The Storms of Life
Duo's Friendship Arc 9
by Dyna Dee
The frantic grip and constant pull on his hand leading him to a underground cellar was most likely the only thing that saved the pilot of Deathscythe as he stared mesmerized upward into the black tormented sky, with feelings of abject horror and fascination. The enormous black funnel cloud that spun angrily and spewed debris as it seemed to be coming for him, just for Shinigami.
"Hurry!" the ten year old boy with a determined look as well as fear in his eyes yelled back at him.
Not for the first time in the last two weeks did the young pilot wonder to himself what kind of people choose to live in such a place? He was pulled into the underground shelter by other anxious hands, and he took a moment to glance around at the others within the deep cellar's confines as others scrambled through the double metal doors above and behind him before they were secured tightly against the approaching maelstrom. A similar look of emotions were displayed on all of their faces: worry and concern. His mind instantly reverted back to the previous week and a similar, yet different meteorologic disturbance.
His mission had been to destroy two tactically strategic OZ bases set along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico; one in Florida and one in Louisiana. Yet before he could carry out his plans for the target in Florida, they had to be scrubbed as a strong hurricane warning came into effect. He secured his Gundam in hopes of resuming his mission after the storm blew over. As the confirmation of his canceled mission hadn't come until the storm was well upon them, he found the roadways were blocked with traffic and people desperate to escape the oncoming storm. Whole communities had "Battened down the hatches" so to speak, as all the buildings along the western Florida coast were boarded up with plywood, plastic and sandbags. He found the growing darkness and the vicious winds picking up to be exhilarating as they surrounded him and beat against his clothing and skin, his braid whipping out behind him like the branches of the wind-beaten trees. With wild anticipation in his eyes, he looked forward to riding it out and watch a hurricane unfold.
When trees began to be uprooted and roof tiles, garbage cans, lawn chairs, and other miscellaneous debris began to fly through the deserted streets, he found himself almost utterly alone. He stood facing the vicious wind, his hair pulled out from its customary braid by it, holding onto a metal railing and leaning at a sharp angle so he wouldn't be swept away. He started when a firm hand grabbed hold of him. He turned to look up into the familiar though anxious face of the man he knew as Otis. With a firm grasp on his upper arm, he was pulled wordlessly towards a shelter by the hotel's owner, speaking was impossible because of the howling gale winds. Earlier, he had helped the man and his wife board up the windows and doors and bagged sand in burlap sacks to place in front of the twenty-four rooms of the motel that was their livelihood. In turn, they had offered their thanks and promised shelter.
The designated shelter was located in the basement of a church nearby. It observed as he was pulled inside that it seemed a fairly new and solidly built building. He was rushed down stairs to a basement and the doors were secured tightly behind them.
"That was cutting it close." The hotel owner, Otis Snider, chided him with a frown for his carelessness. His wife, Elaine, approached them, relief shining bright in her eyes.
"I was so worried." her brow wrinkled as her eyebrows rose. "Why were you so late?" she asked he husband.
"It's his first hurricane." the older man told his wife as he put a comforting arm around her. She shook her head, disapprovingly at the youth.
"Youth and recklessness seem to go hand and hand." she reflected looking at the long haired boy with a slight frown of disapproval on her face.
"I'm sorry." Duo apologized sincerely, seeing the worry his actions had caused the kind woman. "I didn't mean to put Otis in danger. I just found the storm........ exhilarating."
"The first one always is," she replied with a soulful sigh. "until you see it's aftermath. Many a fool has lost his life playing dare with such a devil as a hurricane." she added.
The building seemed to shake around them and the howl of the wind seemed to haunt even the basement stronghold. The lights went out, and the emergency ones set up in the corners came on a second later.
"Come." the woman tugged on the young man's sleeve and pulled him through the small crowd of people, who had come to seek shelter from the storm. Mrs. Snider turned and looked over her shoulder at him. "I have your black bag here and some food and water."
He sat down where she directed him, on a metal folding chair that was cold and unyielding. The Sniders and their two children sat next to him, forming a small circle. He gratefully accepted their food and company as the long day wore on. The children, two little pony-tailed, freckle faced red heads, ages nine and six, grew anxious as the sounds of the storm raged on. Mrs. Snider, a pleasant looking woman in her forties, gathered her girls around her and took out a book from her box of emergency supplies. She looked up questioningly at her guest. "Do you know the Good Book?" she asked in her slight southern drawl.
Recognizing the book from his past, he shrugged. "A little." he replied. He could see the question in her eyes so he continued to explain. "As a child, I spent some time in a Catholic orphanage."
Her smile brought minute crows feet to the corners of her eyes. "I could tell some good soul had a hand in your upbringing. It was very kind of you to help us board up the place. Those kind of good works come from being taught by example." she said, clearly believing the words.
Duo nodded. "Father Maxwell and Sister Helen were very kind to me." he replied quietly and hoped she would drop the painful subject.
"They must be very proud of you." her look was sincere.
The boy across from her looked from her face to the floor. "They're dead." he told her in a quiet tone, hoping he masked the emotions those words evoked.
"I'm so sorry." she reached out to grasp his cold hand. "You are so young to know such sorrows and hardships." she added.
He shrugged. "Life is life, sometimes you just don't have a choice in what happens."
"Yet, your not alone in your trials, are you?" she gave him a knowing look that he wasn't quite sure what she meant. She continued, seeing the perplexed look on his face. "Many before you have faced fearsome struggles, even at a tender age. Those struggles are the storms of life." She clutched the black covered book knowingly to her chest. "And storms do eventually pass by."
Duo raised an eyebrow to her steady gaze. He wasn't sure he knew what she was talking about, and he wasn't sure he was going to like it, but he couldn't walk out or politely excuse himself either.
Let me tell you a story." she said and reverently opened the well-worn book now on her lap.
A little over a week later found him in the lower part of the mid west of the United States. A different town, a different motel, and the sirens were blaring as a young boy pulled him into a shelter escaping the monster above them.
With a silent hope that his gundam was safe, he moved further into the cellar as more people climbed or jumped down and the door was sealed behind them. The small group assembled looked at the stranger in their midst. Duo looked at them blankly. "Why in the world would you people live in such a place?" he asked, exasperation and fear sounding in his voice. He pulled his braid over his shoulder and nervously re-wove the end that had come undone, and re-fastened it.
A portly man in his sixties with dull graying brown hair, a shadow of stubble on his round face and double chins, wearing over-sized jeans held up with black suspenders and a clean white tee shirt approached him. "Because it's home, to us, to our kin before us and after us." he answered the question. The group behind him nodded in agreement.
"Man, I thought I lived on the wild side." He mumbled to himself, his large amethyst eyes displayed his confusion as he shook his head.
The man facing him put a friendly hand on his shoulder. "You gotta have a little faith, son." The man's eyes twinkled in the flashlight lit room. He motioned to a bench against the wall. "Now come sit down. We're gonna pray for safety and Ellen," He pointed to the woman that looked a lot like him and the pilot assumed she was probably his wife, "is gonna tell us some stories." Duo saw she held to her ample bosom a black covered book. With a deep sigh, he let the older man guide him to the bench and sat as part of the attentive audience.
Two weeks later, he happily joined his friends at a new school. They greeted him warmly and helped him ease into the new environment. But it all felt different. The four other pilots commented amongst each other that their friend was somehow different.
"He seems calmer." Quatre observed.
"Secretive." Heero offered.
"Reflective" Trowa guessed.
Wufei shrugged. "I think he's finally growing up."
To some degree, they were all correct. The manic grin they had become accustomed to seemed tempered as did the bounce in his step. When Quatre asked in concern if he was alright. Duo replied that he was just preoccupied with thoughts of what he saw on his last mission. This comment sent the other four to their computers to try and discover just what his last few missions were.
After a long game of basketball one Saturday afternoon, the five sat together under the shade of a tree. The cool grass felt good to their overheated bodies as they allowed their racing hearts to slow to a normal pace as well as their breathing. Duo was just getting comfortable, his eyes shut as he enjoyed the dappled sunshine dancing across his eyelids, when Heero spoke up.
"Tell us about your time in the southern states?" he asked
The Deathscythe pilot cracked an eye open in the direction of his roommate and saw that the others were watching him intently. He knew they were worried about his quietness even though he had tried to reassure them that everything was fine.
"Well," He began slowly. "two things happened while I was there, other than a scrubbed mission and the spectacular job I did on the Corpus Christi Base." He managed a smirk, then continued. "There is something exhilarating about a hurricane bearing down on you." His eyes lit up as he described the dark, angry sky, the fierce winds and the pounding rain. He then went on to describe his experience and the people he helped and stayed in the shelter with. "They are good, hard working, God-loving people." He told them. His voice lowered as he described the aftermath. The terrible destruction of land and property. "Most of the people just got up and went to work, clearing away debris and fixing whatever damage had occurred. At the same time," His eyes widened as his voice took on the tone of awe. "they reached out to help their neighbors and strangers." His amethyst eyes closed and he took a deep breath. "Their kindness really affected me. Some of those people lost everything, and yet they reached out to me and to others to make sure we were taken care of."
He went on to explain that, after several days of helping in the cleanup, he retrieved his gundam and with it on a transport truck, he made his way to his next destination. "I found myself in a different state and in an old motel alongside the highway. The weather was obscenely hot and humid, and there was something in the air. There were tornado warnings on the television and when the power went out I got a little concerned. Then the sirens sounded and I found myself being led to an underground shelter by the motel owner's son. On the way there, I looked up and saw the devil himself." He paused and shuddered at the vision in his memory. He opened his eyes that turned towards his friends who were listening attentively. "I've called myself Shinigami, but I swear that was the name of what I saw. It was the blackest part of hell I've ever seen." He shook his head in frustration at not being able to express in words exactly what he saw and felt. "It was terrifying." He said simply and then decided to go on and try to express what he felt. "Just imagine what it would be like to wake up alone in space in your gundam, no weapons at your disposal, no self destruct device, and finding one hundred Space Aires surrounding you. No escape, no surrender, and not a chance in hell of a rescue." He waited for a moment for them to search their feelings to the described scenario. "That's what I felt when I saw that tornado coming. Scared?" he asked the question he knew the others had come to that conclusion. "Yea, shitless." he answered.
The others remained silent so he continued on. "Then in the cellar, I met more people who were kindness itself. They were nervous, but strangely calm, maybe a little worried, but not fearful. It just seemed so surreal." he told them. "They prayed and told stories while the wind raged above us and the world crashed down on the shelter doors. Then came the silence. It seemed almost as terrible as the winds howling. This time, the destruction was complete and baffling in it's selectiveness." He paused to collect himself as the memories flooded his mind and momentarily put his face in his hands. He felt a reassuring hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Heero's concerned eyes studying him.
"Whole neighborhoods, homes, apartments, cars and trailers were completely wiped out in the wake of that monster." He met the other's eyes. "Were use to blowing things up, destroying things, but it's mostly bases, weapons, tarmacs or mobile suits, but his was different. People's lives were irrevocably changed. Communities and homes and some lives were obliterated. It's like nothing I've ever known in the colonies where the weather is controlled. I've never seen such a natural destructive force before."
Wufei drew his brows together in thought. "Why do people live in such places where the weather is so changeable, so deadly?" He asked.
Duo answered. "I asked that to quite a few people, trying to understand. They told me it's because that is were their families had always lived. They accepted the possible danger and respected nature's ways. But mostly," he continued, obviously still trying to figure it out. "they were people of tradition and faith."
"Is that what you have been thinking about since you came back?" Heero asked.
The braided boy nodded. "I'm confused by it." he looked up clearly perplexed. "I realized that I don't have what they do. I don't have family, tradition, or faith." His hands opened in question. "These were simple, everyday people, and they had less fear and more purpose in life than I do. And I'm a fricken gundam pilot!" he said exasperated.
"You have us as your family," Quatre reminded him. "And, hopefully, faith in us that we will be there for you."
"I know." Duo replied. "But what traditions do we have? We kill and destroy. Not a great home life, eh? Is that what we will pass on to the next generation, that is if we are lucky enough to live long enough to have an normal life?"
Not waiting for an answer the braided pilot jumped to his feet. "I need a shower. See you guys later." he said and took off at a run for the dorms leaving his four companions with concerned looks on their faces.
He was hiding something. It had started that same afternoon after Duo had spoken of his experiences in the southern states. Heero had returned to his room to find his roommate sitting on his bed, obviously showered as he sat with just a towel wrapped around his hips and his damp hair hanging all around him. Heero had not missed the fact that Duo had jumped slightly as the door opened and quickly hid something behind his back. He smiled sheepishly in greeting and hurriedly picked up his hairbrush to continue brushing the tangles out of his long hair.
Over the next few weeks, it was noted that he began to miss taking his lunch with the group. Wufei reported that he had observed Duo sitting against a tree at the back of the school. He looked to be studying, or reading.
Late one night, after lights out, Heero lay on his side in his bed watching his braided friend with a bit of worry and curiosity. A half hour after they had retired, Duo had turned on a flash light. He was facing the wall to block the light and hide whatever he was looking at.
Heero waited twenty minutes, hearing only the soft rustle of pages being turned. "What are you doing?" His voice carried sharply thought the darkness, causing the other to jump and turn the flashlight off.
"Geeze, Heero, scare the crap outta me." Duo replied obviously taken aback.
Heero repeated his question.
"Just a book. You wouldn't be interested."
"But your interested?"
"Umm, yeah, I guess so."
"Then why wouldn't I be interested?"
Duo sighed audibly. "You just wouldn't be."
The silence stretched out like the darkness of the room
"Will you tell me about it?" Heero asked quietly.
Duo's hesitation was obvious. "Why are you were so curious." He was obviously stalling.
"I think that if you find something so important that it keeps you up at night and keeps you away from the rest of us during the day, I should try to understand it."
The bright beam of the flashlight turned on again, focusing on Heero's chest, but casting enough light that Duo could see his roommates face to judge his sincerity. "You really want to know?" he asked watching the other's face closely. Heero nodded and after a moment, the light blinked off.
"All right." he whispered and paused for moment to gather his thoughts. "When I lived at Maxwell Church," he began quietly, his voice gently wistful, "Sister Helen use to put us to bed at night and tell us stories. Over the years, sorrows, training, and fighting, I'd forgotten all about the stories." He shifted to his back and through the dim light that came through the curtain from the full moon outside, Heero could see that Duo had raised his arms up and placed his hands behind his head. "Then, when I was in those shelters during the hurricane and tornado, I heard those stories again. Those simple, plain and ordinary people derived strength from those stories. In the last motel I was in, I found the book in the desk drawer, and I took it." he confessed
"Do you think you can become stronger knowing these stories?" Heero asked genuinely curious.
"One of the women that told the stories said that everyone could identify with the stories in some aspect of their lives, especially during the times she called "the storms of life", and it got me to thinking about it. How could ancient stories have any relevance to our lives today, especially the life we are living as soldiers? But as I started to read them, I began to see what she meant."
"Such as?" Heero asked finding the conversation interesting.
"Let me tell you a story and if you like it, I'll tell you another tomorrow night. I'll even tell you what I think its relevance is in my life."
"Humph, a bedtime story?" Heero asked teasingly.
Duo took that as a yes. "You better not go to sleep while I tell it." he admonished.
Duo turned to face Heero and scrunched his pillow to fit his head more comfortably as he rested on his side. "Once there was a shepherd boy named David..." he began. He told the story from memory and built it up to the climax with the boy killing the great Philistine soldier, Goliath. "Cool story, huh?" He asked mainly to ascertain if Heero was indeed still awake.
"How do you related this story to your life?" Heero asked
Duo rolled onto his back, readjusting his pillow once again. "To me, you represent David, maybe all we pilots do. Goliath is the war machine we fight. The odds are against us, we're young and few in number, but we are a force to be reckoned with. I think if we stand as bold and brave as young David in the story did, we can win this war for the colonies."
"Interesting." Heero replied contemplating his roommates analogy of the story.
After a few moments had passed, he spoke again. "You had better get some sleep. We could get a mission any day now."
"Night, Heero." Duo answered feeling a little disappointed that Heero had so little to say about the story. He pulled the blanket up to his neck and pulled his braid over his shoulder.
"A different story tomorrow night?" Heero questioned.
"O.K." Duo snuggled down deeper into his pillow and covers feeling much better now that he had shared his secret and Heero hadn't berated him for it.
During the next few nights, Duo told his roommate some of the stories he had read and then they talked about what they could mean in their lives. The story of Daniel and the Lion's Den reminded Duo of Trowa and Wufei yet for different reasons. He personally liked the story of Sampson and Delilah, for obvious reasons. Queen Esther reminded him of Relena's quest for peace, knowing that she would put her own life in danger to bring peace to the people. But Duo's very favorite was of a King Nebuchadnezzar and the three young men he threw into a roaring, fiercely burning furnace. It was so hot that it killed the guards that threw the three in. But the three stood in the inferno untouched and walked out. Their clothes, hair, skin were untouched by either flame of even the taint of smoke.
"Do you know how I relate to this story? Duo asked Heero, who was becoming increasingly adept at interpreting the stories and Duo's feeling about them.
Once again the two boys lay in the dark after curfew hours. Heero lay in his bed, under his covers, Duo lay by his side wrapped in his own blanket and cuddled his pillow in his arms and under his head as he watched his friend's face as he told the story.
"I think you would relate the King as being our enemy and the hot furnace as the war or deeds of war." He paused for a moment seeing his friend nod his head in agreement, then continued. "The three men would be the gundam pilots, but the coming out unscathed? Does that mean that when the war is over we'll come out of it smelling like your herbal shampoo?" In the moonlight Duo could see the quirk in Heero's smile.
Well, kinda." He replied, returning the smile. "To me, it represents a hope that when we are done, the war is over, and the killing stops, that we can have a life, that we can escape the lingering effects of what we do." He flopped over onto his back staring at the blackness of the ceiling. "I never thought I had a future, couldn't afford to think about it. But now, I have friends, and I hope to survive this." he said thoughtfully. "Do you think we have a future, Heero?" he asked a slight hint of pleading in his voice as he turned his head to look at his friend, the perfect soldier, hoping to hear from him what his heart wanted so badly to believe.
"An hour from now is the future," Heero answered in a matter-of-fact tone. "as is tomorrow. So yes, we have a future. I don't think about it much as I was raised and trained for the life of a soldier. I was trained to live in times of war. What will I do in a time of peace?" he asked aloud the question he had asked himself quite a bit since meeting up with the others. "I hope for that time, work for it even. But what happens after that?" His voice trailed off.
'Little comfort there' Duo thought, then spoke of his thoughts regarding the other pilots . "I can see a future for Quatre with his family and business empire. Trowa can return to the Circus, and Wufei can continue on with his studies and return to his clan. But for you and I Heero, I'm not sure what's in store for us. Neither of us has a home or family to return to, nor a career. I think it will be what one lady told me was a storm in our lives, a difficult time. What will we do?" He felt the familiar hollowness beginning to grow within him, he knew he was slow becoming depressed now.
"Tell you what" Heero reached out and brushed the hair from Duo's face to enable him to see his friend's eyes. "If we both make it, we'll find something. We'll watch each other's back, become each other's family."
Duo smiled in response. The idea of someone caring for him at the end of this long dark tunnel called his life at war lifted his gloom.
"But," Heero continued, his voice suddenly very serious. "if I don't make it and you do, I want you to let Quatre help you after the war. He cares for all of us and I can trust him to guide you as you find your way. I know your pride will want to stand in the way, so will you promise me that?"
Duo felt his emotions rising. He dealt with death all the time and had administered it to many, but it hurt to think of Heero not making it. "Only if you promise me the same thing." He bit his lip trying to curb the emotion in his voice.
Heero ruffled his hair. "I promise ." He whispered gently.
"I promise, too." Duo whispered back, afraid if he spoke too loudly he might have to keep that promise.
"Now get some sleep." Heero ordered. Duo nodded and flipped over to lower his legs to the floor to return to his bed. He felt Heero's arm grab him around the waist and he was pulled back into the bed and against Heero's chest, his arm like a steel vice around his chest as he held him firmly in place. "Goodnight" was Heero's last word that night.
"Night." Duo answered, accepting Heero's unspoken invitation to stay close. This had happened on a regular basis since Heero had begun to become more human, more open, and more of a friend. Somehow the physical closeness brought both boys a sense of belonging, warmth, and affection that eluded them in the daylight and through their sometimes horrific missions. Duo's sigh was followed by a yawn. He didn't know if the book had a story to go with this part of his life. Maybe the story of Ruth and Naomi, Maybe David and King Saul's son, Jonathan. He would tell those stories to Heero tomorrow night and see what his friend thought. He followed his roommates example and direct order and drifted off to sleep.