2001 (cont)

+

Duo recovered amazingly quickly. Heero decided he might as well try to get along with the boy now, since they were both outcasts and he was the only friend Duo had left. Duo complained the most about his broken nose.

Heero soon had other things to complain about. His association with the boy left the other people in the school convinced they were a couple, and he was soon on the end of hate mail and abusive comments as much as Duo was.

Heero, however, found he could deal with it much more easily than Duo. The braided baka's open nature was easily wounded, while Heero's defenses could have been custom made for such an event as this. Despite all the cruel gossip and abuse they got from people, Heero soon found that once he allowed himself to, he truly liked the violet-eyed boy. For Heero to like anybody was pretty much a miracle in itself.

True to his word, Heero refused to show discomfort over Duo's orientation, although it was the beginning of a personal struggle for him. He had always considered himself to be heterosexual, yet now the presence of an undeniably beautiful bishounen in his life was getting him very confused. He began to wonder if his dislike for Relena had begun because she was Relena -- or because she was female.

Heero was just about to leave the school campus one day when he heard voices. Now on a school campus with 1000+ students this was not unusual, but what they were saying was.

"Stupid faggot boy! We'll send you to where you belong -- in hell!"

Heero began to walk towards the voices, then to run, then to drop his bag and full-out sprint. It was undoubtedly Duo they were talking to, who, while a good fighter, was still not at his full strength after the last beating he'd received.

And obviously, this time the bastards meant business.

Heero burst onto the scene in time to see Duo collapse to the ground, a bruise already blossoming across his cheek. His head hit the concrete hard, obviously knocking him out.

The people beating on Duo all had their backs to him. Heero forced his anger down, and struck up a nonchalant position, leaning against the door frame with arms crossed. "He's down for the count," he observed in his usual flat monotone. The boys all spun around and he was gratified to see a few take a step back, obviously remembering what had happened the last time this group messed with him. "Care to try me instead?" Heero dropped out of his casual position and stood legs braced and fists ready.

"So Yuy's come to defend his lover, has he?" one of the more stupid of the group sneered. "Faggot!"

"I am not gay, although my friend is," Heero replied, focusing on the one who spoke. "Does that make him anything less than human? And I asked you, do you want to try a fight with me instead?"

Heero hoped he could keep them occupied for a while longer. Duo was climbing his way to full consciousness, he could see, and if he kept them talking -- or fighting -- long enough, then maybe Duo would show sense for once in his life and get the hell out of there.

"Why should I bother?" the bully sneered. He seemed to be incapable of any speech that didn't involve a sneer. Heero knew he was afraid, and stalling.

"Then why did you pick on Duo?"

"What do you mean, faggot boy?"

"If you didn't want to mess with me, then why did you pick on my friend?"

This statement implied once and for all that Heero would defend Duo any time the boy was attacked. And he had every intention of upholding it.

"Uh, Mike," one of the boys said hesitantly to the stupid one who kept sneering at him, "you don't wanna mess with him. You remember what he did to James?"

To increase the impact of this statement, Heero allowed an evil smirk to overtake his face and dropped into a back stance, fists raised, obviously martial arts trained and obviously more than willing to kick the crap out of them. Actually, he was wondering where he got the strength of will from not to just lunge for them right then and give the bastards the same treatment he'd delivered to James Trident.

His movement convinced the rest of them, and they ran. Mike found himself alone, facing a pissed off Heero Yuy, who began advancing, switching to a forward stance.

Mike eeped and ran.

Dropping his fists and standing upright, Heero moved over to check on Duo. He found the braided boy fully conscious, and watching him with the strangest expression on his face. Heero grabbed Duo's arm and dragged him to his feet.

"Heero. . . ." The Japanese boy glanced at his friend, moving to extricate Duo's bag from the bush it had been thrown into.

"Nani?"

"Did you mean it?"

"Hn?"

"About if they messed with me, they messed with you?"

"Hai."

"Could you speak English?"

"You speak Japanese."

"A few words, but you've been using it more and more. And what does baka mean?"

Heero didn't reply, handing Duo's bag to him and collecting his own.

"Heero. . . ."

"What now, baka?"

"Do you wanna come round my house for dinner? As a thank you?" At Heero's glare, Duo held up his hands defensively. "I'm not trying to pull a move or anything, man. Just wanna say thank you for helping me out when I'm not in top form."

"The amount you get in fights, you'll never be in top form."

"Hee~ro!"

Heero chuckled. Duo struck a mock pose, one hand clutching his heart and the back of the other against forehead. "Did Heero just laugh? Masaka!"

Heero chuckled again, then reached out on impulse and tugged Duo's braid. "Lead the way, baka."

Duo's whole face lit up with his sudden hopeful smile. "You mean you'll come?" [2]

"Hn."

"I'll take that as yes."

+

Solo looked up when Duo walked in, and blinked in surprise when he saw Heero. Then he caught sight of Duo's black eye and bruised cheek, and his eyes narrowed. "Another fight?" he asked, dropping the plate in the sink and grabbing a towel to dry his hands off with.

"Yeah. I invited Heero for dinner to say thanks for saving my ass." Duo dropped his bag by the door. Heero followed his example. "That okay?"

Solo shrugged. "As long as Heero doesn't mind small portions."

"I don't care," the silent boy said.

Duo just nodded, then grinned. "C'mon Heero!" he said, excited at having his friend around. Duo had too few friends now. "I'll show you the junk heap!"

"Junk heap?" the words floated back through the back door as Duo and Heero vanished outside. Solo shook his head, smiling, and went back to the dishes.

+

Heero soon found out what Duo meant by 'the junk heap'. It was, quite literally, a pile of junk in the back yard, scrap metal, old car pieces, things Heero didn't recognize. Protruding from the middle of this huge pile was an immense tree from which a car tire swung on a string.

Heero had been surprised at the neighborhood Duo lived in. It was almost beyond dilapidated, the sidewalk cracked and some houses with corrugated irons roofs. There was a large black community, whom Duo greeted with cheerful smiles and waves, and who treated him the same. These people obviously didn't care about his orientation. They just accepted him for who he was, which was more than the rich white people at their school were able to do.

"Where are your parents?" he asked, sitting carefully on what appeared to be a rusted car bonnet.

"Never knew 'em," Duo said with a wistful smile. "They died when I was four, and I got sent to an orphanage. Don't even remember my name. Met Solo there, and we've stuck together ever since. Solo, Duo, y'know? We stayed there 'til Solo became a legal adult, and he got kicked out. He got a job and a place then applied for guardianship of me. That was two years ago." He suddenly looked embarrassed. "Sorry, didn't mean to give ya my life story."

"It's okay," Heero said. He looked out over the rest of the communal back yard, noticing a large group of children playing tag. "I hardly ever see my parents," he heard himself say. "They're always abroad. They send money every month and some extra if I ask, and that's about the only contact I get."

"Jeez," Duo said. "And I thought I had it hard."

Heero grinned. Duo eyed him, wondering what had brought this on. "Oh, I don't know," the Japanese boy said. "I don't have gangs out after my blood."

Duo threw a bolt at him. Heero responded by throwing a tin can. That resulted in a full blown fight, only ending when Solo yelled out to them that some of that stuff was dangerous and to stop whatever the hell it was they thought they were doing coz supper was ready.

Grinning and out of breath, the two teenagers came charging in through the door. Heero was shocked to realize that when Solo said small portions, he meant small portions. Normally this wouldn't have done him a snack, but Duo reacted like it was feast, stuffing his face. When Duo said he hadn't had a meal that big in ages, Heero suddenly realized that Solo had actually increased their usual portions in an attempt to hide their poverty from him.

No wonder Duo was so lean.

"I'm gonna have to have you two round my house for dinner some time," he said suddenly. "It'll be better than have the kitchen sitting there collecting dust." He deliberately left some of his food when he saw Duo staring at it hungrily, saying he'd had a large lunch. Duo devoured what was left of his food eagerly.

"Do you ever cook?" Solo asked him.

"I'm a teenager. Cooking is against my religion," Heero said in his usual flat monotone, suppressing a smile when Duo choked on his mouthful and began laughing.

"D'you wanna practice the tap routine?" Duo asked. They didn't have tap practice that night.

When Heero nodded, the two put on their tap shoes, shucked their jackets, and went out into the street to practice. Few people in the area could afford cars, so it was perfectly safe for them to practice in the middle of the road.

Before long they had gathered an audience, and both looked at each other as they simultaneously had the same idea and dropped the routine in favor of improvisation.

Somebody brought a battered radio out, and Duo and Heero began dancing to the sound of guitars and drums in time to the claps of the people who were cheering them on.

Eventually Heero decided he needed a breather and went over to sit on the step to Duo's house, watching his braided baka teach the children some basic tap moves, laughing and giving in when they badgered him to do something complicated.

Wait a minute. . . . His braided baka? Where had that come from?

Heero turned his head slightly when Solo sat on the step beside him to look at the man, then reverted to watching Duo.

"He's really good, isn't he?" Solo said, pride in his voice.

"Yeah," Heero replied.

"He's got a lot of potential. I hope he can get a scholarship. . . . I'd hate to see him stuck in a dead-end job like me."

Heero said nothing.

"Do you think there's a chance he can get a scholarship?" Solo looked desperate. "I mean, he's real intelligent and athletic and he could get a dance one if nothing else, but -- " He looked at Heero. "We've moved three times before," he said. "I insisted on it because Duo couldn't lie about himself, no matter how hard he tried, and the fights got worse, and that automatically disqualified him from any scholarship. I spoke to the board about his potential -- they all said he started fights, and they wouldn't give a scholarship to anyone who did that."

"Duo doesn't start fights."

"I know, I know. He avoids them as best he can, but they don't avoid him." Solo pressed the heel of his hand against his eyes. "Damn it, Heero, just tell me if he has a chance to get a scholarship. I can't afford to send him to college, and I don't ever want to see him end up here."

"For the majority of subjects . . . no," Heero replied. "I've met the board members; they live by the Bible."

"But you said for the majority of subjects," Solo said, clutching at straws. "Is there one where he might get through?"

"Yes. In tap. The board consists of our teacher," Heero said. "She likes Duo, and I'll nominate him."

"You would? Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!" Solo bounced up, pale blue eyes alight and grinning almost as manically as Duo. "Thanks, Heero!"

Heero said nothing, watching a beautiful braided baka dance down the street, followed by a stream of admiring children.

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