Soldiers and Fools
Part 11S -- Listening (Side story)
(kodoku na okami)
COMMENTS: Duo has been begging to tell this story that I wrote in 1994. Within the S&F timeline, this happens after Heero rescues Duo while Duo is recovering -- during that week when he can't get out of bed. I really can't fit it into Part 11 of S&F without breaking the flow of that section, so here it is as a side story.
(Sometimes soldiers and fools listen to each other.)
"Hey! Are you listening to me?"
"Hai!" Heero's fingers continued their brisk pace over the keyboard. Duo was bored. Duo was sitting in bed telling stories because he was bored. He had discovered that Duo had an endless supply of stories.
"What was the last story about?"
"The mermaid who fell in love with a prince."
"That was two stories ago."
Heero stopped typing.
"You aren't listening."
He had also discovered that Duo became petulant when he was bored. He looked at the paragraph he'd been writing. /Hansel? Gretel?/ He changed the words to Taurus and Leo respectively, then turned his chair to face Duo. It would be easier to listen to a story or two and get it over with than to rewrite the whole plan because Duo's stories were intruding upon his concentration. "I'm listening."
Duo looked at him, pouty-lipped, then smiled. "Good. I'll tell you a special story. I found it on a piece of paper someone had put in an old book in the library on L2. It's the first story I ever memorized."
Heero watched Duo as he slipped into his "storyteller" mode, his shoulders moving back slightly, his clearing his throat.
"Beloved Son". He paused. "That's the title."
Heero nodded. Already Duo's voice was taking on a resonant cadence matched to his words.
On the day Danny was born, the sun shone bright overhead. The sky shouted it's joy in deep blue riddled with bright white mare's tails. The sea shimmered blue-green beneath the sky, and the land glowed with the green that had once earned it the name "Emerald". The wind blew brisk and clear across the water and the land, bringing the sweet warm scents of earth and the faint salty tang of sea to the child as he took his first breaths in the world.
His crying stopped as his eyes opened and took in the beauty that surrounded his mother's poor home this fine day. Eyes blue-green to match the sea and red-blonde hair the color of the heather against skin that would be healthy pink once the ruddiness of birthing had faded.
As Danny stared out cooing at the world, the midwife crossed herself, then made far older signs. "The Gentry smile on him," she said, awed.
But Danny's mother wept.
When Danny was six, he went to the village school, and they knew he was different from the start. When he held up his hand and a bird landed on it or he talked of what the trees whispered on the wind or of the deer watching from the edge of the wood, the other children whispered, and the nuns murmured prayers or pretended to ignore what they heard. Danny didn't understand their fear, for fear it was, but soon stopped calling the birds or speaking of what the trees said, and told the deer to stay hidden as they watched over him.
For the handful of friends who wanted to see such, he would lead small walks into the woods after school, and there the birds and deer and badgers and foxes came and greeted him and the children with him.
As the years passed, the other children's interest waned, or turned to fear or jealousy, and by the time he was ten, Danny walked the woods alone. Somehow, that suited him more. It was so much easier to feel the land without the others tramping along.
The animals and the trees were never false friends. The beaver was wise, and the fox cunning, the badger full of patience, and the deer a gentle warrior. The birds sang songs just for him, songs no other had heard before. On the wind, the trees and the land spoke to him, or the sea sighed ancient poetry of love and loss.
Sometimes, at night, he would sneak out alone and listen to the Shining Ones sing. Sometimes, they came to him and talked of the old days, explaining things the old folk's stories didn't understand, or they took him into the Shadowland and showed him the beautiful gardens and fountains and palaces. Sometimes they asked him to come away with them, but that was one invitation Danny always refused, politely, for that was how he had been raised, but refused nonetheless.
Whenever he spoke to his mother of the animals, she wept, so he grew silent. Danny never dared tell her of the faery-folk.
When Danny was eighteen, he was called to the war. A few of the old people, the ones who had told him stories about the Tuatha, and the Sidhe, and the faeries, begged him to stay. He smiled and told them he wished he could, but there was no arguing with the summons, and someone had to fight or the shores of emerald would be ruby with blood 'ere long.
As he left, his mother held him close, and told him that she loved him, and wept, and called on gods new and old to protect him as he fought for his homeland. A sparrow landed on his shoulder and whistled a song at once sweet and sad as he walked down the lane to the village and the bus. Danny smiled bittersweet.
When Danny came home, it was in a pine box. They buried him on top of the mound near the woods where he had played as a child. The priest said words over his body, and prayed for his soul, and sought to comfort his mother. Later, the old folk came to her and had another service, wishing the same things, sharing tales of the Shadowland, and assuring her he was there. He must be there, for the Sidhe had smiled upon him from the day of his birth. They would not reject him in his death. Was the mound not a faery mound?
Later still, as she looked out across the dusk-reddened field, she saw a herd of deer, and some smaller shapes that could have been foxes, or rabbits, or other creatures gathered round the grave. And that last assembly made her weep as the others hadn't.
That night, a soft rain fell, bringing a refreshing to the land, and the old folk said that Erin herself celebrated Danny's life.
Over the years, an oak grew over the site of Danny's grave. It was a marvel to all around, for no other oaks grew in all the county. Danny's mother took to visiting it, and it was observed that often a deer, or a flock of birds, or some other creature would arrive soon after she came and depart soon after she left.
The younger folk declared her daft, for she often talked of what Danny had said as if he were still alive. The sorrow of loss had driven her crazy, they said. How could Danny have an opinion on last week's election? Or the village council's plans for a new well? Or when to plant crops this year?
But some of the young folk remembered walking through the woods with Danny, surrounded by a herd of deer and smelling their sweet odor, or petting a fox who looked at them with soft brown eyes, or holding a sparrow and feeding it from their hand. And these were silent.
For all her aloneness and age, Danny's mother never lacked. Her small garden fed her well, though she spent far less time in it than others might. What excess she had, she sold for the bit of money she needed for bread and occasional clothes and other day to day things.
One day, she came into town, and smiled, and visited some old friends, and gave a fine pumpkin to the grocer who had been kind to her all the many years. They remarked later that she seemed both sad and happy as she made her rounds and mailed a handful of letters and bought a new dress.
The next day, they found her in the new dress, dead beneath the oak tree. Her left hand held her rosary. Her right arm wrapped around the tree in a gentle embrace.
The property went to her cousin and his wife, who lived in the big town far away. They had no interest in a country home, for he was a banker and she was involved in charity work, so they sold the small cottage and the surrounding plot of ground for a pretty price.
The developer who bought it, of course, had plans. He had been negotiating with the old widow for years to get her to sell, but to no avail. Now he had the last piece of his country resort and could finally begin work. That he did in earnest, though the old folk in the town begged him not to cut the tree, the only oak in the county. But the mound was to be leveled, and the tree would have to come down, and Danny's body would have to be moved, if there was anything left since the tree had grown right on top of the grave. And so, on a soft day, a beautiful day, much like the day Danny had been born, they cut the oak.
As the saw bit into the wood, the sky darkened, and as the tree fell, the clouds that had appeared from nowhere broke open in torrential downpour and howling wind.
And in the village, the old folk and some of the young cried with Erin as she wept for the death of her beloved son.
Duo sniffled as he finished the story, blinking rapidly to keep the moisture in his eyes from overflowing. He sighed. "I love that story, even though it makes me sad." Heero was silent, staring at him, dazed. Duo had seen that look once before in a park beneath a tree. He cherished the moments when the soldier disappeared and allowed Heero to be a normal boy for a time, no matter how brief. They made him hope.
"Do you... Do you think anyone will cry for me when I die?"
... in the war. Duo heard the words Heero didn't speak. "I'm sure someone will." A few tears came now, but Duo knew Heero would think it was just the story. /I will./ Duo squirreled the thought deep in his mind as blue eyes, cold, but soft, bored into him. "You're a great guy, Heero. I mean, once you get past the whole mission thing and just live. When the war's over I'm sure someone..." He shrugged and turned to stare at the wall. He was getting too close to something he couldn't allow himself to think about, much less look at, much less touch. Something he certainly couldn't show Heero. When he looked again, Heero was back to normal. "Um, I think that's enough stories for today. Go ahead and work on your mission plan. I'll be quiet."
Heero nodded. "Arigatou, Duo."
Seeing his eyes, Duo wasn't sure which of several things Heero was thanking him for.
LW: So you see, angst is not a new style for me. Of course, the underlying
Irish Catholicism in the story is probably part of why Duo liked it.
D: <shakes head, sniffs>