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

This part is... well- soap operaish. Sorry!

Afterwards + Part 22

I was a little surprised to see Sanura and Duo arm in arm when they came to join us in the room that Idun said had been mine.

But that unhappy look that had been lurking in the back of Duo's eyes was completely gone, so I figured that Sanura must've said something to him to get him to lose it.

A part of me was still pointing out that we really needed to be more careful with these women, but the larger part of me, the part that had longed for a family, had longed to know who I really was, was taking over. I was relaxed and happy in their company despite that small paranoid voice in the back of my head.

"Thank you dear," Idun took the album from Sanura and settled herself on the bed. "I know that picture is in here somewhere..." As she flipped pages, Duo's phone rang.

He slipped a hand into his pocket, pulled out the phone and flipped it open. "Maxwell."

A frown crossed his face. "That serious?" He said into the phone and I wondered what was wrong.

"I know. I will. As soon as I can." Duo hung up the phone and gave me a guilty look. "That was Une. They need me to go on a little trip with Fei."

I didn't ask if he had to go. I already knew the answer. "It's only for two days- three tops. Why don't you stay here and I'll meet you back here before we go to Relena and Hilde's for the weekend?" He suggested.

"You could stay with us, nephew," Idun said softly.

"That sounds like a great idea," Duo looked at me hopefully. I realized that he was expecting me to be angry with him.

"Okay," I agreed. I saw Duo relax slightly.

"Why don't the two of you go back to the hotel and get packed up? Then you can drop Duo off at the airport and come back to our house." Sanura said cheerfully. "We'll bring the albums."

"You'll keep an eye on him?" Duo joked. "Should I leave instructions?"

"Aw, we'll handle him fine. You just be careful out there." Sanura gave him a hug, and so did Idun.

"Ditto," she told him. "We'll be waiting for your return." Duo smiled, but I saw the look on his face and realized that he was touched by their concern.

Duo was on the phone for most of the ride back to the hotel arranging for a plane ticket. He didn't have to go all the way back home; Fei was meeting him at a Preventer's base that had shuttle capabilities. They were going up to L2 to investigate 'something shady'. Duo was the L2 expert- thus the need for him to go.

It would be the first time since he had moved in with me that we would be separated for more than a few hours. That was an odd thought. After spending so many years away from him, now I didn't like to think that he was going into a dangerous situation without me.

But Duo was capable of taking care of himself. I knew that. I had to trust that he would.

We got back up to the hotel room and started packing. Duo was quiet as he tossed clothes in his bag. It didn't take us long to pack.

"I guess that's it." Duo looked at the clock and then back at me. "I'm really sorry Heero. I know I said that I'd be here for you..." I went and put my arms around him.

"It's okay. You're here for me no matter where you are," I tried and was rewarded with his smile.

"Sappy," he told me.

"Your fault." I retorted. He kissed me then, arms tight around me, holding me close.

"I love you." He said against my mouth when the kiss ended. "Don't forget it."

"I won't." I met his gaze. "I promise. Stay safe for me, okay? You know I'd be lost without you."

"You did fine before," he countered with a faint smile.

"No," I shook my head. "I didn't." I let him go then, knowing that we'd be late for the airport if we didn't hurry.

We talked about inconsequential things in the car. I promised to arrange a flight back to Relena's house, promised to call and check on Sally, promised that I would remember every piece of information that Idun shared with me to share with him later.

I dropped him off at the curb, and after one last kiss, one last 'I love you', he left the car and headed into the airport.

For a minute I had a very bad feeling- as if it was the last time that I was going to see him. Then I shook it off and headed towards my aunt's house.

I was kind of relieved that I'd be spending the next few days with Sanura and Idun. If I was at home alone I'd be fretting about Duo.

Don't misunderstand me. I was worried, but if I had been alone I would have been fretting every minute, unable to distract myself. Idun and Sanura were my distraction, and they were good at it.

They told me stories, cooked my parents' favorite food, shared pictures, and did everything that they could to make my parents more real for me.

On the third morning I had woken up early and gone down to the kitchen looking for coffee. I was expecting to hear from Duo and I will admit that I was anxiously awaiting his call.

Sanura was already down there; flipping pages in an album I hadn't seen before. She looked up and smiled at me.

"Good morning," I said in response to her greeting as I poured myself a cup of coffee. "What are you looking at?"

"All this reminiscing was making me think of my family," she said with a shadow of her usual cheerful smile.

"They died on L2, right?" I asked her as I sat down beside her.

"Yes," she looked down at the photo album and then nudged it towards me. "This is my sister Kisa," she said tapping a picture.

The woman looked exactly like Sanura and I remembered that she had been half of a set of twins too.

"This was her husband Korvin," she tapped another picture of a chestnut-haired young man.

"They look nice," I said lamely and mentally kicked myself. Sanura flipped another page and there was a picture of the same two people, only this time the woman was holding a baby.

"Their son?" I asked and was surprised when tears began to run down Sanura's face.

"Adopted son," she said in a small voice. She flipped a few more pages and the baby turned into a toddler. She touched the picture gently.

"You must have been very fond of him," I said, completely at a loss.

"I was," Sanura looked up and met my eyes. "He was my son, you see."

"Your son?" I repeated.

"Right before Kisa and Korvin got married, Idun and I... well, we split up for a while. My family- my father- didn't approve of us being together." She bit her lip. "So, I broke it off. Started dating a young man. Got pregnant."

I put an arm around her and she leaned into my embrace. "I was fond of him... but I didn't, couldn't love him the way I loved Idun. He wanted to marry me when I found out I was pregnant. I... couldn't do it. Even with his child inside me, I knew that it would hurt my baby to be in a house with two people who didn't really love each other. So- I broke it off with him. Idun wasn't speaking to me, my father was furious, I didn't know what to do." She took a deep breath.

"Then Kisa came to see me. She said that she and Korvin had been trying to have a baby, but that she couldn't. She asked if she could adopt my baby." Sanura's tears were increasing, but her voice remained clear. "She wanted a baby so badly- and I didn't know what else to do. I knew Kisa and Korvin would love my son as if he was theirs. They could give him what I couldn't- two loving parents."

"That was very selfless of you."

"Selfish," she corrected me. "If I had kept my son he'd still be alive."

"You couldn't have known..."

"I know, but that doesn't stop me from feeling guilty." She touched the photo again. "My kitten. It's my fault that Kit died in that fire along with Kisa and Korvin."

I froze in my seat at the name that crossed her lips. Then I leaned forward and took a careful look at the picture.

Chestnut brown hair. Wide smile. Violet eyes.

Oh good gods...

Before I could say anything, the doorbell rang. Sanura gave me a pleading look and so I got to my feet to go answer it. I wondered who the heck would be here so early in the morning.

I opened the door to find Quatre on the step. I didn't have to ask why he was there. The look on his face told me what I needed to know. I took a step back from him even as he reached out to me.

"Heero- there's been an accident."

"Duo?" I managed, feeling my heart pound in my chest. I knew the answer. I had seen it the minute Quatre had looked at me. Pity, sorrow, concern and above all pain.

Quatre shook his head. "The Preventers shuttle he and Fei were using to return to Earth... it blew up. We don't know why. Une thinks it was rigged to go."

I wished with all my heart that I could've tuned him out, but the soldier didn't let me.

"Do we know who?"

"Not yet," Quatre stepped into the house, closing the door behind him. "Heero..."

"Fei too?" I was surprised by how clinical I sounded.

"Yes." Quatre's eyes were wide and worried.

"Does Sally know?"

"Noin and Zechs are with her." I saw Quatre take a breath. "Trowa and Cathy are handling the arrangements- if that's okay with you?"

"Of course." I heard footsteps coming down the stairs and down the hallway. Sanura and Idun had joined us.

"What's going on?" Idun asked.

I let Quatre answer her. I felt- numb. Unreal. As if this couldn't be happening. Not ever. Duo couldn't die.

Not Duo.

All of a sudden there were fierce, tight arms around me. Quatre was hanging on to me, and in that familiar embrace I couldn't hang on to the soldier anymore.

I put my head on his shoulder and let him hold me. I felt Idun's hands on my hair, Sanura's hands on my back.

"I'm so very sorry, Heero," Quatre was murmuring to me. I tried to escape his embrace, wanted to get away from him before the calm that the soldier had gifted me with vanished.

But Quatre wouldn't let go. So I had to. The calm of the soldier left me in a rush of agony.

Quatre held me, like he had always done. But I couldn't be soothed- nothing could make this better.

Duo was gone.

I don't remember a lot of what happened next. I was locked in my own personal hell and I knew that I was frightening my aunt, Sanura and Quatre, but I really didn't care.

I know that we got on a plane.

I know that we ended up at Quatre's home.

I know that Sally was there.

I know that she looked as bad as I felt. She was the only one who's hug I returned, knowing that she was in her own hell like I was.

I know that a few days passed.

I know that Relena and Hilde were there with the baby. Our godchild that Duo had been so excited about.

I know that I ate and showered because Trowa made me.

I know that we attended a funeral service.

I know that we buried two empty coffins.

It wasn't until I was watching them throw the dirt on the empty coffins that I snapped out of my numbness.

Duo was dead.

He was never coming back.

As the dirt covered up more and more of the shiny wood of the coffins I knew that I couldn't stay here anymore, couldn't watch that coffin vanish under the dirt, couldn't listen to my well-meaning friends try to comfort me. I needed to find a sanctuary.

My jeep keys were in my pocket. Trowa had gone to get the jeep and Val as well as more clothes for me. He had driven the jeep to the funeral, but had slipped the keys into my pocket. I think he was trying to be comforting.

I wondered how I was going to manage to slip away from the others, when it seemed that Shinigami himself decided to help.

A car sped through the gates of the cemetery, honking wildly. I don't know what the idiots inside were thinking, but I seized my chance. As the rest of the funeral party- and isn't that an odd thing to call it- looked towards the gate, I went to the jeep.

I was on the highway, heading home in moments.

It was a long drive back home, but I didn't care. As long as I had a goal in mind I could focus on the freeway in front of me. I was glad that I hadn't gotten rid of the soldier all together, glad that I could pull him out to help me.

It was sunset when I pulled up to the house. I closed the garage door after I pulled the jeep in and engaged the security system.

My house had been my sanctuary for years before Duo came to stay with me.

It was no longer mine, however.

I flipped on the lights and the first thing that met my eyes was that hideous black sofa that Duo had brought with him. The soldier fled as memories assaulted me.

How many mornings had I sat there waiting for him to wake up? How many mornings had he joined me on it? How many times had we made love on it, unable to make it the few steps to the bed?

His computer desk- the little photos he had put up- his music... too many memories lurked here now. If I had hoped for a place to pull myself together, this place was not it.

I noticed that the message light on the vidphone was blinking frantically, but I ignored it. I didn't want to talk to anyone.

I looked out the window, watching the waves roll in as the sun sank over the horizon. And I remembered sitting on the steps with Quatre all those months ago...

"What can I do Quatre? I left. Made a new life. Tried to forget him. It didn't work," I looked out at the moonlight dancing on the waves. "I thought of him every day. Missed him every day. That's why I never called any of you, Quatre. I was trying to forget. Trying to get over him. I thought I was over him enough at least to not- do this. And here I am, a day after seeing him again- and it's the same. It hurts just as much!" I put my head in my hands. "The only other thing I can think of to do is to walk out there into those waves and never come back." Quatre's hand tightened. "Then maybe it would stop."

If I hadn't been able to forget Duo then- how could I now? Now that I knew what it was like to have him in my life- to hear him tell me that he loved me- to wake up to him every morning?

There was only one thing I could think to do. I closed my eyes and tried to pull the soldier back up.

I needed to complete my mission.

I went to the safe hidden behind the computer desk and pulled out all of my personal documents. Everything I owned went to Duo, but even then I had left provisions- just in case he died first. I knew Quatre would make sure that my estate was disposed of in a fitting matter.

I scribbled a quick note to him, suggesting that he liquidate the whole thing and send the money to one of the L2 orphanages that Duo had supported.

That made me think of something else I needed to do. I booted up my computer and left a note to my aunt on the screen, directing her to the file that contained the articles I had discovered on Duo. It would be up to her to tell Sanura or not.

The phone started to ring. I ignored it. It was not part of my mission.

I disengaged the security system and walked out the back door of the house and down onto the beach. I kicked my shoes off and let my feet sink into the soft sand. Duo had loved walking barefoot in the sand.

I walked down to the water's edge and felt the dampness of the sand beneath my feet.

The waves were illuminated by the moonlight, much like they had been on that night when I had poured my heart out to Quatre, when they had beckoned to me.

Now I knew why I had chosen the house on the beach. Why I had wanted to be near the water.

"I'm the only friend you've got."

A bright light swept over the waves and I looked behind me. A car was pulling into my driveway. I didn't have much time apparently.

I stepped into the water, feeling the chill seeping into me, numbing and cleansing as it passed over my skin.

A few more steps and I was waist deep.

A few more and the water was chest high.

It was an easy thing then to take in one last deep breath and plunge beneath the waves.

I let my air out and the cold water swept in. I didn't fight it. Darkness crept up the edges of my vision as my lungs tried to inhale more seawater.

Duo.....

+

Several days earlier...

I glanced out the window of the tiny car that Fei and I had 'jacked, watching our shuttle climb into the atmosphere. This whole mission had totally gone to hell. We had gone in, gotten the evidence and been detected. We'd had to run for our lives, hiding, not daring to contact HQ, knowing that they could more than likely trace our calls since we had to leave our jammers behind and our target was one of the big industries on the colony. Fingers in all the pies, so to speak. Our only hope was to get back to the shuttle and get the hell of this damn colony.

I watched our salvation climb into the sky and swore.

A moment later I swore again as I watched the shuttle explode into a cloud of particles.

We had obviously pissed the shit out of someone.

"Now what?" Wufei looked up at the shuttle and frowned.

"I'm out of tricks at the moment." I groaned. "We'd better find someplace to lay low for a while. If we're lucky they might think we were the ones on that shuttle."

Someplace to lay low turned out to be an alleyway of squatters. I know Fei was appalled, but it wasn't all that different than the places I had stayed as a kid. Hell, for all I knew it was one of the places I had stayed as a kid.

We didn't really dare to sleep though. Which is more than likely why it took me a couple of days to figure out the best way to get off of the colony.

I could've kicked myself for not thinking of it before.

Sure enough, the local sweeper crew was headed by an old friend who had space for us on his next shuttle heading towards Earth.

It was a relief to sleep someplace safe.

It had to be sleep-deprivation, otherwise I would've thought about what that shuttle exploding would've meant to HQ. I would've called in once we were off L2.

My only consolation is that Fei didn't think of it either.

It wasn't until we arrived on Earth and called HQ that we were aware of exactly what we had done. The girl that answered the phone nearly fainted.

Lady Une wasn't available, she told us. She was attending our funeral.

Our funeral.

Heero was my first thought. Oh gods- he would not be taking this well. I needed to reach him. I wanted to call the house, but there would be no answer- he'd be at the funeral too.

I could tell Fei was thinking of Sally. We rented a car and burned rubber to get to the cemetery. The operator at HQ said that she would keep trying to reach Une, who had apparently turned her phone off for the service.

Fei and I didn't talk on the ride to the service- thank all the gods it wasn't that far away.

We swung into the cemetery and Fei started honking the horn to get the attention of a familiar group of black-clad people.

We were surrounded when we leaped from the car and ran towards the group. I've never seen so many slack-jawed amazed expressions.

Then again- how many people show up for their own funerals?

Sally reached us first, bodily throwing herself on her husband and dissolving into tears.

I was hugged and kissed by a huge group of people, but I realized as I got to the last few that the one person I wanted to see wasn't here.

"Where's Heero?" I asked worried. Why wasn't he here?

"He was right..." Trowa turned his head and swore. "Damn it! The jeep's gone!"

Quatre said something foul. "Should've kept a better eye on him." He groaned. "But he was being so..." he stopped and bit his lip.

"Being so what?" I asked fearfully. This didn't sound good.

"Doesn't matter right now," Trowa frowned. "We need to track him down. Where would he go?"

"Home," I replied without thinking- the answer was obvious.

A few minutes later and Trowa, Quatre, Idun, Sanura and I were piled into Quatre's car. Une and the others had promised to call the house and leave messages.

I snagged Quatre's cell phone and called home. I knew that it would take a while for Heero to get there, but I couldn't stop myself from calling every few minutes. Leaving as many messages as I could to assure Heero that I was fine and on my way home.

I had a very bad feeling.

I wished that I could remember the name of the store that Marie worked at- or even her last name so that I could track her down and have her go wait to intercept Heero.

The others tried to keep me calm, but I could tell they were anxious too. Apparently Heero's behavior after the news of my 'death' had been very disturbing.

I finally convinced Sanura to tell me what he'd done. Then I wished I hadn't.

Heero hadn't spoken, hadn't responded, hadn't shown anything other than his blank face. Only when Sally arrived had he managed to respond a little, but that had quickly vanished.

My bad feeling increased.

It seemed to take forever before we arrived at the house in the early evening, the sun having sunk beneath the horizon not too long before.

Relief swept through me as I saw that the lights were on in our house. I jumped out of the car before Quatre completely stopped and ran for the house.

The security system was disengaged, the front door was unlocked.

Heero never left it that way.

I called his name and got no response. I searched the rooms frantically and found no sign of him.

The others had followed me in. Sanura discovered the pile of documents, the note to Quatre on the top.

Where was he?

I looked out the window and saw the moonlight shining on the waves. Saw a figure out in the water, and remembered something that I should have earlier.

Heero's voice in the dark: "The only other thing I can think of to do is to walk out there into those waves and never come back."

Oh good gods. The figure vanished and I was out the back door racing across the sand.

I was dimly aware that Quatre was right behind me.

I plunged into the icy surf, cursing the dark, cursing my lover, cursing myself.

Quatre went in with me and the two of us moved frantically through the water looking for Heero. The water was freezing, my body was growing numb from the cold, but there was no way I was leaving that water without Heero.

Something brushed against my ankle. I dove beneath the water, hearing Quatre shout at me, and reached out. My hands encountered cloth, felt the smooth cold skin beneath it and I tugged Heero to the surface with me.

I gasped for breath, pulling my find upwards. Heero's head broke the surface of the water next to me and suddenly Quatre was there, grabbing Heero's other arm and tugging us towards the shore.

We reached the beach, sprawled onto the sand, Heero between us.

He wasn't breathing.

A blanket dropped over me as I pounded on Heero's diaphragm, tried to force the water out of his lungs. Trowa was on the phone, calling for medics. Quatre was helping me, the two of us shivering with cold as we tried to get Heero breathing again. Sanura and Idun stood with white faces, blankets in their hands as they watched us.

"Don't you dare do this to me!" I cursed Heero. "Don't you dare!"

I could hear the sirens in the distance, getting closer. Help was nearly here.

Suddenly, Heero coughed, and the seawater poured out of his lungs.

Thank the gods.

[part 21] [part 23] [back to Merula's fic]