Authors: TB and Marsh
Rating: M15ish
Pairings: past 2x3 and 2x5

Six Seconds To Gone + Part 2

In movies, whenever the hero had a flashback it was all one single stream of memory. A perfect narrative with a beginning and an end and a neat transition back into reality.

Trowa wanted that. He fought for it, every night, from the moment the light went off and Kathy's breathing went gentle and then slow, but Trowa's stayed shallow with the wild flighty mess of his thoughts.

He couldn't say memory. Pieces. Some things came bright and clear-- exactly what the scar on Duo's knee looked like. The way he'd gone chasing Kathy through the trailer one night to tickle her, and Trowa had thought, distinctly, that this was probably what family was, and he ought to try and remember it. He hadn't, not 'til the second night Heero was with them, and they sat at the rickety folding table outside together so they'd all fit and after a few false starts none of them managed a single comfortable sentence at all.

Pieces. Hilde had started fighting for Duo before Trowa even knew he was the competition. They'd fought or something-- he didn't remember that because he hadn't cared, back then-- and then there'd been Mariemaia. He didn't know how Duo had found out about it, except that he'd shown up with Heero. Grinning like they were just on holiday and it was an especially amusing road trip.

He wanted the movie in his mind. He wanted the focus to widen up and tell him everything that was suddenly important to know, to have known all along. Hilde had started fighting for Duo from the very moment Duo visited her in Intensive Care after the Libra. Trowa had been there to see it because Duo had said-- what had he said?

Please, he'd begged. Trowa could see, then, in his mind, Duo's hands clasped dramatically together at his chest. Please come with me. I need a reason to get out of there the second it turns mushy.

Irritated. Duo had ignored every single one of Trowa's cues, once they were actually in the girl's room. Trowa had figured it was over the second Duo took her hand voluntarily, and he'd left them to it.

Except then there'd been Mariemaia, and Duo had come crawling into his tent-- knees sliding in the nylon of Trowa's sleeping bag, an incautious hand landing too-hard on Trowa's hip, and then scratching chilly fingers up his bare ribs. Hilde? Trowa had asked. Had he? Maybe he hadn't, not until later. He wished he could remember if he'd asked right then, because then he would know if he'd been an outright idiot, or just a fool who fell in love, like all the other mortals.

If he had the movie playing in his head, how long would it be before the good part was over and there was the inevitable scene of Duo crashing out of bed in a huff, pulling up his pants in histrionics and Jesus suffering Christ, Trowa, I need you to make a god-damn decision here--

He hadn't, so Duo had, and the decision had been Hilde, who showed up carting a fucking bassinet, how was that for Jesus Christ, because the girl knew how to take the long view.

And then Kathy would sigh and roll over and reach across the air between their beds. Trowa would close his eyes as she stroked his hair, her fingers drawing soothing abstracts against his skull.

'Go to sleep, little lambkin,' she would whisper, and it was only because it was too much effort and he was so tired that he wouldn't tell her not to call him that.

+

Six found Trowa's old trick bike. Heero found Six finding Trowa's old trick bike. For the good of them all, Kathy was at practise between shows, and didn't have to be bothered with niggling details like a dubious safety record.

The kid went jumping away, the tarp falling noisily back into place when Heero cleared his throat. 'Mr Yuy,' he said, guilt in evidence in every cringing line of his small body.

Heero spent hours prowling the fairgrounds. He told Trowa it was to keep watch for suspicious faces. He told Kathy it was because he liked air and privacy. He didn't have to tell Six anything one way or the other. Six held him in awe, or something uncomfortably like it.

Duo had always been the first to point out Heero's many human flaws. Loudly.

'I can't believe he still has that piece of junk,' Heero offered. Six dug a furrow in the sparse grass with the tip of his shoe--one of the shoes Heero had bought him. Heero didn't like being taller than him. It didn't seem right.

'Is it broke?'

'It hasn't run since after the war. Maybe longer.' The rubber heel of the boy's foot caught on a weed, and he stilled. 'Do you know where he keeps his toolbox?'

Six brightened at that. 'Oh, yeah! It's by the cutting table in the workshop...'

Heero's face stayed blank out of habit. Six buried his slip with teeth in his lower lip; he finished almost gamely.

'I mean, I think I saw some of Trowa's tools in the storage unit in back of the trailer.'

Kathy was in performance until seven. Trowa wouldn't be done til nine. They had time to--'Go get it,' Heero said, and flung the tarp back with a crisp snap of plastic weave. Out in the bright colonial daylight the bike looked rusty and dented and dusty. It might take them more than an afternoon.

Six came back carrying a toolbox no larger than a first-aid box. He splayed it open on the ground by the bike. It held a few old wrenches, a hammer without a haft. Two finishing nails, that Six plucked out with his child-sized fingers. 'Mr Yuy... You don't have to play with me,' he said. 'It's okay, really.'

'Is there a usable tool in that?' He picked up the hammer head. It was as rusty as the bike. Six handed him a socket wrench--it was, just as Heero had asked, the only useful item in the kit. Heero had almost not remembered that Six had spent all his life around tools in Duo's scrap business. He could probably repair the bike himself. Maybe he would rather, instead of dealing with Heero. But Trowa had been explicit. Keep him company. Keep him close. The line of Six's back when he twisted to reach, the way his straight hair fell into a fringe over his forehead; it almost fooled Heero into thinking--

Heero added, indistinctly, 'It drives me crazy how he does this. Cart around-- broken things. Quatre calls it “letting go issues.”'

The bolts turned when he put his shoulder into it. Six found a can of WD40, which made it faster. Heero pulled the cover free from the engine. Trowa had at least drained the oil, whenever it had last been used. Six knew where that was, too, and fetched it without being asked. They had to patch a tyre and pump it full, but it wasn't as bad as Heero had thought it might be.

'Do you think it'll run?' Six asked, after almost two hours of quiet work.

'Probably.' It would. It might not take them far, though, and he wouldn't bet on it functioning well in the cage or on the jump ramps. He kept his eyes on tightening the tickler. 'After the war, when people started to know who we were. Trowa came up with a daredevil act. Flames and a jump ramp. Duo hated it. Fire hazard.' He'd said Trowa was going to break his stupid neck, if it didn't light him up first. But Trowa said no-one would believe a Gundam Pilot could die on a bike, anyway.

'My dad liked things to be real safe.'

It just seemed like a harder world, suddenly. Darker. Why it had been Duo, when everyone loved Duo, and was the only one with a child-- probably Duo had been stupid, going out there alone with one weapon against however many men had attacked them. Maybe he'd known. Maybe it had just been for Six. Maybe by then it had been too late to do anything smarter, like tell anyone he was in trouble.

Six wore an uncertain frown. He was chewing a nail ragged. All of his nails were chewed to the quick; some of his fingers were bloody even.

'He did that too,' Heero said.

Six took his hand from his mouth. 'I'm not much like him.'

He didn't know if he should reassure Six that he wasn't or correct him. 'Some,' he hesitated. Then, 'You don't talk as much.'

'I can if you want me to.'

'I wouldn't mind.'

He came to his feet to polish the mirrors with the dirty oil rag. He went straight for what Heero might have expected him to, if Heero had known anything about kids who had just lost parents; but somehow he didn't, and so he wasn't prepared for any of it.

'You're a war hero. Like Trowa. And my dad.'

'With your dad, yeah.'

'You knew him back then?'

'He was my first friend.'

'How old were you?' Six was shyly moved to add, 'My first friend was Daniqua. She lived two doors up.'

'Fifteen. Duo, too.'

Six was impressed. 'You were old. You never had friends before that?'

'They kept me busy.' He remembered where the gas hookup was. Six helped him with the hose, in the way as much as anything, but they filled the tank with only a minor spill. The dirt soaked it up without protest. Heero reached awkwardly over Six's shoulder, until it was easier just to let him do it and give instructions. 'Got that gas cap? Screw it on tight.'

He obeyed. 'Did you kill people?' he said. 'During the war?'

Sucker punch. He was like Duo, who had always known how to say exactly the right thing to make you wince. Heero rubbed his forehead on his sleeve. 'Too many people. Yeah.'

'Did my dad?'

No right answer to that, either. 'Yeah,' he said honestly.

Six adjusted the mirrors very carefully, very professionally. His voice was small, though. 'But you were good guys.'

'That's what they told us. I'm... not sure there were any good guys.'

'You mean you might have been bad guys?' Wide eyes. He didn't smile as much as Duo, either.

Maybe Duo hadn't been as much Duo as Heero remembered. The things he did remember were already changing. It was easy to think that Duo had always been sure of himself and of the world. Harder to remember how he'd changed when Hilde died.

Angry. Furious, which Heero had understood, and frightened, which he hadn't. Heero had sat with him at the hospital, not asking Duo if he wanted to wash the blood out of his shirt. He knew what it was like to want to see it there, so you knew what had happened when you started to wonder if you'd just dreamed it.

I thought she was just leaving again, Duo had said. Stupid bitch. I would have helped her.

Maybe that was true, and maybe it wasn't. It was easier to be a bad guy than a perfect one. Mistakes were always easier to make.

He swung a leg over the seat and sat gingerly. The engine coughed on the first kick-start, but leaned into the second with a looser throttle and struggled to life. It purred like one of Trowa's cats. 'Jump on,' he told Six.

A little hesitation first. Safe or not, Duo would have been on board immediately, telling you the whole way everything that could go wrong. Six climbed on behind him, not quite large enough to fill the passenger seat. He meekly wrapped his hands through Heero's belt, but grabbed his waist with both arms the moment Heero released the brake.

'Around the trailer park?' Rhetorical question; Heero was already easing onto the dusty path.

Unexpected answer, being: 'There's a back road that doesn't jam up like the motorway. I heard Raoul talk about it.'

They could. If they didn't get caught. If Six was restless it was better to let him have a little freedom while it could still be supervised. He might be. Heero'd heard the argument with Trowa, night before--you're not really my dad. And then, I'm sorry, I don't mean to be ungrateful. I'm really sorry.

Trowa had spent half the night in Heero's tent, tense and rattled from the fight and without enough experience to figure out what he'd done wrong.

I'm really sorry, Hilde had said, when Duo hauled her out of the bath, and Heero had only just heard her over the voice of the operator as he called for the ambulance. Same exact tone.

'Show me where,' Heero said.

The road, as promised, was much emptier, almost abandoned after all the constant noise of the circus. Old power plant at the end of it, nuclear site, abandoned and gated off probably before Alliance had ever been conceived. Heero put the bike through all the gears, pleased except for the choppy ride when he gripped the shift too hard, pleased, maybe, too, or something less easy to define, when Six didn't take his arms away until they slowed to a stop by the chained old lot. They were close to the inner shielding, here, miles outside the city. Close to Space on the other side of it.

'I think we fixed the bike,' Heero said, to fill the silence, and Six's little tenor went tripping over his baritone like the stutter of the engine.

'Do you have a gun?'

'Yes.' Not rhetorical, that.

'Can you teach me how to use it?'

Trowa would kill him for it. Duo would have. But it wasn't an idle curiosity, and Six was serious as death.

'How old are you?' Heero asked. He twisted the key slowly in the ignition, and let the bike settle to the right, propped up on his leg.

'Eleven.' After a moment, 'Sir.'

'Old enough to learn.' Duo would have hated him for it. And, maybe, understood, given the circumstances. Heero reached for the glock under his coat. He ejected the clip and held the gun out, low, at his side, for the boy to take. 'You'll need to know what it feels like empty first.'

Fingers closing around it, above his, on the butt.

'Be sure, Six.'

Six did what probably none of them had ever done, and took that to heart. God, he was right, he was nothing like Duo; nothing like Heero, who had carried a gun even before Odin Lowe had trained him to shoot it. Nothing like any of them, who had been younger than eleven when they started asking questions about war.

The little hand on the gun closed tight; then released.

'Do you think that's why they killed him?' Six asked, little voice, timid question, late question. Something not at all small and not young any more in that, too, a man's need to know why, a man's need to know so he could do something about it. Just like they had been. 'Because during the war he killed people too?'

'I don't know,' Heero said. 'But we're going to find out.' He let the gun rest on his thigh, thumb rub on the barrel. Guns had always been comfortable in his hand­ either hand, really. It didn't feel so good at that moment. Foreign, almost, heavy. He said, 'Some people-- most of them, they think that it's killing someone that makes you a killer. That's a nice thought, but it's a lie. Having one of these. Knowing you could aim it at another human being and pull the trigger. Knowing you'd be willing to do it-- that makes you a killer.'

Awful thing to say. Word for word what Odin had said to him. He didn't turn to see Six's face while he said it, didn't want to know what it looked like from this side. He remembered that, with the clarity missing from everything else lately. But he'd been old enough to ask. Himself, and Six too. Old enough to think it was a choice, and not--a regret in the making.

'My dad could do that. You could. Even my mom. She was a soldier too.'

Until it killed her. Killed Duo.

Trowa was going to kill him, for this. He would notice, when they got back, whether Heero told him or not.

Six had his thumbnail in his mouth again. There was a thin line of crimson from the damage.

Heero dismounted the bike, and put the gun on the warm seat, between Six's knees. 'If I'd thought you weren't going to think it through carefully, I'd have said no right away.' Six bit hard on his thumb, until Heero nudged it away from his mouth. 'We can come back tomorrow. Or the next day. Next year.'

He controlled it for a few seconds longer than Heero expected him to. His eyes filled, though, finally. He bit hard on his thumb, then scrambled off the bike, all knees and elbows. The hands went deep into his pockets, shoulders hunched defencively.

'Damn,' Heero said, or maybe just thought, a flinch of frustration with himself, with the necessity, the helpless feeling that he didn't know how to comfort the boy. It was like reaching across miles for Six's shoulder, just to brush it with his finger so weakly it might not even have been felt. 'I'm sorry. For all of it.'

Six wiped his face on his sleeve. 'Can I ask again later? About the gun.'

'Yes. Whenever you're ready.'

'Thank you, sir.'

'My friends call me Heero.'

'Yeah, but you're old.' Hastily, 'I mean older. I mean an adult. Dad says-- said--'

The finger went back in his mouth. Heero, who had always thought you should do what you feel and always known he did it badly, made a singularly graceless miscalculation. He tried to hug Six.

Who went squirming away fast as possible, shoving just to make it clear he meant it.

'Sorry,' Heero said, inadequate and embarrassed.

Six stared at his feet. 'Take me back now, please.'

+

He was starting to jump when people came finding him after shows.

It was Quatre, this time. That made him a little jumpy, too, but Quatre wasn't much in the public eye, these days, and even if he'd been followed, no-one was going to believe that even Farmhand Winner would bum through L3 if it wasn't to see Trowa Barton.

Trowa said, 'Don't hug me, I'm all sweaty,' and Quatre answered, 'Like I care,' and did it anyway. He came away with his nose scrunched, but so did Trowa. At least Trowa smelled human. 'What is that?' he demanded. 'Did you wear your horse clothes here?'

'They're my clothes clothes.'

'Maybe you don't notice anymore, but trust me, that's a little too much nature.'

'No-one else complained,' Quatre said, with great dignity. 'Are you done? Can you leave yet?'

'Yeah. Just let me tell Kathy, or she'll have half the staff out running us down.'

'Oh. I didn't realise you were still living with your sister.'

Trowa had his face in a damp towel, and that was all that stopped him from flinging it at the other man. He snapped, 'Oh, because everything's perfect out in Ranchland with the underwear model?'

Quatre looked remorseful. Trowa was quite sure he didn't. In fact-- something he wouldn't admit until much later-- he was more than a little eager for a good fight. Maybe he could be blamed and maybe he couldn't, but reality was they were all stretched a little past what was healthy. It devolved almost as quickly as people could clear the changing room.

'I'm sorry,' Quatre said, 'but it came out wrong and I didn't mean it.'

'You're always sorry, but it doesn't stop you being judgy and bitter--'

'Bitter?' Quatre repeated. His voice went up a notch.

'Because you gave up your company but you still think you've got to have the perfect life and the perfect boyfriend.'

That hit the right pitch. Quatre flared up like an oil-soaked wick, and then they were really going at each other. Trowa almost enjoyed it.

'Maybe I wouldn't have to be bitter if you could keep your nose out of my romantic choices once in a blue moon!' Quat hollered at him.

'Defencive, much? Oh, I'll admit the model is better than that writer or the travel agent, but you always settle, and you know it. You think if you settle you can get away with being lukewarm. You don't get to walk in here making comments when we both know you take the easy road.'

'I forgot I was speaking to the expert,' Quatre retorted. 'You know, you're not the only person who didn't get to be with the one he wanted, so maybe if you'd remember that occasionally when you'd talk to me you won't just yell all the damn time!'

'I'm not YELLING,' he yelled, and just like that, all the fun went out of it. They stood puffing out chilly L3 winter and glaring at each other, and he finally began to feel a little foolish. Quatre's face was flushed, his arms crossed sullenly over the breast of his smelly coat. 'Who was it?' Trowa said.

Quatre shifted one foot to the other, then sighed. 'Not you, if that's what's making you cringe. Stop looking at me that way.'

'I'm not looking at you any way.' Kathy's head made an appearance around the flap of canvas they used for a door. Trowa scowled at her. It was like she had radar; whenever he fought with Quatre she was suddenly there. At least this time she wasn't likely to take Quatre's side. That had gotten annoying during Quatre's divorce.

'Sorry,' he got around to saying. 'And I wasn't cringing.'

'It's--'

'And if you're lusting after someone, you should just freaking tell him.'

'All right,' Quatre finished. 'What makes you think I didn't? I'm not quite that cowardly, really.'

'No. Polite. Too damned polite to open your mouth and say please for fear of pressuring or embarrassing him into anything-- untoward. That's just the kind of word you'd use, too.'

'Vocabulary aside, I really don't think I need your love advice down in Ranchland.'

'It's not Wufei, is it?' he said. 'Or-- it's Heero, isn't it. Well Heero's here and if anyone needs to get laid, it's him. Dump the underwear model. It's not like he's your soulmate. He's not even your intellectual equal.'

'My god, you're a jerk. I had a better reception from OZ battalions.'

They were fighting again, which meant they were going to have to apologise again. Kathy had made a slick exit sometime when he wasn't looking. The entire changing room was dead empty, and so was the tent outside, except for Tabitha and Gassy, sweeping between the risers and pretending they couldn't hear every word being shouted right next door.

'Oh, never mind,' Quatre said. 'I just want to see Six. I'll find a hotel then.'

He bought a little time pulling on a jumper and pretending to fix the tangles in his hair. 'I'm sorry,' he mumbled then. 'You don't need a hotel. I was out of line. A lot.'

'A little. Some.' Quatre rubbed his face. He looked tired, in the sideways glances Trowa took of him. 'So was I. Sorry, too. You know we only argue because I know you'll forgive me. I keep thinking, if I could just get a full night's sleep...'

'I know.' He sat on his costume trunk, and Quatre sat next to him. 'And I'm sorry I said that stuff about the underwear model.'

'The underwear model has a name.'

'Is it serious with him?'

'He's been living with me for four years, Trowa.'

And obviously having a delightful affect on Quatre's temper. 'I know his name,' Trowa admitted. He picked at a loose thread in his sleeve. 'If he makes you happy, I'm happy too.'

Quat hunched his shoulders. Old habit, that. It looked a little silly on a man, and even sillier in that thick cow-hide coat Quatre had taken to wearing after he started breeding horses. 'Same with you and Kathy. I don't mean to be judgmental. What you two have works for you. And I can hardly say you've done a bad job with Six.'

'I mean to continue with him.' This was as private as they were likely to get, given the crowd he was suddenly housing, so he went the extra mile and flat-out admitted it. 'He said... I guess Duo told him that if he was in trouble, I was pretty much bottom of the list for help.'

'He came to you first.'

'He needed a place to land. I was handy.' He pulled the thread, which of course turned out to be a long one, clear up to his elbow and messing up the entire sleeve. 'Did Duo...'

'Duo wasn't a part of your life after he left. Six wasn't.' Quat hesitated weirdly, and Trowa wondered what he'd swallowed that sprang to mind first. 'He was for us. No point in lying-- you know I want to take him. You know Wufei would. It's just what we feel. It's just hard to let go of-- all of them. I'm sorry.'

'I never said I was going to keep him from anyone. Just don't even think about it. I don't want to fight you in court.'

'Court!'

'It's the worst thing for all of us, especially Six. If he even suspects we're fighting, he'll disappear. We would've.' He broke the thread and whipped his hand until it fell to the dirt. 'I never asked him to cut me out of the loop.'

Quatre hunched his shoulders again. Then he dropped his head down on to his knees. 'I know,' he said quietly. 'He wasn't perfect. He wasn't even always good.'

That was moody. Trowa didn't know what to say to it.

'I won't fight you.' Quatre's fingers made claws against his skull. 'I can't promise for Wufei. He and Duo were...'

He hadn't known that. It made him go kind of cold and then kind of sickly warm, it made him almost kind of imagine things, except not really, because Duo-- the Duo in his imagination had never even been with Hilde, and that was biological fact. Biological fact. For someone who made a big deal out of his priorities, Duo had sure left a tangled mess behind him.

'I'll ask Six,' he said hoarsely, the best he could manage. 'I'll respect his choice.'

'He's eleven, Trow--'

'What's that even mean? You were an adult at eleven. We both were.'

'Just because we were making an adult's decisions doesn't mean we were prepared or healthy for it. Do you really want him to have the childhoods we did? Wouldn't you rather he be protected from that? It's enough that he'll have to live without his own father.'

'I should ask him what he wants.'

'No, you shouldn't. He's a child. And he just lost a dad who used to make all the decisions for him. He needs a little of that right now. Be his father, if that's what you want, but you have to be until he is ready to start choosing for himself.'

He really honestly couldn't remember what Duo the Adult had looked like. He had pictures, somewhere, from parties he hadn't attended and some even that Duo had sent him-- a card, once a year for the boy's birthday, and sometimes it was a school picture and sometimes it was a baseball game on a burnt-out lawn behind a grungy little house, and there'd be a little corner of a face with a little hint of a grin that Trowa had always buried at the bottom of a sock drawer. He'd bottomed out on the things he really remembered about Duo, because everything he remembered was-- old, and not who Duo had been by the time he'd died. Six was who'd he'd been, really, and Six was the only communication there had been between the two of them until it was too late and Six was all there was ever going to be again. It wasn't a second chance. It was just that Six had come to him, even though he could have gone to the others, and that meant something. It had to.

He supposed it had been bound to happen. Supposed he'd been gearing toward it for a while. It was what you did, when you lost someone. It was the natural thing. Felt unnatural, though. Felt horrible. He hated crying.

I hate crying, Duo muttered. Go look at some other freak show.

'I really want to,' he said, except his voice didn't make it past the clog in his throat. Hard to say if Quatre heard, except that Quatre was looking at him, weary like it hurt so much he was getting used to it. 'Be his father. I know how much Duo invested in being a father. I can do this for him, for Duo. Love his kid the way he would have.'

Quatre reached down and plucked his hand out of the tight fist he'd made around his cuff. 'I know you will.'

They sat in silence like that, Quat's fingers tight around his. Long enough for him to remember, arguing aside, he was always glad when Quatre visited.

'I didn't know you'd thought about kids,' he said, when he could speak without losing it.

'I spent my childhood being the all-important male heir.' Quatre didn't let him go yet, so Trowa didn't make him. He was looking off into the mirror, but he wasn't looking at their reflection. His eyes weren't focused. 'I don't have a business, anymore, I don't have a need. But sure, I think about it.'

'You'd be a good father.'

'It's not likely, though, is it. Unless Takeo's been really stuffing those boxer briefs.' His eyes slid over to Trowa's. 'Come on. That was a little funny. Takeo's a girly boy. I finally admitted it. Smile at least a little?'

He laughed, even if he couldn't put a lot of force behind it. 'Please tell me he doesn't call you Daddy.'

Pale eyebrows quirked. 'Only on special occasions.'

+

It finally hit the news, top billing over the other Thursday night prime-time.

Gundam Pilot Duo Maxwell murdered in home.

Controversial Resistance leader Duo Maxwell killed in what appears to be a vicious and targeted shooting.

Local L2 hero dead; son missing.


They showed the chief investigator on L2, who refused to confirm anything. Wufei was standing right behind the man, blank-faced and drawn, his crisp Preventers uniform drawing shouted questions from the crowd of reporters. There was no hiding that Six had gone missing, and there was all wild kinds of speculation about kidnapping and ransom and even some enterprising soul who came up with a hotline for missing children to occupy hours of broadcast. At the root of the story, L2 was still a place where death was frequent and frequently violent. The consensus was that Duo had laster longer than anyone had expected him to, and shame about the boy.

Kathy put in a film for Six, then, but he'd already heard plenty of it. It hadn't been much of a dinner, anyway, the two of them and Heero.

The lights in the trailer went low an hour after Heero retreated to his tent next to it. He spent an hour after that cleaning his already clean gun, loading and reloading the magazine. It was a depressing way to spend the evening.

He expected Trowa, who usually came out to sit with him before bed. Or maybe Quatre, who had seemed to want to speak to him alone when he'd come by. But both men would still be off at Trowa's show, and anyway the step was wrong for an adult. Lighter. Clumsier. He was sitting up to unzip the door flap before Six arrived, carrying a tray of milk and biscuits, somewhat spilled.

'Mr Yuy?'

'Thanks.' He rescued the milk just as it tipped, and licked his knuckles dry. It was warm. He didn't particularly understand the theory behind a large glass of warm liquid when you were trying to go to sleep, but Katherine sent it out to him every night.

'Thank you,' he said again, when he realized Six hadn't left yet. 'You... could sit down if you want.'

Six didn't, but then he was short enough to stand inside without threatening the spring-rods or the hanging lantern. He said, stated, 'It's going to be different, now, isn't it.'

Heero parsed that out carefully, and the solemn face looking down at him. 'I think,' he answered, when he was sure of the words, 'yes. We'll have to be more careful.'

'They didn't show my picture.'

Wufei's work, Heero was sure. He wondered how Wufei had managed it.

Six drew a deep breath. 'About the gun--'

'I have something for you,' Heero interrupted quickly. 'I meant to give it to you earlier, but private is better.' He opened a pocket of his duffle for the medal. The tissue paper wrapping crinkled, but softly, worn from years of travel. 'Here,' he said, and held it out.

Six went down on a knee to look. Heero turned his wrist out to the light of the overhead lantern. 'This is--was, Duo's. I've had it since the war. It should really be yours though.'

'It's Saint Christopher.'

'Yeah. Your dad must have told you.'

'Dad liked a lot of the saints. He didn't like to go to mass, because he said the Pope was a jerk and organised religion is a bunch of hooey, but he liked the saints.' Six polished the medal with the edge of his shirt. 'You all really loved my dad,' he said quietly.

'He was easy to love,' Heero answered.

'I think my dad had a boyfriend.' The boy looked up. 'I thought it might be Mr Chang. But maybe it was you?'

Once, maybe, but Duo was smarter than that, and Heero was quite aware he never would have made Duo happy, even if he'd wanted to be that person. Duo would have exhausted him. Duo had exhausted him even without a relationship. When he shook his head, though, Six's face fell.

'My dad never told me anything.' The medal disappeared into Six's fist. 'It's like half of what I thought I knew was a lie. I thought he was just a scrap man. And there's you and Trowa and Mr Chang and Mr Winner, and you're all Gundam-- all Gundam Pilots, and I always thought that was just a story in books, but it was all of you.'

'Yes,' Heero said. 'And Duo. He was... the best.'

He traced the figure on the medal. 'Mr Yuy... I've decided. About the gun.'

It didn't occur to him-- well, much, to say no. He knew that he should. He knew it was a mistake, but he also knew it was too late to unmake it.

'Please, Mr Yuy. I need to learn it. I could have gone out there and helped him at least, if I'd known how to shoot.'

'Firing new bullets won't bring back the ones that killed him.' The gun was under his pillow. He took it out, took it out of the leather holster, and turned the butt-end toward the boy. 'Duo knew how to shoot. It wasn't enough. If it had been, we wouldn't be here talking about making you a killer.'

Six's chest heaved with uneven breaths. 'I have to know. Please. Trowa won't want me to and Miss Kathy doesn't understand. But they'll come now. They'll come to get me, now that there's people looking for me. Please, Mr Yuy.' His voice cracked.

Heero, something's happened. Heero, he's gone.

Shaky feeling in his chest. It hadn't gone away yet. He kept expecting it to.

He wrapped Six's hand over the handle, set the little fingers right with his own callused ones. 'It isn't loaded,' he said. 'You can practise. Lock open the action, like this. Yes. Now check the chamber and the magazine. When you shoot it-- when you shoot it, you want to keep both your eyes open, not like in movies. Both eyes open, and looking at your target, not down the barrel. But that's not the hardest part. It's the trigger. It needs control, and calm. If you're not calm, the recoil will blow the shot wide, and you'll miss. Sometimes... sometimes all you get is one shot. You have to be ready for it.'

Six looked up at him. 'Thank you,' he whispered.

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