Two years later I stood patiently as H again straightened my clothing. We were still close friends, our relationship that of mentor and student. Only this time, it was not my tie that H adjusted, but my mortar board -- yes, I was graduating, with first class honours, naturally, and a PHD.
"I'm so proud of you," H said, giving my robes one last tug. "Honestly, if I were your own father, I could not be any more pleased with you, Quatre. You've done so well."
"Thank-you," I smiled, hugging him gently. "Your regard means a lot to me, H."
He pulled out his handkerchief and blew into it loudly. "Get out of here. If I start crying now, I'll never last the ceremony."
I laughed and went to join my classmates. As I chatted with them about the approaching ceremony, my mind went to the family and friends who had managed to make it here. Twenty of my sisters had managed to get to Paris to share my graduation with me, as well as numerous friends and acquaintances, including to my great delight both Trowa and Wufei. The three of us had become, rather surprisingly given the differences between us in temperament, good friends. Trowa's circus was performing just outside Paris, and my quiet friend had promised to attend the party at my house afterwards rather than the ceremony itself -- he was still rather shy of crowds. Wufei was already here, practicing his French on my fellow students, before meeting H to watch the ceremony with him.
Heero was, of course, absent. I had not heard from him since G's untimely death, although Trowa ran into him during the circus's travels through Russia. He reported Heero to be well, in good health while working as a seasonal labourer amongst the farmlands.
And Duo --
No one had seen him.
My command of 'Be' had had instant effect.
Duo's violet eyes had flickered open. I'd watched breathlessly as he slowly took stock of his surroundings, putting a hand to his head.
"What did you do to me?" he'd asked, looking at me with an expression of almost fear.
"I gave you freedom," I answered.
"Freedom? I'm . . . free?"
"You may do as you like," I answered. "As any human does, constrained only by the laws of this land -- "
"Really free? I can choose where I go, what I do, who I talk to?"
"Free . . ." Duo whispered. A smile flickered across his face.
"My house is open to you, as long as you wish to stay here," I told him. "If you like, I can show you Paris."
"You're giving me a choice?" Duo's tone was one of pure delight. "If it's my choice -- no. I'm going to go. I want to see the world -- see everything."
He was leaving? I nodded, even as I felt a stab of disappointment lace through my heart. "In that case, Duo, please let me loan you some travelling gear. You'll need clothes, money -- " I tried to give him as much advice as I could, while packing some things together hurriedly for him. While I talked Duo stared out the window at the lights and houses of Paris, a smile never leaving his face. How much of it he actually heard or listened to, I'm not sure. In the end I decided it didn't matter, as I handed him the bag. This was his journey, he'd have to make the discoveries for himself.
"Will I see you again?" I asked as he left.
He shrugged, flicking his chestnut braid over one shoulder. "Who knows? Maybe yes, maybe no. I'll come back when I've seen everything."
I sighed as he vanished into the night.
Where in the world was he now?
Had he fared well or badly? As beautiful as he was, he should have had no trouble winning friends and admirers -- but that beauty could also cause problems. Was he happy? Sad? Had he found love? Was he alone? Was --
"Why do you look so sad, Quatre? I was under the impression that today was supposed to be a happy day."
The voice startled me. Apart from the confidence, and warm humour inherent in it, it could have been --
I stared. Two years had changed him.
His hair was still bound back in a braid, the face was just as beautiful as I remembered it. But the rest of him --
His eyes were wiser now, not quite so willing to trust, to adore. The smile he gave me did not have the practiced serenity of a Renaissance Masterpiece. Instead it was wry and crooked and . . . human. I smiled, as I took in the rest of him. That cocky posture . . . and those outrageous clothes would have given G a heart attack.
"Duo! I'm so glad to see you -- you
look great! You've changed so much!"
"Oh, forget that! I want to hear what you've been doing! Tell me all of it?"
"All of it?" One delicate eyebrow was raised. "That would take rather a long time, Quat."
I raised my own eyebrows at the nickname. "Well, then you should start now. The ceremony, I'm told, does take a while -- "
It was a sound extremely welcome to my ears. More so, was the accompanying emotion my empathic sense picked up. He was real now, he was feeling joy and happiness and --
That couldn't be right. That was impossible --
"Let's see then. I've been in forests, in cities, in rain, in boats -- I've crossed the ocean and come back again. I've been rich, been penniless, and everything in between, learned how to read, to sing, to swim and how to fly a kite . . . I also know how to roast chestnuts just right and how to hunt a bear."
I would have laughed if he hadn't been so serious. "And what else did you learn?"
Duo stepped closer to me so quickly I didn't have a chance to do more than blink. "This."
His lips fluttered over mine so softly and gently I'm surprised I didn't melt right then and there.
And then, with that cocky grin, he pulled away.
"Duo," I said. "You -- "
"See you after the ceremony, Quatre," he said, and stepped back into the crowd. I watched him go with a somewhat dazed smile on my face.
I wasn't sure what was going to happen, or even what had just happened, but I liked it a lot.
It took them three tries to get my attention for me to receive my diploma.