Disclaimer: Don't own them. Don't sue me.
A/N: Written for Link Worshiper's online contest. Check out her website at www. underthebridge. org She's got a lot of awesome stories and fanart for 1x2x1. (I was going to wait and post this after the contest ended, but I got impatient. And the 1x2x1 should be with an equals sign instead, but hates random stuff like that)
Until The Footprints Fade
Heero couldn't help but stare at the man currently sitting on the as-yet uncarpeted floor. "Duo, what may I ask, are you doing?"
Duo barely looked up from his task. "Painting my feet."
Heero covered his eyes. His lover was sitting in the middle of the living room floor painting his feet bright red. Apparently, Duo had finally lost it.
Looking around, Heero attempted to find some logical reason as to why Duo was doing this. They'd spent the last month updating and remodeling this old house, from walls to carpeting to furnishings and wiring. They'd wanted to make sure that everything was perfect in this house.
Actually, Heero corrected himself, he'd wanted everything perfect. Duo would have been just as happy in their tiny old apartment, but Heero wanted more. And more than anything, Heero wanted to do something that would make Duo happy. So, they'd moved to L2 and gotten an absolutely humongous house. Once the house was completely remodeled, they were planning to look into trying to foster several of the homeless children in the colony.
Duo had been more than pleased with Heero's plans. Once he'd discovered what it was that Heero wanted to do with the house, Duo had quickly come up with more suggestions. They'd decided that the attic would be their own space, meant just for them when they needed alone time. To that end, they'd finished it first, and all the furniture was currently up there. Before Duo would allow them to paint the walls there, he'd made Heero sign his name next to Duo's, written in marker on the wall.
Heero hadn't asked then. His lover was known to do odd things at times. Heero had learned long ago that it was often best to just simply follow what Duo suggested than to question. Besides, usually Duo explained his reasoning during the activity. When it came to the wall, though, Duo had offered no explanation. So Heero left it alone.
In the rest of the house, Duo had assigned what each room should be and what should happen with the wiring and the color. The pair had decided to do all the rewiring themselves. Then, they painted the walls. Heero had pointed out that painting the walls before putting the carpet down could mean scratched walls later, but Duo had shrugged that off. He'd pointed out that paint on the carpet was much more difficult to deal with.
Now, they were finally getting ready to install the carpet, and Duo was busy painting his feet instead. Heero didn't think he'd ever completely understand his lover.
Deciding the walls gave him no solution, Heero turned back to Duo. "I can see that. Why?"
Duo paused for a moment. "Take off your shoes."
Heero raised an eyebrow. That certainly wasn't an answer, and he almost refused, but Duo sat there so expectantly that he finally sighed and sat down to untie his shoes. Once they were off, he looked over at Duo, raising an eyebrow. Now what? His look said.
Duo rolled his eyes. "And your socks. Come on, work with me Hee-chan!"
Heero obligingly took off his socks, giving Duo a look that said he'd better explain this and soon.
Taking Heero's shoes and socks, Duo chucked them as far into the open closet door as he could. Heero watched him a little shocked. Then Duo grabbed Heero's legs and a paintbrush.
"Hold on. What are you doing?" Heero wasn't quite ready to pull his feet away from Duo, but he didn't really want paint on his own feet either.
"Oh come on Heero. You knew when asked you to take off your shoes that I'd want to do this. So just relax and let me." With that, Duo adjusted his grip on Heero's ankle and gave the sole of his foot a good thick coating of paint.
Heero wasn't expecting the icy cold of the paint, and glared at Duo. Duo returned his glare with a cheeky grin, and proceeded to paint his other foot. Then he carefully closed the paint can and set it and the paintbrush on the floor near the wall, out of the way. Heero admired the way Duo managed to do all of this with his legs a good foot in the air.
Raising his feet as well, Heero looked over at Duo. He was hoping that the point of this would be revealed, and soon. They still had the carpet pads to install before they could start on the carpet, and he was hoping to get all the carpets done and out of the way so they could get the moldings on before the weekend and maybe even begin shopping for furniture.
Grinning, Duo stood up, and reached over to help Heero to his feet. Heero looked scandalized. Duo looked down at his paint-covered feet, and smiled. Still confused, Heero allowed himself to be stood up.
"Now," Duo said, "catch me if you can!"
With that, Duo was off like a shot, leaving a trail of painted footprints behind him. Heero was after him in no time, ignoring the fact that his own feet left a trail of paint behind him.
The chase lasted for a good fifteen minutes. The paint had worn off their feet within the first thirty seconds, and left a trail of red footprints through the living room. Finally, Heero trapped Duo in a corner and wouldn't let him go.
Laughing, Duo wrapped his arms around Heero's neck. "Got me."
Heero nodded. He loved to watch Duo laugh. It was the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen.
With Duo pressed up against him, Heero almost forgot about the odd game they'd just played, but the sensation of flaking paint on his feet reminded him. Pulling back slightly, he looked at Duo. "Explain."
Duo raised an eyebrow at him. "What?"
Heero gestured behind him. "What was that all about?"
Looking behind Heero, Duo could see their trail of footprints retracing their steps. He shrugged.
"They'll always be there. You know, even after we put the carpet down, and we're the only ones who know, and other people come in and walk all over our floors, they'll still be there. And we'll always know they're there, even if we can't see them. And they aren't perfect, but they aren't meant to be, because nothing's perfect, not even you buddy. But they'll exist, and they'll exist forever and ever, and the only way to get rid of them will be to get rid of the floor."
Heero nodded. This was all mostly true. But it didn't explain why Duo felt the need to put these permanent marks under the carpet of their living room.
He quit thinking about it when Duo began to kiss him. Pushing it aside, he concentrated only on Duo, and Duo seemed more than willing to let the subject drop.
"I love you, Hee-chan."
"Do you think this looks okay, Kat? I mean, it's not too tight, is it? I think the pants are too tight. What will happen if I get up there and my pants rip? At least I'm not in a dress. Heero threatened to, you know. Shit Q-man, what the hell am I doing? Heero won't—"
"Calm down, Duo!" Quatre finished tying Duo's bowtie, and cupped his friend's cheeks. "Now listen to me. Heero is doing this because he loves you. We both know that. And you are doing this because you love him. Your pants are fine, he wouldn't have really put you in a dress, and all your fears are simply pre-nup jitters. Okay?"
Duo took a deep breath and nodded. He sighed as Quatre wrapped him in a big hug. "I know, Kat. I'm just so amazed by this. I mean, who would have thought the Perfect Soldier…"
Quatre nodded. "I told you, he loves you. And he wants to make you happy."
That was certainly true. Six months ago Duo and Heero had finally finished remodeling and furnishing the house, and had gone to the adoption agency to see about fostering children.
The social worker there had explained that while she would love to let them foster children, they had to be legally connected in a more substantial way than owning a house.
"Basically sirs, you need to be joined legally."
Duo's eyes had popped out. "You mean, to foster children, we need to be married?"
The social worker nodded. "I'm afraid that's part of the rules. The government feels that a single parent is just not a stable enough environment for these children, and unless you are married, you are classified as two single parents sharing a house."
Heero nodded. "If we were married, we could be foster-parents."
It wasn't a question, but the social worker nodded as though it were. Duo, on the other hand, was busy staring at Heero as though he'd grown a second, or possibly third head.
The social worker smiled pleasantly at them. "However, if you would like to fill out some paperwork for future reference, in case your marital status should change, I would be more than happy to help you with that."
Heero nodded. Looking over at Duo, he took a deep breath, and reached for Duo's hand. Duo continued to stare at him in astonishment. Heero took one more deep breath, and met Duo's eyes. "That's fine. I do believe we can make that change soon."
Suddenly, everything clicked in Duo's head, and he launched himself at Heero. "You mean it? You really mean it? You're not just kidding around, right? You really want to marry me? Shi—I mean, shoot, Heero! Why didn't you ask me? That's how it's supposed to be done! Hee-chan, you're the best! I love you!"
Heero looked pained. "Supposed to be…?"
Duo laughed. "Yeah, there're traditions. But when have we paid attention to those?"
Heero nodded, but determined that he was going to discover these traditions for himself. The social worker sat behind her desk looking rather stunned. The display of affection was no big deal; she saw worse on the streets everyday. But this would be the first time she'd witnessed a proposal, and she couldn't quite believe it.
The first phone call that Heero had made upon their return home was to Quatre. If anyone knew the wedding traditions, Heero reasoned, it would be Quatre. And if Heero wanted to make this perfect for Duo, then he was going to need Quatre's help.
Unfortunately for the pair, Quatre had big ideas for their wedding. He not only helped Heero navigate all the ins and outs of a traditional American wedding, but he helped to incorporate Japanese traditions, as well as organizing and paying for everything. He would accept no arguments on money. It was the least he could do, he insisted.
Heero made the official proposal a week after the meeting with the social worker. He did it right, with a ring and a romantic restaurant, and he knelt to ask Duo. Duo found this hysterical, and told Heero so.
"After all," he'd said, "I already said yes. And if you think this is going to make me the woman in the relationship, you have another thing coming."
The one major disadvantage to having Quatre plan their wedding was that he didn't do it halfway. Heero and Duo would have been happy with a small affair in their backyard. Quatre not only held the wedding in one of his bigger mansions, but he invited over a hundred people. There were all the Gundam pilots, of course, Lady Une and a large number of Preventers, Quatre's family, several employees from the Winner Corporation, Relena and her entourage, Millardo Peacecraft and his family, and a number of people that neither of the men could identify. Of course, any event planned by the Winner heir, attended by the Peacecraft families, and centered on the Gundam pilots attracted the press like flies to honey.
It was no wonder that Duo was scared to death to walk out there. One thing wrong would be played over and over for the next several months, until the next big scandal came out.
Quatre put his hand on Duo's shoulder. "You ready? It's almost time."
Taking a deep breath, Duo nodded. "Yeah. Let's get this show on the road."
With that, he walked out to meet his husband-to-be.
When Duo finally saw Heero, he almost stopped breathing. Trowa and Quatre had conspired together to make sure that neither Heero nor Duo ever saw each other before the wedding actually began. Heero wore a white tuxedo with a blue bow-tie and cummerbund. His hair had obviously been gelled and styled, presumably by Trowa. Duo could tell the tux was as tailored as his own, judging the way it fit tightly in all the right places.
Duo wore a black tuxedo with a purple bow-tie and cummerbund. He had decided, after much persuading from Quatre, to tie his hair into a ponytail and let Quatre's sisters braid small pieces of it with purple ribbons. The effect, he had to admit, was stunning, if a bit too feminine for his tastes. Heero seemed to agree, judging from the once-over he gave Duo.
They had opted to walk down the aisle together. After all, neither of them had family to give them away, and neither wanted to walk alone down the aisle. So when the music started, Heero offered his hand to Duo, and they slowly made their way to the stage and alter at the end.
The ceremony was a mixture of American religion and Japanese tradition. Quatre had done his best to incorporate the backgrounds of both his friends, and he'd done an exceptional job. The only thing that Duo had refused to budge on was the vows. Quatre had wanted to use a variation of the American vows that he had rewritten slightly. But Duo wanted to write his own vows, and expected Heero to do the same. Quatre had backed down quickly, letting Duo have his way in his own wedding. Duo had been more than happy to let Quatre have the rest of the planning to him.
When it came time to give the vows, the minister allowed Heero to start.
"I, Heero Yuy, promise to love you forever, to death and beyond, no matter what happens in our lives and around us." That, ultimately, was all that Heero wanted to say. He never spoke more than necessary in his everyday life, and he saw no reason to say more now. Besides, Duo was sure to speak enough for the two of them combined.
Duo grinned at Heero and nodded. "I, Duo Maxwell, promise to love and honor you forever, until the footprints fade."
And then he stopped. That was all he wanted to say. And though the people around them had no clue what it meant, Heero knew exactly what Duo was saying, and allowed a small smile to break through on his face. The vows were for them, and their love was theirs only, and nothing could take that away from them.
Their first official adoptee was named May. They'd fostered for almost five years, and had cared for well over a hundred children in their home at various times before Duo decided that he wanted to keep one of them.
Actually, if Duo could, he would have kept all of them. He couldn't stand to see the children continually shuffled around. It reminded him too much of his own childhood, and there were times when Heero found him in the attic staring at the wall where they'd painted over their names. If he asked, Duo would change the subject, change moods, and leave the room. Instead, Heero had learned to listen in a different way, wrapping his arms around Duo and simply sitting there waiting for Duo to explain.
There were so many things that Duo said, but somehow Heero never got the explanations that he was waiting for. It wasn't as though it were a secret. Heero got the feeling that Duo would have talked about it, if it weren't so painful, so very hard to explain without having lived it. So Heero listened with his arms and his body, instead of with his ears, and learned more about his husband during those times than when Duo spent an afternoon without pausing for a breath.
Duo was incredibly excited to get May forever. She was a rebellious child, eight years old and already labeled impossible. Somehow, Duo had tamed her, brought her around, and taught her how to live and love with them. Heero still couldn't understand how it had happened, but he didn't question it. He reasoned that it had to be similar to how Duo had trained him.
When the paperwork finally came through, Duo threw a party for May. He invited all the Gundam pilots, and introduced her to them. They were her family now too, he told her, and he expected her to treat them as such.
After the party, May disappeared into her room for a while. When Duo went to go check on her, he found her looking proudly at her wall, holding a marker.
"What are you doing, May-girl?"
May looked over at him. "It's mine. See?"
Duo came up behind her, and looked at the wall. There, in thick black crooked handwriting, were the words 'May Maxwell-Yuy's Room.'
Duo laughed. Heero, coming in behind him, looked at the wall in confusion and anger. He didn't like repainting, and he didn't like mess. Heero certainly couldn't see what was so funny about having to scrub the wall now.
Duo, on the other hand, simply scooped May into a hug and nodded. "Yes, sweetheart, it's all yours. And it will be forever, until you decide to leave."
"I'm never going to leave! I'm going to stay here forever and ever!"
The next day, they went shopping for paint for May's room.
It became a tradition. The men adopted close to twenty other children after her, though they never had more than six children of their own in the house at any one time. The remaining bedrooms were used at first for foster children, and eventually given over to studies and guest rooms as they gained more children, grown or homebound.
And each newly adopted child, no matter what age, wrote their new name on the wall before they repainted the room. That way, May's room might look different now, but it was still May Maxwell-Yuy's room. It was also Justin Maxwell-Yuy's room and Taylor Maxwell-Yuy's room, and nothing could change that, even if no one could see it.
Heero couldn't deny the comfort it gave the children to be able to look at the wall where they'd written their name and know that under a coat of paint, their name would always be there. It wouldn't be scrubbed off or washed away. It was there forever. He didn't understand it, but he accepted it, and let Duo continue doing it.
Heero was almost fifty when his hair started to fall out. At first, Duo thought it was hysterical. But several nights spent in stony silence convinced him to stop teasing.
"Come on, Hee-chan. It's not that bad."
Duo sighed. "Look, Heero, it's not like it doesn't happen. A lot of men lose their hair. If it bothers you that bad, buy some Rogaine. It'll be fine."
Heero glared at Duo. "It doesn't work."
Duo threw his hands into the air. "Fine! I'm sorry! I don't see what the big deal is! You're getting older! It happens! At least you're still alive to continue aging."
Heero simply glared at him and turned back to the television.
Duo crossed his arms over his chest and threw himself back against his chair. "Does this have anything to do with the fact that I'm not losing my hair yet?"
Duo, in fact, still had a full head of hair. And after forty years of growing his hair, it had gotten to a ridiculous length. He still refused to do more than trim the split ends, and now the hair couldn't even be braided and let to hang. Instead, Duo kept his hair braided and wrapped in a bun on his head. It was longer than he was tall now, and it was a process to wash it. Once a week, Heero and Duo would climb into the bathtub together and wash Duo's hair thoroughly.
As impractical and difficult to deal with as the hair was, Heero still loved to see his husband with his hair down. There was something about the hair that still attracted him, his hands, and his touch. More often than not, washing Duo's hair was a day-long process that began with taking it down and playing with it, and ended late in the night, brushing it until it was soft and smooth.
It also inspired great feelings of envy. After over twenty years together, Duo still retained the build and looks of his youth. Heero, on the other hand, had problems keeping in shape, no matter how long he spent at the gym. And his hair wasn't the only thing beginning to leave him. His once perfect memory was no longer as dependable, and he was beginning to get more wrinkles.
Duo tried to point out that he had these problems too, but in Heero's mind, Duo never aged. Especially not when he still pouted like he was fifteen. Heero sighed, and looked over at Duo.
Just as he expected, Duo was sitting on the armchair pouting, muttering under his breath about stupid husbands who care too much about a little hair loss.
"It's not just you."
Duo looked up. "What, you think the others have avoided aging? Lady Une retired last year, in case you didn't notice. And Quatre's hair is platinum grey. Trowa's bangs are longer because they start farther back, and Wufei shaved his head four or five years ago, when he noticed his first grey hair. And don't tell me you haven't seen Millardo's comb-over. That man needs help. A toupee would look better than that."
Heero chuckled a little, but lapsed back into silence. After a moment, Duo stood up and joined him on the couch. "This isn't about getting older, is it."
It wasn't a question, and Heero didn't respond. Duo knew him better than he knew himself sometimes.
Standing up, Duo pulled Heero to his feet. Then he began moving all the furniture in the living room against the walls.
"Just shut up and help me get everything against the walls, kay, Hee-chan?"
Heero nodded, and in no time they had the center of the room clear. Fortunately, the children were in school, and the men had the house to themselves. Duo didn't want to be interrupted for this.
Sitting down in the center of the room, Duo motioned Heero to join him. When Heero had sat down, Duo took off his socks, and then took hold of Heero's legs to rid him of his socks as well. The socks were tossed against the wall and forgotten. Then Duo looked over at Heero.
"Do you remember what is underneath this carpet?"
Heero nodded. He didn't know where this was going, or what it had to do with anything, but he wasn't going to argue right yet.
"Good. Do you think they've faded yet?"
Heero paused, calculating in his head, then shook his head.
"Not even with all the wear and tear on the carpet? We've had a lot of people walk around here. And this carpet is pretty old. It's got a lot of stains on it." Duo pointed.
"See? There's the one where Matt dropped his red cool-aid. And the one where Sara's cat peed. And there's the spot that you always tried to wear down pacing while Jason stayed out all night. Do you think they're still there under all that?"
Heero nodded. That wouldn't have affected the paint underneath at all.
"So, no matter how old and worn this carpet gets, what's underneath won't be affected, right? What's underneath isn't going to change. Right?"
After a slight pause, Heero nodded.
"So, why is it any different with you?"
After a moment, Heero looked up at Duo. And Duo was shocked to see the slight glistening of tears in his eyes. Leaning forward, he hooked an arm around Heero's neck.
"Until the footprints fade, lover."
Heero nodded. "Until the footprints fade."
It was several years later when Heero started to notice that Duo was acting strange. Of course, many things about Duo were strange, but Duo was having problems remembering things he shouldn't have. Simple things. Heero would find him in the bathroom staring at the toothbrush trying to figure out what it was for. He'd forget that he'd had dinner ten minutes after eating.
After several weeks of this, Heero finally convinced Duo to go to the doctor's and get a checkup. When Heero began to explain the symptoms, the doctor nodded, and asked if Duo's family had ever had memory problems. Heero had to explain that Duo was an orphan, had never known his family.
The odd thing was that throughout this interview, Duo sat there staring at Heero. He'd noticed the doctor, and greeted the doctor, but he stared at Heero and said nothing. Heero kept expecting him to say something, join in, get upset for revealing his past, something. But there was no response.
The doctor then asked about Duo's actions over the past few years. Had he had many memory problems? Problems with simple math, with people's names and faces, or with events that had occurred shortly before? Thinking back on it, Heero nodded.
Duo had been having memory problems for years, but so had Heero. They'd thought nothing of it. After all, it was surely a symptom of getting older. It was a little disturbing when Duo took almost fifteen minutes to identify May when she visited once, but he'd covered it well, and only Heero had noticed. More concerning had been the time Duo had recognized Wufei, but forgotten his name.
The doctor nodded, and sighed. He couldn't be sure, and he had some tests to run, he said, but it sounded like Duo had Alzheimer's.
To Heero's shock, Duo nodded. "Yeah. I thought so."
Heero stared at his husband. "You knew?"
Duo shrugged. "I'd noticed my memory problems. I'd also noticed that they were worse for me than for you or the others. So I did some research. That was my conclusion."
Heero thought this over, and nodded. There were some things he was going to have to discuss with Duo when they got home, but those could wait. First, he needed to know what he could do to cure Duo. "All right. What do we do to cure it?"
The doctor shook his head. "I can give you some information, and direct you to some support services for both the patient and the caregiver. Unfortunately, science has yet to discover a way to stop Alzheimer's from progressing."
Time seemed to stop for a moment. Duo sat slumped over his knees, staring at the floor. The doctor was giving Heero a sympathetic, yet sincere look. "You're saying it's incurable."
"I'm afraid so. The memory loss will get worse, to the point that your husband will not be able to care for himself. Eventually, the brain will become too damaged to function."
Heero glared. "You mean he'll die."
The doctor nodded. "I'm very sorry."
Heero didn't know what to do. He wanted to hit something, wanted to destroy something, do something to make it all better. He started to stand, but stopped when he felt Duo's hand on his arm. Duo looked up at him through his bangs. "Let's go home, love. We need to cut my hair."
Standing, Duo shook hands with the doctor, making arrangements to get as much information as he could on local care centers and how to deal with the disease from both a patient and a family's point of view. Then he led Heero out.
Once they were home, Heero sat on the couch and drew Duo into his lap. Duo curled up and leaned into Heero's chest. "How long?"
Duo shrugged. "How long have I known, or how long do I have?"
Heero almost choked. "Both."
"I've suspected for close to a year now. The incident with Wufei convinced me that something was very wrong. I should never have forgotten his name. So I did some research, and that seemed the only logical explanation."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Duo sighed. "I didn't know how. And I didn't know if I were right. I was hoping that maybe it was a fluke. Maybe it was a mistake. I didn't want to worry you unnecessarily. And I didn't want to put a definite name to it. If I didn't name it, maybe it wasn't real, you know?"
Heero nodded. "And my other question?"
"No more than twenty years. As little as five. It depends on how quickly the disease progresses."
The rest of the evening was spent in silence on the couch. Later, both men would deny that any tears had spilled.
The next morning, they cut Duo's hair. They carefully washed and combed it first, Then, Heero made a loose ponytail, making sure the ribbon was tight around the hair. He braided the entire length, and wrapped a rubber band around the end. Finally, holding the braid securely in his left hand, he cut Duo's hair right in front of the ribbon. Securing a rubber band around that end as well, he set aside Duo's memories.
"Now they'll always be remembered. They'll have you to help." Duo grinned weakly at Heero.
Heero nodded. Duo's past would stay with him now, and he'd be responsible for both his lover's and his own memories. That way, Duo wouldn't have to worry about anyone being forgotten as his own mind failed him.
The men decided that it would be best to tell everyone at once. Everyone included the Peacecrafts, Quatre, Trowa, and Wufei, and all of their adopted children, as well the families of everyone invited. Officially, they were all invited over to a barbeque, but the serious attitudes of the Maxwell-Yuys translated into anxiety for everyone. The affair was uncomfortable, no matter how enthusiastic Duo tried to be.
Finally, Duo stood up and called for everyone's attention. "I have an announcement to make. Heero and I went to the doctor's office about a week ago to see about my memory problems."
From somewhere in the back, a voice piped up. "About time, Dad!"
"Let your father finish, May. This is important."
May sighed. "Yes, Papa."
Heero nodded to Duo to continue.
"I've been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease."
The group erupted with noise. Duo and Heero spent the rest of the meal explaining what it was and what could be done about it. Most people offered services of some sort. Quatre offered anything in his power to care for Duo, and promised to try and find a way to cure it as soon as possible. The meal ended on an oddly positive note, and the men were cheered by their family and friends' willingness to help.
As the disease got worse, Duo had more and more problems dealing with it. He not only forgot names and faces, but simple motor skills. Heero and Trowa eventually built doors in front of all the stairways, and made locks that Duo was not allowed to have the keys to. There was a time that Heero would have worried about Duo picking the locks. Now, it didn't matter. Duo sometimes forgot how to stand up, how to walk down the stairs. He couldn't pick a lock.
Heero refused to let Duo go anywhere alone. On his bad days, Duo barely noticed. On his good days, he felt it was embarrassing and unnecessary.
It was three years after his diagnosis that Duo wandered away from Heero in the grocery store, and got lost. He was eventually found two miles away, sitting in a park with no clue that anyone would be looking for him.
Several of their kids moved back in with them, and Quatre hired a full-time nurse when it became obvious that it was necessary. There were times when Duo would lash out, scream, bite, kick, anything he could to get away. The only thing that Heero could do during that time was hold Duo, keep him from hurting himself, and hope that it ended soon.
Duo still had his good days. But as the years went by, they became fewer and fewer. Eventually, they changed from good days to good hours. Heero looked forward to those times. He loved Duo, loved him no matter what, but it still hurt when Duo looked at him with no recognition. It hurt when he watched Duo weep in frustration, and he knew that there was nothing he could do to make Duo's pain go away.
There were times when Duo was convinced that the war was still going on. He didn't see Heero then. Sometimes, Heero was an Oz soldier to be defeated. Other times, he was Howard, or one of the doctors. But never was Heero himself. And those times hurt him the most, because he watched as Duo tried desperately to find him, and there was nothing he could do to convince Duo that he was there, and that he wasn't leaving.
Once, he had to pull a gun out of Duo's hands. Heero had no clue how he'd gotten it, or where it had come from, but it scared him that it had been there the whole time, and he'd never seen it. It scared him that Duo could have hurt himself so many times, and Heero might not have known until the gun had gone off.
Duo had screamed at him then. Screamed at him to let him die, to let him be done with it. Why, he'd asked. Why did Heero force him to do this. To live like this.
Unable to respond, Heero had simply wrapped Duo in his arms and held him.
Shortly before Duo's body shut down completely, he'd had one very lucid moment. Surrounded by his family and friends, Duo had been confined to a bed, to full-time care for almost two and a half years. Quatre had installed a full clinic setup in a bedroom on the first floor, complete with a hospital bed and all the medical equipment needed to support Duo.
The first thing Duo had done was sign the wall. Heero had signed it right next to his. As each person came to visit, they were asked to sign the walls. Now they were covered in black markered handwriting. Heero couldn't paint over it. The paint fumes would have likely interfered with Duo's breathing.
Duo looked up at Heero, sitting cross-legged with Duo's head in his lap, and asked one question. "Why did you stay, Heero?"
Heero didn't even need to think about it. "Because the footprints haven't faded."
Duo died with a smile on his face.
The double gravestone sat in the corner of Heero's backyard. Relena had pulled some strings to let him bury his lover there. It had been several years since Duo's death, and Heero could feel his own body beginning to wear down. There was space next to Duo for Heero to lie someday, and a space on the stone to carve Heero's own death date.
Tracing Duo's name, Heero smiled softly. Above their names, there was a simple inscription.
"Past life, past disease, past death, I'll love you till the footprints fade."
When their children replaced the carpet ten years later, they found two sets of red footprints that traveled across the living room floor.
The footprints hadn't faded.