He struggled through the door with almost a dozen broken-down cardboard boxes under one arm and a plastic bag dangling from the other. His keys jangled in the lock and fell to the floor as he tried wiggling them free. Swearing softly, he kicked them inside and tossed in the boxes after. He closed the door with his boot, and stood scanning the apartment. A dozen hours had passed from when he'd left that morning, but the blanket and pillow still lay piled at one end of the couch, and his overnight bag next to the table.
For a moment he could almost hear his voice and closed his eyes to capture the phantom sound. Not going to happen, so just get on with it, he commanded himself.
Moving to the couch, he sat and opened the bag. Large meatball sub, small bag of chips and a bottled pop were lined up in a vertical row before he pulled the newspaper out. He skimmed through the headlines as he opened the sandwich wrapping. An article on a local murder held his attention; his sandwich clutched half-way to his mouth. A couple of bites later, he turned the page. A splotch of sauce fell on his hand. He looked for a napkin and not finding one, wiped it off on his jeans.
Methodically making his way through the news, he slowly consumed his dinner. Pausing only on the obits, and then the public record, he chuckled darkly at the notorious name mentioned under the court proceedings heading. Sandwich finished, he opened the chips, and continued his perusal. He by-passed the football standings, lingered over a write up on spring training camps and nodded in silent agreement at the hockey line-up. Crumpling up the chip bag, he tossed it after the sandwich wrapper and reached for the bottle. He finished the drink before the last comic strip was read.
One more night and tomorrow, homeward bound. He rose and ran a hand over his face, wishing for the umteenth time Quatre hadn't been called away at the last minute to leave it all to himself to take care of. Another delay was another month's rent, and that ate at his frugal soul.
His hand caressed the worn fabric on the couch's arm, a half wistful smile appeared. He'd been there when the thing had been bought at a second hand store, and helped cart it up the stairs. He'd shared many memories on its cushions - fun, happy, passionate, sad and bitter ones. It was scheduled for pick-up from the veterans charities the following morning. Most all the furnishings were earmarked as well.
Saved for last, he picked up the boxes and headed for the bedroom. Dresser clothes that remained were shoved in one box, no care given to their condition. They would have be sorted later, but not by his hand. He used the newspaper to wrap the two framed photographs on the dresser, barely giving them a look. He knew what snapshots they held and didn't need the reminder. The heavy wooden box with filigree inlay he padded and wrapped thickly in paper before winding the roll of tape over and over to hold. The change cup, heavy with coins, he enveloped in paper and taped. His hand paused over the lotion and he carried it to his bag in the other room.
When he returned, the emptiness of the wall over the bed startled him; so used to the pictures that hung there, he had forgotten they were the first items carefully wrapped and crated for shipment. Separated by space, years apart in their creation, he'd been there when they were discovered. He had seen they were a pair though painted by different artists.
The nightstand surface held simple things - an alarm clock that was never needed, a forgotten book not finished, his spare watch, a uniform tie. The drawer revealed half empty tubes, a wadded up candybar wrapper, a notebook, three pens, a men's guide to better health magazine and a laminated pass card to the Pleasure Palace he used as a bookmark. The tubes, wrapper and pens were tossed in the garbage sack. The card he put in his wallet, half smiling remembering the day he'd given it. The rest he packed.
Nothing was under the bed, but then he didn't expect there to be.
Most of the clothes he removed from hangers, folded haphazardly and put into boxes. It was getting late and he wanted to finish, go to sleep on the couch and be done with this. The shoes he threw on top of dress shirts, slacks and spare uniforms. Copy paper boxes were pulled from the top shelf; one containing printouts of mission reports from years past. He almost walked them personally to the dumpster, but sealed it instead. He'd find out what to do with the reports later - after he got home. The other box, surprised him.
Photographs, loose and many – of him, of them together – were scattered throughout the box, stuck between pages of journals, mixed in with carefully preserved keepsakes. Ticket stubs to places he barely remembered being at, shows he knew they'd seen, vacations taken and enjoyed. He blinked rapidly for several minutes before replacing the lid. He'd never known it was there. He'd never asked, never dreamed he would hold such things with enough sentimental value to treasure. His hand shook as he taped the box shut.
A last sweep of the closet floor, he found a flat package, missed before. Pulling it from its spot, he found it heavy and sat to lift its lid. The sound of his gasp was masked by his mobile phone chiming, and he scrambled to fish it out of his pocket.
"Oh! It's you," he nearly laughed. "Wasn't expecting you to call."
"We made good time and are almost finished. The warden let me out to see how you're doing."
Duo grimaced. "Not bad, really. Just a lot of ...memories, you know?"
"I know." The voice hesitated. "I'm sorry I couldn't be there. You know I would if I could have."
"I know it's not your fault, work happens. So, don't worry about it. Besides, I'm almost done." He sat back, resting against the bed, his feet propped out in front of him. "That veterans place is coming for the furniture in the morning. One of Howard's crews is coming by at noon with a truck and we'll load the boxes and stuff being shipped. And Relena said she'd come pick up that ...stuff." His nose scrunched up comically.
"It sounds like you have everything under control," the voice held a fond smile sort of tone. "It's as though you don't even need me."
He snorted. "Don't believe that." His boot kicked the flat box and he almost frowned at it. "Hey," he said softly, almost shyly. "I found the brick."
There was a pause. "Brick?"
"You know, that flat thing in the closet."
"Oh," the voice became amused. "I meant to bring that with me. And it's not a brick. It's a paving stone."
Duo looked it over again. Carved over its surface the words were inscribed. The Maxwell-Yuys, Est. April 13, 205 "What's it for?"
"My thought was that maybe we could make a little garden in the backyard. It would make a nice start on a walkway, don't you think?"
"God, Heero," he laughed softly. "You can be such a ...romantic!" His eyes landed on the taped-up box and softened. "Sometimes, I'm not sure I know you very well."
Silence held for a heartbeat. Then two. "You've a lifetime to find out."
Leaning back, Duo dropped his head on the mattress, closing his eyes. "And I plan on enjoying every minute of it."