Four Years Later
The door to the apartment suddenly flew open and Eliza burst into the room dressed in her school uniform, her cheeks flushed and a broad smile on her face. Her backpack was flung carelessly to the floor a moment before she shut the door behind her and bellowed, "Dad!"
Heero quickly stepped out of the kitchen and put his hand up, signaling for her to be quiet. "Shh... he's sleeping," he told the girl who grimaced at her mistake. She changed directions and made her way over to him wearing an apologetic grin. He bent down and happily accepted her kiss on his left cheek, then returned the gesture in kind.
"You're home early. Is everything all right?" she asked, taking a seat on the bar stool while Heero stepped into the kitchen for a moment. She accepted the plate of sliced pineapple he handed her as well as the tall glass of ice water as her after school snack.
"I went to work early so I could come home and help," he replied. "And everything's fine. Quiet, for once, thankfully. How was school?"
The girl rolled her eyes and tossed her long, thick and loose cinnamon colored hair over her shoulders. "There was a fight today," she answered excitedly. "Jenny Spencer and Chandra Brockman went at each other like alley cats. It was so cool." Her grin was a duplicate of her father's. Her narrative was interrupted when a familiar sound came from the direction of the bedroom. A delighted smile brightened the girl's face as she jumped off the tall stool and ran to the bedroom door, stopping abruptly in front of it as she remembered the frequent admonition to knock before entering.
Hearing the familiar summons to enter, she did, with Heero following closely behind. The two found Duo sitting up in bed, and in his arms was a dark-haired baby girl, a very unhappy one at that. It wasn't their first experience with cholic, but having gone through it before didn't make it any easier to deal with. The pediatrician promised it would pass and the drops he'd given them were some help, but only time would make the situation better. Duo, dressed in lightweight, gray sweat pants and a white T-shirt, looked up at their entrance with noticeable dark circles ringing his tired-looking eyes. His weariness was eclipsed by the warm smile he greeted them with.
"Hey, Dad. Did you get much sleep today?" Eliza asked, going to the bed to kiss her father's cheek and then did the same to the head of the unhappy baby who looked to be working up to her usual loud squall.
"A bit, but I really do think she's getting a little better," Duo answered above the wailing. Heero put the piece of flannel Hilde had called a burp cloth over his shoulder then reached down to take the unhappy baby from the other man and put her to his shoulder. The volume of crying eased slightly when he began to rub her back in soothing circles.
"Hilde called," Heero told the two, ignoring the continued fussing at the side of his head. "She just wanted us to know she got home safely and that she'd call back later."
Duo sighed, looking tired but happy. "I don't know how we can ever thank her for giving us the Tooks."
Heero raised one eyebrow, then went ahead and rolled his eyes at the new name. "Is that the baby's nickname? I thought she was safe from that when we chose a one-syllable name for her."
"Tess is a fine name," Duo answered with a grin. "And it can't be fooled with... too much. But who says a nickname has to be a part of the original name? Tooks just..." he paused to shrugged his shoulders. "It just feels right."
"I like it!" Eliza said brightly. "And I like my nickname, too. All the kids at school think Zazu is cool ... weird, but cool."
"How about being a cool big sister and fixing your little sister a bottle?" Duo asked, smiling fondly at his eldest child. "You remember Heero showing you how to do it?"
"Yeah, I'll get it," she replied, then promptly left the room for a much quieter place in the house while Heero moved to the basket at the side of the bed table and removed from it the rubber changing pad. Using his one free hand, he laid it out on the bed, then gathered the rest of the items needed for taking care of a wet diaper.
Once everything was in place, he lay the upset baby down , her back on the pad, and adeptly undressed her lower half, pausing every once in a while to place a kiss the baby's round little face.
"She looks so much like you," Duo sighed wistfully. "Like Ali."
Heero could only nod as the familiar lump formed in his throat. Since Tess's birth they couldn't help but think often of their son, lost to them four years ago. "I'll always be grateful to Hilde for offering to carry one more child for us. Somehow I think she makes our life more complete, don't you?" He looked up from his task for a brief moment to see Duo nod in agreement, his own face appearing thoughtful.
Once the baby's diaper was changed and she was dressed once again, Heero lifted her to his shoulder, but by then the continued fussing had grown steadily into an angry wail. It was obvious Tess was not satisfied with just being changed. The three of them waited a bit impatiently for Zazu to return, which she did a few moments later, the blessed heated bottle in her hand.
"Would you like to feed her?" Heero asked.
"Hell yeah," came her enthusiastic reply.
His eyes narrowed and he shot her a look of disapproval, then turned to her father. "Duo," he complained.
"Zaz, you know you're not supposed to curse," the braided man reminded their daughter.
"When you quit, I'll quit," she replied in a cheery manner and with a smug smile, knowing very well that probably wasn't going to happen anytime soon. Although Duo had stopped using the more vulgar language he'd picked up as a kid on the streets and living with the Sweepers, he did like to throw out what he termed "Bible swearing", with hell, damn and the one not found in scriptures, shit, being his favorite. They both considered him very much improved, but with a new baby to raise they'd decided to be a bit more diligent about their language.
Getting back to the task at hand, Heero turned to his lover. "You stay here," he said firmly as Duo moved to get up. After seeing his lover give in and settle back down, demonstrating just how tired he truly was, he then looked to their daughter. "Come on," he said with a grin, then led the girl out of the bedroom with the baby's crying reaching a new, desperate crescendo, if that was possible. During the three weeks after she'd come home from the hospital with Hilde, it seemed all the infant had been made to do was make noise. If he didn't know it was his own sperm that had fertilized Hilde's egg, he'd wonder if the girl didn't take after her other father. Duo's voice could be quite impressive when he was angry or excited.
Setting the nearly twelve year old girl on the sofa with a pillow under her arm to help support the baby, Heero set her little sister in her lap and Zazu promptly put the bottle's nipple to the infant's mouth. There was a God in Heaven, Heero decided, when the only sounds in the room were the hitching of Tess's breath and the sucking sounds she made as she latched onto her food source.
"Let me know when she needs burping," he told his daughter, whose attention was focused so tenderly on the baby's face.
Heero smiled lovingly at the girl who had accepted him back into her life. His heart felt like bursting with the overwhelming feelings of love he felt for both his daughters. "Love you, Zazu," he said quietly.
She looked up from Tess and smiled back. "Love you, too."
He stood for a moment and considered all that had passed over the last four years. Getting through Ali's funeral had been one of the hardest things he'd ever done. Watching Duo and their daughter leave Earth with Trowa and Quatre a few days after the funeral was almost as difficult. Even though they talked weekly, it was Duo's emails that had helped him to get through the long months of separation. They'd faithfully emailed each other every day, pouring out their hearts and sharing the grief that surrounded the both of them for months after the death of their son. Slowly, Duo's emails evolved and he began to tell Heero all about Ali and Zazu during the nearly four years he'd been absent from their lives. Heero devoured every word of the long, thoughtfully written messages. He even printed them out and put them into a scrap book to be cherished and read over and over.
After Duo's departure, he'd visited Ali's grave every Sunday and placed a bouquet of flowers on the newly placed headstone of their beloved son. After several months of doing this, Duo asked him to stop. He didn't want Heero focused so much on Ali's death, as visits to the graveyard was prone to do. Instead, he wanted him to remember the beautiful boy who had lived and blessed the lives of all those who'd come into contact with him. Duo was only satisfied with his promise of limiting his visits to the cemetery to once a month, and that's what he did... faithfully. Their emails continued and their expressions of regret and sorrow eventually turned to words of love and hope for a future together. As the ninth month since their departure from Earth rolled around, Duo announced that he was ready to return to San Francisco, to Heero. He wanted to see if they could make a go of it once again.
Etched into his mind was every detail of the day his family returned to him. He'd gone to the store that morning and stocked his kitchen shelves and the refrigerator with everything he could think of that would please Duo and Eliza. The apartment had been cleaned, the bedding washed and replaced on the bed in his room and the one in the guest room that was to be his daughter's.
Not wanting to be late, he arrived an hour early at the airport and then worried the entire time about how to greet them. While nervously pacing the length of the baggage pickup, he vacillated between being warm and welcoming or cautious and circumspect, not knowing what Duo's mood was going to be. He came to the decision of letting Duo set the tone. He'd observe how the lover of his heart behaved and he would act accordingly. Once that decision had been made, he managed some semblance of composure, regardless of the fact that his wildly beating heart was threatening to burst out of his chest.
The minutes ticked by ridiculously slow until the monitor in the room displayed the announcement that the plane had landed. The moment he saw Duo walk into the baggage area, Eliza's hand tucked into his own, all attempts at being composed, cautious or circumspect fled as tears of joy blurred his vision. Not caring whether or not he was making a spectacle of himself, Heero rushed forward and threw his arms around Duo and held him tightly against his chest. He could feel the other man's hands rubbing circling on his back in a soothing gesture while he whispered in his ear, "It's all right, Heero. We're back."
Heero pulled back and was somewhat relieved to see he wasn't the only emotional one. Duo, too, had tears in his eyes, and with a shaky smile he said, "Come on, let's go home."
They quickly claimed their luggage and Heero lead the way to the parking garage. As the walked, Duo talked about their friends on L-4 and about Wufei and Jen-Li's baby. Even though his attention was on Duo, it was hard for Heero to miss the fact that Eliza was unusually quiet, almost withdrawn. He hoped it was because she was tried after their long trip back to Earth and not that she was unhappy about coming to live with him.
He led them to his car where Duo stopped abruptly to openly stare at the black, four-door sedan. "Is this new?" he asked. After nodding that it was, the braided man asked, "What happened to the sports car?"
Heero shrugged. "It was a two seat car, not meant for a family." The expression on Duo's face and the brilliant smile he flashed reinforced to him that the sacrifice of his dream car had well been worth it. He opened the trunk and deposited their luggage in the ample space, then the three entered the car, with Eliza sitting in the back seat with the flowers.
"Are these for me?" she asked quietly.
"There are actually two bouquets there," Heero answered from over the back of his seat. "One is for you, and I thought we might stop by the cemetery and leave one for your brother."
"Oh," she replied dispiritedly.
"I'd like that," Duo said, though he became as equally subdued as his daughter.
"I'm sorry," Heero said, reaching over to clasp Duo's hand. "It was a bad idea."
"No." Duo's head shook. "I think I need to see it, just to make sure everything's all right."
Maybe so, Heero thought, but the side trip definitely put a damper on the former upbeat reunion.
Unfortunately, becoming a family once again wasn't as easy as he'd hoped it would be. After Ali's death, Eliza had apparently become overly protective of her father. She was also used to having him all to herself, which lead her to become possessive of him as well. She came back to San Francisco with what only could be described as an attitude. Upon his decision to return, Duo informed him that he told her what he felt she needed to know about their break up, that they had both been at fault. He purposely left out the parts that weren't meant for tender ears. Where Eliza had been relatively open and friendly towards him at the cottage, she'd become distant towards Heero upon their return, and she seemed to cling to her father more than ever. Rebuilding their relationship became a slow struggle, and an often discouraging task. He took upon himself the task of gaining the little girl's trust and confidence. Regardless of Eliza's stubborn nature, Heero was determined to win her over. After all, what choice did he have? He loved his family and knew that he could never again survive living without them.
During the first month that they lived together, Zazu had been cautious of him, refusing his simplest offers of friendship. Eventually her buried resentment of his absence during Ali's long illness and in her life came to the surface. She associated his sudden appearance in their life with Ali's death, and Duo's growing attachment to him had caused their daughter to feel threatened. She lashed out at Heero daily and clung almost ferociously to her father. Her unhappiness at the situation and frequent outbursts kept Duo sleeping on the living room sofa bed for five long months after they'd moved into his apartment. One day Duo declared that he'd had enough. He led Eliza to her bedroom, closed the door and sat down with for a heart to heart talk. Heero didn't know exactly what his lover had said to the troubled girl, but after "the talk" things gradually began to improve and Duo made the permanent move from the sofa bed into their bedroom.
One evening after Eliza had gone to bed, Duo suggested that Heero take her out once a week. He believed that a little alone time might help the two people he loved most in the world get to know each other again. He'd agreed immediately to the suggestion, desperate to try just about anything to win their daughter's favor and, hopefully, gain a little more peace and harmony in their home.
The first few outings had been awkward, but Heero persevered and Eliza seemed to make an honest effort at being pleasant. On their fifth outing he'd taken her to a home decorating store and offered to buy her anything she needed for her new bedroom. He explained that he'd never had anyone sleep in the guest room before and he wanted her to make the room her own by putting things into it that would help her feel more at home. As long as he lived Heero knew he would never forget Eliza's response. She looked up at him with wary eyes and asked, "Why would you want to spend money on my room when you might decide next week that you don't like us any more? Then daddy and I will just have to move again and you'll have wasted your money." It was then that he understood that she had been testing him. He and Duo had spent months mending the errors of their past, healing the breach between them, confessing their wrongs and forgiving each other; but he hadn't spent an equal amount of time or energy to win his daughter back.
Despite being in the entrance of the busy store, he knelt down to be at eye level with his daughter as he answered her. "I know you probably aren't ready to believe this, Eliza, but I love you. You've been angry with me and I can understand why you don't trust me. All I can do is hope that you'll forgive me for making mistakes and assure you that I'll never, ever, leave you and your Dad again. You both mean the world to me and I only want for you to be happy."
"Then you promise not to get mad and take off on us again?" she asked, her manner much too serious for an eight year old.
"I give you my solemn word."
Those eyes, so like Duo's, studied him for a moment, then the girl simply nodded. "All right," she sighed dramatically. "I guess I'll just have to trust you. Can I have a bedspread with purple flowers on it?" He dumbly nodded, shocked that the abrupt truce that had apparently been called and by her sudden change of topic. At that point she probably knew she had him in the palm of her hand for he was willing to give her anything she asked for in return for that truce. That day he discovered that his daughter had inherited a somewhat dubious talent from Hilde - a definite knack for shopping.
From that day forward a new relationship developed between them. After another two months, he and Duo approached her about making their relationship legal once again. Eliza stood as a witness with Wufei and Jen-Li as they signed their partnership papers at city hall, and merely rolled her eyes as they embraced each other after exchanging a brief kiss when the judge declared them legal partners. She accepted him as her other parent, and he began to call her Zazu. And now their relationship had grown to the point where she was trying out the name dad for him. It had been a long time coming, he thought. And now, after all the shot-down overtures he'd made towards winning her trust and every angry word she'd hurled at him during those first couple of months after they'd come to live with him, he could honestly say it had all been worth it just to hear her call him dad.
Turning back to the bedroom, he entered the dim lit room and closed the door behind him before moving to the bed where Duo was lying down once again, resting on his back with his eyes closed. Heero climbed onto the bed and lay next to his lover then leaned over to kiss his cheek. "Quatre and Trowa called," he told his lover, knowing he wasn't asleep. "They're coming in two weeks to meet our newest little lady. They'll bring Brennan with them."
"I haven't seen him since his birth," Duo said, his eyes remaining closed. "That was almost three years ago."
"Maybe now that he's older we'll see them more often."
"I hope so. I've missed everyone."
"Are you happy, Duo?" Heero searched his lover's face for any clue that he wasn't.
"Ecstatic," the other man replied with a smile of contentment forming on his face. "You?"
"I'm drunk on it."
Blue-violet eyes opened at that. "Heero Yuy drunk? Stop the presses, folks, we've got a story."
"Drunk on happiness and on you." Not able to resist any longer, Heero leaned over his lover's body, bracing his arms on either side of the man looking up at him expectantly. He slowly lowered his head to kiss the love of his life soundly. Their kisses of late had been more about their shared and treasured intimacy and less about sex. Of course, that was partially due to the fact that they'd had Hilde living with them for the last two months of her pregnancy, along with her five year old son. It had been a busy time for the five living together in the three room apartment, leaving little opportunity for the two men to spend much time together, not to mention little time for making love. Duo quit his job as head of security for several hotels located downtown during the last month of Hilde's pregnancy in order to take the expectant mother to her appointments and prepare for the birth of their daughter. When the time finally came for delivering the baby, with Hilde's water breaking as she walked down to the lobby to get the mail, the three of them had made a mad, memorable rush to the hospital in a taxi cab while Heero raced from work to join them. It was a happy day, celebrated with tears, profound gratitude and phone calls around the world and to the colonies.
They brought Hilde and the baby home a couple of days later, and everyone lived in a state of bliss for a few days more... and then the signs of colic hit like a ton of bricks. Hilde stayed with them for three weeks before she'd had enough and booked herself and her son on a flight back to L1, returning to her husband and a more peaceful home - in order to get some rest, she insisted.
When the mutually satisfying kiss came to an end, the two men remained close, with Heero continuing to hold himself over his lover's upper body, his eyes and smile were soft as he studied the tired face below him. "I love you, Duo. Thank you, for everything."
The braided man's eyes closed once more, even as he managed a sleepy smile. "No, thank you."
They were well past the "I'm sorry" stage and were now deep into the one where they expressed their gratitude. When Heero said thank you it was to express his on-going gratitude for Duo's forgiveness of his past mistakes, for leaving him and the kids and for his assumed part in Ali's illness. And most of all, he was grateful daily that he'd been given a second chance at happiness.
Duo's thank yous were no less important. With each one he expressed his gratitude for Heero's forgiveness, for his love and for coming back to him. Duo often told him he was relieved that he'd been able to meet their son before he passed away and that he'd extended the invitation for he and Zazu to return to Earth to him live with him after he'd gone to L-4 to gather what remained of his tattered heart. Duo also told him that he never would have approached him after what he'd done to cause their breakup, that he'd always considered the ball to be in his lover's court whether or not to come back to him. Heero thanked whatever power in the universe that caused Duo to take Quatre's advice to call him and enlist his help in finding a place to stay when they'd made the move to Palo Alto in preparation for Ali's heart transplant. It had been that phone call that had made their future happiness possible, despite the tragic loss of their son.
Both men settled on their sides and comfortably rested against each other, content. They were just beginning to drop off into a much needed nap when the dissonant sound of their baby's cry destroyed the peace that had blessed the apartment for less than ten minutes.
"I'll get her, you rest," Heero said with a sigh, moving to get up off the bed. His departure was stymied when Duo tightened his hold around his neck and brought him back down for a short but satisfying kiss.
"I'll make it up to you tonight," the braided man whispered in his ear, then after another quick peck on his lips in parting, he loosened his hold and let Heero go.
"After they're both asleep," Heero agreed, rolling off the mattress and onto his feet.
"It's a date." Duo chuckled as he reached over to the bedside table for his earplugs.
Heero paused at the door, looking back at his lover, his partner and his life. He used to think he was lucky to have survived two wars, but now he really knew what good fortune was and that it had truly smiled on him once again. The man on the bed and the two girls in the living room were proof of that, and he would never take the time he had with them for granted. With a smile on his face, he turned and moved towards the door, intending to relieve Zazu of her unhappy, and loudly complaining little sister. Oddly, the noise filling his once orderly life and silent apartment was music to his ears.
Thanks to everyone who made it through this story. Hopefully the happy ending made up for the earlier angst. You're comments and support are, as always, appreciated and I thank your for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. Until next time.