The nuns who'd raised him for a time had despaired of him, as he was always managing to uproot some newly planted vegetable, knock lit altar candles directly into the nearest flammable surface, and get himself tangled up in just about anything. He'd always been apologetic, but 'sorry' didn't fix broken plates or torn shirts. The church closed when Duo was ten due to insufficient funding, and he'd always secretly wondered if his accident-prone nature hadn't contributed to that. Maybe if he hadn't destroyed as much, or taken up so much time, or, well, something, maybe he and the others could have stayed.
At the time of the closing, he was too sick to ask if he could have changed it, too sick to do much of anything. A violent flu had swept the kids at the church, two of them dying from it. Duo lived, but when he woke up enough to figure out where he was and what had happened, he was already in a cell.
Heero was looking at Duo weirdly. He didn't look mad, or anything, but something was definitely on his mind. Duo asked, "Have I grown a third eye? If so, suck, because I can't actually see anything out of it."
Unimpressed, Heero told him, "A third eye would be easier to explain."
Duo stuck his tongue out at Heero and didn't pursue the line of questioning. His instincts were screaming at him, and he'd survived more shit than not by paying attention to them. Heero, though, was having none of it, just got up in Duo's space, put his fingers on Duo's jaw—not hard, no, Heero never even chanced hurting the others—and said, "What is going on?"
"I…don't know?" Duo said. "A hint would help, probably. If you want me to guess."
"Who were Une and I when you met us?" Heero asked. As clues went, it was baffling.
"Loners," Duo said slowly, still trying to figure out what they were talking about.
Heero got a look on his face that Duo knew. It was his version of a laugh. It calmed Duo a little. Heero shook his head. "Only you would call two borderline psychopaths 'loners'."
Duo pushed Heero. It wasn't violent, just enough so Duo had room to properly glare at him. "You are not psychopaths."
"No," Heero agreed. "But we might have been, if you hadn't done what nobody else would, braved our anti-social behaviors, made us into something more than animals trying to survive."
Duo blinked. Heero wasn't much for compound sentences. Duo said, "For argument's sake, let's say you're right. So what?"
"You did that, despite the odds, by being rambunctious and too loud and laughing in a place without laughter. You did that by making fun what could be made fun for us."
Duo didn't know how to respond to that. He looked away. It wasn't like he'd made some big decision around Heero and Une. He hadn't. He'd just been put in a cage with Heero, who was so clearly alone, and he'd known, immediately, he was going to change that condition, that Heero deserved better. And Duo had been lonely himself. He'd never been terribly good at thriving without companionship.
It wasn't quite the same with Une, more that he'd felt that Heero needed someone more like himself than Duo, but it didn't matter. The point was he'd always been willing to do whatever was needed to heal the two of them up, because everything in him told him it was the only way to go.
"Hee, I know we don't talk about how you really are smarter than I am, but—"
Heero cut him off. "You're none of those things anymore. You don't speak around the adults unless spoken to. You get in a room and you sit down. You—I can't even describe it, but when Q and Trowa are home, it's like you disappear somewhere. It's scary."
Duo knew his shock at Heero admitting to being frightened was plastered on his face. He didn't bother to try to wipe the expression away. It wasn't that Duo didn't know Heero could be frightened—he probably knew that better than anyone—he'd just never heard Heero say the words. Duo couldn't decide how he felt about the fact that, after everything Heero had been through, Duo was the thing to push him to that point.
Duo shrugged. "It's no big, Hee. I'm just making sure I don't cause accidents."
Since Heero wasn't a fount of facial expression, Duo had to work not to laugh at the confusion on Heero's face. "Accidents?"
"I move a lot when I talk." Duo looked pointedly at the hand that had flung itself out. "And I'm pretty clumsy sometimes, and I just. I don't want to break things."
"Break things," Heero said flatly.
He shrugged again, not sure how else to take the non-question. "It's only polite. Them letting us live with them and all. Just don't wanna rock the boat. Promise, that's it. No alien abductions, or anything."
Heero's face was particularly blank, like it was when he knew there was something wrong, but he couldn't pinpoint what it was. All he said, though, was, "Okay."
Of course, Duo ended up breaking something anyway. The part that made him want to scream was that he hadn't even been misbehaving. He'd been helping Q clean the kitchen after dinner one night. One of the cats had gotten on the counter, which they were not supposed to do. Duo went to put it back on the ground, collided with Q as he was reaching to put something in a cabinet, and then, before Duo could stop it, glass shards had exploded everywhere.
Duo froze with his hands holding tightly to the cat, not wanting her to be hurt. Calmly, Q took her from Duo and gently tossed her into the next room, calling for Trowa, who was already on his way, probably having heard the crash. Duo was only peripherally aware of all of this. He'd gotten down on his knees to start cleaning up the glass the second Q had taken the cat.
He didn't notice he was bleeding either, until Q's sharp, "Duo, stop!"
Duo obeyed. Distantly, he realized Trowa was keeping Heero and Une out of the room. He looked at Q and said, "It wasn't them, okay? They weren't even—"
Q had a careful grip on Duo's wrist and was coaxing him to stand. "Sh, I don't know what's happening in your head right now, but in mine, I just broke a glass and you've cut yourself, and I want to get both you and the floor cleaned up and then maybe eat ice cream."
Duo tried to process that as Q ran progressively warmer water over the cut in Duo's hand. Q asked, "Did you get cut anywhere else? Your knees, or feet?"
Duo had to look. He couldn't really feel anything but abating panic and extreme confusion. "No, I—no."
"Good," Q said. He dried Duo's hands with a towel, grabbed a tube of antibiotic cream and a bandage from the kitchen's medicine drawer and soon had Duo fixed up. "Do you want some Tylenol?"
Wordlessly, Duo shook his head. Q guided him around the glass and into the next room. "Stay there until Trowa and I get the kitchen cleaned up. And try to make sure none of the cats join us, if you could? Thanks."
One of the more sociable cats, who seemed to have a knack for noticing when something was off, climbed into Duo's lap to clean himself. Absently, Duo stroked his back. After a moment, Une said, "You're kind of an asshole."
Duo raised an eyebrow at her, because sure, he was shaken up, but c'mon, pot. She shook her head at him, clearly a little pissed. "If you think for a second you're going somewhere without us, you're fucking crazy."
Duo stiffened and hissed, "And if you think I'm letting anything happen to you because I'm a lot of work, then you're the one fucking off your head."
She pointed a finger. "I know fuckall about family, but I know this: you're the good kind of work, the kind that makes parents wonder if their kid's gonna be a famous comedian or an entrepreneur or something neat. Hee and I are the kind of work that makes parents worry the FBI's gonna be calling them one day."
Duo almost said you're right, you don't know anything, but stopped himself in time. He and Heero knew best that she wasn't nearly as unbreakable as she liked to seem. He took a breath. "If we were their real kids, maybe. But loud and clutzy doesn't sell nearly as well as quiet and smart."
Q poked his head out of the kitchen, interrupting any further conversation. "So, sundae bar?"
While Trowa had taken Une to a concert one afternoon, and Heero was hanging out with John and Sam, since they were going to log some flight time, Q asked Duo, "Wanna go hang out in FAO Schwartz and Toys 'R Us?"
Duo tilted his head. "Yes?"
Q grinned. "C'mon."
They trained into the city and decided on the tactic of starting with the top floor of each store and working their way down, beginning at FAO. Q took pictures of Duo with different Lego statues, and they watched the floor piano being played. Duo said, "I wish Une had seen that."
Q squeezed his shoulder and said, "We'll just have to bring her back."
Cleverly, Q waited until they were riding the Toys 'R Us ferris wheel, just the two of them in the car, to ask, "What happened to the kid Sally introduced me to at the hospital, huh?"
Duo frowned. "One of the others? We know—"
"You, Duo. What happened to you?"
Duo rolled the question over in his head. "Nothing? I mean, I'm fine?"
Q said, "Fine, you might be, but both Trowa and I think 'well' is another matter."
Duo gripped the bars of the car tightly, just to have something to hold onto. "I've never been better."
Carefully, Q put one of his hands over one of Duo's. "Maybe you haven't been safer, or more certain of your next meal, or less worried about losing friends, and maybe that is better. But none of that means you're not hiding, because you are."
Duo bit the inside of his cheek. "What makes you—"
"That day in the hospital? Sally introduced us to all of you. Well, Neal was still unconscious, but the rest. Fifteen kids and one of them—one—smiled and said hello and told us his favorite flavor of Jell-o was blue and that he'd figured out exactly what time the funny cartoons came on the TV.
"Une and Heero, they were so clearly yours and they needed a home every bit as badly as you, but Duo, you were the reason we decided to take the chance, to get to know the three of you. And now you've disappeared somewhere and don't want to hang out with us."
Duo closed his eyes against vertigo that had nothing to do with the motion of the ride. "I talk too much. Even Hee, who likes it, likes me, it annoys him. And I run into things. All the time. I probably broke half the sanctuary at one point or another when I was living with the nuns. It doesn't seem bad when you meet me in a place that's not your home, because it—I'm not as much of a problem.
"But I haven't been safe or full or unafraid for the others in…I don't remember a time, not really. And I love how kind you are, and the music, and the cats and Trowa's sense of humor, I don't want—"
Q wrapped an arm around Duo and pulled him close into his side. "That's the kid I'm talking about. The one who says honest things that make me want to keep him in a bed of clouds and buy him a pony."
Duo laughed. "But how would I ride the pony, if I stayed in the bed?"
Q giggled. "We'd have to do some problem-solving."
Lightly, but not entirely without weight, Duo said, "I'm better at problem-causing."
"Good," Q said. "I like a little bit of adventure in my life."
When they were brought to the ground and let off the ride, Duo grabbed Q's hand. "C'mon, I saw that we can make a robot somewhere." He started off, leading Q, and when he accidentally knocked over a pile of stuffed lions, Q just laughed, helped him rebuild, and took one of the lions.
He told Duo, "So we remember today."
Duo grinned at him. "I won't need any help."