The Space Between
Duo stretched, his arms and legs shivering lightly with the muscle tension. It was late again, the stars waning in the sky like warning beacons. Everyday seemed to grow longer and longer until the days began to blur together. But Duo smiled anyway, albeit the smile was tired and edged with exhaustion. His work was worth the tired body, the jellified brain, the lack of a social life. His work saved lives. His work made others glad to be alive.
Still, as his body contracted and loosened at the same time, he wished that he could have time for friends and fun once in a while. And maybe, just maybe, a lover. Someone to share the rewards of his hard work with. Someone who would listen to him grumble about the red tape, rejoice about happy endings, complain about the harsh hours. Someone who appreciated him, loved him.
‘Ah well,’ Duo thought wistfully, ‘no good wishing about stuff that won’t happen.’
Shaking his head, he rid himself of useless thoughts about having a normal life with friends and a lover. He should know by now that such things were fleeting anyway. If his past had taught him anything, people left and forgot. Even those who had fought and nearly died with you in two wars. Even the one that he had loved so crazily.
A deep loneliness rose up within him before he squashed it down ruthlessly. He had no time to ponder such trivial things. He still had work to do.
Rubbing his eyes until they became red with the abuse, Duo peered at the papers in front of him. They were various adoption papers, all for the kids he housed beneath his meager roof. Tomorrow, last of his two orphaned children were going off with their new families to find happiness. Tomorrow - or was it today by now? - he would have made that many more people happier to be alive.
It was better than being Shinigami. It felt good to give others hope by giving them life instead of death.
But he was still lonely.
Duo waved enthusiastically as the two children drove off with their new families. A girl named Sarah who was four and a boy named Matthew who was eight. When they had first come to his home, they had been dirty, underfed and mistrusting of everyone. Now, they were healthy happy children who had a mother and a father, if not new siblings. Sarah and Matthew. Two more lives he had saved.
Only if he could share his joy with someone, call and say ‘I made someone happy today’ and chatter endlessly about the rewarding experience. But there was no one to call. He hadn’t had anyone to call for a friendly conversation in years. No one e-mailed him, sent him letters, or remembered him on the big days. Duo Maxwell, the ex-pilot of a fearful gundam and now a one man orphanage, was friendless.
‘Heero would laugh.’
Duo blinked at the sudden tears at his eyes. Heero. He hadn’t thought about him in.. well, in a long time. Where had that thought come from?
‘I really am tired.’
The cars were out of his sight now and he turned around to go back inside. They had been his last two kids and the house seemed more empty than ever. Duo hoped that he would get more kids soon so that he could occupy his mind once again.
‘Happy birthday to me.’
Duo smiled sadly as he blew out his lone candle on his muffin. Today was his twenty fifth birthday. He was getting older, and hopefully wiser. However, the loneliness was gnawing at him more and more. It had been a month since he had seen Sarah and Matthew off to their new homes and he still had no children in his home. Maybe this was a good sign. Perhaps this meant that there were no more orphans on L2, that finally all the children who had lost their families had found their piece of happiness.
If that truly was the case, he should be jumping for joy. But all he felt was an overwhelming sense of loss. What would he do if that was true? His purpose after the war had been the children. Without them, he had nothing.
‘I have to stop being depressing. I used to be the smiling happy-go-lucky guy and that was during a war.’
Still, he spent his birthday staring at his uneaten muffin with the melted candle on top, recalling past memories and swallowing the painful lumps in his throat.
‘I wonder what they are doing now. Quatre, Trowa, Wufei.’
Duo poked at his muffin and let his eyes glaze over in thought. Maybe it was time to find what he had lost, what they had forgotten. He had no more purpose on L2. It was time to banish his loneliness. Even if it meant rejection.
Duo rubbed his fingers together nervously as he stared at the massive door in front of him. His duffel was next to him, resting against his leg forlornly like a lost child. He raised his hand to knock only to drop it back as soon as it neared the door. The questions swam in his head madly, asking him things that he did not want answered.
‘Stop it! You fought in two wars! This is no time to be a coward!’
Feeling a bit better after admonishing himself, Duo decisively raised his hand and knocked on the door. There was a hollow sound and then moments later, the door opened to reveal a face he had not seen in a long time.
Duo felt his lips creep up in a small smile. He had taken the first step and the response had not been all that unpleasant.
"Hey, Quatre. How’s it going?"
Quatre opened the door wider, his aquamarine eyes nearly escaping his skull in his shock. His numb fingers combed through his immaculately styled blond hair and fell bonelessly to his side. His jaw was still agape from the surprise and it was a wonder that his legs were still supporting his body weight.
Duo stared at Quatre worriedly. Quatre was still staring at him like a landed fish and making small, guttering noises in the back of his throat. It could not be that much of a shock to see him, was it? Sure, he had not announced his coming, or even had talked to Quatre since the end of the Eve War, but still. Couldn’t the reception be a little more.. welcoming?
Finally, Quatre came out of his trance and stumbled forward. He enveloped Duo in an awkward but a welcoming hug, his arms clamping tightly around Duo’s form. Duo felt his eyes water, but held them in valiantly. He would not cry, not because it was against his edict, but because he didn’t want to ruin Quatre’s nice shirt. It would not do to ruin his friend’s clothing so soon after being reunited with him.
"Duo.. I missed you."
At Quatre’s watery admission, Duo nearly broke. However, by some miracle, he did not. Instead, his voice took over and started babbling.
"I missed you too. Sorry I came so suddenly after all these years without even a word of me coming, but you know me, I’m always so damned impulsive and I wanted to see how you were doing and I found your address and I thought I’d drop by say hi.."
His words faded as Quatre slowly let go and smiled fully. It was a smile between friends. It was a smile he had not seen in a long time.
"Why don’t you come in?"
And that was that. With a simple sentence, Quatre had erased years of separation and regret between them.
Smiling genuinely for the first time since his birthday, Duo walked into the house with Quatre by his side.
Duo’s visit which he had meant to be only a couple of days stretched into a week, then into a month. Before he knew it, he had been at Quatre’s massive home for three months, just getting to know him again. They spent part of every day together, reminiscing, telling each other about what they had done for the past few years and laughing at random things. Duo felt his loneliness retreating bit by bit, but it was still there. Not as much as before, but he could still feel it pressing against him.
It had not surprised him that Quatre had kept tabs on all of them, even him. He had not contacted anyone because he had been afraid of intruding on their lives. Duo could only shake his head at Quatre’s sensitivity and idiocy. All those years of wanting to talk to his friends again and Quatre had wanted the same thing. Duo and Quatre had lost touch not because they did not care, but because they had been afraid of the other’s reaction.
Idiocy knew no limits in the human race, it seemed. Even the most brilliant of them all, the gundam pilots, sank into its reaches and fell prey to it. Because of their irrational worry and fear, both Quatre and Duo had sank into loneliness, not daring to hope that the other would want to keep in touch. But Duo had taken the first step. And that step had led to erasing years of misconceived rejection and turned it back into a friendship that both had sorely missed.
It had shocked Duo to no end that Quatre had lost touch with Trowa - he had thought, of all people, Quatre and Trowa would not have let each other go. After all, it had been obvious to everyone that they had been deeply in love and had shared that love in every possible way. But when Quatre had revealed that he had not heard from nor tried to contact Trowa in nearly ten years, Duo had been blown away. Even love like theirs had not been enough to keep them together.
It was at the end of the third month that Duo finally asked Quatre about Heero. To this very day, he and Quatre had talked of everything and everyone except for Heero. Quatre had purposely kept quiet about him for he knew how Duo had felt, and still feel, about the taciturn boy. Duo had not brought him up out of simple self-interest. But now, he had to know, only if to put his questions to rest.
The morning sun was bright, lighting the solarium with burning colors, giving the greenery far more life than necessary. Their coffee was steaming from the cups, sending tendrils of steam into the light breeze in the air. Duo sipped cautiously, slowly working up the courage to ask about Heero. Quatre merely waited with infinite patience.
"So, Quatre.." began Duo, a hefty amount of hesitation evident in his trembling voice, "have you kept tabs on Heero much?"
Carefully, Quatre set down his coffee and folded a napkin over his lap. He was not stalling, just looking for the right words to say.
"Last I checked up on him, he was on earth."
Duo smiled briefly. Somehow, he had known Heero would be on earth, even if he was a space boy at heart. What had Quatre said during the end of the first war? That Heero was the heart of space? What better place to nurture that loving and infinite heart than in the warmth of the earth?
"So I guess he never did go back to L1."
Quatre shook his head. After the Eve war, everyone had destroyed their gundams and gone back to their respective colony clusters, everyone but Heero. He had disappeared for a period of six months or so only to reappear on earth. Quatre took a deep breath to tell Duo everything else he knew of Heero, but Duo beat him to it.
"And I guess he’s living it up with Relena. Right?"
Duo saw the nod of confirmation and felt somehow relieved and hurt at the same time. Sure, he himself had not made any effort to stay in touch with Heero, but he hadn’t gone and shacked up with Hilde either. Not that one had anything to do with the other, but still.. Couldn’t Heero have been as lonely as he had been? Couldn’t they at least have shared the same pain? At least Quatre understood - he had been without Trowa, like he had been without Heero. And Quatre had actually had gotten the silent pilot to love him back which was more than he could say about himself.
"Well, it’s not like expected him to pine away for me or anything.."
The silence was thick for the rest of breakfast. The cheery solarium no longer seemed so bright with the two brooding ex-pilots.
Quatre and Duo stared at each other over the table, neither willing to say a word. The L4 climate control had taken the bright sunny days of the weeks past and had turned it into a dreary rainy day to match the moods of the two. On the table between them was the object of their bad mood. On the surface, it was a fairly innocuous piece of paper with flowing script on it. Its contents, however, was not so innocent.
"So, Quat, do we or don’t we?"
The question hung thickly in the tense atmosphere. The letter had been sudden, delivered that morning without so much as a hint as to its emotionally upsetting contents. They had opened it in innocence, curious about it, only to find themselves trembling with unease and dread. And now here they were, having a staring contest, neither sure about their next move.
"Well," Quatre said, "I think we say yes?"
Duo frowned. Quatre had looked entirely too hopeful when he had suggested the answer. He glanced at the letter again, pursing his lips in light grimace as he contemplated it again. Why had Trowa written Quatre so suddenly out of the blue? How had he known that Duo was with him? And what the hell had he meant by inviting them to a freaking wedding? Who was getting married? What did he want from them?
"Can you handle this, Quatre?"
A small smile blossomed on Quatre’s face. He knew Duo was worried about him and it made him feel a bit better.
"I can. You know, it’s about time that we went and faced the others, don’t you think?"
Nodding, Duo stood and brushed off the nonexistent dust off his pants with his nervous hands.
"Sure, Quat. About time we faced up to the loneliness."
"And what’s better to banish the loneliness than me looking upon the face of my most beloved?"
Rolling his eyes, Duo could only agree. After all, even the best of friends could not bridge the gap between the souls of two people. Maybe, a lover could.
"Underwear, check. Formal clothing, check. Nice shoes, check. Extra hair ties, check. Nervous nauseated feeling in the pit of my stomach, check."
Duo was nearly ready to board the Winner family personal shuttle to L3. Quatre was already inside, arranging things with the pilots about landing space and other such trivial matters. He realized that Quatre needed to keep constantly busy so that he would not break down before they got to L3, but it still wasn’t healthy to occupy every waking moment with trivial details to avoid the reality of things.
When the shuttle took off, Duo glanced over at Quatre, a worried expression firmly in place. He expected to see trepidation, sorrow, anticipation, any and all emotions of the human race on Quatre’s face. However, he encountered a glassy, stoic mask that would have done Heero proud.
"Hey, Quat, do you have any idea what wedding Trowa’s talking about?"
Duo wanted to smack himself as soon as the question was out. It was a callous question, one that would make Quatre feel worse than he had for the three days since receiving and answering the letter. Yet, Quatre surprised him and once again reminded him about the infinite grace of his heart.
"I don’t know, Duo, but if it is his own wedding, I hope he’ll be happy. He was the loneliest of us all, I think. He deserves someone who understands him, who can chase away the loneliness."
No jealousy, no bitterness, no hatred. Duo was amazed by and proud of his friend. He knew that had the letter come from Heero, he would have been less than charitable in his response and feelings. But not Quatre. Sometimes, Quatre seemed almost too good to be a mere mortal human. Duo would have thought that Quatre was an angel if his voice had not shook lightly with pain.
"We’ll find out soon enough, right? So.. Quat, can you pass the scotch?"
The scotch was passed around more times than neither could count during the flight and by the time the shuttle touched down on L3, there was singing and merry laughter. The pilots of the shuttle could only stare dubiously at their employer and his best friend as they belted out tunes with their warbling off-tune voices, stumbling to the open hatch to get out.
"Oi, Quatre, did you get the license plate number of the bus that ran us over yesterday?"
Duo groaned as he tried to lift his too heavy head from the pillow. There was a colony of evil elves pounding on their anvils in his skull. He could vaguely hear Quatre moaning on the other bed - he probably had the same evil elves in his head.
"I think the bus had a plate called ‘you drank too much you fucking morons’ or something."
Duo could only grin feebly at Quatre’s grumbling response. If he could curse, the pain must be pretty bad.
"What time is it?"
Quatre shifted head and fixed his bleary eyes on the obnoxiously red glare of the clock next to his bed. As soon as the numbers became clear, his eyes widened and he dragged his protesting body out of bed.
"It’s ten in the morning! We have an hour to get ready and get to the chapel!"
Duo moaned into the pillow. This was not a good beginning to their reunion with Trowa at all.
The nausea was almost unbearable. Duo could feel it roiling around in his stomach, the acid mix of overindulgence of alcohol mixing with the nervousness. Quatre looked slightly green as well. Neither looked particularly healthy, but they were dressed quite impeccably in their formal tuxedos.
The chapel was impressive with its steeples reminiscent of earth’s eighteenth century English churches. There were massive doors carved intricately with Christian symbolism all over it. Duo glanced at it uncomfortably, his earlier memories of churches clamoring to the forefront of his brain.
"I guess this is it."
Duo saw Quatre swallow a nervous lump in his throat. He reached out to his friend and lent a supporting hand. In this situation, Quatre could use a bit of support.
"Shall we go in?"
Duo winced at Quatre’s almost too forceful cheeriness. They could drink all they wanted, pretend all they wanted, but in the end, this situation was just bloody awkward.
Before they had made three steps towards the doors, a figure stepped out of the shadows of the building and into their path. He was tall, almost willowy, with a heavy fall of brown hair that swept into his face to his chin. His one visible eye pierced green sparks into them, his taut body radiated tension. The thin lips were stretched in what seemed to be a smile, his hands were fisted by his side.
Duo did not mind so much that Trowa basically ignored him. Not after seeing Quatre’s face light up like the blazing sun. Not after seeing Trowa’s face relax into an incredible expression of longing.
He couldn’t resent them their moment of pure happiness.
Yet, there was no running into each other’s arms nor tears of joy. There was no spontaneous declaration of never ending love, no pledges of eternity by each other’s sides. There was just silence, still bodies and a great deal of staring. The emotions flew around in circles, entrapping them. It was a beautiful moment, but it was also stifling. Duo butted in to diffuse the situation.
"So, Trowa, long time! Who’s getting married?"
Tact had never been his greatest ally, but Duo could not have formulated his question in a polite form even if he had tried. Besides, it seemed that neither had heard him. Duo was beginning to give up hope on an answer when Trowa replied.
"Cathy is. To Keith. He’s great for her."
Duo had no idea who Keith was and he didn’t care. The way Quatre’s face had transformed when Trowa had announced that it wasn’t his wedding was enough. Sure, Quatre had said he would be happy for Trowa if he was getting married, but it must have been a relief.
Silence once again settled around them. Duo noticed that neither Quatre nor Trowa had yet to take a step toward each other. As far as he had figured it, Trowa had invited Quatre here not to witness Cathy’s wedding, but to see him again. Cathy’s wedding had just been a nice excuse to bring Quatre out here, especially since in the letter Trowa had not identified who was getting married. And Duo had just been in Quatre’s company when Trowa had decided to take the first step into reconciliation and so he had probably invited him out of convenience more than anything else. It was a sad thought, that Trowa had only invited him for Quatre’s sake, but then again, it wasn’t surprising. He couldn’t blame the guy.
Duo watched the two stare at each other for another ten minutes before he got tired of the immobility. Sighing rather loudly, Duo shoved Quatre non too gently towards Trowa. He smirked when Quatre practically fell into Trowa’s arms and blushed to the roots of his blond hair. He left them in each other’s arms, staring at each other with little stars in their eyes. After all, he had come for a wedding.
Duo fell into the couch of his and Quatre’s hotel room with a thump. The wedding had lasted for three hours and then the reception had gone on all night. There had been dancing, singing, and most of all, an open bar. He dropped his aching head onto his hands and groaned loudly. After all that drinking on the shuttle and the drinking he had just indulged in at the reception, the colony of elves had become more vicious.
Duo looked around the empty room. As he had expected, Quatre and Trowa had gone off on their own, probably to reclaim what they had in the past and talk out their misunderstandings that had kept them apart. It had taken Duo and Quatre nearly a month to work through all their fears, so he figured Trowa and Quatre would take longer. Their connection was deeper, so the separation must have hurt more. It could take them quite some time to straighten out the mess and keep each other from loneliness.
Loneliness. It was back, now that Quatre had gone off to be with Trowa. Duo wasn’t bitter or angry, but he felt a little abandoned. Quatre had found Trowa again, or rather, Trowa had found Quatre. They would be able to banish their lonely hearts. But he was still here, in this empty room, alcohol dulling his senses. He was happy for his best friend and his lover. He really was. He just wished that it didn’t hurt so much.
The thing that hurt most was not that Quatre and Trowa were together. No, that was what made him happy. What hurt was that he had nothing like that to look forward to, to hope for. Heero would never make the effort to look for him. If he made the effort to go to Heero, he would not be received kindly. Heero would never look at him with the intense longing that Trowa’s eyes had held. He and Heero had a friendship back in the war, not a love affair. At best, he could have with Heero what he had with Quatre, a friendship.
Duo wondered if that hurt more than not seeing Heero. Maybe.
"Jesus, Maxwell, just stop your stupid brain!"
Only the empty room heard him.
Quatre returned the following morning and found Duo passed out in his tux on the couch. He could only smile at the sight - Duo looked positively hedonistic. Without a noise, he padded over to the couch and shook Duo lightly by his shoulder.
"Wake up Duo. Hello, Duo?"
A pair of sleepy and bloodshot violet eyes opened slowly and stopped at half mast. They looked at Quatre without recognition.
Quatre’s eyes became sad. The aquamarine darkened to a verdant blue with the feeling, aching for his friend.
"No. Just me."
Duo’s eyes became lucid and for a split second, Quatre thought he saw an overwhelming loneliness in their depths. Then as suddenly as it had appeared, it retreated, covered up by a smile.
"So, Quatre, where’s Trowa?"
The radiance that lit up Quatre’s face made Duo warm. It was the look that Quatre got when he was happy - he had it often enough during the war when he spent time with Trowa. Now it was back and Duo couldn’t be happier for his friend.
"He’s down stairs, at the lobby. He’s waiting for us."
Duo knew he looked confused. Us?
"But aren’t you and Trowa.. Well, don’t you guys want to be alone?"
Quatre gently pulled Duo to his feet and hugged him tightly. He could only imagine the look of utter surprise on Duo’s face.
"Trowa wants to see you again, Duo. He missed you too. And you are my best friend. I would never leave you like that."
Relief washed over Duo as he realized that Quatre would not just leave him behind in the wake of finding Trowa. The loneliness retreated a few paces back, replaced by a feeling of acceptance. He was grateful, ridiculously so, to have him as a friend. How he had lasted all those years without this kind of kinship, he did not know. But he was glad that now that he had reclaimed what was lost, he would not have to let it go again.
Clumsily, Duo untangled himself from Quatre and grinned. The day was looking up.
"So, let’s go. Trowa’s waiting."
The two friends left the hotel room feeling lighter and more joyful than they had come into it.