1-3-2004

Title: Life… Really
Pairings: Eventual 1x2, 5+OC's (you'll see what I mean), maybe others
Warnings: Neko-fic, AU, angst., sap, possible lime
Parts 1-10/?
BY: SkyLark
Plot Bunny From: Keiran

 

 

Part 1:

2:46 pm was displayed on the clock at the front of the classroom. Only fourteen more minutes before another day of mind-numbing lesions was over.

As the professor droned on about the reading assignment and its importance for the final paper, the semester's end only a few weeks away, Heero looked out the window just to his left. Even in the accelerated class that he had been enrolled in for, this being his freshman year in high school, he still felt that his time was being wasted.

Heero was at the top of the class, many chapters ahead of his fellow classmates, and already guaranteed a job in his deceased father's law firm once he completed his degree in college after this. Having to attend four years of school, learning things that he already taught himself or had learned from his father, seemed meaningless.

Still, it was a necessary evil to obtain his high school diploma. From there, he would be ahead in his class, yet again, when he went to attend law school.

From the time that he was born, the Japanese youth's parents already had his life planned for him. Heero was to attend private schools all the way through college, have a successful career as a lawyer in his father's firm.

After that, after earning his credibility and own the firm, himself, after his father had passed on. When his father passed away unexpectedly the prior year, his mother took over and made sure that their plans for their son went through.

While he never resented the fact that he never had a choice in what the future would hold for him, Heero just assumed that was life. Even the few friends, the ones he had been allowed to have, had stories much the same to his own. He looked across the room of students to those said friends as he thought of their own situations.

The little blonde of their group, Quatre, was to move on from high school to join his many siblings in their multi-trillion dollar family enterprise. Deemed the light-hearted, friendly one of the four, Quatre easily made friends at school.

It was said by several of the girls in their class that the boy's smile could light a room. Heero had to admit that was true. There was something disarming and warm about Quatre smiled. His loyalty to the friends that he had also spoke volumes of his personality.

Knowing fully well that his friend was prepared for the final paper, Heero watched as the Arabian acted interested in what the professor had to say, taking notes as the man in front continued on. He never was one to act that he was way ahead of where his `intellectual superiors' were headed. Heero had to suppress a bitter laugh at thinking how their teachers were referred to as such, when any one of the four could teach them a thing or two about their lessons.

A few seats beside Quatre sat Trowa, the silent one of the quartet. For Heero to consider the tall brunette `the silent one' said a lot. While most students at their school considered Heero to be silent and hard to approach, he did not consider himself shy, as he did Trowa. Still, not being the talkative ones of their bunch, they had an understanding of each other.

Also like Heero, Trowa was never one to discuss much of his personal life. Only the obvious things that were seen on the surface were ever spoken of. While most girls were turned off by their silence, others were intrigued by it, finding a sense of mystery in them that they wanted to figure out.

Trowa's life was predestined, as they all were. He was to move on to a partnership of his family's ownership of NASA. Currently, the brunette teenager was covering his mouth as he yawned in a rare showing of his lack of interest.

Of all of them, Wufei seemed to have the most control of his life. While he was being led into a career in medicine at his parents' insistence and influence, all other aspects of his existence were left to his own decisions.

Where Heero, Quatre and Trowa had curfews and were not allowed to date, Wufei's parents were notably more relaxed in their rules. Already only five months into their time in high school, Wufei had dated a girl or two, never going far with them as he was still devoted to making his folks proud.

Despite the slight leniency of the powers over him, Wufei's friends never envied him. Actually, they almost felt bad for him. He really could have a look at what he could have, but could never really keep due to his ordained future. The said Chinese youth was obviously only partly listening to what was being said, taking occasional notes as not to draw attention to himself should he appear to not be taking the lecture seriously.

From the time that they were in grade school, Heero's friends, his close neighbors, grew up together. The only reason his mother `allowed' them to befriend her son was the fact that they were all a few houses away from each other. Friends, dates, parties, anything of the kind was seen as a distraction and an unnecessary diversion from the path she had laid out for Heero.

However, Catherine Yuy was not about to fool herself into thinking that she would be able to deprive her son of any kind of social life. So, she did not dismiss his request years ago to meet with the others when they had the time and before he was due home and in bed. After all, if Heero was to be successful in law, he needed to have some experience in interacting with people like himself. Over the years, he managed to become of the brotherhood that they built in time.

Finally, and not a moment too soon, the clock struck at three and the bells in the hallways rung out to announce the end of school. The twenty-some students in the class rose from their seats and gathered their belongings as the professor shouted his assignment to be completed for the next time they met.

Sighing deeply when he reached his friends out in his hall, Heero commented dryly, "Another riveting lesson in cell reproduction." Quatre chuckled at the sarcastic comment and shook his head.

As he leaned against a locker with his arms crossed, Wufei asked, "Well, since we can do our assignments in our sleep if he wanted to, what shall we do before we need to head home for dinner?"

Trowa shrugged and readjusted the strap of his backpack as he replied, "What else do we do? Hang out at one of our houses before our folks break us up. Knowing my father, he'll want to see proof that my assignments are finished tonight. He wants me to attend a business meeting with him tomorrow."

"Another meeting?" Quatre frowned slightly. Thinking it over for only another second, he sighed, "Well, I can't speak, myself. There will be a long conference call and my sisters are anticipating my presence to overhear how they conduct their matters in the family business."

Wufei huffed, "Wonders never cease." When all of our eyes were on him, he stated, "I'm going out to the movies with Summer tomorrow, before I have to meet with the head MD at the hospital for a private lesson." Making such announcements of his restrained freedom was never to make the others jealous, but merely stating the facts.

At that, Heero inquired, "I thought that you broke up with Summer a few weeks ago. You said that she was becoming too `clingy.'"

"Yea, well, the Freshman dance is coming up soon and I felt bad that she would have been stuck without a date," the Chinese teenager admitted. "I am just taking her out tomorrow to make it up to her. She knows that we're just going as friends."

Quatre finally smiled brightly, "My mom and dad just gave me permission to go to the dance. I have to start asking around for a date, myself, since I wasn't planning on going."

Even Trowa smirked, "You won't have any problem. You have quite the fan club of girls around here. As for myself, I am thinking of asking Midi." Heero couldn't help the surprise in his widened eyes as he looked to his tall friend. Noticing the shock, Trowa nodded, "Yes, my parents are actually allowing me to go as well."

All three of Heero's friends turned to him then, expectant looks on their faces. With a shrug of indifference, the Japanese student advised, "There is a board meeting for the firm that my mom is expecting me to attend that night."

It really wasn't a disappointment to him. He never attended a dance before, so who should he have any regrets in not being to attend this one? In a way, he thought that by the others all attending, they might end up wishing that they hadn't, seeing what they had been missing out on. No, Heero was certain that he would not miss out on such an event. Still, he added, "Just don't tell me anything about it when it's over." Understanding was in his comrades' eyes as they all nodded.

This was life. This was all there was to it.

* * * * * *

Having agreed on staying at Quatre's house before dinner, the band of brothers sat around, just talking about their plans for the evening. No surprise to any of them, they all had chores and work on their assignments that they wanted to get done. It was the same every night. From there, they would go to bed and go about their arrangements the following day. Nothing different from how it had been from the time they were in the eighth grade.

Quatre finished his soda and lied the can on the table. A mechanical bark filled the air as his pet entered the room. The robotic puppy panted and his tail wagged excitedly as he looked up to his master. Smiling warmly, the Arabian patted the couch cushion beside him as he said, "Come on up, Treize." With an excited yelp, the silver pet bounced beside him.

"I still say that's a weird name to give that dog," Wufei commented from where he was watching television on the floor.

Giving the metallic animal shaped as a beagle a pat on the head, Quatre smiled, "He doesn't seem to mind it." Understanding what his owner was saying, the pup barked again, his voice echoing as a voice speaking into a tin can would.

In this day and age, owning actual animals as pets seemed to be a dying thing. The new age of the future was leading to pets made of wire and metal. They could understand what was being said by the people around them, they could only obey orders, and they were able to do chores within their abilities.

For wealthy families like the four young men had, these metallic pets were becoming the `must have' items on the list for many years now. It was only the less fortunate families, middle-class and lower, who owned actual pets with fur, hearts and minds of their own.

Treize snuggled into Quatre's lap and sighed in content. Trowa chuckled deeply and shook his head as the pup growled over at Wufei's direction. The Chinese boy just glared in response. "You forgot all too soon that he knows everything you're saying, Wufei. He might chew up your shoes sitting in the doorway before you leave," the tall brunette warned with a smirk on his face.

At that, Treize sat up with slightly widened eyes, as if to say that that was a great idea. Wufei snapped his head in the direction of the puppy with another glare as he yelled, "Don't even think about it!"

Quatre's head fell back as he laughed loudly. The silver beagle just settled back in his master's lap, smiling as much as a dog could. "He would never think of doing such a thing," the blonde reassured his friend as he pat the beagle's head again. "Would you, Treize?" he asked the `animal' before it gave a single bark as if to give an affirmative.

From where he watched the exchange on the other side of the room on another couch, Heero shook his head. He looked to the metal dog and sighed deeply. Despite the fact that he and his mother were more than well off, Heero was the only of the four who did not own a robotic pet.

While he could see that there were advantages to having such a pet, it somehow seemed… empty to him. He always thought that owning a pet would have to come with some of the challenges of having another mind to adjust to.

These robot pets were, for lack of better words, too perfect. Of course, they could always come in handy with chores and such, but they were not programmed to do anything but obey and follow orders. In a way… it reminded him too much of himself.

Again, he was not complaining about his life in the least. He would have riches than few could compare to, own anything he ever wanted or dreamed of, travel wherever he wished, a wonderful career in law. He was not upset that his parents planned all of this for him, his life and his future. They were only looking out for his wellbeing.

But any kind of comparison that he could make to himself, that might make him think differently, was quickly pushed aside, never to be dealt with. He would stay happy that way. He had been happy by behaving as such for many a year now. At the young age of fifteen now, he could not allow himself to let his mind drift from his parents' well-designed plans.

Rising from the sofa, he stretched and announced, "I should be heading back. I'm sure that Noin will be finishing dinner soon." The young woman had worked for his mother as their maid since his father passed on. Her dinners were always on time, the same time every night. She was always good to count on for that.

"How long will your mother be away on business, Heero?" Quatre asked as he watched the other walk towards the door.

Pausing to look back at him, the unruly-haired boy shrugged and answered, "She left this morning and isn't due back until around this time next week."

The Arabian smiled, "Well, if you'd like to stay here for a night or two for a change, I know that my family would not have a problem with that. It's not that often we get to stay over one of our places for a change in pace."

With a nod, Trowa added, "You're always welcome at my house, too. I could also go for a change." Wufei chimed in his own open invitation to staying with his and his family as well, if he would like.

Giving them a small grin, Heero raised his hand and replied, "Thanks, guys. I'll have to see if my mother left me any of her own assignments for me to finish while she is gone. But I'll definitely consider the invitations if I am available." Saying his good-byes to his friends, he stepped out of the house.

* * * * * *

After walking the two blocks to his own place from Quatre's, Heero made his way up the front steps to the large deck. The ornately designed front door never so much as squeaked as he opened it, after pressing his hand to the identification panel.

As the door opened for him, a woman's voice through the invisible speaker greeted, "Welcome home, Heero." When he entered the house, the door closed behind him as he lowered his book bag and took his shoes off at the entrance.

As he made his way into the living room, the smell of food cooking filled his nose. It smelled like chicken parmesan was cooking. Heero couldn't help but smile to himself. His mother being American and his father being Japanese, he was brought up on a wide variety of different foods and cultures. Of the meals that he had been introduced to, this particular meal was one of his personal favorites.

As he approached the dining room, he watched as the young maid was setting three places at the table. Looking up, Noin smiled sincerely, "Good to have you home, Heero. You're just in time. I made your favorite tonight, since it's just the three of us."

Returning the smile, Heero nodded and replied, "Thank you, Noin. It smells wonderful."

At that, the tall, blonde chauffer of the family entered from behind Heero into the dining room as he grinned, "Yes it does, my dear. You seem to have outdone yourself yet again."

Noin blushed, "You always say that, Zechs. But I thank you for the compliment." Heero smirked to himself and rolled his eyes. As long as he had seen the two of them together, he always knew there was a connection. Somehow, though, Zechs and Noin never seemed to know how to broach the topic.

Looking up at Heero as he took his place opposite of the place where Noin normally sat, Zechs grinned and nodded, "Your mother called me on the way back here from the spaceport, Heero. The ride is going smoothly and they will be touching down on Colony D43 within an hour. She said that she would call you in the morning, since it will be late by the time she gets settled into her suite."

"Thank you, Zechs," Heero replied as he took his seat at the head of the table. When Noin was finished bringing the main course and side dishes out, she took her own place. The three of them began eating in a comfortable, companionable silence for a while.

One of the many things that he respected a great deal about his mother was that she never treated Noin and Zechs as `servants' despite the fact that they did work for her and her son. They were almost a part of the family, eating their meals together, joining them in outings when they had the time, having their own large bedrooms with the best furnishings.

As far as Heero was concerned, they truly were like an extended family to him. They were always sincerely concerned about how he was doing at school, how his friends were, things like a family member would be. There were many times, when his mother was away, that he had confided in one or both of them at a time, voicing his own concerns and thoughts.

Dealing with his father's death was not easy for him, despite the fact that he saw very little of him. Rather than burden his mother with thoughts and memories of his passing, Heero turned to Zechs and Noin for comfort and a listening set of ears on more than a few occasions.

Along with that, the pressures that were on him to follow in his father's footsteps and took over the family firm did, at times, seem to overwhelm him. Zechs and Noin never judged him, they just listened and offered what support they could. It had meant the world to him.

After a time, Zechs looked up form his plate of food and asked the boy, "How was school today?"

Snorting, Heero rolled his eyes and wiped his mouth before answering, "Uneventful as always. I am already several chapters ahead of where most of the professors are."

Noin smiled warmly at him, "I always thought that you were far too gifted and intelligent even for Sothmore High, whether it's deemed the best private school on the planet." She shrugged, "Still, at least you don't have to work so terribly hard as a student who would struggle in such classes."

He couldn't argue with her there. In that private school, many parents had pressured their kids to be accepted in and to do their best, even if it was beyond their capacity of learning. There were quite a few students there who were having problems just getting by. At least for Heero, it almost seemed as easy as breathing.

Zechs had also nodded his agreement to Noin's sentiments and added, "For you, these four years of high school and college after this, will be a much smoother ride than for most. It'd be good not to take that for granted. For many, no matter how hard they try, they'll never be able to excel the way your family has."

Not a word was spoken out of bitterness, Heero knew that. Zechs was quite happy with his current employment. He had been a devoted chauffer for many a year to the Yuy family now. As far as he was concerned, he was just as rich as they were, perhaps more, because he really did work to get where he was. Those words were spoken on behalf of the countless nameless, struggling families that were scraping by.

When he was asked what he friends were up to for the weekend, Heero filled them in on what they all had going for them. He mentioned that there was talk that maybe he could stay over their houses over the course of the next few nights.

At that, Noin beamed brightly and stated, "I think that'd be a wonderful idea! Your mother won't have to know about any of it." She concluded with a wink. "It's not like you have an opportunity like this too often."

"I'll have to see if there are any assignments that my mother has waiting for me when she calls in the morning," the teenager commented. "But it would be a nice change of pace." Zechs voice his own agreement to the notion.

When dinner was finished and the night wore on, Heero looked up to see that it was almost ten o'clock, his curfew time. He closed his book, his last homework assignment for the weekend; at least he wouldn't have to worry about it the next two days. Rising from the couch, he stretched and yawned. Looking over to Noin and Zechs on the other sofa, he said his goodnights, followed by their own, and headed to bed.

Once he was in his room, after running his routine of brushing his teeth, putting his books away and getting into his pajamas, Heero lowered himself onto the mattress of his large bed in his large bedroom. It was just another day, just like every other. Somehow, he mentally scorned himself, would have to get it out of his mind that things would ever change. This was life… his life.

* * * * * *

The following morning, Heero yawned and stretched at 6 o'clock on the dot just like every other morning. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he made his way into his adjoined bathroom to freshen up with a shower. When he was finished, he was soon joined by Noin and Zechs as the maid went about cooking breakfast.

Deciding that he wanted to go out for some fresh air on his own, Heero stepped out on the front deck and the door closed itself behind him. Taking a deep breath of air, he closed his eyes and made his decision to go and meditate at his secluded spot in the park.

His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a small `mew'. His eyes snapped open, wide, as he looked down to the top step of the deck. A small kitten, probably no more than a few weeks old, was looking up at him. It's brown hair seemed to shimmer with gold and highlights in the sunlight. The baby kit was skinny, and almost looked to have ratted fur from a difficult time on its own.

What really fascinated Heero, was the kitten's eyes. They were violet, a violet that he never saw in an animal's eyes before. They truly were captivating. The wide orbs watched him carefully, the kit's body still from fear as he watched silently.

Then, just as soon as he appeared, the kitten suddenly turned around and ran off, dashing into the alley between Heero's house and that of his neighbor. Not sure really why, he ran after the kitten, pausing in the alley when he saw no sign of the small creature. As fast as it had run off, there would be no way of catching it.

Frowning to himself, Heero turned and began to make his way to the park. Before leaving, he glanced over his shoulder once more to see if he could spot the kit. When there was no such luck, he continued on his way. Silently hoping that the kitten would be all right, wherever it went.

 

Part 2:

"Hi, Heero! I didn't expect to find you here!" The cheerful voice called from behind him. Heero sighed deeply, his shoulders falling.

Looking over his shoulder, from where he sat at the top of the rock, he replied flatly, "Hello, Relena." Of all the things his mother had planned out for him, at least he could rest assured that who he married was never one of them.

The blonde girl was smiling up at him in her pale green sun dress, with her robotic puppy in the shape of a cocker spaniel at her side. "I was just taking Jasmine, here, for a walk," she grinned. The said 'puppy' yelped as its tail wagged excitedly.

Forcing himself to be polite, Heero rose from the rock to jump down to the grass. He supposed that he shouldn't be so rude to the girl. She really was nice to him, even if it was due to the infatuation that he and his friends knew she had for him.

Meanwhile, Heero never thought of being in a relationship with anyone, really. He had so many other things to worry about, so many other things that his parents had planned for him. While he was flattered that such a girl would be attracted to him, he really didn't know the first thing about what to do about it, nor did he really want to.

Shifting on her feel almost nervously, Relena bit her bottom lip before asking, "So, are you going to be attending the Freshman dance next month?"

Able to breathe a sigh of relief inwardly, he shook his head and answered, "There is an important board meeting that I have to attend with my mother that night. I won't be able to make it."

He could almost hear her heart break as she frowned sadly, "Oh. I see." Sensing her master's disappointment, Jasmine gave a small whimper as she hiked up to place her front paws up on her owner's leg.

"Well, I know that Quatre is looking for a date that night, if you're looking for someone," Heero quickly added, trying to amend having to let her down. While he did not have any interest in having a relationship with her, he never intended to hurt her in any way.

Relena did brighten a little at that and nodded with a small smile, "All right. I think I'll do that." Bending a bit at the waist, she pat the top of her pet's head to soothe it as Jasmine licked her hand with a metal tongue.

The girl straightened again and tilted her head a bit as she commented, "I don't often see you out and about like this without the other three."

The Japanese teenager shrugged, "They're all busy with meeting of some kind until later tonight. Normally, that's what I would be doing, but my mother is away on business for the next week."

Looking at his watch, he stated, "Actually, I should be heading back home. My mother will be trying to reach me soon.¡"

"Well, maybe I'll see you later then," Relena smiled sweetly. "Tell Quatre to leave his card open. I'll call him before Monday."

"I'll do that," he reassured her with a nod and a wave before walking off. If anything, their meeting just helped take care of two problems with one stone.

Heero knew that Quatre would be too shy to just start asking girls if they needed a date, and now he didn't have to leave Relena down and out by having to turn her down. With much trouble involved in just attending a dance, he was relieved that he wouldn't have to go.

* * * * * *

The video phone rang to announce the incoming call, right at the top of the 0100 hour. Heero opened it to see the smiling face of his mother when their cobalt eyes met. "Good afternoon, son," she greeted.

Returning the smile, he replied, "Hello, mother. How are things on Colony D43? Were you able to find what you needed for your upcoming trial?"

Her smile faltered only slightly as she brushed her blonde red bangs from her face. "I have a lot of work cut out for me while I am here. There are a lot of holes in the files that will need to be fixes if they're going to help the defense for the Johnson's trial. I may be even more delayed in returned home than I had hoped."

"Then they sent the right person to straighten everything out," he smirked. "You haven't lost a trial in more than ten years."

Danielle Yuy chuckled deeply, "Ah, Heero, one can never allow themselves to become too confident. But, I thank you for your faith in me, nonetheless."

Heero nodded and asked, "Do you have any assignments for me while you're away? I am already finished up my homework for the weekend."

For a moment, his mother thought it over before answering, "To be honest, I have so many things to sort through here, I am not really sure where to start. I have Julie and David here with me to help me for the time being. I'll probably need your help in a couple days, just making some contacts for me and some faxing for the most part. We'll take care of the bulk of the work here."

"I'm here whenever you need me," Heero told her.

She smiled and replied gently, "I know you are, son. You always have been." Yawning as she stretched, she suggested, "You should enjoy the rest of the weekend. You've been working very hard with me for several months straight now. At least you'll have a few days before I'll need your assistance again."

He was somewhat surprised. It had been a long time since she allowed him some time to himself. While she was gone, he had expected to have a file of work to on in order to help his mother prepare for her client's case.

It had been so long since Heero had any real time to himself, he really wasn't sure what he was going to do with it now. It was a long weekend with a school holiday on Monday. What was he going to do for two-and-a-half days?

Just don't do anything that you wouldn't do if I was there," his red-haired mother warned in a light manner with a wink. "Remember that Noin and Zechs are still there to keep an eye on you for me."

Shaking his head, Heero laughed lightly, "I wouldn't know how to get in trouble if it fell into my lap." At that, his mother laughed along with him, knowing the truth of it.

When she gained her composure, she said, "Well, I better be going. I need to make some headway in this mess over here. Have a good weekend, Heero. I'll call in a couple days."

He nodded, "Okay. Take care, mom. I love you." She replied the same before the connection was cut off.

Closing the video phone, Heero sat back in the chair at his desk. Here, he had the fax machine, printer, intercom and computer fired up, ready for whatever assignments his mother would have for him. He went about turning everything off in his large, private office as he tried to come up with something that he could do to stay occupied for the next few hours.

Once the office was closed, he want downstairs to find Noin dusting the bookshelves in the living room. Looking up from her work, she smiled and questioned, "Did you hear from your mother?"

He frowned and nodded, "Yes. She said that it may be a while before she'll need my help in the case. I'll have the next couple days off before she'll probably send anything."

"Well, now you get to enjoy the long weekend," the young woman grinned brightly. "I can hardly remember the last time you were able to do that?"

Quickly, he inquired, "Do you remember what I did with myself then? What I did with all that free time? I'm not sure what I am going to do before school starts again."

Noin's face was turned away from him so he missed the sad frown on her face at hearing such a thing. It broke her heart knowing how much he was missing out on because of what his parents had wanted for him. He never had a say in the matter. They never even thought if this was the kind of life he wanted. Noin considered herself like Heero's older sister since she came to work with the Yuy's. It pained her that there was not more she could do for him.

Careful to hide her frown, she turned back to him as she suggested, "Well, Quatre and the others should be finishing up with their meetings, if I remember what you told me yesterday correctly. Why don't pay them a visit when they're available?"

Not used to having the opportunity to visit his friends on the weekend too often, it was not wonder why the idea did not just come on Heero's own invention. He was still disoriented in realizing how much time to himself he had. Thinking it over a moment, he nodded, "That sounds like a good idea. I think I'll do that."

After overhearing part of the conversation as he stepped into the room, Zechs asked the Japanese teenager, "Would you like me to drive you to Quatre's house? I just finished washing the limo and cars."

Shaking his head, Heero replied, "No, I can walk. It's a nice day and not that far. But thank you for the offer, Zechs." The tall man grinned at him and nodded as the boy walked out the door. "I'll be back time for dinner at six as always," he called over his shoulder.

Zechs called over his shoulder, "Supposedly, we're going to get some rain tonight. If it starts before then, give me a call when you're ready to be picked up."

"Okay," Heero answered before the tall door closed after him.

Noin's shoulders fell as she leaned against the back of the sofa, frowning deeply. "That poor kid," she said softly. Looking up the object of her affection, she sighed deeply, "We'll never have wealth of our own, Zechs, but our lives are so much richer than that poor child's will ever be at this rate."

Taking a deep breath, Zechs sighed sadly as well as he looked back to the front door. "I know." He ran a hand through his blonde bangs and frowned, "I feel sorry for him as well. But really, there is only so much we can do for him now."

She folded her arms across her waist, as if suppressing a shiver as she replied, "Still, I wish that we could do more than just sit back and act like this is all right. Heero has no idea that this is not what life is really like.

"His friends have the same fate, so as far as he's concerned, this is all there is for him. I know that their mothers and fathers meant well for him when they made these great plans when their children were born."

The young maid's hand moved about in vague gestures of grandeur as she continued, "Look at everything that Mister Yuy had to enjoy before he passed away. But how happy was he really? Wealth and recognition only go so far."

Another shudder ran through Noin as she rubbed her arms and lowered her head. "I wonder how much of what he owned Heero's father would have given back to have just a few days to really enjoy the simple things that he missed out on." She bit her lip and said in a near whisper, "And now Heero will share the same fate if this keeps up."

Zechs walked over to her and held her tightly against him, rubbing her back soothingly. "I am as concerned for him as you are, Noin. Don't forget that I had known this family for quite some time before you came. While that does not make your feeling less accountable, I know how the urge to do something could consume a person if they have not had experience in matters like this."

When they pulled apart, Noin wiped at the tears that fell as she questioned, "So, you're saying that we just sit back and continue to do nothing? We just let this whole charade go on and let a young boy be led into a life that he has no say in?"

Lifting her chin so that his eyes met her reddening orbs, Zechs said gently, "There are some things that are beyond our control. But, we can continue to be the support for Heero that we have been and hope that he opens his eyes to what is happening to him. He's the only one who can change all of this. We can't push him into realization that he is not ready for."

At that, Noin took a deep breath and closed her eyes as she nodded, "I can understand that... Heero needs to somehow make the choice on his own to change things." She sniffed slightly and whispered, "It's just hard sometimes."

Zechs decided to take a chance and placed a soft kiss at the top of her head, noticing the sharp gasp from the young woman. "Believe me when I say that I feel the same. After all, he has grown on us quite a bit." He finished the last part with a small smile. "But you'll see that in the end, it'll be the best for him. And I know you want the best for your 'little brother' as I do."

The dark-haired woman had to fight the blush that threatened to color her cheeks at the kiss that she could still feel, even though Zechs's lips were no longer pressed against her forehead. She smiled warmly up at him and replied sincerely, "You're right. Thank you, Zechs. I am sorry that I let this get the best of me."

His own smile grew as he said in response, "There is nothing for you to be sorry about. I consider that boy as much my own family as you do. For his sake, we have to stay strong for him."

At her firm nod, he stepped back and winked at her before leaving the room. Noin worked to find her footing, now feeling the full effect of a blush on her cheeks. She couldn't help but smile to herself, at knowing that maybe Zechs really was attracted to her. Sighing to herself, she pushed those thoughts aside for the time begin and returned to her work. There was a lightness to her step for the remainder of the day.

* * * * * *

Heero knocked on the door to Quatre's grand home and he heard Treize bark from inside. Looking up into the tiny camera at the top of the doorway, he smirked slightly and folded his arms. A second later, the automatic lock was unhitched and the door opened. No doubt, his Arabian friend was surprised to see him at his doorstep that afternoon.

Stepping inside, he looked down at Treize, the 'puppy' sitting with its metallic tail wagging excitedly when it recognized him. Heero took a moment to bend down and pat the top of his head, muttering, "Good boy." It never ceased to strike him odd at how a robot could really be considered a pet. Still, he played along with it.

Quatre entered the room with a bright smile as he exclaimed, "This is a pleasant surprise! A visit from Heero Yuy on a Saturday!" He extended his hand and the longtime friends shook firmly.

When he pulled his hand away, the blonde teenager gestured for the other to follow as he walked towards the back of the house. "Trowa and Wufei are both out back on the patio. I was just coming inside to get some drinks ready. Would you like anything?"

As they stepped into the large kitchen, Heero shrugged, "I could go for a glass of milk. Thank you."

More than willing to oblige, as always, Quatre punched in four items on the touch computer in the side of the refrigerator. Four glasses appeared in the panel beneath the computer screen. The requested drinks poured down into the tall glasses until they reached near the rims.

After they were filled, the glasses were extended out of the refrigerator on a metal tray. Quatre took two of the glasses, one being his own cup of soda. Taking his own glass of milk and a second glass, Heero followed the Arabian to the back patio.

Once they stepped out into the warm afternoon air, they found Trowa and Wufei sitting at one of the round, white tables shaded by a tall umbrella over it. Looking up to their friends, both young men smiled at the sight of the Japanese youth.

"Well, well. Never would have thought that we would see you here today," Trowa commented with a grin.

Beside him, Wufei nodded, "I can't recall the last time we saw you out and about on a Saturday. Is everything all right with your mother's case?"

Handing his Chinese friend his drink and taking a seat beside him, Heero replied, "There are a lot more holes in the defense than she had thought. She told me that it will be a couple days before she has enough of the load sorted out to start sending me any assignments." He closed his eyes as he took a long sip from his milk. Lowering the glass, he concluded, "So, I have the remainder of the long weekend to myself."

There was a long silence and for a moment, Heero wasn't sure what he had said that made the others all stare at him with wide eyes. Looking from one to another, he finally asked, "What?"

Quatre was the first to speak as he asked, "What are you going to do will all that free time? I can't remember the last time I had a few days where I didn't have to do something or go somewhere."

At that, Trowa piped in with a snort, "I don't think that any one of us can. It's easily been a couple of years since any of us had that much time."

"I'd say more than that," Wufei commented with a deep frown in thought. "It's hard enough for us to meet for a couple hours on a day like this. If Summer hadn't cancelled our date so that I could meet with Doctor Phillips early, I wouldn't have been able to be here now."

Taken off guard by what he had just said, Heero forgot about the subject at hand for a moment and inquired, "Summer cancelled your date to the movies? As much as she was all over you when you were "officially dating,'" he emphasized with gesturing quotation marks with his hands, "as you put it before, I thought Hell would have to freeze over before she cancelled spending time with you."

Rolling his eyes, Wufei stated, "Yea, that was until she found someone else to cling to now that she knows we're just friends. Her new boyfriend is taking her out, instead."

"What are you going to do for a date for the Freshman dance now?" Quatre asked, a sad frown on his face. 'It's only a month before the event."

No concern rolled off the Chinese youth as he shrugged, "I'll just talk to Merian. As far as I know, she's available for the night."

Trowa almost choked on his drink. Sputtering, he looked over at the dark-haired boy and half-coughed, half-chuckled, "You mean the same girl that you've been pining over since we started high school who won't give you the time of day because she thinks that your blatant chauvinism is overbearing?"

With an undignified look, Wufei shouted, "I have not been pining over her!" At that, his three friends fell into loud rounds of laughter. His eyes narrowing, His folded his arms and grumbled in admission, "Fine, maybe I have been." Raising a finger to the air, he yelled over their subsiding laughter, "But that is not a sign of weakness."

Drying a tear from laughing so hard, the brunette snickered, "Of course it isn't, Wufei. I wish you all the luck in the world to you getting her to agree to attend the dance with you. You're going to need it."

Wufei raised an eyebrow. "Is that a challenge?"

"Maybe," Trowa replied, a smirk on his face as he leaned in towards him.

Looking from Trowa to Wufei and back again, Quatre pleaded, "Oh no, not this again, guys. The last time that you two made a bet, I had to swear that I never knew either of you for over a month. I would never have heard the end of it from my sisters, otherwise. Iria wouldn't talk to me for weeks when she found out that I was involved after the fact."

Heero leaned back in his seat with his arms folded behind his head as he insisted in a dry voice, "Let them do it. How often do we get to have entertainment like that? We still have the pictures from the last time."

Wufei sat up in his chair and warned with a threatening glare, "Are you're all dead if any of you show them to anyone else!"

Nonchalantly shrugging, Heero replied, "Only if you're good." The Chinese teenaged growled dangerously at him.

"Shall we make the same bet as before?" Trowa asked, breaking up their little sparring match.

Turing his gaze back to his tall friend, Wufei nodded firmly and answered, "Why not? It'd be good to have justice served after the last bet that you got lucky on." The deal settled, they shook firmly on it as Quatre groaned.

At recalling the Freshman dance, Heero looked over to the smallest of the quartet. "That reminds me. You should be receiving a call some time today, Quatre."

He blinked at him in surprise. "A call? From who?" No sooner had the questions passed his lips did the vid phone ring. Sitting up slightly, he looked to the Japanese boy for an answer.

"That must be her," was all Heero offered.

With his eyes widening, Quatre almost paled as he gulped, "Her?"

"Her?" both Trowa and Wufei asked in their own states of shock. At the next ring, all three boys sprang from their chairs and bounded into the house. Shaking his head with a smirk, Heero followed behind them at a casual pace.

Opening the vid phone, Quatre blinked in shock at the image on the screen as he felt his palms beginning to sweat from nervousness. "R-Relena!?" The young woman smiled warmly at him. Having to remind himself to smile back, the Arabian laughed nervously, "Well this is a pleasant surprise."

"Hello, Quatre," the girl replied kindly. "I hope that I am not calling at a bad time." Trowa and Wufei stood back in the doorway of the living room, leaning closely to hear the conversation without being seen. Heero walked up behind them and listened as well as Quatre insisted quickly that she was not disturbing him.

Relena's smile grew as she said, "Good. I have a favor to ask you." At the boy's wide eyes and moving mouth, that could not find any words, she asked, "Would you accompany me at the Freshman dance next month?"

* * * * * *

As he stepped from the house, Heero chuckled deeply to himself at how shocked Quatre had been to have a girl ask him to be their date to a dance. Recalling how quickly the little blonde had grabbed a pad and paper when he accepted, once he finally found his voice to do so, to jot down everything that he needed.

Relena had been very sweet to his friend, being very patient and helping with all the details that would need to be taken care of for their date. In her voice, Heero could tell that she was more excited about going to the dance at seeing how Quatre reacted to her invitation. He was actually proud of his the Arabian handled himself, never being one to be very comfortable talking to a lovely girl. As nervous as he was, he made it through the conversation and had come across well.

Heero never did tell Quatre or the others that Relena was intending on asking him out to the dance first. That really didn't matter, and he didn't want to dampen Quatre's excitement and joy in now having a date that he did not have to ask out, himself. Content with that choice, Heero left feeling pretty good about how the world was going right about then.

That was when the rain decided to come.

All of a sudden, the rain that had been holding off decided to downpour at that moment, leaving the Japanese teenager drenched in minutes. Cursing to himself, Heero decided to continue to walk home. It was only a couple blocks away, and he was wet anyway. Zechs and Noin would worry, though, if he didn't get back soon. It was almost dinner time.

Quickening his pace, as he pulled his light coat tighter over him, Heero made his way down the streets as puddle splashed under his feet. Rounding the corner to his block, he paused with a sharp gasp. His cobalt eyes widened at the sight of a brown ball of fur that was lying still in the middle of the road.

At the realization that there were no cars approaching, he ran into the street and crouched over the still form. It was the same kitten that he has seen on his front porch that morning. It was sprawled on the ground and looked to have been hit by something. Perhaps the animal was caught off guard in the rain and made a dash for cover, only to be struck by an oncoming car that it did not see.

Placing his fingers over the lifeless kitten, Heero gasped when he heard a tiny, pained meow. "You're still alive," he whispered in awe. Still alive or not, the poor cat was not in good shape. Gently, he scooped the unconscious creature into his hand, shielding it under his coat from the rain.

As quickly as his feet would allow, he ran back to his house.

 

Part 3:

"He should have been back by now," Noin frowned as she noticed that it was after five o'clock. I'll have the ham ready in less than thirty minutes once I put it in the oven.

Zechs peered out the window to watch the downpour for a moment. Finally, he made his way from the back patio and stated, "He said he would call before he left if it started raining. I'm going to call Quatre's to see if he left yet, he might have been caught in this downpour." Noin was quickly on his heels.

"Welcome home, Heero," the mechanic voice in the entrance greeted as the front door opened in recognition of the boy's identity.

Drenched from head to toe as the rain continued to pour outside when he ran in the house, Heero yelled, "Noin! Zechs!" It wasn't a heartbeat before the two ran into the living room, concern on both of their faces.

Before they had a chance to ask any questions, Heero removed his hand that was inside his light coat, revealing the small kitten that he had recovered from the street. Noin's eyes widened as she gasped, "Oh, the poor thing."

Removing the dish towel that was draped over her shoulder, Noin made a hammock out of it between her hands as she said, "Let me see." Carefully, Heero laid the soaked, unconscious animal onto the towel. Noin gently wrapped the ends of the towel over the kitten and ran towards the kitchen.

Zechs looked over at the sopping teenager and frowned, "You better get into some dry clothes before you catch a cold. We'll talk when you come back downstairs."

As much as he wanted to check on the tiny feline, Heero new better than to argue with him. With a firm nod, he hurried upstairs. Once he was in his room, he shed his jacket followed by his shoes, socks, t-shirt and jeans. Quickly toweling himself off, he threw on a pair a gray sweat pants, a dry pair of socks and a plain red shirt before running back downstairs.

When he reached the kitchen, he found Noin watching after the kitten, gently rubbing it down with the towel in an attempt to warm and dry it quickly as possible. Zechs watched from not far off before he looked up when Heero entered to see if he was dried off.

Not giving them the opportunity to ask, he explained, "I was already about a block away when it started raining. Otherwise, I would have called for a ride back." Zechs's face relaxed, satisfied with that.

Gesturing to the small ball of fur on the counter, the boy continued, "I found it in the middle of the street like that. It must have been hit by a car or something. I couldn't just leave it there."

Noin chuckled and looked up from her patient and corrected, "Well, this `it' is definitely a he." Looking down on the sleeping animal, she frowned deeply, "I don't know of any veterinarians around here who could look after him to see if there are any injuries I haven't picked out. Everything seems in place here, as far as I can tell."

Running a hand through his bangs, Zechs commented, "No one around this area for miles owns a conventional animal for a pet, so there is no need for a veterinarian." Looking at the injured creature, he thought aloud, "But I think that I can contact one tonight."

Without another word, he went to the video phone and opened it. Turning the link on, he said, "Information." When he was linked to information, he explained his needs to speak with a vet and where he was located.

Via video phone, Noin and Zechs spoke and worked with a veterinarian several cities away who kept their assistance line open late at night. They were then able to show the kitten's condition on the screen along with following the kind man's instructions on how to find if there was anything serious that would require immediate attention.

Heero waited in anticipation on the other side of the living room as he watched and listened. Finally, the kind man who had been examining the kitten with Zechs and Noin's help deemed that as long as he made it through the night, he would come out healthy. Even if the kitten was brought in to be looked at, any fatal injury would take him before he could be cared for. Somehow, Heero was certain that the little creature would make it through.

"That kitten's very lucky that he was found when he was," the man said. "Had he been left in the cold and rain unconscious like that, his little systems would not have been able to handle those conditions along with the trauma that he went through. Just keep him warm tonight and he should wake up a bit dazed, but well. If he has any problems moving about, give me a call."

With their thanks and a transfer of funds for his work and the medicines that would arrive first thing in the morning, Noin and Zechs ended the call. Sighing deeply, the young woman caressed the kitted through the fresh, blue towel in her lap. It's tiny head was all that peeked our from under the fabric.

"This little one shocked even the vet, having come out of his accident without anything more than scrapes and bruises." She smiled as the kitten stirred slightly in his sleep. "I wonder how he ended up out here?"

Heero sat up in the chair he sat in as he informed, "I found him on our front porch early this morning. He ran off before I could get too close." He moved to kneel before Noin, smiling slightly as he watched the small, mysterious creature. "You should see his eyes when he wakes up," his voice almost took a wistful tone. "They're the most amazing violet I ever saw."

"Violet?" Zechs asked, raising an eyebrow. "Are you sure that it wasn't just a strange reflection of light? I have never heard of a cat having violet eyes before."

Shrugging, Heero replied, "They looked perfectly violet to me. I guess we'll see when he wakes up." He bit his bottom lip, already knowing that Noin and Zechs were planning on taking the kitten to an animal shelter out of town without their even needing to say it. Taking a chance, he looked up to them and asked, "What should I name him?"

As he expected, they both straightened and Zechs shook his head, "Oh no, Heero. You know that your mother would never allow an animal in this house. She would have our hides if she came back from her trip to find that we took him in without discussing the matter with her first."

Rising to his feet, Heero reassured them, "Let me talk to my mother tomorrow. She won't be angry with either of you." Surprised at how much he was hoping to keep the kitten, he finished with a quiet, "Please."

Both Zechs and Noin looked to each other for a moment. Unable to read their expressions, Heero waited quietly as he could only assume that they were having a private conversation with their eyes. Finally, Zechs looked up at him and sighed, "All right. Talk to your mother later tonight. She'll be expecting a call from you later at any rate."

Noin smiled up at the teenager and winked with a knowing smile. Somehow, Heero knew that he had her to thank for Zechs's agreeing to even that much of it. He smiled at them both and replied sincerely, "Thank you."

As she stood, Noin carefully handed the little bundle over to the boy as she said, "Just to be sure, you should wait until your mother agrees to keeping this little guy before naming him. That'll give you time to think of something appropriate for him."

With a nod of agreement, Heero accepted the small kitten in his arms. He smiled down at him, already thinking of what he was going to say to his mother when he called her the next day. "I'll keep him in my room tonight. That way, I can keep an eye on him if his condition changes."

Zechs stood and agreed, "Very well." He looked up at the clock to see that it was already almost seven o'clock. Dinner was going to be late in the Yuy household for the first time in years.

Even Noin showed her surprise when she noticed the time. "Well," she shrugged. "Since it's too late to finish preparing what I was cooking, why don't we order out for a change?" Looking to Heero and Zechs, she asked, "Pizza all right?"

Unable to recall the last time that they had ever ordered out, Heero smiled at the prospect of something different. He nodded, "That sounds good to me." Zechs gave his own affirmative to the suggestion.

The three ate together in the dining room not long later, laughing at how the delivery man had passed the house twice in not ever having to deliver there before. For such a simple, unplanned dinner, it was one of the most pleasant meals they had in quite some time.

* * * * * *

Not long after dinner was finished, Zechs was helping Noin set the few dishes left over into the dishwasher. "You've known Danielle longer than I have. Do you think that Heero' will ever get his mother to agree to letting him keep the little one?" the young woman asked.

Sighing deeply, the tall chauffer replied, "It's going to be a difficult sell for him to make." Looking up to the ceiling above, where Heero's room was, he chuckled deeply, "But, I've always known Heero to be the kind of person who could sell ice to an Eskimo."

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, in the bedroom over their heads…

"Absolutely not!" Danielle Yuy shrieked over the video phone. "I do not want a cat running about the house! You know how busy we both are! How would we ever have the time to care for one?"

Recovering from his wince at the piercing shouting, Heero frowned at the quick refusal. Not allowing himself to be deterred so quickly, he replied, "Actually, I've researched on cat behavior just now and they're quite self-reliant. As long as we keep food out for him and a self-cleaning litter box, he'll more or less take care of himself."

His red-haired mother sighed deeply, "Heero, I had offered on many occasions to get you one of those robotic pets, but you always declined. We could always pick one out for you when I return home."

Lowering his head slightly, Heero shrugged, "I know I did. I've seen the pets that Trowa, Quatre and Wufei have. It's just that there is almost something… missing from it all."

Danielle nodded, "Like the responsibility and all the problems that come with owning an actual animal as a pet." Quickly, she added, "Besides, owning an animal for a pet suggests that you're not well off in society."

"Mother!" Heero shouted, his eyes widened in disbelief that the words actually came from her. As much as he wanted to argue, he knew that she was right. Owning such an animal was for families in the rundown areas, miles away from where they lived. Still, it did not sit so well with him to actually hear his mother suggesting that they were better than other people.

With a raised eyebrow, his mom retorted, "You know the truth in that, son. If we are to have the respect that we have worked for, we must follow the conventions of our privileged lives." She leaned forward, asking quietly, "What will our neighbors, not to mention my colleagues, think if they came to find that we owned a cat?"

Taking a deep breath and sagging his shoulders, Heero frowned, "You're right, mother. I'm sorry." He reached up and made circles on the edge of his desk.

Finally, he decided to play the one card that he had been hoping he would never have to use. Knowing it would only work once, he resolved to make it work just this one time. Regardless of how much he did not like the thought of using what was up his sleeve, he knew that there would be no swaying his mother otherwise.

When he looked back up, he spoke quietly, "It's just that I've never wanted anything enough to be compelled enough to ask for it before." At that, he could see that his arrow pierced its target. The red-head's cobalt eyes widened, saddening at the same time.

Danielle sat back, folding her hands before her as she lost herself in thought. From the time that Heero started to talk, up to his now fifteenth year of life, she knew all too well that her son never asked for anything before. Now, the one time that he truly wanted something, she was rejecting him without giving him a real say in the matter.

Heero never gave her any grief, never did anything but follow her lead without question. Thinking back quickly on her son's life, Danielle realized how much she had taken, without giving anything back. While it was all for his own good, the knowledge of that did not make it easier to realize how she saw her own wishes more important than those he might have for himself.

Knowing fully well that this was a line Heero had been saving for the one time he really wanted something, Danielle Yuy smiled inwardly. She could allow him this one victory. As wise as her boy was, she was all too aware that he knew he could only use this against her once. Even if it was not something she was particularly thrilled with, she would give it to him.

After a long pause between them, the red-haired woman at last smiled warmly. Her voice filled with sincerity and almost amusement, she nodded to him, "All right, Heero. You can keep the kitten."

His cobalt eyes widening, Heero felt his jaw drop. He knew that his card was a good one, but he was still sure that his mother would never agree even with that. Realization filled him at her response and her smile that she must have been expecting it to come out at some time. At least now that it was out on the table, he wouldn't have to try to manipulate her with it again.

A bright smile lighting his face, Heero replied, "Thank you, mom. I promise that I'll take full responsibility for him."

Chuckling deeply, his mother grinned, "I don't have any doubt in that, Heero. Otherwise, this would have been completely out of the question."

Heero sat back in his leather seat folding his arms as he thought aloud, "Now that he'll be staying, I have to think of a name for him."

Danielle laughed, "Well, seeing how you've given him a second chance, it should have something to reflect that." Tilting her head to the side, she commented, "Well, since we have a new guest, at least you're making him feel at home will give you something to do for the next couple of days before I am able to come up with some work for you."

Brightening again, Heero nodded, "I thought about that, too. I was nearly going mad thinking of what I was going to do with so much free time. I can't remember the last time I had a couple days for myself."

"All part of the joys of the lives we lead," his mother replied. She yawned, covering her mouth. "Well, I should be getting to bed. My team and I need to wake up early to look into these reports again."

Heero straightened in his seat as he said, "Have a good night, then." He smiled warmly and finished quietly, "Thank you, mom."

With a wink, Danielle smiled back, "Of course, son. I'll get back in touch with you in a couple days." At that, the call ended.

Sighing deeply in relief, Heero all but fell back in his chair. Staring at the blank vid screen, he was still reeling from disbelief that he was able to convince his mother to allow him to keep the kitten.

Suddenly, the video phone rang again. Quatre's image appeared on the screen when Heero clicked the `Accept' button. With concerned-filled eyes, the Arab began, "Heero, I tried to call earlier but your line was busy. I knew that you must have been caught in that rain when you left my house, so I wanted to make sure you got home all right."

Realizing that his friend must have been trying to call during the conversation with the veterinarian, Heero smirked reassuringly, "Don't worry, Quatre. A little rain never hurt anyone before."

The blonde blushed slightly and smiled, "Well, it was a pretty nasty storm. Anyway, I'm glad to see that you're all right."

"Hey, if you and the others aren't busy tomorrow night, you should stop by here for dinner," Heero said suddenly. "There's something that I want to show you."

Quatre tilted his head and asked, "Oh yea?" He smiled, "I'll call the others in the morning, before their appointments. I'm sure that we could arrange a meeting at your house tomorrow.

Smiling in anticipation of revealing his new pet to his friends, the Japanese student replied, "All right. I'm sure that Noin and Zechs would enjoy the company for dinner. It's been pretty quiet here, what with my mom being away."

His smile growing, the Arabian questioned, "Would you mind asking Noin to make her famous lasagna? That's a favorite for all of us."

"I'm sure that can be arranged," Heero answered with a slight chuckle.

At that, Quatre grinned, "Well then, we'll see you tomorrow night." They ended their call with polite `good nights.'

All but running down the stairs, Heero found Noin and Zechs watching television in the living room. In her lap, Noin held the tiny kitten protectively. Looking up in anticipation from where they sat on the couch when they heard him approach, the young woman asked, "So what did she say?"

Heero smiled, "My mom said that I can keep him." At the shock on their faces, he couldn't help laughing. He wished that he had a camera at that moment.

Zechs smirked as he looked over at the sleeping kitten in Noin's lap. "Well, well," he said at last. "So we have a new addition to the family." He gently stroked the top of the animal's head.

Recovering from her shock, Noin beamed, "Well, now that's going to be staying, you can give him a name."

Sitting on the other side of her, Heero relied, "Well, my mother said that it should somehow reflect the fact that he was given a second chance." He shrugged, "I've never had to pet to give it a name, so I don't imagine I would be any good at it."

There was a brief pause of silence as they all considered options for a possible name when Noin shrugged, "Well, you could always just call him Two, since Heero also translates to the number one in Japanese."

Wincing slightly, Zechs shook his head, "I don't know that Two would suit a cat very well." Rubbing his shin, he asked, `What about Duo? It's basically the same concept, but I think it'll work better."

At the sound of that name, both Heero and Noin smiled. "I think Duo will work for him," the teenager replied with a nod. The young woman nodded her own agreement as she handed the kitten over to the boy.

"Tomorrow, we should go out and pick up some things for him," Zechs suggested as he folded his arms casually. "I know a few cities a good distance away that have pet store where we can get some items."

Turning to him, Noin commented, "It's been some time since I had the chance to get out of this city. It'll be nice to explore for a little while."

"And I'll finally have something to do for the next few days while getting Duo settled in," Heero added, testing out the name of his kitten. He smiled down to the furry little creature in his lap. He had to agree that he did like the name `Duo' for his new pet.

Straightening, the Japanese teenager looked over to the others and told them, "I hope you don't mind, but I invited Quatre, Trowa and Wufei to dinner tomorrow. I was hoping to introduce them to the kitten."

Noin and Zechs smiled warmly as the tall man nodded, "That's fine, Heero. Your friends are always welcome over. Besides, I wouldn't mind seeing their faces when they see Duo for the first time."

The young woman beside him chuckled, "I couldn't agree more. Besides, now I have an excuse to make my lasagna again, since I know how much they all like it." Heero laughed, explaining that it was the first thing Quatre asked for, when he heard of the invitation.

Staying up for only a little while longer, the trio decided to retire for their night with their plans for the next day set. Gently, Heero carried Duo upstairs with him.

* * * * * *

Yawning widely, Heero fought to keep his eyes open as he lied in his bed. He was lying on his side, facing the kitted that he kept wrapped in the warm blue towel that Noin had found for him. Gently, he began to rub the back of the tiny feline through the material. The light from the moon pouring into his room was more than enough for him to watch the animal perfectly.

He had waited late into the night for the furry creature to wake. Other than a few small mews that came out more as squeaks, there was no sign of life from him. The small rising and falling of his chest pushed the towel up and down over him as he continued to sleep deeply.

For the first time in his life, Heero could really say that he owned something that was really his own. Everything else that he had, his parents had earned to keep. His own life was not his own in so many ways, but the property of his parents from the time that he was born.

With a small smile, Heero said quietly, "Sleep well, Duo." Finally, unable to keep his eyes open any longer, Heero let himself drift off to sleep.

* * * * * *

The next morning, Heero awoke at six o'clock in the morning, like every morning from as far back as he could remember. Rubbing his closed eyes, he sighed quietly, already feeling the effects of the little sleep he allowed himself the night before. Sitting up, he stretched and yawned loudly.

Suddenly, his cobalt eyes snapped open when the previous night's events returned to him. He quickly looked to the blue towel beside him. It was empty all for a small imprint left from where the kitten had been sleeping.

Scanning the room for any signs of his newfound pet, Heero's eyes finally fell on the tiny kitten beneath the large window to his right. The long tassels of the line, that would be pulled to draw the curtains opened, was swinging just a few inches above the floor.

Sitting up on his back paws, the brown kitten was playing with the tassels, batting at it with his front paws in an attempt to catch it as it always swung by, always just beyond his reach. In the sunlight peeking from beneath the curtains, Duo's fur shimmered with its red and gold highlights mixed in with the brown.

Heero had to fight the chuckle that wanted to break free, not wanting to startle the kitten. He just enjoyed watching the vibrant animal playing, making his own fun in a space that was unfamiliar to him. The game continued as the kitten mewed in surprise when the tassel swung back, quicker than he was ready to intercept it, hitting him gently in the face. Shaking his head for a moment, Duo regained his balance as he went for the swinging `toy' again.

After a moment of watching a bit longer, Heero said quietly, "Hey." Falling onto his front paws, the small creature looked up at him, eyes wide with surprise. Again, Heero was taken aback seeing shade and intensity of those violet eyes. He never forgot those eyes form the first time he saw them just the morning before.

For a time, the kitten remained frozen, as if frightened and unsure of what to do. Heero sat up on the bed and gently tapped his fingers on space of the mattress beside him. Then, very slowly and with cautious movements, the kitten approached the bed, its tail flicking behind him. Looking up at the bed as he sat back just beside it, the furry creature's bottom wiggled the slightest bit before he leapt up, landing with grace and ease onto the spot beside the boy.

Heero reached forward slowly, noting the slight duck from the kitten as his fingers came close. Gently, he stroked the top of the furry head. The hesitation from the animal vanished almost instantly as he leaned into the touch, nudging the boy's hand with his nose for more. His violet eyes closed at the gentle patting, a deep purr of content rising from his tiny throat. Heero smiled warmly as the kitten moved forward, climbing up his bare chest as high as he could, sniffing up at the boy in curiosity.

"Welcome home," Heero told Duo quietly, a bright grin on his face. As he held his palm out to the kitten, the little one wrapped his front furry paws around his hand, gently licking his fingers with his tiny tongue.

In that moment, Heero suddenly realized how quickly his life of routines was going to change. Caring for such a small animal was going to come with its unpredictable, unstructured moments. Life as he knew it was not going to be the same again.

And he was not frightened by it in the least.

 

Part 4:

As Duo continued to explore the bedroom, Heero got dressed, watching his new pet in amusement. The teenage boy chuckled deeply in amusement when the kitten returned to sit at his feet, sniffing at the bottom of his blue jeans.

When Heero sat on the edge of his bed to put his socks on, Duo jumped up onto the mattress to sit beside him. Finished with changing, the Japanese youth smiled to his pet and gently patted the top of his head, rewarded with a deep purr from the furry creature.

Carefully scooping the kitten easily in one hand, Heero smiled, "Now I can officially introduce you to Noin and Zechs." He rose to his feet and made his way downstairs.

The smells of pancakes and bacon filled the air in the living room as he entered. All the while as he moved, Duo's head and eyes scanned the new surroundings, Heero imagined, trying to get a feel for the place.

Zechs was sitting at the dining room table, reading through the daily newspaper on his handheld monitor. Looking up from the screen, the tall man smirked, "Well, look who's awake."

From inside the kitchen, they could hear the hurried sounds of cooking utensils being lowered as Noin's voice called, "Let me see!" She ran out into the room, beaming at the sight of the kitten in Heero's possession as she exclaimed, "How adorable!"

Grinning and shaking his head, Zechs rose from his place at the table to get a better look at the new member of the family.

Duo seemed a bit nervous for a moment, seeing two strangers who suddenly appeared before him. However, when Noin gently ran her hand over the fur of his back, he closed his eyes in enjoyment and purred loudly.

"Hello, Duo. Oh, he is such a sweet little thing," Noin gushed, allowing Zechs to get a chance to observe the tiny animal.

Zechs stroked his pointed finger under the kitten's chin, feeling the soft rumbling from the purrs. He chuckled deeply, "Yes, I have to admit that he is that."

He gasped along with Noin when the kitten's bright eyes opened to look up at them curiously. Blinking in shock, the blonde man said quietly, "You're right, Heero. His eyes certainly are violet."

"I've never seen eyes like those on a kitten before," Noin commented as she watched that penetrating gaze in awe. "They're beautiful," she finally managed to say, Zechs nodding his agreement.

Heero smiled down at his new pet, who was now looking up to him, raising his front right paw up towards his face as if to try to tell him something. He couldn't help but be proud to own such a rare commodity.

Running his free hand over the little one's head, he shrugged, "I've never actually seen any cats before, myself, so I wouldn't know what eye colors are normal. But, they were the first thing that I noticed about him the first time I saw him."

Noin smiled, "Well, I can see why." Her eyes widened for a moment before she ran into the kitchen again, muttering, I almost forgot.

When she returned, the young maid held a small dish with chicken slices in it. "The poor thing must be starving after it was living out on the streets."

Almost the moment Noin had entered the dining room with the dish, Duo sat up in Heero's hand, sniffing the air and stretching its thin body towards the food. Heero lowered the kitten onto the carpeted floor just as the tall woman placed the dish down as well.

Duo all but ran the short distance to the food, sniffing at the chicken strips a bit more before quickly eating what must have seemed like a gourmet meal compared to what little he must have found on his own.

While the kitten ate his own meal, Heero joined Zechs at the table as Noin placed their own food on the table.

Every few bites of his pancakes, the Japanese teenager would glance down to his pet, a small smile appearing on his face as he watched Duo licking his paws as he lied at Heero's feet after his chicken had been devoured.

When the boy was not looking, Zechs and Noin would give each nervous gazes, silently carrying on a conversing and gesturing to the young man without his knowing. When Heero would look back up at the table, the pair would quickly lower their heads.

As Noin and Zechs cleared the table, Duo leapt into Heero's lap, nuzzling his head against the human's chest, purring in content.

Walking back into the room, the tall chauffer smirked, "It's almost as if he's thanking you for saving him. He's yet to leave your side."

Shaking his head, Heero replied, "I think that he's just so starved for affection that he wants to stay close to somebody right now."

The Japanese youth bent his head to place a gentle kiss atop his companion's furry head. "From what the vet said last night, Duo's only three weeks old, but there is no telling how much of that time he spent on his own." Rising on his hind legs, Duo placed his front paws on Heero's chest, sniffing up at him adorably.

As she wiped the table down, Noin suggested, "Well, you should get ready for our excursion. The nearest town with a pet store is Waupan, and that's about an hour's drive away. Duo can come along too, since this place recommends owners to bring their pets along to try their items out."

Heero grinned at that and rose from his seat, lowering Duo to the floor as he walked from the dining room to gather his coat and shoes. Duo watched his departure for a moment before running off after the boy, quickly catching up to his heels.

Noin chuckled deeply and shook her head, "They certainly make quite the pair." Zechs hummed his own amusement and nodded.

* * * * * *

Duo's little head peeked out over the zipper of Heero's blue windbreaker as they entered the large pet store. Like his kitten, the boy's eyes widened as he scanned the large area filled with toys, beds, grooming materials, anything that pet owner could possibly want or need for their animal.

At the sight of some of the other cats, along with several dogs, led around by their owners, Duo began to tremble with fright.

Heero frowned as he took the small kitten into his hand, removing him from his coat. "It's all right, Duo," he cooed softly to the shaking animal as he stroked his brown fur with his free hand, meting the kitten's eyes.

What a few more pats, Duo calmed, leaning his face into the touch and closed his eyes. Behind them, Noin and Zechs entered, followed by a robot pushing a cart beside them. "Where would you like to go first, sir?" the mechanic voice asked.

"Bedding," Zechs answered simply.

The robot replied, "This way, please, sir." With that, they were led by the assistant towards the middle of the store.

When they reached the isles filled with a wide variety of bedding, Heero blinked his wide cobalt eyes and asked, "Where do we even start?"

Noin's own awe filled eyes took in the selections as she shook her head, "I'm not even sure. To think that this is just the bedding section in here, too. It's a good thing we have the whole day."

Beside her, Zechs stated, "Well, considering this community has a great many households with pets, they need a large pet store such as this one, to take care of all of them. Since there are no pet owners in our own city of Compton, we don't have the need for such a store there."

As he walked down the first isle, Heero's head was still swimming as the reality of just how different he lived compared to most people sunk in.

In this city, Waupan, the houses were much smaller than the ones in Compton, and they were much closer together. In some places, there was litter in the streets and children walked and ran through it, not seeming to notice it was there.

It was one thing to understand the notion of how privileged a life he had; to actually come face-to-face with the reality of just how opposite that world was to a community such as this, was quite starling.

When he really thought about it, Heero realized just how long it had been since he was even outside of Campton. When he was a child, he remembered his father visiting a town such as this with him.

That visit had been such along time ago that it was difficult to recall just how those families in the neighboring towns actually lived. Any accounts of those societies were relayed to him by his parents, and they were not too fond of other places.

With a mischievous chuckle, Noin picked up a pink bed with blue dogs painted on it. "I would say that the colors of this would go well with Duo's eyes, but I don't think that it's very fitting for him."

Just out of curiosity, she held the bed out to the kitten. Looking from the bed to Noin and back to the bed again, Duo swatted his front right paw at the bed, as if trying to bat it away. The three humans laughed. "I agree, Duo," Heero snickered as he patted the animal in his hand.

After crossing a few isles and examining a few possibilities, Zechs located a simple bed with a wicker base. Compared to most of the other beds, it was a relatively simple design. Somehow, it just seemed perfect because of that.

The bed was more than big enough for the kitten at the size he was now, leaving enough space for him as he grew. The bedding was a soft, woolen material that was dyed a deep purple. Holding it up, he asked, "How about this one?"

Both Noin and Heero appraised it with satisfied looks as Zechs lowered the item to the floor. Setting Duo down, the Japanese teenager told him quietly, "See what you think, little one."

As if understanding the whole concept, the kitten walked over to the bed, slowly climbing over the brown wicker siding and onto the bedding. The inside was easily four times bigger than he was.

Once on the soft material, Duo all but fell onto his side, nuzzling his face into the wool, purring in content and rolling onto his back as the humans watching over him laughed and chuckled.

"Looks like we have a winner," Heero grinned, picked his kitten up again. Once back with his owner, Duo looked up to the boy, resting his front paws on his chest again.

Heero lifted him so the cat could climb onto his shoulder. Wrapping his lithe body behind the Japanese youth's neck so that his front paws and back paws hung on either side, the kitted rested his head on the human's shoulder with a small sigh of content.

Gathering the bed, Zechs handed it to their robotic assistant and held the bed out and said, "We'll be purchasing this."

The robot accepted the bed in its metallic hands and replied, "Very good, sir." As it lowered the item into the cart, it asked, "Would you like to see any other departments?"

Noin answered with a nod, "We should visit the toy section next."

"Very good choice, madam," the assistant said in that metallic voice. "This way," it directed, pushing the cart ahead of them.

As they made their way to the half of the store designated for toys alone, Heero looked to the kitten on his shoulder and noticed how his pet's violet eyes widened at the sight of the wide selection of things to chew, chase, anything his little heart could desire.

He chuckled deeply, "This ought to be fun."

* * * * * *

Four hours later, Heero, Noin and Zechs entered their house again, each with their arms filled with bags stuffed with items from the store. The door automatically closed after the voice at the entrance greeted them all.

Heero would never have imagined how much of an affair it was to care for a pet, how many things were needed to see that an animal was kept healthy and happy. He was fortunate enough to not need to worry about the financial responsibilities. For that, he was grateful.

Along with the realization of what was included in caring for a pet, what had been even more of a surprise to Heero, was being in a different city and the way people lived in a society that was not as well off as the one in which he lived.

The day's events had been as much of a learning experience, as they were quite enjoyable to him. Along with a new understanding of the world around him, Heero was finally taking responsibility for something that he actually wanted as his own.

Recalling the visit to the veterinarian that worked at the store for check ups and shots that were needed for any visitors, Heero did feel bad for Duo in thinking back to the fear of the small creature.

It had taken a lot to finally get the kitten to relax enough to get his shots and have his eyes and ears checked out. The doctor had been kind enough too show Heero what to look for as warnings for any infections.

Once the check-up was all over, Duo all but leapt back into Heero's possession. If anything, the teenager could find relief in knowing that his feline was given a clean bill of health and all of his needed shots.

Duo was perched on his owner's shoulders again, trying to peek down into the bags in the boy's hands. Around his neck, he wore a new, red collar. Dangling from the collar was a gold plated tag with the name `DUO' written in a lovely script.

"Well, that was a nice change of pace, I must say," Noin smiled as she lowered her bags onto the large living room sofa.

Following her lead as he relieved his arms of his own items, Zechs and Heero expressed their agreement, putting everything they had purchased away. Once the bed, food, leash, brushes, and most of the toys were put away, Noin looked to the clock.

The young maid's eyes widened slightly in realization of what time it was and she announced, "I should get dinner started before our guests head over."

Zechs spoke up almost immediately to offer, "I'll help."

Shaking his head, Heero wondered when his two guardians would finally stop dancing around their obvious feelings for each other and just come right out and say how they felt. Instead, they continued to make excuses to be around each other.

Heero turned his head to smile at his personal neck warmer and replied, "All right. I'm going to take Duo upstairs along with his bed and some of his toys."

When the boy moved to gather a handful of toys, Duo leapt from his shoulder and tried to get at his new play things before Heero scooped them up. "In a minute," he smiled, patting the top of his kitten's head. Taking the bed in his free hand, he gestured to the stairs, "Come on."

As Heero rose up the stairs with his faithful pet hopping up the steps behind him, his guardians smiled as they watched. Noin turned to face the tall man beside her. "I've never seen him so happy before," she commented quietly.

Shaking his head, Zechs couldn't help but grin as he replied, "Nor have I." He sighed deeply and folded his arms as he said, "I am still shocked that Danielle allowed Heero to keep that kitten. I just hope that this might mean she realized she is putting too much pressure on him."

"I have a hard time seeing her admit to that," Noin frowned. "From what I understand, she was brought up the same way, just as her husband had been. Then, their parents before them were the same as well. A cycle like that is pretty hard to break."

Zechs chewed on the inside of his lip, looking up the stairs as he thought a moment. Finally, he stated, "Agreed, but Heero is nothing like either of his parents. He takes things in and considers what he can learn from them. His parents only concerned themselves with what was of importance to them."

Lowering his arms, the blonde looked back to the dark-haired woman as he asked, "Did you see the way he was focused on taking in his new surroundings in Waupan when we drove through today?"

Noin took a moment, but actually did remember seeing the boy all but glued to the back seat windows of the stretch car. At recalling that, she nodded, "He did seem intrigued by the whole visit. But I thought that would have been a normal reaction, since he had never been out of Compton in years."

"Ah, but that's the difference between Heero and his parents," Zechs began, a slight smirk on his face, a raised finger in the air to halt Noin's thoughts. "No matter where they went, whether it was their first time there or not, his parents' eyes were glued to their laptops and to the newspaper, their reports, anything but what was around them.

"Instead of believing what his parents said, Heero was still too curious to see it for himself. Instead of focusing on what only concerned him, his career that his parents have lined up for him, he wanted to see how other people lived."

Obviously wanting to get all of this out, Zechs began to pace as Noin watched him intently. He continued, "I have a feeling that Heero had what he needed to gain right amount of leverage in talking his mother into allowing him to keep Duo. Getting his mother to allow such a thing was a near impossible feat."

Finished his pacing, Zechs met Noin's wide eyes and smirked, "I have a feeling that he had been saving whatever he used to get her to accommodate his wishes. If that's the case, it just backs up my statement, that he takes everything in, even things that may not directly effect him, to learn from them and use them when he can.

"These are all reasons I think he could be a ripple in the current that his family and their families before them have lead." Pointing up to the ceiling, to where Heero's room was over their heads, he concluded, "He could be the one to break the cycle."

Noin smiled at last, in taking everything that Zechs had observed about the boy. What he said did make sense. If Heero truly wanted to learn about the world around him- whether relevant to his own life or not- he would have the advantage no one in his family had…

"Heero's curiosity would finally catch up to him," Noin stated. "Eventually, he'll actually want to experience life… what life really is outside of the bubble that those before him created around him."

Zechs smiled back, "Exactly. If we're right in this theory, it may not take much for him to turn around and actually have a say in his own wishes, hopes, fear, his life. This could be the start of what we hoped for him."

Unable to contain her excitement, Noin laughed and threw her arms around Zechs in a tight hug. Zechs's initial response was to return the embrace. The moment it registered that they were holding each other, they both stiffened, wide-eyed.

Pulling back in a rush, Noin blushed fiercely and lowered her head. Running a hand through her hair, she suggested quickly, "We should get that dinner started."

With her head lowered, she missed the fact that Zechs was blushing almost as badly as he brushed a hand down the front of his shirt to straighten it. "Good idea," he replied just as quickly. Together, they made their way to the kitchen.

* * * * * *

Looking up to the monitor, Heero chuckled deeply to himself when he saw his friends standing outside the front door. Duo was grooming himself; lying in his bed, with his eyes closed, he licked his front right paw and brushed it over the fur on his back.

"Time to meet the guys, Duo," the teenaged boy smiled as he scooped the kitten up. Only slightly surprised by the sudden change of altitude, the violet-eyed feline looked up to his owner in what could only be considered confusion.

When he reached the front door and opened it, Heero watched as his three friends' expressions went from smiles of greetings to shock, when all of their eyes fell onto the furry creature in his hand.

For a moment, the Japanese teenager just grinned at his three frozen comrades. Breaking the silence, he gestured to the kitten and announced, "Everyone, this is Duo."

"Is that really what I think it is?" Wufei questioned, being the first to find his voice, pointing at the kitten.

"Where did you find him?" Quatre inquired immediately after, his wide eyes turning up to look at his friend.

"How the hell did you manage to get your Mom to keep him?" Trowa asked immediately after.

At their sudden barrage of questions, Heero laughed before replying, "Yes, he's an actual kitten, I found him in the street last night and my Mom is a long story."

Satisfied with those answers, his friends came to life again as they moved forward to get a closer look at the kitten. Duo just ate up all of the attention as he was patted and caressed by each of Heero's friends. Even Wufei was enthralled by the little one.

"He's so cute!" Quatre exclaimed with his eyes filled with wonder.

Heero smirked, "Well, before you all smother him, let's go inside. Dinner will be ready in a little bit. You can all take turns holding him while you're here." With that, he led them all into the house.

* * * * * *

With a wide yawn, Duo lowered his head onto Heero's shoulder, where he had taken his perch again. Heero chuckled deeply, "Yes, it's been a pretty exciting day. You made quite an impression on my friends back there."

Closing the bedroom door behind him, he carefully picked Duo up from where he was wrapped around his neck and lowered the kitten onto his new bed before removing his shirt. The shocked looks on his friends' faces came into the teenager's mind again and he smiled.

The evening had been quite memorable for them. Each expressed their jealousy that Heero came across such a rarity. In the short time they spent with Duo, they quickly realized the advantages of having an actual animal for a pet as opposed to their robotic canines.

Come the next night, Heero knew that it would be back to business as usual. By then, his mother would have gathered enough work for him to keep busy. He was fully prepared to returned to his normal life, the only one he had ever known. Still, the distraction had been pleasant, while it lasted.

After pulling his sleep pants over his waist, Heero walked over to his pet's bed, where the kitten lay watching him all the while. The youth bent at the waist and patted the top of his head as he said quietly, "Good night, Duo."

Turning the light out, he crawled into his own bed and pulled the covers over him. Closing his eyes, he sighed deeply. His cobalt eyes suddenly snapped open, when he felt something land on the mattress beside his face. Sitting up slightly, he watched as the little kitten walked up to the large pillow where the boy had lain his head.

Heero chuckled as the little one rolled into a tight little ball just by the human's head and closed his violet eyes with a small sigh.

`So much for the bed,' the teenager thought to himself, a smirk on his face. Still, he couldn't complain. Lowering his head back down beside his pet, Heero closed his own eyes and drifted off to sleep.

 

Part 5:

Danielle Yuy blew over the top of her cup of tea as she read over the reports for her troubling case. Having to defend a very high profile politician, like Mark Johnson, against first degree murder was proving to have its challenges.

While one would have thought that such a man could not be touched, the prosecution had gathered quite a bit of incriminating evidence that they considered evidence that may sway the jury the wrong way… at least the wrong way where she was concerned.

Chuckling deeply, Danielle sipped from her tea, her curly red ringlets of hair falling off her shoulders. She continued to read the files of the case built up against her client.

Of course, Senator Johnson had killed his wife, and the man with whom she was having her little affair. Danielle knew that her client was guilty. Having gone through all of the crime lab results and clues that had been sloppily left behind, there was no question in her mind that the man was guilty.

Still… for the amount of money that a victory in this case would bring to the Yuy firm, Danielle would have him painted off as a saint by the end of the trial without batting an eye.

The prosecutor's head would spin, what happened to the case they had built against the clear criminal. No one would be after the Senator when this was done, and none would see him as anything but an innocent man who was charged for a crime he did not commit.

This was the way in Danielle's line of work. It was what brought such a luxurious lifestyle to her and her late husband.

Lowering her cup and removing her wire frame glasses from her nose, she looked up from the reports and sighed deeply. Odin. In one week, it would be the anniversary of his passing. It would be one year already.

Knowing that if Odin were able, he would come back just to tell her to stop sulking and continue working, Danielle placed her glasses back on. Of course she missed her husband terribly, but death was just a part of life.

At least when he passed, Odin had everything that he could have ever dreamed of owning. Not many were as lucky as they had been. And Danielle was determined to see that Heero followed in his father's footsteps, as they had planned from the time he was born.

Nothing was going to keep Heero from the path that was set for him. He was destined to be just like his father.

Sifting through the reports on the table, Danielle felt something brush up against her leg. Looking down, the redheaded woman found the brown kitten that her son had brought into the house. He was rubbing the side of his furry body against her leg as his violet eyes looked up at her.

It had been almost a month since Heero had asked his mother to allow him to keep the feline. Coming home from her business trip in relation to the Johnson trial, Danielle was pleasantly surprised to see just how true to his word to her had been in taking full responsibility for the kitten.

The kitten continued to look up at the young woman with those brilliant eyes wide open in curiosity. While she never liked being disturbed when she was working, Danielle couldn't help the small smile on her face. "I take it this is how you got Heero to want to keep you so badly," she chuckled.

Unable to understand what she was saying, Duo sat and tilted his head, his nametag jingling softly with every movement of his neck. Those eyes were the most remarkable things that Danielle had ever seen on a cat before, she had to admit. With their violet shade, they seemed alluring yet there was something haunting about them at the same time.

Reaching down to pat the top of his head, Danielle sighed, "Well, I suppose you bring him the companionship he needs, so I shouldn't complain." Duo purred deeply as he nuzzled his face against her hand.

There was something very special about this particular kitten, Danielle was convinced.

She had been certain that when she returned from the business trip that she had been on while the feline was brought into her house, she would regret ever allowing such an animal to live there. Instead, she actually felt a certain fondness for him, even if she would never admit to it.

Heero came into the room, looking around anxiously. Danielle smiled at him and pointed down to the floor beside her. Looking under the table, he recovered his missing pet and frowned, "Duo."

Startled by the sound of his owner's voice, the kitten turned quickly to face him. When their eyes met, Duo ran up to the teenage boy as he was scooped up easily with one hand.

Still frowning, Heero said quietly, "Sorry, Mom. I didn't mean for him to get away to disturb you." He glared down at the kitten, only for his scowl to fade when Duo meowed innocently up at him.

His mother chuckled deeply and waved her hand nonchalantly as she replied, "It's all right. He doesn't interrupt me all that often at all. You've been true to your word to take care of him." At that, Heero smiled in relief.

Looking to her watch, Danielle added, "I am going to be leaving for another meeting again soon, anyway." She gathered up the loose papers from the table before stacking them neatly and placing them in her leather folder.

"Be a good lad and see to those odds and ends that I need to have worked out before Monday," the young woman told her son in a firm, but affectionate tone.

Heero nodded firmly, "Of course. I am finished with more than half of the projects now. They'll be finished before long."

A proud smile appeared on his mother's face as she approached. "That's my good boy. I never have to worry when I have your assistance," she said sincerely as she leaned forward and pecked him on the cheek.

Jumping up onto Heero shoulder, his usual perch, Duo blinked his wide eyes at the boy's mother. Danielle laughed, "All right, you too." She reached up and patted the top of his furry head to be rewarded with another nuzzle and a round of purring. Heero chuckled deeply.

Zechs stepped into the living room, his long black chauffer coat on, as he announced, "The car is ready, madam."

With a nod to the tall man, Danielle finished closing her briefcase and replied, "Thank you, Zechs." Quickly mentally checking off what she needed, she was satisfied that everything was at her disposal.

Pulling her suit coat on, Heero's mother kissed his cheek again as she told him, "This will most likely run pretty late. I am going to be having dinner with the board members after out meeting, so I will see you tomorrow."

"Okay," Heero replied, rubbing the top of Duo's head as the kitten continued to lie stretched across his shoulder. "Have a good night."

Giving him a wink, Danielle stepped out of the house, Zechs holding the door open for her. Following her out, the tall man closed the door behind them.

* * * * * *

That afternoon, walking into the living room of the Barton residence, Heero found his three friends.

Quatre was watching Trowa and Wufei in amusement, as they grunted and yelled, trying to get their space ships to take their opponent out. They were both lying on the floor in front of the large flat-screened television, playing one of the many video games that Trowa owned.

The Arab looked up from where he was chuckling to himself. His smile grew as he waved and greeted, "Hey, Heero." Wufei and Trowa paused the video game as they turned back to welcome their friend.

Heero smirked and removed his backpack from his shoulder. Tossing it onto the floor, he spoke to the tallest of the group. "I hope you don't mind me just stopping by like this."

A friendly smile bloomed on Trowa's face as he answered, "You're welcome anytime, you know that." Gesturing with his head to the book bag on the floor, he asked, "More assignments from your mom?"

"Yea," Heero nodded, "This case that she is preparing is pretty…what the-" He stopped in mid sentence when the book bag began to stir. His friends all watched with wide eyes. Through the opening at the top of the bag, a furry little head poked out, gazing around at its new surroundings.

Quatre, Trowa and Wufei fell into laugher at the sight of the kitten, who looked up to his master and gave a small meow. Duo's wide, violet eyes were filled with mischief.

It was a similar scene to a child giving as pitiful a look as they could muster to make their parent forget that they were sneaking into the cookie jar when they should not have been.

Sighing deeply, Heero couldn't help but smirk, "Duo, you little stowaway." Bending down, he pulled the zipper down more to make the opening at the top of his book bag big enough for his pet to jump out.

From where he sat on the floor, Wufei barely managed to contain his laughter as he commented, "Well, he'll have a better chance at beating me at this game than Trowa is having right now."

Beside him, Trowa snorted, "Well, I might not win this, but it looks like you're going to be losing our little bet that we made."

Sitting beside Quatre, Heero leaned forward and asked, "Merian still not giving you the time of day, Chang? You only have a week before the dance."

Duo curled up on Heero's lap as he watched the video game being played on the large thing that looked like a window to him. Normally, the furry creature would have found such a new place something that he needed to explore, to learn. Somehow, however, he was always content to be around the human that had given him a home.

Quatre folded his arms behind his back and grinned, "My sisters are willing to help when the loser is decided, since I had a chance to warn them in advance."

The blonde youth smiled at Duo as he reached over to pat the top of his head and commented, "You don't want to have to face another defeat like the last time do you?"

Lowering his controller, Wufei yelled, "I'm working on it, alright!"

The heads of his three friends fell back as they laughed out loud in disbelief of his strategy. Glaring at Trowa, The Chinese teenager growled, "You're lucky I consider you a brother." At that, the others just laughed louder.

Trowa snickered as he crawled over to the couch behind them to pat the kitten's head. Duo all but fell into the touch as he nuzzled his face into the hand of the tall teenager and purred loudly.

As if he was speaking to a child, Trowa smiled and cooed, "Hello, Duo. Uncle Wufei is pwetty scared that he is going to lose another bet, isn't he?"

"We'll just have to wait and see what happens," Wufei said with a roll of his eyes before moving to the couch as well. Once Trowa allowed him to get a hand in to pat the kitten, the Chinese teenager smirked at the furry little stowaway as Duo leaned into his touch.

Chuckling, Quatre shook his head and sighed, "Finally, something to keep the two of you from your constant bickering." His smile turned wistful as he said, "It is something, having an actual kitten in the group."

Both Trowa and Wufei gave their own nods of agreement, their prior argument forgotten altogether. Duo stretched as he rose from his owner's lap and walked towards the three teenagers, who looked ready to play with him.

While his friends entertained his pet, Heero smirked as he picked up a few of his folders from the backpack and he set back to work on the assignments that his mother had left him.

As he worked and talked with his friends, he would look up from the papers that he was focused on to smile as he watched the kitten.

* * * * * *

Noin had just finished setting the table when Heero returned with Duo. She shared a concerned look with Zechs before they took their seats. As the boy approached, the blonde man frowned deeply and began, "Heero, we've been looking everywhere for Duo and-"

Before Zechs could finish his sentence, Heero just smiled at him and Duo's head popped out from his backpack over his shoulder.

When the kitten meowed innocently at the wide eyes of the chauffer and young maid, Heero broke out into a full belly laughter. Both Zechs and Noin sighed deeply as their tense shoulders sagged.

Reaching over to gather his kitten into his hand, the teenager smiled, "Somehow, he managed to sneak into my backpack before I left for Trowa's."

Both guardians fell into laughter, both in their relief and at the sight that the kitten made when he suddenly appeared from the bag. For the last few hours, they had been dreading having to tell the boy that his kitten was missing.

Heero lowered the kitten onto the floor carefully. Without hesitating, Duo scurried over to his filled milk and soft foot as he ate happily after his exciting trip. Around him, the humans sat at the table for their own meal.

After eating in silence for some time, Noin decided to start a conversation. "I am sure that your mother will be happy when this trial finally begins in three weeks," she stated.

Nodding as he sucked on the end of his thumb to remove some of the meat sauce that gathered there, Heero replied, "With a high profile cast like this, she has to make sure that she isn't overlooking anything. I haven't seen her as busy as she has been these last couple months in a while."

As he cut into his slice of pot roast, Zechs told him, "I know that your mother appreciates all of the help that you've been providing. A case like this will mean a lot for the firm."

"Well, I should have everything that she gave me finished tomorrow," Heero said. "My school assignments are finished and I am still ahead of what's being taught in all of my classes."

Noin tilted her head as she inquired, "In speaking of school, there is only a couple of months left. I haven't heard you mentioning anything if there is going to be a Freshman dance."

A deep frown fell on Heero's face as he cleared his throat before answering quietly, "There is one. It's next Friday night." At that, the eyes of his guardians widened.

His head lowered, the boy shrugged and admitted, "I told the others that there was a board meeting that I had to attend, so I couldn't make it. Besides, with this case and all, my mother would never have allowed me to attend such an event."

While that end of it was true, Noin was still trying to find her voice. Finally, she whispered sadly, "I-I'm sorry, Heero…"

Meeting her gaze, the Japanese teenager assured her, "It's all right, Noin. I know that you had no idea." As he rose from his seat, Heero forced a smile and said, "Dinner was very nice, thank you. I should head upstairs and return to my research."

Before the others could reply, Heero left the dining room. Duo was in the middle of grooming himself when the boy quickly departed. Lowering his front right paw from his mouth, the kitten sprang up and ran after him as the boy made his way up to his room.

Noin lowered her head with a deep, saddened frown. With a small, reassuring smile, Zechs said quietly, "You don't have to feel bad for anything, Noin."

The dark-haired woman shrugged, "I just feel like a heel for how I brought up the whole thing. I never wanted to make him upset."

Folding his arms, the tall man replied curtly, "Well, you should be sorry. Think of the pain that you caused Heero without realizing that you were doing it. I don't think he'll ever be able to forgive you." Noin looked up at him with a half-hearted glare that faded into a small grin as she threw her cloth napkin at him.

Zechs caught the napkin easily as he laughed, "At least I made you smile." He became serious again as he said sincerely, "Don't worry about Heero. He just needs some space and time to himself to deal with this."

"You're right," the young maid finally agreed with a small smile of gratitude on her face. "We might as well start clearing the table."

An indignant look on his face, the chauffer all but shouted, "I am not helping the likes of you, walking over people's feelings without any regard!"

Noin smirked at him as she growled, "Zechs. Don't get me started." With another full laugh from his lungs, the young man relented from his game and rose to assist the young woman whom he knew he had fallen for.

* * * * * *

Upstairs, Heero closed the bedroom door behind him, only a small slither left open for Duo, as he ran in just in time. He was so lost in his thoughts that he never saw his pet enter make his way inside.

Quickly going to his desk, the human removed the folders from his backpack that he gathered before leaving the living room. Sorting through the reports that he had to look into, he dove into his work.

On the bed on the other side of the room, Duo lied down, his head just hanging over the side of the mattress as he watched Heero working at his computer. The rapid clicking of the keys on the keyboard painted the image of how fast the teenager's fingers were typing.

While the kitten was used to the routine of his owner working every night, he could sense that there was something wrong. His toys forgotten, Duo just waited and watched his owner patiently. This was more important to him.

Heero lost track of the time, losing himself in the work left for him. When he finished with the tasks that his mother needed finished, he emailed her associates to send more work. Attacking the reports that were faxed in, his thoughts were beginning to catch up with him.

The dance was the furthest thing from Heero's mind, whether or not he would have been allowed to attend. Getting to experience such social events were never a commodity to him in the first place, so it wasn't as if he was really missing out on anything he had been used to.

What was on Heero's mind was that the night of the Freshman dance was the first year anniversary of his father's death. It hardly seemed like it was already approaching a year since the accident that had changed everything.

Shaking his head to clear his mind again, Heero went back to his work. If there was anything good that came from having so much to do, it was a good distraction from having to face reality. Having to deal with his conflicting emotions was something he did not want to have to cope with now.

* * * * * *

It was late in the evening before Heero finally tired in his efforts. He looked over at the clock at the edge of his deck to see that it was 12:36 am. Rubbing his eyes, the Japanese teenager sighed deeply before stretching.

There was a soft meow from the floor, making the boy's head look down quickly, to see his tiny kitten sitting at his feet. The bright violet eyes watched him intently as his tail swished from side-to-side. Blinking his cobalt eyes in surprise, Heero whispered, "Duo?"

As the mention of his name, the kitten's legs parted a bit as his bottom wiggled before he leapt gracefully into Heero's lap. Duo placed his front paws on his owner's chest as he stretched up to get as close to the teenager's face.

With a sad smile, Heero raised his hand to pat the top of the furry head as he said quietly, "I didn't know that you were in here this whole time." Purring deeply, Duo leaned into the gentle touch and closed his eyes.

Carefully, Heero rose with the kitten in his hand as he shut down the fax machine and computer. Placing Duo on the bed so that he could remove his shirt and change into a pair of grey sweatpants, he climbed onto the mattress, himself. As he settled down, pulling the blanket over himself, he watched as Duo curled into a ball beside his head on the large pillow.

Sighing softly, Heero reached up and gently stroked the kitten's soft brown fur. When Duo looked up, he uncurled himself and leaned his head forward, licking the boy's cheek with his small tongue. It was only then that Heero realized that he had been crying. He gave a small grin to his pet when he finished licking the tears away.

"You know the strange thing," the teenager began quietly. "I'm crying over the loss of someone I never really knew." Duo just moved closer, nuzzling his own face against the damp cheek before him.

Heero's smile grew and he placed a soft kiss atop the kitten's head before closing his cobalt eyes. Content only when he could tell that his owner was sleeping peacefully, his companion moved. Curling back into a ball with the humans hand gently lying on his furry body, Duo sighed softly before falling asleep.

* * * * * *

Quatre snapped another picture with his digital camera as he exclaimed excitedly, "Aw, that one is going to turn out beautifully!"

Beside him, Heero was snapping yet another picture for himself with his own camera. "I still can't believe that you pulled it off, Wufei," he complimented. Duo ran past their feet, chasing a butterfly as it flew close to the ground.

Nodding, the Arab looked back to his Chinese friend and asked, "Yea, how did you manage to get Merian to agree to go to the dance last night with you on such short notice?"

His arms crossed, his back leaned against the house siding, Wufei chuckled deeply, "A healthy dose of groveling does wonders. Not to mention a promise to show her the pictures from today."

"Damn," Heero chuckled deeply, "I wish I was there to have pictures of *that*. Wufei Chang begging. That must have been a sight." Quatre was laughing and nodding his agreement.

A smug smirk on his lips, Wufei shrugged, "Hey, whatever works. It helped me win the bet. And now my parents have a freshly cut lawn." Craning his neck, he called over the sound of the motor, "You missed a spot, Trowa!"

Quatre cupped a hand to the side of his mouth as he called, "And smile for the camera! I promised Iria that she would get to see what we've been up to!"

"Go to hell!" the tall teenager yelled back, his friends laughing all the louder.

Sighing deeply, Trowa grumbled to himself as he adjusted the dressy sunhat over his brunette head. He had to adjust the skirt of the pink dress that he was wearing to be able to make another turn on the lawnmower.

Heero snickered, "Sad thing is, he looks better in that dress than your sister."

Beside him, Quatre nodded, "Yea, but I'll never tell Iria that. I value my life."

As the lawnmower continued to make its laps around the many acres of grass of the Chang backyard, Heero spotted Duo as he continued to lead and run after the butterfly floating by. The boy smiled warmly.

Wufei finished taking yet another shot with his camera before announcing, "Well, he only has one more lap to go before he's finished."

"Yep, better get a head start to hide the evidence," Quatre suggested.

At that, the three teenagers took off in a rush as Trowa's voice shouted after them, "Hey! Get back here with those pictures!"

 

Part 6:

Sitting in the school's library, Heero's fingers typed fluidly over the keypad of the computer station where he sat. Just a couple more paragraphs and the assignment would be complete. Fortunately, the school's library stayed open late for any student wishing to use the facilities. Aside from the librarians who worked there, he was the only visitor at the time.

After this, all of Heero's projects would be complete and he could focus on his winter break. For two weeks during that break, he would be leaving to meet his mother on Colony D10 to research for another upcoming trial. He needed to devote his time to that, not school lessons that seemed elementary to him.

Like any year of school, Heero's junior year was running smoothly. Performing at the top of his courses, he was already predicted to be his class's Valedictorian for their graduation the following year.

Heero had declined the honor, not wishing to have to make a speech before all present for the event. He did not need to give a speech to be satisfied in knowing that he was at the head of his class. That knowledge alone was satisfying enough.

The last two years had moved quickly. And as the old saying went, time certainly did change many things. Since his mother's victory in Senator Mark Johnson's murder trial, the Yuy law firm received an unprecedented number of clients, all very wealthy at that. The win also made the firm on of the most publicized and redeemed among any other.

With so many new cases coming in, even more of Heero's time was devoted to assisting his mother, along with her many other lawyers, in their work. Since he was predestined to follow in his father's shoes, the teenager was grateful to have as much experience as he could get.

"Heero Yuy, you're still here?" a woman's voice broke through his thought process, bringing his fingers to pause on the keyboard.

When he turned, he found his History teacher, Catherine Bloom. The red-haired teacher was Trowa's half-sister, a friend to Heero and the others for as long as he could remember. She fell easily into her teaching position, a fresh college graduate.

Standing beside Catherine was another young woman who Heero did not recognize. She was also dressed professionally attired and her blonde hair nearly touched the ground. Her piercing blue eyes watched him intently.

Catherine shook her head as she smirked, "I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised to see you here. You and the others always were ambitious when it came to your schoolwork."

Extending her hand to the blonde woman beside her, the redhead introduced, "Heero, this is my friend, Dorothy Catalonia. She just became the new director of law for Wayne University."

At the mention of the name, Heero's cobalt eyes widened. Quickly, he rose from his seat and extended his hand to the young woman who he would be working with personally during his four years of college.

Dorothy chuckled warmly, accepting his hand in a polite shake as she nodded, "Pleased to meet you, Heero. Catherine has spoken very highly of you. She tells me you're brilliant."

Fighting the urge to blush at that, Heero replied sincerely, "Nice to meet you as well, Miss Catalonia. I jut like getting my work done the best that I can. There is little brilliance about that."

With a good-natured laugh, the blonde woman shook her head and told him, "Modest, too, I like that. Considering how the Yuy Law Firm is now one of the highest ranked firms throughout space, that speaks well of your nature.

"Over the last couple years, I have followed the progress of your family's firm closely as a basis of my own studies. I must say that I am very impressed with how your mother managed to win the Johnson case. She had her work cut out for her. You will be able to learn a lot from her."

The college professor tilted her head and winked, "And any friend of Catherine is a friend of mine. As long as there are no other students around, feel free to refer to be as simply Dorothy. From what I have heard of you, I understand that we will be spending a great deal of time together during your stay at Wayne University."

Catherine turned to her friend and smiled, "I am certain that the two of you will get along well, Dorothy. Heero loves learning new things." She laughed, "He could easily teach my class for me if he wanted to."

Raising an eyebrow, the taller professor grinned, "An inquisitive one, then. That is excellent. You will need that for the line of work you will be going into. I do expect all of my students to have that drive to learn anything and everything they can."

"Yea ma-Dorothy," Heero corrected himself as he gave a small smile. There was a lot about this young woman that he liked. He was certainly looking forward to working with her. While she was an air of professionalism, she also seemed to be very approachable.

As he gestured to the computer station where he had just been sitting, Heero addressed the red-headed teacher, "I was just about to print off the semester's final paper you had assigned us."

Her eyes widening, Catherine gaped and sputtered, "W-what? Heero… I just gave that assignment last Friday. You have three weeks before it's due."

With a shrug, Heero replied, "I just feel better knowing that it's done now." He turned to the computer and moved the mouse to click the `Print' button. As the printer beside the machine came to life, the dark-haired youth turned back to the stunned young woman.

Using the stapler at the work station, Heero handed the assignment to Catherine. She came out of her stupor as she paged through the thick report.

At finding that not only was the assignment complete, but the boy went beyond what she asked for, she shook her head and smirked, "As I said, you could easily teach one of my classes if you waned to."

Dorothy chuckled deeply, "Modest, inquisitive and ambitions." She turned to her friend and nodded, "You're right. We will get along splendidly."

The blonde professor lifted her purse to fish out a business card. Handing the card to Heero, she smiled, "Since we will be seeing a great deal of each other in the future, feel free to contact me if you have any questions. There is no such thing as too much preparation when it comes to attending college. It's a far different world from high school."

Heero accepted the card, smiling graciously, "I will be sure to do that. Thank you." He placed the card safely in the front pouch of his backpack.

With a glance up to the clock above the library's front doors, he said, "I should be heading home. Dinner will be ready pretty soon." The two young women smiled and they exchanged their farewells.

When Heero left, Catherine sighed deeply, a sad frown on her face as she put the project neatly in her briefcase. Seeing what Heero's mother put that boy through just opened old wounds for her. Catherine always had a desire to teach.

The day Catherine announced to her parents that she did not want to live the life they had planed for her in space research and science, she was disowned. To this day, she knew that Trowa's parents ordered him not to let anyone else know that he had a sibling.

Trowa was good enough to still visit Catherine whenever he could. Even as she taught her brother and his friends, they had to act as though they did not know each other. His friends knew better, of course, but understandably, they were too frightened to let on to anyone else.

Despite all of the heartache that her decision brought her, Catherine still would never have gone back on it. She was doing what she wanted, not what was planned out for her by someone else. All that she could do was hope for the best for her brother and his friends.

* * * * * *

"Welcome home, Heero," the recorded voice greeted as the front door opened. Stepping into the house, the teenager sighed as he lowered his backpack filled with books. Kicking off his shoes, he balanced himself with ease.

The familiar jingling sound of metal brought a smile on Heero's face. He turned in time to see his much larger cat running up to him. "Hey, Duo," he greeted quietly. The cat purred loudly as he rubbed his head against the hand extended to him.

Over the last two years, Duo had grown considerable. When on his four legs, the top of his head almost reached Heero's knee. He had gone through several sizes of collars in a short period of time. It was not just that he was much taller, but he also grew a bit longer.

While it was a bit of a shock to Heero that a cat could get so big, there was no one around who ever so much as saw a full grown cat that could say it was anything but normal. Now that Duo had outgrown being able to use his owner's shoulders as a perch, he usually curled in his lap instead.

Still, his violet eyes never lost their brilliance. That haunting gaze never changed even when those eyes grew. As they looked up at Heero, the boy chuckled deeply, "Why do you look like you're up to something?" A meow was his only answer.

Patting the top of his pet's head again, Heero smiled and walked deeper into the house. Duo following closely behind, the boy opened the sliding doors that led to the dining room. His eyes widened at the chorus of voices shouting, "Surprise!"

There were a few flashes from cameras as the Japanese teenager assessed the room. Standing around the table were Noin, Zechs, Quatre, Trowa, Wufei and Relena. On the table was a pile of wrapped gifts and a large cake with two gold candles shaped to make the number `17'. Heero broke out into a wide smile as he laughed.

Noin was the first to greet him as she smiled, "Happy birthday, Heero." She kisses his cheek as he hugged her. As he quickly took in the faces of those present, he quickly understood why they were able to pull this off. His mother was away on another business trip.

Heero went around the room, hugging and thanking everyone for the surprise. He couldn't remember the last time his birthday was celebrated with his friends being invited. Noin and Zechs really went out of their way to make this day special for him.

After all of the greetings were finished, everyone sat at the table as dinner was served. The moment Heero sat, Duo leapt into his lap, rolling himself into a ball to fit easily on his legs. Chuckling deeply, the boy ran his hand over the cat's brown fur.

When he finished filling his plate, Wufei smirked, "We figured that you would be spending your time working on the last history assignment we had, even if it was your birthday."

Shrugging, Heero replied, "Yea, but now I don't have to worry about any more assignments for any of our classes before the break. I can just sit back through the next three weeks of school."

Trowa snickered, "That'll be the same for the rest of us in a day or two. It'll be pretty hard not falling asleep in our classes."

Relena shook her head and sighed, "You boys really should learn to pace yourselves. You do realize that when a teacher gives you an assignment that you can wait until closer to the deadline, don't you?"

Turning his head to face his now girlfriend, Quatre snorted, "You met our parents." As if that was all he needed to say, the blonde-haired girl winced with an `Oh.'

Since the Freshman dance, Quatre and Relena became quick friends. Luckily for the Arab, Relena was the daughter of a widely known Foreign Minister. Knowing that, they never objected to their son's spending time with her. Over time, their friendship bloomed and they began dating as an `exclusive' couple, much to the disappointment of many of the girls they went to school with.

Even with Trowa and Wufei teasing Quatre in a friendly manner that he had a girlfriend, he took it all in stride. The teasing soon ended as the relationship was soon proven to have sincere feelings behind it.

Determined to be welcome into the group, Relena even laughed at the playful jabs that she received from the others. Before her, no girl had been a part of the tight bond that the four teenage boys had formed over the years. However, she had fallen into the group easily. Should anyone do or say anything to hurt Relena, they would have her three `brothers' and Quatre to deal with.

Wufei `dated' several girls, but he never stayed with one person for more than a couple weeks as he would find something annoying about whomever he was seeing at the time. While the flings were short, no one could say that the Chinese teenager was using any of them.

Trowa was much the same, a few dates here-and-there, but nothing much beyond a few kissing sessions for either of them. they both had made comments at different times that they still had plenty of time before finding someone they could see sharing a serious relationship with.

In the last year, Zechs and Noin finally admitted their own feelings and were now dating. When he found out, Heero had laughed at them, saying it was about time. His mother was even pleased with the announcement, having suspected the connection as early as her son had.

As for himself, Heero was content only having his studies and work to focus on. While Trowa and Wufei saw people off-and-on, the thought of having to concern himself with the responsibilities that came with dating just never appealed to the Japanese youth. Still, he was very supportive of Quatre and Relena. They really did make a sweet couple.

When dinner was finished and the table was cleared, Zechs lit the two candles on the cake. As he brought it to sit before Heero, his friends sang `Happy Birthday.' In his lap, Duo sat up to watch with wide eyes.

Taking a moment to think of what he wanted to wish for, Heero reminded himself how his mother told him it was foolish to believe in such foolish notion. Without a wish, he blew out the candles.

After cake, ice cream and opening presents, it was beginning to grow late. The guests all began filing out, wishing Heero a happy birthday. Duo was playing with a large piece of torn wrapping paper and ribbon as they all left. He only stopped his game when the nice humans all stopped to pat him on their way out.

Heero helped Zechs and Noin finish cleaning the living room as he told them sincerely, "Thank you for this, both of you."

"Our pleasure," Noin smiled warmly. "It's always nice to see your friends."

With a smile, the tall man chuckled deeply, "Besides, we couldn't miss out on an opportunity like this. Your mother will be away until this weekend, so what she doesn't know won't hurt her."

Fully aware of truth in how objectionable his mother was to parties such as this, Heero admitted that this was a rare opportunity. She looked on things such as this as `just more unnecessary distractions.'

Come to think of his mother, Heero turned to the pair and asked, "Did my mother call for me at all today?" At the hesitation, he got his answer. He shrugged, "She's been really busy these last few days. I didn't really expect her to remember."

Quickly, Noin suggested, "I'm sure that she didn't forget, Heero. It's still a couple hours before your curfew. She probably wanted to wait until she was sure you were home before calling." Zechs nodded his own agreement with her statement.

Bending down to pat the top of Duo's head, Heero said, "Well, I'm going to my room to follow up on some of the contacts she wanted me to make." The cat leaned his face into the touch, purring loudly in content. As Heero walked up the steps, Duo quickly followed.

When they were alone, Noin sighed with an agitated frown, "I'm going to call Danielle to remind her it's his birthday, just like the last couple years."

Zechs snorted bitterly, "Good idea. "You would think that she would think to put something like *this* in her planner along with her scheduled meetings."

* * * * * *

An hour later, Heero answered the vid phone. The image of his mother appeared on the screen as she smiled brightly, "Happy Birthday, son. I can't believe that you're sixteen already."

Taking a deep breath, the teenager corrected patiently, "Seventeen. I guess Noin called you to remind you to call me, then?" Danielle winced slightly. With a deep sigh, she lowered her head. Heero grinned lopsidedly as he reassured her, "It's all right, mom. I know you're having a rough week."

After the last few years, Heero knew that this was just how his mother functioned. He never was really hurt by her forgetting his birthday. It was just part of the routine anymore. Before long, he would have to remind her when it was Christmas and Thanksgiving, too, or she would work right through them as well.

His mother seemed to regain her steam as she looked up and chuckled, "I knew you would understand. You always were understanding. I promise to be better at remembering next year, Heero."

Duo licked his front right paw as he continued to groom himself at his owner's feet. There certainly were a lot of things to keep him entertained that day. Now, he was content just to sit close to the boy.

"Just three more weeks and I'll be meeting you here," Danielle changed the subject. "I'll finally get to introduce you to the same colleagues that you will be working with when you finish college. Be sure that you pack enough for a long stay. I have a feeling that I may need you here for a couple weeks."

Nodding, Heero answered, "I'll do that. See you in three weeks, then." They said their good byes and with that, he cut off the connection to get ready for bed.

* * * * * *

With school finally out for the remainder of December and most of January, Heero finished backing his bags to leave for Colony D10. It was exciting that he would have the chance to learn more about preparing for cases along with his mother. As Dorothy had told him, there were few better whom he could learn from first-hand.

Placing the last folded shirt into the suit case, Heero prepared to close the piece of luggage when his cat suddenly jumped atop the packed items. He meowed up to his owner with wide violet eyes as he tail waved excitedly. Laughing, Heero shook his head, "Aw, I wish that I could take you with me, too, Duo."

Carefully, the boy scooped his cat into his arms, cradling him like a baby as he removed him from the inside of his suitcase. After closing the bag, Heero sat on the edge of his bed and tapped a hand on his lap. Duo jumped into his lap with ease, sitting up to nuzzle his face against the human's.

"You be good for Noin and Zechs while I'm gone," Heero told him quietly. "I'll be back in a couple weeks." His answer was a loud purr in his ear as the cat continued to nuzzle him. Running his hand along Duo's back once more, the teenager rose from the bed, his suitcase in hand.

Downstairs, Zechs stood at the door in his long, black coat and cap as he nodded to the boy. Noin kissed Heero on the cheek as she handed him a small bundle wrapped in a piece of cloth. "Some cookies for your trip," she told him.

"Thank you, Noin," Heero smiled as he returned the peck on the cheek. "See you soon." He turned back to watch as Duo walked over to Noin. Planting himself to sit at her feet, the cat watched his owner.

As she bent down to pat his furry head, the young woman chuckled, "We'll take good care of this little one while you're away." She looked back up to grin, "Have a safe trip."

With a nod to her and a wink to his cat, Heero stepped out of the house. Zechs closed the door behind them as he followed.

* * * * * *

Two days later…

"Duo!" Noin cried as she frantically searched the living room. Checking under the chairs and the couches with her wide eyes, she called the cat's name again.

Returning from his errands, Zechs came running into the house after hearing the shouts, concern all over his face, as he asked, "What's going on?"

His girlfriend straightened and turned to him, tears in her eyes as she cried, "Duo's missing! I called for him when I brought out his food, but he didn't come. I've been searching for almost an hour now and I can't find him!"

Containing his own fear, the blonde man put his hands gently on her shoulders as he soothed, "Okay. He has to be here somewhere."

Noin wiped at her eyes as she nodded, "Okay. I already searched every inch on this level, so he isn't here."

With a nod as he wiped the tears that were still on her cheeks, Zechs nodded, "All right. We'll check upstairs then." Leading the way, he quickly walked up the stairs. Once at the top, they spit up to search the rooms.

Finding no sign of the cat after searching two of the first rooms, the tall man decided to check Heero's room right away. The door was cracked open just a bit when he reached it. Peering in, his eyes fell on a soft blue glow that came from under the bed.

Zechs moved to kneel beside the mattress as he pushed back the hanging covers, his face contorted in confusion. With a sharp gasp, his eyes widened as he whispered, "What on Earth…?"

* * * * * *

"It's nice to be back home," Heero sighed in relief as Zechs pulled the stretch car into the garage. "These last two weeks are blur."

There was no response from the chauffer, the back of his head facing Heero as he focused on the road. Zechs had been unusually quiet from the time that he picked him up from the shuttle port. Frowning in concern, the teenager asked, "Zechs? Is everything all right?"

As he put the car in park, Zechs broke from his daze as he looked back and replied, "Oh, of course, Heero." He forced a smile. "I'm sorry, I was just thinking about something."

Blinking in confusion, the youth asked, "Are you sure?" Looking to the house, he inquired, "How's Duo?"

When Zechs hesitated, Heero's cobalt eyes widened in fear. He threw the car door open and ran up to the house. As he ran, he could hear Zechs shout his name. Placing his hand on the front door scanner, he ignored the voice greeting him as he ran inside, yelling, "Duo!?"

Before he could even see what hit him, Heero was lying flat on his back in that same instant. Nearly winded by whatever knocked into him, he stared up at the ceiling, trying to get his bearings. He soon realized that there was something lying atop of him.

Tentatively, Heero reached up, trying to feel whatever it was that had him pinned to the floor. It felt like another person. Whoever it was sat up enough so that they could look down on him, a wide, brilliant smile on their face.

From the long, brown hair that fell around the strange intruder, it was difficult to tell if they were a boy or girl, but they looked to be about Heero's age. Going by the shape of the frame in his arms, Heero soon realized that it was indeed a young man.

When his vision cleared, Heero's cobalt eyes widened as he gasped sharply. Atop the other teenager's head was a pair of cat ears, peeked up in excitement. That alone was not what had startled the Japanese youth… it was the bright, violet eyes that watched him.

Breathlessly, Heero whispered in disbelief, "D-Duo?" At the mention of his name, the confirmed boy purred deeply as he nuzzled the sides of their faces together.

With a nervous smile, Noin entered the room, fiddling with her apron. Heero's shocked eyes fell on her as she cleared her throat and spoke weakly, "Um… surprise."

Part 7:

There were so many questions, thoughts and concerns running through Heero's mind that he was drowning in them. he sat hunched forward on one of the living room sofas, his face buried in his hands. Taking a deep breath, he sat up and looked at the strange boy beside him.

Duo's cat ears were perked up, a bright smile on his face and his tail swishing in the air as he sat with his hand folded in his lap. His brilliant violet eyes stayed on his newly returned master all the while, filled with excitement at being reunited with his owner… well, now friend, Heero considered.

The tailed boy was been dressed in the clothes that he wore when he pounced atop Heero, when the latter entered the house. The attire was made of a loose, red shirt and a pair of gray sweat pants that had a hole cut in the back to allow his tail its freedom.

Only a few minutes had passed from the time that Heero found himself on the floor, staring up at the strange creature. Both Noin and Zechs had to help the two of them up since they were pretty… entangled. Quickly, Zechs and Noin began rapidly trying to explain themselves, rattling off their apologies for not warning Heero sooner about what had happened.

Understanding that such a thing would have been pretty difficult to explain over the phone and knowing that his guardians did not want to concern him during his trip, Heero forgave them for not mentioning anything sooner. The Japanese teenager finally got them to stop rambling and got them all to sit in the living room. That brought them to the present.

Heero's cobalt eyes turned from the once tiny kitten to his guardians, sitting on the couch across from where he and Duo were perched. Forcing a smile, the teenager spoke calmly, "Okay, now what exactly happened while I was away."

Sharing a look of concern, the young couple silently discussed who should speak first. As they looked back to the young man, Zechs began with a deep frown, "A couple days after you left, Noin was afraid that Duo had run off, as she hadn't seen him for several hours." Beside the blonde man, the young maid nodded her own testimony.

Zechs continued, his hands moving in vague gestures, as if they moved on their own accord in effort to explain. "When I searched your room, there was a strange… glow from under your bed." Heero's eyebrows lowered in confusion, but nodded for the chauffer to go on.

"I found what looked like a cocoon under your bed, the same blue as the glow that it was emitting," the tall man went on. "Over the last couple weeks, the cocoon grew and just three days ago," he gestured to the happy teenager with his waving tail and peeked cat ears, "That's what had hatched."

Falling back on the couch, Heero's wide cobalt eyes lost their focus on anything for a moment. Duo frowned in concern, tilting his head as he gently nudged his friend's shoulder with his head, purring softly as if to comfort him.

Still wide-eyed, Heero looked up to the other teenager in disbelief. Tentatively, he gently rested a hand on Duo's back, rubbing it gently. His smile returning, the other boy's deep purr grew louder, his arms wrapping tightly around Heero's neck.

"My mother is going to freak," the Japanese teenager stated in a voice dry of any emotion other than dread. Across from him, Noin and Zechs both nodded with grim faces of their own.

* * * * * *

A couple hours later, Noin called that dinner was ready as she brought out the main course of baked ham on a silver tray. Duo jumped up from where he sat curled up beside Heero on the couch, watching television with him. The Japanese boy led him into the dining room, watching in curiosity as the cat-eared youth pulled out the chair beside the one at the head table, the one where Heero normally sat.

Taking a moment to observe Duo, the dark-haired teenager thought of some of the things Noin and Zechs had filled him in on in regards the research they conducted in attempt to know more about the strange. They ran a blood test with an at-home-kit that they brought from the nearest science lab the day before in effort to learn as much as they could.

From their private experiment, they learned that Duo was now, indeed a human, despite the cat ears and tail that he donned. The test also confirmed him to be the tender age of fifteen, just two years younger than Heero.

Once in his seat, Duo smiled warmly up at his friend, his tail swishing rhythmically as he watched the young man take his place. Unable to help himself, and unable to take his emotional turmoil out on the naïve creature who obviously trusted him unconditionally, Heero smiled back just as warmly.

Reaching out, the Japanese teenager gently rubbed the back of Duo's closest ear. As he would in his cat state, the strange boy leaned into the touch, his eyes closed as he purred contentedly. When he pulled his hand back, Heero shook his head in amusement and wonder. "Amazing," he whispered.

After Zechs and Noin began passing the food around, the Japanese teenager's wonder grew as he watched Duo politely accept some of the offered courses. "Zechs and I worked with Duo last night at how to maneuver things with his hands," Noin explained.

She smiled at the tailed boy as he grinned happily at her. With a wink to him, she added, "Duo is an excellent student. He picked up on how to user silverware quite quickly."

Heero couldn't help but smile, himself. It was more obvious now, more than ever, how attached Noin and Zechs were to Duo. For them to be patient enough to teach him some of the little details of how to do something as simple as use hands. It must have been very disorienting for the once cat to suddenly find that he needed to work with front-paws-turned-into-hands.

Not only had they done so much in teaching Duo how to use his hands, but the young couple had also taken care of so many other things. Noin and Zechs had gone and used her owe money to buy several outfits for him, taking the time to cut holes in every pair of pants and boxers so that Duo's tail could move freely. They took care of buying his own tooth brush, hairbrush, all of the little things that a person needed to live.

While his mind was already made up before learning how much his guardians cared for his once pet, Heero's resolve was now set. As he started filling his place, he announced, "I don't care what it takes, I'm going to convince my mother that Duo stays."

They all missed the perk in Duo's ears and tail at the statement, the bright shimmer of excitement in his violet eyes at the statement. Now able to work a fork and knife with ease, the long-haired teenager pushed back some of the strands that kept falling in his face before cutting a large piece of ham.

Zechs sat up and nodded firmly, his knife and fork gripped in his hands as he replied, "We'll stand behind you on that, if you need assistance in… persuading her."

Shaking his head, Heero raised a hand to him and said, "No, I don't want either of you facing a backlash from her if the situation gets bad." His voice softened as he told them sincerely, "But, I appreciate the offer, all the same."

Noin sighed deeply with a worried frown, "I respect your mother, Heero, but I am sure that she won't see Duo as anything more than an unintelligent animal."

"Why not," a deep voice asked, causing the three plotting individuals to jump. With three pairs of wide eyes watching him, his head tilted, Duo blinked in confusion at the shock he saw there as he asked, "What?"

Heero was the first to find his voice as he sputtered, "Duo, you… you can talk?"

Smirking, the other boy shrugged with an amused grin as he answered, "Of course."

"Why didn't you tell us!?" the other youth explained, nearly falling out of his seat.

Duo blinked in sincere confusion and replied simply, "No one asked me." Heero's hand rose quickly to rub his aching head.

Noin broke from her stupor enough to inquire, "Duo, how did you learn how to talk?" When the teenager pointed into the living room, she said for him, "The television?"

The cat-eared boy nodded, "And by watching all of you when I was little. After a while, I figured out how to understand what you all were saying."

He turned to his stunned owner and continued, "When you were sleeping, I would read through your school books. You read aloud during the day sometimes, so I figured out how to read from that."

"So even when you were a kitten," Zechs began, his jaw finally closed after nearly hanging wide open for the majority of the last exchange, "you were able to understand us the whole time."

After swallowing his mouthful of food, Duo nodded, "Yep. After a while, more things came together, as far as getting used to phrasing and the sounds you make to form words."

Zechs rubbed his chin in thought as he chuckled deeply in realization, "That would explain a lot. There were times I could have sworn you knew what we were saying."

Even Heero had to admit that he had thought the same thing on a number of occasions. In his feline state, Duo did seem to be very aware of what was happening around him.

Chuckling deeply, Noin turned to Heero and shook her head, "Well, at least that cancels out your mom being able to say anything about his intelligence."

* * * * * *

The remainder of the evening was spent in the living room, Heero pacing across the floor as he silently worked out in his mind how he was going to talk to his mother about this change in their lives. If she was going to bring any argument as to whether or not Duo could stay with him, he could always remind her of the ace up his sleeve that he had used to keep Duo in the first place.

After all, Heero took full responsibility for Duo, and his mother did allow him to keep the one thing that he wanted… which just sounded odd now, considering what he got in the end. Still, this was the same creature that he had saved from the streets a couple years ago. Heero wasn't about to abandon him now.

While his owner paced, Duo's head moved back and forth, following his movements as if he were watching a tennis match. His ears lowered a bit as he frowned, asking sadly, "Am I going to be trouble for you, Heero?"

At hearing the concern and heartbreak in his pet's… well, now friend's voice, the Japanese teenage froze in mid-step. Turning quickly to face the other teenager, Heero frowned sadly in realization of how badly his own concern must have looked to the other youth. He had been so absorbed in his own thoughts that he forgot there was another person that needed him to be there for them.

With a soft sigh, Heero sat beside the long-haired youth and smiled reassuringly as he replied quietly, "No, Duo. You're not going to be any trouble for me. We'll make this work, somehow." Relief filled the violet eyes that were so large now a person could lose themselves in them.

Gently, Heero brushed back a few long strands of chestnut that fell in his friend's face. With a small smile, he chuckled, "I still can't get over this hair. It's so long." A thought occurred to him as he said gently, "Turn around a bit."

Duo turned his back to him without any question, trusting him with whatever it was he wanted to do. He heard his friend think aloud, "I wonder if this will work better."

The cat-eared boy purred loudly in content as he felt Heero's hands working though his hair gently. Since Noin had brushed out all of his knots that morning, there were none to worry about now. For a short while, Heero continued to work through the long locks before separating it into three sections.

Recalling the times he saw one of his young nieces braid the hair of her doll during a family reunion a while back, Heero used that as his reference in weaving his friend's hair in the same fashion. When he reached the bottom, he reached with his free hand under the couch, retrieving a piece of purple yarn from Noin's sewing kit.

With care, Heero tied the end of the braid and smiled to himself as he announced quietly, "Finished. This should help keep your hair from getting in your way." His smile grew when Duo sat back, pulling the long braid over his shoulder, appraising it with amazement in his violet eyes.

After a few wide-eyed blinks, the cat-eared boy leapt forward, throwing his arms around Heero's neck as he exclaimed, "I love it! Thank you!" The other teenager laughed quietly as he returned the embrace.

When he pulled back, Duo reverently ran a hand up and down his braid as he kept his gaze focused on it. "Thank you for not cutting it," he whispered.

It was now Heero's turn to blink in surprise as he replied sincerely, "I wouldn't dream of cutting your hair."

At the brilliant smile he received, the Japanese teenager couldn't help but be in awe of how much this creature trusted and relied on him. Even thought he knew Heero might have wanted to cut his hair, Duo still trusted him to turn his back when he was asked.

Yawning, Heero looked at the clock and suggested, "We should get to bed. It's getting late." With a yawn of his own, Duo nodded and followed the other boy up the stairs.

Once they reached the second level of the house, the cat-eared teenager looked to the closed door beside his friend's. "Is that the room Zechs and Noin set up for you while I was gone?" Heero asked as he watched Duo fidget with his brown tail.

Nodding, the braided boy turned and forced a smile as he replied, "Yea. I guess this is good night, then." Heero gave him a friendly smile and offered his own `good night' before opening the door to his room. Biting his lip, Duo looked back to his own door.

* * * * * *

Late in the night, Heero was awoken from his sleep when he felt something sink on the edge of his bed. Sitting up quickly, his wide cobalt eyes fell on a very frightened looking "Duo," he whispered in concern.

The braided boy was sitting on the edge of the bed, terror filling in his violet eyes as he held his tail tightly in both of his hands. Dressed in a loose night shirt and matching blue sleep pants, Duo bit his lip. Moving closer to the other teenager, Heero gently placed a hand on his friend's his shoulder, the worry clear on his face and in his voice as he asked gently, "What's wrong, Duo."

A shiver ran through the braided youth, causing his whole body to tremble as a small whimper escaped his throat. "I can't sleep," he replied, his voice little more than a whisper that the other boy had to strain to hear.

"Nightmare?" Heero asked reassuringly, his instincts that he never knew he had telling his hand to soothingly rub circles over his braided friend's back.

Small tears filled the wide violet eyes watching him as the cat-eared boy nodded timidly. It was disorienting for the Japanese teenager to see such distress in the face that he had seen more often than not smiling brilliantly all day.

A sudden realization flooded over Heero, one that shook him to the very core of his being. He was looking not just at a friend, but he was looking at his best friend. Over the last couple years, Duo was watching him, listening to him, following him and lending whatever comfort he could when it was needed.

The only time Heero had ever cried, Duo was the one that dried his tears and silently offered his support. Along with that, there had been countless other times the Japanese boy had shared things with his cat that he would never tell anyone else, only to now realize that he was understood. The braided teenager knew everything about him, so much more than any of his other friends did.

His heart suddenly breaking at the sight of his best friend in such a state, Heero frowned in concern as he moved to give some room between them. As he lied down, the Japanese boy gently pat the mattress beside him as he whispered, "Come here."

With a small whimper, Duo quickly lowered himself beside the other teenager. All but falling into the arms that were opened for him, he sniffled as he closed his violet eyes. Gently, Heero lowered the cat-eared head to his bare chest as he rubbed his free hand over the other's back. For a long moment, they just held onto each other, content just to find companionship between them even without needing to speak.

Slowly, Duo's trembling began to subside and he dried the tears that wet his face. "Thank you," he finally whispered brokenly.

Heero gazed down at him as he asked gently, "Are you sure you're all right? Do you want to talk about it?"

Opening his eyes to gaze up at his friend, the tailed boy frowned and shrugged, "I don't have nightmares too often, but it's the same one when I have it. I keep running from something terrifying, but I can't see what it is, I just know that it's bad. It just seems so real…" He began to shake again as he stifled a cry.

"Shh," Heero whispered reassuringly, "You're all right. I won't let anything hurt you. I promise." It seemed such an odd thing at how Duo was wise beyond his years and yet in other ways, he was so much like a child walking blindly through a strange new world. Knowing that he intended to keep his word, the Japanese teenager meant to see to it that nothing ever hurt his best friend.

Duo calmed again, his hold on the other boy loosening a bit as he sighed deeply, the last of his trembling running its course. After another long pause, he smiled a bit at last. Looking back up to the teenager who was once his owner, he said quietly, "I'm glad you're back home, Heero. I really missed you while you were gone."

A small smile found its way across Heero's face as he replied just as softly, sincerely, "I missed you too, Duo."

Licking his lips, the cat-eared youth said in little more than a whisper, "Thank you for saving my life years ago." At that, Heero sat up a bit, his wide cobalt eyes shimmering in the dim moonlight that filled the room. Smiling, Duo told him, "After the accident, when I woke up, I recognized your eyes from the morning before, when you first saw me."

Unable to help his quiet chuckle, Heero smirked, "Actually, your eyes were what stood out for me, too, that first time I saw you."

"Really?" Duo questioned with a grin as he wrinkled his nose. His tail flicked back and forth behind him a bit. At the sight, the Heero chuckled more and nodded.

Sighing deeply, the braided teenager smiled in content as he nuzzled closer into his best friend's embrace. "This is a lot better than just sleeping next to you all those nights before."

As he laid back down onto his back, Heero had to admit, "Actually, it is nice." He yawned widely. "I finally get to hug you for a change, like I wanted to all those times before when you were there before."

His smile growing wistful, Duo replied, "I always wanted that, too. And now I can actually talk to you, instead of you having to interpret my meowing."

"Thank you for always listening to me," Heero whispered as he ran a hand over the other boy's braided head.

With a deep purr, Duo nuzzled his cheek against his friend's chest as his eyes closed. "What else are friends for?" he replied in a quiet voice, unable to fight off sleep any further.

As he watched the other teenager sleep, Heero smiled warmly to himself. Finally too tired to stay and watch any more, and satisfied that he was all right, he placed a soft kiss on Duo's forehead before closing his own eyes at last.

* * * * * *

Early the next morning, Heero woke before his alarm clock sounded, just like every morning. With a small yawn, he rubbed his face and sat up. Slowly opening his eyes, they suddenly widened at the sight of a very naked Duo sitting on top of the blanket beside him.

The cat-eared boy was laying on his side a bit, his back to Heero as his tail swished back and forth. His hair was out of its braid, cascading all around. When he sensed the other teenager get up, he looked over his shoulder and smiled innocently, "Morning, Heero."

"D-Duo?" Heero sputtered as he covered his eyes enough to only be able to see the other youth from the waist up. "What did you do with your clothes?"

With a slight pout, Duo replied, "Clothes are so confining. Do I have to wear them?" He sat up and crossed his legs.

Heero sighed deeply, a small smile on his face as he leaned forward to wrap part of the blanket around the cat-tailed boy's waist. "I know that it'll take some getting used to, considering you never had to wear anything but your fur before. But you will have to wear clothes if you don't want to stand out more than you already do."

Smirking, Duo shrugged, "All right. If you say so." He shifted again a bit, careful to adjust the blanket around his body as not to reveal anything.

It was then that Heero noticed that Duo had several pieces of paper from his sketchpad in his possession. Looking down at the drawings on them, the braided boy smiled, "These pictures are beautiful. Did you draw them while you were on the trip?"

With a nod, the Japanese youth ran a hand through his unruly hair as he answered, "It was a long shuttle trip to and back again. It gave me something to do, you know that I doodle when I'm bored."

Tilting his head a bit, Duo appraised each piece of finely drawn work as he commented, "These are a lot more than just doodles, if you ask me. You're very talented when it comes to drawing." He looked up to meet Heero's gaze with his violet eyes as he said quietly, "I remember you telling me a long time ago that you wanted to do this for a living."

His cobalt eyes widening, Heero shook his head, "Duo, you know that I would never be able to…" Quickly, he cut himself off, taking a deep breath as he closed his eyes to start again. When he looked to the other boy, he smiled, "We both know that there are others things planned for me. Besides, I would have a more promising future in the life my mother has set for me."

Taking aback for a moment, Duo frowned, "Oh," as his ears drooped. With a grin, his ears perked back up as he nodded, "All right. As long as that's what you want."

All that Duo wanted was to see Heero happy. As far as Heero was concerned, all he wanted was to make his mother happy. Giving his friend a small smile, the Japanese boy suggested, `You should go pick out a nice outfit to wear when I call mother in an hour. I'm sure that you want to look your best, ne?"

Duo's bright smile returned as he nodded, "Will you help be braid my hair again?"

The other boy chuckled deeply and nodded back, "Of course."

At Heero's affirmative response, the cat-eared boy jumped up, forgetting to cover himself with the blanket in his haste, as he dashed from the room with a happy whoop of excitement. Heero just looked to his bedroom door as he sighed deeply, shaking his head with an amused smile.

* * * * * *

"And Maryanne was extremely impressed with your patience and willingness to pick up on everything she taught you," Heero's mother continued to ramble on. The moment their call connected, she went into a long speech of how proud she was of her son's performance during his trip.

Taking a deep breath, Heero frowned as he interrupted, "Mom, there's something that I really need to tell you about Duo."

Her blue eyes widening in concern, Danielle stopped herself and asked, "The poor thing isn't hurt is he?" Silently, she cursed herself for allowing that small admission of her liking the cat out. But in fact, she had grown a bit attached to him over the last couple years.

Finding relief in the realization of her slip, Heero gave a nervous smile as he replied, "No, nothing like that." He gestured to the other boy sitting just out of the vid phone's view.

Duo tentatively leaned into the vision of the screen. With a bright smile, he lifted a hand to wave at the image of the young woman as he greeted, "Hi, Mom!"

There was a long pause, Danielle just staring at the strange teenager with wide eyes. Finally, her she collapsed, in a dead faint, out of the view of the monitor.

Both boys shared a concerned look. "Well, that went over better then I thought," Heero said with a slight smirk.

Part 8:

When Danielle came to her senses, there were several things running through her mind. One was that she had just met the same violet eyes that she knew belonged to the family feline. Only instead of those eyes belonging to a furry face, they belonged to a teenage boy with cat ears and a long, thin tail. Along with that, the strange boy had smiled and had the nerve to call her mother.

Only a few minutes passed from the time that she lost consciousness, Danielle noted as she looked to the small clock at the corner of her vid phone monitor. Looking up to the image of her son and that… thing, she glared at the cat-eared boy and growled deeply, "Don't you ever call me that again."

Duo's ears drooped sadly as his violet eyes filled with sadness. Focusing on her concerned son's face, Danielle hissed, "I will be home first thing tomorrow morning. I will cancel my appointments and you had better hope you make enough of a case to keep me from tossing that… thing out on the streets."

Heero flinched, his cobalt eyes widening as he cried desperately, "But, Mom-"

Before he could go on, his mother cut him off as she snapped, "This is going to set my work back a couple days. You had better not waste my time." Danielle reached up and disconnected the call, causing Heero's screen to go black.

With his ears and tail still drooped, Duo began to tremble. Heero gently rested a hand on his shoulder as he told him gently, "Don't worry. Let me handle her."

Sniffing, the braided teenager wiped at his shimmering eyes as he nodded timidly. With a frown of concern, Heero pulled his friend into a tight hug, rubbing his back for support. "I promised you we would make this work somehow, right?"

As he nodded against his shoulder, Duo wrapped his own arms around the Japanese youth. "Then don't worry about anything and let me handle my mother," Heero spoke soothingly. "You're not going anywhere."

Duo pulled back enough so their eyes met, wiping the last of his tears away as a brave smile lit his face. With a small nod, he commented quietly, "I believe you." Returning the smile, Heero ran a hand over the top of his friend's braided head, causing him to purr loudly as his violet eyes closed.

A small smile on his face, Heero asked, "What would you like to do today? Until school starts in a couple more weeks after the break, I don't have any school assignments. And now with my mother putting her case research on hold, it'll be a few days before I have anything to do for her."

Slowly, a mischievous grin fell on Duo's face as he turned his face to the window behind him, his tail swishing quickly as he gazed to the snow falling outside. Turning back to his best friend with a wide smile, he questioned, "Can we go to the park? Maybe go sledding or something?"

At the suggestion, the Japanese boy frowned a bit in thought. "I've never owned a sled in my life," he commented. "I wouldn't know the first thing of where to find one either."

Instead of being disappointed at that, Duo just brightened more as he took hold of the other teenager's hand, jumping up from his seat. "That's okay. We can improvise!" he shouted excitedly as he led his stunned friend from the room.

Before he knew what just happened, Heero found himself in the kitchen with the braided youth. Opening one of the storage cabinets, Duo peered inside as he thought aloud, "They should be around here somewhere." His tail waved happily behind him.

At hearing the commotion, Noin entered the room, her head tilted as she smirked in amusement, "And what are the two of you up to?"

Raising his hands, Heero gave her a `don't ask me look.' He knew fully well how protective the young maid was of the kitchen, being one of the rooms she spent most of her time in. Duo peeked out from behind the opened cupboard with his cat ears perked, answering, "We're looking for something that we could use for sleds."

With a surprised look, Noin turned back to the other teenage boy. Heero just shrugged and explained to her, "Duo wanted to go to the park to go sledding." At the obvious uncertainly on his face, it was clear that he never knew what was so exciting about such a prospect.

Her smile returning full-force, Noin folded her hands as she said gleefully, "I think that's a wonderful idea."

Quickly walking to the other end of the kitchen from where Duo was, the young woman opened another drawer and removed two long, hard plastic food trays. Holding them up, Noin announced, "These will work."

All but bouncing over to her, Duo examined the brown trays as he accepted them. His tail swishing animatedly, he smiled brightly, "Perfect!"

The cat-eared boy quickly pecked her cheek in appreciation before taking Heero's hand as he exclaimed, "Come on, Heero! Let's get changed!"

With that, they were gone again before the Japanese teenager could say anything, nearly taking Zechs out as the tall man was entering the kitchen. Noin just laughed, one of her hands over where Duo had kissed her. Raising an eyebrow, Zechs smirked and asked, "What on earth was that all about?"

Noin smiled widely as him as she replied, "Duo is taking Heero out to the park to go sledding." At the startled look on her lover's face, she laughed, "I know. Isn't it wonderful? Heero's never been able to actually go out and enjoy playing in the snow before."

Frowning in concern, Zechs commented, "His mother would never approve of this." A smirk fell on his lips again as he chuckled deeply, "But then, what she doesn't know won't kill her."

At the sound of the front door slamming shut, the blonde-haired man looked in that directing, shaking his head in amusement as he said, "I wish that I could see this for myself."

* * * * * *

It didn't take long for Duo to figure out that by sticking his tail up and under his sweater, and covering his cat ears under a ski hat, he looked just like any other teenage boy. With that simple disguise, a few more layers of clothes and Heero right behind, he led them to the park where he spent most of his early days as a kitten before he had been given his new home.

When he finally stopped at the top of the tallest hill in the park, he turned to watch as Heero came up, panting slightly from the effort of keeping up in the thick snow that passed their ankles. Adjusting his coat and scarf, the dark-haired boy asked as he caught his breath, "So.. this is it, huh?... Now.. what?"

"Silly," Duo chuckled. "Now we sled. This hill is the perfect height." Lowering the trays to sit beside each other, he sat himself perfectly in the center of one of them. "I've seen this on so many Christmas shows," he grinned. "I can't wait to try this."

His rear wiggling the slightest bit in anticipation, to make up for his confined tail, Duo pushed off. Watching with wide cobalt eyes, Heero blinked at how fast his friend moved down the steep hill. All the while as he went down, he heard Duo's laughter and cheers of excitement.

Finally, the other teenager slid to a halt at the bottom, having spanned a good distance before rolling off the sled and landing on his side. Still laughing from the trill of the ride, Duo waved up to his friend and shouted, "Come on, Heero! You have to try this! This is awesome!"

Looking over to the other sled that sat waiting, Heero hesitantly sat himself onto it. Nudging himself towards the edge, he took a deep breath before pushing off. At the rush of the wind blowing past him as he glided down the hill, the Japanese youth heard himself suddenly laughing.

When Heero reached a short snow bank at the bottom, he rolled off his sled the same as Duo had, laughing loudly as he finally came to a stop on his side. Duo laughed with him as he ran to join him, cheering, "Isn't this great!?"

Nodding when he finally caught his breath, Heero nodded and smiled up to him, "I have to admit, this is fun." Suddenly, he was struck with a snowball in the chest. "Hey!" he laughed, mock glaring at his friend.

Duo revealed his second hand from behind his back, revealing the second white ball he had made as he cried, "Snowball fight!" He threw the other snowball just as the other boy managed to dodge in time. Quickly arming himself, Heero threw another snowball at his companion, their laughter filling the air anew.

* * * * * *

As they reentered the house, Heero and Duo were still laughing after their adventure. As bundled as they were, they managed to spend a couple hours at the park before they really felt the cold. The sun was just beginning to set when they finally decided to head back.

Heero never would have dreamed that going down a hill, just to climb it to go down again over and over, could have been so much fun. Until now, it escaped him as to how such a concept could be enjoyable. Duo had certainly opened him up to something new that day.

Between the sledding, snowball fights and actually building a snowman with his friend, Heero had to admit that he could not remember the last time he enjoyed himself more. He couldn't remember the last time he laughed so much. He would have to tell Quatre, Trowa, Wufei and Relena about this. It was… liberating.

Kicking off their snow-covered boots at the entrance way, the two teenagers began removing their coats and gloves along with any access snow that stuck to them. Duo took off the red, knit ski cap to free his ears. They sprang up as if to stretch in gratitude as he sighed in relief.

From there, Duo lifted the two sweaters he had on, his tail slipped out, swaying freely. Still amazed at the sight of a human with cat ears and a tail, Heero smiled and shook his head to himself as he hung their coats in the closet.

As they entered the living room, Noin appeared from the kitchen with a tray in her hands, two large steaming mugs set there. "I thought you two might like some hot cocoa after your excursion."

Duo gasped, "Cocoa!" as he accepted one of the mugs. Looking into it, he cheered, "And marshmallows!" Heero smiled in his own appreciation as he took the other cup.

Chuckling deeply, Noin smiled, "I take it the two of you had fun, by the looks of things." She looked behind the two boys as they nodded to her comment. "What happened to the trays?"

Heero winced slightly as he lowered the mug from his lips. "We, uh…" he began, looking to Duo as the other boy bit his lip. "We kind of… broke them on our last run." Both he and Duo broke into the laughter they had been holding back at recalling how the two trays finally snapped from the abuse they were given.

A few things crossed Noin's face, but anger was not one of them. Finally, breaking from her surprise, she chuckled deeply, "Well, at least they went to better use then just sitting in that cupboard as they were." With a wink, she turned as she said, "I'll have dinner finished in a few minutes."

"Thanks, Noin," the two boys called after her in unison. At that sound, the young maid found herself laughing quietly to herself. Things certainly would never be the same in the Yuy household.

* * * * * *

That night, after Noin and Zechs had gone off to bed, Duo snuck from his own bedroom, closing the door behind him. Creeping with grace and without a sound, he made his way to Heero's room. Knocking lightly on the door, he peeked inside.

Heero looked up from where he was lying, as if he had been expecting to have a visitor. He grinned as he said quietly, "Come on in, Duo." A wide smile of relief spread on Duo's face as he closed the door behind him and approached the bed.

As his friend opened his arms to him, the braided teenager fell into them, wrapping his own arms around his friend. Lying his head against a firm, bare shoulder, Duo sighed deeply as he closed his eyes. The chest under his head rumbled deeply as Heero chuckled.

They lied quietly for a moment before Duo opened his brilliant, violet eyes. "I hope everything goes well tomorrow," he frowned. "I want to stay here… with you."

Gently rubbing the top of his braided head, Heero reassured him, "I promised that I would take care of this." Following his instincts, he placed a soft kiss on his friend's forehead as he said quietly, "No worries, all right?"

Duo nodded against his shoulder as he yawned, "All right." Snuggling closer to the other boy, he closed his violet eyes again to fall into a restful sleep.

Heero stayed up a moment longer, watching his friend sleep soundly. Sighing deeply to himself, he whispered, "How the hell am I going to pull this off tomorrow?"

* * * * * *

Danielle walked into the house as the voice in the entrance greeted her with Zechs close behind after driving her from the shuttle port. The young woman's face was etched in a scow and her cobalt eyes in a heated glare as she called, "Heero. Meet me in the living room, now."

Noin quickly entered the room to see if she needed anything, only to have a hand brought up to her face as her mouth opened. "I appreciate your understanding that time is money, Noin, but I don't need any of your services right now," Danielle stated curtly. "At this time, I just want some privacy with my son."

Both Noin and Zechs shared a concerned look before the purple-haired maid nodded, "Yes, madam." With that, they couple quickly went upstairs just as Heero walked down the stairway. As they walked past him, his guardians whispered their wishes of luck to him.

Already sitting at one of the couches, her legs crossed and her scowl ever present, Danielle looked up to her son. Wincing slightly, Heero smiled nervously, "Hi, mom."

He was cut off when his mother snapped her fingers and pointed at the couch across from her as she ordered shortly, "Sit." Obeying his mother, Heero swallowed hard. The red-haired woman only showed this determination when she was about to deliver the fatal blow to her opposing prosecution's case.

Danielle looked to her watch as she announced, "I am due back on the next shuttle that leaves in an hour. With the commute back, you had better sway me in twenty minutes starting… now." Lowering her arm, she folded her hands in her lap as she looked expectantly to her son.

Keeping Duo in mind, Heero took a beep breath, straightened himself in his seat and nodded. "This new development is just as shocking to you as it had been for me," he began. Now that he was able to get that out, he was able to continue on with the speech he had mentally prepared for this meeting.

* * * * * *

Duo was sitting atop Heero's bed, nervously fidgeting with his tail as he awaited the news of his fate. Looking to the clock, he noted that he had been waiting more than fifteen agonizing minutes. Finally, he heard footsteps approaching the room.

Zechs looked into the room when he entered the doorway. Finding the cat-eared boy on the bed, he gave him a reassuring smile as he said gently, "Misses Yuy wants to see you. She came to a decision." Biting his lip, Duo nodded and rose from the bed. Following Zechs, he made his way downstairs along with Noin behind him.

In the living room, Danielle Yuy was standing with her hands folded before her as she watched the strange boy approach. Again, Duo bit his bottom lip at the unreadable expression on the young woman's face.

His violet eyes looked to his best friend standing behind her for support. At Heero's slowly forming smile and wink, the braided teenager released the breath he seemed to have been holding since the meeting began.

Stepping forward, Danielle regarded Duo up and down, her cobalt eyes devoid of any clue as to what she had been thinking. When her eyes met the violet orbs watching her, she stated, "Consider yourself very lucky. You can stay."

Noin and Zechs both took each other's hands and squeezed, the only sign of reaction from either of them, as they contained their shock and relief. Duo nearly fell as his knees suddenly go weak at the announcement.

His violet eyes shimmered with small tears as he smiled and whispered, "Thank you, Mo-Misses Yuy." He managed to catch himself from making the same mistake of calling her mother again just in time.

Business oriented as usual, Danielle stated, "There are conditions. If you are going to be staying here, he will need to be schooled. I expect everyone staying under my roof to be educated."

Quickly, Noin stepped forward to stand beside the cat-tailed boy as she offered, "Madam Yuy, I would be more than happy to teach Duo. I know of several programs that I could use to bring him to speed and even get him a high school diploma."

Duo's tail swished happily at the boy's thought of having a real education, and a diploma to go with it, just like a human. Heero also brightened at the prospect of his friend not being treated any differently than the next person. Noin and Zechs certainly did grow to care for the new member of the family.

With a firm nod, Danielle replied, "Very good. I would trust that you and Zechs would be agreeing to look after him and any other of his needs, then?" The young couple nodded and accepted without consideration.

Her cobalt eyes turned back to Duo as she spoke firmly, "My career would be ruined if news of your staying in my house ever got out. You will be sent away if you're discovered, so I would be very careful when you are out and about. Understood?"

Nodding quickly, Duo answered, "Yes mam. I'll be careful. I won't be discovered."

Satisfied with her decision, Danielle nodded, "Then we are agreed to the conditions." She looked to her watch and announced, "And now, I must be leaving for the shuttle port again. My associates are in great need of my assistance."

"Will you be home for Christmas this weekend?" Heero asked. Before, his mother had always taken time off for the holidays. It was the only time he saw her for more than a three-day stretch at a time during the year.

Turning to meet his gaze, his mother frowned, "Unfortunately not, my boy. With this trial starting on the second of January, I am going to be swamped with work through New Year's. I will make it up to you next Christmas, I hope."

Danielle smiled as she lifted his chin with a finger. "I appreciate the help you gave me during your trip. And after today's deliberation, I know for certain you will be one of the finest lawyers in space."

Zechs came forward with her coat as he suggested, "We best be on our way if you hope to make the shuttle in time, madam."

"Yes, of course. Thank you, Zechs," Danielle replied as she accepted her coat. As she zippered the coat up, she placed a kiss on her son's cheek and told him, "I will be contacting you after Christmas with your new assignments."

Heero nodded, "Okay. Have a good flight back." Clearing his throat, he added, "And thank you, mom."

With a deep chuckle, his mother shook her head, "Don't thank me. You're the reason Duo's staying here." Tuning to the said creature, Danielle nodded, "I'll see you both when I return."

The braided teenager smiled and nodded. "Simply amazing," his cat ears picked up her whisper. Saying her good byes to those staying behind, the red-haired woman left the living room with Zechs.

When the front door closed to announce his mother's departure, Heero fell back to lie on his back the couch with a loud sigh. "Don't even ask what I did or said," he shouted. "The last fifteen minutes are a blur so I wouldn't be able to tell you!"

The air was filled with the laughter of his friends. Duo pounced on top of Heero, hugging fiercely as he chanted in a mantra, "Thank you thank you thank you thank you."

Heero just chuckled deeply as he rubbed the back of his braided head, closing his eyes. "No need to thanks," he said quietly. "Welcome home, officially."

A wide smile lighting her face, Noin cheered, "We should celebrate tonight! I can make a cake, we can have that and ice cream…"

Sitting up off of his friend, Duo tilted his head as he asked, "Can we invite the others? I really like all of them, too."

"You mean Quatre and the gang? Those others?" Heero inquired as he propped himself up on his elbows. Duo smiled at him and nodded happily. "Are you sure that would be a good idea? You know the conditions my mother set. If they ever slipped and word got out-" his concerned words were cut off when his friend's cat tail moved to cover his mouth.

"I trust all of them. I don't think we would have anything to worry about," Duo grinned. "They're like family, too."

Noin hummed in though as she suggested, "Not only that, but they could be a valuable help in seeing that this secret doesn't get out. I know your friends, too, Heero. I think Duo is right in saying they can be trusted."

As protective of Duo as Noin clearly was, for her to not be concerned, how could Heero question the notion? He smiled up at his friend and nodded, "All right. I'll call them."

* * * * * *

Later that evening as dinner was quickly approaching, Duo came downstairs in a loose, deep green sweater and blue jeans. With his tail hidden in the back of the fleece and a brown baseball cap worn backwards, he smiled to his friend and asked, "How do I look?"

Heero grinned back, "You look fine. That's the fifth outfit you tried today. You don't have to be nervous about meeting the others in this form, so don't be nervous."

Duo lowered his head a bit as he frowned in concern, "I just want them to like me." His head was lifted by a finger under his chin, causing his violet eyes meet cobalt.

"Of course they'll like you," the other teenager reassured him. "Just be yourself and that won't be able to help but like you."

As the hand lowered from under his chin, Duo smiled warmly and whispered, "Thanks, Heero."

The sound of footsteps broke their gaze on each other as they watched Noin and Zechs enter the living room. The young couple shared a look before Noin stepped forward and said, "Duo, Zechs and I… Heero told us about how hurt you were about Misses Yuy's when he had called her yesterday."

Placing a hand on her shoulder, Zechs cleared his throat shifted on his feet. It was the first time Heero could ever recall seeing the tall man look nervous as he stated, "Noin and I decided that if you like… you could refer to us as your mom and dad. That is, if you want to, of course." He added the last part quickly.

Both Heero's and Duo's eyes widened at the suggestion. "Y-you really mean it?" the braided youth asked softly, uncertain if the cap he was wearing was hindering his hearing. Heero smiled warmly to the young couple and gave them a small nod in appreciation of their offer.

The two guardians both smiled as they nodded to the new arrival of their family. With a stifled cry, Duo latched onto Noin and Zechs, tearfully thanking them. Heero stayed back, watching the sweet scene with a satisfied grin. It was amazing to him at how easy it was for Duo have people want to protect and love him so easily. He really did deserve all the happiness in the world.

At the sound of the doorbell, Heero smirked to the trio over his shoulder as he announced, "Well, here we go." With that, he went to open the front door.

 

Part 9:

With a twist of the doorknob, Heero opened the front door. Smiling to his friends standing on the other side, the Japanese youth greeted, "Hey, guys." As he stepped aside, Quatre, Trowa, Wufei and Relena filed into the house.

Noin smiled in reassurance over her shoulder at Duo, hiding nervously behind her, watching as the group entered the living room. With warm smiles and greeting to Noin and Zechs, the polite teenagers waited for Heero to join them. "So what's the special occasion?" Trowa asked, the anticipation clear on his face as well as the others.

Unable to help but feel a little nervous for his best friend's sake, Heero reminded himself to smile as he replied, "Well, I just wanted to introduce you guys to an old friend of mine who is going to be staying here."

Quatre blinked in surprise and grinned, "That's great, Heero." Looking around the room in confusion, he asked, "But where's Duo? He's usually so quick to greet us when he hears the door open."

With her own eyes scanning the room, Relena commented, "I was going to ask the same thing. Is he here?"

Heero took a deep breath, smirking as he answered, "Oh, he's here." Turning to a protective looking Noin and Zechs, he nodded.

The young couple stepped out of the way, revealing the teenage boy wearing a loose, deep green sweater, blue jeans and a brown baseball cap that he wore backwards. The long braid running down his back swung when he quickly lowered his head. Wide confused eyes, tilted heads and the expressions on the gathered group's faces showed clearly that they did not understand what was happening.

Gently, Heero took the braided teenager's hand, leading his to his friends. All the while, the strange boy would not lift his head as he was led. Duo allowed his head to be eased up by Heero's finger tucked under his chin. At the sight of the wide, violet eyes, the loud gasps of the Japanese youth's friends filled the room as their own eyes widened as far as they could.

Biting his bottom lip, Duo lowered his head again to the wide eyes filled with disbelief before him. Slowly, he reached up to remove the baseball cap, revealing his large and brown cat ears as they sprung up. Heero helped lift the back of his sweater to let his long, thin tail out. His tail swayed from side-to-side slowly, as if it was also nervous to make any sudden movement.

As he watched his stunned friends, Heero waited patiently, if a little nervously. For reassurance, he placed a gentle hand in the middle of Duo's back. For a long moment, there was not a word and Noin and Zechs shared a concerned look, clearly unsure if this was the best idea or not. It was difficult to imaging what was going through the minds of the shocked teenagers.

Finally, Relena was the first to make a sound, much like a small whimper, as she closed her gaped mouth. Wufei's head snapped his head in her direction as his widened eyes eased and rolled while he sighed deeply. "Here comes the estrogen rush," he warned in a voice filled with mock dread.

"Oh you are just too cute for words!" the teenage girl exclaimed suddenly as she rushed forward to the braided boy. Pausing just before him, Relena tilted her head a bit as she looked deeply into his violet eyes. "Duo?" she asked in a near whisper. "Is that really you?"

Licking his lips nervously as he kept their gazed locked and tentatively nodded, "Y-yea." A small, relaxed smile tugged at his lips as he greeted, "Nice to meet you officially, Lena."

Again, Heero's friends gasped and their eyes widened at the deep voice recognizing the blonde girl. A wide smile fell on Relena's face as she replied quietly, sincerely, "This truly is a pleasure for me as well."

Closing the gap between them, Relena embraced the braided teenager tightly. Duo blinked in shock for a moment before his own smile grew in relief as he hugged her back. He rested his chin on her shoulder, closing his eyes as he purred deeply. Laughing quietly at the sound, the young woman pulled back and smiled widely at him.

After breaking from their own states of bewilderment, Quatre, Trowa and Wufei stepped up a bit. Duo nodded to the blonde Arabian and grinned, "Quat." Pointing to Relena next to him, the braided teenager stated, "Good job picking this one up."

Relena blushed and Quatre beamed in wonder at the cat-eared boy. The blonde young man walked up to his girlfriend and slipped an arm around her waist to hug her from behind as he said, "She's the best thing to ever happen to me." At that, Relena smiled lovingly and kissed her boyfriend's cheek.

Turning to the Chinese teenager, Duo smiled with another nod as he said, "Fei, I'm glad that you've already been accepted to work at Saint Peter's Hospital when you graduate college. Your parents must be proud that you're going through with their plans for you."

His dark eyes widened, Wufei blinked in shock as he realized aloud, "You were in the room, here, when I announced that to Heero and the others a few weeks. But you were still just a…" His voice trailed off as the cat-tailed boy nodded and put his hands together to gesture something small.

Lastly, Duo looked over to Trowa. He chuckled deeply as he recalled the punishment he suffered in losing his bet with Wufei and commented, "And you look great in a dress, Trowa."

"Hey!" the tall boy shouted with wide green eyes. Everyone else in the room laughed loudly at the exchange. Shaking his head as the laughter continued as he mock glared at Duo with a smirk as he warned, "That stays between us if you want to stay alive, you know."

Still laughing, Quatre stated, "Well, us, and everyone that we showed the pictures to!" At the terrified look on his brunette friend's face that was shot to him, the Arab laughed all the louder, shaking his head as he reassured him, "Just kidding! I just wanted to see your face!"

Both Noin and Zechs looked to each other again, satisfied grins on their faces. Knowing that things were under control, they gave the young students their privacy for the time being to finish preparing their meal. On the way out, they winked and smiled to their `son' as he waved to them, his tail waving excitedly.

Heero wiped at his eyes when he finally managed to contain his laughter, his wild surge of emotions and anxiety finally ebbing. Moving his hand from Duo's back to fall on his best friend's shoulder, he smiled to the others, "We'll fill you guys in on what we know over dinner."

With a nod, Wufei ran a hand over his hair as he stated, "That's good, because I'm going to need to sit down soon after all of this." Three heads nodded their agreement.

* * * * * *

A little over an hour later, Heero, Duo and Relena sat at the right side of the table. Across from them, Trowa, Wufei and Quatre sat. At the two ends of the table, Zechs and Noin took their residence as they gave their end of their story. From there, Heero took over the rest of the explanation of Duo's change.

When the meal was finished, the two guardians decided to leave their guests to their thoughts once they had shared their experience over the last couple weeks. After cleaning the table, the young couple moved into the kitchen to clean the dishes.

After hearing everything of what had become of the once small cat during Heero trip to help his mother, Trowa sat back in his seat at the dinner table. He rubbed his face with his hands and looked to the cat-eared youth.

There had certainly been a great deal to take in by learning how the once kitten had taken on his present state. All around, his other friends were taking in the news at their own pace as they sat silently.

In seeing the tense shoulders of the braided teenager, it was clear that he was still concerned as to how he would be treated by the others. Considering the fact that he had to be faced with Heero's mother along with trying to understand what he was, there was no telling what must have been going through Duo's mind then. His future of staying at the house relied on how Trowa and his friends now reacted.

With a reassuring smile, Trowa was the first to speak up as he stated clearly, "Well, I personally don't mind never knowing what you really are, or where you came from, Duo. As far as I'm concerned, you're as much a friend to us as Heero."

His violet eyes widening at the announcement, Duo replied quietly, "R-really?" With a wink and a smirk, the tall boy across from him nodded firmly.

Sitting up, Quatre smiled warmly as he nodded, "The same goes here. You've been around us for almost three years now, so you're as much a part of our group as any one of us." Wufei and Relena shared their own affirmations to making Duo one of their own.

With a deep sigh of relief, Heero sat back in his own seat beside Duo as he smiled his appreciation to the others. The bond that had grown between them over the years certainly had come a long way. Without any hesitation or reserve, they quickly welcomed Duo into their tight-knit team.

A few small tears of elation filled Duo's eyes as he whispered, "Thank you, guys." To the braided teenager's left, Relena smiled warmly as she reached over to rub the top of his head in comfort. Closing his eyes, Duo gave his own small smile as he purred deeply at the gesture.

Folding his arms across the table from the cat-tailed youth, Wufei looked to Heero and asked, "And you were able to convince your mother to allow Duo to stay here?"

With a snort of his own shock at that truth, the Japanese teenager nodded, "With terms, of course, but she did agree that he can stay."

His dark eyes filling with wonder, Wufei shook his head as he chuckled deeply, "You could sell ice to an Eskimo." Overhearing that part of the conversation from the kitchen, Noin and Zechs laughed quietly to themselves. They had made the same comment in reference to Heero many times before.

Leaning back in her seat, Relena suggested, "We all better come up with the same story to explain where Duo came from, if anyone we know from school or around the city see him. It's not fair that he be stuck inside this house for the rest of his life."

Trowa nodded, "Agreed. We could always just say that Duo is an exchange student who is taking residence here to study law. There are all kinds of programs that have students move in with skilled professionals in their field of study to be taught at home by them personally."

Nodding to Heero, the brunette smirked, "Who better than to stay with your mother, one of the most well-known lawyers throughout Space? I know of a couple teenagers who are going through one of those programs in this city, so it would be believable."

Heero's cobalt eyes lit up as he replied, "That's a great cover story. No one would very question it, since Duo would never have to be enrolled at a current school."

"That could also explain his violet eyes," Wufei commented. "If he's from another nation or Colony, no one would be able to say that his violet eyes are not a normal shade."

Everyone turned to Quatre as he added, "I couldn't even tell that Duo was anything but another, normal teenager, before his sweater was lifted and his cap was removed. It'll be easy to keep his identity hidden."

Duo sat up, his cat ears perked and his tail waving happily as he smiled, "This is cool, keeping such a big secret just between all of us."

With a frown of concern, Heero reminded him, "We just have to make sure that it stays a secret. You remember my mother's greatest condition in your staying is that no one else can know what you really are, whatever that is."

Trowa smirked, "Don't worry. We'll make sure that this does not go any further than those of us here."

Gasping in excitement, Relena smiled asked, "So is this were we all cut the tips of our fingers and make like a blood brother and sister pact?" Beside her, Duo looked to her in concern with wide eyes at the thought of having to cut himself.

As he rolled his eyes, Wufei smacked his head and sighed deeply, "Girls." Looking to her, he inquired, "Where the do you get this stuff? Do all girls like you think that's how we men handle things when we make agreements like this?"

Relena fixed him with her pair of narrowed eyes. Raising an eyebrow, she stated, "Last I checked, there were only boys at this table."

The Chinese teenager snorted and allowed the blonde girl that one point as she continued, "And I will admit that maybe some of the girls I talk to might have a misconception of how you *boys* handle matters like this."

Her head lowered a bit, Relena frowned and shrugged, "I've only been in this group with you guys for a couple years now, so I've never been part of any meetings like this. The thought of a blood pack just sounded neat to me."

Across from her, Quatre smiled reassuringly, "It's all right, Relena. At times like this, we just take each other's word when making a pact like this." Trowa grinned and nodded his own understanding for their only female friend.

With a firm nod, Heero addressed everyone as he asked, "Then we're all agreed to use the cover story that we've discussed." Everyone at the table gave their own firm nods of agreement. Smiling, the Japanese teenager stated, "Then we're settled on it."

At that announcement, Noin stepped from the kitchen, carrying a large ice cream cake as she smiled, "On that note, I think it's about time we celebrated." Zechs followed with a small grin on his face as he brought the dessert plates and silver wear.

Duo's violet eyes widened at the sight of the cake, as Noin set in front of him. Smiling lovingly up at his guardians, he said quietly, "Thanks, Mom and Dad." The young woman grinned down at him as she reached up to pat the top of his braided head. Duo purred deeply as he leaned into the touch.

On the other side of the table, Quatre and Trowa blinked in shock as they asked at the same time, "'Mom and Dad'?"

It was Zechs's turn to smile in pride as he nodded to the blonde Arab, "Noin and I have more taken Duo in as our own." His `son' smiled up at him as the tall man placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it.

Another small whimper escaped Relena's throat. Wufei covered his ears as he moaned, "Aw man. Here comes yet another does of estrogen."

"That is the sweetest thing that I've ever heard!" the blonde girl exclaimed. The Chinese youth grumbled to himself as his friends all rolled their eyes. Quatre tried to contain his laughter as he shook his head in amusement.

Lowering his hands from his ears, Wufei sighed again, "Girls." Relena stuck her tongue out at him as her only line of defense.

As he passed some slices of cake around, Duo grinned, "Maybe tomorrow we could all go sledding at the park."

"Sledding?" Quatre, Trowa and Wufei all asked as one as they looked to the cat-eared boy as if he had grown another head. Heero just chuckled deeply to himself as he began to dig his spoon into his slice of cake.

Now having her turn to roll her eyes, Relena sighed to herself, "Boys."

* * * * * *

Once all of their friends left for the night, Heero and Duo both fell onto one of the large couches of the living room. Before they had left, their friends all made plans to meet in the early afternoon the next day to go sledding in the park. Relena had promised to provide actual sleds for all of them from her family's storage. Both Heero and Duo were looking forward to another day of fun in the snow.

Sighing deeply, they lied back and recovered from the visit and the many emotions that wracked then leading up to it. After a long, peaceful silence, Duo lied onto his side as he curled up and lied his head in his best friend's lap, facing him.

Heero chuckled deeply as he smiled down to the cat-eared face watching him. As he reached up to scratch behind a large ear, he asked quietly, "Tired?"

Purring at his friend's touch, Duo nodded, "A little. It's been a crazy couple of days." Heero nodded as he closed his eyes again, laying his head back. Biting his lip, Duo carefully sat up and kissed his friend's cheek with a quick peck.

Heero's eyes snapped open at the touch as Duo pulled back nervously. Placing a hand on his cheek where he had been kissed, the Japanese student asked quietly, "What was that for."

With a shrug, Duo blushed slightly as he answered, "I thought that that's what people do when they love someone… they kiss, right?"

The other teenager's cobalt eyes widened as he repeated, "Love?"

Duo nodded innocently and replied smiling, "Well, yea, I mean I love you. So, I thought that I should give you a kiss." Again, the naivety that the braided youth displayed from time to time was such a contrast to the brilliance he exhibited in many other ways.

Smiling reassuringly, Heero told him, "I love you as a friend, too, Duo. But, there are all kinds of love. The kind of love where kissing is involved is different from the type of love we have."

His violet eyes filling with wonder, Duo asked, "There are really different kinds of love?" At his best friend's nod, he hummed to himself. "I'll have to ask Noin to teach me these things when we start our lessons."

Chuckling deeply, Heero nodded, "It's all right. I know there are still a lot of things that will take time for you to understand." He paused and considered the look of embarrassment on his friend's face. Smirking, he leaned forward to peck Duo's cheek.

When he pulled back to smile at the wide violet eyes watching him, Heero shrugged with a grin as he said, "Now we're even." Relief flooded the braided teenager's face as he smiled back.

Heero warned widely as he stretched. As Duo's own yawned echoed his, the Japanese youth suggested, "We better get ready for bed."

"Can I sneak into your room when Zechs and Noin are in bed?" the cat-tailed boy asked as he watched his best friend as he headed towards the stairs.

Peering over his shoulder, Heero smirked, "I would be disappointed if you didn't. I'm getting so used to you being in the same bed with me, I probably won't be able to sleep if you're gone."

A wide smile spread on Duo's face as Heero turned to head upstairs. Bounding up from the couch, the braided teenager all but ran up the steps to get ready for bed. All the while, he still felt the kiss on his right cheek.

* * * * * *

"Before long, it'll be three years since we lost him. You still think that there is any use in continuing this search?"

A deep sigh. "The government has refused to give our testing any further funding, so we have no other choice in the matter. If he is still alive, he would have reached his human state by now." A pause. "Do you realize what it would mean if he's still alive? We would have accomplished what so many told us was impossible."

"I certainly hope that you're right in thinking that he's made it on his own all this time." Another sigh. "It'd be impossible to name all of the benefits that would come from this experiment."

"Exactly. And all of our time and effort would have been for nothing if we give up the search now. I'm not going to rest until we have him back."

A firm nod. "All right. I suppose that I can't leave you to take all the credit for this if you do find him. I'll round of a few of the others to head out with me... again. You're certain that he would not have gone far?"

"Call it a hunch. Even if he did escape, this was the only place that he ever knew when he was made."

"Right. I'll radio you if I find anything, but don't wait up for me."

* * * * * *

Dorothy looked up from the papers on her desk at the sound of a knock on her office door. "Come in," she announced as she sorted her reports into a folder. As the door opened, she smiled at the familiar face of the young man whom she was expecting.

As she gestured to the seat before her desk, the blonde professor said kindly, "Please have a seat, Heero. Thank you for coming during your winder break. I hope that you had a lovely Christmas last week."

Returning her smile, the Japanese youth nodded as he took his seat. "Yes, thank you. I hope you have a nice one, as well. Catherine had told me that she had passed my vid phone number onto you. I was actually glad to hear from you Miss Catalon- ," Heero began, but corrected himself at the raised eyebrow he received.

The teenager's smile grew a bit as he tried again, "Dorothy." At her grin and wink of appreciation, Heero continued, "The sooner I can start working with you the more it will help me while I'm attending this college."

An unreadable smile tugged the right side of Dorothy's lips upward. The thought of her redheaded friend's concern for her brother and his friends had given the young professor the motive to take matters into her own hands when it came to Heero. Since she would be working closely with him in the near future, her method of mentoring would not seem suspicious as it would for Trowa or the other young boys.

Her plan in mind, Dorothy smirked, "I had been so impressed with you when I met you at your high school's library that I simply could not wait another three semesters to begin working with you. There is something in you that I have not seen in any other student who hoped to attend this university." She did not have to act sincere, every word of that was true.

Blinking in surprise, Heero grinned, "My mother will be happy to hear that. She was very excited when I told her of our first meeting before the break."

With her resolve firmed by that statement, Dorothy folded her hands on her desk and smiled, "Then she will be very happy to know that I am giving you your first assignment from me. You will have a head start over all your classmates before you are even enrolled here."

At that, Heero straightened in his seat as his curiosity peeked. His mother would be so proud of him in learning that he had been given this opportunity over all of his future peers. He nodded firmly, "What assignment would that be?"

Sitting back in her leather chair, the blonde professor replied, "This project will be an extensive paper that you have the rest of your junior year and then senior year of high school to work on. The due date will be two Julys from now on the 14th. That will be one week before you will be able to enroll at this university for your first fall semester."

With his mother already preparing for that enrollment date, Heero was already well aware of that as he nodded, "What would this subject of this paper be?"

"Life," Dorothy answered simply, a small smile on her lips. At the confusion on the young man's face, she explained, "I want you to write a paper on your life, what interests you have and where you would like to see yourself when you graduate from this college.

"Everyone must have their own reasons for wanting to partake in a certain field for their career. I want to hear your reasons for wanting to have a future in law," she went on and stressed, "Your reasons, no one else's."

At that last comment, Heero swallowed hard. With another smile, Dorothy winked, "I also want this paper to tell me everything I need to know about Heero Yuy and what makes him who he is. I am going to need to know all of this before I begin working with you."

Forcing himself to smile, the Japanese teenager nodded firmly and replied, "You'll have it on your desk before I enroll, then."

After they shook hands and exchanged their good byes until they met again, Heero stepped from the room. Leaning against the office door as he closed it behind him, he sighed deeply. This was going to be, without any doubt, the most difficult assignment that he had ever worked on. He didn't even know where to begin on such a paper. Suddenly, having a year-and-a-half to work on his assignment didn't seem enough.
 

Part 10:

Sitting at the dining room table, Duo's tail swished gracefully behind him as he worked intently on his math test. His violet eyes trained on the paper before him, he wrote out his solutions and filled in the final answers. Across from him, Noin glanced up from her book, smiling to herself as she watched her `son' so intent on his exam.

After figuring out the last problem, the braided teenager sat up and grinned at his work. As he lowered his pencil and looked up, he announced cheerfully, "Finished."

Noin lowered her book and took up the test with a smile on her own face. Over the last four months, Duo had excelled in all of the lessons he had been taught. Once the last half of Heero's junior year started, the violet-eyed youth went right to his own schooling. He put in a full day's word of lessons, from the time that Heero left in the morning until he returned home in the mid afternoon.

The violet-eyed youth had picked up quickly on what Noin had taught him. His intelligence level started him off at a sophomore high school level. Noin placed the test in its envelope, along with his other exams from that day, to be sent off and evaluated by a national professor to be processed into Duo's records.

Now that the braided teen had a last name, taken from the name of the park near where they lived, Duo Maxwell was enrolled as a student, taught from home. For her part, Noin could not have been more proud of how well the boy was doing in his classes. As she stamped the envelope, she smiled and asked, "How do you think you did?"

With a shrug, the teenager replied, "I think I did all right. The history test was a bit harder than I thought it'd be, but I think I scored okay."

Chuckling deeply, his `mother' reassured him, "Whenever you talk like that, you end up performing better than you thought. Zechs and I will go drop this off at the post office." As she gathered the thick envelope, she rose from her seat and grinned, "That concludes this day of school."

Duo let out an excited cheer as he jumped from his chair. Running into the living room, he checked the clock. 2:35pm. He still had time. "Mom," he called, "can I meet Heero at his school to walk home with him?"

As she stepped out into the room with the now stamped envelope in hand, Noin smiled, "I don't see why not. It is Friday, after all, so I'm sure that he and the others would be disappointed if you weren't there to greet them."

Grinning from ear-to-ear, Duo sprang to the closet to remove one of his many baseball caps. Placing it on backwards, he lifted the back of his loose, black T-shirt to tuck his long tail inside. Quick as a flash, he ran to the young woman and kissed her cheek as he said, "Thanks, Mom. See you later."

As the braided youth ran out the door, Noin called, "Be careful, Duo!" Before the door closed, she heard him yell back an `I will.' With a sigh of content, the young maid smiled warmly to herself as she shook her head in amusement.

      *            *            *            *            *            *

The school was a good twenty-minute walk from the Yuy household. On a lovely, warm, late-April day like this was, it was a pleasant excursion after being inside most of the day. Taking a deep breath of the fresh air, Duo sighed deeply to himself.

Once the weather became pleasant, Heero had taken the time to show his braided friend around the city. Since the spring began, every Friday, Duo took the route that the Japanese youth and their friends took to school and back again. It became routine for them to meet up in case they wanted to make a detour before heading back home.

Before Duo came into the picture, his friends normally always went right from school to one of their houses. Now, the braided creature had managed to talk them into doing other things that they never thought of indulging in before. Whether it was going to the movie theater or stopping at the local ice cream shop, Fridays were now a treat for all of them.

As he neared the school, Duo spotted the high gates surrounding the football field just beside the large institution. Now that Wufei was the star quarterback for their school team and Relena was the head of the cheerleading squad, Duo had been to several games at that field at Heero's invitation. It was just one of the many things that just made the cat-eared boy feel even more like a normal human.

Still smiling to himself at the relief of being free to walk about, Duo turned around the corner of the high fence surrounding the secluded football field to round the parameter. Taking the shortcut around the field would lead him to the front of the high school, where he would wait for the others to step out.

When he passed some of the bleachers on the other side of the gate, the sound of a deep voice reached Duo's ears as it asked, "I wouldn't make much of a commotion, if you don't want someone to get hurt."

His violet eyes widening, Duo froze in his tracks. The source of the voice was a good number of feet away, his sensitive hearing picking up on it easily. Quickly, he pinpointed that the voice came from underneath a tall set of bleachers several yards ahead.

"You know the others will be looking for me soon," a familiar voice growled. Duo gasped sharply in recognition. "School was let out a couple minutes ago."

The other voice chuckled deeply, "And that's all part of the plan. We'll be right here, waiting for them."

Panic filled, Duo looked around for any signs of life from the large park. Finding none, he quickly, easily, climbed the tall gate. Once he was on the other side, the braided teenager jumped and landed gracefully on his feet. Quietly, he snuck behind the bleachers leading to the one where the voices were coming from.

The deep voice spoke up again as it hissed, "What does that Winner kid have over me, anyway? I know that little wimp couldn't possibly be able to offer you more than what I have."

Relena's voice snapped, "First off, if you ever refer to Quatre as that again-"

"Then what?" the other voice interrupted in a sharp laugh. "You're not in the position to be making any threats right now, sweetie." The last word was snarled out in a way that it made the fur on Duo's tail stand on end.

When he was close enough, Duo assessed the situation made in the shadows the bleachers across from where he hid. Relena was still dressed in her gym uniform, a simple, white T-shirt and light blue, mesh shorts. Surrounding her were five young boys, all of whom Duo quickly recognized from the school football team.

The tallest, bulkiest one of the group was standing at the head of the group. His blue eyes narrowed fiercely, Relena warned, "Muller, have you forgotten that I'm the daughter of a politician? If you and your goons, here, don't let me go, I'll see to it that you regret it. So if you were wise, you would back off." Keeping her voice as steady as she could, she ordered firmly, "Now."

Muller just smirked darkly as he folded his arms and replied, "Not until you answer my question. I want to know why you see it necessary to ignore me while you go off and play with that little-"

"Gentleman," the blonde girl now interrupted, a pleased grin on her face despite the fear that she was keeping back. "Quatre's a gentleman, Muller. And that's something you could never hope to ever be."

The moment the words passed her lips, Relena reeled back as she was backhanded across the right side of her face. Duo sprang up, glaring fiercely at the group of teenagers as he shouted, "That's enough!"

All eyes turned quickly to face the braided teenager. The muscle-bound thugs glared heatedly at the intruder and Duo swallowed hard. As she finally snapped from her stunned state, her hand on her cheek where she had been smacked, Relena's blue eyes widened in terror on her friend. With a sharp gasp, she yelled, "Duo! Get out of here! There are too many of them!"

His eyebrow rising as he continued to watch the braided teenager, Muller repeated, "Duo?" a smirk slowly tugged at his lips as he chuckled deeply, "Oh I recognize you now. You've been to several of our games. You follow Yuy like some lost puppy." Despite his shaking knees, Duo stood his ground.

"Don't," Relena hissed under her breath as she glared anew at her captor.

Glancing at his team out of the corner of his eye, Muller sneered, "We may as well have some fun with this one before the others get here." Quickly, smirking at the suggestion, three of the teenagers dashed toward the braided teenager.

Everything happened so quickly that Duo was only able to dodge a few of the first blows. When Muller joined the attack, he took advantage of the boy's confused state and landed a hard punch in his face. A loud crack from the force of the blow filled the air.

With a loud yell of pain, Duo fell as a multitude of punches and kicks took him down. Instinctively, knowing that he couldn't fend for himself when being so outnumbered, he lied on his side and covered his hat with both arms.

"No! Stop it!" Relena shrieked as she ran to the fight. Looking back to the school, she screamed, "Help! Somebody, please hurry-!" A hand quickly fell over her mouth as one of the brutes held her back with his free arm.

Tears filled the girl's eyes as she was helpless to watch her braided friend being brutally beaten into the ground by the remaining four brutes. She couldn't even see Duo past the huddle of bodies around him, hammering their fists and feet into the center where her friend was lying. Whimpering and crying behind the hand covering her mouth, Relena struggled to get free.

After shaking her head enough, she opened her mouth and took in the first two fingers, biting down as hard as she could. Crying out in pain, the boy holding her pulled his hand back as she shouted at the top of her lungs, "Help! They're going to kill him! Somebody please help us!"

The tall youth holding her growled deeply as he quickly changed arms to cover her mouth with his other hand as he yelled, "Shut up!"

      *            *            *            *            *            *

Back at the nearly empty school, Quatre joined up with his friends, a concerned look on his face as he asked, "Has anyone seen Relena? She should have been back from gym by now."

Shaking his head, Trowa frowned, "We didn't run into her after our last class. Maybe she's still changing."

Wufei shrugged, "We could always check back at the field. Maybe her last class ended late." Beside the Chinese student, Heero frowned a bit, not so sure that they were such reasonable suggestions. Still, he knew the others were trying to reassure the concerned Arab.

Suddenly, one of the girls from the cheerleading squad, Hilde, ran up. Panting heavily, she cried, "Guys, Relena's screaming for help from the football field! I came as soon as I heard!"

Instantly, the four teenagers bolted to the front doors. As he looked back over his shoulder, Heero shouted, "Hilde, get Principal Une!"

"Right!" the breathless girl called after him. Gathering her breath, she darted to the main office as fast as her feet could carry her.
 

      *            *            *            *            *            *

His violet eyes widening, Duo felt his left shoulder separate from its socket with a sharp kick. As it snapped back in place on its own accord, he screamed in agony. All the while, he kept his cap in place as he tried to curl himself, only to be unsuccessful due to the continuous rain of blows falling upon him.

Relena continued to try her best to struggle free as she whimpered from her terror and efforts. Tears continued to course down her face as her muffled voice cried her friend's name. She had no way of knowing how long Duo had been down, left to be cruelly pounded into the ground. It could have been minutes, but it felt like an eternity as she had to watch helplessly.

Suddenly, the hand holding Relena's mouth fell away as the teenager holding her cried out in what sounded like pain. The hand over her mouth dropped as she found her self free. The wide, brown eyes of the boy who had captured her looked back into the fierce dark eyes of his team captain. "Wufei," he whispered, still in pain as his arm was firmly twisted behind his back.

The Chinese youth growled deeply, "Johnson." With that, he swung his free right arm to knock out the other teenager in one punch to the face, breaking his nose in the process.

Relena collapsed to her knees as they finally gave way. In a flash, Heero, Trowa and Quatre all made the scene as they fell upon the four brutes that were still attacking Duo. Wufei quickly joined them, satisfied that Johnson would not be a problem for them, sprawled out and unconscious on the ground.

Muller was about to land another punch, laughing madly as he pulled back to deliver a forceful hit. Just as he was sending his arm forward again, someone from behind grasped his arm firmly and held it in place. With rage in his eyes, he spun back to meet fiery cobalt. His own heat faded into shock and fear as he gasped, "Yuy."

Not bothering to allow the other boy a chance to get his bearings, Heero grunted as he landed a swift punch into his ribs. Meanwhile, Trowa, Quatre and Wufei busied themselves with the remainder of the thugs. The air was filled with the sound of sharp cries and loud bone cracking as the fight escalated.

Finally, several minutes later, Muller and the others pulled back when the sound of more voices approached the field along with the sound of sirens. Each beaten badly and bleeding in different places, the four young men decided better to flee the scene before more people got involved.

Panting heavily and his face covered in sweat, Heero looked to the curled up figure on the ground. His cobalt eyes widening, he gasped, "Duo!" Quickly, he fell to his knees beside him. Quatre, Trowa and Wufei looked in shock at the sight of their braided friend.

Reviving Johnson, they aided him in their retreat, the five brutes climbed the fence to run in the opposite direction of the school. As they ran off, Trowa's heated gaze followed them as he shouted, "You fuck with one of us, you fuck with all of us!" A couple police cars pulled into the scene, one chasing after the fleeing youths and the other moving to park at the school entrance.

As he placed a gentle hand on Duo's side, Heero winced when the injured boy whimpered and tried to retreat back. Biting his lip, the Japanese teenager whispered, "Duo, it's me."

The fallen body stiffened as the braided youth's arms lowered from the front of his face. "H-Heero?" Duo whispered as his violet eyes slightly widened on the other teenager.

At the sight of the blood running from his best friend's bottom lip and the large bruise at the side of his face, Heero whimpered as he fought the tears from filling his eyes. Forcing a small smile of reassurance, he said quietly, "Yea, it's me, Duo."

With a muffled sob, the braided teenager wrapped his arms around Heero's neck as they held onto each other. Careful not to agitate any wounds his friend may have had, the unruly-haired youth gently rubbed his back soothingly as he held him close while Duo cried into his shoulder. "Shh. It's all right," he whispered into his partner's ear. "I've got you."

Relena was clinging to Quatre in a similar manner as her boyfriend hugged her tightly. "Are you all right?" he asked quietly. As Relena nodded against his shoulder, Hilde, Principal Une and a tall, male police officer ran into the scene.

Her brown eyes fide in concern, the school Principal frowned deeply, "My God, what happened here?" Recognizing those students present to be some of her school's best seeds, she already knew that they were not the ones responsible for whatever happened.

As she wiped her wet face, Relena stepped forward as she replied, "Muller and some of his friends stopped me from going back into school after gym class. They were harassing me and Duo," she gestured to the injured boy cradled in the Japanese youth's lap, "stepped in after Muller hit me." The angry mark on the side of her face was proof enough of that.

More tears filled her eyes as she continued, "They ganged up on him and I tried to call for help I thought they were going to kill him before the others got here."

Principal Une's eyes narrowed, knowing fully well the trouble that Muller and his friends were. The officer stepped in as he nodded kindly to the young woman and asked, "Would you be able to make a statement against them while I ask a few other questions?"

Without hesitating, Relena answered, "Of course." Hilde, joined her side as she hugged her quad captain

The young officer turned to face the injured braided teenager as he commented, "As for trespassing…" He smirked, "Given the circumstances, we can overlook that part of it." Duo sighed deeply in relief as he sagged deeper into Heero's arms.

A deep frown fell on the Principal's face as she looked over to the beaten hero. Kneeling before him, the woman who preferred to be referred to as Lady Une placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Thank you for your help here, young man. You're to be commended for your courage."

Duo gave her a small smile as he shrugged, "Just looking out for my friend." Heero smiled in pride behind him as he chuckled deeply.

Lady Une smiled back, "Well, even if you're not a student here, I won't let you leave before I know you're all right." Meeting the cobalt gaze watching her, she suggested, "Heero, why don't you take Duo, here, to the nurse's office? I had asked her to stay there when Hilde found me."

With a nod of relief, Heero replied, "Yes, maam." Carefully scooping Duo into his arms, he rose to his feet. Trowa and Wufei flanked him as they began to walk back to the school.

Smiling at Relena, Lady Une ran a hand down the back of her blonde head as she said, "As for the interview with Officer Gracin, we can hold that in my office." The shaken girl smiled back as she nodded. Both Quatre and Hilde offered to go with her for support.

Before she was led away, Relena ran up to Heero and Duo. Stifling a sob, she kissed her braided friend's forehead as she whispered, "Thank you, Duo."

With a wink and a reassuring smile, he replied quietly, "Don't mention it, Lena. I'm glad you're all right." As the girl ran a hand over the top of his capped head, he purred quietly.

Relena smiled in relief at the sound as she said, "I'm going to come see you as soon as I can."

Quatre came up beside his girlfriend. Placing a hand on her shoulder as he met the injured teenager's gaze, he added, "We all will." He looked up to Heero and asked, "Please let us know as soon as he's up to some visitors."

"I'll do that," Heero nodded, tightening his grip on the boy in his arms when he felt him shaking a bit. With that, the two groups split ways.
 

      *            *            *            *            *            *

Heero stayed by Duo's side, soothingly rubbing his friend's arm as the nurse examined the large bruise on his face. Frowning sadly, the blonde woman sighed, "They certainly did a number on you."

When the nurse moved to remove Duo's cap, the braided boy gasped and placed both hands atop it. Smirking slightly, Nurse Po commented, "Too shy to let me lift your shirt and now your cap?" Duo nodded fervently. "Well, there's no bleeding from what I can tell, so I suppose I don't need to have a look there."

Both Heero and Duo shared a silent sigh of relief. As she placed some disinfectant on Duo's bruise, the braided nurse diagnosed aloud, "A couple cracked ribs and some internal bruising, but nothing that needs emergency care. The shoulder that was separated and replaced will need to be bandaged and iced when you get home.

"I suggest that you stay in bed for the rest of today and tomorrow. Take it easy for about a week after that, and you should be good as new. Considering the damage that you could have been faced, you're very lucky."

Duo gave her a small smile as he nodded, "Thank you." Heero relied in kind as he helped his friend to his feet.

"I'll be right back with some pills to help with the pain. They'll make you drowsy, but they do the trick in numbing the sting from your injuries," Nurse Po commented as she moved to the front door.

When the braided nurse quickly stepped out her office, Wufei's dark eyes widened. "Who's that?" he whispered to his tall friend standing beside him in the hallway.

Trowa smirked, "New intern. Her name's Sally Po. You like?"

With a nudge into the smug teenager's ribs, the raven-haired youth growled, "Shut up." Together, they moved into the office to find their friends. When the others looked up, Wufei advised them, "We called Zechs and Noin. They're should be here soon."

Heero nodded, "Good. Thank you." With a small smile to his braided partner, he rubbed his back again as he said, "I think we've all had enough excitement for one day to worry about walking home on top of it." With a small sigh, Duo nodded, leaning his head on Heero's shoulder.

Sally returned with a handful of enclosed pills. Handing them to Heero, she stated, "He should have one every four hours tomorrow. From there, he should only need one when he wakes up and one before he goes to sleep." As he accepted the pills, Heero expressed his appreciation again.

As the four teenagers stepped outside, they found a very concerned Noin and Zechs. Their eyes widened in fear at the sight of their injured `son' as they ran up. "What happened?" the tall blonde growled deeply.

"We'll tell you on the way home," Heero replied gently, his eyes still on his braided friend as he had his arm wrapped around his shoulder.

It was pretty evident that Duo was still in a stunned state after his ordeal. Along with the pills he had just taken, it wouldn't be long before he was asleep. "Right now, we should really get him home and in bed to rest." Satisfied with that, Noin and Zechs led them to the car.

      *            *            *            *            *            *

When they arrived to the house, Heero carefully carried Duo upstairs to his room. With Duo in his current state, it was easy for the Japanese teenager to convince his guardians that Duo should stay with him so that he could keep an eye on him.

Gently, Heero lowered the braided friend onto the bed and tucked him under the covers. As he mumbled something that could not be made out, Duo's violet eyes blinked open. A tired smile fell on his face as he whispered, "Heero."

Smiling warmly, the Japanese teenager whispered back, "Hey, there…. I'm proud of you, you know?"

"Yea?" Duo asked as he yawned widely. His eyes began to drift shut again as he mumbled, "M' real tired."

Heero ran a hand through his friend's long bangs as he said quietly, "Get some sleep, Duo. I'll be right here when you wake up." With a murmured ``kay,' Duo drifted off.

With the weight of his emotions from the event that took place finally catching up, Heero sat back in his seat beside the bed. Despite the terrible bruising and markings on his friend, Sally had been right, he was very lucky it wasn't worse. Biting his lip, he felt a few tears prickling his eyes. If he and the others didn't get there when they did…

Shaking his head against those thoughts, Heero cleared his throat of the lump forming there. He leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on the sleeping teenager's forehead as he whispered, "Don't ever leave me."

A small smile tugged at Duo's lips in his sleep in response. In seeing that, Heero couldn't help but smile, himself. Lying his head on the mattress, he wrapped an arm around his friend's chest. Sighing deeply, he took his friend's hand and squeezed it. As promised, he never left the other boy's side.
 

TBC