In the End
by Dyna Dee
Straightening from his task, Heero closed the checkbook and looked down at the stamped envelopes neatly stacked on the dining room table. As always, he felt a sense of satisfaction in knowing that all of their debts had been paid, though the bank balance had suffered greatly for it. Doesn't matter, he thought with a dismissive shrug. He reached to the left of the stack of paid bills and picked up the neatly typed paper. He carefully re-read the letter of instructions that he'd written to their good and long-time neighbors, the Leats. Everything they needed to know was on that piece of paper. He'd left nothing out that might cause them any confusion.
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as place the paper back on the table and thought about the couple next door who had, more or less, adopted them as extended family members.
He and Duo had been new to the neighborhood themselves when the family of six had moved in nearly thirty years ago. From over the short fence that separated their yards they had a front row seat in watching the four Leat children grow up, get married and start families of their own. Having accepted many invitations to the family's barbeques, celebrations and holidays, he and Duo had become a part of their family and gained true friends that could be relied on in good times and bad. No doubt their long-time friends would be unhappy and perhaps angry with him for what he was about to do. He couldn't worry about that too much; Duo was and always had been his principal concern.
Taking a fresh piece of paper, he scribbled a final note to them, knowing the few simple words were woefully inadequate in explaining his actions. Without doubt he knew he was going to ruin their neighbor's Sunday. Once that task was completed, he neatly folded the note in half then took off his glasses and set them down on the table. Removing a piece of tape from the dispenser, he partially attached it to the top of the folded paper, then stood up and pushed his chair back into place.
With the newly-written note in his right hand, we crossed the short distance to the front door and exited the house. Walking as quickly as his aching knees would allow, he made his way down the sidewalk and over to the Leats' home, located to the right of their own. He'd planned this morning down to the last detail several weeks ago, with the knowledge that Ken and Desiree would leave for church services at 8:45 a.m. and be gone for several hours, a schedule they had followed every Sunday since they'd moved in. He didn't want to chance having his time with Duo nor his plans for the morning being interrupted, even by well-meaning and concerned friends. Reaching the entrance to the Leats' home, he taped the note to the wood and glass front door with meticulous care, assured by its position that they couldn't possibly miss seeing it when they returned home. With a deep sigh he turned and began the short journey back, mentally checking off one more task on his list of things to do that morning.
Though he enjoyed excellent health for a man of seventy, he could feel the wear and tear of those years creeping up on him. Arthritis, aches and pains and a definite lack of energy topped his list of physical complaints.
A dark shadow crept down the street and soon swept over him, blocking out the morning's sun. Looking up, he noted the large and dark rain cloud floating overhead. The shape of it vaguely reminded him of Wing Zero after its last upgrade, with its white wings stretched in flight. He grinned at the memory from his youth and picked up his step, thinking there was a very good chance of rain. He certainly didn't want to be caught in a shower and have to change again; that would definitely throw off his schedule for the morning.
Re-entering the house, he shut the door behind him, purposely leaving it unlocked. After letting his eyes readjust from the brighter light outside, he gazed thoughtfully around the living room, wondering if there was something he'd forgotten to do. Once more he checked the list in his head of the chores he'd set out to do that morning. The dishes had been done, the laundry was folded and put away, the house was clean and tidy and the bills were paid. A quick glance at the clock on the wall in the next room told him he was right on schedule.
Casting a long and wistful look around the home he'd shared with Duo for many years, he thought that if it were possible to love a place, then that was the emotion he felt as he looked around the familiar setting. Their home was warm and comfortable and as inviting as two men could make it, and the memories of both the good and difficult times they'd experienced over the years made the structure even more precious to him. Though he'd always considered his home to be where ever Duo was, this house had been a refuge for both of them from the rest of the world, a safe place they had called their own. Yes, he and Duo had grown old here, and for the past thirty years they'd faced every high and low that life could throw at them, and they'd faced it all together. Today would be no different.
All good things come to an end. Sadly, he recalled Duo having said those exact words on the day he was diagnosed with cancer, and the sad, forced smile he wore as he tried to hide his fear of the dreaded disease and Heero could see in his lover's eyes that he believed his death was inevitable. He hadn't been nearly as accepting of Duo's illness, and was angry with his husband for even thinking that the diagnosis could be the end of their life together. The days following the diagnosis, and the many months of treatment thereafter, were dark and filled with illness and fear. Little did he know that Duo's words, uttered nearly two years ago, would come to fruition, but not because of the cancer.
Walking further into the living room, he paused to look at the many familiar framed pictures that sat on the fireplace mantel. We were fortunate to have so many good and true friends, he thought as he pick up the oldest photo of five teenage boys. He smiled fondly at the image of the young gundam pilots, the picture taken several weeks after the first war. Dressed nicely for a party celebrating the end of the war, he recalled the event had been located at one of the Winner estates, the picture taken in the garden before the party began. The five of them stood in close proximity to each other with Quatre standing in the center of the photo, under Trowa's protective shadow. Wufei stood one step to their left, always a part of the group but somehow separate. Through two wars the five of them had fought, though not always on the same side. Wufei had been a strong individual with goals and ideals that had often led him to follow different paths in achieving his ideal of peace. Yet even with their differences, there had always something to admire about the Chinese freedom fighter, and his sense of fairness and justice earned him the respect of his peers.
To the right of the Quatre and Trowa stood a young and handsome Duo, his long brown braid falling over his left shoulder while he beamed a dazzling smile at the camera. He had one hand on Quatre's shoulder and the other arm wrapped around the waist of an unsmiling Japanese boy to his left, who gave the appearance that he wished to be anywhere but there and that Duo's arm was the only thing keeping the almost grim-looking youth from running off. The two of them looked like day and night, as if had absolutely nothing in common.
The lack of expression on his own youthful face was a mask he wore to hide his emotions. In this particular picture he recalled that he had been feeling both confusion and fear. He had never imagined surviving the war. Hell, he'd done his best to become a martyr to the cause. Finding himself alive at the end of the long conflict was almost as frightening as pushing the detonation button on Wing. Without Duo there, standing by his side and whispering constant reassurances into his ear that everything was going to be all right, he might have used his gun one last time to solve the problem of facing a future he'd never dreamed of.
Duo. The handsome boy from L2, the self-proclaimed God of Death, became his beacon of light, his life and reason for living. Their relationship after the war turned from comrades into lovers almost overnight. He'd always been unusually fascinated by the boy with the long braid of hair and impressed by his piloting and fighting skills. When Duo shyly kissed him while they'd watched the news together in a hotel room they shared the night after the war ended, he suddenly was struck with the realization that there was a world of new experiences and emotions to discover. There was absolutely no doubt in his mind that Duo was the one person he wanted to teach him how to live and to show him how to love. One moment after Duo's lips had touched his own, he'd grabbed hold the slender pilot like a lifeline and vowed to himself that if Duo truly wanted him, he'd embrace him fully and never let him go. That life-changing moment happened roughly fifty two years ago. And though their life together hadn't always been easy, he wouldn't have traded even a moment of it for anything or anyone else. Fifty two years, he thought again. A life time to some people, and more than enough years to spend with one person, other's would say. But when it came to him and Duo, fifty years wasn't even close to being enough time.
After Quatre's party, he and Duo began the next stage of their lives by traveling around the Earth, wanting to see and experience the world at peace. When they tired of that rambling existence, they returned to space and rented an apartment with the money they had left over from hacking OZ accounts during the war. They lived together, content with their lives and each other until Relena's kidnaping. Once more the gundam pilots became involved in the fight, but this time to save Earth and its government from Deikum Barton's mad schemes. Thankfully, it had been a short war, lasting only a couple of days. Even then, it had almost claimed his life.
After the dust had settled and he'd recovered from his injuries, he and Duo made the decision to join the Preventer organization. Side by side they worked to sustain the peace that had been established between Earth and the colonies, and for twenty three years they put their lives on the line for Director Une, a weekly paycheck and the enjoyment of working together for something they both believed in.
At the age of forty, and still very much in their prime, they both retired from their high-ranking jobs, against the advice of Director Une. She warned that an early retirement would limit the stipend they would get from their benefits package. They wouldn't be talked out of leaving, believing they didn't need a lot of money to live comfortably.
With Wufei having moved to the newly built Chinese space colony to become their governor, and Quatre and Trowa on L4, both working for the Winner Corporation, he and Duo had debated about whether or not they should move to the colonies in order live closer to their good friends. After a lengthy discussion, it was clear that neither one of them wanted to leave Earth. They compromised by moving closer to a spaceport, settling in the United States, in Colorado, where a new launch pad had been built, where several shuttles launched daily for any number of colonies.
They learned quickly that the cost of visiting their friends in space was a bit above their fixed income, so they budgeted their funds, took on part-time jobs, and bought a modest home only thirty minutes drive from the spaceport in a small town called Enterprise. Their home wasn't new, but being only ten years old at the time of purchase it was in good condition and in an established neighborhood. The single-story, three bedroom home with two baths, had a nicely maintained front yard and its fenced backyard appealed to the both of them.
The nearly thirty years we've spent here have been good, very good, Heero thought as he placed the picture in his hand back on the mantle and picked up the one next to it.
Wufei. The face of their Chinese friend stared back at him. They made it a habit of visiting Wufei when their budget allowed and often met up with him when he came to Earth for one of his many political meetings or his yearly vacation. He and Duo had come to love their Chinese friend's wife and their three children, who affectionately referred to them as their uncles. Sadness filled him as he thought of Wufei's early demise. It was still a mystery how someone who appeared so healthy, so vital and active and in the prime of his life could have died so suddenly at the age of forty five. A brain aneurism, the autopsy indicated, had taken their friend while he slept; he just never woke up. They attended the stately funeral, sharing their grief with Wufei's family, their whole colony and with their other two friends. It had been hard to face the fact that the first of the gundam pilots had died, proving that they were as mortal and susceptible to death as anyone else.
Brushing his finger over the face of their long deceased friend, he smiled sadly, thinking that at least Wufei had died without pain, content and happy, still vital and with all his faculties. Setting the picture back, he let his fingers linger on the frame a moment before reaching for the next photograph.
Quatre and Trowa had always been an important part of their lives, and he missed them deeply, especially during the past three years of hardship and trials. He and Duo could have used Trowa's solid strength. Their tall, auburn-haired friend had always been a quiet and unassuming man, a reliable support and voice of reason when there was a problem to be faced. Quatre's compassion and optimism was also something that no doubt would have helped them as he and Duo faced his cancer, their greatest enemy, as well as the debilitating, aggressive treatments that had followed the diagnosis. No doubt their friend would have celebrated with them after learning that the cancer had gone into remission.
Heero's eyes softened as he gazed at the faces of the two men who had been their long-time friends and family, again focusing his thoughts for a moment on Trowa. Their quiet friend had been the next to leave them. At the age of fifty two, he had been crossing the street on his way to collect Quatre for lunch when a drunk driver hit and killed him. He and Duo got to L4 as quickly as possible once they'd received the shocking news from one of Quatre's sisters. Their blond friend was beside himself with grief when they arrived at his and Trowa's stately home, a place they'd spent several memorable holidays celebrating together. The three of them weathered the worst of their grieving for yet another precious life taken from them much too soon. They had stayed with Quatre, a constant presence as he came to terms with having lost his soul mate. It had been a heart-wrenching time, and he and Duo had clung to each other each night they were there, fearful that such an unthinkable and unexpected incident, like that of Trowa's accident, might happen to one of them.
Quatre returned to work after four weeks had passed, when he was able to go through a day without bursting into tears of rage and grief. He urged his two remaining comrades to move in with him on a permanent basis, but they'd declined his offer after giving it serious consideration. They had made their home on Earth, having fallen in love with the planet's blue skies, clouds of every kind, gentle breezes and fierce winds, the plains, valleys, rolling hills and mountain. Dirt side was where they felt at home, where they belonged. With promises to visit as often as they could manage, he and Duo reluctantly left the last of their old friends and returned to their home in Colorado.
Heero's eyes shifted from Trowa's image to focus on Quatre's fair and handsome face. The Winner heir had lived a unique life, charmed in many ways and yet sad and tragic, too. Though they'd been to L4 to visit him over the years, they hadn't been able to travel off-planet during the past three trying years of Duo's illness, knowing that Quatre would understand, that is, if he remembered them at all. The once brilliant business and tactical mind was now clouded with Alzheimer's. He'd been told of Duo's bout with cancer, but by the time the treatments were over and a new crisis had developed, their friend was too far gone to even recognize them when they called on the vid phone. Of course Quatre was in the best facility that money could buy and cared for by attentive and more than competent health professionals. But Quatre, their wonderful, caring friend, was no longer with them anymore than Trowa or Wufei were.
Bringing the photograph to his face, Heero placed a tender kiss on glass covering the two faces smiling at the camera. "Until we meet again," he whispered.
"Heero!" Duo was awake and sounding anxious. Both he and his lover knew the end was near, and Duo's one fear was that of dying alone, despite Heero's assurance that he would always be by his side.
Returning the photograph to its place on the mantle, he moved quickly through the house and entered the bedroom to see his husband of 50 years propped up against the many pillows set behind him to make him more comfortable. Moving to the far side of the bed he noted that Duo's eyes followed him and that his lover's breathing was rapid and his lips were blue; another telling sign that the end was drawing near. The doctor had been by to visit Duo the morning before and told Heero that it was just a matter of weeks now, two, maybe three at most.
"I'm here," he said as he moved to turn up the oxygen tank that rested next to the bed. Pressing the mask up to Duo's face, he waited anxiously for him to take a couple of deep breaths. Duo seemed to sleep well enough without the mask, but once awake he often needed the aid of the oxygen tank to get enough air into his lungs.
Duo's eyes never left his face, and returning his gaze Heero could still catch a glimpse of the boy he'd first been infatuated with, admired from a distance and then fallen in love with. He hadn't known back then if he was emotionally capable of loving anyone after the training he'd received from Dr. J., but Duo set out to prove to him that there was a wealth of emotion lying beneath the surface of the dedicated soldier. Somehow, that crazy American teen had been the catalyst that brought to the surface all the emotions that had been trained out of him. Those large, blue-violet eyes were a bit faded after so many years, and there were crows feet at their corners, but other than that Duo's skin, though pale, remained smooth and unspotted, belying his true age. Though he'd cut off his long braid years ago, his lover had always had a thick head of rich brown hair, that grayed at the temples in his mid fifties. They'd watched all that glorious hair fall out by the handful after Duo began his cancer treatments. After several months his hair had begun to grow back, and though it was just as tick as it had been, this time it was white and just as stunning as his chestnut-colored hair had ever been.
Heero gently combed his fingers through that thick mane of white in an effort to calm his longtime love. "Shh. I'm here."
"Where'd you go?" If he hadn't been sitting so close, Heero would not have been able to hear the soft, breathy question.
"I put a note on the Leats' door telling them that I was taking you for a ride in the car this morning."
"A ride? Where?" A faint smile appeared behind the clear mask.
"How about the mountains? You always loved going there. We could take a lunch and make a day of it."
Duo's eyes seemed to light up. "I'd like that. Do you think... it will... be okay?" Duo's face displayed both anticipation and worry.
"I'll give you your medication before we go and bring the oxygen along. If you don't feel well, we'll come back home."
Duo nodded and offered him a weak smile, trying to put on a brave face. "One last time. Together."
Heero understood perfectly. He and Duo had often gone to the mountains, driven up to one of the popular trails to spend the day hiking. They both loved the outdoors. Often, they would drive to the mountains just to see the sunset, watching it slowly slide behind the western horizon. They'd sit on the car hood where he'd hold Duo in front of him, enjoying the solitude and the majestic site of the sun setting on the western horizon as another day slowly ebbed to a close.
"How about something to eat before we go?"
"I'm not hungry," Duo answered.
"Not even for some marble fudge ice cream?" Duo's long-time weakness. As always, a light sparked in the faded blue-violet eyes. "I'll make you a small bowl and put your meds in it, then we'll head out." Securing the oxygen mask by pulling the elastic strap carefully behind his lover's head, Heero then stood and walked from the room. "Be right back," he called out over his shoulder.
He got the ice cream out of the freezer, then picked up the clear plastic bag he'd prepared after finishing the breakfast dishes. He studied the ground-up powder a moment, as if weighing a heavy decision one last time. Taking a deep breath, he set the bag down in order to scoop the ice cream out from its carton and waited a few minutes until it was soft enough to stir with a spoon. Without hesitating, he poured the entire contents of the plastic bag into the softened ice cream and stirred the powder in. Satisfied, he reached down to tap the bottle resting in his pants pocket, assuring himself that it was still there, then picked up the chilled bowl and headed back to the bedroom.
Duo was looking at the large array of pictures that he habitually kept on his bedside table. All of the people who had ever meant anything to them were there. Sad eyes filled with tears turned to him as he sat in the chair next to the bed. Pulling the mask off his face, his lover spoke in a sad voice. "They're all gone, Heero. Who's going to look after you when I'm gone?"
Leaning forward, Heero kissed his lover's mouth, gently and briefly, not wanting to tax his already labored breathing. "Don't worry about me, Duo. I'll be fine."
"I can't help but worry."
Duo had learned, by way of a phone call from the bank, that not only had they spent all their savings and used up all their retirement money, but that Heero had taken out a bank lone, similar to a reverse mortgage, to pay for the enormous medical bills. There was hardly anything left in any of their accounts and in a few months their home would belong to the bank. Duo had been angry with him for spending all they had, leaving nothing for his own future, but Heero simply pointed out that if their places were reversed and he was the one who had become ill, Duo would have done the same for him.
"Here, eat this and then we'll go. I don't want to talk about the future right now. I just want to enjoy what we still have, here and now."
Duo looked reluctant, but after a moment he nodded and opened his mouth and let Heero put the spoon of the soft dairy product into his mouth. If his lover thought the ice cream was grainy, he didn't complain, but dutifully opened his mouth until every last bite of his favorite dessert was gone. "Umm... good," he said in a thick voice.
Heero brought the glass of water, sitting on the bedside table, to Duo's lips and let him take a drink. When Duo motioned that he was done, he put both the glass and the bowl on the table. "Why don't you rest a few minutes and I'll get the truck ready."
Heero leaned forward and kissed his one and only love on for forehead, both cheeks and then his mouth. "I love you, Duo. Now and forever."
Duo's chin trembled as he answered, "Forever, love."
Reluctantly, Heero stood and walked from the room. He went to the laundry room and through the connecting doors to their garage where the truck that Duo had always preferred to the car sat alone in the enclosed space. Heero had deliberately parked his own car out in the driveway, leaving the keys on the dining room table. Turning on the overhead lights, he checked to make sure that the windows and doors were secured with the silver masking tape covering the cracks in the large door. Pulling the truck's keys out of his pocket, he opened the driver's door and placed the key in the ignition. Satisfied, he walked around the truck and opened the other door so that he wouldn't have to struggle with it when he had Duo in his arms.
There was only one thing left to do. Going back into the house, he went into the guest bathroom and filled up the cup that sat on the counter of the sink. Removing the pills from his pocket, he paused for only a moment before he began the task of swallowing the entire contents of the bottle. For the past year he'd saved as many sleeping and pain pills as he could, knowing this day would come shortly after learning that Duo was dying and that there wasn't a damn thing they could do about it.
Still swallowing, and fighting to keep the many pills down, he thought bitterly about how he and Duo had spent tens of thousands of dollars fighting his cancer. They'd gone to the best doctors and used the strongest, newest drugs on the market. When it was announced that the cancer was in remission, their victory party was cut short after learning that the drugs used to beat down the cancer had also irreversibly damaged Duo's heart. Now, after a year and a half of living day to day, they had reached the end. Duo's heart was just too tired to go on, and Heero couldn't go on without him.
Looking at his reflection in the mirror, he could see only a hint of white amongst the dark brown strands of hair that covered his head. Yes, he looked older, but he could reasonably pass for a man in his mid fifties rather then one who was seventy. The dark circles under his eyes, however, told of his many sleepless nights caring for his ill husband and treasuring each and every breath he took, every word that passed between them and every moment they had left together. With a deep, somewhat shaky breath, he admitted to himself that he was tired, dead tired.
Going back into the bedroom, he returned to Duo's side to stare down at the quietly resting man. It wouldn't be long now. He'd given Duo an overdose of pain medication, making sure his lover would no longer feel any pain or fear. Bending over, he combed his fingers though the thick white hair and kissed his lover once more. "Ready to go?"
Duo nodded but didn't open his eyes. "Um.. sleepy."
"That's all right. I was going to carry you anyway." Yet instead of picking Duo up immediately, Heero sat down and held his love's hand between his own. It felt chilled, probably due to the bad circulation caused by his failing heart. "Forgive me," he whispered. This is the best way, the only way, he told himself, and not for the first time. Duo was suffering, but now the suffering was just about over, for the both of them.
When he felt his own eyelids becoming heavy, he turned to the table of pictures and picked up the one of the five gundam pilots, taken at Wufei's wedding. Their group had been happy and whole then, and that's the memory he wanted to carry with them. Setting the framed picture on Duo's stomach, he picked his lover up - an easy task considering how light he'd become from his long illness - along with a blanket to keep him comfortable. With cautious steps, he retraced the path back out to the garage and gently laid his lover on the bench seat of the truck he'd always loved.
His hands lingered on his Duo's thin body for just a moment, reluctant to part from him for even the few moments it would take to get into the driver's seat. He forced himself to move, but found himself stumbling as the drugs in his system began to take control of his body. With his hand on the truck for support, he stumbled around the vehicle, pausing only to shut the door to the house, and then used the last of this strength to climb up into the cab and sit behind the wheel. He bent to release the lever that put the seat back, and fought the urge to vomit as his stomach began to react to the many pills he's swallowed. He held the bile down, not wanting to ruin his plans by losing the medication that was breaking down in his belly. He closed the truck's door and took a deep, shuddering breath to steady himself as the world around him began to spin.
It took more effort now to pull Duo's unresisting body up and onto his lap, but sheer determination helped him accomplish the difficult task. He held his lover in his arms once more with the picture he'd taken from the bedroom secure against Duo's chest. Surprisingly, Duo was still somewhat conscious and able to speak, but his voice was soft and slurred as he asked, "We going now?"
"Yes, love. We're going now. Together. Always remember that I love you."
There came no further sound or movement from the man in his arms. Reaching forward, Heero started the truck and turned on the CD player. He'd placed one of his favorite Mozart CDs into the changer earlier that morning. It somehow seemed fitting for he and Duo to pass from their lives with the soothing sounds of symphonic music drowning out the chugging of the truck's engine. The harmonious instruments reflected their lives, somehow. The violence they'd known in their youth and while working as Preventers had been eclipsed by their love for each other and their friends. He mentally smiled at the sound of the violins. They always reminded him of Quatre, especially in his youth. In his mind he could see the Winner heir once again, his young face a study of concentration and his blond hair swaying along with his body as he played his violin with a passion that matched his loving heart.
His surroundings were becoming less clear as he began to slip into an unconscious state, unable and unwilling to fight the coming darkness any longer. Still, with his last bit of strength, he clutched Duo closer to his chest, as if he could protected him from the great unknown they were about to enter. His head fell forward, his face pillowed on the thick white hair, and he smelled flowers. The lingering scent of Duo's favorite shampoo helped him to ignore the noxious fumes coming from the truck's exhaust pipe. After all the years that had passed since his training, he didn't know if the alterations Dr. J had made to his body would give him a tolerance to being gassed, so he wasn't taking any chances. Swallowing the sleeping pills was his way of assuring the final outcome. One way or the other he was following Duo into the great unknown called death. He had no desire to live even one moment longer than his lover's last breath.
With the scent of flowers filling his senses and the warmth of Duo resting heavily against his chest, he thought of the mountains and wished he truly could have taken Duo to see them one last time. Then suddenly the scent of pine and flower tickled his senses. Surprised by this unexpected change, he opened his eyes and was surprised to see Duo, mere inches away, looking at him with a mischievous glint in his eyes. His lover was young again, his face, flushed with color, was as handsome as ever. To his delight, Heero realized that they were lying in a field of grass and wild flowers with their legs entwined and arms wrapped around each other. It felt like Spring, when everything was new and exciting and he and Duo were young and whole once more. Leaning forward, he kissed his lover with fiery abandon, tasting him, savoring the passion between them and never wanting this magical moment to end.
An hour and a half later the Leats returned home from church to find a neatly printed note on their front door instructing them to call the police. It explained further that their neighbors had taken their final journey together in the red pickup truck in the garage of their home. After thanking them for being good friends and neighbors, Heero made one last request, Please don't grieve for us. Duo and I are together in death just as we were in life, and being together was all we ever needed to be happy.