Where Friendship Began
Duo's Friendship Arc 25
by Dyna Dee
Christmas was drawing near and that meant the school term was over. This year, it had ended a good week before the celebrated holiday. Duo was brimming with excitement, not only with the fact that he'd done extremely well in his classes and that they were now over, but because Heero was coming back to space for Christmas.
When the five gundam pilots parted in June, going their separate ways, Duo had promised his friend that they would get together for Christmas, as soon as the school term ended. Plans had been devised, arrangements made, and when the day arrived, he was shuttled to the moon in order to meet his friend and together they would travel to L-2 for a week. The end of that week would see the two teens back on L-4 and in Quatre's home on Christmas Eve to spend their remaining week together before Heero was required to return to Earth.
The Winner Corporation's private shuttle carried Duo and his designated pilot, Ramal, quickly and without any trouble to the tourist side of the satellite that orbited the Earth. Exiting with a quick thanks to his Maguanac friend and promising to be careful in his travels, he clutched his two duffle bags, hanging from his shoulders, tightly to his side as he ran to Terminal 2 where Heero's ship was due to dock in fifteen minutes.
Arriving with three minutes to spare, he placed himself in the most strategic position from the gate's exit for Heero to spot him as he left the newly arrived commercial shuttle from Earth.
Duo took those few moments left to consider all the arrangements made for their week together before joining Quatre and some of his family on L-4. Of course he had invited the blond to join them, but always intuitively wise, Quatre politely bowed out stating he had a lot of shopping to do for the upcoming holiday and that he was sure Duo would appreciate some time alone with Heero before the three of them got together. Duo conceded, though stating his disappointment to his blond friend. Quatre, as usual, was right, he did want to catch up with Heero, and it would be easier to do so one-on-one instead of being surrounded by a gaggle of well meaning but fawning females that are Quatre's sisters during the biggest holiday of the year.
When Heero asked where he would like them to meet, Duo had instantly thought of L-2, feeling an almost subliminal pull back to the colony of his supposed origin. A day was chosen and Quatre's secretary had booked the both of them on a flight from the Moon's terminal to that colony and reserved a room in a hotel located in the better part of the poor but improving colony.
During the last few weeks before the scheduled meeting, when not occupied with studying and taking finals, the former resident of L-2 began to reflect back and dream at night of his life on that colony as a young child wandering the streets. His mind turned to the people who had meant something to him, those who had made an impact on his life. He supposed that he wanted to return to his former colony in order to pay his respects to the dead and gone, especially now that peace had finally been achieved. He had also thought of looking for a job there and staying awhile. He'd been happy and more than comfortable living with Quatre, but his deep-seeded sense of independence and need for self-reliance was beginning to rebel at the idea of someone taking care of him. It was time to be on his own and make his way in the world.
People started to gather around the exit door that would lead the disembarking passengers from the shuttle into the terminal. His heart was beating rapidly with anticipation at the reunion. He decided that six months was too long of a time to go without seeing your best friend.
Slowly, people trickled through the door, large smiles and happy laughter issuing from them as they were greeted by friends or relatives. Duo gave each of them a brief, cursory glance before his eyes returned to the metal doorframe, looking for the boy he hadn't seen in six months. And then suddenly, he was there. Duo believed Heero could stand out in any crowd by way of his personality alone; he always wore that steely-eyed look of determination and focused. At first glance, he observed with a smile that Heero had obviously outgrown the need to wear his spandex and tank top that he found functional while piloting his gundam as he was dressed casually in black jeans, a deep blue t-shirt and leather jacket and expensive looking black boots.
Heero stepped further out of the doorway and his eyes locked immediately with Duo's. A warm smile blossomed on his lips as he moved forward to meet his friend half way. It might have looked odd to those mingling around the terminal to see two teenage boys almost throwing themselves onto each other in the middle of the terminal, but at the moment, neither of them seemed to care what anyone thought as they tightly embraced each other like long, lost friends.
"Man, it's good to see you, Heero," Duo said stepping back, almost overcome by the feelings that suddenly came to him as he was reunited with his friend again. It felt odd that, in seeing Heero after so long, he felt even more pronounced feelings of homesickness at their having been separated for so long.
Heero's eyes locked onto his friend's face. "Six months is too long," he said quietly, unknowingly expressing Duo's exact sentiment. "I've missed you."
Duo felt the impulse to embrace his friend again, but controlled the knee-jerk reaction, determining not to appear so needy. "We better get a move on, the shuttle leaves for L-2 in less than an hour and we have to go through customs yet."
Heero nodded, and re-adjusted the black strap on his shoulder. Duo looked at it and saw it was attached to a large duffle bag.
"Is that all of your luggage?" he asked.
Heero nodded. "I'm going to do my Christmas shopping on L-2, help boost the economy."
Duo smiled at his friend's thoughtfulness. "Well, I just hope you know that they probably won't have anything that's high class and fancy like you're used to. I mean, the colony is doing better from what I've heard, but there won't be any upper-crust department stores that's up to yours and Relena's standards."
Heero gave him a piercing look. "What do you mean by that crack? Mine and Relena's standards, what are you implying, that we're snobs?"
Duo held both hands up, he'd obviously struck a chord somewhere. "Whoa there, Heero. I didn't mean to offend you, buddy. But really, you're wearing designer jeans and shoes. You're not going to find those kinds of things on L-2 for a while yet."
"These were given to me as gifts," Heero replied, his face devoid of even a hint of a smile. "I don't make it a habit to wear expensive clothing unless my job calls for it."
"Like I said," Duo spoke up again, a frown forming on his face. "I didn't mean to offend you."
A silence fell between the two friends, and it felt awkward to the both of them. They began the trek towards terminal 14, as indicated as the point of departure for L-2 on the tickets Duo held. As they began their walk through the terminal, Heero noticed his friend limping slightly and looked down at Duo's leg.
"How's your leg?" he asked, an unhappy frown on his face as he contemplated the healing limb.
"It's still a little stiff and sore at times, especially if I run on it," Duo replied. "But it's okay. I'm pretty sure the guy who shot me is still in a cast or wheel chair with his shattered knee cap." He gave his friend a Shinigami smile.
Heero nodded. He had been shocked and livid in discovering his three friends had been abducted by a group looking for powerful allies to start another war with Earth's government. The government had immediately been advised and precautions were being taken as well as negotiations were stepped up with the colonies to ensure another war wouldn't break out. In fact, Relena was being sent to space in a few days to make sure things were progressing with the preparations of further negotiations on treaties that were be signed on the anniversary of the end of the last war. He felt unsettled about his friend's abduction, knowing it was only the resourcefulness of the Maguanacs that had saved Duo and the others that time from being held captive.
After first hearing the news from Lady Une, who had placed a emergency call to him at school, Heero had wanted to drop everything and fly to L-4 where Duo was being hospitalized with a two bullet wounds to his leg. He was forestalled when Quatre and Trowa called shortly after the first call to report Duo was fine though in an extremely foul mood. They urged him not to leave his classes when it wasn't really necessary. He reluctantly complied with their request, but found it a difficult thing for him to do, ignoring his need to protect and defend his friends. He found it hard to focus on his studies and protecting Relena when his thoughts were on his friends in space.
"So what are we going to do on L-2 if there's not much there?" Heero finally asked, breaking the tension that was building up between himself and Duo with each awkward moment of silence that passed.
"I'm going to look for a job and a place to live," Duo replied, and snuck a look out of the corner of his eyes to Heero to see his reaction.
Heero stopped dead in his tracks and looked accusingly at him. "Does Quatre know about this?" he asked with a disapproving look on his face.
"I've mentioned it," Duo stopped and turned to reply. Then placing his hands on his hips, he addressed his friend with all seriousness. "Look Heero, we're getting off on the wrong foot here. Ultimately, it's my decision. I've thought about this a lot in the last couple of weeks, and I think it's time for me to move on. I don't like feeling that I'm taking advantage of Quatre's generous hospitality. I can't live there forever and sponge off of him, and besides, I've always earned my own way. I can work and take my college courses from anywhere as long as I have a computer and a link to the Internet."
The frown deepened. "You've had a rough year Duo, and I think..."
"That it's over." The long haired teen finished for his friend in an adamant tone of voice. "I'm better and doing well. Quatre can verify that for you if you don't trust my word."
"I believe you, but it just seems too soon," Heero said, backing off from a confrontation. He knew from past experiences that if he painted Duo into a corner on a position, the other boy would hold tightly to his own point of view and fight like a demon to the end just to defend it, whether he was right or wrong. Men and their pride, he thought derisively, even though he was certainly guilty of doing the same thing at times.
"You'll just have to trust me on this," Duo snapped, now thoroughly out of sorts with their conversation. They were suppose to be enjoying each other's company, not arguing about every subject that came up. "Besides," he continued. "I have to find a job first, and they aren't exactly easy to find on such a poor colony."
"Alright," Heero conceded. "Let's just wait and see what you can find in the way of a job before you look into housing. And let's try to enjoy ourselves while we're there." That statement earned him a smile from the other boy as they drew closer to the long line leading to the custom's gate.
The commercial shuttle ride lasted a couple of hours and by the time they stepped out into the newly-refurbished terminal on L-2 it was late afternoon.
Duo pulled out the instruction packet Quatre's secretary had compiled for him. The manilla enveloped clearly marked in red stating "Duo's Trip" contained a map and directions to the hotel they would be staying in until Christmas Eve when they would take a shuttle directly to L-4, arriving in time for Christmas Eve dinner.
The first thing that was noticeable, once they left the shuttle, was that the air on L-2 had a unique smell to it, as did most colonies. There was a moistness in the oxygen and the smell of spices from many different plants and cooking odors. "There's nothing like the smell of L-2," Duo breathed in a lung full and smiled at his friend.
Heero took a deep breath also and wrinkled his nose at it. "It stinks, Duo. Don't tell me you actually prefer this to the Earth's air."
Duo's face scrunched up. "I didn't say I liked it, just that there's nothing like it. Oh, it does remind me of something rather unpleasant." He gave a pitiful, knowing grin. "It pretty much smells like the armpits of someone who overindulged in garlic before an extensive workout. Yep, almost my exact sentiments when I think about this place, the arm pit of the colonies."
Heero was now completely baffled by his friend's words. "If you feel that way, then what are we doing here on our holiday and why would you even consider living and working here?"
"Why?" Duo asked, surprised at Heero's question. "Because it's home. I know and understand the people living here on the bottom rung of society. I empathize with their struggles and hard life because I've lived it. If I could, I would try to make it better for them."
Heero studied his friend for a moment. Here was yet another reason to admire the boy who came from so little and still had such a big heart.
"Come on, let's find that hotel and a place to eat, I'm starving." Duo said, grabbing hold of Heero's sleeve and pulling him along to the sign labeled L-2 Customs.
The hotel they were booked into wasn't new, but it was newly refurbished, like many other buildings and businesses on the colony, as funds for low interest loans came from Earth to help rebuild it after years of war, oppression and recession.
Entering room 409, the two tossed their bags onto their choice of the twin beds, then they left almost immediately to find a restaurant or diner. They returned around eight p.m and decided to stay in that night and catch up on each other's lives.
"So, how's it been guarding Relena?" Duo asked as he kicked off his shoes and brought his feet up on the bed to cross them in front of him.
"It's been hectic," Heero replied, laying down on his bed and putting his arms behind his head. "We both had full class schedules and a lot of homework. Other than that, we took in a few movies, a concert or two, and a quick lunch every other day."
"So...." Duo looked at him teasingly. "How are things between you two?"
"They're fine," Heero smiled at his friend. "We are developing a very close... friendship."
"Friendship?" Duo laughed. "We have a friendship Heero. Surely what you have with Relena is more than friendship."
Heero's smile faltered. "I value friendship above all other relationships, Duo. I don't have many people in my life that I think of being my friend, but I would hope anyone I would choose to spend a good portion of my time with would be counted as one."
Duo thought about it and gave his friend a gentle smile. "You're right. Even potential lovers should be friends first."
Seeing that Heero was not going to say more on the touchy subject, Duo depressed the button on the remote control and began to surf the channels.
"Let me know if you see anything you want to watch," he told his friend.
And so their time on L-2 began. The next morning they had breakfast in the restaurant in the hotel lobby, then ventured out to explore the colony. Duo was pleasantly surprised to learn that a lot of the wretchedly poor, that he'd remembered loitering the streets with him as a child, had been put on new public assistance programs, aided by other more wealthy colonies of which he learned L-4 was a major contributor. He made a mental note to himself to thank Quatre when he got home, knowing the blond had done this secretly on his behalf.
Anonymity was not a luxury the two former gundam pilots would have during their stay. The braided teen had been on the colony during the war and had been found out to be the pilot of the gundam Deathscythe. He had gained some notoriety while hiding there, and that popularity had risen dramatically since the end of the war nearly a year ago. Everywhere the two went, Duo was recognized and given free food, drink or a firm handshake from the citizens who looked to him as a local hero.
They met up with Hilde and spent an afternoon and evening with her, after which she invited them to her home for a home-cooked meal. Duo told her of his plans to look for employment on L-2 while continuing his education, and to his delight and surprise, she informed him of a newly established company owned by her uncle. She called him that night, set up an appointment for the next morning. Duo showed up on time and prepared with a resume in hand, thanks to Heero's small, portable laptop.
After an hour of talking together in his office, the owner of Finders Keepers, a procurer of scrapped mobile suits and ship parts, offered the former Shinigami a well paying job. An agreement was reached that Duo wouldn't be in the shipyard, his position, if he chose to accept it, would be as a consultant. He would be the official go-between for the customer with a specific need, and locating the item or material on hand. He would decide what was best for the customer's needs from what they had available. It was a job he thought he would enjoy, and as the pay was more than acceptable, he gave the man a tentative handshake in accepting the position, stipulating that he had make arrangements after the holidays to re-locate to L-2.
The owner of the affluent business, Mr. Hans Schweibeker, was more than happy to wait, telling Duo that he would even find suitable housing in a respectable area of the colony and close to work for him as a job bonus.
All in all, Duo was quite pleased with his vacation, though he could tell Heero was doubtful that his accepting a job and moving to L-2 was the wisest course to take. But his friend wisely held back his opinion and helped Duo in any way he could to get what he wanted.
They talked, shopped for holiday presents and ate at least five times a day. Heero could now claim that he single handedly helped the retail sales on colony of L-2. They found out that Howard was on the colony doing some business, and after a lengthy visit, they talked him into giving them a lift to L-4 on Christmas Eve so they could use the time to visit with him. He was easily persuaded.
The evening of the twenty second came too soon for the two former soldiers and it found the two having a serious discussion with each other about how they were going get all their many purchases from the hotel room down to a taxi and to Howard's ship.
Several large laundry bags in the bathroom were decided on to carry all the presents they had both purchased. The wrapped presents were placed in the bags and fastened off, leaving the two sitting on their beds trying to decide what to do with their last evening on the colony together. As they talked, the television set remained on and Heero mistakenly reached for the remote sitting next to Duo. The long-haired teen saw the movement and lunged for it also and the fun began. They ended up in a wrestling match covering the two beds and falling to the floor, the rolled across it, bumping into the beds and furniture as their laughter pealed out happily. Their fun lasted only until the neighbor in the room next to them knocked loudly against the wall, complaining at the noise they were making.
Heero proved to be the victor in that round as he ended up with the remote clasped firmly in his hand. Duo groaned as he stood up and sat on the edge of his bed as Heero turned the channel, stopping on a local news program, which they watched for the twenty minutes that remained of it, while Duo talked through most of it just to irritate his friend. Duo was then given a turn and he quickly switched the channel only to find the next one was a local program honoring the L-2 Teacher of the Year.
"Hey, I know her." Duo pointed to the woman in a nun's frock on the screen as she took the podium with a rousing applause sounding from the room she was in. "That's Sister Miriam. She sure looks older," he commented idly as his eyes took in the changes in her appearance. "When I knew her she had just started at P.S. 121, the school I was forced to attend for a short time." Suddenly a frown came to his face and Heero wondered what had triggered the unhappy look.
"That's where I first met Solo," Duo said quietly as old ghosts threatened to return and haunt him.
Heero knew the story of Solo, his friendship to his orphaned friend and how devastating his death had been to Duo.
"Turn it up," Heero requested, and Duo complied, both turning their attention to listening to the nun's acceptance speech.
She had been young and fresh from Earth when she first started at his school, Duo recalled. He could still see in his mind and her face back then. She had a small, pixie-like face, and red hair that he'd only seen at the very front of her forehead and the stray wisps around her temples as they escaped out of the black scarf that always covered her head. Of course she still wore the modified nun's habit hide that always hid her slender figure under it's yards of fabric. But her eyes, he remembered them, had been and still were a soft blue-green that sparkled with her many emotions, similar to Quatre's. Her skin back then hadn't been the white-chalky colony complexion that almost everyone living in space had, the skin tone that she now wore. Her voice, he recalled, had been heavily accented with an Irish brogue, but as a young child, he loved the sound of it, the difference from the L-2's American accent was new and refreshing. But now as he watched her on the television screen, ten years from when he'd last seen her, he noticed there were wrinkles marring her once creamy, seamless skin. The few freckles on cheeks kissed by sunshine that she'd brought with her from Earth were long gone. She now bore deep-lined crow's feet at the corners of her eyes and a pronounced furrow between them, no doubt from frequent worrying and sorrow that was part of life on this colony. Life on L-2 was hard on almost everyone who lived there during the wars and Duo had no doubt that the good sister had suffered like so many others, especially because she had seen poverty and death, and undoubtedly, like so many other preceding her, experienced frustration and anger in realizing her own inability to stop or prevent either.
As she continued to speak to the audience, both teens became engrossed by her words, spoken by a woman who had learned humility and wisdom amongst the poor.
"I have learned much from my years of teaching the children in this colony, and I know in my heart that I have learned more from the young ones who had nothing in the world but the clothes on their backs, and some without even a name, than I ever had the privilege to learn in college or to teach them in a classroom."
She smiled wistfully as she began her tale. "I came to L-2 fresh from Ireland," she said in a soft voice, now only lightly accented by her native dialect, and a small, deprecating smile on her lips. "How very young and truly naive I was as I stepped off that shuttle onto this destitute colony. I honestly thought my coming here would make a difference and with my devout determination alone, change this colony from it's reported poverty-ridden state to a place of higher spirituality and morality." She laughed at herself a moment before continuing. "And of course, along with those fine and noble qualities that I would teach the poor and destitute, and after having embraced them, I believed the blessings of prosperity would be their reward, solving all the social ills. After spending only a few days here, I'm ashamed to say that I saw so much ugliness, poverty and corruption among the ranks of the poor and homeless that I had wanted to flee to the nearest shuttle terminal and run home to County Cork."
She paused and allowed her eyes to scan the audience. "But after much meditation and fervent prayer, I reformulated my goals. My life mission, as I came to believe, was not to abandon my original, over-zealous goals to save the poor and wretched of L-2, to show them the error of their ways and make these lawless people into decent, civilized people and not the rabid animals I'd seen fighting over food, clothing, or a prime spot to sleep on the street at night. No, I set my sights to achieving my lofty goals by starting with the homeless children that I would be teaching, realizing the older people on the streets would be too set in their ways and resistant to change, even if it was for their betterment. The future I believed, and still do, starts with our children.
After consulting with the Archbishop, he reassigned me according to my desires and talents. I showed up at my new job at school, P.S. 121, armed with high ideals and a moral bias that I have since learned was entirely wrong.
I was informed that the class I would be assigned to had a variety of ages in it, from the youngest child of six year of age to the oldest at the age of twelve. They all had in common many of the same things, including homelessness, abandonment, hunger and cold. But they also shared the same lack of education including the inability to read or do mathematics. Most of the children that were in attendance in P.S.121 had little or no formal education and they were, for the most part, there against their will. You see, in those days the school received money for its operation based on the number of students in attendance. Thus it became the shameful practice of rounding up the street children and forcing them into a school situation they were ill prepared for. We believed at the time that it was a kindness, even though many protested quite loudly. As a reward for their attendance, they were each given temporary shelter at the closest family shelter and clothes to wear to school, and they came each day with a lunch provided by the shelter from which they were assigned.
I was warned that the class I was being assigned to had proved to be an unruly one, that other teachers before me had left after one week. Firmness and strict adherence to the rules were advised by the presiding Father Benedict in my orientation, as well as corporal punishment when needed.
I went into that classroom determined to do my best for the poor unfortunate children, left in ignorance of knowledge and faith. I had a strategy planned out to redeem them, and began to embark on it as soon as I was introduced as their new teacher."
Duo looked to Heero. "I was one of those kids dragged off the streets to go to school," he told his friend. "In fact, I kind of remember that day when she first came into the classroom. She was my first teacher." He then turned his eyes back to the screen as she continued to relate her story.
"I told my poor, underprivileged charges that they were there to learn the things that were necessary for a good life, and then one of the kids shouted out of turn, asking if I was going to teach them how to make money so they could buy what they needed? The other children didn't laugh at the attempted joke, but their eyes bore into mine with a hope that the suggestion was true.
'No,' I told them, all twenty nine of them, 'first we are going to learn about rules.' Of course they moaned at the mere suggestion of the word. Then I told them that they were going to be the authors of those rules and they would set the consequences of those rules when they were broken. That got their attention, and so we spent a good part of the morning of my very first day with the children listing possible misdeeds and how the breaker of the rules would be punished. It went well, I thought, and I remember mentally patting myself on the back for being so very clever.
For several weeks the classroom proceeded on in a rather normal fashion. We had a few bumps, but nothing that needed a strict hand or necessary punishment until one day," she paused for a moment, "one of the older boys had his lunch taken."
"Oh God," Duo whispered in a strained voice. Heero turned his head to look at his friend and saw that Duo's eyes were wide and filling with excess moisture. He quickly moved from his bed to sit next to his friend and reached out to touch the black clad shoulder. "What's the matter?" he asked.
Duo shook his head as if unable to utter an answer, his eyes still glued to the nun speaking on the television.
"You have to understand what food means to a homeless, orphaned child who knows little but hunger and starvation," the nun continued. "Food to them is like gold or fine, expensive jewels to the rest of us, and the theft of something so precious was considered a grievous offense. We immediately began a systematic search for the lunch bag and finally, after checking all desks, found it hidden under the large jacket of one of our younger and smaller children. The little boy's name had been listed on the rolls as Scrapper. I had been told he usually had to fight for his place in the pecking order of the colony's street poor, and thus earned a name for himself.
Now Scrapper was a pitiful sight. He had no last name and no family. He was one of the thousands of homeless children who did what they could to survive. The other kids seemed to like him, but I learned quickly that on the streets there could only be one person you looked out for, and that was yourself. Little Scrapper was so young and small that it didn't look like he could care for a fly much less himself, and yet he survived.
He had a mop of brown, ratty hair that looked like it had never been washed or cut and large, expressive eyes that were pitiful and sad. He constantly wore the coat that was given him at the shelter and the oversized pants were held around his tiny waist by twine. When he was found to be the one who'd stolen the lunch, my heart tightened painfully in my chest. I knew the punishment that had been set for stealing something as precious as a lunch, and more than anything in my life, I did not want to meet its consequence out to him.
The children taunted little Scrapper as I brought him forward to the front of the class, telling him he was going to get it now for being so bad. "What's the punishment for stealing a lunch?" I asked the class, hoping they'd fudge and give the little guy some forgiveness and compassion. But I hadn't reckoned on the hardness of their hearts. Food was one of those essentials you didn't take easily from another hungry mouth; that act was deemed unforgivable on the streets of L-2."
Heero snuck another look at Duo to see his friend's face was filled with silent anguish. "Do you want me to turn the channel?" he asked, concerned as to why the nun's story was affecting his friend so much. Maybe it was too close to what Duo had lived through on this colony and it brought back too many memories.
"No, leave it," Duo choked out, his eyes near to brimming over with unshed tears. Heero sighed, not knowing what to do other to sit with his friend and listen to the story that was wrenching Duo's heart.
The nun continued with a sad face. "The children shouted back, 'Ten whacks with his coat off.' It was a harsh punishment. The rod selected for punishment was a switch from off the tree at the back of the school. It would hurt if a blow, or whack was delivered by a child, but even more so from an adult. But the children had insisted at the time we wrote down the punishments that any child receiving the whacks not wear their coat as a barrier against the sting of the stick. To me this seemed severe, but I was caught between my sympathy for the child and the wrongness of his actions, requiring punishment. My conscience argued that Scrapper knew the rules and the consequences when he broke them, that he should be willing to bear the punishment if he was willing to break the rule.
"Off with your coat," I told him firmly, steeling myself for what was to come. A rule was broken and a price had to be paid. It was a good lesson for the unruly homeless to learn, I told myself, hardening my own heart for the beating I knew I had to deliver. This was the first major offense a student had made in my classroom. I knew if I let this incident slide, the rules and consequences would lose all credibility in the eyes of my other students. I couldn't risk having them return back to the unruly bunch they had been before I arrived and the rules had been made.
It was then, at that moment, when Scraper looked up at me with his large luminous eyes, nearly a shade of purple, and he quietly begged me, "Please, don't make me take my coat off." He didn't beg for the punishment to be lessened or for mercy, he just didn't want to take off his coat and he clutched the front of it with his two small and slightly dirty hands to hold it in place.
'He has to take it off,' several of other children demanded, having overheard his plea. I had no choice, I thought, than to follow through. 'Take it off now Scrapper or double your lashes.' I told him firmly.
With tears flowing down his face, he slowly unbuttoned his jacket and reluctantly let it slip to the floor. I had to fight back my own horror and tears as I beheld what had been hidden under the jacket. Scrapper didn't have a shirt on. Before me stood the first real look at homelessness that I'd ever seen. The little orphaned boy that stood trembling before me was skin and bone. His ribs and shoulder blades, as well as his spine and collar bone protruded from his pale skin that sported numerous bruises and sores. My chest tightened and tears came to my eyes as I beheld the boy's unfortunate state. It was then that I noticed the silence in the room and looked up to see all eyes were on me, waiting for me to make a decision.
I realized in that moment that all of these children probably looked similar to Scrapper, and that if I let him off the hook by his appearance alone, I would never be able to control the class again as they would know the rules wouldn't apply to any of them either because of their wretched condition.
As my heart fell into my stomach, I looked at Scrapper and quietly told him to bend over my desk. With a stifled sob escaping his trembling lips, he did as he was told. I watched as he lay his messy haired head on the uncorrected penmanship papers and tightly squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the first blow and for the pain to come.
With dread and anguish, I positioned myself to the side of him and raised my hand clutching the rod up, ready to deliver the first of the ten blows to his little bottom that had no extra flesh on it to protect him, only the thin material of his worn, oversized school pants. I prayed for forgiveness, and began to lower my arm when I heard a boy's voice shout out from the back of the room, 'No, don't!'
I let my arm fall to my side, grateful for the short reprieve, and turned to locate the boy who had spoken out. My eyes widened with surprise to see it was the same boy who'd had his lunch stolen. He jumped up from his seat and came running up to my desk. Putting one of his hands on Scrapper's head, he turned and looked at me. "I'll take the whacks for him," he said bravely.
He then picked up the little boy's coat and gently eased Scrapper from off my desk. As the little tyke stood there, confused as to what was going on, the older boy helped him put on the discarded coat and carefully buttoned the front up for him. The saved little boy looked at the bigger boy questioningly, not understanding what had happened to save him from his punishment.
Setting Scrapper safely to the side, the older boy turned away from me and bent over to grab his ankles. "Ten strikes and that's all," he reminded me with a frown.
I swallowed back my tears as I raised my hand holding the rod once again. I counted each of the blows to his posterior, each one marking my soul as I prayed I would never have to do this again. When I reached the count of five, little Scrapper, who had been standing only a few feet away, flung himself at the older boy. With arms wrapped tightly around his savior's neck, little Scrapper cried into his neck, 'I'm sorry, so sorry I took your lunch. Please forgive me, I'll love you forever Solo for taking the whacks for me."
Heero's eyes widened at the naming of the older boy in the story and realization of the significance of the story hit him. He moved to sit even closer to Duo and put an arm around his friend's trembling body as they listened to the rest of the story.
Sister Miriam looked up into the camera with eyes filled with tears as she continued. "Soon after that, as was quite common in public schools, most of the homeless children left the school and their shelters for the familiarity of the streets. Solo and Scrapper stopped coming to class at the same time, and though I have always hoped Solo took Scrapper and protected him, I never did learn what happened to either one. But in the short time they were in my care, I learned a great lesson from the two of them." A tear trickled down her face and she wiped at it with a white tissue. "In the years that I've been a nun and served my God, I have never seen a more Christ-like love than the love Solo showed for little Scrapper that day. He willingly sacrificed himself, his comfort and pride, for a little boy who had wronged him. That day, and many days since, I learned that goodness and kindness exist on all planes of existence and not just from the rich and affluent, who can afford to be kind; not just by the people of moderate means who try with their limited resources to help the unfortunate; but even amongst the poorest of poor, here on the reported most wretched colony in space, kindness and goodness can be found. I was humbled and still am by the love displayed that day. It became my most memorable teaching moment, not one where I taught some important math or science lesson to my students, but one where I was taught a life lesson by a child. I'm not a great teacher, ladies and gentlemen, many more people deserve this award much more than myself, but I consider myself privileged to have met many good children, worthy children, God's children, who have taught me innumerable lessons that have strengthened my faith, and for that I am eternally grateful."
As sister Miriam stepped away from the podium, the audience, teary eyed at the nun's story, erupted in applause. But not far away, in the hotel room where two teenage ex-soldiers sat side by side, it was silent but for the occasional sniffing sound that came from one of them. Heero reached over and took the remote from Duo's slack hand and shut off the television, then turned and wrapped his arms around his friend who was silently crying.
"You were Scrapper?" Heero whispered, already knowing the answer before Duo nodded his head and struggled to control his emotions.
"It's alright," Heero told him in as comforting a manner as he could. "You were fortunate to have met Solo there and that he was a good friend to you," he consoled his friend while holding him tightly.
There were no words between them for the rest of the night. Duo didn't feel emotionally strong enough to talk about his past, and Heero didn't know what to do to help. The former Wing pilot settled them both back onto Duo's bed and pulled the covers from off to top of his own bed to lay over them. He held his friend that night, just as he had during the war, offering him warmth and comfort, silently letting Duo know that he still had friends who cared about him as much as Solo had years before.
The next morning Heero located the address of the nun who had received the award the night before. After a quick breakfast, the two left the hotel with their duffle bags and three laundry bags filled with Christmas presents. Those items stayed in the taxi as Heero stood along side his friend when Duo stood on Sister Miriam's doorstep and rang her doorbell. Several long moments later, the door opened and, with a warm, welcoming smile and a curious look in her eyes, Sister Miriam greeted them.
"I saw you on t.v. last night," Duo began to explain, his voice sounding nervous.
"Were you one of my students?" she asked with her smile still in place.
Duo paused and looked up into the nun's face, seeing wisps of fading red hair escaping from out of her black head scarf. "I'm Scrapper," he told her in a quiet voice.
The woman's eyes widened slightly, and she moved forward to embrace the young man, now so different in appearance from the ragged, nearly starved little boy in her classroom.
"I've worried about you all these years," she said as she pulled back from him, her soft hands encasing his face. "Do you have a few moments to come in and tell me your story?"
Duo nodded. "I have a little time before I need to catch a shuttle with my friend," he alluded to Heero.
The green eyes turned for the first time to take in Heero. It was obvious that she recognized him at first sigh. Then, turning back to Duo, her eyes widened in astonishment at the realization of who he was. "You're the gundam pilots!" she gasped in a tone of awe.
Duo nodded bashfully.
Sister Miriam's face softened with tenderness as she gazed at him. "To think that little skinny, little waif grew up and defended the colonies," she said as her eyes misted over. "I'm so proud of you."
Taking Duo's arm, she led him inside, motioning for Heero to follow them into the humble abode that was her home. After take a seat on the well-worn couch, Duo told her a short, edited version of his life up until he became a pilot under G, including Solo's death. An hour later they left the nun with drying tear streaks on her face and a wistful smile on her lips.
They made it to Howard's ship on time and stored their belongings. As they left L-2 behind, Duo's somber mood that had persisted all day, lightened as he began to joke with Howard and the crew members from the former Peacemillion who were former friend's of the Deathscythe pilot.
Heero had dismissed himself and excused himself to go to the communications to check in with Une and Relena. It was there that heard the shocking news, telling of Relena's kidnaping while visiting one of the colonies. He stood and turned, determined to find Duo and inform him their plans for Christmas had just changed only to find his friend standing in the doorway. "Relena's been kidnaped," Heero told him, and silence filled the air as the two looked at each other. They both came to the realization that their lives were changing once again. They were going to be heading towards a battle that was unwanted but evidently necessary, and each pilot secretly wished for his gundam, currently headed for the sun in a Winner satellite.
Note: I don't have any other DFA typed up at the moment, so please be patient with me because it will be a while before the next one shows up. Too many projects going on right now, but there is more to the story. My computer is also acting unpredictable and all around terrible, sorry about that.