3-15-2003

Title: #51 Saying Goodbye
Arc: Life With Heero
Author: Calic0cat
Story Completed: Mar. 15, 2003
Genre: Shonen Ai/Yaoi, Angst, Friendship
Pairing: None yet
Rated: PG
Warnings: AU, OOC, Swearing
Archives: Also at Mediaminer.org under Calic0cat.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

Notes: The arc begins between one and two years after Endless Waltz. Duo POV in this story.

'Thinking'
"Speaking" ************
Time passing or scene change

Author's Notes: See earlier fics for notes on the arc as a whole. Feedback is appreciated.

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Duo's pace slowed as he and Heero neared the site of the church. The route here had led him past numerous places that were filled with memories, both good and bad. Past the grocery store that he and the gang had so frequently stolen fruit from, the place where he had first - quite literally - run into Father. Past the pile of rubble that was all that remained of the roofless house that the gang had called home for so long. Past the rundown school where he had gotten into so many fights.

It was odd seeing the once-crowded streets and alleys so deserted. Buildings empty and abandoned. The entire neighbourhood felt like a ghost town. Duo shivered at the thought. His memories held enough ghosts; he didn't need to be thinking about seeing real ones. 'Though if there were ever a place suited for them, this would certainly be it,' he thought. After all, weren't ghosts supposed to linger if they had unfinished business or had died suddenly and violently?

'Stop that, Maxwell,' he scolded himself. 'Your imagination is too damn good to be letting yourself drift off into *that* train of thought.'

"Duo? Are you okay?" Heero asked very quietly.

Standing just a few steps away from the rubble of the church, Duo couldn't quite find his voice. He gave a tight nod instead. "Okay" wasn't really the right word. But it would have to do. He realized abruptly that he was gripping his cross so tightly that his hand was aching. 'Dammit, I thought I'd broke that damn habit...' Forcing his hand open, he realized that he'd broken the skin of his palm with the corner of the crossbar. He quickly folded his fingers over his palm to conceal the damage. There was nothing that could be done about it at the moment and he knew Heero would be - unhappy - about the open wound in such a filthy environment. 'Not like it's the first time... Almost always had a cut or scrape or two in the gang. Usually a few while I was at the church too; I didn't always come out of those fights at school untouched. Tended to get even more banged up after... Too spoilt by being looked after plus things were tougher alone...'

Swallowing past the lump in his throat, Duo reminded himself that he *wasn't* alone anymore. He had friends, good ones. 'Including a best friend willing to visit L2 slums with me,' he thought. A best friend who was probably becoming rather concerned about his silence and frozen posture. With that thought in mind, Duo forced reluctant legs to carry him forward, through the rubble and onto the actual site of the church. He heard Heero's quiet steps behind him.

Reaching the spot he had in mind, Duo stopped. He waited until Heero came up beside him, then said quietly, "This is where I found Sister Helen. I'd left the transport right out front on the road, still running and with the door wide open. Searched frantically. There were lots of bodies. Parts of bodies. The smell..." He stopped, gagging, barely managing to fight off the nausea that returned at the thought. Heero's hand cupped his elbow supportively, steadying him.

Veering away from that part of the memory, Duo finally managed to continue, "Sister was the first person I found alive. She - looked pretty bad..." Now, of course, after all the medical and first aid training he'd had from G, he knew that she'd probably had severe internal injuries, maybe even spinal ones since only her arm seemed able to move. She was so pale that she'd obviously lost a lot of blood. Probably suffering from severe smoke inhalation too. Even if medical attention had been readily available, he doubted she would have survived.

"I asked her if the Alliance had attacked because I'd stolen the suit. She never answered." Duo blinked rapidly, fighting to keep control. This was no place to break down. Deserted as it seemed, he knew there were still a few people around. Occasional flickers in the shadows and faint sounds had been telling them that since they'd left the base. More people had left voluntarily than he'd expected, but there were certainly some left out here.

"She just talked about Father preaching peace right to the end. Then she asked that God bless me and..." Duo spread his hands and finished softly, "was gone..." He stood silently for a few minutes, looking around for one last time. Trying to remember how the church had looked - before. And failing. The image of the church in ruins was too deeply embedded in his heart and mind.

Duo finally admitted defeat, thinking, 'Just be glad that you can still remember Sister when she was alive and well.' Though it was difficult to do so. The memory of her dishevelled hair and bruised face, blood trickling from her mouth, was far sharper and more readily called to mind.

Remembering Father was easier because he hadn't seen him afterwards. But his clearest memories of him were still those that revolved around the rebels. Father facing them and arguing against violence. Father being struck and crumpling to the floor. He shook his head sharply, fighting the urge to get caught up in the rest of that memory.

He knew that it was time to leave. They didn't want to be out on these deserted streets after dark. But he felt as if something was still undone. Wished that he'd brought a few candles to light or a few flowers to leave. He touched his cross lightly, considering. No, he couldn't give that up. But what else would have some meaning? Importance to him and also a connection to his time at the church?

'Of course...' Reaching into his pocket, Duo found a couple of spare elastics. Pulling them out, he drew his braid over his shoulder. 'One inch for every month I was at the church?' he thought. Yes, that seemed about right. He fastened one elastic seven inches up from the bottom of his braid, then added another two inches above that.

Heero watched silently, undoubtedly curious what he was doing. Duo pulled a knife out of his ankle sheath and held it out to Heero with a hand that shook slightly. He didn't think he could do this himself. "Halfway between the two elastics," he said in a voice that wavered more than he would have liked.

Heero took the knife and asked worriedly, "Duo, are you *sure*?"

Duo nodded tightly, not trusting his voice. Eight months at the church. Eight inches of braid. He'd never done more than trim the split ends before. Taking this much off all at once... He swallowed painfully, holding the braid taut as Heero brought the knife blade to rest against it.

"Duo?"

"Just *do* it," he ordered in a voice that cracked. Moisture clouded his eyes as Heero carefully began to cut through the thick bundle exactly where he had requested. He forced himself to keep his eyes open and watch, the random thought that he was glad he kept his knives very sharp drifting through his mind, closely followed by the observation that this one would need sharpening now since cutting hair would dull it.

Duo choked off a sob as the chunk of severed braid pulled completely free. Wordlessly, he took the knife back from Heero and returned it to its sheath. Holding the section of braid carefully in his hands, he knelt where Sister Helen had sprawled. 'Father... Sister... I love you and I'll never forget everything you did for me. How you showed me that even a dirty, smelly street rat deserved love and caring. Taught me that I was worth something. I'm sorry that you probably wouldn't have approved of what I did, what I became. Wouldn't have agreed with the Gundams fighting Oz. But sometimes peace has to be earned. Even Relena admits that...' Coiling the length of braid on the ground, Duo whispered softly, "Goodbye Father, Sister. I'll always remember you..."

He knelt there for a while, fighting off the tears, trying not to shake. Trying not to get completely lost in the memories. A firm squeeze of his shoulder and a soft voice brought him back to himself.

"Duo? We have a long trip back ahead of us," Heero reminded him gently.

Duo nodded and struggled to his feet, grateful for Heero's steadying hand. "Let's go home," he managed to choke out.

"Home," Heero agreed.

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- tbc -