The sobs finally stopped because he physically could not produce any more. The tears would no longer come, his body was too exhausted, and resigned itself to heaving and sniffling pitifully. He pounded his fist one more time against the floor he had collapsed onto. The tears and sorrow he had bottled up for three months had come crashing out like a thunder storm for the last fifteen minutes. Everything he had not allowed himself to express for the sake of those who depended on him. He had been so strong for them. He'd had to be.
And then Heero Yuy showed up. It had been such a shock to see him. Of course he knew it was Heero, he recognized him, but he had had a hard time believing it was really Heero. Seeing that face again, after all these years. Same impossibly beautiful features, same startling blues eyes. The face and the form that still haunted him now and then, in the dreams he desperately wished would go away. Seeing him brought to the surface a longing that existed even after rejection, a tiny speck that shone bright and painfully raw against a black sea of ugly, disgusted, and bitter feelings he tried so hard to keep hidden.
But it wasn't the shock of seeing Heero or the revulsion he felt at his past, it was Heero's lies that had broken his carefully constructed walls. He felt like a wreck. He stood and wiped his aching eyes. Heero had come out of no where, asking for his help, and he had the gall to act hurt! No, Heero was the one who has tossed him aside, never cared to see him again - until he needed him, of course! Heero had taken a buried memory that was already so painful and made it hurt all over again, the lies making it so much worse.
Did Heero have any idea what that had done to him? His sexual urges toward another boy had cost him the only thing he'd ever loved, and destroyed the only chance he'd have at getting out of here. And worst of all, he'd ruined it for Father too. His actions had caused them to be sent away, his alone. He was so sure Father would be angry, would send him away. He had felt empty, stripped, numb. He shook on the plane ride home, so sick inside, so sorry, so guilty. The numbness had not gone away for weeks.
And then there was Heero. God, he hadn't even cared. 'He doesn't want to talk to you,' Father had said, 'We have to leave now. Get your things. Quickly.' What he had felt for Heero had been so honest, so real. The purest emotion he'd ever felt. Not only were those feelings not returned, they were wrong. It was wrong of him to feel that way. Those feelings had ruined their summer plans, and could have ruined everything between him and Father.
He began to question his own memory, wondering if he'd forced Heero into any of it. He had thought Heero had liked him, but he'd been sent away. What if he'd only thought Heero liked him? If Heero hadn't wanted him, why didn't he just say so? The sick feeling rotted him from the inside. Dear Father had never held it against him, in fact he didn't recall they'd ever spoken of it after they returned from Ashkelon. Father told everyone they had just finished their work early and come home. Father covered for him and never punished him. Duo suffered alone, consumed by guilt and shame.
He had followed Father's advice more closely after that. He'd already misbehaved so much and crossed the line so many times, he couldn't risk being kicked out of the orphanage. He cut his hair, finished high school, and went to seminary. He lost most of his old friends. They said he came back different. He had, but how could he explain it to any of them? What he had done
how he'd messed everything up. No one could possibly understand. He entered seminary like Father had always wished he would. He still couldn't stay away from language and archaeology, though. He never went into the field, but he accepted photographs, or copies in the mail. Father had always encouraged this.
He was barely done with seminary when Father died. He was certainly not ready to lead the congregation of the church, but he had no choice until they found a replacement. They needed someone, it was expected of him. He did his best and had lots of help, but he secretly knew it was too much for him. He was failing Father again.
And now these lies. It was like a sucker-punch out of nowhere, hearing Heero claim that it was Father who decided they should leave, Father who disapproved of him. Father had never even said that to him! Father loved him and would never hold it against him. And he'd made it up to him, right? He'd done everything he was supposed to. What more could he have done?
Duo leaned on the bookshelf. He'd found himself in Father's office. He still hadn't had the time nor the heart to clean it out. He came in here to think every now and then. He sat heavily in the chair, wondering if he'd ever be deserving of forgiveness. Troubled, he recalled the fitful way Father had died. There had been something he'd been trying to tell Duo, but his health was too far gone. It had upset him to watch Father die uncontent. He hadn't thought about this for some time; it always made him sad.
A knock on the door startled him. "C-come in," he croaked.
Sister Helen entered with a tray of coffee and a warm smile. "Heero didn't want any," she told Duo.
"How - How do you know who he is?" Duo asked in shock.
"He's the young man from all the archaeology magazines you read, isn't he? I recognized him. The name is the same as the folks you and Father worked with once, isn't it? Yes, the dig in Israel," she said simply, stirring just the right amount of sugar into Duo's mug, "I gave him a room upstairs so the two of you can finish things up tomorrow when you both feel refreshed."
"You're very kind Sister, but I really don't think I can talk to him," Duo said shakily.
"He thought you might feel that way. He was fairly upset too, from what I could sense. Tell me what happened, perhaps I can help figure this out," she offered, handing him the mug.
Duo looked away. "I'm sorry Sister, I don't think I can tell you. Please don't ask," he whispered. God, he wanted to tell her how much it hurt.
Sister Helen sipped her coffee for a few minutes before saying anything else.
"Duo, since we're here drinking coffee so late, why don't we take a little time to start going through some of Father's things. I think it's time now," she suggested.
Duo thought it was an odd idea, but it might help. Exhausted as he was, his mind would not rest tonight.
He agreed and Helen suggested he take the closet and she'd take the desk. For several hours, they found things, shared memories, and decided to let many things go. Duo had a few things pulled out on the floor when Sister Helen stretched and stood from the desk.
"I'm going to bed, love," she yawned, "why don't you finish up those few things there you have pulled out and do the same?" She kissed his forehead.
"Sister Helen, how do you always know the right thing to do?" Duo asked. He was feeling a bit better. Still disturbed, but in slightly better spirits. She should be running the church, not him. He sighed and said goodnight.
He surveyed his pile. All that was left for the night was an old shoe box he'd found in the back on the top shelf, and an overstuffed accordion folder. He attacked the box first, expecting old photographs or trinkets. He lifted the lid and picked up the folded sheet of paper sitting on top. He froze when he unfolded it to discover a letter addressed to him. It was Father's hand, and dated roughly six months ago.
This letter is here should I fail you, should I prove to be the coward I fear myself to be. A man who cannot face his mistakes of the past, nor release a trusting child from a foolish lie. Duo, I am about to tell you something that may make you hate me for a long time. I deserve it, but please know that I always acted in what I thought was your best interest. In this case I was terribly wrong. I made a mistake that changed you and robbed you of a piece of yourself, I think. For this I am eternally sorry and pray you will forgive me.
Let me stop making excuses and tell you now. I know you will recall Heero Yuy and Dr. Jay and Ashkelon. What I have to tell you is that Dr. Jay did not catch you and Heero together and throw us out like I told you. I discovered the two of you and decided it would be best for you not to be around the other boy. What I did next was the most selfish and thoughtless thing I believe I have ever done. To save face with you, I lied to you. I told you that Dr. Jay had been upset and demanded we leave. I also told you that Heero did not really care for you, and did not want to see you again. Duo, the changes these simple lies caused in you broke my heart. I know what you have been thinking these last ten years. When I told you these things, I did not realize you would blame yourself. Duo, please understand how it hurt me every day to see you crawl inside yourself and internalize the lies I told you. To watch you shrink and know it was my fault
How could I not tell you the truth? Because I knew it would hurt you even more and because I fear you will leave when I tell you truth, and it will break my heart.
Today I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This was the first thing I thought of when I found out my time was limited - that I had to tell you the truth. You deserve to know, and I have resolved to tell you. I am writing this note partially to get my thoughts in order, and then I will place it in the box with the letters in case I never tell you. In this box is proof against me, another lie I had to preserve for months, years even. Heero never gave up on you, this collection of letters should prove that. I could not even throw them out, I felt so guilty. Some of them are open. Please forgive me.
I know that these things have darkened my soul, and God will judge me as I deserve. You have every right to be angry with me and curse my name, but I pray and hope that someday you can forgive me. I love you, Duo, you are like a son to me. Instead of trying to change you or control the influences around you, I should have loved you and accepted you as you are. That is where this tragedy started. I betrayed not only you, but myself as well. What ever you decide to do when you learn the truth, I will still love you. Where ever you go and whatever you do, that will not change. I fear a lot of outcomes, but mostly I fear that you find this letter and I will not have told you face to face.
Numb. He felt it all over again, that shaky feeling when he tried to draw breath. He did not feel the tears spilling down his cheeks and did not realize he dropped the letter to wipe them away. Duo felt absolutely nothing. It came to him slowly. It seemed the earth had been pulled out from under him and he was suspended in air, just waiting to fall. The first thing he did was read the first letter. He carefully lifted the envelope. Sure enough, the top was slit open.
The envelope was addressed to him and the return address was H.Y. and the project PO box in Ashkelon. With shaking hands, Duo lifted the letter and read.
I do not write letters often, I don't think I ever had a pen pal or anything, but I hope I can tell you what I want to say here. The first thing I want to say is that I'm sorry I didn't get to say good-bye to you. Jay was angry and kept me in the temple. I don't think I'll ever forgive him for that. I'm really sorry. I miss you a lot already.
Did Father Maxwell make you leave? He caught us, did you know that? I've been wondering if he told you. He approached me the night after we went to Jaffa and told me that he had seen us kissing and what we where doing was wrong. He said I was bad for you. He tried to make me feel bad or dirty about what I felt with you.
Duo, I never felt that way. I liked being with you so much. Does that sound stupid? I had fun with you. I mean while we were digging and drawing together. You taught me a lot. You are a very smart person, with amazing intuition. And when we were alone together, it felt better than anything ever has. Being with you like that was right. Please don't let anyone tell you that it wasn't.
I think I like writing to you. I'm not very good at saying things. This is sort of easier. I think I will write to you often. I hope that is ok. You can't really write to me, mail here is unreliable, but you could write to my address in the US (below) and all your letters would be waiting for me when I get back this fall. I would like that more than anything. I don't like high school, I don't think I need to tell you that I don't have many friends. It would be nice to still have you.
Please don't forget me. I'll be writing to you as often as I can. When I am back maybe I can call you, I'm sure I'll need your help again before I'm done here. I wish you were still here. I'll have to get some students to help me with the mosaic. Even if we have it done before the end of the season, we'll have to put it back together. It would be great if you could help. I still have that shirt you leant me, and don't forget you still owe me three watercolors and the floor translation.
And then the falling began. Duo cried openly now. He felt a rush of emotions leaving him. All the dread, guilt, and self-loathing that had collected in 10 years began to seep away. He cried because that felt amazing. But in the vacuum of the absence of those feelings rushed new ones. Confusion mostly, for right now. All he knew was he had to finish reading.
Duo read every single letter in that box. After the third, they were no longer opened and he tore them open with unsteady fingers. Some of them were fat with drawings of what the star pattern looked like as they uncovered it, or text Heero had copied and sent for Duo to analyze. He often shared problems he was having or something he couldn't figure out and asked that Duo's advice be waiting for him in Connecticut. He always ended it with 'missing you'. There were 12 letters from Ashkelon. Heero had written more than once a week. The letters themselves were almost a dig journal. Heero frequently wrote that he wanted to see Duo again some day, hopefully have the chance to work together. He alluded to his feelings for Duo more than a few times. In every letter, he urged Duo to write back.
There were two letters after the last one post-marked from Ashkelon. One was from Connecticut, dated in the fall. It was a sad letter from Heero asking if Duo had gotten any of his letters from Ashkelon. He said again that he hadn't forgotten Duo and wanted to correspond. 'Please don't forget me' he said again, and admitted his feelings to Duo.
Duo felt as crushed as Heero must have when he found an empty mail box. All this was for him! Heero had cared for him a great deal. He hadn't ruined anything the way he'd thought all these years. If he'd gotten even this one letter, how different his life might be right now.
The tone of the last letter was much more distant. It was dated three years later. It was to tell Duo that National Geographic would be doing an article on the site and Duo and Father were invited to be there since they had helped. Heero asked again if Duo had gotten any of the other letters. He urged Duo to come to Ashkelon, especially because he had invented the reconstruction method they were using. He promised to credit Duo whether he came or not.
That was the last letter. Also in the box was the issue of National Geographic featuring Dr. Jay's excavation. Father had even taken his subscription! Inside were pictures of Heero and Jay and the team. An entire portion was dedicated to Heero's temple. As promised, he called it the Maxwell technique, invented by someone who had helped in years past. The watercolor of the red wall was also included. Small print in the corner said his name.
It was dawn when Duo finished reading the letters and the article. He moved to put the magazine back and found the one last thing that had been tucked underneath it. An old disposable camera. For a long time, he sat just staring at the box, his eyes red and itching. In one night his world had been thrown upside down. He had learned that everything he'd felt for the last ten years was unnecessary. All the pain, all the guilt. His perceptions of Father had been shattered. He tried to think of what to do. Through his hazy, sleep-deprived mind, he knew that the first thing he had to do was tell Heero. God bless Sister Helen for letting him stay the night. Not thinking about what time it was, he picked up the box, determined to show Heero.