wanted, snatched at it. A half-life was better than none at all. And Heero's unconditional love was worth more to him than any of those days past. He could not reclaim lost time, but he was learning that there were ways to make up for it.

How long he would have been content to let things run as they were? Forever, perhaps? He still longed and dreamed of freedom but the reasons had changed. The vengeful promises that had fallen so easily from his heart to his lips, stilled for the first time in centuries. He had not forgotten the pain Trowa had inflicted on but he was learning to live with it, to live with scraps of time stolen, each moment savored and appreciated. Moments lived and stored and they went on..

Until those moments ran out.

***

"Dad? Do you have a minute?"

Trowa opened his eyes, the pain of his old legs bent in lotus meditation rushing back at him as he let the world in again. He ignored the stab of pins and needles coupled with the creak of bones as he concentrated on his breathing. In one, out one, in one, out one. The words were no longer needed; he could steady himself after a deep meditation without thought now. It was only there was some comfort in the words, in the ritual and mantra they presented to him.

He had just risen to his feet albeit unsteadily when a loud voice shouted "Grandpa!" and a chubby pair of arms wrapped around his legs, almost sending both of them crashing into the floor. Trowa wavered a bit, his arms flapping about then catching the small body plastered against his legs with a laugh of his own. Winter blue eyes sparkled underneath messy brown bangs, a huge grin splitting his grandson's face. Indeed, Trowa noted with some amusement, there was almost more grin than boy.

"And how's my favorite grandson?" Trowa leaned down and picked up that short squirming body.

"Okay!" Heero shouted, tugging at a string of colored beads around his neck. "I made you a present in school, Grandpa!"

Trowa moved his face back just seconds before the string bead necklace was thrust in it. He had long ago learned with Catherine that not paying attention around children was asking to have your nose broken or forehead bruised.

Balancing the child on his hip, Trowa looped his free hand through the clay and plastic necklace. The necklace itself was rather small, obviously made by one who had no idea of the relevance of size. The bead colors were wild with some bright pinks, ceruleans, green yellow, and even a black one here or there. A magpie would have adored all the shiny glitter glued (and now flaking off in regular snowfalls) to those riotous beads. In short, it was a child's necklace, rather small, the beads strung tight against yellow knotted yarn.

"I made it myself," Heero explained with no small amount of pride. The pride took on a touch of anxiousness as he squinted up at his grandfather. "Do you like it, Grandpa?"

"Of course."

"And you'll wear it?"

Trowa had all but nodded, when the boy leaned, nearly throwing both of them backwards, taking the necklace in hand and started yanking it down over Trowa's head. He winced as the tight string caught his ear but kept quiet as Heero fiddled and twisted until the necklace stretched and Trowa felt his head had acquired an immediate case of rope burn. The necklace slid down after a struggle with Trowa's nose and chin, clinking against the prayer beads around his neck. Heero's concentration-worried face cleared and he dug underneath the layers of his shirt and jacket to pull out a similar strand of beads.

"Now we're just alike, Grandpa."

"That we are, Heero," Trowa patted his head then glanced over the boy's shoulder.

Catherine was watching the two of them, an unreadable expression on her pert features. Her eyes though. Her eyes were reddened, ringed with watery tears that seemed to thicken as they fell on Heero.

"Heero, why don't you go outside for a bit. I need to talk to your Grandpa," Catherine said. "And stay in the yard, okay?"

"Okay, mommy," Heero wriggled and wiggled until Trowa set him down again, his plump legs pumping as he ran past Catherine and out the door, hollering and making plane noises all the way as he stretched his arms out.

"Sorry about that," Catherine apologized. "He's. he's just such a handful these days."

"He's a little boy. They usually are. Would you like to sit down?" Trowa indicated the sagging remains of what had once been his wife's pride and joy. Time and children had worn at it until the springs gave into a comfortable fold, the fabric soft and even fraying in a few places. He'd had several offers to replace the piece of furniture but had turned them down. It was one of the few things of Midii's still in his possession and. Well, perhaps it was just his old eyes playing tricks on him but sometimes he thought he saw her there still, knitting across her lap, that tiny worry line in her brow as she concentrated, the same as Heero had only moments before. Then she would look up and those eyes would seem to smile for him before the couch went back to quiet, whatever spirit there vanishing with the sunshine.

It was a moment he'd experience several times in the years following his wife's death, and the fact that it kept repeating itself confirmed something that he had always suspected. He hadn't bothered to tell Catherine though; she had enough worries without having to wonder if her old man was going senile.

They settled in, Catherine tucking her legs underneath her and leaning her back against the armrest of the chair. Her fingers plucked nervously at a loose thread in the cushions. "I need to talk to you," she repeated.

"So you said. About Heero?"

She nodded, her eyes taking on that watery sheen, the threat of distressed tears visible. He could only wonder what had sent his normally serene daughter into such a state. 'Perhaps I should start coming down to the house more.' After all, it wasn't as if Catherine and her family lived so very far away; it was only just down the hill and near the lake. He could walk that in the space of twenty minutes or less. 'I've become too attached to this place, to this bit of hill and rock.' Maybe, but it had been his home for such a very, very long time, long before Catherine, before even Midii.

He reached over and covered her hand with his, closing around her fingers. She lifted her eyes to his and he nodded. "Catherine, tell me what the problem is. I can't promise I can do anything but I will try."

That seemed to reassure her. She straightened, face a bit more hopeful than it had been moments ago. "Heero just started school."

He nodded. This wasn't anything new. Personally, he hadn't been in favor of sending Heero to school so early even if all his aptitude tests said that he was more than capable of handling the workload. Children deserved the chance to be children, a privilege they were denied all too often these days. He thought that Treize might have agreed with him but Catherine had been so insistent. Those intelligence tests had indicated that Heero was above average for his age and while he didn't disagree with that, he did think his daughter was rushing the child.

"Has he not been able to handle the work? Is it his grades?" Trowa pressed.

Catherine shook her head. "Oh no! Far from it. His grades are wonderful. His teacher said he was the best student, the best reader, she'd ever come across."

"But?"

"But he isn't getting along with the other children. According to his teacher, he doesn't seem to be interacting with any of them," Catherine's voice grew soft with distress. "She . she says he sits by himself. talks to himself as if someone else is there. And when she asks him who he's talking to, he tells her it's his best friend but there isn't anyone there!"

Trowa blinked. "Now, Catherine, all children have an invisible playmate. It's just a phase. As I recall, when you were Heero's age you had a stuffed rabbit you talked to and lugged around. Mr. Floppy, wasn't it?"

"Mr. Flopsy," she corrected, a brief nostalgic grin touching her lips before sliding away again. "That isn't the point, Dad. The point is Heero isn't making any friends. His classmates are ostracizing him because of this. He may not care about now.but what about later?"

"It's altogether possible that this will run its course if you let it," Trowa pointed out. "Heero is a bright boy. He'll soon learn that bringing an invisible friend to school isn't the thing to do."

"I don't think so, Dad. If being teased hasn't changed his mind. Could you talk to him? Please? Make him understand?"

"He's five years old, Catherine. You're asking me to reason with someone who won't understand things the way you see them," Trowa paused. "All right, I'll see what I can do but I think you're over-reacting here."

"Maybe, Dad, maybe but would you sit back and let your child be verbally abused?"

"No. No, I wouldn't," he patted her hand. "All right, let me talk to this wayward grandson of mine. If he's anything like his Grandpa, this may take a while."

***

Heero wasn't hard to track down. Following his mother's orders, he had stayed in the yard, albeit it the very fringes of the shrine house's courtyard. He was hunched down over the rim of the old stone well when Trowa exited the house, his feet dangling above the ground as he struggled for a closer look into the circular blackness beneath him. Trowa surreptitiously hurried over to him, lifting him up and into a more secure hold above the lip of the stones before Catherine had a chance to come out. She was already upset and he doubted that seeing her precious baby hanging over a rickety old well would make her any happier.

"Having fun?" He asked, dusting off one of the rocks and settling on it with Heero in his lap.

"I saw a grasshopper. He was this," Heero indicated with two hands. "-big and he jumped in the well, I saw him."

"And you thought you'd follow him?"

"I just wanted to see. Do you think he drowned?"

Trowa considered it, exaggerating the moment to a fever pitch. "Maybe he's in there now. swimming around like a fish?"

Heero laughed as Trowa made fish faces to go along with his words. "Grandpa. Grasshoppers can't swim."

"Who says?"

"Everyone knows that."

"And what if everyone is wrong?" Trowa tapped his nose.

Heero appeared to think about that one. "But," he hesitated. "How can everyone be wrong? Doesn't someone have to be right?"

"Not necessarily," Trowa sighed. Time to change the subject before he got over Heero's head and forgot why he was out here in the first place. "Your mother tells me that you've been having a tough time in school."

"No," Heero seemed puzzled. "It's easy. I finish my work way before everyone else."

"I meant with the other kids."

Heero seemed very interested in Trowa's hakama, plucking at the edges of it in a fashion eerily similar to Catherine's earlier actions with the couch. Trowa prodded him, lifting his chin. "Hmm?"

"They don't like me," Heero turned his face, so that his chin fell again. The corners of his mouth drooped and he seemed so forlorn that Trowa understood Catherine's agitation better.

"Why not? Were you mean to them? Did you hit them?" Trowa mock-punched his arm. "Or did you steal their food?"

"No!"

"Then you untied all their shoe laces and let everyone trip, right?"

"Grandpa," If Heero had rolled his eyes, he might have sounded more incredulous and sarcastic, but somehow Trowa doubted it. "I didn't do anythin'."

"Maybe that's the problem. From what your teacher has said, you haven't made any effort to make friends with any of your classmates."

"I did try!" Heero protested. "But they all made fun of me!"

"And why," Trowa asked, his voice gentle but commanding an answer all the same. "would they do that?"

Heero fell silent. His young face was pinched and uncertain. Trowa felt an ache at seeing that pained expression on one so young. He seemed so frightened and unhappy, such a difference from the bold, chattery little boy just minutes earlier. "They-they said I'm weird. And stupid."

"And why would they say that?" Trowa prompted.

"I don't know," Heero mumbled, face reddening with his obvious lie.

"Heero," Trowa chided.

" 'Cause." Heero hesitated. " 'Cause they say I talk to myself."

"And do you?"

"No. I-"

"You what?" Trowa prodded him.

Heero really did look afraid now, as if he thought Trowa was going pass the same judgment on him his classmates did. Trowa patted his shoulder and decided to make it easy on him. "You have an invisible friend?"

That twisted pained expression was still there but Heero seemed a bit less wary. "Um, kind of. I mean, I can see him but no one else seems to."

"And what does he look like? Is he a great Samurai? Or is he small and sneaky?"

Heero blinked at him, a slow pleased smile playing at the corners of his mouth, taken in by his grandfather's blatant humoring. Trowa felt almost guilty; almost like he was taking advantage or making fun of Heero in his own way by doing so. "Well, he says he's not a Samurai but he's a fighter. He's even shown me some moves!"

"Really?"

"Yeah! He showed me that if I kick like this," Heero grunted, performing a pretty credible high kick. "And hit 'em like this." More grunting. "No one will be able to beat me up."

"That's very impressive. He must be a very good teacher."

Heero nodded, apparently excited that he was neither being made fun of or treated like a mental patient. "And he's got reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally long hair. It's brown, but not like mine. It's got lots of colors in it-light brown, and blond, and sometimes even red. And he's got these neat leather boots. They go all the way to his knees!"

"And purple eyes! He's got eyes the color of that rock on Mom's desk. What's it called? 'meths.. methyl.."

"Amethyst?" Something unpleasant stirred in the back of Trowa's mind, a sensation of trepidation settling at the base of his neck and moving through his body. A memory, a thought that had not crossed his mind in years, a ghost he thought laid to rest now rising again. "Heero. " He forced himself to remain calm, to not give into the rising anger crystallizing in him. "Heero, tell me, does your friend have a name? I feel strange talking about him and not knowing what to call him."

Heero cocked his head, blue eyes so open, so friendly, and unsuspecting. "Duo."

Trowa kept his face open, inviting but something in him went cold. Not cold with fear, cold with anger. Something of that chill must have translated into his eyes for Heero drew back puzzled. "Grandpa?"

He made himself smile. "I'm all right. I was just thinking that I used to know someone named Duo a long time ago. A very, very long time ago."

"Really? Then you've seen Duo, too!" Heero almost bounced in his lap.

"Maybe I have. He sounds like the same person you've described. Heero," Trowa shifted. "What do you and Duo do together?"

"We-ll, we play together and sometimes Duo shows me some moves like what I showed you. He told me if anyone tried to hurt me at school to use them and they'd leave me alone. And we go exploring together and he talks to me at night until I go to sleep-"

"He's come up to the house?" He let one hand drift to the stones beneath them, gripping one and feeling his knuckles tingle from the pressure.

"Yeah, he's there a lot. Mom and Dad never see him. But he's there and we play or sometimes I'll read to him. He used to read to me but he says I read better than him now," Heero seemed proud of that and that made Trowa grind his teeth all the more. "He's my best friend."

The boy's expression turned wistful and distant. "He's my only friend."

***

Light flickered and glinted off the thin wings of a dragonfly, the delicate insect alighting atop a half-submerged reed. It lowered its body, head inclined towards the water as it padded down the stem. Something moved and the insect froze, wings tensed for flight. A shadow whizzed overhead, the displacement of air causing the dragonfly to rear in alarm before darting away, back towards the safe darkness of the nearby trees.

Duo laughed, spiraling upward through the clouds not daunted in the least by his inability to feel that misty cool against his body. He was in too good a mood to allow it to be spoiled. He lingered, drinking in the sight of dying half-moon and the light it threw so carelessly around the lake painting the water the color of those fireflies hovering around the rushes. The stars were out, tiny flames in the blue night and he felt just a flicker of homesickness at seeing them, a flicker that was doused by the thought of Heero waiting for him probably with ill-concealed impatience in his room. Grinning, he dove downward, skimming over the water.

It was strange this feeling that bubbled up in him at the thought of Heero. He had never felt close to another being. Or felt that loss that accompanied that. He was Shinigami, a space pirate whose name made colonies and worlds tremble in remembrance of all the destruction he had once caused. He had pillaged and destroyed without thought or care. More than that, he'd enjoyed it. And now. Now, he'd trade all of it without thought just to stay with Heero, physical body or no. Before he'd just been a marionette, driven by boredom and sullen resentment at the universe, resentment that he of all creatures was unique, with no apparent race or companion. It was as if he'd just appeared in the universe, some mistake or lost cog not discarded by the rest. He had never felt wanted or needed--not until Heero, Heero who smiled and took his hand with absolute trust, never once fearing that Duo meant him harm. No one had ever trusted him with so much and the feelings it stirred in him--gratitude, for one. And love for another. Yes, he did love that little boy, although it had taken him a long time to realize it. Heero like some Prometheus offering him the gift of emotions, a fire that scorched and warmed him as nothing else ever had. He was content. For the first time ever, he was happy, completely and utterly happy.

The house came into view, still and dimmed for the evening. Nothing new there. These days he waited until Catherine and Treize had bedded down for the evening. It was less complicated for Heero. Catherine was already worried about Heero's performance in school or rather his lack of social performance and Duo was forced to admit, that was his fault more than anything else. He just. Heero was his friend and the days were so boring when he wasn't around. Besides those little monsters masquerading as his classmates were just plain mean. If he had his body, he'd zap one or two of the little buggers. He couldn't leave Heero stranded among those brats and their teasing. Although, Duo relented, it might be better to leave off a few days.maybe even a week. Maybe Catherine would leave off hovering and checking on Heero so much. Even if she didn't say it, it was clear that she felt there was something not right about her child's behavior. That alone had Heero, who generally liked to please his parents, fretful and depressed. If Heero could make friends. even a few friends. at that school of his, that would please Catherine and she'd be off Heero's back. Duo smacked his palm against his free hand. That's what he'd do. He'd help Heero get some friends, Catherine would be happy, and Heero would be happy which would make him happy. Perfect, Duo looped then plunged towards the dock.

Pale yellow light glinted on emerald. Duo couldn't stop himself fast enough, tumbling out of the sky to land in a stunned heap at the foot of the dock. The only thing he could think, the only thing that registered was one thought, 'Not now. Please, not now.' He managed to sit up, skittering back until he clawed his way back into the air, hovering just above the cause of his distress. Green eyes stalked him, cool and merciless under graying brown bangs with arms crossed and face implacable. Trowa. God, how? He'd been so careful. So. 'No, not careful,' something whispered. Not careful at all if Trowa were here, here in this place instead of that shrine he hid out in. Something or someone had tipped him off. Heero? His heart seized up and ached at the thought. No, Heero would never willingly cause him harm. If he'd known. If Duo had told him.

'Not important now.' He backed up, never taking his eyes off the grim figure standing sentinel over the estate. Duo glanced at the house, towards Heero's window. The child was waiting for him. He'd stay up all night until Duo showed up. If he didn't get out of here, he might not ever be able to show up again. Mind made up, Duo threw one last look at the house before turning and fleeing.

And Trowa followed. Around the lake, deep into the overgrown thickets and the rows of now colorless cherry trees, he followed, relentless in his pursuit. This was no simple chase. Duo could only return to one spot and they were both headed that way. Duo stumbled and paused, checking behind him as he lurched through the air, the cave just ahead of him. Part of him wanted to sink into the blissful cover of his stone prison but some small spark of the Shinigami that had been impelled him to turn around and face his pursuer. Adopting the loosest, boldest stance he could, he put a hand on his hip, the other limp at his side as he addressed the one man he hated and feared most in the universe. "Trowa. And here I was beginning to think that the mountain would have to come to the man just to get an audience these days."

"Duo." The word was smooth, even, and it scared the hell of him to hear Trowa pronounce it as such. The same way he'd said his name all those centuries back, just before he'd locked him away in this prison.

"Yeah, that would be me. Or have your eyes gone as rotten as your brain." It was stupid, this baiting but he couldn't help it. Anger or fear, he could give into one or the other but not both and so he chose the anger, refusing to allow himself to appear weak before his mortal enemy.

"You haven't changed at all."

"You have. Looking a little long in the tooth these days, mhmm?" Duo smirked. "Kind of a surprise, you being the young hotshot once upon a time. Those roots have grown deep here, haven't they?"

"Yes," Trowa nodded, still unperturbed. "Deep and undisturbed. Until now."

"Oh? That tree of yours come down with a disease or something? Aww. Really, Trowa, you didn't have to come out all the way out here just to deliver the good news. A card would have done as well." Duo considered that. "Or chocolates. Not that I'd be able to taste them. You fixed that too, if you recall."

"I remember and I had hoped you would learn something in all that time. Instead I find that you are still the same irresponsible, destructive--"

"Oh, you're so sweet--"

"--being I've come across in centuries. but this time, you've targeted my family. My grandson," Those green eyes sharpened and Duo took a step back by the barely veiled anger there. "What? Nothing to say now?"

Duo clenched and unclenched his fists, unable to throw a punch or do anything else. He was defenseless. The only thing that could save him wasn't here, was huddled in an oversized twin bed, waiting. "It isn't like that."

"What is it like, Duo? Did you enjoy being just under my nose, leading my grandson into--"

"No, you've got it all wrong!" He yelled. "I would never hurt him."

Covering his mouth, Duo kicked himself mentally. If Trowa hadn't been sure before, then he was now. "Trowa, please. Just let me explain."

"Explain what? That you've been following my grandson around, making his life more difficult, and worrying his mother sick or that you've lied and convinced him that you're his only friend."

"It's not a lie. He is my friend!"

Trowa shook his head in disbelief. "And now you think to lie to me as well. I am not a child, Duo. And this game is over."

He reached in the folds of his robe withdrawing several slips of glyph paper, raising them to his forehead, his eyes closed in contemplation. Then he started forward.

"What are you doing?" Duo panicked, darting back and to in agitation.

"What I should have done seven hundred years ago, sealing you away completely."

"No, you can't!" Duo rushed at him and nearly screamed with frustration as his body went straight through Trowa. The other man ignored him, ignored Duo's attempts to grab him, to stop him. "Please, you have to listen! I didn't do anything wrong! I wouldn't hurt him. I would never."

Trowa half-turned, his face almost regretful. "I'm sorry. I wish I could believe you but I can't take the chance."

Duo did scream as the first black and white warding seal touched the rock, feeling pain rocket through him, touching and clawing at him. Pain and beyond that, wave after wave of weariness, dragging him towards the rock, back into it. 'Back into my body,' he realized with a start and struggled harder. If he let go, he'd never come back. He couldn't let himself--couldn't . Wailing, he reached toward the rock, trying to rip away the wards and found his hand being sucked inward instead.

"No. No, please," He begged, reaching out in supplication. Surely not even Trowa could be this cruel. The older man stood there, the bright glare from the moon reflecting off his glasses and obscuring his eyes. Had he been that rock, Trowa couldn't have seemed anymore removed from the situation, from Duo's pleas. There would be no help or mercy there.

Hard. It was getting harder and harder to think as his spirit form flowed backward into the rock, seeking the anchor of his body. He felt so thick, as if every particle had become syrup, rolling slow and irrevocably towards its destination. Thicker and stronger, the bonds holding him tightened, a stranglehold dragging him further down, further in. His astral body swallowed by the chipping rocks as if they'd come alive to feast upon him. First, his feet and legs then tugging his back; he flailed, trying to push forward into the sky instead finding himself tied to his rocky prison. He fought, fought with everything he had and ultimately, Shinigami lost.

"Heero!"

His scream, a plea, lifted away from his lips just moments before his head disappeared, sending a shiver down Trowa's spine and causing a sleepy little boy less than a mile away to raise his head in tired confusion. For Duo though there was only a impending sense of speeding, the moon overhead becoming a thousand points of light that filled his dimming sight, a loud angry roar rushing his ears. And then there was nothing.

***End of Chapter One

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