By Natalie Baan
Setting his cup down on the ironwork table, Quatre turned in his seat. He gazed out of the room's tall window. Framed in its slender arch, he could see the town's roofline, the lines of washing straggling across the tops of low, square buildings, and behind that the richly orange sunset flushing the horizon. Higher up, where the sky faded to pale gold and then deepened through blue into indigo, there was a single, piercingly radiant star. When night had fallen and the last of the sunlight had left the sky, they would be moving once more.
Quatre half-stood, leaning to look across the window's wide sill, trying to capture in his memory the image of the small desert town as it was: the narrow streets and alleys swept clear of sand, the unadorned faces of its buildings, and the infinite sphere of sky curving in glory above all that simplicity. Slowly the sky continued to change--as slowly as a flower unfolding itself--transforming minute by minute into the pure black of space.
Of their home....
There was a gusty sigh and the sound of a book being slapped shut. Quatre sank back into his seat. Hooking an ankle around its leg, he glanced quizzically at Duo. The Shinigami's pilot was sprawled on a backless divan, his boots on the cushioned arm rest and one of Quatre's books pressed in between his palms. Restlessly he flipped the book high into the air, caught it again, and then rocked upright to shove it back inside Quatre's bag.
Quatre smiled. Poor Duo...it was obvious that he was dying to get on the road. He'd already gone through everything in Quatre's small duffle. He'd skimmed a little bit here and there in every book that Quatre'd brought, interspersing the halfhearted attempts at reading with pacing and, of course, floods of mostly one-sided conversation, and now he was up once again, playing with the tassels on one of the room's ornamental lamps with fitful, restless energy. He was like an active cat, Quatre thought in amusement, always on the prowl, always seeking the center of things, the warmest, brightest spot, the focus of everybody else's attention, whether he realized it consciously or not. The picture of Duo as a cat appealed to Quatre, and he rested his chin on his hand to half-hide his widening smile. Blowing out another breath, Duo batted at the lamp pull, then clumped back over to sit down on the divan. He pulled out his gun and checked the chamber for at least the third time, dumping the bullets into his hand and then putting them back one by one. Foot propped on the seat this time, he bowed his head over the work, brown bangs falling forward over intent, absorbed eyes. His braid spilled onto the red and gold seat cushion, the tip of it dangling just off the divan's edge.
"Duo?" The American pilot looked up, and Quatre bit his lip, wondering if the question that had just occurred to him was something that Duo might take wrongly. Then he decided to ask it anyway, even if it seemed a bit strange. "Do you ever let your hair out of its braid?" Duo's eyebrows raised, and Quatre blushed. "I mean, I know you must in order to wash it, but...I've never seen it any other way."
"Ah." Duo grinned. "Well, the braid keeps it out of my face, right? That'd be a hell of a stupid epitaph for a soldier--he died 'cause his hair fell in his eyes and he couldn't see to fight."
"Yeah." Quatre shifted in his seat. "But even we aren't always fighting. Do you really never take it out? It almost seems a shame...."
Duo's hands slowed and then stopped in their motions; he took his foot off the seat and turned to face Quatre more directly. "Well y'know, I always had long hair," he replied absently. He was smiling, but his eyes had grown remote and reflective as though it was something far away that he was smiling at. "It was just part of who I was. But it was a bitch out on the colony after the Feds came through. We had nothing--no food, hardly even water for drinking, let alone washing. That's when I first started wearing it back." Duo lifted his shoulders and then focused on Quatre, his grin becoming a wry, almost self-mocking acknowledgment. "I was a real pain in the neck, I'm sure. Sister Helen at the orphanage always wanted to cut my hair, 'cause it'd be easier to take care of it. But I never would let her do that, so she taught me how to braid it instead." Darkening with recollection, his glance flickered past Quatre. "They were all blown to hell one day, every last one of them," he said softly. "Just an orphanage full of kids." Switching the loose bullets and chamber into one hand, Duo caught the end of his braid with the other. He drew it in front of him, studying it with bright, hard eyes.
"So as long as there are bastards in power who'll do that--who'll throw helpless people away like garbage, or worse--then I won't forget. In a way, this is like my promise. As long as the colonies are suffering, then I'm still with them--I'm still one of them, still feeling what they feel, still remembering what it was like to stand on a street corner that day and look at a burning hole where my only home and family had been. So now, I'll remember them by this." With an extravagant grin, Duo flipped the braid back behind his shoulder. "Every minute of my life," he added, fierce, cheerful pride in his voice, "whether I'm awake or asleep. Just as long as this damn war lasts. That's one of the reasons."
Troubled, Quatre watched as the other pilot thumbed the last two bullets into the chamber and then slapped it into place with calm assurance. Duo raised the pistol and sighted along it, all that energy gathered into stillness for a moment, a focused and attentive concentration. That had been Duo's true heart, Quatre realized wonderingly, and he shivered a little at the thought that one of his fellow pilots had actually trusted him with something so personal and dear. But that was the courage that Duo had--not only to have survived so much, but to wear what he'd survived so openly and bravely.
It was magificent, Quatre thought, feeling a little pang inside his heart, like the ringing of a struck crystal glass.
But in a way, it was also so sad....
He followed Duo's movements as the other boy tracked the gun's muzzle across the room, and by the time Duo had put up the pistol with a sigh, he felt as though he knew what he ought to do. Rising, he walked across the room to his bag, noticing Duo aware of the motion, part of the duet of constant, wary alertness that they all played when working together. He rummaged in the bag's depths, now disarranged by Duo's curiosity, and just as Duo stowed the gun and looked at the time once more, he found what he'd been looking for. Standing, Quatre held out his hand toward Duo, the round hairbrush cradled in his palm.
"Would you let me?"
Duo twitched. The American pilot looked at him sharply, and Quatre felt the nervous tension inside his chest explode into a flutter of wings. Duo was going to say no, Quatre though ruefully; it was too much to ask, having Duo share his inner heart like that and then seeming to take it as nothing: a trifle that could be played with. But there were reasons to ask that extra stretch of trust from Duo, good reasons, and Quatre didn't intend to touch Duo's hair frivolously.
He stared into the the other's eyes and said, quite simply, "Please."
Duo's eyes narrowed, and Quatre could see appraisal and calculation shuttling furiously behind them. Then, although Duo's tautness didn't leave him, something seemed to click over in his mind. The other boy shrugged. "Ch. What the hell." Turning, he sat sideways on the divan somewhat stiffly, one leg curled up beneath him. "Damn, you must be even more bored than I am...."
Almost holding his breath, Quatre settled onto the seat behind Duo. He looked at the braid falling straight down Duo's back and swallowed in sudden nervousness. Then he concentrated on their stillness as they sat there together, the brief pause as though they were waiting for some downbeat in order to begin, and that calmed him. He reached out and touched the broad plait of Duo's hair, sensitive to the way that Duo held himself motionless and unusually upright, as if intentionally not flinching at the contact.
"You're sure that it's all right."
"Eh." And with that resigned sigh, something in Duo seemed to decide that it /was/ all right. He made a soft, almost amused sound and sat back unexpectedly, that bare tolerance relaxing without warning into consent. Carefully Quatre slipped the band off Duo's hair and put it around his own wrist for safekeeping. Then he began to work his way up the braid, fingering its three strands apart. He made every motion as deliberate and thoughtful as possible; he wanted Duo to understand that he truly did know the implications of what he'd asked, and that he was grateful.
That Duo would permit him to do this, one of the other Gundam pilots trusting him even this far....
It gave him hope.
He'd never really registered just how /much/ hair Duo had, though, as he tugged at it, unwinding it gently from itself. It never had occurred to him, for instance, that it was even longer out of the braid than in. By the time he'd reached the nape of Duo's neck, it had waterfalled into a puddle on the divan in front of his knees, still showing where it had been divided into sections. Uncertainly Quatre picked up the brush once again, sliding his other hand underneath that silken mass. He'd never done anything like this, even growing up under the care of his various sisters, and with a start he wondered if Duo thought that he was being girly for wanting to.
Coloring, Quatre decided not to think about that and refocused on Duo's hair instead.
Maybe one day he'd learn to speak in the language that other men, other soldiers, used....
Tentatively he ran his brush along the underside of Duo's hair, and its teeth parted the strands like water, flowing through them without any resistance. They merged together in the wake of its passing into one shining stream. In fascination Quatre drew the brush through Duo's hair again, long, continuing strokes, watching them smooth the tight waves that the braid had made into something lighter and fuller...hardly any tangles at all, Quatre discovered, probably because Duo really did keep his hair braided all the time. Only when he hesitantly lifted Duo's hair and drew the brush out from the back of Duo's neck did it catch just slightly. "Um...sorry."
"That's all right." Duo chuckled. "You can pull harder than that. I can hardly even feel you back there...." He tilted his head, surrendering to Quatre's next gentle tug, and Quatre caught at a breath. That movement spilled loose hair all across his wrist--he let it pour through his fingers, reveling in the fall of it: a blind, inexplicable amazement, like feeling that ungraspable music, that melodic line which couldn't be captured or translated into any earthly song.../wonderful,/ he breathed to himself, suppressing the shudder of joy that shook him, so that his hands only trembled a little as he lifted the brush once more.
"Duo," he murmured some time later, when enough of the constant, steady strokes had lulled him that he felt he might be able to speak, "what do you think 'peace' is?"
"Mmm...not having to go out and dance with the devil every damn day, knowing that you could be killed and not ever knowing why." Duo's voice had dropped even lower than usual, becoming a resonant, vaguely distracted purr. "Not having another town or colony torn up, with mobile suits and gunfire going back and forth until there's nothing left worth fighting for anyway. No martial law...not always having to look over your shoulder for the guy with the gun, the guy who'll put you away just because you might not be in with his group or with the politics of the day, or the mobile doll that'll blow you up and never even notice that you were there. I dunno...I guess it's just a world where people can be let alone and go about their business. A place where you can live. What about you?"
"Hm." With a tiny, reflective smile, Quatre lifted a swath of Duo's hair on the brush, inspecting it a bit more closely. From a distance it all seemed to be the same chestnut brown color, but in reality the strands varied in shade, some of them almost translucently gold...he had expected Duo's answer to be about what it was; it didn't surprise him, but it struck that clear note of sadness inside of him again, confirming that what he wanted to get across was essential. Once more he lifted the hair and pulled the brush through it, letting its strands fall away behind in a shimmering fan. "Duo, did you notice the carpet?"
"Huh?" At Duo's obvious and quite understandable bewilderment, Quatre bit back a laugh. Instead, he hitched himself minutely nearer and continued wielding the brush in easy, rhythmic strokes. "It's a Qashqa'i carpet," he went on placidly, "and actually a very nice one, too...they make them in southern Persia, just as they have for a long, long time. This one's not as old as it looks." One slow pull and then another, and Duo probably wondering all the while when he was going to get to the point. "Take a look at the pattern over there by that corner. Do you see where there's a break in the border?"
"Yeah. Looks like somebody made a mistake."
"They didn't." With great care, Quatre hooked a stray lock close to Duo's ear and brought it back in with the rest. Duo arched toward that touch like a cat enjoying a chin scratch--that felineness again--and Quatre repeated the motion. He drew very gingerly at the hair by Duo's face, first on that side, then on the other, and Duo sighed. "The weavers who make these carpets put that break into them on purpose. They believe that attempting to create any perfect work is an insult to God."
"No kidding." Duo's amused, almost condescending drawl made it plain that he wasn't exactly concerned whether or not God felt insulted. "So only God is allowed to be perfect? Heh. I can think of a guy who'd be real sorry to hear about that...."
"Maybe." Quatre went up on his knees, extending his reach. He ran the brush through Duo's wild bangs, straight over the top of the other's head and then down, the shorter hair tumbling back onto Duo's forehead in its wake...Duo swayed backward with the stroke, almost bumping into him, and Quatre's throat tightened. Something in Duo must have been longing for this for a very long time. "But I think there's something more to it than that."
"Perfection allows for no further possibilities." He sank back, gathering the tide of Duo's hair into the crook of one arm, and continued to smooth the brush across its surface. "Those weavers are very wise, I think, because something which is perfect is a closed world. It acknowledges nothing which is outside of itself...and so it's no longer capable of becoming anything." As he spoke, he found that he was blinking back an old and familiar regret. He'd always had that ache to grasp at perfection anyway, the hunger for something unshakable, for some pure formula to shape a pattern of sense out of this world...setting aside the brush, he ran his hands wistfully through Duo's long hair.
He'd tried to share something of that with Trowa, both the yearning and the danger. He still didn't know if he'd succeeded.
"I do admire Heero," he went on quietly, with simple frankness. "Who wouldn't? He truly is the 'perfect soldier.' But does he really understand what opposes war? What is there in Heero that can open up to something outside of himself? Something that perhaps he's never even known?"
And that, Quatre knew, was the tragedy of this long war--that among the people who fought, the war itself had become their entire world. The heart of space cried out in him, infinite and lone, and his fingers tightened, twining into the extraordinary reality of Duo's hair. That he'd been privileged in ways he so often took for granted, in way that Duo--cheerful and lunatic Duo, endlessly surprising, endlessly brave--knew only as some other day, some other place, some other person's life...that was one of the things that set him apart from his fellow pilots.
Maybe it could be his gift to them.
Catching Duo's hair up into both his hands, he bowed forward over it, closing his eyes. "Look," he murmured, "look at this carpet. An unending pattern of repetitions. Imagine that there was no break in it, no place for release. That's our danger. We run the risk of forgetting to allow for such simple things...." The words were tangent lines shooting across the spaces that separated them, touching on and so defining broad arcs, fragments that encircled what he wanted, what he needed to say.... "Music," he breathed fervently. "Poetry. /Trust./ A touch between two friends...a moment of ordinary happiness. Peace isn't something that happens when war is finished. It's what we create by the way we live." He turned his head, pressing his cheek against those loose strands.
"It's one thing to fight to the best of our ability," he whispered, "but if we save all that's beautiful until the end of the war, then this war won't end...."
For a moment they remained like that, motionless on the divan, so close that Quatre could inhale the light, clean fragrance of Duo's hair. Then, recollecting himself, he sat up slowly. He spread out his hands so that Duo's hair spilled from them to lie against the other's black jacket.
"Ah...I'm sorry," he murmured. His voice quavered on the words, and he felt a vague ache of embarrasment. "I don't know how to put this back...."
"Just...just split it into three sections." He could feel Duo swallow as he fumbled the whole sweep of hair back into his hands and then divided it. "Now, take one of the sides...put that over the middle. Okay, that one's the new middle. Put the other side over that one and pull it tight...yeah. Yeah, that's good. Just keep doing it like that, all the way down...."
"Oh--I missed some."
"It's all right; don't worry about it. Just put the loose bit together with one of the sides and braid it in." Biting his lip, Quatre concentrated on trying to find a rhythm to the movements as he struggled to keep more hair from escaping between his fingers. He worked his way down to the end eventually; twining the band around the tail of the braid, he let it rest against Duo's back. He stared at it unhappily, seeing how different it was from Duo's usual neat work: the looseness near Duo's neck that let a scattering of fine wisps escape, the thin, wayward lock dangling out of the plait and then looping back in...Duo turned his head from one side to the other, as though measuring Quatre's efforts by the heft of the braid. Then he twisted around on the seat, his gaze slowly flicking up to meet with Quatre's.
Quatre quailed slightly as Duo stared directly at him, a intent and unusually serious look. He had the terrible feeling suddenly that he'd utterly failed to communicate--that Duo had to think that he'd been hysterical, or even worse. Abashed, Quatre hung his head. Then Duo leaned forward, wrapping one arm around Quatre's shoulders in a roughly affectionate hug, and he pulled Quatre toward him until their foreheads touched, a light and familiar contact.
"Saa,"he murmured, a faint chuckle coloring his voice. "/Thank you,/ Quatre."
Then, after a long, unbelievable moment, he sat back again. His violet-blue eyes were alight and dancing. "Hey! Don't we have a mission to get off here?" He grinned, and Quatre felt as though a door had opened onto some inexplicable delight.
As though the work ahead, rather than something that they were merely in on together, was something that they shared....
Quatre nodded, breaking into a smile himself, and as Duo bounced off the divan, he swept the hairbrush into his bag and stood up to follow.
Outside, the night sky was ablaze with countless stars.
* * * * *
Author's note: I wasn't going to write this fic...truly I wasn't. I came up with the concept and title (the latter taken from a Duran Duran song) some months ago, but I didn't have a point for it. And then one day Quatre ambled into my head, smiled at me, and handed me the point, saying, "Would you write this, please?" How on earth do you say no to that?
Please see my disclaimers page for appropriate copyright information. I think this can fit within the series continuity just after Duo and Quatre leave the Maganac Fighters...if I recall correctly, some time passed between then and when the two of them left for outer space. Even if they weren't being given missions at that point, they still must've had to do things like steal fuel and ammunition for their Gundams. I'd really appreciate any comments, as I'm not as familiar with GW as I am with CLAMP works. I'm not sure my style is really suited to GW either, but this was enjoyable to write at least. Hope you like it!
And as a final point of interest: although I've yet to see any evidence that Quatre actually practices Islam, there are three essential principles of that faith which reflect nicely on the theme of this story. The three elements are islam, iman, and ihsan. The first means "surrender," and the second is "faith." The third is more difficult to encompass in English; its literal meaning is "virtue" or "excellence," but it also has the connotation of "making beautiful." In my limited understanding, it seems to mean finding holiness or significance in whatever your hands can touch and your eyes can see...or in other words, in whatever is simply there.
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