Warnings: Shounen ai, mild angst, semi-TWT (set after the war)
Disclaimer: Standard disclaimers apply.
Moments of Haven Part 1
Security Blanket (4) or About 10 Lines of Significant Conversation
"...So the teacher was passing by Umi's desk when he saw that she was writing a note and so he confiscated it of course and read it aloud to the class and that was when everyone found out that she had a secret crush on Mike only I guess it's not so secret now...."
My chatter continues, my mouth set on auto-pilot, weaving its blanket of words with well-worn practice. The empty babble comforts me in its own way, wraps around me and protects me, from both the inside and the out. It's a familiar routine, one that I've indulged in for years now. It's almost like an alter-ego, when the words take on a life of their own. It's happened that, in the midst of conversation, I've realized that I had absolutely no idea what I was talking about at the time, and no conception of how I got there.
"...And then Nathaniel told Jenni that way funny joke we heard yesterday in phys ed only of course you didn't laugh but Jenni was like totally grossed out and threw her lit book at him, you know that small one that's basically about that goatherd and the shepherdess who can't figure out how to have sex only that's really an entire allegory on the strictness of social class distinctions...." (3)
I could, should find it disturbing, I suppose. But I don't. Because they shelter me, and fill the icy silence in my soul. My heart used to be filled with joy. Back in the good old days, before my hands became stained with blood, my soul was filled by the love of two of God's servants, who took in orphans like me and gave them a place to call home. My childhood, meager as it was, contained happiness and companionship, and when I'm feeling depressed and nostalgic, I can still hear the sound of Sister Helen singing us lullabies in the night, of Billy whining that Annie tried to kiss him, of Jason and Micah and Fred playing ball with a beat up sphere of leaves and twine, of Father Maxwell telling me to go to school and never mind the bullies.
And then all of their voices were silenced, suddenly and terribly, and I took it upon myself to try to replicate it all, to keep alive the jubilant voices of the past, to tune out the lonely silence that their passing had left behind inside me.
I think that's why his silence annoys me so. He often just sits there, as he is doing now, the victim of my attentions, the only sound from him the keyclack and a mouse click. His stillness reminds me of the void that remains within me, that void I try so desperately to fill with my words. There are times when I can forget the emptiness, times when the grins are real and the laughter unforced, but always, I return to my isolation, the sole survivor of a tragedy years past, always alone.
I envy his stillness, and this is also a reason his silence annoys me. I wish I could speak as he does, only when I feel the need to, only when I have something of interest to express. It would mean that I had been able to put the past behind me, to lay to rest the disturbing ghosts of my childhood. But I suppose I can't really envy him his stillness, because, like my words, which protect me, his silence is every bit as much as a security blanket.
The image brings a slight smile to my lips as they spill forth yet more meaningless background noise. A chibi-Heero, clinging with one hand to a nappy old blanket, a faded blue that once was the brilliant color of his eyes, the thumb of his other stuck in his mouth, as kawaii as he could be. I know he's changed, but not that much. Nevertheless, he has changed. A lot. It's not obvious, I suppose, but then, I've been in a position to observe him for some time now. He doesn't talk much more than he used to, and he isn't much more friendly than he used to be, so I wonder just why I know with such certainty he's changed. He still speaks concisely, without excess. If he says something, you know it's worth listening to. I've been able to talk to him more, have decent conversations, now that talking isn't likely to distract him from a mission or something. It's given me some important insights into the inner workings of his mind, so I know he'll always be one for "comfortable silences". But what I've found to be really disturbing lately is, I think he's actually listening to me.
I think I'll test him.
He smiled. Some private joke, no doubt. I wonder if I will ever regain that ability, to be able to smile, laugh, have thoughts that have nothing to do with anything. I think I must have had it, at some time. At one point in my life, I must have been just a normal youth, some time before an assassin and a mad scientist got their hands on me. I've known that I've been lost for a long time now, but I remain firmly in the mindset that this is so -- that I am merely lost, having strayed from the proper path, but that one day I shall be able to find my way back. This is what I must think, if I am ever to succeed in putting the war behind me.
My mentor once said to me to follow my feelings. I stopped doing that after a enemy base bombing that went awry. I stopped wanting to feel after that. With emotion came pain, and so I exiled my emotions to a far off corner of my mind, there to wait out this war in constant rebellion against the soldier in me, its jailor.
"...Did you know that Latin and Japanese are like really similar? Which is really weird because one's a dead language and one's like one even you speak. You ever hear that poem 'Latin is a dead language....'"
He is fascinating to observe. I know he has as many shadows haunting him as I do, I've heard him in the night, rustling restlessly in his sleep, been there for him as he struggled to free himself from the grip of a dark nightmare, just as he has done for me. Despite it all, though, he still manages to find some joy in life, he who once called himself Shinigami, the god of death. I know that most of his manic attitude, the grins and the jokes, don't really reflect who he is inside, for there is no way that he could have participated in so bloody a war with such as his true self. But sometimes the true Duo Maxwell shines through, mostly in his quiet moments, and I know that he can still take pleasure from seeing another sunset, enjoy the renewal that comes after a fresh, clean rain, lay claim to some happiness in helping those around him share in his laughter. He can experience all of this and more, and yet we are so similar, only hiding behind different masks.
There is irony in the fact that I look to him as a model of behavior, and that I rely upon him as a guide as I slowly try to put my life back on track. The sheer extrovertive force of his personality may be only a facade, and yet it still managed to touch me as nothing else did, and when I saw beyond the joker's mask, saw that he could still smile and laugh truly despite the pain, I knew then that he would be the one to help me find my way. I am like a child clinging to his mother's skirts, keeping my faith that he shall not betray me.
When Dr. J determined that I had displayed an excess of emotion after killing my first innocents, he had me retrained, and the purpose of that was for me to cease to feel anything that could get in the way of my mission. I didn't stop myself from feeling altogether, but rather locked away the feelings to a place where they wouldn't bother me, but where they seethed against my detachment.
Just because my emotions were held prisoner in my heart, that doesn't mean they were silenced. I hear them all of the time, clamoring to escape, urging me to follow the last words of Odin Lowe, and be true to myself. I was very good at ignoring their call in the beginning, but after I awoke from my month long coma, it seems as if, without my constant supervision, my feelings had decided to revolt. Sometimes the emotions threatened to drown me in their noise, to crash me upon the rocks disastrously with their siren's call, but I couldn't give in during the war, and so I crafted my barrier of silence as a weapon against the restive murmurs, to wage my own inner war against a part of me that even now I am only beginning to negotiate with. The me that I have displayed to the world is just a proxy, for the real me has also been held inside with those same emotions that I have locked away. The compromise process between the two is a long one, both sides making too many demands too soon, but I never expected to be able to reconstruct a new identity for these peaceful times at all, let alone quickly.
This may be peace time, but I am engaged in a new war. The war to be free. This time, I am the battlefield, both the rebel and the oppressor. The cause is my own, the goal is peace of mind, it is my past versus my future, but it is still a mission that I am determined to succeed in. With emotions may still come pain, but I am well used to pain by now. I'm surprised I ever let it stop me in the first place.
"Hey, if bread evolved into a sentient creature, do you think it'd be a vegetarian or a carnivore?"
He doesn't think that I'm listening. I'm always listening. At first, his words irritated me. I felt they resonated with and compounded the turmoil of my feelings, tried in conjunction to seduce me back into a painful state of life. But now, his words are almost as comforting as my silence, for both serve to smother the restless whispers of my soul.
I think I'll surprise him today.
"Carnivore. Otherwise, it'd be a cannibal."
Eh? What's this? He answered. Sounds like he was listening after all.... Ch'. Looks like he got me this time. Can't let it show, though. Wouldn't do to give him an opportunity to ply that charming smirk of his at me.
"Yeah, really? Ya think it's because of all that sandwich meat it's always in contact with? Like, one day it decides that it wants to try some for itself? The bread's gonna figure eventually that there must be something to that sandwich meat...."
I hate that smirk. I love that smirk. If he smirks, it means that something managed to get a reaction from him, and it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside knowing that it was me, knowing that none of the others can manage to get him to react as often as I can. Every day I spend with him is like a constant discovery, an adventure to see what new and previously unseen treasures will surface. A real smile, not a smirk. A real chuckle, not the maniacal laughter that accompanies the adrenaline rush which comes with a mission well done. An inaudible inhalation of surprise, a widening of the eyes, not just a raised eyebrow. I feel privileged to be able to see this minor miracle in action, like watching a rose bloom in a desert. Every time I see another honest reaction from him counts as a victory in my book. A victory against what, I do not know. Maybe a small victory against the war which interrupted and ruined our lives.
I remember that time, right after the war, when we were all returning from MO-II. I had just left Quatre and Trowa behind, in the room where Quatre was recovering from the injury that Dorothy gave him. I hadn't been able to find any champagne, alcoholic or otherwise, but I had found cups, and having shared with Quatre and Trowa, I figured I'd hunt for Heero, or perhaps Wufei, and spread some more joy. Those two needed it, I think, more than we three.
I found Heero first, seated on a window sill, staring intently out at the Earth that we had all struggled so hard to save, as if somehow, by his will alone, he could reform the continents into words which spoke the answer to an unvoiced question. I found my own gaze drawn to the blue orb, marveling once more in the beauty which so many failed to appreciate. Staring at it made me recall again how insignificant I was, compared to the whole Earth, but still, I was glad that I hadn't needed to sacrifice myself for it, for then I wouldn't have had the opportunity that I do now to finally enjoy the beauty of Earth firsthand and personally.
Heero didn't notice me until I was only a few feet from him. He tore his gaze away from the planet and turned the same smoldering scrutiny upon me, and what I saw there ran tremors through my world. His own dark blue orbs showed more emotion than I had ever seen them express. Before he blinked his expression away and asked me what I wanted, hiding once more behind that stoic mask, I clearly saw there pain and confusion. It was the look of someone who had looked inside of himself and found nothing of his own to cling to. It was in that moment that suddenly the enormity of what we had done finally came crashing down on top of me.
It was funny that during the war it would be me who would come up with the wild dreams of the future that I'd share with the others in an attempt to draw our minds away from the depressing present, while Heero never seemed to concentrate on anything besides the mission that was directly before him. Now, though, it was me who had been thinking only about the present, the fact that the war was over, and I had forgotten to look towards the future. It was obvious that Heero, without any more missions to expect, was lost, wondering what he would do now that it was over. I think we had finally cured him of his death wish and sparked some desire in him to try living in this peace that he had done so much to gain, but he had no idea where or how to start. Neither did I.
The look in his eyes was one I'll never forget, and it's the same look I saw in the mirror this morning, when I realized that once again, we would have to find a new path for ourselves. I suddenly sober, put the empty words back into storage once more and speak to Heero in an uncharacteristically normal tone of voice, which ironically enough is probably more "me" than that other which is heard so much more often.
"Na, Heero. What are you planning on doing after we graduate?"
Hn. The manic edge has gone from his voice. To the casual listener, he still sounds normal, but compared to his usual animation, the difference is astounding, and it screams to me that he's in one of his more introspective moods. The fact that he's stopped fidgeting, has even stopped toying with the end of his braid, gives me the degree of his somberness. The sudden shift in topic easily indicates to me that this is a question that's been preying on his mind for some time. The silence that follows his question lets me know that he's serious, that he's going to wait for an answer from me, that he isn't just musing idly to himself aloud. The way he doesn't look at me says he's still trying to find his own answer.
It frightens me, a little, how well I must know him in order to be able to read him like this. But it's a fear that I will embrace, because it means that I'm alive and making some progress in my effort to rejoin humanity. I think he's my best friend, after all. It takes more effort for me to read the others, but it seems like I've always been able to understand Duo, even back when I first met him, when I didn't want to. I know he shot me twice when first we met, but I can't even begrudge him that. I probably would have done the exact same thing had our positions been reversed, only I wouldn't have been so nice about it.
His question lingers in the air for a while. After we graduate. That's a question that I've been pondering for some time now as well, and I think maybe I've found my answer.
The time of our leaving this school is soon, a few weeks from now. It was Quatre who first suggested that after the war we all try to finally finish high school. As if we all didn't already know enough calculus and physics to win ourselves a college degree or two. But we all agreed with the idea anyways. It was something of a desperate stalling technique, I think, something to give us a little time to adjust to the "real world" before deciding on the roads that would be the beginning of our new lives. We would have something to do, but nothing strenuous. We would have to interact with each other and with "normal" people, our "peer group", people who had nothing to do with war and blood and death. And no matter what we did, earning a high school diploma would no doubt be useful for our futures. All in all, it was a very satisfactory plan for an efficient use of our time. (2)
"After we graduate.... I think I've found something that I want to do."
For some reason, it irks me that Heero may have figured it all out before I have. But it figures. He probably ran all the possibilities through some search algorithm in his brain or his laptop and came up with the optimal solution.
"Well?", I demand. "Don't just leave me hanging here, buddy. What didja find?"
He stays silent for a moment. This silence is hesitation, a silence I don't hear from him very often. Usually it's the silence of someone who doesn't have anything he feels he needs to share. I wait him out, knowing that he will eventually answer. Heero Yuy is not one to let a little hesitation get in his way, nor is he the only one who can stay silent for long periods of time. But I wonder what it is that he's found....
The silence stretches a bit. It almost seems as if he's forgotten my question, as he keeps his beautiful eyes glued to his laptop screen. I give up. I get up off my bed and walk up behind him to finally find out what it is on that cold screen that has held his attention for so long. I put my right hand on his shoulder and rest my left elbow on his ever-tousled head, hoping that maybe I can irritate an answer out of him, but what I see surprises me once again.
"...What is that?" I ask quietly. I can see well enough what it is. Pictures of destroyed buildings. Homes that we and others like us destroyed in the war that swallowed all humanity. Seeing them brings back memories, of the time when I was left staring at the ruins of the only real home I had ever known, and the corpses of two people who cared enough to take in a street brat like me and try to give him something better.
He knows me well enough not to answer with the obvious. I know him well enough not to expect him to answer with words. He clicks a few things with his mouse and I see information about the location of the disaster areas pop up, plus statistics and current status reports. My eyes fix upon the image of a run down church, the name of a missionary group, a group of tired-looking yet content people standing in front of it, a request for volunteers to help re-construct.
This time I answer him with silence, and so he responds with words.
"What do you think?"
His response is to remove his elbow from my head. I look up at him and see that he has reached up to clutch at his cross. That gesture and the distant look in his eyes tells me that he's thinking of Maxwell Church, the tragedy which still haunts him. He murmurs absently, something vague about how he thinks it's a great idea. I reach my own hand up and place it on top of the one resting upon my shoulder and speak his name. He looks down at me, startled out of his reverie, but makes no move to response.
I'm getting worried. I know there's something, something he's holding back from me, so I tease him lightly to try to get him to open himself to me.
"What? No words?"
His words are all empty, I know this, but it doesn't matter, doesn't get in the way, for all of the important things that have passed between us have been unsaid, encompassed by a touch of support, a look of the eyes. I latch onto them, though, as something familiar to draw him out with.
The light fades from his eyes as he moves away to seat himself on my bed. There's a morose look in those violet pools, a swirling disturbance of lingering sorrow that makes me want to, no, need to reach out to him and soothe the pain away, and in so doing, perhaps take a little of my own pain away.
"Duo.... daijoubu ka?"
He never ceases to amaze me. The depth of emotion that he can manage to convey with so few words. Every gesture, every word, all executed with such economy, to produce the maximum effect with the least amount of expression. Unlike me.
"I'm tired, Heero. That's all. Just tired."
I try to muster up my usual grin and pray that he just lets it go at that, but neither works. He doesn't seem to accept that as an answer as he gets up from his laptop and seats himself beside me. I heave a sigh as I fall back on his covers with a creak of old school-bed mattress springs, staring searchingly up at the off-white ceiling as if there were a message contained in the bumpy surface of the stuccoed blankness.
Seeing no answers in the uncaring ceiling, I bring my hands up behind my head and return my gaze to my friend. There is a question in his pose, an invitation in his posture. His eyes offer his tacit support, and I know that he will listen to whatever I have to say, with gentle patience and an earnest attempt at understanding, and suddenly everything that I thought I didn't want to say comes bubbling to the surface in a flood of truth which I can not stop. I am powerless to resist the way his prussian eyes seem to look into my soul and touch me. There is a flame that burns within them, and I gravitate towards the searing heat of his gaze like a ship that has seen too long a journey and finally spots the lighthouse's radiance piercing through the fog, come to save it from the unforgiving shoals. I decide to let it all go, call his bluff, and fling my spirit into his care, to allow him to bring his fire into my darkness and chase the shadows away.
"Take my words," I declare suddenly. "Just take them away. I don't want them anymore." He's startled at the vehemence of my quiet outburst, but I in turn am taken slightly aback by the intensity of his steady look, and I cannot deny his silent request that I explain. I will try my best to do so, although my words have suddenly deserted me beneath the demand in his eyes, and I don't really understand what prompted it myself.
"I.... It's just that.... Well...." Great. I'm already faltering. I close my eyes and take a moment to gather my thoughts, and then begin again.
"I don't want them anymore," I repeat slowly in a subdued tone. "I used to take pride in my credo, 'I run, I hide, but I never lie'.... But it's all been a lie, just one big lie, my whole life.... The words, they aren't real. They aren't me. And I'm tired of keeping it up. Why?" I whisper, squeezing my eyelids shut, trying to keep the tears from forming. "Why can't I just put them away?" Security blankets are great and all, keeping you warm and protected at first, but after a while, they can begin to stifle you, and I was now finding that the words which had prevented the silence from engulfing me were now consuming me as well. I wish sometimes for his silence to reach out and embrace me, to seize my words and relieve me of my burden.
I feel him shift on the bed, lean his weight back on one hand, but never do I feel a lessening of his gaze upon me. I stubbornly continue, oddly trying to find the words to explain why I didn't want my words, hoping he'd miss the faintly desperate edge to my voice that I fail to remove completely.
"I mean, what are they for, really? Just for filling up the holes in my heart, something to chase away the solitude.... But they're not working anymore. I want something else, something more. Something to fill me, something permanent, not just a patch job...."
He trails off, leaving only silence in his wake. He sounds so lost, as lost as I ever was, and it pains me to see my best friend this way, to see him as I was. I need to do something, anything to bring back the Duo I'm used to, the one I need, my best friend, the only one who can help me, the one who first brought me away from that same spiritual desert into which he seems to have strayed. He and I are the only ones without a place to return to; Quatre must return to L4 to manage his family holdings, Trowa can reunite with the circus and Catherine, and Wufei will likely go back to the Preventers, but we, Duo and I, we have nowhere, and nothing.
The answer strikes me, ambushes me from out of the blue. It seems so obvious that I wonder if my consciousness had gone about planning it from the very beginning without bothering to notify me of its intentions.
I take a breath before plunging forward. "...If you haven't found anything to do yet..." My voice seems to be filled with a nervous anticipation, yet I can not despise it for its presence. "...maybe you'd like to join me? Help rebuild what we helped destroy?"
His violet eyes flicker open suddenly, a little wild around the edges, and he fixes me with a vision of anguished emptiness. I think it's about time he made some new memories, to fill those holes in his heart and replace the image of the desecrated ruins of his home with something clean and blessed. I draw a breath to argue my case.
Before I can continue, he seems to snap back to reality and cuts me off.
"Yes. I... I think I'd like that."
The breath that I'd gather to speak leaves me in a relieved exhalation. I was fairly certain that this was the right path for me, but somehow, it seemed wrong, terribly wrong, to be doing it without Duo by my side. I suppose I'd gotten used to him. We've been rooming together since the end of the war. No one knows me better than he does, and I think no one knows him as well as I do. I could easily see past his facade, now, just as he could see beyond mine, as each of us clung desperately to the faces that we were so accustomed to wearing, almost afraid to find out who we really were beneath them, but finding out nevertheless. And now, it seems like it's finally time to let them go, to drop the masks, leave them behind in favor of a new face, one filled with hope for the future.
I give his hand a gentle squeeze. "Thank you," I reply softly. I know that nothing more needs to be spoken, that even that expression of gratitude seems superfluous, so instead I find myself flashing him what may be the most genuine smile I've ever fell victim to, knowing that he'll take in everything I might have said with a single look. It's more a upward quirking of my lips, a softening of the eyes. Nothing particularly obvious, but I know he'll catch it. It's not much, but it seems right for me. There is no need for me to be other than me when I'm with him. I haven't worn a real smile for so long, I imagine it'll take a little practice, but I think if I ever put on one of Duo's grins, people would run fleeing in terror.
He blinks a few times before briefly squeezing my hand in response and giving me his own smile in return. It's nothing near his usual wide grin, but it's dazzling nevertheless, filled as it is with warmth and gratitude with just a dash of his usual cockiness. I feel my heart contract painfully at the thought of what might have happened if he had refused my offer, but with the promise of his company, I feel more confident than I've ever felt that maybe I -- we -- could recover from the war and find a little peace for ourselves.
(2) Endless Waltz is relatively inconvenient here. You can get rid of it if you like.
(3) The book here referenced is "Daphnis and Chloe" by Longus. Good book. ^_^
(4) Working title. Seems to be a recurring theme, even though it doesn't have much to do with anything.
(7) This one's for Thumper, who got me stuck on the idea of a fic. =P
(8) Standard disclaimers apply.
(9) I rooted the rest of the 'moments' timeline on this one, but the characterizations represented here and the ones given later are just a little bit different. Not significantly enough to cause any issues, but just enough for me to want to apologize for it. When I wrote this, I really didn't have any plans to keep going.
(10)Time : AC 196 May
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