At first Heero had thought the creature running back and forth across the sunbaked roof was a large monkey. It took a closer look to make out that it was a child, a scrawny summer-browned little boy with shaggy straw-colored hair touching his shoulders, scabby knees peeking out from ragged denim shorts. His feet were bare, and how he stood the rooftop under them Heero had no idea. His white tee shirt was streaked with dark lines and he held a hammer in his hands. Every now and then he would stoop over and give a spot a quick pounding, and then like a wraith he was in another spot. Heero held his breath more than once; sure the boy was going to topple of the edge.
"Hello there." He called up.
The child cupped a hand to his eyes to see Heero better, and lifted a hand to show he heard the greeting. He slithered to the edge, grabbing it with both hands, and swung himself down to balance on a window shutter. From there he dropped to the ground, rolling as he landed and brushing off his hands. He bounced to his feet in a minute and loped over to Heero, his bare feet kicking up the dusty soil behind him.
"Hi." the boy greeted him. "What can I help you with?"
Heero was startled for a minute when guiless violet eyes met his own. Finally he found his voice. "I'm looking for an..old friend of mine. I was told this is his house. Are you..Duo's son?" He couldn't keep the amazement out of his voice.
"Yup." The boy nodded proudly. "Jazz Maxwell." He offered one grubby hand to Heero and the man accepted it with grave politeness. "Well, it's nice to meet you. Is your father home?"
"That depends." The boy shrugged, an impish grin on his face.
"On who wants to know. If you want to borrow money, he's probably not home. If you want to give him some money then he is." The boy explained. "I told you my name, you know..."
Heero felt an almost uncontrollable urge to laugh. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be rude. My name is Heero Yuy."
The boy's jaw dropped. "You're HEERO? Pops talks about you all the time! You're about his favorite person alive. Well, except for me." he amended. "He's definitely home for you! Come on, he's out back." The boy grabbed Heero's hand again without asking and hauled him toward the backyard, still chattering."You and Pops were partners, right? During the war? He's told me about how he broke you out of the hospital and how you got him out jail and was going to kill him but you couldn't do it. Thanks for that, if you had I wouldn't be here."
"How old are you?" Heero asked, still amazed by the simple fact that Duo had a child.
"Eight. How old are you?" The boy asked back.
"Same age as Pops. Yeah, makes sense." He led Heero down a narrow path between the house and a fence and into an overgrown backyard. A rusty car sat propped up on blocks, and a pair of legs stuck out from under it. A battered radio sat nearby, blaring a song Heero had never heard before. Jazz put a finger to his lips, motioning for Heero to be quiet and tiptoed up the car. "Hey Pops!" He yelled suddenly.
There was a banging noise and a muffled curse, and the man slid out from under the car rubbing his head. "You are dead!" He growled at the boy, who grinned unashamedly at him. "What have I told you about doing that?"
"Well" Jazz shrugged. "I just figured you'd want to know that Heero is here, but if you want me to tell him to go away..."
"Heero?" Duo's head whipped around and spotted the other man. "Well, I'll be damned.." he shook his head and walked toward his old friend in a daze. "You son-of-a.. so you're alive after all."
Heero took in the changes in his former partner. He'd grown, muscles rippling down his arms under his black tee shirt, although he was still on the short side, probably not 5 and a half feet tall. His hair was still done up in the silly braid, and a shiny diamond earring glittered in one earlobe.
"Well? Did you just come here to stare at me?" Duo asked, his smile a mirror of his son's. "I knew you were still alive, you know. No matter what anyone tried to say. Just a feeling. Didn't I tell you he was alive?" Duo asked Jazz, who was standing at his side. "I told you this guy isn't going down that easily."
"It's really good to see you." Heero finally found his voice. "I'm sorry I haven't been in contact in a while."
"A while? He calls 11 years a while." Duo snorted. "Hasn't changed a bit. Well, you're here now, anyway. Come on inside. We have so much to catch up on." He slapped Heero on the back and glanced back at Jazz. "Roof done?"
"Yup." The boy nodded.
"Here." He handed the child a handful of crumpled bills. "Go down to the store and pick up some something for dinner. Enough for all three of us. You can get yourself a box of pocky, too. I said a box, not 2 boxes, not 40 boxes. Got it?"
"He doesn't trust me." Jazz gave Heero a soulful glance. "His own flesh and blood." He wiped one eye sadly.
"Scoot!" Duo smacked his son on the rear. Jazz stuck out his tongue and raced off, vaulting the fence easily.
"Come on inside where it's cooler." Duo led the way toward the backdoor of the house. "Wow, this is..I can't believe you're really here." He smiled at Heero. "I've missed you, pal."
"I lost touch with everyone after." Heero followed Duo into the kitchen of the house and took the offered chair. The kitchen was comfortable looking, lived in. The refrigerator hummed loudly in one corner, the yellow plastic of the chairs were chipped and cracked, and cereal bowls still waited in the scarred sink. Faded curtains were over the one window, and Heero knew without asking they had come with the house and Duo had never bothered to either remove or change them.
"Well, let's see." Duo poured out two glasses of water and handed Heero one. "Quartre and Trowa are still together. Together as in..together. They run a group called the Stardust foundation, help out charities, things like that, granting wishes to dying kids. And Wufei is a teacher. You know, the fighting was never his style. He's smart, real smart, and he's doing what he loves. Though I sure wouldn't want to be one of his students; he works them to the bone." He sipped his water. "And there's me. I run a salvage yard and try and keep my kid from kicking me out and taking over."
"Your son, he's really something." Heero smiled at the memory. "But Jazz?"
"It's really Jason. When he was born Hilde and I couldn't get him to go to sleep. He just cried all the time. Well, so she started trying music. Turns out he loved jazz music. Still does."
"So you and Hilde tied the knot." Heero nodded. "Where is she, anyway?"
Duo paused. "Hilde died before Jazz was a year old. Brain tumor. We didn't even know she had it and one day.I woke up and she didn't."
"Duo..I'm sorry. I didn't know."
They were both quiet for a minute. "So you've been raising Jazz alone since then?"
Duo nodded, the pain easing from his face. "For a while. Now we pretty much raise each other. He keeps me level. We're a good team. He spends most of the summer with me at the salvage yard. He's smart, too. He loves building things, he even has a little robot he built himself that goes around his room picking up his clothes after him." Duo shook his head, his eyes proud. "I'd be lost without him." He refilled Heero's water without asking.
"So, what have you been doing for the last decade and change?"
"That's something I can't talk about yet. But that's really why I'm here. Relena wants to meet with us, all of us, on Earth in two days. I promise it'll be worth you time to come. We've discovered something major."
"So you and Relena are."
"No, but she's been supporting my work. We're good friends, she and I, but that's all it is."
"She's known where you were the whole time, though, even when the other guys thought you were dead."
"Duo, I never told anyone want to think. What they decided on their own was their business."
"Hey, don't get testy now." Duo said soothingly. "Like I said, I knew you were still kicking. And you must have had a reason to stay away so long. Right?"
"Right. I wasn't able to contact anyone. That's all I can say for now." He looked around the room again, the peace seeping into him. "Will you come with me to Earth?" His blue eyes were calm but there was something behind them, something almost childlike in his eagerness and it was contagious.
Like Duo, Heero had grown in the past 11 years, but he'd grown taller as well as stronger. His hair was shorter, his eyes slightly lined at the edges but there was something else about him different. Something less desperate, something more at peace. As if he'd battled his inner demons and banished them. Duo felt himself easily slipping back into their old friendship.
"Sure, I'll come. A friend of mine at the salvage yard can keep Jazz while I'm gone and the guys can handle running the yard without me for a little while."
At that moment the door opened and Jazz entered with a bulging bag he sat on the table. "I got stuff for salads and some steaks. And some ice-cream." The boy announced. "Can we grill out?"
"Sure, sounds good to me." Duo nodded. "Hey, change?"
The boy shuffled his feet. "Thought you liked me the way I was." He gazed at his father from under sandy bangs.
"You're cute, you know that?" Duo sighed. "Now stop it and give me my change."
The boy handed his father the leftover money and grabbed his pocky out of the bag. "I'll get the grill set up." He vanished out the door again.
"So you won't even give me a clue what you've been up to?" Duo pleaded. "Just a little one?"
"It's big. Very, very big, and that's all I'm going to tell you." Heero said dryly. "And stop looking at me like that. I see where Jazz gets it from."
"Well, of course he does." Duo shrugged. "He learned from the best. Come on, he knows he's not allowed to light the grill on his own but if I'm not there to REMIND him that he's not allowed."
The two ex-partners went back outside, Heero carrying the food, and smiling. Actually, honestly smiling, Duo marveled. What exactly had happened to his friend since the last time they'd been together?
On to part two.