Author: Merula
Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Wing.

A/N: We're back to Heero as promised.

Afterwards + Part 18

Duo took charge once again when we got off the plane. I was left to follow in his wake as he pushed us through customs, got us a rental car and charmed the clerk into recommending a good hotel.

"It's 3 am," he told me firmly as we headed out to the car. "We're going to get some sleep before we tackle this."

"Yes sir," I smiled for him as I shifted my bag to a more comfortable position. He grinned back and then his eyes looked past me. For a moment his expression darkened.

I turned my head to see what he was looking at and recognized the rude man from the plane. After Duo had scared him the guy hadn't come back from the bathrooms until the plane was ready to land. Then he had sat stiffly, staring straight ahead, avoiding eye contact with us at all cost. Now the guy was in line at the car counter, his eyes nervously darting back and forth between Duo and me.

"Duo," I said softly and his gaze snapped back to me. "Hotel- sleep remember? Not torture- moron."

"You're wrecking my fun," he pouted and shot one last Shinigami-grin towards the moron before yielding to the pull I was administering to his arm.

I can't say that I rested easy that night, or even that I got much sleep despite Duo's best efforts to help me relax. I just couldn't help but wonder what would be waiting for me the next day.

Duo made sure that I had a cup of coffee the next morning. I didn't have the stomach for anything else.

It was an easy matter to find the address.

It was an old apartment building, on a small quaint side street. The neighborhood looked like a picture postcard, and one of those places where private business meant your neighbors knew about it before you did. It didn't look like the kind of place an assassin would choose to live.

We had gotten a few curious stares as we wandered around looking for the address, but Duo had the foresight to bring a camera so that we would look like a pair of harmless tourists.

I mounted the steps of the apartment building, heart thudding in my chest. It was the kind that you had to buzz to be let in. I knew the apartment number was 4D. Glancing to the side, I saw Duo nod encouragingly at me.

I rang the bell.

"Who's there?" A harsh voice demanded. It didn't sound familiar.

"I'm here to see Odin Lowe," I managed. There was silence for a moment.

"Look towards the camera, kid." The name startled me. That's what Odin had called me, when he bothered to call me anything at all.

The camera was mounted on the other side of the door. I looked up towards it.

"It is you. I'd know that face anywhere. C'mon in. I'm in apartment 1C." Duo and I looked at each other, speechless. Who knew me?

The door buzzed and I pushed it open. One-C? But we had rung Four-D's bell.

The occupant of 1-C was waiting for us in the hallway. He was a tall thin man with graying hair. He looked faintly familiar.

"Odin always said that you'd come back." The man smiled. "I guess he was right."

"Do you know me?" I asked him.

"Course I do. You were too young to really remember me now. But I was here when Odin took you to live with him." The man handed me a set of keys. "Go on up the stairs- it's on the left."

"But wait..."

"Sorry kid, that's all he wanted me to tell you. When you showed up I was to give you the keys. Any questions you have will be answered upstairs." The man stepped back into his apartment and closed the door in our faces.

I was tempted to knock it down. Duo's hand on my arm stopped me.

"Let's go upstairs first," he said reasonably. "If your questions aren't answered, then we'll come back and talk to him."

I nodded in agreement. Duo left his hand on my arm, a comforting weight, as we headed towards the stairs.

It wasn't a long climb, but it seemed to take forever to reach the fourth floor. The door to 4-D was on the left. Duo and I looked at each other. He went to one side of the door and I went to the other. Cautiously I turned the keys in the lock and pushed the door inwards.

Nothing happened. Duo gave me a sheepish smile.

I stepped into the apartment and paused.

It was a riot of color. The carpet was black, but the furniture was all different colors: the sofa was red, an overstuffed chair was purple, and the bookcases were a deep blue. The walls were hung with colorful prints of large birds and exotic locals. It was a striking contrast that somehow worked.

There was no way that Odin had lived here.

Duo let go of my arm and ventured a few steps beyond me into the room. I closed the door behind us automatically.

"Heero," Duo pointed to the table in front of the couch. Sitting among colorful stuffed animals and piles of books was an envelope with the word 'Kid' on the front.

Odin's handwriting.

I stared at it for I don't know how long before I heard Duo take a deep breath. A gentle arm went around my shoulders and he guided me to a chair. I sat down in a small puff of dust and picked up the envelope.

Duo knelt beside me, his hand on my leg, a comforting presence in the midst of my confusion.

He waited patiently until I summoned up the nerve to break the seal and pull out the sheet of paper inside.

My hands were trembling.

The words were written in Odin's dark bold hand and I found myself shaking as I read the first words on the page.

Kid-

Welcome home.

I closed my eyes and I felt Duo's hand tighten.

"Heero?" He said softly.

"I can't read this," I admitted, feeling the tears sting the back of my eyes. "I can't." I hadn't been prepared for this.

Gentle fingers tugged the note from my grasp. Duo leaned against my knees and read out loud:

Kid-

Welcome home. This apartment belonged to your parents. I doubt you remember it. They died when you were three or so in a shuttle malfunction on the way back from visiting friends on L2.

Your mother was my younger sister. You inherited her eyes. Sometimes when I look at you I wonder what she would've thought about me dragging you into my world. I'm sure she would've damned me for it.

I'll know by the time you get this letter. The only way you could've found it was if something happened to me. I knew you'd go looking for your past someday and so I left your parents apartment for you.

Everything is the same as it was when they left for L2. It's been cleaned occasionally, but everything is here, has been here, waiting for you. As you can tell, your mother was a lively vibrant person, and your father besotted enough to put up with her idea of decorating.

If there are questions here that you need answered, your aunt lives not too far away from here- or she did as of the time I wrote this letter. At the very least you can track her down if she's still alive, the last of the Lowe family- except for you- and you are half Ohkami as well.

Best of luck, nephew.

Odin.

"There's a name, Idun Lowe, and an address," Duo finished. I hadn't realized that I had tangled my fingers in his braid until he tried to turn his head and I heard a soft "Ouch."

"Sorry," I let him go and opened my eyes. He was looking at me anxiously. I searched for something to say to reassure him. I couldn't even put a name to my emotions- how could I share them with him? "It's all... a lot to absorb." I tried.

"I know it." He smiled for me and got to his feet, putting the letter gently on the table. "Want to look around?"

I took the hand he offered to me and got to my feet. Together we studied the posters on the wall, the shelves of books, the knickknacks. I didn't let go of Duo's hand.

These were my parents' belongings. They chose them, set them in these places, maybe argued playfully over placement.

I wished I could remember.

We studied the shelves closely, traveling slowly across the room. I wondered at the lack of pictures until we stepped into the narrow hallway and Duo flicked on the light.

The walls were lined with photographs.

I walked down the hallway slowly. A blonde lady with laughing blue eyes, a brown-haired man with Japanese features were in nearly every picture. Laughing, kissing, holding hands, smiling- happy and alive.

I looked like my father- the same build, the same hair- his messier than mine, the same features- all but the eyes. Odin was right. Those I had inherited from my mother.

"How are you doing love?" Duo asked me as we stared at the photographs.

"Overwhelmed," I managed and tugged him closer to give him an apologetic one-armed hug. "I'm sorry... I just..."

"I understand." My lover squeezed me back and then let me go so that I could continue my slow progress down the hall. He kept his hand in mine though, and I held on to him tightly.

Most of the pictures were of my parents. In one or two I recognized Odin. Sometimes there were other people- a man and a woman who looked familiar, but I couldn't place them. The woman had black hair and was always laughing; the man had brown hair and a charming smile. I wondered if they were more relatives and if they were still alive.

Further down the hallway the curve of my mother's stomach started to show. Then there were pictures of me.

Lots of pictures. Me with my parents together and separately. Me with Odin. Me and that other couple and another little boy. Laughing and smiling. Happy.

I heard Duo chuckle to himself. I looked at him and he tapped a picture with his finger. In it, I was glaring at the camera.

"So cute, even then." Duo teased. I found a smile for him. The pictures stopped when I looked to be about three or so. The rest of the hallway was empty, the walls bare- incomplete.

We reached the end of the hallway and discovered my parents' bedroom. The riot of color was toned down in here- just blues and reds. As I looked at the wedding picture on the wall Duo let go of my hand and wandered through another doorway.

"Heero," he said, and I couldn't place the tone in his voice. I went to stand beside him.

The room was decorated in shades of green, the walls painted with tree trunks. The ceiling was dappled with green and yellow giving the impression that we were standing in a grove of trees.

The child-sized bed had a leaf-print cover and a wooden box marked 'Toys' sat at the foot.

My room?

All of a sudden it was too much. I turned and went back down the hallway, nearly bolting for the front door. Duo caught me before I reached it, his arms going around me tightly.

"It's all right," he murmured over and over in my ear.

"I have to get out of here, Duo," I pleaded with him, knowing my control was failing me. "I need..."

"I know." Duo let me go for a moment and scooped both the letter and the keys off the table. "We can come back later- when you've assimilated some of this."

I focused on following him out of the building, down the stairs and back to the rental car. Once inside he tugged me back into his arms, uncomfortable as it was in such a cramped space, and held me tight.

"How can I miss them when I don't even remember them? Why now?"

I hadn't expected an answer. But Duo always has one for me.

"Because now you know what they would've been like. You can see the kind of people they were. You know enough to miss them."

In the middle of all of my emotional confusion that rang a bell. I looked up at Duo.

"Is that why you said that you knew enough?" He blinked at me.

"I suppose so. In my case it was just knowing that someone cared." Duo brushed my bangs out of my face. "I would say that your parents cared about you as well. That was obvious." His voice was warm. "I know that it's overwhelming up there for you. Do you want to take a break? Maybe go see if anyone is at your aunt's address?"

That's a break? I thought, and then reconsidered. Duo and I had only looked at rooms and pictures. There might have been videos or diaries as well, but a real person might be able to tell me more than even those could.

"All right," I agreed. Duo let go of me and fished in the backseat for the map.

After rapidly flipping through pages he let out a short crow of triumph. "It's only a few streets away!"

Another charming street with old buildings. This time though we found ourselves in front of a house, rather than an apartment building. I sincerely doubted that my aunt still lived here after all this time, but maybe the person who did could tell us something.

We walked up the steps and Duo admired the roses growing up the walls. There was no bell, so he knocked. We heard footsteps approaching the door.

The door swung open and I blinked.

The woman who opened it blinked her dark blue eyes back at me. Her blonde hair was swept up in a haphazard bun, tiny tendrils escaping around her face. Her resemblance to the pictures of my mother left me without words.

"Excuse us," Duo said to her. "We're looking for a Idun Lowe. My friend here..."

"I am Idun. And I know who you both are- Heero Yuy," she said flatly and I felt my jaw drop. "Duo Maxwell. Gundam Pilots."

Oh no. This was not playing out well.

Then she smiled and reached out to touch my cheek. Her hand was cool against my skin. "You are also my nephew, Fenrir Ohkami. You and your friend are welcome in my house. I have been waiting for you for a long time."

[part 17] [part 19] [back to Merula's fic]