Warnings: Nothing really in this chapter. Building up to angst
Odin didn’t give Duo or his kids more than a fleeting thought during the next week, giving his full attention to his job. He eagerly anticipated the coming weekend, having made plans to take his mountain bike across the Golden Gate and up into the Marin headlands on Saturday for an exhilarating, scenic workout. He’d also made arrangements with Madison for their weekly get together: a late dinner Saturday night followed by spending the rest of the evening at her condo in Pacific Heights. Their Sunday would no doubt be planned in bed later that night or the next morning.
It was over dinner in an excellent but hard-to-find Vietnamese restaurant they’d discovered months earlier that Madison paused from eating her meal to study him, her expression and mood thoughtful.
“What?” he asked after noticing her unyielding gaze.
“Do you know what happened with your ex and kids after you talked to him last week?” she asked.
He wasn’t pleased with her line of inquiry. “No,” he replied rather sharply, then took another bite of his food. From the corner of his eye he saw Madison frown.
“Aren’t you the least bit curious? Don’t you care?”
He reigned in his irritation. This was not the line of conversation he wanted to have with his girlfriend that night. “He’s more than capable of taking care of himself and them.” He purposely used a frosty tone of voice in trying to warn her off of the subject.
Slumping in a feminine manner against the back of her chair, the beautiful redhead looked at him with an expression akin to disbelief and disappointment. “I don’t understand you, Odin. How can you have two children and just walk away from them? Don’t you have any visitation rights?”
He grit his teeth, seeing she wasn’t going to let this go, and put his chop sticks down, his appetite waning. “Duo was the nurturer,” he began. “He’s the one who wanted kids in the first place and he more or less coerced me into agreeing to the whole surrogate thing. He quit his job to take care of them and, frankly, he did a good job. Despite the fact that he was unfaithful, I can’t deny that he’s a great father. When we split up, it only made sense that he retain custody. I left him everything: the house, cars and most of what I had in our bank accounts and considered that child support.”
“But why?” she asked, still not satisfied with his answer as she tried to understand his decision. “Didn’t you love them?”
Inwardly, he winced at the accusation. Of course he’d loved them, especially Duo, probably too much. He lowered his voice to a near whisper as he answered her question while the old, nearly forgotten pain in his heart flared to life once again. “I was devastated by his betrayal,” he confessed. “As the provider for our family, I’d spent so little time with the kids that I didn’t know how to take care of them. And as angry as I was with my partner, I couldn’t take his kids away. He was the better parent, a nurturer at heart. I knew they were better off left in his care than they would have been in mine. Considering the state of mind I was in, I probably would have turned them against him out of spite. Back then I wanted him to hurt as much as I did after his confession.” He stopped at that point as the pain he’d shut away for so long began to rise to the surface once more. He figured it must have shown on his face or been apparent by the tenseness of his body because Madison reached out her pale, manicured hand and gently placed it over his own as it rested on the tabletop.
“Andrea and Craig met with Duo last Sunday night,” she gently informed him. “They liked him at once, and because I recommended him as a friend of yours they gave him a good deal on the cottage. Andrea didn’t say much about Duo except that he’s drop dead gorgeous, and she and Craig have no idea you two were involved. She did, however, go on and on about the children, that they’re absolutely delightful.”
“If you don’t mind, Madison,” he cut into her telling him any more about Duo, his physical attributes and situation, “I’d rather not talk about them anymore.”
The woman’s soothing hand stilled, then slowly pulled back and off of his own. She turned her eyes to her plate and eventually picked up her chop sticks. “As you wish,” she said, obviously hurt by his bluntness. He stared at her a moment, shaken a bit that her statement of acquiescence was identical to Duo’s the week before, when he’d requested his ex-lover not contact him again.
The evening pretty much went downhill from there and Sunday didn’t fare much better.
The following weekend turned out much better than the last. Madison wisely refrained from making any comment regarding Duo and the children, and the life of the well-to-do urban professionals continued as it had before that pivotal day when the phone call came and Duo asked for his help.
It was while accompanying Madison at her company’s Fourth of July picnic in Golden Gate Park that he became re-acquainted with his girlfriend’s assistant and her tall, blond husband. It was a casual affair, with the women dressed in crisp and bright designer sun dresses and the men in pleated khaki’s and polo shirts, all chatting about current events and their recent or planned vacations abroad.
As soon as Andrea Olsen’s eyes spotted him in the crowd, the petite woman made a beeline in his direction. Upon reaching his side, she began talking excitedly. “Hello, Odin. It’s good to see you again,” she said almost breathless with excitement. “Thank you so much for telling your friend about our cottage. Duo is wonderful and his children are absolutely precious. Zazu is going to be a major heartbreaker one day and... well, Ali, he’s already got a grip on my heart. I can’t tell you how much we’re enjoying them.”
“I believe the girl’s name is Eliza Suzanne and the boy’s is Alairic,” he said, a bit too frostily. It always irked him that Duo insisted on calling their children by silly pet nicknames after they’d spent months before they were born debating over what to name them. He’d pondered many names for over two months before selecting one for his son. He chose Alairic, a favorite colony name, mainly because it sounded like the name of a strong man. He’d figured that any child of his and Duo’s, especially a boy, would need to be a strong individual in order to live up to their fathers’ pasts of having been gundam pilots.
“Oh. Yes.” She blinked at his abrupt manner. “I believe Duo told me that when we were first introduced, but their nicknames seem to suit them so much better. Ali’s so little and cute that you just want to hug him to pieces. It’s just so sad that...” Her comment was cut off by the sudden appearance of her husband who came up to her from behind and put his arm around his petite wife’s shoulders. As she looked up into his face, something passed between them.
“What’s just too bad?” Odin asked, curious as to where she’d been going with that unfinished sentence.
Craig Olson answered for his wife. “It’s too bad Duo doesn’t have anyone to share the burden of raising his children. It’s easy to see he’s exhausted from caring for the two of them. How is it that you two know each other? Duo only told us that you met as teenagers.”
“Yes,” he answered, pleased that Duo had kept his part of the bargain by not telling the couple of their former relationship. “We were friends going to the same school together but something happened and we parted ways. What’s he doing, occupation wise?” He hoped to divert the conversation to something less personal
“He didn’t tell you?” Craig asked, and his wife looked surprised at his obvious lack of knowledge concerning the little family.
“No, we haven’t spoken to each other in several years other than his surprise call that first Sunday he came into town. He only called me then to inquire about a place to stay.”
“I suppose as his landlords we’re not at liberty to say what he’s doing, job wise,” the tall blond man said in a friendly but guarded manner. “We have a confidentiality agreement.”
Odin supposed it made sense that Duo had requested his private information remain just that. He’d asked Duo to keep quiet about their past and he in turn was being kept from learning anything about him. He mentally shrugged, supposing it was only fair. The conversation quickly stagnated after that. Once the topic of Duo and the kids had been more or less labeled taboo, a schism formed between himself and the other two, having little to nothing in common. Andrea’s earlier enthusiasm to speak about their renters had disappeared, greatly dampened by her husband’s presence. Trying to fill the awkward moment, the petite blond woman fumbled with some polite, banal comments about the weather. Seeing Madison nearby, Odin excused himself from the Olsons and went to her side, determined to avoid the other couple as much as possible for the rest of the party.
Unfortunately, their conversation about Duo and their kids seemed to hover at the back of his mind and came unbidden into his thoughts throughout the remainder of the day and much more often than he was comfortable with. He couldn’t wait for the long holiday weekend to be over so he could get back to work in the morning and focus his thoughts on something more productive.
As the month of July progressed, Odin noticed a distance growing between himself and Madison. They still spent Sundays together but there was just something in her manner that was... off. Then finally, on August 1st, he decided to confront her with the situation after they’d attended the weekend’s performance of Shakespeare in the Park. He was becoming irritated by her aloofness and wanted to know what was causing it. “What’s going on with you?” he asked as she fished through her purse for her keys. “Are you mad at me?”
She unlocked the door to her apartment and motioned him in. “Want something to drink?”
“Coffee and an answer to my question,” he replied as she shut and locked the door behind him.
“Odin.” She turned to him, her unsmiling face displayed her seriousness and belied the playfulness of her light and airy green summer dress. “What do you think of us? Do you ever envision a future with me playing a more significant part in your life?”
The red warning flags went up in his mind in response to those two questions, knowing that answering relationship questions was like walking through a field of land mines. But he realized that in answering them he might be able to find out what was going on in Madison’s mind. If he didn’t, or fudged on his answers, he’d risk having everything they had going together blow up in his face. “I thought you were happy with our relationship the way it is,” he replied, skirting around a direct answer while moving to sit on her blue leather sofa.
Madison didn’t look happy as she followed him. “I am... for the time being. But eventually, someday, I’d like to marry and have a child or two. I guess I’m just coming to a point in our relationship where I need to know if you might have similar goals or not.”
Heero leaned back and tilted his chin up until his eyes were focused on the ceiling above him and contemplated for a moment about how he should respond. With some hesitance, he answered. “I was legally partnered once and have two kids. I don’t think I want to go through that again.” The temperature in the room suddenly seemed to drop... drastically, despite the warmness of the summer day.
“Do you love me, Odin?”
Taking a deep breath, he answered truthfully. He owed her that. “I care for you, Madison, and I enjoy our time together. Maybe one day I’ll find myself in love with you.” Seeing the unhappy frown on her face, he tried to explain himself. “You have to understand that I’ve only loved one person in my life, and he took that love and ground it under his heels. I don’t know if I can give my heart to anyone like that again.”
Taking a quick, deep breath, Madison closed her green eyes for a moment, considering her next move. When she opened them again, there was a look of decisiveness in them, one he’d learned to be wary of. “I don’t think our arrangement is working any longer. At least it isn’t for me,” she said, sadly resolute. “I’ve always felt here’s been something missing in our relationship, Odin. Sure, we’re more than sexually compatible, but there’s always been a part of you that’s held back from getting emotionally attached. Maybe I didn’t really want to see it for what it was, but I honestly couldn’t put my finger on it was until I learned about Duo and the kids. Did you know that I’ve met them?”
That revelation took him by surprise. “Why would you do that?” he asked, feeling betrayed and angry. “Why would you go behind my back to see them?”
Madison shrugged her slender, slightly freckled shoulders. “You didn’t say I couldn’t and frankly I was curious, so I got Andrea to invite me down and introduce me to this mysterious lover of yours.”
“Ex lover,” he insisted, frowning deeply.
“Andrea was right,” Madison continued, ignoring his comment and scowl. “Duo Maxwell is definitely one of the most handsome men I’ve ever met. Not only does he have a smile and hair that would make anyone green with envy, but he was absolutely charming, naturally flirtatious, and totally devoted to his adorable children. For most women, that’s a very attractive trait. Did you know that Ali looks just like you? It’s amazing really that Andrea hasn’t guessed your connection to them.”
“What do you hope to achieve by telling me this?” he ground out through clenched teeth, his anger rising at her baiting. “Are you trying to make me jealous?”
“No.” She scoffed at the idea, then sobered. “I’m not sure why I’m telling you anything. But I can understand how you fell for him. He seems to be able to charm anyone he decides to be friendly to. Andrea and Craig, for example, have become his devoted protectors. They send meals back to the cottage at least twice a week and offer to take the kids in order for Duo to get some rest. And though he didn’t know who I was, other than Andrea’s friend, he certainly won me over. He’s probably someone I should be jealous of, having had a part of you that I never will, but I can’t find it in me to think badly of him.”
“Good for him,” Heero grumbled sarcastically. Hearing about Duo’s innate ability to win other people and earn their devotion somehow chafed. After all, it had been that same natural charm and physical appeal that had won him over during the war.
The redhead’s intelligent eyes studied him thoughtfully for a moment, and he wasn’t sure he liked being put under the proverbial microscope and judged as she was obviously doing. “I can’t help but wonder why you turned your back on him so completely, or the children,” Madison said after a moment. “Did you truly love him or was he merely a convenience... like me?”
Her words stung. He leveled an unhappy glare in her direction. “Of course I loved him. He was everything to me. I was trained early in my youth to set aside my emotions, to care for nothing but my...” He stopped abruptly, almost having said mission to a person who had no idea who or what he’d been. “Educational and career goals,” he finished saying without much of a skip. “We met as teenagers when the colonies were at war with Earth, and the moment I became acquainted with Duo everything in my world changed. The little bastard immediately set his mind to breaking down the walls I’d built around my emotions, trying to figure out what made me tick. Being colony kids, we were both involved in the wars, and when they were finally over I had become so besotted by him that it made me question my motives and the life I’d planned out for myself. Knowing him and then desiring to be with him made me want to live my life differently, to leave behind my training and to learn more about love and to share every day of my life with him.”
Madison sat motionless, listening to every word he said, and he could tell by her expression that it was killing her not to ask further about his involvement in the war he’d just spoken of. He could see doubt in her eyes, probably thinking he had been much too young to have been involved in the past wars. He inwardly smirked, thinking of just how surprised Madison would be if she had even an inkling about just how much a part of the wars he and Duo had been.
“How old were you when you first met?” she asked.
Her eyes widened with shock. “And when did you become legal partners?”
“As soon as we became legal at eighteen.”
“So what happened?” She settled further into the couch, bringing her long, slender legs up onto the cushions and curled them to the side.
“We were recruited into the Preventers Organization, and for two years we were happy just being together. Then Duo began to hint at having a family. Because he’d been abandoned as a child and had a rough childhood, he’d always craved to be ‘normal’, to live like everyday people. In his mind normal meant having a family. He told me he loved kids and thought it would complete us as a couple to have one or two of our own.”
At this point in the story, he slumped down further in the sofa, a very uncharacteristic pose for him, as the weight of past memories came back. Putting his hand over his eyes, he tried to shut out the painful images that came flashing into his mind. He continued speaking, suddenly despondent. “I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t as content as I was with just the two of us. There was absolutely no desire within me for any offspring. I was completely content with my life and having Duo all to myself.” He shook his head, trying to shake off the memories that came rushing back, bringing with them the pain of loss he’d felt during the first year after he’d left him. “I knew it was selfish to think that way, but I couldn’t help it. It hurt that he obviously didn’t feel the same way about me.”
“You eventually gave in to him,” Madison stated, pushing some of her long and loose red hair back behind her shoulder as she stated the obvious, knowing they had two kids.
“I loved him enough to give him whatever he needed to be happy, though it took him a year to get my consent. His friend Hilde volunteered to be a surrogate for us, donating her own eggs. We used Duo’s sperm for the first child and it took the very first time she was inseminated. Nine and a half months later, Eliza Suzanne was born.” A slight smile came unknowingly to his face as he recalled that particular time in his life. “She was funny looking at first, and loud. She cried a lot and demanded constant attention.” He chuckled, and without thinking he added, “Just like her father. Because of the chronic crying, we took her to the doctor to find out what was wrong. He said she suffered from colic, and Duo ended up quitting his job because we couldn’t find anyone willing to take such a fussy baby into their daycare. The neighbors complained about the crying and we eventually had to consider moving. Duo suggested we relocate to a more family-friendly environment. So before buying a home in Washington, D.C., where we lived and worked, I looked into the possibility of transferring to another city. I found an opening with the Preventers office in Denver. Duo did the research and decided Colorado would be a great place to raise children, so we packed up and moved there as soon as my transfer came through.
“We bought a home in the suburbs, an average track home in a nice neighborhood with three bedrooms, two baths with a large, fenced back yard. Eliza eventually grew out of the colicky stage and she began to sleep through the night, and for a while we were happy again. Duo stayed home with the baby and I worked to support us. We were the picture of the happy family that Duo had created for us.”
“Paulina Stanley moved into the neighborhood at about the same time Hilde was again inseminated. This time it was with my sperm fertilizing her eggs. Duo was so happy he couldn’t stop smiling, and his happiness was always contagious.
“In preparation for the new baby, I started to take on some extra jobs outside of my regular work. I also enrolled at the local Jr. College and took a couple classes on investing and business and began to dabble in the stock market, hoping to get a bit more ahead in supporting my growing family. Because of the extra workload, I came home at the end of each day feeling utterly spent. All I really wanted to do when I walked through the front door was to relax and go to sleep. Duo always greeted me warmly and as I ate the dinner he’d saved for me, he talked about the kids, his day and Paulina. Because she had several young children herself, they wound up going places and doing things together. I didn’t think much about it at first, just that Duo had made yet another friend.
“Hilde came to live with us two months before Alairic’s birth. It was Hilde who alerted me to Paulina, saying she thought the other woman had designs on Duo and that she was getting more and more forward with him. I spoke to Duo about it, but he assured me that everything was “cool”. After Alairic’s birth and Hilde returned to L-2 a month later, I noticed that Duo and I seemed to be growing apart. I thought it was normal considering our changing situation. I was working longer hours and going to classes at night while he was busy with both kids. Neither of us seemed to have any time or energy to spare for the other after I got home, usually around nine most week nights.
“Two months after his birth, I called home to see how Alairic was doing after getting his first immunization shots and Paulina answered the phone. Duo and I had an ugly argument that night about her being over at the house all the time. He accused me of not trusting him and asked if he’d ever given me a reason to doubt him before. He hadn’t, so I felt I had no choice but to continue trusting him.
“A few months later, a week after Eliza’s fourth birthday, Duo called me at work and asked me to come home. He sounded upset, so I did as he asked and rushed home, not knowing what to expect. I found him sitting on the sofa looking miserable and guilty. He told me the kids were napping and asked me to sit next to him so we could talk. I could tell by the drawn look on his face that I wasn’t going to like whatever he was going to say to me, and I was right. He confessed, shamefaced, that he’d been unfaithful to me with Paulina.”
“Had it been on-going?” Madison asked, her face filled with sympathy for him.
“He said it had only happened once, that afternoon, and that he was sorry and asked for my forgiveness.”
“What did you say?”
“Nothing.” Sitting up, he wished fervently for a shot of whisky. The pain he felt that day, and again every time he thought about that moment, was why he’d pushed Duo and his kids out of his mind and life for the last three years. He didn’t want to relive it again. “I went upstairs, packed my bags and left. I got a lawyer the next day and filed for the dissolution of our partnership and left town.” He couldn’t believe how, after all this time, it still hurt to talk about the events of that day.
After taking a deep breath he continued. “I wandered around for a bit, angry and trying to find the will to go on, and eventually found myself here in San Francisco. I liked it here, and after a week of looking around and seeing opportunities for employment, I decided this was where I would start my life again. I put my past behind me, gave myself a new name and began a new career.”
“And that was it? You left and never spoke to him again?”
“Where was your closure, Odin?”
He paused to think a moment, then answered, “It came when the dissolution papers were returned to me, signed and dated. That part of my life was officially over from that moment on.” Once again he felt uncomfortable as he witnessed the frown of disapproval from the woman he’d slept with almost every Sunday for the past year.
Looking him straight in the eye, Madison spoke her mind. “You’re a selfish, heartless bastard, aren’t you, Odin?”
He was surprised by the charge in her demeanor, her display of anger, and the coldness in her voice. “I only did what was needed,” he said, defending himself while clamping down on his own rising anger caused by her judgement of his past actions.
“For who? Yourself or your family?” she asked, her chin visibly quivering as she fought not to cry while her pale green eyes, filling with moisture, continued to bore into him. “Face it, Odin, you were selfish. My God, he made a mistake. From what you said he was genuinely upset about what he’d done and had enough integrity to confess to you, asking for forgiveness. And what did you do? You took his obviously raw and exposed feelings and shoved them in your suitcase. Thank God I got to see this side of you before I ever contemplated having a more permanent relationship or possibly even children with you,” she said heatedly. “One wrong mistake and I would probably have earned your desertion.”
“I’m not a quitter,” he growled out, having a difficult time remaining civil.
“Yes, you are,” she argued. “By leaving Duo and your children you quit as a partner, a friend and a father. In my book you’re the biggest quitter of them all!” She then stood up from her position on the couch as if unable to bear his presence any longer and walked briskly towards the front door. “I wondered before meeting Duo what there was about him that could have attracted you enough to be his partner. Now I have to wonder what the hell he saw in you.” Putting her visibly trembling hand on the knob, Madison then turned to face him again, her usually placid and lovely face was now red with anger and showed strain from holding back her emotions.
“We’re done, Odin. After sleeping together for a year, I finally figured out that before today all I really knew about you is that you’re great in bed. You never shared your past with me and you were only willing to commit one day a week to our relationship. Other than Sundays, you had no other feelings of commitment towards me, did you, Odin? I was a fool to think I didn’t need anything more than that in my life.” She then opened the door and motioned with her head for him to leave. He stood from his place on the sofa to leave, yet as he passed by her on his way out, Madison spoke to him once again, her voice trembling a bit, but not with anger. “I have one last parting gift to give you. Do with it what you will, but my conscience will be clear after I say this.”
He stopped in front of her and debated whether or not he should listen to her have another go at him again or if he should just leave. Yet there was something in her eyes, however, that kept him in place, a softening that somehow looked sad. “Go see your kids. Take your now freed-up Sundays and spend an hour or two with them.”
“It’s better left as it is,” he replied, dismissing her advice. “Duo has the kids and his life and I have mine.”
“Odin, get past yourself,” she said wearily. The look of sadness in her expression intensified and he wondered who she had these feeling for, herself, him or Duo and the kids. She continued, but her voice was more imploring than angry now. “You’re not stupid. Think about it for a moment. Why do you think Duo came to Palo Alto? Put those superior reasoning skills of yours to work and come up with a valid reason why he’s here for only a few months.”
“What are you hinting at?” he asked sharply, a tingle of warning itching at the back of his mind.
“I’m not at liberty to tell you what I was told in confidence as to what’s going on. I just hope, for all your sakes, that you can pull yourself out of your self-imposed pity party before it’s too late.”
Her words hung in the air between them as he walked out the door, but before she could shut it, he blocked it with his foot and faced her once again. “What do you mean before it’s too late?”
“Get your foot out of the door, Odin,” she demanded, her voice stern.
“Just tell me.”
“Think about it. What draws people to Palo Alto?”
“You’re getting warmer.”
“The medical facilities?”
“Bingo! Give the dog a bone,” she said with exaggerated sarcasm.
It suddenly felt as if a giant hand had taken hold of his chest and squeezed it... hard. All the barriers he’d built up around that pumping muscle to protect it from getting hurt again cracked. His first thought was, Oh please, not Duo. And then he felt immense guilt in realizing he’d thought of his ex-lover before their children. He was sure Duo would have done the opposite. His thoughts must have shown on his face because in the next moment, Madison placed a hand on his arm.
“You still care for them, don’t you?” She asked with a softening of her attitude once again. “Maybe the real reason you’ve held me at arm’s length all this time is because your heart still belongs to three others, no matter how hard you try to deny it.”
He wasn’t able to answer her, still stunned by the revelation that something was physically wrong with Duo or one of their children. “You won’t tell me what’s wrong?” he asked, hoping she’d give in.
His hopes were dashed when she shook her head. “No. I think it’s better that you find out for yourself.” Leaning forward, she gave him a short but sweet farewell kiss on the lips, then stepped back to place her hand on his cheek. “Goodbye, Odin. It was good while it lasted and I have very few regrets. Good luck, and I hope you find the happiness you seek.”
With a sad smile, Madison backed into her apartment and slowly closed the door on him and their romantic involvement. He supposed that this was what she’d meant by closure; they’d both said goodbye and were going their separate ways on fairly good terms. That was certainly something he hadn’t done with Duo. With a troubled heart and mind, he turned from the closed door, shoved his hands into his pockets, and slowly walked away from his year-long relationship with Madison and towards his car parked several blocks away.
On to Chapter Three
Back to chapter one