3-17-2003

Title: #53 Guilt and Grief
Arc: Life With Heero
Author: Calic0cat
Story Completed: Mar. 17, 2003
Genre: Shonen Ai/Yaoi, Angst, Friendship
Pairing: None yet
Rated: G
Warnings: AU, OOC
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 woke slowly and was surprised to find himself in his own bed, Heero's arm draped over him. For a few surreal moments, he wondered whether he had dreamed the entire trip to the old base and the site of the church. Flexing the hand that he had injured with his cross soon corrected that idea. It was definitely sore this morning, despite the fact that Heero had cleaned and bandaged it while they waited for their shuttle home. The soreness was probably more from the bruising caused by his tight grip on the cross than from the small split in the skin.

'So it all really happened. The trip to the base. Visiting the garage. Walking through the old neighbourhood...' Duo swallowed and closed his eyes. 'Going back to the church. Saying goodbye... Cutting my braid...'

He winced at the memory. Giving up part of his braid, cutting his hair for the first time in so many years, *hurt*. Hurt when he did it and hurt now. But... it still felt like it had been the right thing to do. The only fitting tribute to leave behind.

The entire day had been rough. Very rough. But every time he'd faltered, Heero had been there, supporting him. Reminding him that he wasn't alone. Offering sympathy and understanding, support and comfort. Always quietly there for him yet never intrusive. Those light touches to his back or shoulder or elbow had been an anchor through all the emotional turmoil. Had kept him from getting lost in the memories on more than one occasion.

Feeling Heero stir behind him, Duo threaded his fingers through Heero's where they rested against his ribcage. He squeezed gently. Heero returned the pressure and asked softly, "You okay?"

Duo thought about it for a moment, then offered, "Mostly? I think? It still - aches - but it's not the same. Not as sharp. The guilt's still there; don't think that'll ever go away; but the loss itself isn't quite as painful..."

Heero made a soft sound of acknowledgement. After a moment, he said a bit hesitantly, "Duo, you've always talked about smoke and smouldering when you got back. Not flames. As if things had happened quite a while earlier and the fires were all burnt out. And there was no one there waiting for you, waiting for the transport and the suit...

"Isn't it possible that the Alliance knew about the rebels earlier; that the attack happened long before you even reached the base, maybe even right after you left the church? That someone - a neighbour or parishioner maybe - reported the rebels thinking that the church was in danger and that the Alliance would flush the rebels out and save it? Or that there was an informant in the rebel group?"

Mouth open to protest, Duo stopped, blinking. It was - odd - that there hadn't been someone there waiting to reclaim the suit. That there was no one searching the ruins. That there were no real flames, only smouldering rubble.

"We'll never know for sure," Heero said after a long pause. "Most Alliance bases wiped all their computer records when Oz took over and you know as well as I do that those records were never very accurate to begin with. But you have to admit it's at least *possible* that the attack had nothing to do with your actions. That the only thing *you* caused was your own survival by the simple fact that you weren't there."

Duo tightened his grasp on Heero's hand, unable to speak. He had always thought that he *had* to have been the cause. That there was no other reason for the Alliance to attack the church other than that he had been recognized as the troublemaking street rat that the church had taken in. He hadn't ever considered that there could have been an informant. That the attack could have been scheduled before he ever swore to steal a suit if that would make the rebels leave. Hadn't ever thought that it was odd that there was no one there waiting to reclaim the suit if he had truly been recognized. Why hadn't he? 'Like Heero said before - I'm too close to it... Too many memories...' Too guilty over living while others died to consider that he might not have caused those deaths.

There really *wasn't* any way to know for sure what happened. But as Heero said, it was at least *possible* that he hadn't been to blame. And even that small chance meant a lot. Lightened the load of guilt he carried by at least a tiny fraction.

It still hurt. He still grieved for those he'd lost over the years. For Solo and the other orphans who'd been lost to disease or hunger or violence. For Father and Sister Helen. For the other innocents who'd been in or near the church that fateful day and had died in the attack. He still missed them. Still wondered why he'd lived when so many others around him had not.

Duo started to shake, just as he had at the church. Tears that had gone unshed for years started to well up again. But this time, he wasn't in a potentially dangerous place, exposed and vulnerable. This time, he was safe at home, held in the arms of his best friend, someone who knew guilt and grief just as intimately as he did. And this time, rather than fighting to force the tears back down, to hold the grief in, Duo twisted around to face Heero and let go. Let himself weep and grieve and release all the stored-up pain and guilt and remembered loneliness in the security and comfort of Heero's warm embrace.

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- tbc -