It was a Friday night at the tail end of what had
seemed like a very long week. One of those cosmically long weeks that had
everyone agreeing that the planets of woe and misfortune must surely be
aligned. When Quatre had called everyone mid-week demanding a guy’s
night out, there hadn’t been a soul who hadn’t agreed whole-heartedly
that it had been That kind of week. The kind where you were almost afraid
to go home at the end of each day for fear of finding your house had been
swallowed by a sink hole, and your cat abducted by aliens.
It was almost a relief when Duo, the last to arrive,
slid into the booth with his fellow ex-pilots, to see that they had indeed,
all five survived it. The drinks and appetizers were barely ordered before
the bitching started.
Quatre called ‘host’ rights and opened
with stories of employee embezzlement, sister histrionics, and what happens
when a two hundred gallon aquarium suddenly ruptures in the reception area
of the pent-house floor.
He was quickly challenged by Trowa whose sister could
more than match any histrionics any Winner sister ever thought of throwing,
and the group had to agree that an elephant with diarrhea was right up there
on the list of things they hoped never to have to deal with. Ever.
Trowa’s bid for highest sympathy rights was
summarily tested by Wufei though, with tales of corporate political dramatics
that rivaled any soap opera ever written. One that culminated with his being
assigned desk duty for a month, after calling the rookie son of the Commanding
Officer a ‘Brown-nosing, wet behind the ears, fat-ass desk jockey
wanna-be’… to his face.
Working in the same office though, Heero could lay
claim to all of the above short of the desk duty, but could also add in
being partnered with that self-same newbie for laughing at the ‘Brown-nosing,
wet behind the ears, fat-ass desk jockey wanna-be’ remark… in
front of the Commanding Officer.
Wufei had to concede the point to Heero and bowed
out, and when Trowa finally admitted that maybe two hundred gallons of smelly,
salty fish water pouring into the executive conference room during a client
demo outdid a sick elephant, that left Quatre and Heero going head to head…
unless Duo could trump the both of them.
‘So, Maxwell?’ Wufei prodded, rather hoping
to see his smug partner taken down a notch or two. ‘What have you
Duo was uncharacteristically quiet, poking listlessly
at a potato skin and looking like he’d changed his mind about eating
it. He sighed heavily while the others waited patiently for his bid.
‘Well,’ he began, chin propped on one
hand and the other making mashed potatoes from his potato skin. ‘The
week didn’t start out all that bad. Until Tuesday when I got the call
from Hilde’s lawyer. She’s suing me for breach of contract for
selling off my half of the scrap yard. Then Wednesday I got a letter from
my bank about freezing my accounts until the suit is settled. It was just
a week for bad mail I guess… Thursday was a recall letter about my
truck. Oh… and the one from the university denying my application.
And then, just to cap things…uh… well… never mind.’
‘You can’t never mind, Duo,’ Quatre
informed him, feeling his victory teetering dangerously in his grasp. ‘There’s
bragging rights on the line here… spill.’
If anything, Duo sank lower in his seat, and his potato
skin got flatter. ‘It’s dumb…’
Heero eyed Quatre, still convinced that baby-sitting
his commanding officer’s over-entitled son, while listening to Wufei
rant about injustice and favoritism from behind a desk, put him in the running.
‘Come on; fair is fair Duo… Wufei confessed to his attempted
career suicide… what have you got?’
Duo sighed, putting his fork aside in favor of his
spoon. ‘Fine, but you can’t laugh at me. See… there was
this bird that nested outside my apartment in that big old tree in the front
yard. The egg hatched about three weeks ago, and I’ve been watching
them. When the baby left the nest, he would just hop around the yard and
squawk, and the mother would come and feed him. Well, the neighbors cat
got her the other day, and the baby just sat and squawked for a couple of
hours and then just went and found something to eat on his own...’
Four pairs of eyes blinked at him.
‘That’s it?’ Wufei asked in confusion.
‘You’re going to match an orphaned bird against two hundred
gallons of salt water filtered through carpet and ceiling tiles pouring
onto the heads of potential clients? Maxwell… you really need to get
some therapy for these abandonment issues…’
‘You completely missed the point, Wufei!’
Quatre cut him off, confident enough in his own disastrous week, to give
Duo credit where credit was due. ‘He’s talking about human nature
and the war! The fighting we did and the people who came to rely on us.
If we had just disappeared, would they have stood up and defended themselves?
The bird didn’t really need his mother to feed him after he left the
nest, and once she wasn’t there to do it… he did it himself!
It’s a metaphor for…’
Trowa snorted derisively and rolled his eyes heavenward.
‘Oh stop! Metaphor my ass… he’s talking about the tragedy
of the baby bird completely forgetting his own mother bare hours after he
lost her! Adult birds will feign injuries to lure predators away from their
young, and she very likely died saving his life. How sad is it that her
sacrifice went completely unnoted, and he already doesn’t even remember
Duo sank further, bacon bits and processed cheese
mashed into an unholy glob. Beside him, Heero reached out and moved the
plate out of reach.
‘Named the bird, didn’t you?’ he
asked with a sigh.
Duo nodded morosely. ‘Gertrude.’
There was a long silence that Quatre finally broke.
‘I completely refuse to yield a demo that ended
with my sixty year old client looking like she’d entered a wet t-shirt
contest, and smelling like a fishing boat, to… a dead bird.’
‘Her name was Gertrude,’ Duo said, rather
defensively. ‘And she was a good mother bird.’
‘I… don’t believe this,’ Quatre
grumbled, and his own appetizer looked in danger of being flattened.
‘We’ll have a service or something, if
you like,’ Heero soothed, replacing Duo’s potato skin with one
that was more… intact.
‘Yeah?’ Duo perked up. ‘Maybe with
some bird seed or something for Junior?’
‘Whatever you like,’ Heero said, and smiled
when Duo dug into his dinner.
‘A service?’ Wufei asked in disbelief.
‘For a… bird? What in the hell kind of service do you have for
a cat hors d'oeuvre?’
‘We have little ceremonies for the animals that
pass away from the circus,’ Trowa offered helpfully. ‘Animals
have spirits too, you know.’
‘But… a bird,’ Wufei had to clarify.
‘A wild bird?’
‘Not just any bird,’ Duo informed him,
warming to the whole idea, ‘For Gertrude.’
‘Maybe we could get together and erect a bird
feeder in her honor?’ Heero suggested and got a beaming grin from
‘That’s a great idea!’ he said,
and then the waitress came with the main course and the conversation was
dropped while the orders were sorted out and plates passed around.
Several bites into his steak, Quatre suddenly brandished
his fork in triumph. ‘Hey! I’m still in the running! I can add
bird funeral to my list!’
‘No deal, Winner,’ Heero said firmly.
‘So can the rest of us.’
‘He’s right,’ Trowa agreed, nodding
sagely since he was already out. ‘Cancels out.’
‘Damn it!’ Quatre grumbled, returning
to cut another chunk from his steak before suddenly brightening. ‘Wait
a minute… half the fish in that tank died! I so win!’
Across the table, Duo looked at him in dawning horror.
‘What? Not Kenny and Kyle?’
Quatre could only stare back. ‘You… named
Heero just sighed and reached out to pluck Duo’s
fork from his hand. ‘We’ll take fish food to the koi pond in
the park after we put up the bird feeder…’
Fiction : GW :