Author: Justkat2790
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Reasons in a Nutshell + Part 10

Beer is for Breakfast (Top-secret)

It was definitely lunchtime.

Duo's stomach thought so, and it was rarely wrong, apart from occasional confusion about where breakfast officially ended and lunch began. And, at this particular moment, eight o'clock breakfast hamburgers seemed long ago and far away. Work was officially done for the day, and it was high time Duo was too.

Muttering under his breath, Duo glanced quickly around. Drifted towards the open door of the ambulance and crouched, to re-tie a perfectly good shoelace. Winked broadly at the new kid, still stuck on a gurney, then swung out the back, stride lengthening into a jog as he hit the ground. Checked his watch as he loped away, frowning at the time. Heero had been stuck by himself on the beach all morning. Still, if he hustled, he could still catch Heero by one o'clock, and then grab something to eat there. Heero would have brought something for sure. As he jogged, Duo congratulated himself on his genius in changing into his board shorts under the sheet, while the paramedic was busy in the front of the van. Saved mucking about when he got to the beach.

Rounding a corner, and safely out of sight, he unwound the bandage from his head as he ran, shoving the strip of gauze into a pocket. Heero'd freak if he saw him all bandaged up like that. And honestly, these guys had no idea. Still, it was easier to go along with it, rather than to point out that it was just a minor head injury. No fracture, probably didn't even need stitching. He hated watching people remember that he'd been a Gundam pilot. And it was nice to blend in for a change. To just be one of a gang again.

He loped around another corner, and straight into a barrage of friendly yells and wolf whistles, which he reluctantly ignored.

"Hey Duo! Nice shorts!"

He grinned and made a rude gesture over his shoulder, but kept jogging towards his car, pulling his braid out from under his t-shirt as he went. He'd kept Heero hanging about for long enough, without being late as well.

"Hey! Duo!"

Can't hear you can't hear you can't...Head down, he ignored the voice as he fumbled for his keys. Sounded kind of familiar, but whoever it was could wait until Monday.

Damn. His keys were all tangled up with the darned bandage.

"Duo!"

"See ya!" He waved an arm vaguely at the voice, and jammed the key in the lock. Snatched at the freed gauze as it started to blow away. Wind was picking up. An onshore, by the feel of it. Surf'd be picking up with it, and he had a wave to catch, and a best friend to harass.

"Duo! Wait!"

Cheezuz H Tapdancing...Cripes. He shoved the bandage back into his pocket and spun on his heel, to see a girl hurrying towards him, brown hair swinging behind her.

He stared in surprise.

"Shelley? Hi! What're you doing here?"

+

Howard knew that something was wrong, when Heero arrived home from the beach that afternoon, and trod sand all through the apartment, without even bothering to remove his shoes at the front door. When he realised, from the deafening quietness, that Duo wasn't with him, he battened down the hatches and prepared for squalls ahead, in the way that he knew best.

Time for the crossword and a beer.

He checked the time.

Two beers.

+

When evening rolled around and Duo still wasn't home, Heero consulted Howard, and then decided to walk to the shops.

Officially, for eggs and milk. Sardines, if they had them, because Duo should be having one small serve of protein with his breakfast carbohydrates, not just whatever was in the refrigerator. Or could be sprinkled on cereal. Unofficially, for finger buns and peaches. Peaches counted as a single serve of fruit or vegetables, just as much as broccoli, or carrots, and they'd never had much tree fruit on the colonies. Not enough room for trees. Certainly not on L2.

He dawdled at the supermarket, taking his time over the different sizes of eggs and comparing the fat content of the milk, and had used up forty-five minutes when he finally headed for home, the sun just sinking behind the shadowed trees, in the deserted park, at the end of the road.

It was a still evening, and quiet, near their apartment block. No dogs barking, no footsteps on the fire escape, and...Heero strained to hear...no faltering piano music either.

So, the rustle, as he walked past the dark slot between buildings, was loud as a gunshot in the night.

Heero dropped the shopping and slammed himself against the wall. Counted to five and then peered carefully back around the corner past their fire escape. The alley was empty.

Of course.

Heart pounding, Heero sagged against the rough bricks. Fought to control his ragged breathing. This wasn't the war. There was no-one lurking in the alley. No-one waiting, with a bullet if he was lucky, or a stun-gun if he wasn't, to beat him, or cut him, or hook him to machines with electrodes that eased into impossible places and made him whimper, silently... no noise, ever, because they might hear you... and shake and long for a mother to betray

He shuddered.

No-one for him to gut in screaming, stinking, grovelling agony.

He dug nails into sweaty palms and willed himself to pick up the spilled groceries, but his legs refused to move from the solid safety of the wall. Unable to help himself, he scanned the laneway, peering into the shadows, soundlessly cataloguing sniper points and possible entries and exits. Nothing.

Of course.

Nothing except a baseball cap upended on the ground next to the dumpster.

Heero's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. That boy...Rikky...had had a baseball cap. Dumpsters made an excellent hiding spot for a kid that size. He frowned. Kid'd never get a decent shot from there, the angle was all wrong. He should be in the darkened doorway on the other side of the lane...

The world lurched, and Heero blinked and scrubbed his face with his hands. This was a hungry child scavenging in a dumpster. Not a child assassin, lurking for the best shot. This kid was nothing like him. This boy was more like... Duo. Something about the eyes maybe. Or the way he ducked behind that wild mane of hair.

Shakily, Heero dragged his sleeve smearily across his face, and eyed the dumpster thoughtfully. Collected his scattered groceries and anchored himself in the mundane reality of eggs, and milk, and an evening paper for Howard. Tipped the finger buns in with the eggs, and balanced the one remaining bun, still in it's brown paper bag, on the bottom step of their fire escape, before turning and walking quickly away. Duo liked finger buns. Sweet, but not rich. Nothing to upset a stomach weaned onto scraps and leftovers. More like iced fruit bread, really, rather than cake.

Maybe this boy would like them too.

+

Their front door was unlocked, security chain dangling, when Heero reached the end of their hall, and he sagged a little with relief as he locked up. Duo was safely home.

Was perched, monkey-like, on a chair at their small kitchen table. Both bare feet planted on the seat, gangly knees somewhere around his ears, tapping out a tune, with the butter knife in one hand and a sandwich in the other.

"Hiya Heero!" Duo swallowed, and grinned widely

"Where were you?"" Heero dumped his shopping onto the bench, eyeing Duo's sandwich. "And don't eat any more. We'll get take-away. It's too late to start cooking."

"Great!! I'm starved." Duo took a healthy bite of his sandwich. Chewed thoughtfully. "Great." He said again. "It was Howard's turn to cook anyway. I'm kind of sick of that stew thing of his."

"Mmm." Heero eyed Duo's sandwich. Looked away. Opened the refrigerator. Looked back again.

"Duo that beetroot's raw. Howard uses it for juice."

"Oh. He does? Ugh. Weird. That'd be gross. This stuff's off." Duo scrutinised his purple-stained sandwich. Picked beetroot off his purple-stained t-shirt with a grimace. "And messy as heck. Although it could be worse. Bit crunchy maybe. Are you really meant to cook it?"

Heero was unpacking the shopping onto the bench next to the fridge, and Duo's eyes lit up. "Hey thanks Heero! More peaches!" He unwound himself from the chair, helping himself to one. "Did you get bread? We're nearly out."

"Oh. No. Darn." Heero grimaced, eyeing the pile of shopping, and the limp bread bag on the counter. He was sure that they'd had enough bread when he'd gone out. He bent to clear out a space in the bottom of the fridge. Grimaced again, hauling out a droopy, brown bunch of celery between thumb and forefinger, dumping it on the sink with a bowl of last week's spaghetti, that Duo had saved for lunch.

"Sorry about the beach Heero. Really. Such a great day for it too." Duo finished his peach, and rescued the celery. Carefully ripped away the slimy bits and reached over Heero to put it safely back on a top shelf before Heero could throw it in the bin. "Got stuck with the paramedics for a while. When the building blew up there was a lot of shrapnel and Kyle got hit with a door after we bailed out the window. You know...ooh finger buns!" He broke one in half and started to lick off the pink icing, smiling blissfully. "Oh yeah...the new kid?" He snickered. "Should have seen him...he had the door stuck around his neck with his head stuck out one of the panels!" He grinned. "Shouldn't laugh but honestly! Pathetic! You'd think he'd have the sense to roll and hit the deck! Especially from that height. Lucky it didn't take his head off. Would've if it was glass. And then they wanted to check us all out. It was a real pain in the butt!" He chewed forcefully.

"And then..." Duo handed Heero the milk. "...here you go...I was all set to meet you at the beach..." He held out the carton of eggs. "...hey some of these are broken...and Shelley turned up. Said I'd left my sunnies in her car last night. Oops...your sunnies." He grinned at Heero's suddenly rigid back. "Hey! It's okay! Don't panic! Turns out they weren't yours, but then her car wouldn't start!" He shook his head. "Can you believe it?! Hey watch the eggs buddy!"

An egg hit the floor and Heero muttered something furiously under his breath. Snatched a cloth from the sink and started to wipe up the spill.

"Oh here. Let me help." Duo picked bits of shell out of the puddle, and then leaned around Heero to stack the remainder of the eggs into the refrigerator. "So I was stuck all afternoon fiddling with her car. Tried to call you at about three but my phone had gone flat and she couldn't find hers. Anyway. I spent all afternoon and still couldn't get it to start. Don't know what's going on with it. Plenty of spark. Reckon it could be the fuel pump. What do you..." He stopped. Frowned abruptly, peering into the bottom of the refrigerator.

"Heero that's a lot of beer."

"Howard asked me to buy it," said Heero shortly, shoving him aside and slamming the door shut, pushing past him to the sink.

"So???" Duo yanked the door back open. "Doesn't mean you have to do it! Since when do you do what he says?! Since when do you do what anyone says?! Except that old weirdo Dr J. If I'd have been here I'd have told the old idiot where to go!"

"Well you weren't here were you?!!"

Heero wrang out the cloth viciously under the tap, water splashing onto the floor.

"What's that got to do with anything?!!!" Duo snatched two bottles from the bottom of the fridge and waved them at Heero's back. "How's Howie ever going to give up drinking if you keep buying the stuff for him huh?!!" He lunged forward as if to hurl them into the sink, then lurched as his knees buckled.

Sagged gently against the bench. "Woah! Room spins! And I didn't even drink any..." He grinned lopsidedly. Dropped the beer.

"Duo?!" Heero spun in alarm.

"Concussion," Duo said shortly, staring fixedly at the floor. Fingers white-knuckled on the bench.

Abruptly Heero was beside him, kicking a bottle out of the way and pushing him down into a chair.

"Idiot! Sit down! Now!!"

Holding his chin in an iron grip and turning his face to the light, peering into his eyes. Feeling his way into Duo's hair with surprisingly gentle fingertips, checking for lumps and contusions. His touch unaccountably soothing, so that Duo sagged into the chair, eyelids sliding closed, feeling the warm brush of Heero's forearms against his cheeks. Heero was always so warm...

"What the hell did you think you were doing playing around with that girl when you've got concussion?!!!!"

And apparently furious about something.

Eyelids snapping open again, Duo bounced upright.

"Well what the hell do you think you're doing buying Howard beer?!! How's he ever going to give up if you go round encouraging him huh?!!"

+

Beer finished, and crossword stalled at Crooked Street Cop Kept Quiet, one hyphenated word, three and six letters, Howard hovered in the hallway. Hand poised on the doorknob. Sounded like the Eve Wars had broken out all over again in the Kid's living room. Sounded a lot like it was about him. Well. Never let it be said that Howard backed down from a shoot-out. Pointy chin held high, he turned the knob and marched into the living room, both guns blazing.

And paused, to blink at the sight of Duo, fighting his way out of a kitchen chair. Heero Yuy holding him down, while water gushed into the sink. Hellfire. First things first. His evening paper was getting wet. Howard stormed into the kitchen and turned the tap off.

"What in tarnation do you two think you're up to?!! Heero got me beer because I asked him to and it's none of your darned business so keep your sticky-beaking nose out of it!!!!"

"It is my business," snapped Duo, struggling out of his chair, "if he sneaks around behind my back. Get off Heero!"

"Sit!! Down!!" Heero thumped him back down. "I wasn't sneaking! Howard asked me ..." Heero clenched his fists, glaring indiscriminately at both Duo and Howard, and Howard interrupted hastily. Seemed like someone was about to be decked, and he didn't want it to be him. Didn't want it to be the Kid either, truth be told.

"No one snuck around behind anyone's back! I asked him not to tell you all right?!!"

"Sure!" Duo glared, struggling upright again. "Since when did you two get all buddy-buddy without me?!! Having little secret meetings! And what could be so secret that you could tell Heero but couldn't tell me huh?? Huh??!!"

Howard glared back, nose to nose with Duo, moustache bristling.

"I've got cancer Kid and there's not a darned thing you can do about it!"

Oops. He winced. He'd done it now.

"Not a darned thing."

+

Cancer.

Dang. Howard shifted uncomfortably, feeling the word echo through the room like a shock wave, with him at Ground Zero. Hellfire. He gritted his teeth. Him and his damned mouth. He was an old idiot. Kid did it to him every time. Cat was out of the bag now for sure. Just what he didn't want. Kid was going to be a wreck. Just have to be gentle with him, he supposed.

Howard sighed. Braced himself to coddle the Kid.

"Cancer. Hah!" Duo laughed shortly. "Yeah right. Funny. Ha ha. So what's really going on Howie?"

"I've got cancer all right?!!" Howard's pointy beard twitched belligerently. Damned kid didn't believe him! Bad enough that the Kid had to know about all this, but be danged if he was going to have the kid make him out to be some kind of liar!

"Yeah sure!"

"I'm telling you I do!!!" Roared Howard. "Like now..." He grabbed a piece of bread from the packet, "...if I eat this..." He flopped it at Duo. "...I'll get this killer pain in my gut and when I ...hmm." Howard stopped abruptly. Decided that he didn't want to talk about the rest of his symptoms and jerkily started to spread the bread with marmalade. No butter. Yuy kid was right about butter and cholesterol. He'd read it in a magazine somewhere.

Duo stared at him, collapsing back into his chair.

"You're serious."

"Yep."

"You're kidding me!!"

"Nope." Carefully, Howard examined his bread. Added a touch more marmalade and poked it out to the edges. "Thems the breaks Kid."

"You must be kidding! Howard...it's a joke right?!!"

"Nope."

"I know you said but... are you absolutely sure it's cancer?" The Yuy kid was standing shotgun beside Duo, hand on the back of the chair, almost touching his shoulder.

"Yup." Howard picked at his bread. Hellfire. Damned kids were looking at him like it was some kind of funeral. Whole dratted reason why he hadn't told anyone in the first place.

"How are you treating it?" The Yuy kid again. Never should have told him. Damn nosy kid.

"Well not a lot anyone can do kid." Howard gestured vaguely towards the juicer. "Diet helps some." All the books said that. "Vitamins. Bit of extra calcium for muscular control. Trace elements like..."

"Well dammit Howie beer sure as shit isn't going to..." Duo bounced up like a jack-in-a-box gone feral, then slammed right back down again, the Yuy kid's hand on his shoulder. Heero must have done something, because the kid went quiet as a clam, a bit purple maybe, but letting him speak.

"Is that what the hospital said? Diet? No chemo? Or radiation? Why not surgery?"

"Naah. No point." Howard's glare intensified. Yuy kid's eyes were like some kind of danged tractor beam. Dragging stuff out of him like rotten teeth. Kid must've been a dentist in a past life. "Read up on this stuff. Pancreatic cancer's danged near inoperable. Thirty percent success rate or some dratted thing. And transplants are worse. Rather die a damned alcoholic! Leastways I won't feel anything!!"

Defiantly, he ditched the bread and fished a bottle from under the table. "Nothing anyone can do kid."

"You do know that alcohol's probably the worst thing?" Yuy kid must have a grip like a set of stilsons. Duo was still quiet. "All that sugar?"

"Yep." Howard hefted the bottle. Bravely took a swig, then almost choked on the sour froth as it tried to empty itself into his mouth and onto the floor. Thunderation. Darned thing was all shook up. He dumped the overflowing bottle into the sink. "Get it over and done with eh?"

"So you've seen an oncology specialist?"

"No," he said shortly, rinsing his hands and mopping at his shirt with the cloth. Danged kid'd snuck away and read up on it. Kid spent way too much time on the net. Kid his age should be looking up porn, not medical mumbo jumbo. Although oncology was a useful eight-letter word. Cropped up quite a lot. Like colostomy... Hellfire. "Tell one of those blokes and they'll start chopping bits off you like there's no tomorrow. They're not giving me one of those bag things to cart around!" He shuddered in horror and glared threateningly. Compulsively smoothed hibiscus-starred shirt over bag-free belly.

"Well don't you think it might be a good idea? To see someone?"

"No!! I'm not wearing one of those..."

"Yes!!!" Duo was up again, shaking off Heero's hand. "First thing is...you're getting checked up right now. I mean...first thing Monday morning that is. Second thing is... you're not going anywhere. You're staying right here. Until you're fixed up!" He glared belligerently at Howard. "Right?" He glanced at Heero for confirmation, rubbing his shoulder absently and Howard sighed and bowed to the inevitable.

"And no more drinking!"

Howard sighed again. Louder.

Scraped his bread into the bin. Kid was like a pack of mobile dolls once he got going. Shoot one down and another'd just bounce right in and start up where the first one left off. One of the reason's why he hadn't told him in the first place. And combined with the Yuy kid... Thunderation.

Seemed like he was going to be digging in for the long haul.

Even if it killed him.

+

"Right." Now that Howard had given in, Heero was suddenly all business. "We'll need another bed. And..." He rubbed carefully at a small, purple mark on the back of the chair with his index finger. "...Duo you'd better move in with me. You'll put your back out if you keep sleeping on the couch." Abandoning the chair, he glared fiercely down at Duo, not quite meeting his eyes.


"Yeah. Sure. Good idea." Duo was distracted, and completely oblivious to Heero's eyes, or the delicate blush that marked the tips of his ears, too busy staring earnestly at Howard. "So when did it start??"

"What? Oh. The cancer?" Howard dragged himself from contemplation of Heero's ears. "Ahh. Well. Hmm. Couple of years ago most like. Didn't realise what was going on at first. Had to do a bit of research. But..." He thought back. "...pretty much after you landed on me Kid. When we were down here together. Never had much of a problem before that."

"So-o...pretty much...after you met..." Duo fell silent and stared at the floor.

"Yeah," said Howard. "Right after I met you."

"Oh." Duo frowned. "Oh." Blinked and bounced up from his chair, shrugging off Heero's hand which had somehow come to rest on his shoulder again. "Okay. Hey! That's good bread!" He dived on the bin and rescued Howard's bread. Picked off a piece of onionskin. "Aww heck it's got porridge on it now. It was the last of the bread too." He scraped off the glutinous, white lumps, and glared at Howard. "Just because you've got cancer is no excuse to waste good food!" And crammed such a distractingly large mouthful into his mouth that only Heero noticed the sudden trembling of his fingers, or the interesting paleness of his skin.

Duo grimaced.

"Ugh. Marmalade."

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