5-12-2003

Title: #4 Ties of the Heart
Series: The Holiday Series
Author: Calic0cat
Story Completed: May 12, 2003
Genre: Shonen Ai, Fluff, Sap, Romance, Tiny Bit of Angst, Holiday Fic
Pairing: 1+2; Background 3x4
Rated: PG
Warnings: 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: Fourth in the Holiday Series (written for Mother's Day, follows "April Fools"). Post-EW. AC 198, the guys are working as Preventers.

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

Author's Notes: Slightly late unfortunately but at least I did get it done! Thanks to Sunhawk for the title. Feedback is appreciated.

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Heero read through the printout in his hands one more time. Not that he needed to; he'd memorized it after the first time. But right now, he kept thinking that maybe he would notice something different. Something that would help him decide whether this was the right thing to do or not. Whether he should give this to Duo and offer to go see the woman with him.

Whether Duo would want to meet the mother of the woman who was the closest thing to a mother that he had ever known. Whether he would want to do so this close to Mother's Day.

But there would be no one else visiting Linda Trumble. Her husband had died a few years ago. Heart attack, fortunately, nothing to do with the war. Heero had been afraid that he would find a war connection, an injury or death in the family that was Gundam-related, and was greatly relieved that there was not. Linda had been an only child as had her husband so there were no siblings with the accompanying nieces or nephews. And she had only had one child. Which meant that she would be alone on Mother's Day. All alone in her small apartment in a retirement community just a couple of hours by car away from their home.

And Heero knew that Duo especially missed having family around these special days. He had known that since shortly after they became friends. The question was whether bringing this up would cause more harm than good by digging up old painful memories for both people involved. Or whether the shared bond of the nun named Helen would give them both a bit of family in each other.

***

Chocolate whined and pushed his head into Duo's lap, sensing his master's emotional distress. Duo patted the dog's head absently, re-reading the information that Heero had just given him. He had wondered why Heero seemed so nervous and undecided when handing him the small stack of papers. He wasn't wondering about that anymore. He was very torn over this.

Sister Helen *had* mentioned her own family. They had corresponded fairly regularly; Duo remembered Sister reading bits of her letters from home out loud to Father and the children. Things that her parents had said in response to her stories of the mischief that the orphans got into. Things that her mother had written about the changing seasons on Earth. About the flowers blooming and the birds nesting in the spring. Things that were so foreign to L2 that he and the others had invariably listened in wide-eyed silence. Once in a while there was even the wonderful treat of a few photos of some bit of nature included in the letter. Something that left them all in awe and wonder until they broke out bickering over whether something like that could even be real. Whether those tiny baby birds really could have hatched out of eggs. How birds could possibly fly and sing like Sister's mother said they did.

And Duo remembered too the times that he would be prowling late at night, checking the perimeter of his "territory", his "home", as Solo had taught him to, only to discover Sister Helen sitting at the kitchen table re-reading one of the letters with tears of homesickness in her eyes. He hadn't known why she cried then. Why those interesting, sometimes amusing, letters would make her weep. He hadn't understood that until the church was gone. Then he had understood how even a good memory could hurt. Could make you ache so much with longing that your throat closed off and your chest hurt and your eyes stung.

But that didn't make you want to stop remembering. Not really. And Duo wondered if maybe Sister Helen's mother would want to know just how much her daughter had meant to those scruffy, uneducated orphans in her care. How her patient tutoring had helped them catch up to other students their age in half the time that the school expected it to take. How her hugs and singing and stories and fresh-baked cookies had taught them what it must be like to have a mother.

Duo looked up from the papers to find Heero anxiously waiting, eyes concerned and uncertain. "Thank you," he managed with a shaky smile. "I never even thought of tracing her family..." Maybe because he had been afraid that they would all be gone too. Or because he had feared that her mother wouldn't live up to the impression he had of her from the letters. Or that they would resent the fact that he had lived while she and the others had all died.

"I wasn't sure whether I was doing the right thing or not..." Heero said hesitantly.

Duo set the papers aside and gently pushed the dog away from him before standing and crossing to the couch where Heero sat. He curled up on Heero's lap and wrapped his arms around him in a tight hug. "You did love. Maybe things won't go exactly the way I'd like them to; maybe she won't measure up to my memories of Sister Helen or even of the letters she used to send but it's worth taking the chance. She might like to know just how much good her daughter did. How much we all loved her." He left unspoken the barely-dared thought that Sister Helen's mother might have a photo of her that he could have. Her bruised, bloody face was still clear in his nightmares but when he tried to remember her while awake, to remember her when she was happy and content in the church's kitchen... Well, it had been a long time and he could no longer clearly call her face to mind at will. And that hurt.

Heero's arms closed around Duo firmly, pulling him even more tightly against Heero's chest. Duo pressed a tender, thankful kiss to Heero's lips. The gentle kisses that they exchanged for the next few minutes were lingering and reassuring. Loving rather than passionate.

Just as the tenor of the kisses began to change, warmth turning to heat as hands started to wander, Chocolate decided to join in the cuddling. As over fifty pounds of enthusiastically lovable dog suddenly hurled himself onto the forbidden territory of the couch, scrambling to squeeze onto Duo's lap, two voices rang out in dismay, "Chocolate! Bad dog! Off!"

So much for the mood.

***

Heero spared his attention from the road for an instant while he stole a sideways glance at Duo. His partner was very nervous about this. Duo had even asked him to call Linda Trumble and make the arrangements for the visit, preferring not to talk to her himself until he met her in person. Heero had been surprised but had agreed.

The woman had seemed nice enough on the phone if perhaps a bit hesitant over the whole thing. Which really wasn't surprising since she would have been completely unprepared to hear from one of the orphans that her daughter had cared for ten years ago. 'I hope that this goes well. Duo has such fond memories of Sister Helen and of the letters she used to read to them from her mother that he will be very disappointed if the woman is not kind and compassionate at the very least.'

Duo had spent hours trying to figure out what to take with him as a small gift. It had been the lunch hour topic of conversation for the past couple of days. Wufei had finally pointed out that flowers seemed to be traditional for Mother's Day and also were frequently used as a hostess gift year-round. Duo had readily agreed to the idea. But then the question of which *kind* of flowers had arisen. In the end, Duo had remembered that - other than the scent of baking cookies - the fragrance that he associated with Sister Helen was that of lilacs. That had led to his recollection of her mentioning that she loved lilacs, the purple, the pink, and the white, considering them the *true* indication that spring had arrived, while her mother preferred the late-blooming fancy tulips, the parrots and the doubles and the fringed in all their many colours. Finding those types of flowers from a florist on short notice had been difficult. Fortunately, Trowa had thought to check with Quatre's gardener and it had turned out that there were both lilac bushes and beds of assorted tulips just coming into bloom right on the estate that he and Quatre were living on.

Duo and Heero had made a trip over there very early this morning and had cut the flowers themselves, wrapping them for transportation under the guidance of the estate's gardener. Two large, heavy bouquets lay in a cooler in the back seat. Heero had been unable to prevent a smile when he'd caught Duo burying his face in the bouquet of lilacs before placing it in the cooler. He had gone back to cut several small clusters and wrap the stems to keep them fresh before joining Duo in the car, tossing the small spray of lilacs on Duo's lap without a word. Duo had flushed darkly but had kept the flowers. The air in the car was heavy with the scent of lilacs and the atmosphere was equally weighted with anticipation.

***

The thick rich scent of lilacs that filled the car was opening a floodgate of memories for Duo. Sister Helen never smelled as strongly of lilacs as this, though Duo could recall a specific occasion when he *did*. Catching Heero's surreptitious glance at him, he realized that he had been silent for quite a while. 'Well, I've always meant to tell Heero more about my past. To fill in some of the details about the way I grew up. Guess now's as good a time as any to start... Least it'll keep my mind off of meeting Sister Helen's mother for a while...'

Duo cleared his throat slightly before beginning, "The last time I can recall the scent of lilacs being quite *this* strong, *I* was the one who smelled like flowers, not Sister Helen. The bigger kids were supposed to keep the little ones out of trouble when Sister and Father were busy doing church work. Somehow, we'd managed to lose track of Scamp - Sister called her Susie but the rest of us called her by her street name right up till she got adopted. Anyway, I went looking for her. Looked all over the place and couldn't find her. Finally, I decided to check the adults' bedrooms. They were off-limits but since when did a street kid care about a little detail like that?" He flashed Heero a mischievous grin in response to the choked-off snicker that greeted his question.

Looking back down to the lilacs in his lap, Duo moved them back and forth slightly, watching the play of light on the still dew-damp flowers. A smile tugged at his mouth as he continued, "I caught Scamp climbing the partially-open drawers of Sister Helen's tall chest of drawers. I yelled and started to scold the little sneak. But my shout startled Scamp and she lost her balance and started to fall over backwards. She was almost to the top of the dresser so it would have been a nasty tumble. She managed to pull the dresser scarf off the top with her. I was afraid she'd hurt herself if she fell, so I ran forward quickly enough to manage to cushion her fall but I couldn't really *catch* her and I fell down too. The large bottle of perfume that came off with the dresser scarf hit the floor beside me with a sharp crack. It virtually exploded and liquid splashed all over me and the floor. My poor braid got dragged right through the puddle of perfume and absolutely reeked of lilacs." Duo snickered at the memory. "I was - not a happy camper. Especially when Sister said that as punishment for letting Scamp get away in the first place, I'd have to wait till the usual day to wash my hair and get rid of the stink."

Heero laughed, "I thought you said that Sister Helen used to smell like lilacs, not that you did yourself."

Duo gave him a mock-glare and said in a deliberately petulant voice, "Very funny. Bet you wouldn't think it was *nearly* so amusing if *you'd* had to go to school smelling like flowers for a whole week." The smell had been pretty faint by the end of it but it was still there.

Choking on a laugh, Heero exclaimed in disbelief, "A whole week?!"

Duo pretended to pout and huffed, "Yeah, a whole damn week. The kids all got their hair washed Saturday night so's it'd be nice for church Sunday morning. The perfume incident happened Sunday while Father and Sister were off doing evening mass." He dropped the sulky act and gave Heero a wry grin. "I got tired of being teased at school about the perfume smell so I finally said that at least nobody could claim I smelled like a sewer *that* week!"

Sharing these nicer memories with Heero felt good, Duo decided. They'd both shared a lot of their darker memories already in the aftermath of nightmares. But somehow they never really got around to sharing whatever *good* memories they actually had. He wasn't even sure whether Heero had many or even *any* good ones. He didn't exactly have a *lot* of them himself; the bad ones certainly outnumbered them. But there *were* some. And judging by Heero's response to hearing *this* one, Duo thought that the rest of the car ride might be a good time to share a few more.

***

Heero squeezed Duo's hand reassuringly as they rode the elevator up to the third floor of the apartment complex. Their trip here had started out somewhat tense but had ended up quite pleasant as Duo went from one fond memory of his time at the Maxwell Church to another. 'It was nice hearing about some of the good times in his past for once. We've shared so many bad memories in the process of learning to deal with them yet somehow we've never really got around to talking about whatever good times we had growing up...' He didn't have a whole lot of his own to share, but there *were* a few. Now was not the time to start; for one thing he needed to go over those events and think about how to tell the stories involving them. Duo was good at doing that sort of thing without any preparation; he however needed to think things through and organize his thoughts before starting. Something that he would definitely start making the effort to do in order to share those few good memories just as Duo had shared some of his own today.

After stepping out of the elevator, Heero tugged on Duo's hand lightly to get his attention. "What about this?" he asked, raising their joined hands slightly. "She *is* devout Roman Catholic..." Heero was a bit sorry he'd asked as Duo's eyes clouded and his look of anticipation changed to one of trepidation. But they had made no secret of their involvement ever since that bit of April Fools' Day foolishness despite the fact that they were fairly discreet about it in public. Heero just wanted to be sure how Duo wanted to handle this. "Duo, if you'd rather we just go in there as best friends, that's okay with me. We don't have to let her know that we're together..." Not that they *were* "together" precisely. Not in the sense of actually being lovers, of having had sexual intercourse. So far, one or the other of them had always called a halt before they reached that point. But they were getting closer to it all the time.

Duo hesitated for a moment, then shook his head, the trepidation turning to determination. "No. I'm not ashamed of our relationship even if it *does* go against certain religious norms. I won't pretend to be someone I'm not even if it means that she doesn't like me because of it. I don't want to rub it in her face or make her uncomfortable but I won't hide it either, Heero."

"Okay," Heero agreed with a single nod. He certainly didn't mind if the woman knew that he and Duo were involved but he hadn't wanted to put Duo in an uncomfortable position either. They were both careful about that sort of thing ever since the near-debacle on April Fools' Day.

***

Duo held onto Heero's hand as Heero rang the doorbell with his free hand. His own other hand was occupied in cradling the large bouquet of fancy tulips in front of him. The huge bouquet of lilacs was still in the cooler out in the car; Heero had discovered that Sister Helen's body had been shipped back to Earth for burial and was in a nearby cemetery. They would go there after they had finished their visit here.

The woman who opened the apartment door was quite unmistakeably related to Sister Helen. Even the less-than-clear image that Duo held in his memory was enough to confirm that. Oh, the woman's hair was silver and cropped short but the shape of the face and the eyes were undeniably the same.

Duo shifted uncomfortably under Mrs. Trumble's intent gaze. He half expected her to put her hands on her hips and demand in exasperation just what sort of mischief he'd been up to *now* just as Sister Helen had so many times. 'Well at least I know where she learned *that* look,' he thought in wry amusement. He fought the urge to hold his breath in trepidation as her assessing gaze lingered for a moment on the clasped hands between Heero and himself

Abruptly, the woman nodded sharply and stepped aside. "Come in, come in. Don't dawdle now. Lots of things to talk about, no point wasting time standing around in the hallway."

Heero's hand tightened on his in a reassuring squeeze for an instant before slipping free. It immediately moved to his back to gently nudge Duo into motion. Duo stepped into the apartment, Heero at his heels, and waited while the woman closed the door before handing her the bouquet. "These are for you," he said. "I hope that I remembered correctly..."

The woman gave him a sharp look before carefully unwrapping the bouquet. Once she had the paper off enough to recognize the flowers, she stopped for a very long moment. Her voice was a bit uneven as she said, "You must have a very good memory, young man. Please make yourselves comfortable while I go put these in some water." Without waiting for a response, she left the room.

Duo exchanged an apprehensive look with Heero. He hadn't meant to upset her but her voice sounded as if perhaps he had. Heero simply shook his head slightly in response and moved to take a seat on the couch, gesturing for Duo to join him. Sinking down beside Heero, Duo indulged in the comfort of leaning against Heero's side for a few moments until they heard their hostess returning. By the time she entered the room, they were both sitting up straight and although close together there was an appropriate distance between them.

Setting the vase full of tulips on a corner table, the woman took a seat in a chair facing Duo and Heero. "Helen brought me those flowers every Mother's Day," she said in simple explanation.

Duo winced. He hadn't even thought of that. "I'm sorry Mrs. Trumble..." he began.

She shook her head and waved one hand dismissively. "Nothing to be sorry about young man. It was a lovely thought and the flowers are beautiful. Thank you."

"You're welcome," Duo responded automatically.

Abruptly, Mrs. Trumble smiled and Duo was even more reminded of Sister Helen. "No need for introductions here," she said. "You haven't changed that much from the pictures Helen sent me back then, young Duo, so that means that your partner there must be Heero Yuy, the one who called to set this up."

"Pictures?!" Duo gasped out. Sister Helen *did* have an old instant camera but he'd always assumed that all the photos she'd taken were lost when the church was destroyed... Beside him, he felt Heero's sudden increase in interest. "Do you... still have any? Maybe with Sister Helen in them? It's - hard to remember just how she looked sometimes..."

Nodding, the woman answered, "Yes. I have a few things that I dug out after your friend's call. If you promise to bring them back when you're through, you may take them with you to look at and get copies made if you would like."

Duo nodded in shock. "Oh yes, I would like that very much," he assured her fervently.

***

Heero contributed very little to the conversation. Mostly, he simply sat and listened as Duo and Mrs. Trumble exchanged stories about the woman who tied their lives together. They talked for several hours in fact, far longer than the day's original schedule had called for. When Mrs. Trumble asked hesitantly for the details of what had actually happened at the church on the day that it was destroyed, Heero slid over to wrap a comforting arm around Duo despite the chance that it might make their hostess uncomfortable. Talking about those events never got any easier for Duo; it always left him exhausted and tense. But Heero knew that Duo would not refuse to tell the story because of that so he simply positioned himself to provide as much support as possible regardless of whether that bothered the woman they were there to see or not.

Fortunately, it did not seem to. Her gaze narrowed a bit and she met Heero's eyes for an instant, giving him a very slight nod before returning her full attention to Duo's story. Heero was distinctly relieved. Duo really didn't need the mother of the woman who was *his* mother in all but blood to react negatively to his choice of partner. Heero knew that something like that wouldn't sway Duo's choice but it would probably make him feel unhappy and a bit guilty.

By the time that Duo finally finished telling Helen's mother just what had really happened, from the time that the rebels took over the church until he crouched beside Sister Helen as she blessed him with her last breath, Heero could feel the fine tremors running through Duo's muscles. Mrs. Trumble was clearly very affected by the story as well. She said quietly, "Thank you. I am sorry to have asked you to go through all of that again but I was never satisfied with the vague official story.

"If you wish to visit the cemetery you will need to leave very shortly and I think that I have reached my limit for today anyway," she continued apologetically, rising a bit unsteadily from her chair. She waved vaguely towards the corner of the room, "There is a box under the corner table. It contains some things that I have saved, things that Helen sent me from the time that the orphans arrived at the church until - until the end. Take it with you, make copies of whatever you like, then please return the originals to me."

Heero murmured softly, "I'll get it," as he and Duo rose to their feet as well.

Duo nodded in silent acknowledgement before turning towards the door. Heero joined him a moment later, carrying the surprisingly heavy box. The goodbyes were very brief then they were on their way out to the car.

***

Balancing the box awkwardly on his lap, Duo dug through its contents as Heero drove them towards the cemetery. His eyes widened in disbelief as he flipped through bundles of letters and photos. "Heero - *everything* is here. There's two years worth of letters from Sister Helen to her parents... and photos..." Duo's voice trailed off. He hurriedly shoved everything back in the box and slapped the lid in place. He had caught a very brief glimpse of a group photo with the whole gang, Father, and Sister Helen shortly after the church took the street kids in. Before any of them were adopted. He couldn't face going through all of this right now. It would have to wait until they were at home and had plenty of time at their disposal because he knew damn well that although sharing the photos and memories with Heero was something he definitely wanted to do, it was going to leave him thoroughly wrung out, exhausted emotionally and physically.

This particular Pandora's box would have to wait. Visiting Sister Helen's grave, especially after deliberately recalling her death, was going to be bad enough without adding this on top of it.

"Duo?"

The concern in Heero's voice was clear. Duo shook his head slightly and said, "I'm okay. Now's just not a good time to start going through this. Put it in the trunk while we're stopped please Heero?" He was a little bit afraid that during the two hour drive home from the cemetery he would give in to temptation and start going through the box. Heero didn't need the distraction of worrying about him while driving and he really wasn't feeling up to driving himself.

The soft sound of acknowledgement from Heero coincided with the turn into the cemetery. They parked along the edge of the road leading through the cemetery before taking the bouquet of lilacs and following the directions that Mrs. Trumble had given them to find the grave.

Duo knelt and removed the dead flowers from the vase mounted on the stone. He waited while Heero dumped the brackish water out and refilled the vase with fresh from a bottle they had brought with them. Placing the lilacs in the vase, Duo traced the letters and dates on the tombstone, memories of Sister Helen flooding his mind. He was vaguely conscious of Heero's hand resting lightly on his shoulder while he knelt there and remembered. Remembered coming home from school to the smell of fresh baking. Remembered stern scoldings and disappointed sighs. Remembered comforting hugs and the scent of lilacs. Remembered a blessing wished for him and a war that he'd survived.

He wasn't sure how long he knelt there, only that when he finally went to stand, he needed Heero's help to rise on stiff legs. Duo slid his arm around Heero's waist and leaned against him for a moment, letting Heero's warmth soak into his chilled body. After a few minutes he sighed, "Let's go home..."

***

Heero smothered a smile as he took a quick peek in Duo's room before heading to bed himself. He'd wanted to be sure that Duo had managed to go to sleep and wasn't heading straight into nightmares. Somehow, he didn't think that would be a problem tonight. In flagrant - and unusual, he usually only disobeyed when he thought that his master was paying too much attention to Heero - disregard of his training, Chocolate had abandoned his own comfy cushion and climbed onto the bed at Duo's feet. The dog's head lifted alertly and he moved up the bed to lie against Duo's back as Duo stirred restlessly and made a soft, uneasy sound. Duo settled down again almost immediately.

Heero slipped off to find his camera and carefully set it to flashless night-shot mode before returning to take a picture of the two of them. He knew that Duo would have a fit because he hadn't made Chocolate get off the bed but - well, it was damn cute and once he and Duo became lovers it wouldn't be happening again since Chocolate would *not* be sharing their room. He would stay here in this one instead. Having him decide to interrupt them while kissing was bad enough, there was no way Heero wanted him interrupting anything else. 'Enjoy it while you can, dog,' Heero thought in amusement. 'You won't have the opportunity for much longer...'

For now, though, Heero was grateful that Chocolate was sensitive enough both to know that Duo was upset and to try to comfort him. Mother's Day had been very emotionally demanding for Duo although Heero thought that he would say it had been worth it. The mug on the bedside table that held a slightly wilted spray of lilacs would certainly seem to indicate that.

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