Harry Potter and the Secret Link Part 15

Boxing Day passed quietly enough. Well, as quietly a day could pass when Duo had no idea that such a day had any significance, or even existed, for that matter. He wasn't informed that it had been a holiday until late in the evening, to which he blankly responded, "Another one?" while he was curled in a blanket with Heero... who, surprisingly enough, didn't quite look so strange wrapped in a blanket with another human being. If it hadn't been for Death Glare 42 (a.k.a. "I want to hurt you. Severely. Come here...") that was so clearly written across the Japanese boy's face, he'd look almost hospitable.

Draco absently mentioned that he'd hoped being in an actual relationship with someone who had a full range of emotions would perhaps soften Heero up a little. His hopes were shot when Trowa broke script long enough to scoff at him.

The faculty of Hogwarts seemed to be in a constant state of shock and uncertainty that Draco was actually interacting with Gryffindors and a Hufflepuff in the first place. Not only did they catch the rare sight of Draco holding a somewhat civil conversation with Duo and Quatre (mostly from fear of their boyfriends, who, as he repeated time and time again to himself, he had to share a dorm with), but there was actually very little violent outbursts when his tentative civility with Duo and Quatre forced him in the same proximity of the Boy Who Lived for extended periods of time. Flitwick assured everyone that he was keeping one eye out for other signs that indicated the end of existence, but so far, there were none.

"How long, exactly, do you think you can keep up this sudden tolerance of all things loyal and brave?" Snape asked the Malfoy heir out of the blue.


That's when Draco learned of the running bet some of the professors had the tenacity to arrange. In true Slytherin fashion, Draco asked about the odds.

"Ten to one you'll go back to being your normal bratty self by the time break is over," Snape replied blandly.

"With those kinds of odds," Draco said with a smirk, "and about fifty galleons from me, I could probably keep this up for the rest of the year."

"That won't be too taxing for you?"

"If I go any longer than that, I might snap and kill you all with a smile on my face. But yeah -I can survive the rest of the school year."

Not long after, Snape put a combined total of one hundred galleons into the betting pool, aimed against the odds. Most professors immediately suspected foul play, of course; Severus Snape was never one to be so positive about any aspect of life.

"Suddenly I need an ulterior motive to be sanguine?" Snape snapped irritably at McGonagall.

"It's not that you need an ulterior motive to be optimistic," McGonagall replied stiffly, her tone clearly saying that she was lying through her teeth, "it's just that we didn't think you were capable of anything resembling optimism."

Dumbledore, in true senile fashion, smiled whimsically and said, "Ah, but Minerva, that just proves that even our dear Severus can hope." McGonagall didn't think Albus had anything to say about it, though; not a full minute after Snape declared his bet, the Headmaster had put fifteen galleons on the same odds.

Most of the staff made noises about inside sources being made and the bet being fixed, but with a blandly stated, scathing comment about how only losers complain about unproved accusations, they all settled down to darkly contemplate on if their bank accounts could support the guaranteed financial loss on what was once a guaranteed financial gain.

Heero and Duo weren't the only new couple "cuddling by the fireplace", as it were, though Trowa and Quatre were far more discrete about their budding relationship... most of the time. There had been that one point in time when Ponoma Sprout had caught them in one heavy make-out session in one of Hogwarts' vast and many corridors. Quatre still couldn't meet her eyes, though Trowa had no problem with this concept. Trowa's frank stare, more often than not, made Sprout nervous to the point of twitching sporadically.

It was late evening on the 31st of December when Wufei -surrounded once again by Duo and Heero sharing a chair, Trowa and Quatre sitting together on the floor near the fireplace sharing a blanket, leaving him with sitting between Draco and Harry- suddenly realized that he was probably the only truly straight individual in the room. Even Potter and Malfoy had been making eyes at each other under every sarcastic remark and rude retort.

It was a strangely intimidating thought. (1)

Duo broke the silence by suddenly announcing, "I'm going to introduce the wizarding world to the wonderful concept of Skittles. Out of all muggle candies, I miss those the most."

"Random much?" Draco said lazily, hardly turning his attention from that blasted handheld game Duo had gotten him for Christmas.

Oddly enough, Duo laughed. "It's my New Years Resolution. What, wizards don't do those, either?"

"No one's ever mentioned it to me," Harry said with a shrug. "Not many muggles practice it anymore either."

"Yeah, well, I'm from the Maxwell Church Orphanage, and we always stuck with traditions," Duo said with a quick grin.

"They named a church after you?"

"More like I was named after the church," Duo said casually. "My first name comes from a kid who used to run the gang I was in -Solo. Father Maxwell is the man who was the prime father figure in my life, so I took his name for myself, as well. It helps keep the happy experiences in my life fresh."

"So Duo isn't your real name?" Draco asked, pausing in his game to give the American boy a searching look.

"It's real because it's mine," Duo said with a shrug. "I gave it to me. Before Solo, I was just Kid."

A small smile tilted the corner of Trowa's mouth as he found his hand held within the warm palm of his boyfriend. "It's the same for me, as well. Before Trowa Barton, I was merely Nanashi." The unibanged boy thought about it for a moment before adding calmly, "Though Trowa Barton is merely a name I stole from a dead man."

"Right," Draco said slowly, going further to add, "You took your name from a dead guy? Creepy, but oddly effective."

"So neither of you knows your real name?" Harry asked, his curiosity somewhat peeked.

"Ollivander mentioned it when I got my wand," Duo said dismissively. "I didn't really care at the time. He was testing the limits of my weirdo-o-meter as it was. Man's seriously in need of some kind of social interaction that doesn't involve wands."

Harry could completely sympathize with that.

"New Years Resolutions, hm?" Draco murmured absently. "Well. I think I'll make a resolution to tease more Hufflepuffs. They've been woefully ignored by the silver tongue of the snake these past few months. I'm afraid they'll start to get uppity if someone doesn't do something soon." Duo laughed helplessly at the self-sacrificial tone that Draco took on for that one declaration.

"That's not how it works, Malfoy," Harry said irritably.

"Shut up, Potter. You have no control over my choice of resolution."

"What about you, Wuffers? Any New Years Resolutions from your end?"

"I don't celebrate New Years until February, Maxwell," Wufei said evenly. "You know that."

"Humor me."

The Chinese youth's face clearly stated that such was the way events usually ended up, and he sometimes couldn't fathom why he tried to fight it. "Fine. I resolve to carry the memory of both Meiran and my people for another year."

"Oooh," Draco said silkily. "China boy has a girlfriend."

"Wife," Wufei muttered. "Dead. Two years ago."

Duo favored the Chinese youth with an understanding smile. "Wow, Dray -way to insert a foot into your mouth."

"And yet," Draco said casually, quickly trying to smooth over his social faux pas, "still plenty of room for the other one."

Harry snorted derisively. Wasn't that a damn shame.

"What's that, Potter?" Draco said sardonically. "Going to tell us your New Years Resolution? I'm going to take a guess and say it has something to do with saving the world, one abominably cute kitten at a time."

"Actually," Harry said with a virulent glare at the Slytherin Prince, "mine's more along the path of staying out of trouble for the year. As you can imagine, it never really works out."

"Speaking of kittens," Trowa said idly, "have you realized Precious is pregnant?"

"What?" For once, the normally well-informed Malfoy heir seemed completely shocked. "She can't be! There aren't any male cats in the Slytherin dorm -plus, she's a lounge cat. She's too damn lazy to actually do something productive, much less mate!"

"Why am I not surprised you're a cat person?" Harry wondered aloud. "Precious. You know, as far as the normal Slytherin temperament goes, I never expected you to name your familiar something as... disgustingly sweet as Precious."

"His family's owl is named Duster," Heero informed them with a smirk.

Duo guffawed into Heero's shoulder. "As in, 'feather duster'? Dray, man, you're just too much!"

"Oh, shut up," Draco mumbled, spots of pink on his pale cheeks. "All the other cool, vaguely dangerous animal names are overused. And what makes you think Precious is pregnant, anyway?"

"I like cats," Trowa said with a simple shrug.

"He means that," Duo added with a grin. "All kinds of felines, in fact. Trowa's the only guy I know who will crawl into a cage with lions to cuddle."

Draco decided that was simply too mind-boggling to really comment on. "Urgh. Pregnant. God, I hope she picked a good looking male, at least."

"If you consider Crookshanks the epitome of beauty in male cats," Trowa said evenly. "He's the only other cat I've seen her around on a consistent basis."

Both Harry and Duo couldn't stop the incredulous laughter that spilled out of them at that announcement.

"Who's Crookshanks?" Draco demanded, having the distinct feeling he wasn't going to like the answer.

"We -we're not even sure Crookshanks is a full-blooded cat," Harry giggled, burying his face in the arm of the couch. "He's -he's ginger-haired and looks like someone took a frying pan to his face!"

The utter horror that passed over Draco's face even spurred Wufei to stifle his amusement. "My gorgeous Precious... shagged the feline equivalent of a Weasley?!"

Harry wanted to defend his friend; he really, really did. But the sheer repugnance on Draco's face was almost worth letting the insult to his surrogate family slide. Though, after his giggling fit died down, he did plan to somehow exact revenge for that slight against the Weasleys.

"Oh, the hilarity doesn't end there," Duo howled. "Crookshanks is Hermione's cat! Congratulations! You're forever bonded through your cats' libidos!"

"NOOOOOOO!" Draco howled despondently.


"This is a night that'll probably stay with me forever."

"You mean the part where Malfoy started freaking out over what his damn cat's future progeny will look like, or the part where each horrible scenario started sounding more and more like Ron's face on a kitten's body?" Harry asked sarcastically, flopping down on his bed with a tired sigh. He stifled the urge to groan when he glanced outside, clearly seeing the sky beginning to light in the east. "It must be at least around five. How did you convince me to stay up this late?"

Duo glanced casually outside, tilting his head to the side minutely before correcting Harry's earlier assessment. "It's about oh-six-hundred. Time really flies when you're with friends."

"Hm..." Friends. Oh, God. Was that what he and Malfoy were? He has been hanging around a lot... and I stopped minding after Christmas. Besides the frequent urge to slug him, I haven't really felt the overwhelming need to find a place to bury his mutilated corpse. And once you look passed the scathing sarcasm, the cruel cynicism, and his tendency to be a complete prat, he's marginally tolerable some of the time.

Ron's going to kill me. How the hell did I manage to unknowingly make nice with Malfoy?!

"You know, Harry, you actually impressed me tonight," Duo said with a grin, reclining against the baseboard of his bed as he pulled on a warm pair of socks. "When it started sounding like Dray was mentally pasting Ron's face on Precious' future kittens, I thought you were going to hex him."

"I thought I was, too," Harry admitted, grinning at the memory of Draco's face, "until I realized he actually sounded terrified. I really think he was this far shy of a panic attack." He held his thumb only scant millimeters from his forefinger to indicate the distance. "I figured anything I did to him wouldn't really stand up to the torture he was putting himself through."

"I know, right?" Duo snickered, wiggling his toes in his newly adorned socks in pleasure before getting to his feet. He shoved the handle of his brush between his teeth as he pulled the tie out of his braid, carefully unraveling the rope of hair before he began his nightly ritual of combing the tangles of the day away. As always, his hair had pronounced waves from its almost constant bindings. Harry thought, with his hair loose and fanning around him like it was, Duo might have looked like a mischievous fairy or a tricky nymph with his elfin face and unusual amethyst eyes.

"See, that's why I let a lot of things slide off my back," Duo went on, stroking the brush through his shiny hair. "Why get so uptight over something like that when, eventually, you'll start to find that a lack of reaction is what someone like Draco really can't stand. Guys like him need to pick on other people -makes him feel better about his own inadequacies, imagined or real. They thrive on negative attention and the anger of others, and when they can't get that, nothing seems to piss 'em off more. Know what I mean?"

"I guess," Harry said lazily, thoughtful. It made sense, actually; the less Harry reacted to a lot of things Malfoy said or did, the more fanatical Malfoy was about getting a reaction. "So why do you like him?"

"He's honest."

Harry snorted.

"Well, obviously he lies," Duo amended with a small grin. "Most people do. I mean, Draco really doesn't beat around the bush -he just beats the bush. Teaches it a lesson. If he doesn't like something, he's going to speak his mind -in spades. And if he doesn't like someone, he's certainly going to let that person and the world know it. I guess I really like him as a friend because he's really not afraid to question authority, especially when he thinks he's better than that authority. He reminds me of myself in that respect. Not too many people will stick by their guns these days.

"And let's not forget that Slytherins, while crafty and ambitious, are very predictable," Duo added with a snicker. "I mean, Draco likes to push buttons without really realizing he has a lot of potential buttons that very few people are willing to push because of his station and his family. Plus, his survival instinct is almost crafted to perfection. I've only ever seen him back down from what he really wants to say when he thinks his life's on the line; that's mostly in regards to insulting Quatre, Trowa, and Heero, though."

Harry's eyebrows rose as he considered the American serenely combing through his long chestnut tresses. "You really put a lot of thought into people, don't you?"

Duo smiled absently. "Weird survival instinct." Duo's eyes flickered over to Harry for a moment. "Wanna know why I like you? I'll go ahead and tell you it's not because you're Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived -liked you way before I knew about that little nickname, Hero boy, and I could care less anyhow."

Harry sat up, his interest piqued. "I'm listening."

"While Draco's honest when it comes to his beliefs, his likes, and his dislikes," Duo said, "you're true to yourself. You don't try to hide behind a fake persona just because it's what everyone expects of you, even though you're very conscious that you're not who everyone thinks you are. Whereas Draco wears his mind on his sleeve, you wear your heart in much of the same way. You understand that, while selflessness is a very admirable trait, sometimes it's a little healthy to be selfish too, even though it makes you feel terrible to think that way. You know when it's okay to share your thoughts with your friends, but you know exactly what you should keep to yourself, as well.

"But I think the most admirable thing about you," the American boy said with a flourish, his fingers sliding through his hair and braiding it quickly more out of familiarity than actual effort, "is that you don't seem to understand just how special you are without the whole Boy Who Lived crap hanging over you. You're a humble guy, Harry, and you're very complex. Humble but confident, self-conscious but brave, uncertain but willful. You're the complete antithesis of yourself and you don't even seem to realize how refreshing that is. While Draco is predictable in that he'll always act like a Slytherin, you're very unpredictable in a way that I never seem to know exactly how you're going to react."

Duo grinned, flashing Harry a wink. "Of course, that's Hee-chan's pet peeve about you, you know. Unpredictable is like a curse word to him. You make him really nervous."

"What?" Harry sputtered, mentally goggling over him making someone like Heero nervous. "Are you bloody serious? Heero certainly doesn't act like I make him nervous -sometimes those looks he gets make me want to run very far away very fast."

Duo laughed. "It's Hee-chan, man, of course he's not going to let you see that you make him nervous! You do, though. To tell the truth, you made me nervous, too, at first. Guys like me and Hee-chan and even Quatre, Trowa, and Wufei -we like to know every possible scenario at any given moment. We make it top priority to use what we know of people's everyday actions to predict how the same people will react to a situation that could possibly cause us and them harm. In that way, we're better prepared to act fast with minimal screw-ups because of outside influences. You, Mr. Potter, are what we call the Unknown Variable, or the Thirty-Three-Point-Three. 33.3 percent chance you'll do this, 33.3 percent chance you'll do something completely opposite, and then 33.3 percent chance you'll do something in the middle. Understand?"

Harry mulled over that for only a moment before asking quietly, "Is it because you're soldiers?"

Duo didn't even bat an eyelash. "What gave us away?"

"So you're not going to deny it?"

"I don't lie, Harry -or did you think I lied about that?"

"I put two and two together," Harry admitted softly, tugging insistently at the sleeve of his worn pajama top. "The way you and your friends talk to each other -I don't even think you realize you sometimes refer to each other by number instead of name."

"Old habits."

"And... Malfoy and I overheard you and Quatre in the hospital wing when you two were talking," Harry admitted. "We only caught the tale ending, and I was too curious for my own good -I don't know why Malfoy was there, though. I heard enough to realize there was a lot more to you and your past than you really cared to admit."

"That was ages ago," Duo murmured, absently playing with the end of his braid. "I'm guessing you didn't tell Mione or Ron."

"Dumbledore asked us not to," Harry admitted, "but I don't think I would have told them anyway. Hermione would have gone conspiracy theory on me, and Ron has a tendency to overreact or under-react to things, depending on how they relate to him."

Duo chuckled softly. "Yeah, that's how I imagine how those two starcross'd lovers would react."

"How did you do it?" Harry asked bluntly. "I mean, you were soldiers, and you... mentioned that you'd taken lives. How did you...?" Harry stopped, sighing before continuing, "I found out that I'm probably going to end up killing Voldemort eventually, or be killed by him. Even if it is Voldemort, the thought of taking life makes me feel like I'd be no better than him. But you're clearly a good person, or..."

"That's a really simple question with a very complicated answer, Harry," Duo said delicately, meeting Harry's myopic green eyes evenly. "I never enjoyed it, and you won't either. It's a sad fact that someone has to do it, and... I made the choice to become who I am so others wouldn't have to. Because I was doing what I thought was right. I still think everything I did was for the right reasons. Unfortunately, Voldemort does the same thing. What makes it different from Voldemort is that I didn't enjoy it, whereas he clearly does. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"I think so," Harry replied slowly. "You're saying that, even though it's basically the same practice, you did what needed to be done for what you thought was the greater good, even though you didn't enjoy it. Voldemort believes the same thing, but he obviously enjoys it too much."

"Something like that," Duo said faintly, staring blindly toward the large window Harry often liked to sit under. In the distance, the light in the sky had very obviously grown brighter. "The men I fought and killed died with honor, and I never attacked innocent civilians if I could help it. But I had less than honorable intentions, Harry. I wanted revenge for what they took away from me." The American glanced back toward Harry for a moment. "You remember hearing me mention that I lived in the Maxwell Church Orphanage for a time?"

Harry nodded silently.

"What I don't tell people is that the reason I didn't stay at the orphanage was because the Federation bombed it years ago, killing over two hundred men, women, and children," Duo said solemnly. "They bombed the church because of the terrorists inside, but they were only a dozen or so. The rest were orphans like me, Father Maxwell, and Sister Helen. I was the only survivor."

Harry didn't know how to reply to that. He was... horrified. Of course he was horrified. But somehow he didn't think saying something as stupid as sorry or doing the equivalent of a pat on the back and going "there, there" would really comfort Duo as much as it would irritate him, so he refrained from saying anything.

"After the plague, I thought, eventually, my time would be up, too. And the moment I had something to live for, Death took it all away again, leaving me with nothing." Duo's voice sounded distant, his eyes focused not on Harry, but somewhere behind him. "I was pissed, and... I wanted revenge. It was my luck that I manage to come across the right people who needed someone small and scrawny like me, who didn't fear Death but instead took the moniker of God of Death all for the sake of pissing off a higher being... and that, somehow, the belief that everyone I could or would ever care about would eventually die because of me gave me something of a complex at the time.

"I was a sight to fear on the battlefield, Harry -always grinning, always cackling, playing loud obnoxious music as I made like killing my enemies was no big deal. And one day, when things started coming to a big finish, and I was still grinning and cackling and joking around even as I dealt out destruction and death, Quatre contacted me over the intercom and said something that made me think, 'My God -I even have myself fooled into thinking all of this is okay.'"

"What did he say?"

Duo smiled humorlessly. "He told me he could hear me crying." The American chuckled softly. "Q-bean... he's always had that empathy thing going for him. Until then, I'd never even realized that dealing with the war the way I did wasn't really the healthy way to do things. It was tearing me up on the inside. I vowed to find a better outlet for my frustrations, but... Heero saved the day. As usual. And there wasn't a reason for me to kill anymore.

"It took me several months to really find myself after that. I rarely corresponded with the guys, I traveled alone and inconspicuously, and I stayed away from heavily populated areas just so I could have time to think. What was there left for me to do? I was never really much of a school brat, but I knew a lot about science, mechanics, math... School was too easy. Lady Une offered me a position with the Preventers, but it was too weird to be under her command after I'd fought against OZ for so long. I could have just settled down and relaxed, but I'm more of an action guy. Even Relena tried to help me find my way, but besides being a kick ass bodyguard, she really had nothing to offer me.

"Then, one day, I got the letter from Dumbledore." Duo chuckled. "He didn't really go into the whole magic stuff until I met with him, though. It took him some time to really convince me that magic was real. When he finally did, though, I realized that this could be it. My new drive in life. It's school, but... it's so much better than that. Normal school was something I knew too much about, but a school for magic... that was new. And I went for it."

"And here you are," Harry murmured.

"And here I am," Duo confirmed with a nod, smiling. "See, Harry, I did some pretty terrible things that, in the end, saved a lot of people from a lot of pain and suffering. If you have to do Voldemort in to achieve the same results, it won't make you a terrible person. Taking life... there's no excuse for that, but it's the way the world works, you know? Sacrifices made so others don't have to suffer anymore. The difference between you and me is that no one is going to condemn you for doing the world a favor; hell, they're counting on you to do it, whereas the people I bloodied my hands for turned their backs on me the first chance they got. In the end, all that really matters is that no one has to suffer or be afraid anymore... at least until the next bad thing comes along, but hopefully, that's way after our lifetime."

When Duo finally turned his back on Harry to busy himself with his nightly ritual (Or, Harry amended mentally with a sardonic glance toward the well lit sky, early morning, in this case...), the myopic boy took that as an indication that the conversation was over, and Duo wasn't going to say much else about the subject. Still, the American, while somewhat vague and distant with his monologue, had been very frank and honest with his answers. Harry couldn't remember a time he'd seen Duo so serious for such a long length of time.

To kill or to be killed. That was what it boiled down to, wasn't it? But it was so much more complex than that; Harry couldn't seem to get passed the concept that taking away another person's life, no matter who he was or what he did, was still morally wrong and would make him no better than Voldemort. Even so, Duo had a very good point; if Harry didn't do stop Voldemort... who would? Dumbledore was powerful in his own right, but no matter how childish and eccentric the aging Headmaster acted, he was still aging. It all came down to him, the Boy Who Lived -defeated Voldemort through a fluke when he was a baby, so he must be able to do it as a somewhat competent teenaged wizard as well, right?


Harry wasn't so sure. No matter how optimistic everyone was, he felt his ability with magic was mediocre at best, even after doing so much research for great dueling strategies and spells. How was he supposed to do it? With an Unforgivable? Even if he was the Boy Who Lived, Harry doubted the Ministry was going to bend that far backwards to keep him out of Azkaban for using a banned Unforgivable, even if it was for the good of the wizarding world. Dumbledore always hinted that Harry had hidden power, but... he just couldn't see it. Besides Parseltongue, he really had no outstanding grasp on some hidden well of power... and he certainly wasn't willing to go to the lengths Voldemort had gone to in order to learn Dark magic.

"Hey." Harry started, blinking owlishly as he looked back up at Duo. The braided boy smiled at him, as if somehow mentally conveying that he completely understood. "Don't think too much about it, Harry. Things tend to work out themselves in the end, and..." The boy laughed sheepishly. "I know it sounds crazy -the only people I've ever really trusted were my comrades, Howard, Father Maxwell, Sister Helen, and Solo- but... I have confidence in you. You'll do what's right for you, and that's all that matters. To hell with anyone who doesn't like the way you handle your business. Right?"


"Of course I'm right," Duo boasted, stretching his lithe form and yawning. "Gah... Couple of hours of about twenty winks, and I'll be right as rain by lunchtime."

"Says you," Harry mumbled, feeling the exhaustion slowly creep up his spine as he shoved a pillow under his chin. "Wake me around lunch and I might have to try to hurt you badly."

"Hah! Nothing a couple cups of coffee wouldn't cure. Don't make that face! Coffee -it's ambrosia to the gods!"

"It's bitter black piss and you know it. (2)"

"So's your English beer, but do you hear me complaining?"

"You just did."

Having no retort, Duo simply flung a pillow at Harry who, with Seeker-refined reflexes, caught the pillow and hurled it back, proving that he made a much better Seeker than he did a Chaser when he missed by a longshot, much to Duo's amusement. Instead, the pillow sailed into the curtains hanging around Duo's bed, clearly making contact with something solid and knocking it off the other side of the bed.

"Pause," Duo called, retrieving the object. Harry saw the American's bright smile of pleasure when he stooped over and picked a large, black package with gold ribbons off of the floor.

"Aw, Hee-chan," the boy murmured fondly, "you certainly know when a guy needs a pick-me-up, don't you?"

"What is it?" Harry asked, clambering to sit on the side of his bed facing Duo.

"Hee-chan's Secret Santa mission," Duo said mischievously. "I'd tell him that it's only for Christmas, but -new pressie. Who could break his heart like that?"

"Right," Harry said, his tone clearly stating that it was more for Duo's benefit than Heero's. "How do you know it's from Heero?"

"Who else would be sending me secret presents?" Duo pointed out simply, sitting on his bed and pulling the ribbons away. "He knows my favorite color is black, and the last present he secretly sent me was so totally wicked and meant for me, man. Only Heero would think of something like it. Score!" Duo howled, lifting the lid from the box and peering inside.

Instead of the unadulterated glee Harry expected, Duo's excitement faded into puzzlement. Slowly, the braided American reached inside and pulled out... a rather large, fluffy blue bear. Harry blinked, finding himself at a loss -Heero didn't seem like the type to send something like a stuffed animal, especially to Duo, who wasn't quite that childlike even at his worst.

"Heero has a really odd sense of humor, doesn't he?" Harry mused aloud, glancing at Duo's face. He immediately realized something was terribly wrong by the stricken look he found there. "Duo...?"

"It's not from Heero," Duo whispered, his fingers tightening around the bear. "Heero wouldn't be this cruel. But... who sent it?"

"Duo, what's wrong?"

Slowly, dazed, the braided American turned the bear around to show Harry the front of the sash that wound from the bear's shoulder to its waist.

Printed in cruel, beautiful script, the bright red words declared, "Baby's First Birthday."


(1) Being a middle-class white girl from a mostly Caucasian community, I've found that finding oneself actually being the minority when one is used to being part of the majority is a strangely intimidating experience that, so far, I've been happy to get used to. Not only is it a new and learning experience, I found that I could completely sympathize with my one African American friend in high school -the only African American who graduated with my class. I believe she described the feeling as "being a black speck in the crowd." I've rephrased that concept as "being the speck of dandruff on a black shirt." Wufei's epiphany works along the same train of thought -replace the difference of skin color with sexual preferences, and there ya go.

(2) LEAVE MY COFFEE BEEEEEEE! :hoards the coffee and snarls at anyone who comes close:


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