The corner by the fireplace was his favorite spot. It was warm, and he could hunker down, ignoring the taunts and whispered jeers of the other children, at least until bedtime. He'd brought a picture book with him, and he turned the pages, carefully sounding out words, feeling proud of himself as the story unfolded in front of him.
His companion sat, still and quiet, in his lap, glass eyes reflecting the firelight, patiently waiting for Duo to sound out the next word. He wasn't the best reader in his class, not having the advantage of schooling in his early years, but he was a quick learner. That didn't matter to the kids in his class, or the kids in the orphanage. They laughed at him for being "slow," they made fun of his hair and for his refusal to let the sisters cut it, and they taunted him for being passed over for adoption not once, but four times.
But he didn't care. He could ignore them all. Sister Helen didn't like the way he isolated himself from the other kids, but he really didn't need friends. Not when he had Hero.
Finishing a page, he turned to the next to continue the story, stumbling over an unfamiliar word. Where the other kids would laugh at him, Hero never complained. He sat silent, knowing Duo would be able to get to the end of the story eventually, if not tonight then tomorrow.
A light footstep and the soft sigh of heavy fabric brushing the floor caused the young boy to look up. He was greeted with a warm smile as the sister bent down to gently remove the book from his hands.
"It's time for bed, Duo," she said, holding out her hand for him to take.
Duo was disappointed; he'd wanted to know how the story ended, and he wasn't in the least bit tired, but he knew better than to argue about bedtime. "Okay," he said, taking her hand and tucking Hero under one arm.
All the other children had gone before them. Duo had been too engrossed in the storybook to notice the bedtime bell. It wasn't the first time. And he doubted it would be the last.
Sister Helen led him to the room he shared with the other boys, to his bed tucked away in the corner, and held Hero while he undressed, scrambled into his pajamas and knelt to say his prayers. Then he climbed into bed and held his arms out for Hero. The sister placed the bear with its worn blue ribbon into the young boy's arms, kissed his forehead and bade him goodnight.
Duo watched as the sister crossed the room, looking back once at her charges before not quite shutting the door behind her. He turned under the threadbare sheets, putting his back to the rest of the room, holding onto Hero tightly, and waited for the moon to rise.
He didn't have long to wait. He was just beginning to doze off when the bright light of the full moon shone through the small window above his bed... and Hero moved in his arms.
Duo sat up, rubbing his eyes and moving over to give his one and only friend room to complete his change. When he lowered his hands, he smiled at the boy with messy chocolate hair and shining blue eyes now sitting next to him.
"Hi, Heero," he whispered, moving to hug the bear-turned-boy.
The other child hugged Duo in return. "I missed you, Duo," he whispered back.
Duo let go of his friend and climbed carefully off the bed. He took Heero's hand and led him to the window. With practiced ease, the young boy opened the window and, with Heero's help, climbed over the sill and out into the night.
Heero followed him, then took his hand in the moonlight and led Duo away from the church, across the street and to the small playground on the other side.
They knew not to make much sound. Heero had told him noise carried better at night, when the streets were quiet. Duo didn't care. He knew how not to be noticed. He followed Heero down the slide, let Heero push him on the swings and the two chased each other through the small jungle gym, laughing softly.
Duo was never happier than he was the three nights of the month when Hero became Heero, a living, breathing friend. He didn't know how such a thing was possible, but he didn't care. Last Christmas, after the other kids had teased him to the point of tears, he'd prayed to God for a friend, and Hero had been in his bed when he'd awoken Christmas morning. That night had been the first night of the full moon, and Duo had discovered the true magic of his Christmas gift.
Heero had said he'd been sent to be a friend to Duo. But they only had the three nights of a full moon together. The rest of the time, Heero was Hero. But Duo didn't mind. He loved Hero as much as he loved Heero. Heero was his and his alone.
Heero made him truly happy.
They played underneath the clear sky and the full moon until Duo could barely keep his eyes open. He resisted when Heero suggested they go back to bed; he had so little time with his best friend, he didn't want to spend any of it sleeping. But Heero knew Sister Helen would get suspicious if Duo was too tired in the morning. Duo pouted, but allowed the other boy to lead him back across the road and through the open window.
They curled up together underneath the sheets, Duo holding tightly onto Heero's hand for as long as he could. His eyes were heavy, and he knew that once he fell asleep, before he knew it, it would be morning and Heero would be Hero once more.
"Will I ever get to play with you in the daytime?" he asked, his voice barely above a whisper, as he leaned his head against Heero's shoulder.
Heero was silent for a moment before whispering back, "When you're old enough, there will be a way to help me stay human."
Duo sighed. He heard that a lot, 'When you're old enough.' He wondered when that would be. He hoped it wouldn't be long.
"But you'll be with me until then?" he asked his friend, letting his eyes close. He couldn't keep them open any longer.
He felt Heero's lips brush against his forehead as sleep stole over him.
"I'll never leave you, Duo. I love you," he heard Heero say before he was lost to dreams.
He smiled in his sleep, snuggling down next to his friend. He loved Heero, too. And he dreamed of being together always, especially in the daytime.
He really couldn't wait to be old enough.