“Hey Howard, have you seen the kid?” someone behind him yelled, causing him to turn around.
“Not since he had turned in yesterday. Is there a problem?” he yelled back, coming a bit closer to avoid sacrificing his vocal chords to too much yelling.
“There are some obvious changes on his Gundam that he probably made by himself. I want to question him about it.” The other answered him. Howard nodded. This wouldn’t be the first time the teen had made changes on his Gundam to optimize it.
“I’ll see if I can find him.” He called over his shoulder while turning around again. This was a ship after all. It shouldn’t be too hard to find one pilot. And if not him, then maybe Heero, who most likely knew where Duo was.
While he walked he thought about that oddity. This was the second time that the braided teen had brought the other pilot with him. He would have thought after the last time he wouldn’t even consider it again. But apparently the pilot of Wing had somehow managed to get back into his good graces after stealing Deathscythe’s parts.
Which led him back to his original question. Why had his protégé brought the other pilot with him again? Heero wasn’t injured to a point where he needed immediate medical attention, nor was his Gundam in such a shape that it would need more than the repairs that the Japanese teen could do himself. They had both landed on their own, so it was clearly the other pilots wish to be here, which was just as puzzling compared to his behavior the last time he had been here.
Shrugging once again he continued his search. It wasn’t like it would change anything if he knew the reasons behind it. He trusted Duo’s judgment and if he thought it was a good idea to bring Heero back here – who was he to say no? Heero was a fighter for the peace and rights for the colonies just as much as the kid was, so he would help him as much as he could, that was never in question.
Having checked just about every place on the ship where he thought Duo could be at this point, he resigned himself that he would need to ask the Japanese pilot. The longhaired teen was no-where to be found, so the only place left to check was Heero’s Gundam, even though he didn’t think that Duo would be there. After all, while the two Gundams where on opposite ends of the garage, their yelling wasn’t all that easy to overhear. Especially considering the reverberation that was typical for big spaces like this.
Swinging himself easily up on the lying machine, he walked over to the cockpit entrance. It was wide open and he could easily see that it was also empty. Frowning in confusion he heard a slight noise to his right and almost instinctively turned there, wondering how it could be that both pilots seemed to have vanished.
His thoughts, however, were interrupted as he finally caught sight of the braided teen – together with the Japanese one. It was the how of how he found them that left him frozen in mid step, not really wanting to believe what his eyes were showing him.
‘Well, I definitely know now how Heero has managed to win his good graces back.’ He mused, only slightly amused.
There, in the nook of Wing’s arm and torso, both pilots stood, bodies pressed together, arms wrapped around each other and mouths firmly locked. Both of them seemed to totally have lost focus of anything but each other. He knew for a fact that Duo had better instincts and should have reacted to the noises he had made climbing the Gundam already a good while ago. And from what he had heard of Heero he shouldn’t be ignoring him either.
Watching them trying to climb down each other’s throats, there were mixed feelings within him. On the one side he knew he should break this up. Both of them lived dangerous lives and distractions like this could be deadly. On the other side…
… on the other side was the fact that he had always seen Duo as something of a nephew. From the first time he had met him, he had liked him. He had taken him under his protection for as good as he could, and no matter what the braided boy needed, he would do his best to fulfill it. The pilot of Deathscythe never had asked for anything for himself up to now; only the barest of basics. Watching him now engaged in something that was so obviously selfish and desired… could he really deny him that? Was it too much for him to actually wish for something for himself just for once?
He wasn’t sure what to think of this. His own training was fighting with his feelings over this. While his training pointed out that he was getting soft in his old days and that no matter how much Duo deserved something for himself, they were playing with big toys here; toys which could be responsible for the life’s of thousands, his conscience, his feelings, tried to reason that only someone who had a reason to fight could fight successfully. And while he knew that Duo was fighting for revenge, it was an empty, unsatisfying feeling.
But what kinds of feelings were really involved here? For all he knew both pilots were only letting go of some steam. They were fifteen after all – fifteen year old boys. Getting erections for the most unreasonable things was a daily occurrence at that age. And having someone help get rid of some of that tension was always better. However, considering the fact of who he was thinking about here, he really doubted this theory. Duo was someone who got attached pretty quickly. While he was tentative to give out his trust, once earned it was hard to break it.
He was also an incredible judge of character. Once he had decided that someone was worth his trust you couldn’t get rid of him again. Even breaking his faith in you didn’t shake him – which he was very obviously showing right now. Heero had opposed him, tried to destroy Deathscythe – even though that part wasn’t really intended – and had stolen parts of his Gundam. And even after all that he had brought him back, letting his defense down – and letting him in even deeper than before.
That was what finally took the decision off of his shoulders. Jumping down on the machine’s other side he leaned against the cool metal, waiting for the boys to finish with their ‘business’. Duo trusted Heero, he knew that much. His actions didn’t leave any other conclusion. But what he didn’t know was what the Japanese teen thought of this all. Which was what he intended to find out now, glare and death threats withstanding. He had worked and lived together with the ‘mad five’ for years – even Heero Yuy wasn’t as frightening as the thought of repeating that arrangement.
He had to wait for quite some time, but he had expected that. Not that it mattered. He was a patient man if he had to be. And this was important to him. Other things could wait. It wasn’t like they had an incoming attack anytime soon. None that he knew of anyway.
Having chosen his waiting spot carefully, Duo walked past him without even noticing him as he finally made an appearance, making a straight line to Deathscythe. Well, at least he wouldn’t need to find him again after this. Heero, however, was coming – as he had anticipated – to this side of his Gundam to fetch some tools for fine-tuning, reacting only with a twitch of his eyebrow
of seeing him standing there, obviously waiting for him.
Watching the Japanese teen carefully as he selected his tools, Howard waited for an offer for conversation. He should have known better, as Heero wasn’t the most talkative guy he had ever met, but he had hoped. There was no way that the shorthaired pilot didn’t know why he was here – thinking that would just insult his intelligence. And from what he heard he wasn’t exactly lacking in that area. So after a minute of just staring he cleared his throat, immediately getting the youths attention.
“What, exactly, are your intentions?” he asked, not beating around the bush. He knew out of experience that the straight-forward way worked best for situations like this. Stalling and trying to ask his way around what he wanted to know only would earn him the pilot’s impatience.
Heero only hesitated for a second, not looking up.
“It’s not my decision to make.” He replied after a while, looking a wrench over as if trying to figure out if it was the right size, though Howards trained eyes could see that these blue eyes were gazing right through the tool. Scowling the older man pushed away from the machine he was leaning against, crossing his arms before his chest in a rare show of a bad mood, his body language clashing nastily with his choice of clothes.
“What do you mean?” he demanded to know. “You obviously have enough time to make out with him. So you should make the room for him in your thoughts as well. How do you intend to continue this? Or was this just some fooling around for you to get rid of some tension?” the grey-haired man spat, watching – and wondering about it – as the Japanese pilot winced very slightly, but still didn’t look in his direction.
“As I said, it’s not my decision to make.” He just repeated. And while Howard thought he could hear some resignation out of his voice, he couldn’t help the anger on Duo’s behalf.
“You really are as cold as J said you would be; only thinking of what your orders are. Don’t you realize that your mission is pointless if you can’t see the real value of life, of people’s feelings behind it?” It wasn’t often that Howard lost his temper, but just the thought of Heero treating Duo and anything between them with this cold was really pissing him off.
The pilot of Wing then finally stood up from his crouch before the toolbox, his eyes glaring and his facial features set in an unhappy frown.
“I really would appreciate it if you would take your nose out of things you have no business with. I already repeated myself that this isn’t my decision to make and no matter what you’re going to say now, you cannot change the situation.”
With these words the Japanese teen climbed Wing in a well-practiced manner and vanished behind the pilots hatch, clearly showing him that he saw their conversation as finished, leaving a disgruntled Howard standing just beside the tall machine, steaming to himself. This wasn’t what he had hoped to learn. For him it was very obvious that Heero apparently only thought of his mission, taking some well-timed breaks for entertainment to stay in optimum performance. Just as J had said – the boy was only concerned with efficiency.
He really had hoped that it wouldn’t be like this.
But as it was, it meant that he had to talk to Duo too. While Heero might not be too happy about him snooping around in their business, he wouldn’t let the kid walk into something that sounded like an emotional trap for him.
Luckily for him, finding the longhaired pilot this time around wasn’t as hard as before – if only for the fact that he had seen him walk over to his Gundam. For a while he just watched as Duo explained to one of his mechanics some of the changes he had made and how they affected the overall performance of the machine. Unintentionally he had attracted quite a lot of attention with it and no less than seven men were standing around Deathscythe, listening to him and making some quiet comments between themselves. It amused Howard to no end that these were all seasoned mechanics, tried and tested multiple times before – and they all listened up when a mere child explained something he had done. It wasn’t that Duo was particularly better than them – it was just that he had some very unconventional ideas which led to some very interesting results.
After a while the men went back to their own work and the teen went back to tinkering around some more on his machine. That was what Howard had been waiting for. Walking up to him he watched for a few moments until these violet eyes looked up to him.
“Is anything the matter Howie?” Duo asked, wiping his hands on a rag to get rid of some of the grease.
Not knowing any way to politely start this conversation, nor was he someone to mince his words, he just went right to the subject matter.
“You do realize where he stands on this, do you?” he asked gruffly, seeing first confusion and then understanding wash through the others eyes, before turning back to the task at hand.
“Do you really think I would have started anything if I didn’t?” he asked back, not really answering the question, but not really avoiding it either. Howard frowned.
“And you’re ok with it?” he wanted to know, not really understanding how the boy could be. But Duo only looked at him weirdly before shaking his head.
“I really wouldn’t have thought that this would concern you this much. But if it makes you feel better, I won’t be so foolish to commit to anything right now. We still have a war to fight. That has top priority right now.”
The casual way he said this… Howard couldn’t deny that he was somewhat shocked about it. He had expected for Duo to already have formed an emotional commitment. But then again, this was Duo. It was very likely that he had convinced himself that he hadn’t formed any kind of commitment while protecting that knowledge deep down within himself to avoid getting hurt.
Shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other, Howard shrugged and tried to look casual.
“As long as you’re ok with this... I just don’t think this is right. But you’re old enough to make decisions like this for yourself.” He told him before waving and turning to go.
“I have to look after some other stuff. See ya.”
He heard a slightly distracted reply and shook his head slightly. There was something wrong with raising kids to be like this when they haven’t even reached adulthood yet. But he knew that it never was his decision to make. Just as much as it wasn’t his decision what happened between the pilots. And while he would have liked to spare them any hurt that might come from it, they were right – he should just butt the hell out of their business.
Even though he didn’t like it.
Howard saw the two of them again a few times before the war ended. He never saw another sign that might indicated that there was something more than friendship and an easy camaraderie between them, but then again, he knew that it was a very distinct possibility that they just hid it from him. They both had made it clear that they saw it as their own business and that they didn’t appreciate him making it his.
This didn’t stop him from watching them, looking out for any signs that they were in the process of hurting each other. He couldn’t really explain this to himself, it wasn’t likely that he would be able to do anything if he saw any signs, but it let him sleep easier. With the war coming to a pinnacle, time wasn’t something he had all that much to spare off, but he always made time to watch them, even though it was from afar. Having the Gundams together with their pilots on his ship made it easier, even though it meant a lot of extra work. However, this was the work they had dedicated themselves to, and he was bound and determined that if they would lose – which he didn’t believe would happen – then it wouldn’t be because one or more of the machines hadn’t been in top condition.
Watching all the pilots interact however, puzzled him. If he wouldn’t have known about the fact that there was at least some physical attraction between Duo and Heero, he could have sworn that the Japanese pilot preferred the company of the other three, while the braided teen seemed to get along with everyone but still holding them all at arm’s length. It was… not what he had expected. There were no hidden glances, no winks, no signs that showed there was anything more than what met the eye. And Howard prided himself of being pretty quick when it came to catching signs like that. Having lived in shared quarters for most his life he had had enough possibilities to learn.
But no matter what he did, how close he looked or how much he observed – he was sure that he wasn’t missing anything. He couldn’t imagine that this really had been it. His feelings were telling him that there was more, even though he couldn’t see it, while his mind tried to reason with him again that he should just leave them be. However, he wasn’t to be deterred. There had to be something. And he would find out what.
He had known it. No matter how much they tried to hide it, he hadn’t been fooled. And he finally got the signs he had been looking for, even though he would have preferred to not get them like this.
Heero going after that piece of Libra; something that seemed like a suicide mission while he was doing it. And Duo…
… and Duo staring at him with fear in his eyes, chanting for him to come back, cutting himself off of anything that would give the other pilots a clue of his state but forgetting to cut the feed to the peacemillion. It was that very moment that Howard realized that no matter what the pilot of Deathscythe Hell had done to convince himself that he wasn’t emotionally attached, there was no way to fool his heart. Wearing said heart on his sleeves while watching Heero wrestle with what seemed like sure death only proofed that. But right now the old man couldn’t feel happy about his discovery. Not while the kids partner was still not clear. Not while they might still lose him – and half the earth together with him.
Right now he only could hold his breath, like the rest of the ship.
There were people with him that had shouted data all over the communication systems, right up to this critical moment, but right now you would have been able to hear a pin drop. Five… four… three… two…
And then, suddenly, Heero managed to fire off the beam-canon, pulverizing that large chunk of Libra into small enough parts that wouldn’t do any damage before pulling away at the very last possible moment and flying to safety.
There were cheers and congratulations sounding all around him, but Howard only had eyes and ears for one person. For the tears glittering in these violet eyes and the small gasp that managed to escape, together with a quick thanks to a God he had convinced everyone of he didn’t believe in, before Duo pulled himself together and, with a grin firmly plastered on his face, went back online with the other pilots, exclaiming his own congratulations in his usual, cheerful way. Howard doubted that anyone but him had even seen that one, single moment of weakness.
Duo could tell him that he didn’t feel anything for Heero until he was blue in the face. But he knew better. And he intended to talk to him again.
First however, he needed to have another chat with the Japanese teen. Maybe now, that the war was over, he would be more open to listen to him.
Well, his intentions had been good, but Howard actually couldn’t find any time to talk to either of them for quite some time to come. It had been over a week until there was finally a lull in all the chaos around them. Now that it was finally over, people left and right seemed to think that they needed to speak up with their opinions, no matter if you wanted to hear them or not. And way more often than he would prefer, Howard found himself having to listen. He didn’t know what happened to make him suddenly the unofficial spokesperson for everyone, but the general opinion was apparently that if you needed to speak up – go to Howard.
In the midst of said chaos it was also decided that the pilots needed to get off the ship. Quatre was hurt and needed some real rest to heal. And the others didn’t really appreciate all the blowing up and the hero-like worship about their actions either. So while he himself was still dealing with everyone and their mother about what all of this meant for the general population, they were shipped down to earth, vanishing again like they had so often during the war.
And no matter whom he asked, he couldn’t find out where they had ended up this time. Annoyed – and quite a bit concerned – he decided to wait until the ball that Relena intended to throw in honor of the pilot’s actions in saving the world. No matter if they wanted or not, they couldn’t very well refuse to show up.
With the day of the ball finally there, Howard had gotten out an old, dusty suit that he actually had found in his wardrobe and dressed at least somewhat appropriately. He still wore a Hawaiian shirt instead of the dress shirt that was supposed to go with the suit, but in his opinion that it was enough of a compromise on his part.
The ball in itself was held at the old Sanq palace and it showed that Relena hadn’t spared any expanses. There where fresh flowers everywhere, the buffet was extensive and there was a live band playing a good combination of songs for dancing and songs suited for soothing background music while making conversation.
At one point he had seen all the pilots as they had been required to be on stage while Relena had held a speech, but after that he had lost them in the crowd again.
That was until he went out on one of the balconies to take a breather, stopping dead in his tracks still partly hidden by the curtain. Duo and Heero were on the very balcony that he had picked, leaning against one another and very obviously engaged in some private conversation, spiked with occasional kisses.
Seeing them like this, Howard wanted to believe that everything had worked itself out. That the boys both had realized what was in front of them and that he didn’t need to meddle anymore. Some part of him however, insisted that he couldn’t know for sure until he talked to them. And that part wasn’t to be denied. He had worried about them for over a year now – in his opinion he had a right to know where it all stood.
So he decided to wait for one of them to leave, leaning against the wall beside the door to the balcony in a weird déjà vu of his first talk with them.
It was Heero who showed up first, obviously with the intention of getting himself and Duo some drinks. Well, that would need to wait for a bit longer.
“Can you answer my question now?” Howard asked as the teen passed him, watching him stop and turn around slightly. There was something that could be an amused smirk on the Japanese teen’s lips, but the older man really couldn’t be sure.
“You still haven’t lost interest after all this time?” he asked back, a slight snort following the question, together with a light shake of his head.
“You never gave me a real answer.” Howard countered, not letting the evasive tactic fool him.
“And my answer is still what it was back then – it was never my decision to make. I knew where I stood from the very beginning. If it only would have been about me, there never would have been any question at all.” The teen told him, leaving him just as confused as before.
“And what is your stand in this?” he asked again, and this time he was pretty sure that the smirk was real.
“I’ll leave you to figure that out for yourself.” Heero told him before wandering away again, cutting their conversation short once again.
“That boy is going to be the death of me.” The old mechanic muttered, scratching the back of his head and trying to figure out what he could have meant.
He tried not to jump too noticeably as he suddenly felt an arm fall around his shoulders, followed by the body of the other pilot leaning against him.
“You have to admit, Howie, this definitely was the best coup that I’ve ever done.” Duo grinned beside him, watching the messy-haired teen walk away with an appreciative sweep of his eyes over his backside. Frowning Howard turned his head to look at him.
“What do you mean?” he asked for clarification.
“Stealing Heero Yuy’s heart away. I knew I was holding it in my hands from the very beginning, but I also knew that the war had to come first. Now that it is finally over however, I don’t see any reason to hold back any longer.” The grin had changed into a soft smile, clearly showing that the teen’s thoughts had gone somewhere else. Howard wasn’t to be swayed away from the topic though.
“You mean you knew all along the he loved you? And you were the one keeping the distance between the two of you?” he asked incredulously, not wanting to believe that his observations had been so wrong. Surprised Duo looked at him again.
“Of course, didn’t you too? After all, you were the one who made his skepticism about the whole situation clear to me back then.”
Running his hand over his face, Howard couldn’t help the laugh that wanted to escape him. All his doubts and worries – and it was his fault all along. What he had thought was Heero telling him that his missions will always come first was actually the Japanese pilot expressing that he had made the decision to follow his heart, but that Duo hadn’t made the same choice yet. What he had thought was the kid knowing that Wing’s pilot was a cold bastard that would only place him below the success of his missions was the longhaired teen’s way of making sure to make it clear that he at least would stay levelheaded and distanced for the sake of said missions.
He had gotten it completely wrong all along. And while he couldn’t know if Duo would have acted in any other way if he hadn’t spoken up, he didn’t want to believe that. Because that would only mean that it was his fault that it had taken them so long to finally really find each other. Where he had only wished for them to have some escape from reality, to have a reason to relax and enjoy at least a small part of this damnable war, it had been him who had denied them.
It was then and there that he decided that from now on he wasn’t going to put his nose into other people’s business again. Heero had tried to warn him, but he only had seen it the way he wanted it to. These boys were by far more mature than he was in some aspects. Maybe it really was time to show them the respect they had earned themselves.
Something of his new resolve must have shown on his face, because Duo’s expression had turned somewhat gentle again and he squeezed his shoulder once before letting go.
“Don’t kill yourself over it, Howie. I’ll let you know how the story wraps up.” He told him, giving him a last, friendly, slap on the back. “After all, I don’t want you to get a heart attack before your time.” He threw grinning over his shoulder, walking in the direction where they had seen Heero vanish into the crowd, leaving the old mechanic behind, shaking his head over the teen’s behavior.
Really, he wasn’t going to snoop into their affairs anymore.
But maybe checking in with them once in a while wouldn’t be a bad idea. After all, he had to make sure that Heero treated the kid right.
It was his right as ‘family’ after all…