Anniversary Tree
by Merith

Duo held the shovel and wiped sweat from his face with a dirty hand. Finally looking round, he gave Heero a half smile, almost shy despite all their time together. "So, what do you think?"

The look he was given was indecipherable. Heero stared at Duo's project some more and then back to Duo himself. "It's a tree."

"It's a sapling," Duo was saying, his hand gestured to its size and the tag that still hung from its trunk. "Barely a year old, and meant to last forever." He was smiling that shy smile again and Heero only nodded.

"No fruit?" Heero took a step forward, touched a soft leaf and glanced back at Duo again.

"Nah, it's not that kind of tree." Duo bent down, raked through the disturbed soil, evening it out. "Besides," he was saying as he straightened, "fruit trees get messy." Heero had been watching him, his look bemused. "What?"

With a shake of his head, Heero moved closer and pressed his lips to Duo's. "Sometimes you just surprise me."

"Just sometimes?" Duo let the shovel fall.

Heero shrugged, pulled Duo closer and ignored the handprints on his new shirt.

The day was crisp and hinted snow. Woodsmoke scented the air and Heero glanced up at the tree standing tall overhead. In the twenty years since it'd been planted, its branches grew strong and thick and many. One loomed out perfectly; Heero assisted Duo himself in anchoring the swing. Looking back at the ground, he began raking the smaller piles of leaves into one larger one.

And Duo had said fruit trees were messy.

He was almost finished, had turned to find the yard waste bags when the yell came. He might have been older but his reactions were still instantaneous. Spinning about, he was in a crouched defensive position with his hand up, ready to take on his attacker. Only, no one was attacking -- him.

"Hey Heero!" Duo shouted from the middle of Heero's leaf pile. "Come join me. It's fun!"

"Duo! I just spent an hour raking those leaves!"

Duo was climbing out, grinning and pulling leaves from his clothes, out of his hair. "Yeah, but now you can have a little fun too." He reached for Heero's hand, tugged on it a little. "One jump and I'll help you pick them up after."

Heero resisted, tugging back on Duo's hand. "How 'bout we don't and you help me anyway?" He was already thinking of doing some tumbling, but not on leaves and not in their backyard. "If it's our tree, then why am I always the one who rakes?" Duo's neck was warm to his chilled fingers, and as Duo tries to squirm away, Heero held him closer.

"It's a tree," Duo was saying twisting his body away from Heero's hands. "It's supposed to drop leaves. C'mon Heero!" He was pulling on Heero's hand again. "One jump and I'll warm your hands." And Duo grinned, his eyebrows wiggled.

"One jump," Heero agreed, and ran the two steps to the pile, Duo at his side. They jumped together, scattering leaves. But by then, Heero held Duo, his hands were working their way up the inside of Duo's sweatshirt, and Duo was laughing, rolling over and trying to escape.

Summer sun leaked through the leaves and branches, highlighting the two asleep on the hammock. A book lay face down on one man's chest, half-moon glasses perched on the end of his nose. The other lay with his mouth parted, softly snoring. One with dark hair cut short, one with lighter hair a bit on the long side, both shot through with grey. Young by some standards and far too old by others, their sleep was peaceful.

A fly flew in close, landed briefly on the dark haired man's nose. It lifted off a second later when the man's nose twitched. It buzzed over his cheek and down to his chin, touching down there, fluttering its wings. Heero swatted at it, shooing it away and waking himself.

His orientation had taken him longer than he liked, but the sound of Duo's snores by his side comforted. Almost fifty-five years, and he never tired of hearing him. His book slid off to the side, and he picked it up, marked his page and dropped it to the lawn. He couldn't remember what he'd done with his glasses case, so he left them on.

He rolled on his side and up on his elbow. Looking down at Duo, he barely caught himself from crying out. Duo's face was lined and wrinkled. Heero had been dreaming, back to the days when they'd been young, when they flew the gundams and fought for causes right and just. It had seemed to only be yesterday.

"Duo," he said, a hand shaking Duo's shoulder. "Duo, I had that dream again."

With a loud snort, Duo woke, his hand rising to catch Heero's. "Huh?" He was blinking and dropped Heero's hand to wipe the moisture from his eyes. "Dream...?"

"The one where I'm in Wing again." Heero laid back down, looking through the tree to the sky beyond.

"You ruined a perfectly good nap to tell me that?" Duo's arms crossed over his chest. "Old man, I'll warn you again, you wake me one more time to tell me about Wing, and I'll kick your ass."

"I was flying and it was doing the shimmy thing it would do every once in awhile," Heero was talking, dismissing Duo's threat without even hearing it. "We were breaking through the atmosphere, you know, just at that point when the bluest of sky becomes so dark black you can't see."

Duo turned his head to look at Heero, nodding. "Yeah, I remember."

Heero sighed and blinked up at the sunlight. "I do... sometimes," he was saying, turning to look at Duo. "mostly after I dream." His hand was suddenly in Duo's being squeezed tight.

"Then I'll remind you when you forget," Duo's voice was fierce. "I'll remind you when the dreams stop coming."

Heero squeezed Duo's hand back, leaned forward to push his lips against Duo's. "Will you still kick my ass if I wake you?"

Duo was chuckling, pulling Heero closer. "Remind me when you do, and I'll tell you then."

"Grampa Duo? Grampa Heero?" A young woman called from the back door. She stood for a moment on the step, shading her eyes against the sun. "The truck's loaded and its time to go now."

"We'll be along shortly," Duo told her, waving her on. "Give us another minute or two, girl." He was sitting on a large stump, Heero at his side. When the young woman went back inside, closing the door and leaving them alone, he turned to Heero. "You ready for this old man?"

Heero had been staring at his feet in a half doze, and started at Duo's voice. "Ready for what?"

"Moving, Heero. We're moving today, remember?" Duo lifted an arm and slung it around Heero's shoulders. For a moment, he could almost feel the muscle and sinew strong and thick under his hand.

"Hell yes, I remember!" Heero was glaring at him now. Blue eyes not so clear, but still sharp. "You only planted the damn thing a month ago." His hand slapped down on the stump. "Said it'd last forever."

Duo laughed. "Yeah, the damn thing." He leaned against Heero and kissed his cheek. "Next time, we'll plant an apple tree."

"Not apples," Heero said, a swift shake of his head. "Can't bite 'em. They pop out my dentures."

"Okay, no apples."

"They say you can tell the age of a tree by how many rings it has," Heero said suddenly. Duo raised his head and saw the clarity in Heero's eyes. "Look here, Duo," Heero's voice was soft, but strong as it had been when Duo first met him. Heero ran a finger from the stump's center to the edge of bark. "How many do you see here?"

Duo shrugged, taking a guess. "About sixty-five or seventy."

"It's our anniversary tree, Duo." Heero was now holding Duo's hand. "It's as old as we have been together."

His lips lifted in a true smile and he leaned back against Heero once more. Moving could wait another minute or two.

"Then that'd be forever."

The End
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