by Dyna Dee
Heero arrived back at the cottage around noon the following day, carrying bags filled with Come & Get It burgers, french fries and milk shakes that were enjoyed by all. Since the day proved to be relatively warm they decided to take a ride in Hilde's rental car to the beach where the three adults hovered over Zazu and Ali as the children delighted in the sea foam and built sand castles at the edge of the shore. They had been there only an hour when Ali began to droop with fatigue, bringing an abrupt end to the outing. The five made a hasty dash back to the cottage where the little boy slept soundly for several hours.
Before he left that evening, Quatre and Trowa had called to catch up on the latest news about Ail's condition and any word concerning the hoped for transplant. Wufei also called just as he was leaving for the night. Duo simply referred to the Chinese man's call as his daily check in, to see how things were going.
Heero returned to the cottage on Sunday, just after noon again, with deli sandwiches for everyone. He noted a lowering of hostility from Hilde and that Duo seemed to be relaxing from the initial tension his close presence seemed to have caused. After lunch, Hilde suggested a trip to the Exploratorium of Science in Golden Gate Park, but Duo declined, not wanting to expose Ali to crowds and all the germs they carried. Hilde took Zazu while Heero stayed behind to keep Duo and Alairic company.
The two men watched a whimsical movie with the four year old who spent most of the time quietly playing with his puzzles or stuffed animals. Wufei's daily call came as the credits rolled, so Heero volunteered to put their son down for a nap while Duo took the call. After only a moment's hesitation, Duo agreed to the offer.
Once Alairic's hands and face had been wiped clean, Heero removed the miniature tennis shoes from his son's feet and set the little boy down on the bed. As directed, he carefully placed all his stuffed "doggies" around him and then asked, "Comfortable?"
The sleepy boy nodded and said, "Sing a song."
Heero pulled up a memory from the past, recalling that Duo usually told a story or sang a song to the kids before he put them to bed. The only song he could think of was the one they'd just heard on the video they'd watched earlier. It was silly, really, that a farmer would sing to a despondent pig. But the song was short, the words sweet and the tune was easy to remember. So in a soft voice he began to sing the song as he sat on the edge of the bed next to his son and brushed his fingertips gently though the dark hair, pushing away from his forehead as he coaxed him to sleep.
If I had words to make a day for you,
I'd sing you a morning golden and new.
I'd make this day to last a life time.
And fill your nights deep in moonshine.*
He wasn't the best of singers, but Heero knew he could remember almost any tune and sing well enough for the song to be recognized. He repeated the song five times before Ali's fluttering eyes closed for the last time and he drifted off to sleep. After singing the song once more for good measure, Heero bent to kiss the perfect little cheek, mentally sending all his love to his beautiful son.
Silently tip-toeing out of the bedroom, he found Duo off the phone and folding a load of clean clothing that had just come from the dryer. A plate of crispy rice cereal treats sat on the coffee table.
"Andrea brought over the laundry and a snack," Duo explained, neatly folding Alairic's pajamas.
"They seem like nice people," Heero said, grabbing up one of Eliza's sun dresses to fold.
"They're the best," Duo replied.
They worked side by side for a few moments before Heero gave into the urge to speak about a topic he'd been preoccupied with. "You and Wufei seem close."
Duo shrugged, "Yeah, he's been great. Always there when I need him."
"Are you involved? Romantically?"
Duo's head jerked up and there was a momentary look of surprise on his face that quickly vanished when his eyes narrowed and he glared at his ex-lover. "I don't think that's any of your business," he said, clearly angry.
Heero regretted his mistake instantly. "You're right. I was just curious."
"You've been out of touch a long time, Heero," Duo said frostily. "And your ignorance regarding your friends is showing."
He wondered what that meant but didn't dare ask in light of Duo's changed mood. He was walking a precarious line as it was with the other man and he wasn't about to blow his chance at being close to his family again by arguing or upsetting him. They continued folding the clothes while an uneasy silence grew between them.
Taking the folded clothing, Duo carefully placed them back into the basket and set it by the bedroom door. Looking around the cottage, Heero wondered what he could do to help out but everything seemed to be in place, neat and tidy. He sat back down on the sofa and was joined a moment later by Duo, who immediately put his head back and closed his eyes.
Duo nodded. "Ali was up twice last night. Because he doesn't get much exercise during the day, he doesn't require as much sleep as an active child."
"Should he be taking naps during the day then?
"He needs them and so do I," he said while yawning. "I just have to make sure he doesn't sleep over an hour."
"Why don't you stretch out on the sofa and rest? I'll listen for him and take care of him when he wakes up."
Duo's head turned and one eye opened. It was clear that he was debating the proposal. Then wearily, he nodded. "Alright. Just don't let him get excited or start running and jumping. We don't want to tax his heart anymore than necessary."
Heero stood and went to the kitchen counter to pick up the baby monitor. He realized with some chagrin that it was already on. "You didn't overhear me talking to Alairic in there, did you?" he asked as Duo stretched out on the sofa.
"Yeah. You almost put me to sleep with your lullaby." A slight grin on the handsome face told Heero he was being teased. He couldn't help but smile in return.
"Do you want me to sing you to sleep, too?"
Duo snorted, his eyes remaining shut. "Nah, I don't want to play the role of the pig and you the farmer who sang to him," he said, referring to the movie they'd viewed earlier. " I'll go to sleep if you stop yapping at me."
Heero took the teasing for what Duo intended and watched the small smile on his ex-lover's face slowly fade as he drifted off to sleep.
Moving closer, he stared at the slumbering man's face, noting several creases at the sides of his eyes that hadn't been there several years ago. Life hadn't been easy for Duo, he concluded. But then again, he wondered if life was easy for anyone. "I missed you," he whispered to the sleeping man, only to be surprised when Duo answered with a sleepy mumble, "Missed you, too."
He left earlier that day, just before five and after Hilde and Eliza had returned from their afternoon outing. He'd neglected his apartment, laundry and email all weekend and he needed to tend to them before he began work the next morning. He embraced Eliza and promised ice cream the next weekend and held Alairic while asking what he'd like him to bring when he returned the next Friday.
"Gummy bears," the little boy answered, grinning happily.
"Then gummy bears it is," he agreed and hugged his son once more, giving him a kiss on his forehead before handing him back to Duo, who'd worn a soft, tender smile as he watched the exchange. As their eyes met, Heero said, "Call me if you need anything or if he goes to the hospital for the transplant."
Duo nodded. "Thanks," was his non-committal reply.
With a brief word of farewell to Hilde, who was returning to L-2 in the morning, he turned to leave, finding each step he took away from the cottage and his family seemed heavy with reluctance. He shook it off and made his way back to the city just as the fog began to roll over the western mountains that lined the coastline.
The week was long and hectic and not quite as productive as usual due to the fact that his thoughts were pre-occupied with the small family residing in Palo Alto. He was glad when Friday morning finally rolled around and he went to the office very early, determined to clear his desk by three so that he could get a head start on the rush-hour traffic going south.
His phone rang at nine fifteen and his secretary announced that he had a call from Madison. He wondered, as his finger hit the appropriate line, what his former lover wanted. He hadn't spoken to her in several weeks, since their relationship ended.
"Odin?" Her voice, he noted, was oddly tight.
"Hello, Madison. How are you?" he asked, curious but polite. She'd never made it a habit of calling him at work when they were together, so he couldn't help but wonder why she was calling now.
"I just got a call from Andrea," she stated, and the grave tone of her voice caught his attention immediately. "Odin, I... I don't know how to say this. I'm... so sorry. Andrea said Duo woke up this morning to find that Ali had passed away during the night."
"No," he gasped with horrified disbelief, his heart suddenly heavy and yet beating much too fast.
"Duo's not doing well," she continued. "Andrea and Craig have called his other friends but Wufei can't get here until tonight and his friends from L-4 are picking up Ali's mother and bringing her back with them. They won't be here until tomorrow afternoon and she wondered if you could go to the cottage and help Duo and Zazu deal with this."
Though he heard and registered everything Madison had said, Heero fervently hoped he was still in bed and having a nightmare. Alairic was fine when he left on Sunday and he had a large bag of gummy bears to bring him; he couldn't be gone. His chest hurt and he felt sick.
"Odin? Are you there?"
"Tell her I'm on my way." He choked out the words as he tried to catch his breath.
"I'm so sorry, Odin. Call if you need anything, anything at all."
He hung up the phone feeling numb and hurting to the very core of his being. Moving on automatic, he took his car keys out of his desk and left the office, leaving behind his suit jacket, brief case and his laptop on his desk, still running. Walking in a trance of grief up to his secretary, he stood before her desk trying to formulate what he needed to say.
Blinking as if he were waking from a bad dream, he looked at the familiar woman. "My son died this morning. I need to leave to be with my family."
"Oh, Mr. Yuy. I'm so terribly sorry. I'll tell Mr. Campbell and I'm sure you can take off as much time as you need. Do you need a ride somewhere?" she asked with a look of genuine sadness and concern. Heero shook his head then turned away, heading towards the elevator that would take him to the lower parking garage.
He didn't remember much of the drive out of the city, nor the ride towards Palo Alto. His body functioned on automatic as his mind sorted through his few memories of the beautiful boy he'd held and sung a song to the weekend before. His thoughts drifted to Duo and Eliza and how hard they must be taking Alairic's death. Feeling his own grief churning within him, begging to be let out, he fought to keep it down, telling himself that he needed to be strong for his remaining family. He tried to use his former training, tools he'd used until recently to block out his feelings for Duo and his children, but for some reason he wasn't able to completely block his grief nor stop the tears welling in his eyes, blurring his vision.
He was a bit surprised to find himself parked outside the now familiar residence of Andrea and Craig Olsen. He remembered to turn off his car and lock the door before he made his way to the gate that would take him to the backyard and the little cottage. As he approached the small structure, he could hear Eliza crying through the screen door. He walked inside without knocking and saw Andrea sitting on the sofa, holding Eliza on her lap and rocking her back and forth, attempting to comfort the grieving little girl. The closing of the screen door alerted them to his presence and two sets of grief-stricken, red and wet eyes rose to meet his own.
"I'm glad you could come so soon,"Andrea said in a shaky voice, obviously struggling to hold her emotions in check.
Heero went to the sofa and knelt in front of to the two. Eliza turned towards him, her large eyes filled with sorrow. "Ali's dead, Odin," she cried. Heero reached out and pulled her from the other woman's embrace and held his daughter close to his heart.
"I'm sorry," he whispered in a voice choked with emotion. "So sorry about everything."
He held her trembling body close to his own, trying to give and receive comfort from the contact. Raising his eyes to look at Andrea, he asked the question that was foremost in his mind. "Where's Duo?"
"In the bedroom," she answered, dabbing at her eyes as her chin quivered. "After Craig signed the death certificate, the mortuary came to take Ali. Duo was beside himself and my husband felt it necessary to sedate him."
Kissing Eliza, Heero said softly to her. "I think your daddy needs me, Eliza. Can you stay with Andrea for a little while so I can go to him?"
The little girl nodded her head and went easily back into the woman's motherly embrace and buried her face into Andrea's shoulder. Heero stood and quietly thanked Andrea, then made his way to the bedroom door. With his hand on the doorknob he paused, taking in a shuddering breath while trying to compose himself. I have to be strong... for him, he told himself. Then straightening his shoulders, he entered the darkened room.
Duo was on the far side of the bed, in the place where Alairic had slept previously, surrounded by all of the little boy's stuffed animals. Heero's heart seemed to trembl within his chest with each step he took towards the man who still had possession of his heart. Wearing loose pajama bottoms and a T-shirt, Duo was curled in a fetal position, clutching the familiar red doggie blanket to his chest. His former lover looked anything but peaceful, even while sedated. His face was pinched with grief and the tracks of his tears were visible on his cheeks.
Reaching out a trembling hand, Heero lightly touched Duo's face and heavy-lidded, red-rimmed eyes gradually opened and a hitched sob escaped the braided man. "Oh God, Heero," Duo gasped. Without any forethought, Heero opened his arms and found them filled a moment later with the anguished man. He held Duo tightly to him and was vaguely aware that the trembling of the other's body matched his own as they both tried and failed to cope with the loss of their little boy, tragically taken from them much too soon.
Time and everything else faded as they held each other, and when Duo's body grew still and heavy in his embrace, Heero realized that the sedative must have finally kicked in. After a bit of awkward maneuvering, he managed to shift the both of them down onto the bed, maintaining his hold on the drugged and emotionally exhausted man the entire time. When they finally settled, he was on his side and spooned up against Duo's back, holding him protectively in his arms. He remembered this had been the way they'd always slept when they'd been together.
Noticing the red doggie blanket still loosely clutched in Duo's hands, Heero reached over his Duo's body to bring a corner of it up to his face and rubbed it against his cheek. It was soft and warm and had the smell of the little boy now gone. He buried his face into it and let some of the tears he'd held back fall, silently grieving for the loss of an innocent child, for the pain Duo and Eliza were feeling, and for his own loss and guilt at not having had enough time to become a true father to his beautiful son. For the first time in his life, Heero Yuy cried himself to sleep, holding tightly to both the blanket and to Duo.
A light touch to his shoulder woke him in an instant. Rubbing the gumminess from his eyes, Heero turned to see Andrea beckoning him to follow her. He carefully moved away from Duo, who was still sleeping soundly, and got off the bed.
Andrea stopped in front of the bedroom door and whispered, "I think Zazu could benefit from your presence right now. Maybe you can get her to eat something or take a nap," she suggested with an expression of sympathy on her face.
Following her out of the room, he shook out the pins and needles in his left arm caused by cradling Duo's head. His eyes landed on Eliza, wedged in the corner of the sofa, sniffing as tears continued to roll down her pale cheeks. A glance at the clock reported the time to be twelve thirty. He went over to his daughter and knelt down in front of her. The girl's eyes latched onto his instantly.
"How are you doing?" he asked.
Her lips trembled as she answered, "Not so good. Can I see my Dad?"
Heero took hold of her hands and held them in his own as he answered. "He's sleeping right now, but I think that if you want to go in and climb up behind him, you could give him a hug. Will that help?"
She hiccupped and nodded at the same time.
"How about I make you some lunch?"
"Not hungry," she answered, her whole demeanor sad.
"Me either," he told her. "But your dad would want you to eat a little something to keep up your strength. Can you manage to eat something for him? Maybe a piece of fruit?"
Eliza hesitated, then nodded. "Maybe some grapes," she sniffed.
Pulling gently on her hand, Heero helped her to stand and then led her to the bedroom door. He watched from the doorway as she cautiously climbed up onto the bed and crawled across it to lie against her father's back to embrace him in the same manner Heero had earlier. He leaned his arm against the door frame and rested his forehead on it, trying to deal with his emotions, to suppress them as much as possible in order to help his family. It just wouldn't do for him to fall apart as well, not when they needed him to be strong.
"I'm sorry," Andrea whispered behind him. "Craig and I would like to offer our help in any way we can. We have three extra bedrooms and a fold out bed in the family room if you have company coming and they need a place to stay."
"I'm sure they'll want to be close and will appreciate your invitation. Thank you," Heero said, overwhelmed by the couple's kindness.
"I'll bring dinner over tonight around six, in case anyone is hungry, and I put my phone number on the kitchen table. Please call me if you need anything at all."
Heero nodded, too afraid of losing control of his emotions by speaking his gratitude again. He was almost relieved, though, when he heard the screen door close, signaling that Andrea had gone. He was grateful for her helpfulness and kindness, but he just didn't want to deal with talking to anyone at the moment.
After several minutes had passed, it became clear that Eliza had fallen asleep behind her father. They were both emotionally exhausted. He shut the bedroom door quietly and walked to the kitchen counter to find the business card of the mortuary that had taken their son. There were things to do, he knew, arrangements to be made, but at the moment he just couldn't pull himself together enough to tackle it.
Returning to the sofa, he sat down and told himself that he should probably be doing something, maybe calling someone, but he didn't know who. Surely the others would have called all of Duo's extended family: Howard and the sweepers, Hilde and Relena. It came to him in that moment that there was no one in his current life as Odin Yuy, a successful stock broker, who he was close enough to share his grief. At work or in his social relationships, other than Madison and his secretary, no one had even known that he'd had a child. Planting his elbows on his knees, he placed his face into his hands and cursed himself again for his selfishness in leaving Duo and the kids. He'd lost three and a half of the four years his son had lived, and for the rest of his life he would bitterly regret it.
Eliza came out of the bedroom an hour later, weeping anew. Reluctantly, she choked down a few chilled grapes and with little interest ate an ice cream bar. Heero decided they should keep busy and talked her into making cookies with him. It was a struggle for the both of them to carry out the simple chore of following a recipe, but between the two of them, they accomplished the task.
By the time their first batch of cookies came out of the oven, Duo emerged from the bedroom, staggering, mussed and desperately trying to focus his eyes. "Zazu!" he called out with an urgent, almost panicked voice. The little girl ran to him and flung herself into his arms. Father and daughter held each other tightly, almost desperately. Watching them closely, Heero heard Duo whisper hoarsely to his remaining child, "Don't leave me, Zazu. Don't you dare leave me, too."
"I'll never leave you, Daddy. I'm here, don't worry."
A faded memory came back in full force from the time he and Duo had just discovered their deep feelings for each other. Duo had told him how everyone he'd ever cared for had died or left him behind, and he needed his assurance that he'd never die or walk away from him. They had been so young then, and overwhelmed by the war they'd been fighting. His first reaction to Duo's request was to deny him the promise. How could he promise to never leave or not die with the kind of life they lived? But by the end of the night, he'd done just that, and to Duo, it was just as valid as any vow of matrimony. From what Duo had said, he'd already broken his promise twice, once by deserting him emotionally and then physically. And now Alairic had left him also. He knew it wasn't the time or the place to speak of it, but Heero felt an overwhelming sense of love for the other man and the need to protect him from further heartbreak. He wanted to speak binding promises to Duo once more, but he couldn't, not right now. It was going to take time and a lot of healing for the three of them to get past Alairic's death. Somehow, even though it seemed impossible at the moment, he would see that they survived this to go on. And if Duo would give him a second chance, he'd never let him go again. He knew he would never again leave the man he loved nor their remaining child. He'd denied it for too long, but they were his family, his heart and soul and he needed them. He just hoped they still had a similar feeling of need for him.
With some hesitation, he approached the two, still embracing. "Are you hungry, Duo? Can I get you anything?"
A pair of tragic, blue-violet eyes rose to meet his gaze. "What I really need, Heero, no one can give me. But I probably should have a drink of water."
Heero returned a moment later with a glass of ice water and led Duo and Zazu to the sofa. He sat in the corner, stretched out his legs across the length of it, the pulled Duo down to sit between them so that his back was against his chest. Eliza sat on her father's lap, resting her head against his shoulder while Duo rested heavily against him. The three sat together with Duo slowly sipping the water. After having his fill, he handed the glass back to Heero who placed it on the end table. No words were exchanged for a while, and it was Eliza who brought them out of their private thoughts.
"What are we going to do now, Daddy?" Her voice was unsure and tremulous.
Absently toying with one of his daughter's messy braids, it took a moment before Duo managed to answer, his emotions barely held in check. "I don't know, Zaz. I just can't think straight enough to even contemplate how to go on."
Heero tightened his arms around Duo. "You go from one moment to the next, Duo. Hour to hour, day to day. Somehow, time moves on and eventually the worst day of your life becomes less painful." They both knew he was speaking from experience but neither felt the need at the moment to revisit the past. The present alone was much too painful.
Another five minutes passed and slowly Duo's tense body began to relax against him. "He died in his sleep, Heero," Duo said, his voice little more than a whisper. "In my arms. Ever since he contracted rheumatic fever he's slept with me. I wanted to be close enough to help him if something went wrong. He was nestled against my side, his head on my shoulder when he slipped away. I didn't even realized he'd passed on." The tears and anguish from earlier were back, but instead of trying to distract or calm the man in his arms, Heero sensed that Duo needed to talk about that morning, that it would be good for him to let his grief out and to begin to deal with Alairic's death. Duo continued. "When I woke up, I could feel that he was heavy and cold, and I knew instantly, even before I opened my eyes, that I'd lost him."
Duo was openly crying now, and Eliza turned to wrap her arms around her grieving father's neck and cried along with him. Heero fought to control himself. He had to be strong for them, he told himself. "Think of this, Duo," he began, his own voice slightly choked. "There wasn't a more loved boy than Alairic. He passed peacefully in his sleep without pain or unnecessary suffering. He left this world in the warmth of his father's arms, loved forever by those he's left behind."
He didn't know if his words helped or not because Duo and Eliza continued to grieve for the bright light that had gone out in their lives.
They were in that same piled-up position when a gentle knock sounded on the door. Eliza lifted her head and jumped from her father's lap with a cry in seeing Wufei standing in the doorway.
WARNING: This chapter deals with the death of a child and the grieving aftermath.
*From the movie Babe. There's also a reference to the book I'll Love You Forever. I know neither belong in the GW universe, but I couldn't help myself, especially the movie.