Down the Road
Heero stared after Duo's pickup, watching it tear down the street. He shook his head. What had just happened? Holding out the proverbial olive branch had not gained Heero anything. In fact, it seemed to have made matters worse. Maybe he was wrong to help, but it had felt right. The kind of rightness that was logical and good. But Duo had not seen it that way.
"Fuck." Heero kicked a stone.
After the initial transaction, paying off the $3,000, Heero had driven around town in search of Duo. He had no idea that a small town could have such a thriving business district and so many neighborhood streets. Somehow, in the labyrinth that was Union Grove, they had missed each other, but it had given Heero more time to think. He had decided to inquire into the bigger question of paying off the entire debt. It was not a foregone conclusion that he would or could pay it, but it was worth asking. That's when he had arrived back at the bank and spotted Duo's truck.
His gut told him that Duo had not been there paying off the debt, and that Wilke had not yet told him about the payment. No wonder it had come as a shock to him.
At this point, a lesser man would have hiked it out of town. Heero did not need this aggravation, this lack of gratitude, but seeing Duo so distressed had disturbed him. He knew now that Duo was struggling and trying to work things out for himself. It reminded him of when he had decided to open his first restaurant. The odds had seemed insurmountable, but he had worked it out. His eyes probably had been wild like Duo's-wild with determination, and the fear of impending collapse.
He shoved his hand in his pocket, hooking his finger through the ring of his car keys. He would make another attempt at handing over the mortgage payment receipt, and play the rest by ear.
+ + +
By the time Duo turned onto Main Street, clear of the bank and Heero's secret dealings, his lower lip was trembling with anger and the stab of betrayal. It did not make sense for Heero to be involved in taking his property, but Duo could not deny what he had heard and seen. Maybe Heero saw it as an investment opportunity? Lots of rich folk were buying up acreage for future development. Maybe that was Heero's game, too?
The thought made Duo's chest tighten. As angry as he had been at Heero, for the way Heero had treated him, he did not want to believe this. Was that piece of paper Heero had shoved in his face the deed? Or was it some guarantee from Wilke that Heero had first dibs on the farm?
He returned home to wait. Sooner or later someone would show up with an eviction notice. Until then the place was his and he would defiantly plant himself there. He threw the truck keys on the kitchen table, grabbed a beer from the fridge, and dragged himself upstairs to his bedroom. This room and the barn were the places he always retreated to for comfort and safety. Even since the house had become his and his alone, he still withdrew upstairs to his boyhood room. Heero had been right about Duo spending a lot of time here. He did. It afforded a great view of the property and the road beyond the big oak out front, and there was a small television and radio for company if he needed them, but mostly he read and drew.
Where was his sketch pad anyway? He looked around the room and to the desk, to the floor under the bed, and even to the open window. It was not here. As he looked to the bed again, pulling the covers back, he remembered. He had left it in the city. In his mind's eye he could see it sitting on the chair in Heero's office. His heart sank. All his work, his heart, his very core was in those drawings. There was no replacing them. He sat heavily on the bed, feeling a hole open up inside him, and laughed.
"Why not?" he asked the cosmos, near giddy with this last insult. Why not take everything he had, down to the very core of his creative self, and send it to the four winds. Let Heero and Wilke and the whole damn town own him, his art, and his very soul.
The sound of gravel crunching brought Duo's eyes up to the window. Someone was here? He peered out at the driveway. Shit, it was Heero. Duo slammed his beer down on the bedside table causing it to foam out of the bottle. He growled at the mess, and then back at the window. Part of him wanted to race outside, and give Heero a piece of his mind before kicking his city slicker ass onto the road. The other part was resigned to wait. Fate had arrived. Look it in the eyes.
Less than a minute passed before Duo heard pounding on the back door.
"Duo!" Heero called out.
It seemed there was no getting rid of this one. Duo waited silently, listening carefully for Heero to give up and leave. But he did not. Instead, he heard the signature smack of the screen door against its hinges. Heero had come inside the house! A chill raced through Duo. Heero had become an intruder.
+ + +
Boldness was not a word normally associated with Heero Yuy, unless you were talking about his cooking. People most often used words such as polite, quiet, and intelligent to describe him, but never bold. However, letting himself into Duo's home uninvited was definitely bold. The move surprised him, but he had given it little thought. Duo was not going to respond by merely calling to him so bolder action was required.
It only took a second to discover that Duo, the country boy that he was, had not bothered to lock the door. Heero grinned remembering his first impressions of Duo-- bright, straightforward and fun with a pinch of rustic attitude. It was a very nice mix though Heero had done his best that first night not to let on that he had enjoyed it.
He stepped into the kitchen, hearing the screen door shut loudly behind him, and was just about to move further into the house when he heard the thunder of footsteps approaching. In seconds, Duo was in the room, looking like he would tear him limb from limb.
"Get out of my house!"
Heero's eyes went wide. He had expected intensity, but not quite this much. "I know I'm not welcome here---"
"Then turn your ass around and get out!"
Heero consciously calmed himself against this antagonism. If he allowed Duo's anger, and whatever else the young man was feeling, to color his own emotions they would get nowhere fast.
"I wanted to give you this." He pulled the receipt from his pocket and set it on the kitchen table. "If you look you'll see I paid $3,000 on your mortgage."
Duo grabbed the receipt and crumpled it in his hand. "How nice for you," he said, sarcastically. "Your first down payment."
"I'm not interested in buying your farm."
"And I'm not interested in your charity."
"This isn't charity. It's what I owe you."
"Damn right you owe me! And if you'd given me what I asked, I could've paid that debt free and clear."
"So now it's paid."
"What difference does it make?" Heero was certain smoke was coming from Duo's ears, but trudged on. "I owed you $3,000 and I paid it directly to your bank."
"And now you want your big thank you. Well, screw that."
Heero shook his head. "That's not why I drove out here today---"
"Hey, I never wanted your money and I still don't, even if it means losing this farm." Duo dropped the balled receipt onto the floor. "I'm sure Wilke would be happy to give you your money back."
"The money doesn't matter to me."
Duo shoved past him, going to the door and opening it. "Get out."
A heavy silence gripped the room as they stared at one another. Heero did not understand what was happening, where Duo's anger was coming from and why, but he was obviously not welcome. He had done what he had set out to do, delivering the receipt. And so, he stepped forward, hesitating briefly at the threshold, and then continued out the door. It slammed behind him before he was halfway down the steps.
He looked back to see the lace curtains swaying from the rush of air around them. He imagined air swirled around Duo, too, as he headed back up the stairs to his room. Yes, Heero was sure that Duo would retreat there once again.
This trip to the country certainly seemed a waste of time. But he had saved Duo's farm temporarily. Or had he? Duo did not seem to think so. And why was that? The bill had been paid, but now Heero remembered Duo's words, "I could've paid that debt free and clear." So that was it. If things had gone differently last night, Duo would have had his money and taken care of the debt himself. But Heero's past dealings with people had spoiled everything.
And now I've taken that control away from him, Heero thought, a bit late. It seemed the artist was not only feisty, he was proud. Heero looked to the broken heart on the barn, and then back to the door, and sighed. He would have to go in again, that is, if he could get back in. He needed to get back to the original purpose of this trip. He had come here to apologize, but had gotten sidetracked.
He stepped to the door, putting his hand on the knob, and smiled. It was unlocked.
Having seen Duo's venom, his deep rage, had made Heero falter, but only for a moment. Now he saw only Duo's fragility. He realized it was no small thing that Duo Maxwell had let him into his life. All along Heero had fantasized that Duo had been waiting for him; alone in this big, old farmhouse, waiting for Heero to come down the road at the right moment and snatch him up into his arms. The truth was that he had been waiting for Duo to arrive in his life.
With a deep breath he stepped inside, moving through the house without permission. He knew he was unwanted despite the door remaining unlocked. He was trespassing, plain and simple. And as he made his way, he became privy to the fact that Duo had sold most of his aunt's furniture, probably in an attempt to pay his debt.
At the bottom of the stairs Heero paused. Less than a week ago he had stood here in the midst of the most beautiful night of his life. Duo had kissed him in this very spot, kissed him and told him that he wanted him. Now Heero's brow furrowed as the memory washed over him. "I wanted you, too," he whispered.
He looked up the stairs to the quiet emptiness above. Duo was there. He could see him as clearly as if he was standing in the room with him. Duo would be sitting on his bed and a breeze from the open window would rustle his bangs and the sleeve of his shirt.
He stepped lightly on the stairs, but nevertheless caused the wood to creak. He passed those wonderful pictures again, the happy faces and times of Duo's life. He could see why Duo guarded this-the house, his memories. It was all he had left of his family, and with each day it slipped further into the past.
On the landing, Heero took one last deep breath and stepped toward the bedroom. From the doorway he saw Duo lying on his side on the bed, facing the open window. The room smelled of a peculiar mix of fresh air, beer and paint. All scents that had made an indelible mark on Heero's psyche and would be forever associated with this place. He stared at the curve of Duo's hip and the long braid that stretched behind him on the bed. Duo was so beautiful. He was sure the young man had no idea just how beautiful he was to Heero.
"I want to apologize," he said, as he stepped into the room. "I'm sorry I reacted the way I did when you wanted the money for the commission." Heero remembered the awful scene in his office. "I let some stuff in my past color my judgment of you. You're not like those people. You're not like anyone I've ever met."
"I want my sketch pad back," Duo said, his body not stirring.
The quiet, but intense tone surprised Heero after the shouting downstairs. "Okay," he said, thinking through the request aloud. "I can send it express mail or maybe Quatre can pick it up---"
"I don't care how you get it here."
It was strange talking to Duo like this. Heero wanted to see his face, wanted to be able to read the expression in his eyes. He took one step closer. "I was surprised to see some sketches of me in there."
"I bet you liked that." Duo moved, sitting up and wiping stray hair from his face and what Heero suspected were drying tears. "You like that you caught the artist's eye, huh, Heero? Makes you feel important."
"I like the way you saw me. I want you to see me like that again."
Duo snorted, his face still turned away. "You're making way too much of it, man. I've got piles of sketches of all my lovers."
"No, you don't. You're not like that."
"I'm not? You've seen me a total of four times, including today. You're no expert on me."
That was true. They barely knew each other. But what Duo was not considering was that his art, the drawings in the sketch pad and that great big beautiful art on the side of his barn were like a spotlight on his inner self. True artists put themselves into their work, and Duo held nothing back. But right now, Duo would not look at him, and that frustrated Heero most of all.
"Do you realize what brought me here?" Heero asked, continuing to stare at Duo's back. "It was your art. that barn. I saw it weeks ago before I met you. I was driving down this road and you took my breath away. with your art." Duo looked over his shoulder, at last, his eyes full of suspicion, or was it curiosity? Either way, now that he had Duo's attention, Heero was going to try to keep it. "One day I came down this road and I saw your barn. I had to stop and take some pictures. I had never seen anything like it. It was so free that afterward I thought I had dreamt it. But I had the photos to prove it. I wish I'd known that night. I wish I'd known you were the artist."
Duo shook his head. "Great, so go fuck the barn if you're so in love with it."
Heero gritted his teeth and walked over to the bed. "I'm telling you that I fell in love with you before we even met."
"And when we did meet, you didn't give me the time of day. Is that your idea of romance, Romeo?"
Heero sighed. "I didn't know you were that artist. I was in a bad mood that night and I took it out on you, but something about you stayed with me. I felt undone after meeting you." Heero shook his head and turned away. His heart was pounding in his ears. He felt so exposed, so raw with emotion. He stared out the window and began to imagine the long drive back to the city. Surely the road would crumble behind him, forever cutting him off from finding his way back here again. "Why can't I just leave you alone?"
"I'm a pebble in your shoe."
The words startled Heero, making him turn to look at Duo who was staring at the floor. He blinked. Had he imagined that Duo had spoken just now? He was not sure, so he decided to try again. "I drove fifty miles to apologize."
Duo sighed and looked up, his brow tight. "Just say goodbye and get it over with. Make it simple, man."
Now he could see the pain in Duo's eyes, pain and resignation. "Is that what you think I'm doing? Saying goodbye?"
"Getting in the last word, more like it."
"Good, then I'll tell you that I realize I messed things up for you. You had a plan to pay the bank and I messed it up. I'm sorry."
"Okay, so you're sorry. I hear you," Duo said, intensely. "But what you don't get is that no matter what I do I'm just putting off the inevitable." He leaned forward and pulled his wallet from his back pocket and opened it. Heero could see hundreds of dollars lined up neatly inside as though they had been counted again and again. "This is all the money I have. Period. I've got two months here tops."
"Two months? But that gives you time to---"
"To make a few hundred more dollars and worry about every one. My main income came from farmers leasing my land. No one's farming it this year thanks to Wilke."
"But the art commission---"
"Look, you'll get your paintings, but the rest isn't your problem. Get out while you can."
Was he being banished or asked for help? Either way, Heero realized that the venom had gone out of Duo's voice. Somewhere along the way Duo had softened, or at least tired of the fight. It was now apparent that the farm was a struggle to keep, and it seemed to take a lot out of Duo to admit that.
As Duo looked away, grabbing for the beer on the nightstand, Heero observed a long, loose strand of hair hanging from Duo's temple, having come loose of the braid. It draped his shoulder, following the sinuous curve of bone and muscle. Heero remembered the feel of Duo's skin beneath his hand-soft and smooth, covering lean muscle.
Without clear thought, he reached out and touched the stray hair, tucking it behind Duo's ear. The young man froze, but otherwise did not react. Heero brushed Duo's cheek with his fingertips as he pulled away, and the touch sent a warm shiver through his hand, and up his arm to his spine. It was amazing how simply touching Duo could do that to him.
Duo looked up with a mix of shock and confusion in his eyes.
"I don't think I can leave," Heero said, withdrawing his hand fully. "And even if I did, I'd keep coming back to this spot."
Duo gave an uncomfortable little laugh. "That's messed up."
Heero shook his head. "You told me once that you don't let men into your house, and especially not into your room. I wouldn't have gotten up the stairs just now if you hadn't wanted me here."
"You've got it all figured out, huh?"
He could see that Duo was uncomfortable, but Duo had let him get this far, so why not go for the full press? "I think about you all the time," Heero said, slowly reaching his hand out and touching Duo's chin.
Duo looked up and held his gaze, hesitating, and then saying, "I think about you, too."
"Then don't fight me. We can figure this out-- together."
"I don't know."
Heero slipped his hand to Duo's shoulder and leaned down, kissing him before Duo could utter another word. Heero's senses fired as their lips touched. It reminded him of their first kiss, that sweet surprising kiss they had shared downstairs in the kitchen. So much about their relationship had to do with this place, this farm that Heero theorized it was the center of the universe---at least for them. He should have known when he first stopped his car on this highway that he would meet his destiny here. He had ached to share this with Duo again. Ever since that night when Duo had led him up the stairs and into this room, Heero had wanted this again and again. He had felt completely possessed by this young man, and he wanted to feel that way always.
+ + +
Duo had not expected to feel Heero so near again, feel even a wisp of him as he had just now. The light touch against his cheek had sent warmth through his body, and Heero's open, hopeful words reminded him of the deep connection they had made. He relaxed quickly into the kiss, accepting Heero's advance. He was worn down worrying about the money and what he would do when, not if, he lost the farm. But Heero's touch eased that worry somehow.
Had Heero truly figured him out? The notion amazed and distressed Duo. No one had ever come close to putting a finger on the pulse of his life.
He pulled out of the kiss. "What do you want from me?" he asked, even as he feared the answer.
Heero seemed disappointed by the question. "Isn't it obvious?"
"Yeah, you want to get into my pants."
Heero took a deep breath and his brow tightened. "I'll admit that's part of it, but not all. I want more."
"Like what?" Duo asked in a sarcastic yet demanding tone.
"I want to be with you. All the time."
"Well, I'm not into that whole Siamese twin thing."
"You know what I mean." Heero's eyes narrowed, intensified on Duo. "I want to share it all. Learn all I can about you. Support you. love you."
Duo felt his cheeks growing warm and knew they were darkening with a blush. This was sounding like a proposal, and he had no clue how to deal with it, or even whether to believe it. But Heero was just so damn earnest that he had to be believed.
"I like what I'm hearing."
Heero smiled, cautiously. "Really?"
"Yeah." Duo nodded.
Heero was doing all he could to get back in, but the truth was that he had never been exiled. The invisible footprints he had trod were all over the house, and around the barn. Duo had retraced those steps, remembering their conversations, and the way Heero had looked at him. His time with Heero had seemed too good, too right, and he was afraid to believe it. But it was true, all of it. And Heero was here again, restating what should have been obvious from the start. They were falling in love.
Duo reached out, his heart pounding as he took Heero's hands. He spoke softly, finding his voice, a new voice. "I believe you."
Heero blinked, seeming surprised, but then searched Duo's eyes. "You want me to stay?"
"For as long as you can put up with me---and all the bullshit."
Heero laughed though it was not much louder than a whisper. "That could be a very long time."
"I'm counting on it."
Heero closed the distance between them, taking Duo's lips in a passionate kiss. He pushed Duo back onto the bed, picking up where they had left off earlier that week when things had seemed perfect. Duo was breathless, his mind tumbling over the fact that Heero was here, in his room and they would spend the rest of the evening making love.
He set aside all the things that were troubling him and concentrated on Heero's touch. His body shivered, delighted with the warmth and familiarity of those hands. How could he have not trusted Heero? There was so much truth in his eyes and in his fingertips and in his lips-a truth that poured into Duo, kiss after kiss.
Duo wrapped his arms around Heero, weaving fingers into his hair, and opening his mouth to him. Heero was eager and hard, and Duo felt an equal impatience. They stripped their clothes away, easily shedding the layers now that understanding had returned. Duo slipped under the covers, Heero following him, moving with him, and not allowing a moment to separate them. The sheets whispered their movements, welcoming the lovers back to bed. And here, in this room and with this man, Duo felt perfectly at home. He had come so close to throwing this away that he now marveled at his stupidity and pride. He put his hands on Heero's face to still him, just so he could look at him.
"What made you come back?" he asked.
"I told you." Heero said, looking into his eyes. "I love you."
"Shit. You really do, don't you?"
Heero brushed the bangs from Duo's eyes. "Is it so hard to believe?"
"Not the way you say it."
"Good. Now where were we?" Heero lowered his head to Duo's neck, kissing, biting and licking it as his body moved sensually over Duo's.
Duo's eye lids fluttered closed. God, this was good. What perfect bliss. "Wait."
Heero's head came up, his brow tight and eyes concerned. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Duo smiled, caressing Heero's cheek. "I. just wanted to tell you that I love you, too."
Heero smiled, breathing out in relief. "Come here," he said, and dove in to plant a hard kiss on Duo's lips.
The confession obviously ignited something deep inside Heero. A growl, a wonderful, possessive growl escaped his lips as he rushed to make Duo ready. Make-up sex was phenomenal, but making love, real, confessed love, was like splitting the atom it was so colossal. Maybe Heero had arrived in Duo's life at just the right time, not as Duo had previously thought, at the worst one. And even with love still new to him, Duo felt perfectly at home in it.
In moments, Heero was between Duo's legs, inside him, filling him with hunger and hardness. Heero affirmed his right as claimant, taking and giving in equal parts. He thrust deep, and Duo pulled him closer, reaching for Heero's lips with his lips. Their naked bodies moved together, the bed creaking beneath them, and the cool breeze from the open window washing over them.
Duo rode the wave of love and desire like a wet dream come to life. He was not going to let go of Heero . ever. And that meant repeating this pleasure enthusiastically, often and very soon, since the build up to his orgasm was upon him and there was no denying its pull. He went willingly into blissful release, coming with a loud cry as Heero continued to thrust inside him. His moans seemed to trigger Heero's own release, as his lover immediately followed him into ecstasy.
Long minutes later, Duo opened his eyes, slowly coming back to consciousness. Heero was still wrapped in his embrace, but it was time to move. He pushed at his lover gently. "Wake up, sleepy head."
"Mmm?" Heero rolled off him, settling beside him with one arm thrown over Duo's hip.
Duo lay silently staring at the open door to his room while listening to Heero's relaxed breathing. Heero had been right about him. Duo had left the door open, literally and figuratively. Thank God that Heero had cared enough to notice and to want to step over that threshold.
Heero's hand on Duo's belly moved. At first just a finger or two glided over Duo's skin, and then the hand caressed him, almost strumming him like a guitar.
"Ready for more?" Duo asked with a chuckle.
"Nearly," Heero said, nuzzling his ear. "For a second, I thought I was dreaming."
"It's better than a dream. It's real."
"Last night was a nightmare."
Duo blinked, suddenly realizing that Heero had suffered, too. He turned to face Heero. "I guess we both were waiting to get burned."
"You got it," Duo said, rubbing the tips of their noses together. "Stupid, huh?"
"Duo, I want you to work for me."
"What? Where'd that come from?"
"It just occurred to me. It's the answer to all of this."
"All of what?"
"You have to keep this farm, and obviously your handyman jobs aren't bringing in enough to cover the mortgage payments---"
"Look, I already told you I don't take charity."
"It wouldn't be charity. You'd be a paid employee. A contractor."
"Doing what, Heero? Giving you blow jobs between waiting on tables?"
Heero's brow tightened. "I would never treat you that way."
Duo pulled back. He was ashamed of his own assumption, but he knew exactly where it had come from. Damn it, Joe Wilke had no place in this bed, or in controlling Duo's life. If Heero had an idea, then Duo should hear him out.
"I know you wouldn't," Duo said, putting his hand on Heero's arm. "I shouldn't have said that."
Heero searched his eyes. "I get the feeling you've been treated that way before."
Duo nodded. "Yeah, but it won't happen again."
Heero's eyes were so intense that Duo knew all he had to do was mention Wilke's name and Heero would be in motion. The fantasy was very appealing. Duo could easily get lost in visions of Heero tearing Wilke apart, and slamming him to the ground. He knew from experience that it felt remarkably satisfying to punch Joe in the face. Yes, revenge would be sweet, but then Duo would have to watch his lover be arrested on charges of assault and battery. He hated when reality intruded on his fantasies. So, the answer was to be patient and do his best to stay out of Wilke's clutches. Given enough time and slack, Wilke would hang himself, and they would all be free to laugh at his demise.
"Tell me what job you have, boss man."
Heero smiled, no doubt hearing the return of playfulness in Duo's voice. "The interior designer I hired is in breach of contract. I've been considering my options for several weeks now, but what I need is a new---"
"Whoa," Duo said, putting his hand over Heero's mouth. "You're not saying you want me to design your restaurant?"
Heero gently removed the hand. "The restaurant is designed. It's the look of the dining room that's in question. I want it to be different than the other restaurants, and I think you can make that happen."
"I don't know shit about decorating a restaurant."
"We'll work together. With your artistry and my ideas we could do it."
Duo took a deep breath. Heero was serious, and his confidence in this scheme was brimming in his blue eyes. "That's wild."
"Then you'll do it?"
Duo laughed. "As tempting as it sounds, I'm not qualified. And I don't think it's a good idea for us to work together."
"I knew you'd say that."
"Hey, it's not the end of the world."
"Duo." Heero leaned up on his elbow. "I need you and you need this farm. This is the answer to both our problems."
God, Heero's eyes and voice were so serious, and his body looked ready to pounce, pin Duo to the bed until he cried "Uncle" and gave into his lover's will. Duo's body warmed. He had a feeling that the days of saying "no" to Heero Yuy were long past.
"The thing is. I could say the same thing to you."
"What do you mean?" Heero asked.
"That I need you and you need this farm."
Heero smiled. "Then you'll do it? You'll be my partner in work and in life?"
"Wow, I thought I was only agreeing to work for you!" When Heero's eyes narrowed, Duo laughed. "Okay, yeah, of course, I'll do it. all of it. Anything you want."
"Anything?" Heero leaned down, brushing his lips across Duo's.
Duo smiled in the kiss that followed. They would work together to build a restaurant, a home, and a life, and there would be no goodbyes. The years of waiting, wanting and driving nowhere were over. The road ended here with their bodies intertwined, and their shoes side-by-side on the floor.