Despite Jay's attempts, Heero was no nicer to Duo. Well, he really didn't have a chance to be any nicer since Duo had been avoiding him for the past three days. Duo hung out with the other students, digging in the library or helping Father Maxwell. In the evenings, he played cards and sometimes basketball at the makeshift hoop by the showers.
However, Jay had been right about Heero needing his help. He removed and sifted bucket after bucket of dirt until his trowel made that familiar "clink" sound when it struck hard flooring. He scraped the floor clean with renewed vigor and sifted it all before approaching Duo after lunch break.
"I need you to look at something for me," he said. He tried to make his tone of voice sound casual, but it felt awkward to be asking for help after he'd kicked Duo out. Duo just looked at him.
"I've finally cleared the dirt off the floor, and there's some writing on it I want you to have a look at," Heero continued self-consciously.
"Do you mean I'm actually being cordially invited to the temple?" Duo asked with a smirk, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Yes," Heero answered, trying to disguise his annoyance. He turned and walked in the direction of the temple in a take-it-or-leave-it way.
"Are you going to kick me out again?" Duo asked, following.
"Not until you've translated it for me," Heero said. Duo snorted in laughter.
His tune changed when they stepped into the temple. "Oh, wow," he breathed. The floor was indeed tile like he'd imagined. It was a large geometric pattern with writing interspersed in its star-like shape.
"Well," Duo said cocking his head, "it's Phoenician, if that helps you date it."
Heero nodded and asked, "You know Phoenician?"
"I'm still learning. It's hard to get my hands on the books, but I think it's important to know. I mean, they taught the Greeks, you know?" he said.
"I know," Heero said almost defensively. The Phoenicians had been ahead of their time in creating characters to represent a sound, rather than an idea or phrase. The Greeks had called them Phoeniks because of a color of dye they were known for, but the word later came to describe the people, and survived today as the word phonetic because of their sound-based language.
Duo walked around a little bit as he surveyed the floor. "You know, it's the same five-pointed star pattern as the cut-outs in the dome," he noted.
Heero looked up. "Seems to be the theme in here," he said.
"Hold on, let me get my sketch book, I'm going to copy it down!"
Duo disappeared before Heero could say a word and returned shortly with his sketchbook, a pencil, and a ruler. He plunked down right on the doorway steps and started to draw. There were three steps, just as Heero had predicted. "Don't mind me," he told Heero, "go ahead and do what you were gonna do."
Heero watched him for a moment and then went back to work. Having cleared the floor, he was about to start the walls. The walls rose about ten feet before the dome started. There was a gently-sloping dome below the steeper, copula-like dome that the stars were cut into. Heero decided to start on the wall with the door and set up the stepladder. He climbed up and gently started to scrape the dirt away with a small, spoon-sized leaf trowel. Luckily, the dirt was less than an inch thick and not too hard, but he was very anxious to see what was under it.
"You know," he said after a moment of deliberation, "since you seem to be so good at picking dirt off the wall, why don't you help me?"
"Really?" Duo asked, looking up. "Cool, just lemme finish." Duo smiled as he went back to his drawing. He didn't even notice Heero approach him from the side later until he heard a grunt of approval.
"Hn. Looks pretty good," Heero remarked about the drawing. Duo had perfectly captured the pattern and the writing, and he even included a little north-arrow to orient the picture. It was much better than the one he had drawn in his own journal. His was perfectly to scale and all that, but Heero was no artist.
"Think so?" Duo said with a grin. "Thanks!" He left his book by the door and picked up his borrowed trowel.
"Just be careful," Heero stressed as he showed Duo the delicate scraping technique he was using. Duo nodded and started on the other side of the door.
The stone room was completely silent except for the sound of scraping and it didn't take long before Duo was feeling a little fidgety. He still didn't think Heero liked him and it was making him nervous, and when he got nervous, he tended to talk a lot. He didn't think he could coax Heero into a conversation, so he started talking about what had been happening in the library the last few days. He stopped every so often to give Heero a chance to contribute some input, but he never did.
It was almost dizzying to Heero. He was used to, and quite enjoyed, the solitude of being alone. He was severely tempted to kick the annoying kid out, but he really wanted to get the walls done. He would kick Duo out after that.
Without questioning each other, both boys stayed well past quitting time to finish the first wall. It turned out to be a beautiful mosaic of the countryside. Duo stood back a moment to stare. The color and the detail were stunning. And all produced by tiny chunks of colored tile! It took his breath away. He could tell it had a similar effect on Heero, who was lightly brushing off the last of the clinging dirt with a paintbrush.
When Heero stood back, he looked with both awe and perplexity.
"What is it?" Duo asked curiously when he noticed Heero's expression.
Heero didn't take his eyes off the mosaic. "At this point, I'm assuming it's Roman, but they didn't usually use mosaic on walls. It was used on floors and fresco on walls," he said, scanning it again.
"Well, it's gorgeous," Duo said, "mind if I come back here tonight to sketch it?" He knew it would be light well past dinnertime.
"Foregoing the nightly card games?" Heero asked, with a hint of sarcasm.
Duo chuckled, "They're sick of losing to a fourteen-year-old I think. I've only been here four days!"
Heero grunted in response and then added, "I'll come with you." He didn't like the idea of Duo being here alone, especially since they weren't even supposed to come onto the site after hours.
Dr. Jay was very pleased to see Duo and his nephew come back to camp together and sit down with him at the table.
"Late for dinner!" Father Maxwell observed with an amused smile, "Duo, that's not like you!"
"Find something interesting?" Jay asked.
"Yeah!" Duo answered immediately, "the wall we cleared off today was a mosaic! It's so beautiful, the greens and yellows are amazing!"
Heero glared at his food as Duo jabbered on. Since when did that kid have the right to report his find? Well, he had helped, but 'we'? Since when was there a 'we' involved in this? Duo was now definitely out when the walls were done.
After dinner, Duo brought his sketchbook and Heero toted his journal back to the temple. Heero had been planning on recording today's discovery in his journal tonight, and would probably have snuck back here anyway. Of course he had been recording as he dug, but a find like this deserved some extra attention.
The two boys sat cross-legged on the tile floor and got to work. It was strangely silent in the temple. It was nice to Heero, but now so palpable. Duo was being so quiet; his silence made Heero curious as to what he was doing. A quick glance revealed that Duo appeared to be
concentrating. Heero shrugged and went back to his own work. But after some time, his curiosity won out and he scooted over to see Duo's drawing.
Duo smiled when he approached and held his book out to Heero. It was a pencil outline, but it was lovely. And perfect. Everything was to size and he'd left nothing out. He'd gotten all the hills, and the grass, the trees, the grazing animals, the houses in the distance. "I think I'm going to paint it tomorrow, if that's ok," Duo said.
He gave an approving grunt that sounded much like Jay's and gave the book back. They continued working until it was too dark to see anymore.
The next day, after breakfast, Duo gathered his brushes and oil paints and followed Heero back to the temple. Heero had some extra gear with him today. When they arrived, he set it up, and Duo could see that it was a light, the kind photographers used, with a large umbrella over the bulb.
"This room has terrible lighting for photographs and drawing," Heero offered. He didn't say anything after that, and got to work on the opposite wall. Duo sat down and started painting.
Duo talked less today, which was a relief for Heero. Every once in a while, Duo would say something, usually about the mosaic or the city. Sometimes Heero would grunt in return, usually he just said nothing.
"Don't talk a lot, do you?" Duo asked, not looking up.
Heero shrugged as he continued working, "I talk when I have something to say."
Duo gave his back a dubious look. It was obvious that there was a lot more going on in Heero's head than came out his mouth. He'd been trying to get Heero to say something, but nothing had worked so far. He was pretty close to giving up. "The mosaic is so green, it kind of surprises me. I didn't think the countryside around here was that green. What do you think?" he asked, trying a direct question.
Duo was delighted to get an answer, simple as it may have been. "Well, if the Romans made it, then they could be recalling some image from home."
Later that day, the boys hurried through lunch so they could get back to the temple. Duo was finished with the painting shortly after that.
Heero shook his head. "That's beautiful," he admitted, and it was. Duo had a talent for mixing paints, and had captured not only the look, but the feel of the mosaic. "Help me with the second wall, and then you can paint that one too."
Together, they were able to finish the second wall by dinner. It was a blue sky and a brilliant golden sun, decorated with sparse white clouds and dotted with majestic birds. Just looking at it felt like flying.
Duo spent the entire next day hunched over, drawing and painting the mosaic. It had taken him longer than it normally would have because he was being very picky about getting the light blue hues just right. He was being quieter now too because he was feeling less insecure around Heero. He and Heero had both gotten up even earlier to get back to the temple in the morning. They had worked straight through lunch today without realizing it. It was exhilarating. Luckily, Father Maxwell had brought them a few plates of food in the afternoon.
It wasn't quite yet dinnertime when Duo finished, and Heero was half done with the third wall. Duo stood and stretched. "Ugh, I can't sit here anymore!" he exclaimed.
Heero nodded in agreement. He needed a break too. They had trudged half way back to camp when Duo did something odd. They had reached a small grassy patch when Duo just dropped his things and flipped himself up into a handstand. Just like that, and he was upside down. His shirt fell down exposing his pale chest.
"What are you doing?" Heero asked, puzzled. Duo let himself fall onto his back.
"I dunno," he answered, "handstands are good for stretching your back. I need to move, you know? I've been sitting cramped up all day!" He did a backbend and kicked up into another handstand. He looked over at Heero, who was upside down to him and still just watching him with a suspicious, "you are crazy," look. Duo laughed
"I bet you can't do one!" he challenged. He grinned at the competitive look that appeared in the other boy's eyes.
"I bet I can!" Heero countered. He planted his hands on the ground and kicked his legs up into the air - way too hard. He fell onto his back with a shocked huff. While he did more archaeology than sports, he was very athletic. He had very good control over his body and was a little shocked at its betrayal.
Duo laughed. "Just don't kick so hard!" he called, flat on his own back again. Heero tried again and got it perfect. "See? There you go," Duo encouraged him. It was nice to see Heero goof around. That kid worked way too much. He stood on his hands again and 'walked' over to Heero, trying to kick him over.
"Hey!" Heero exclaimed, caught off guard. His tee shirt chose an inopportune time to flop over his face, and after some valiant thrashing, he was lying in the grass. Duo fell next to him, laughing hysterically. Heero elbowed him in the shoulder. Their laughing dwindled until they were wordlessly watching the sky.
"Hey, I never saw your painting today," Heero remembered, breaking the silence. Duo scooted over to where he'd left it in the grass, and handed it to Heero before laying next to him again. Heero sat up to look at it. "Wow," he breathed. It was an embarrassingly inarticulate statement, but it was all he could think of. He looked at the other boy, who had his arms behind his head and was staring at the clouds.
"Duo," Heero said. The boy's cobalt eyes flicked over to him. "Do you think you could paint in my journal?" he asked almost timidly. "Not anything elaborate, just something quick. Yours are better than mine
"Sure," Duo answered with a smile, "how about a few quick water colors? That takes me less time that the oils."
Heero nodded in approval.
"So, what was in the dirt you cleared out?" Duo asked.
"Just regular Roman fill," Heero answered.
"Which would be
?" Duo prompted him further.
"Oh. Animal bones, pottery sherds, chunks of plaster, just about anything they had lying around," he told Duo, "I did find a coin."
"Really?" Duo asked excitedly.
Heero shrugged, "A small copper one. I already gave it to Judy to look at. If she can clean it, we'll have a date."
"I learned how to tell the metals apart yesterday!" Duo announced proudly.
"Uh huh, copper turns green like the Statue of Liberty, silver turns black, iron rusts, and you can tell lead by the weight," Duo recounted.
Heero nodded. "How about bronze?" he asked.
"Not seen any of that yet," Duo admitted.
Both of them quiet for a moment.
"You know," Duo said thoughtfully, "those mosaics end right about at the level of the dirt floor you removed. They don't reach the tile floor."
That was an astute observation, Heero decided. "And what does that mean?" he tested.
Duo thought a moment before answering, "That... they filled in the floor and then decorated the walls?"
"Most likely," Heero nodded. "So what does that mean?"
"That the dirt floor and the mosaic walls are from the same time?"
"Yeah, they're contemporary, and what you didn't see was the Roman cacciopesto cement paving in there that I broke up. So, the mosaics are most likely Roman."
Duo couldn't help smiling. This was so cool! And Heero really did talk when he had something to say.
"Wait a minute," Duo thought out loud, "then we're looking at the wrong floor with those walls."
Heero frowned. That was true.
"Why'd you rip out the floor right away?" Duo asked.
"I just had a feeling there was something under it. I just wanted to get the floor done first," Heero tried to explain. Maybe he should have cleared the walls first after all.
Duo continued, "And if the walls we're looking at now went with the floor you took out, then couldn't there be something under the mosaics? Something that went with the tile floor?"
"Probably," Heero said, "assuming the floor is Phoenician like you say, and they used the temple, they probably had their own decoration. It's probably been destroyed, though, either by the mortar to put up the wall mosaics, or before that."
Duo nodded in understanding. Everything was silent for a few minutes, even Duo, but Heero couldn't stop thinking about him. He had a lot of skills Heero hadn't anticipated when they first met. He had only been here five days and he was thinking critically about archaeology. His artistic skills were superb and he was unusually talented with languages. Dead ones, anyway.
"Where did you learn languages?" Heero asked.
"From Father Maxwell. I started about age seven believe it or not," Duo answered, "Father started teaching me the Greek alphabet as a punishment. I had to write it lower case and capitals and recite the letter names." Duo paused and laughed lowly, "I got in trouble a lot, so I learned it pretty quickly, then I wanted to know what noises the letters made. Then I was pronouncing words and wanted to know what they meant. Father's always loved Biblical archaeology and he knows so many languages himself, he's a really good teacher. I hadn't even mastered Greek yet when I wanted Latin too. Father knows Arabic really well, so he's teaching me that right now, and I'm studying the Phoenician from books by myself."
Heero was floored by this. He had been studying Latin for two years and was nowhere as good as Duo, who had learned four languages in the last seven years. Orphanage kept running through Heero's mind. "So, are you training to be a priest or something?" he asked suddenly.
"Me?" Duo asked at him incredulously. "No way! What would make you think that?"
"Don't you live in a church orphanage?"
"Yeah, but that's because I have no parents. I have to live there," Duo laughed. "No one wanted to adopt me, so Father Maxwell just let me stay. Nah, church isn't for me. I know Father would like me to go to seminary or whatever, but I don't think I even believe in god."
"You don't?" Heero asked. He'd never given the matter much thought himself, but he figured Duo must have because he must live with religion all around him.
Duo shook is head. "Seen too much bad stuff," he said cryptically.
Heero sat up and looked at Duo. "Like what?" he asked.
Duo stood quickly and stretched up. "We'd better get back or we'll miss dinner!" he exclaimed when he was done. Duo started off in the direction of the campsite and Heero jumped up and trotted after the other boy. Duo had just blatantly avoided his question. Either he was lying about the 'bad stuff' or he didn't want to talk about it. Something Duo didn't like talking about? Heero was instantly curious.
Duo showed Jay and Father the painting at dinner, and both were very impressed.
"So, Duo, tomorrow is our first day off, any idea what you want to do?" Father Maxwell asked.
"A day off already?" Duo asked. "Uh, I dunno, what about going into the modern city?"
"That's a great idea!" Jay said. "There's a bazaar on the near side of town, a public beach, the museum, and some temples you could tour. Heero knows enough of the local Hebrew to get by, he'll show you around."
Duo chattered on excitedly about the coming day's plans, and completely missed the glare Heero threw at his uncle.
"Uncle," Heero hissed, catching up to him later, "why did you volunteer me to take Duo around town? I was planning on working tomorrow! I always work on days off, you know that!"
"Yes, I know," Jay answered, "and that's why I volunteered you. He'll need some help navigating the city and you need some time off too!"
"But Uncle! I'm just getting into something big in the temple!" Heero tried to argue.
"For Christ's sake, Heero, take a day off, would you? The temple will still be there later," Jay exclaimed, losing patience. "You're too intense sometimes! Just like your father, I swear. When you're out here, you eat, sleep, and breathe archaeology! And you're not even being graded like the students are! Look," the man continued, putting his hands on his nephew's shoulders, "it's not that I don't appreciate your hard work, but you need to take a break. Have some fun tomorrow, I'll even give you some money."
"All right," Heero relented grudgingly, kicking dirt with the toe of his boot. Jay must be serious if he was going to give him extra money.