Title: #5 Family Pictures
Series: The Holiday Series
Author: Calic0cat <email@example.com>
Story Completed: June 13, 2003
Genre: Shonen Ai, Fluff, Sap, Romance, Holiday Fic
Warnings: OOC, Swearing, Tiny Bit of Angst
Archives: At Mediaminer.org under Calic0cat. Anyone with archive permission for my other fics can help themselves; anyone else, please ask.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.
Notes: Fifth in the Holiday Series (written for Father's Day, follows "Ties of the Heart"). Post-EW. AC 198, the guys are working as Preventers.
*** Time passing or scene/POV change
Author's Notes: Thanks to Sunhawk for prereading this for me. Feedback is appreciated.
"All set Heero?" Duo called from the doorway.
"I think so," Heero replied as he came down the hallway.
Duo had to grin slightly at the faint frown of concentration wrinkling Heero's forehead. Leave it to Heero to be this concerned about not forgetting anything when they were just going on a simple camping trip. "I know we've got the sleeping bags, tent, cooler full of food, cooking supplies, and campstove 'cause I just finished shifting most of that around in order to cram Chocolate's stuff in too. I really hope there isn't anything else we need or there won't be any room left in the car for *us*!"
Heero snickered, "I don't recall Odin ever needing even half that much stuff when we camped out... Of course, he had to carry most of it himself so I think he 'roughed it' a little more than we're going to. I just have the funniest feeling that I'm forgetting something."
"I dunno what it could be," Duo shrugged. His own brow wrinkled thoughtfully as he ran through the mental checklist of necessities.
"Ah! Got it!" Heero suddenly exclaimed and he vanished down the hall again. The camera bag in his hands when he reappeared again made Duo grin. Heero never went anywhere without that thing. The condo's walls were virtually covered in all sorts of photos, many of the two of them and Chocolate taken by Heero himself over the few months since Duo moved in. Not all of the photos were that recent though. There were a liberal assortment of photos from during the war - taken by Catherine and several of Quatre's sisters among others as well as quite a few from surveillance footage and school newspapers and yearbooks - photos of the pilots singly and in groups as well as a few pictures of the Gundams. And quite a few selections from the wealth of orphanage photos and letters that Sister Helen's mother had allowed Duo to make copies of graced the walls as well.
They'd started the project right after Duo moved in. Every image held a memory for one or both of them and the talks that they'd had in the course of choosing, mounting and framing, then finally hanging each photo had taught them a lot about each other as well as carried each of them much closer to finally coming to terms with their pasts.
The one thing conspicuous in its absence was Heero's pre-war past. Even J - and G - were represented thanks to footage from Oz security recordings during the time that the doctors were forced into working for Oz. But Heero's past prior to that was not represented. 'Not yet, anyway...' Duo amended, his thoughts going to the package that he had carefully stored away in his backpack. 'Not quite yet...'
Heero climbed into the driver's seat while Duo buckled Chocolate into his seatbelt harness in back. There was no way they could manage to cram the dog's crate in the car along with the camping supplies so the harness would have to suffice. 'We really need a new vehicle. A truck or sport utility vehicle would probably be best...' Duo's motorcycle sat gathering dust most of the time anymore though they occasionally rode it together when they went out on a casual date. And his own car simply wasn't intended for what amounted to family use; it was a typical bachelor's vehicle - low-slung, sporty, and thoroughly impractical.
"Okay - let's hit the road!" Duo said as he pulled the passenger door closed and fastened his own seatbelt with a sharp click.
Heero flashed Duo a smile in response before starting the car. He was really looking forward to this. It was only a weekend trip but they'd put a lot of effort into planning it. They'd managed to find a park that allowed pets on the campgrounds so that they could bring Chocolate along too. And the small town nearby had a small Roman Catholic church.
The camping trip itself was for him. Some of the best memories that he had of Odin - of his childhood, what little there was of his youth that could be called that - were of the times that they'd been camped out somewhere, cooking over a campfire and sleeping under the stars. The church was for Duo, so that they could attend mass on Father's Day. Duo didn't go very often; Heero could count on one hand the number of times that he had in the past year - maybe even since the war ended - but he did occasionally in remembrance of his church "family". They were gradually finding ways to make some of the holidays they'd never had a reason to celebrate meaningful for themselves - and for each other. Not necessarily in a traditional way but then they weren't exactly traditional people to begin with; none of the former Gundam pilots were.
"It'll be kind of neat camping out just for the fun of it," Duo observed.
"As opposed to doing so because Oz is conducting a door-to-door search for you in the only town in the area?" Heero asked rhetorically. He paused a moment while Duo snickered, then continued, "I don't remember any details of why Odin and I were camping out most of the time. Whether there was actually a search for him going on or if he was just being cautious. I guess I was too young to really understand. And once I got a little older, the camping just sort of - stopped happening. Maybe because he started actually training me. Or maybe just because it wasn't a practical option in the places we happened to go then. I know that we did a lot of travelling, both on Earth and in the colonies, especially in that last six months to a year that I was with him, and those last few months were almost entirely spent in cities.
"But those times that we did camp out before that stuck with me. That's the way I prefer to remember Odin; the way he was when we were camped out in the middle of nowhere and he was showing me how to build a campfire or to clean up camp so that no trace of human presence would be left behind..."
"It'd be nice if we could pick and choose which memories to keep fresh, wouldn't it?" Duo said wistfully. "Or if we could somehow print out an exact duplicate of an image from our memory..."
"It would," Heero agreed softly. It would be nice to let the too-sharp image of Odin's dying body fade from memory and keep the more pleasant one of Odin teaching him how to sharpen a stick to roast a hot dog or marshmallows. 'Marshmallows... Damn...' "Duo, did you remember the marshmallows?" he asked hopefully. He was pretty sure that he hadn't bothered adding them to the supply list because he'd assumed he'd just remember them. 'I *knew* I was forgetting something...'
"Yeah, spotted them on the counter when I was loading up the cooler and packed them," Duo said.
"Good..." A campfire wouldn't be complete without some marshmallows to roast.
A pitiful whimper drew Duo's attention. He shook his head and laughed at the comical sight that met his eyes. "Not again... Chocolate, for a smart dog you sure aren't figuring out this whole being tied up thing very fast..." He heard Heero snicker behind him as he walked over to untangle Chocolate yet again. This time, the lab had managed to not only wrap his chain around two different trees but was standing on three legs with the fourth draped over top of the chain. The young dog could have easily gotten his leg loose but he'd already figured out that Duo would come do it for him if he cried.
"I think he has it figured out perfectly," Heero commented as Duo returned from untangling the dog. "He has his master perfectly trained to give him attention every time he gets tangled up... Why *should* he stop getting tangled?" Heero snickered and smirked, pointing over Duo's shoulder towards Chocolate just as a mournful whine reached Duo's ears.
Duo groaned and clapped one hand over his eyes. "Do I even need to look?" he whimpered. Heero just laughed at his pitiful question. Duo sighed and turned to go tend to his mischievous pet *again*. "Just *why* did I think bringing you along was a good idea?" he mock-grumbled as he led Chocolate around the trees, reversing the path the dog had taken to get tangled up.
"Duo, I found the stake, bring him back over in the open closer to the tent," Heero called.
"Thank god, I was starting to think I'd missed packing it somehow," Duo called back. He tousled Chocolate's head affectionately as he unclipped the chain from around a tree trunk and walked back towards where Heero was pounding the stake into the ground. Hopefully the dog would be more content if he was closer to them. And being tied well away from anything that he could get his chain wrapped around would at least save Duo from having to go untangle him every five minutes. There were way too many tempting sights and smells to let Chocolate run around loose. He might perform with flying colours in obedience and puppy agility classes but that didn't mean that a young, energetic dog who had never been out of the city before was going to actually listen to his master's commands if turned loose to play by himself in the middle of a heavily forested park. That was one mistake that Duo did *not* intend to make.
Duo paused to watch Heero driving the stake into the ground. It was a hot day and they'd both already shed their shirts. 'Mmm... Okay, the whole hike up here was worth it if only for this particular view...' he thought, watching the play of well-toned muscles. Heero turned his head, sensing Duo's intent gaze, and Duo met his eyes and grinned appreciatively. "The park ranger was right; the view here *is* pretty spectacular," he purred teasingly.
Heero tossed the rubber mallet to one side and cocked his head slightly, eyeing Duo from head to toe. Duo flushed slightly under that intense inspection. "I don't know about that," Heero growled huskily in return. "I think 'very spectacular' is more appropriate..."
Chocolate sat down beside Duo and barked once, sharply. Duo laughed, shaking off the too-intense mood that he'd unintentionally triggered. "Somebody's feeling a little left-out I think," he said with a grin. "Don't worry Chocolate, we haven't forgotten that you're here too." 'Good thing too. If we'd been alone, this weekend might have taken a slightly different turn than we had planned...'
Heero felt a momentary flash of irritation at the dog's interruption, then it was replaced by amusement. "Guess our chaperone thinks we're getting a little too serious," he commented. He gave Duo a wry grin to confirm that he wasn't really upset by Chocolate spoiling the mood. Making love was *not* in the plans for the camping trip. He didn't think that either of them wanted their first time to be on the hard ground. 'But once the trip's over with and we're back home again...' Well, that would be a whole other story. He was ready for that next step in their relationship and he was pretty sure that Duo was too.
"Yep. He's right too. Too serious by about two days and a couple of hundred miles," Duo responded with a slightly uncertain smile.
'Okay, make that *very* sure...' Heero took the few strides that separated him from Duo swiftly and slid one hand behind Duo's head, pulling him into a brief but passionate kiss. "Agreed," he said simply when he drew back.
Duo's smile lost its uncertainty. "Good." They stood close together for a few moments, foreheads leaning against each other, letting the import of that exchange sink in, before Chocolate tired of the inactivity and barked sharply again.
Heero laughed, "Go take him for a run or something or he'll never let us have any peace. I'll finish setting up camp."
"Okay," Duo agreed readily.
Smiling slightly, Heero watched as Duo switched Chocolate's chain for the retractable leash and jogged off down the path they'd just hiked up, Chocolate bounding happily beside him. As much of a nuisance as the dog could be at times, particularly when they both had an assignment that required finding someone to care for him for a few days - or when Chocolate interrupted a tender moment between them - he never regretted giving the dog to Duo for White Day. Duo loved that dog and he was pretty fond of the damn beast himself.
'Considering that we get up a whole hour earlier than necessary for work just to take him for a run, rain or shine, we'd *have* to be pretty fond of him,' he thought ruefully. Heero shook his head slightly in amusement and turned back to the task of setting up camp.
He found himself pausing from time to time, remembering watching Odin carry out the same tasks. Remembering running along beside the man who was the closest thing he'd had to a father, a small pile of sticks clutched to his chest in mimicry of the armload of firewood being carried by Odin. He smiled faintly at the memory. Odin might not have been an ideal father-figure but he hadn't done a half-bad job. Better than a lot of others. He'd never been cruel or unfair. A bit demanding at times but usually only when anything less than perfection could cost both of them their lives.
'And the only time I remember him ever hitting me was the time he caught me playing with the matches while he was getting firewood. One good swat across the backside - made all the more effective by the fact that he'd never done it before...' And he had never had to repeat it either. Heero had never ignored an order not to touch something again.
It was hard to be sure, hard to know just how much of what he thought he remembered was wishful thinking, but Heero thought that maybe Odin had genuinely cared for him. Maybe even loved him as the son that they'd pretended that he was.
Chocolate's tongue lolled in a way that assured Duo that the dog would be content to lie down and rest for a while as they returned to camp. Duo was surprised to find Heero kneeling beside the half-built fire, staring at the stick in his hands as he aimlessly stripped the bark off of it. 'Memories...' he thought. He took a moment to tie Chocolate up, then dropped to sit beside Heero. He leaned his head against Heero's shoulder. "Tell me," he requested softly.
"Odin was - a bit gruff at times - but he was never cruel. I don't think he entirely knew what to do with me," Heero said with a wistful flicker of a smile. "Most of the time he treated me like a miniature adult. But once in a while... Once in a while, he'd remember that I was just a little kid. There was one time that we set up camp early and he pulled this bottle out of his pack. I couldn't figure out what he was doing when he unscrewed the lid and pulled a long stick out of the bottle, a stick with a circle on the end."
Duo laughed in delight. "A bubble wand? He bought *bubbles* for you?"
Heero nodded, his smile growing. "He dipped the wand and showed me how to use it, then turned it over to me. Except that I kept inhaling instead of exhaling and he couldn't figure out how to teach me to do it right. He kept blowing more and more bubbles trying to show me. I eventually got the hang of it but it took a while.
"We used up the whole bottle of bubble solution that afternoon. It was fun, more fun than I could remember ever having had before. My cheeks hurt from all the smiling and pursing my mouth to blow bubbles. The next day we were back on the move again at dawn but that afternoon - that was special..."
Duo wrapped one arm around Heero's shoulders in a hug. He knew how remembering things like that could feel wonderful and make you ache at the same time. "Sounds like he really did care for you, 'Ro. I know you've said before that you weren't sure whether he did but why the hell else would he go to that kind of effort?"
"Maybe. I'd like to think that he did... That somebody lo - cared about me..."
Duo's heart ached at the wistfulness in Heero's voice. At least he knew for sure that Father and Sister Helen had cared for him. Had loved him. They'd told him so as well as showing it in the way they acted. Heero had never really had that from anyone. 'Not until me - well and Relena if you count her but I know Heero doesn't 'cause she's in love with being in love, not with Heero...' "Hey - I know I probably don't say it often enough but I *do* love you, y'know." He kissed Heero's cheek tenderly.
Heero turned slightly and wrapped his arms around Duo, leaning his head against Duo's shoulder. Duo kissed his temple as Heero said quietly, "I know. Me too..."
Heero smiled slightly as Duo quite calmly zipped their sleeping bags together. They weren't going to *do* anything except hold each other - not here, not tonight - but it would be the first time that they'd spent the whole night in each other's arms just because they wanted to, not because they were offering or seeking comfort from nightmares. He glanced over at the tent and had to laugh. "Looks like someone's made himself right at home," he snickered.
Duo followed his gaze and laughed too. "Yep, he sure has..."
Chocolate was lying on his back, partially folded legs sticking up in the air, sound asleep. Inside the tent. While they were sleeping outside, under the stars. 'I hope to hell it doesn't rain or that's going to be one damn full tent...' Heero thought with a nervous glance at the sky. It didn't *look* like rain. And since the weather forecast said there was a chance, that pretty much guaranteed there wouldn't be a drop.
"You want to have the marshmallows now?" Duo asked.
"We might as well," Heero answered. "Just a minute while I get the other ingredients..."
Heero dug through the cooler, fishing out the chocolate before digging the graham crackers out of his pack. "Sure. Haven't you ever had s'mores? Odin used to make them all the time."
"I've heard of them but I've never had them," Duo answered. He speared a couple of marshmallows on a stick and handed it to Heero before fixing one for himself.
"You'll like them," Heero promised. "They're really gooey and messy and you have to be careful not to burn your mouth but they're *good*."
Duo chuckled. "How can you possibly doubt that Odin cared for you, 'Ro? What the hell would an assassin be doing making s'mores if not for the kid he was dragging along with him? Marshmallows and chocolate weren't exactly essential survival items to be hauling around in his backpack, buddy."
"I never really thought about it that way," Heero said, startled. He'd just assumed that Odin liked s'mores and carried the supplies for himself. 'But he hardly ever ate more than one while I usually had at least three... Never more than five after the time I made myself sick though, he always ran out of chocolate at that point...' "Maybe you're right. Maybe he really did..."
"And on that note..." Duo scrambled to his feet, continuing, "I was gonna save this till tomorrow but this seems like a good time... Here, hold this for a minute, 'kay?"
Heero accepted Duo's marshmallow toasting stick and watched in bemusement as Duo moved his backpack closer to the fire then carefully removed items until he got down to the bottom and pulled out an envelope.
"Here. They're not great but - well, they're the best I could come up with." Duo shrugged slightly as he traded Heero the envelope for the two sticks.
Realizing that no further explanation was forthcoming, Heero carefully opened the envelope and slid out its contents. He froze in shock as a slightly blurry but familiar image greeted him. "Odin..." he breathed softly.
"It took a while to locate the old security footage from the shuttleport but I finally tracked it down. And getting permission to view it took even longer...
"Did you know they usually only keep that stuff for a year? But any sort of major violent incident gets the footage for a whole year before and after permanently archived?
"I ran one of your pictures through that computerized aging software we've got at work, just reversed it to go from adult back to kid in order to give myself an image to work with. Then using that together with what you remembered about that last assignment and your description of Odin, I was able to eventually track down the bit of footage that came from. The image matching program narrowed things down a bit but there was still an awful lot of footage with either a dark-haired kid or a tall, light-haired guy carrying a single piece of luggage. I went through everything it flagged as a 'maybe' myself... But the quality's not the greatest..." Duo's voice trailed off.
Heero ran his fingertips lightly over the image. The picture was a bit grainy. Not surprising since the recording quality would have been only moderate at best and this would only have been a small part of the total area that the camera covered. He couldn't even imagine the time it must have taken to search these few minutes of footage out of that entire morning's. Even *with* an image matching program to narrow things down a bit.
"Uh, you might want to take a look at the others too..."
"Others?" Heero hadn't even noticed that there were more in the thin stack. He slid the top picture off - and his breath caught painfully in his chest. He remembered that moment with absolute clarity. Odin's hand on his shoulder as he bent over to tease him about acting more like family... The picture was from the back but there was no mistaking who it was...
"There weren't very many frames that had you in them and even fewer with you both," Duo said softly. "You were too small; the other people hid you. That one and the next were the only decent ones I could get no matter how much I enhanced the footage..."
Hesitantly, Heero slid the photo aside to reveal the next one. 'At the customs checkpoint...' "He said, 'I'm travelling with my son...' and rested his hand against my back..." he whispered. He blinked rapidly but couldn't quite stop the inevitable. "And I wished it was true..." The first tear splattered down on the corner of the picture before he could move it.
"S'okay, there's another copy at home plus I've got the files I had'em printed from," Duo murmured, suddenly very close.
Heero turned into Duo's open arms and hugged him fiercely. Words completely failed him. He'd never dreamt that there would be any way to find a picture of Odin, let alone of the two of them together. And if it had occurred to him that the shuttleport's security footage might still exist, he wouldn't have been able to justify the sheer time and effort it would take to scour hours worth of footage from multiple cameras just for the sake of a few frames. "God Duo, this must have taken *days*... *weeks*..."
Duo said in a suspiciously thick voice, "And just how long did it take you to track down Sister Helen's mother? And her grave?"
Heero just shook his head silently, his throat too tight to speak. Whatever effort he'd put into making Mother's Day something special for Duo, Duo had just repaid tenfold. He had thought that the camping trip was the only way that he could remember his almost-father on Father's Day. Duo had given him something to make the holiday even more special.
Duo cuddled up more snugly against Heero. The cloudless night was surprisingly chill despite their sleeping bags. At least with such a clear sky rain was unlikely. 'And it was a beautiful evening...'
They *had* eventually gotten around to eating their s'mores but they'd had to toast fresh marshmallows by that point. The first ones had gone cold long before Heero had gotten his emotions back under control again. And after they'd eaten their gooey treats and banked the fire for the night, they'd sprawled on their backs and Heero had named off the constellations, calling up more memories of his time with Odin. They'd only been interrupted once by Chocolate suddenly waking and thinking that the fact that they were still awake meant it was time to play again. It hadn't been too hard to convince him otherwise. A treat and a belly rub had been enough to satisfy the lab and he'd crawled back into the tent to fall asleep in a curled-up ball.
Duo smothered a chuckle. As if his thoughts had summoned the dog, Chocolate wandered out of the tent, chain dragging behind him, and over to their sleeping bags, flopping heavily across their legs. 'Oh well, at least he'll keep them warm...' Duo thought, yawning.
Tomorrow, they'd spend the day hiking. One more night of camping, then Sunday morning they would be up early and off to the nearest Catholic church for the early mass. His small act of remembrance for his "father". Then home again.
Home to take their relationship to its next stage. And to add a few more pictures to their already crowded walls. Pictures from the past - Heero's past - and present - this weekend, *their* weekend. Pictures of family - old and new.
'Family...' Duo thought contentedly as he slid into sleep. *Their* family.