This fic is... actually, I have no idea what this fic is. I was hit by inspiration while listening to one of my 2nd graders read this story to me from her reading book. Poor girl. She's trying to read it to me and all I can do is think "This would make a great GW fic!" *cough* Yeah... what a dedicated teacher I am! ^_^;;
by: Caroline

A Bundle of Sticks

Call me Aesop.

I've always been good at telling stories, or so I've been told. Must come with having such a big mouth. Yup, I admit it, I talk too damn much. But hey, I think of it as a survival instinct. Silence drives me stark, raving mad. So you can imagine how it must be to live with four other boys, three of whom hardly ever talk and the forth speaks too softly and politely to fill the silent void. It's up to me to fill that silence... and as the others can attest, I make up for it in spades.

Granted I do a lot of it just to get a rise out of the quiet ones, especially Heero. I do it to keep me sane and to help remind the others that they are human, something I sometimes think they've forgotten. And Heero... Heero is the worst of them all. Sometimes I want to hunt down that sadistic bastard who calls himself a doctor and cheerfully strangle him for turning Heero into the emotionless shell of a person he is now... a person who tries to take the weight of the world on his own shoulders and has never learned to ask for help when he needs it. He deserves more than to live out his life as a so-called 'Perfect Soldier'. He deserves so much more...

Ok, I admit it. I kinda have a crush on the guy. It's hard not too, not when I think of him as a little lost puppy that I want to take home and care for. A little puppy with one hell of a gorgeous body. Those firmly sculpted muscles and that round, delicious looking ass... but I digress. And seriously, I didn't need to travel down that road of thought at the moment, not when the object of my, er, affections was sitting not three feet from me.

We were sitting in the midst of a field of daisies on the bank of a hill overlooking one of the various OZ bases we'd been sent to destroy/infiltrate/what-have-you. Today it was reconnaissance. Heero had been sent to gather information on troop movement, guard schedules, and the rest of the boring shit one normally does on these kinds of missions. And I, being the glutton for punishment that I am, went with him.

Thank God it wasn't raining or I might have been driven completely off my rocker. Heero, being the ever present conversationalist that he is, sat nearly unmoving all afternoon, staring at the base through a battered pair of binoculars. I had tried lightening things up with my mindless chatter, but that was soon beaten into submission by Heero's patented Death Glareô and his favourite "Omae o korosu" phrase. I swear, those were the only words he said to me all afternoon. No wait, he said "baka" quite a few times, too. Gotta love the strong, silent type.

So with nothing to do and with several hours of recon still ahead of us, I had to find some way of amusing myself. I'd already braided a string of daisies into my hair and thought about making a chain for Heero to wear, but one Death Glareô later quickly ruined that plan. So I had no choice but to amuse myself in other ways. Fortunately, I came prepared. It's amazing how many ways a person can have fun with a single deck of cards.

Heero didn't want to play (big surprise), so I amused myself with Solitaire and Pyramid and any other single person game I could think of. I'd moved on to tossing cards into my hat when soldier boy glanced over at me with an annoyed look on his face.

*flip*

*flip*

"Hn. Baka."

*flip*

"What?" I asked innocently, grinning to myself. A reaction at last!

*flip*

"Must you be doing that?"

*flip*

"Yes."

"Give me one practical purpose for why you are doing that."

I paused and gave him a stunned look. "Doth mine ears deceive me? The Great Heero Yuy said more than three words in a single sentence?" I clutched my chest dramatically.

"Baka."

I snickered. "Guess it was too much to ask."

*flip*

*flip*

"Duo..." he half-growled in that low, dangerous, oh-so-sexy voice of his.

"Look Heero, I don't see why you should have a problem with it. I haven't been talking, singing, or braiding daisies into your hair. And quite frankly, I think that's pretty damn admirable of me. But I'm bored. And this little game..." *flip* "...amuses me."

"Why did you even come? This was a one-man mission."

I paused in my game, hand hovering over the deck of cards. I cocked my head to the side and just stared at him quizzically for a moment before speaking. "You just don't get it do you?"

"Get what?"

I sighed. For a smart guy, he could be so clueless sometimes. "Heero, when are you going to get it through your thick skull that we are a team? I'm out here with you, bored out of my mind, to make sure nothing happens to your skinny ass."

"The mission did not require the use of backup..."

"Screw the mission requirements!" I knew I shouldn't get angry, but I'd been trying to drill this concept into his head for weeks. "I'm not just your backup, I'm your friend. Friends watch each other's backs."

"Duo," he sighed. I could tell he still didn't understand. "This is a recon mission. I could understand maybe if it were a search and destroy mission, but there was absolutely no reason for you to be here today."

"Then why did you let me come with you?"

He opened his mouth, then closed it again... an adorable expression of confusion crossed his face. Ah ha! Gotcha.

"Look, Heero," I continued, "do you know how worried we get when someone goes out on a mission alone? Like it might be the last time we ever see that person?" I was fudging the truth a bit here. I knew Quatre worried, but I wasn't too sure how Trowa or Wufei felt. But I wanted to get this point across to him. "Heero, this mission may sound like a simple one, but what if something went wrong? What if some overzealous officer down there saw the reflection of the sun off your binoculars and decided to investigate? What if you were caught in a firefight and injured or captured? You don't even have your Gundam with you to back you up." I paused for a moment before adding softly, "What if you were killed?"

"Acceptable losses. I am a soldier. I am prepared to die," he said stoically, without batting an eyelash.

"Goddamnit, Heero! You are not expendable. None of us are!" I took a deep breath to calm myself. Getting angry wouldn't work. I knew from experience. What I needed was some good visual aids. I looked around and spotted what I needed amidst a nearby grove of trees. Shoving my cards into my pocket, I hopped up without a word and hurried over to gather several good sized sticks off the ground under the trees. I could feel Heero's puzzled gaze watching me as I went about my task. I made sure to wiggle my butt in the air in his direction a few times as I bent over. Might as well give him a good show while I was at it.

Having gathered enough sticks for my little demonstration, I returned to Heero and dropped the bundle in front of him. I plopped down beside him and cracked my knuckles. Yosh.

"Duo, what are you doing?" he asked, semi-warily.

I immediately smacked the back of his hand. "Quiet, Yuy. Professor Maxwell is about to begin his demonstration." I picked up one of the sticks and handed it to him. "Break that."

He looked at me for a long moment as if I was crazy. Perhaps I was... I mean, trying to break Mr. Perfect Soldier out of his self-destructive shell was a nutty (and probably suicidal) idea. But after meeting his glare with one of my own, he gave a little sigh and picked up the stick.

I sat breathless as he exerted his strength on both ends of the branch. His muscles seemed to ripple in the warm April sunshine. When he concentrates on something he gets this adorable little crease in the middle of his forehead. But what really drew my attention was his hands... those strong, calloused hands gripping the ends of the stick as it *snapped* in the middle. My teenage, hormone driven mind began to wonder what those hands would feel like gripping me, running all over my skin...

"Duo?" The sound of my name snapped me out of my X-rated daydream. I could feel my cheeks redden slightly and silently prayed Heero hadn't noticed me ogling him.

"Well Duo," Heero said again impatiently, "was there a point to this little exercise, or are you just enjoying the view?"

Damn. Busted. This time I really did turn red. I laughed nervously, toying with the end of my braid. Yes, there was a point to this... but I'll be damned if I couldn't remember exactly what it was. I shifted my gaze to the bundle of sticks lying between us. Oh, right. The demonstration. Duo no baka.

I gathered up the remaining sticks and tied them together using one of my shoelaces. I thrust them into his hands and managed to find my voice. "Now then Heero, try to break those."

He looked at me incredulously as he picked them up. Again he exerted his strength on the hapless pieces of wood. This time his brow furrowed in confusion when the sticks didn't break as easily as the first one had. He pressed harder and harder until I thought he was going to burst a blood vessel in that pretty little head of his. Finally the bundle gave a loud *CRACK*. Heero dropped the sticks to the ground, cracked but unbroken.

He flexed his hands as if to get the feeling back in them as he shifted his hard, cobalt gaze to me. "I assumed I've just proved a point?"

"Yes. You're the stick. We're the bundle."

"I don't understand."

I was tempted to give into the urge to reach over and strangle some sense into him. But he was stronger than me, and I knew I'd just end up on my back with him on top of me if I attacked him. And while that position had some very interesting possibilities, I didn't relish the thought of being strangled to death at the same time.

"Watch and learn, Hee-chan." He frowned. I smiled. He hates it when I call him that.

I extracted a single branch from the pile on the grass. I snapped it in two with apparent ease. "This is you, Heero. Alone, one stick is easily broken." I picked up the tied bundle and tried to break them as Heero had done. And, like Heero, I couldn't. "This bundle represents the five of us. You, me, Quatre, Trowa, and Wufei. Together, we cannot be broken. We may crack, but we can't break. Do you see? We're stronger when we work as a team."

He stared at the bundle of sticks for a long, long time, not saying a word. I felt let down. I was sure that this time I'd get through to him. But as the silence stretched, my hopes faded. I sighed quietly to myself. I'd never get through to him at this rate. And I so desperately wanted to make him understand that he was not alone. He didn't have to carry the burden of this war on his shoulders. The rest of us, especially me, were more than willing to help. If only he'd just let us inside. If he'd just let me inside... I had all but given up hope of him speaking again when I heard him whisper very softly, "Gomen." I turned my head sharply to look at him, thinking at first I had imagined it. But he was staring at me sadly. God, I wanted to hold him.

"For what?" I asked.

"For trying to push you... all of you... away." He broke our gaze to stare down at the base. "It's a long story and one I'm not... ready to talk about just yet. Let's just say a long time ago, I made a promise to myself that no more innocents would get hurt in this damned war because of me. And somehow... that promise has extended to include you." He looked directly at me and my heart did one of those weird little flips.

"But Heero," I said, trying to keep my voice from cracking, "we're soldiers too." I moved closer and tentatively reached out my hand to place it on top of his. I swear, it was the bravest thing I'd ever done in my short life. "We know the dangers. We wouldn't be doing this otherwise. No matter how hard you try to protect us, we will still fight. But fighting together can only make us stronger. Please... let us help you." Let us in, I added silently.

He stared at our hands for a long moment. I held my breath and forced myself to be still, fearing that the slightest movement would cause Heero to jerk his hand away and I'd lose him. Much to my surprise he turned his hand and interwove his fingers through my own. He smiled at me softly, then got to his feet, dragging me up behind him.

"Come on. We've got enough information to start planning our mission," he said as he reached out and plucked one of the daisies from my hair.

"Heero," I began to whine exasperatedly, then stopped. "Wait a minute... our mission?"

He actually chuckled at the expression on my face. I couldn't believe it. Heero? Laughing? "You said it yourself, Duo. None of us may survive this war, but we stand a better chance at survival if we work together."

I blinked. Heero had actually heard the message I'd been trying for months to drill into his mind? He was agreeing with me? Well turn me into a virgin and call me Mary. Will wonders never cease? Apparently not because the next thing I knew he ran the daisy he had taken from my hair down my face and bopped me on the nose with it. "You're so adorable when you're speechless, Duo," he said, smiling. I felt my jaw drop. Did Heero just use the word 'adorable'?

"Uhh... I... Heero..." I stammered, not quite knowing what to say. But I wasn't given a chance to say anything more as Heero started dragging me down the hill.

"We need to get back as soon as possible. I need to hack into the base's system to see what kind of security they have. You and Quatre need to make sure all the Gundams are fueled and ready to go. Trowa and Wufei will need to see to the weapons. Then we all need to sit down and plan out our best course of action."

My heart sank slightly as Heero went back into 'Perfect Soldier' mode. But it was a start. I had reached him. And he had reached back.

And as we walked down the hill to our waiting jeep, he never let go of my hand.

~Owari

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