Out of the Rain
The cool evening reminded him of autumn rather than the mid-August day it was. The rain and the breeze off the Atlantic had brought this unseasonably cool weather, but the brandy helped. It warmed his throat as it went down.
He was dressed for the theater, in black tails and tie, but at the last minute had not gone. The rain had not stopped him, but rather a sense of fatigue. Oh, not the sort of fatigue from a busy day, but from boredom. Heero Yuy was bored with the posturing, long-winded types who thought they ruled the world. Elite society would not miss his presence for one evening. And so, having nothing better to occupy his time, he had settled in the hotel's lounge, leaning against the bar with a drink in hand, and enjoying the bustle of activity before him.
From his vantage point he watched the hotel's guests rush in from the downpour. These sudden, summer rains were always amusing. Chivalrous men offered embroidered handkerchiefs to ladies in ruffled silk dresses. All the while, the hotel staff hailed cabs, mopped the lobby's marble floor in an attempt to keep it dry, and apologized-as if they were to blame for the weather.
The crowded lobby was noisy with chatter, and each time the hotel's doors opened the outside came rushing in as the sound of pouring rain, the clop of horses' hooves, and shouts from cabbies. He wished suddenly the lounge had a fireplace where he could sit with his glass of brandy, and muse over his fellow guests and the state of high society. But suddenly his attention was taken in an entirely new direction.
Among the throng, he spied a young man not of great stature, but noticeable by his sense of purpose and lack of gentlemanly dress. He had not bothered to shake the rain from his undistinguished gray overcoat, or his wool cap. His eyes were large, and hidden partially under wet bangs. The chap was out of place, and did not even have the sense to remove his hat. At last, a gentleman took pity on him, indicating the error with a softly spoken word. The young man's mouth opened in surprise. He nodded and then ducked to the outer edge of the room before taking it off, and letting loose a long braid that spilled down his back.
Heero's eyes widened. The hair was the length of a woman's and braided like some Indian on the Plains, but the fair skinned young man, wearing working class attire, was neither a woman nor an Indian. Heero watched more transfixed than before, as the braid was discreetly tucked inside his coat.
Another moment or two passed, then a taller, older man came forward. They shook hands and proceeded to the lift. Heero watched until the doors closed, wondering what their meeting was about. People came together for many reasons at this busy city hotel--they dined in its fine restaurant, conducted business, spent holiday weekends, or had affairs. Were these two men lovers? Secretly meeting in a crowded place where no one would notice their comings and goings? But Heero had noticed.
He stared at the exquisitely decorated brass scrollwork on the closed lift doors, and considered the options. He knew men who had affairs and prided themselves on juggling two lives-the one with the wife and family, and the one with the lady in question. But none in his acquaintance had admitted to a male lover, nor would they. After the scandalous Oscar Wilde trial in England, even joking about such things had ceased. People were afraid. Men were afraid. You could lose your livelihood, your life just for one evening of forbidden love. And yet, Heero was certain illicit encounters continued-only more discreetly, but ultimately he decided that the two men he had observed were here on business.
His observations continued of the comings and goings of those in the lobby until quite by accident he noticed the young man from earlier standing at the railing on the second floor, overlooking them. He was holding his hat and coat in hand, but his braid was not visible, now neatly tucked inside his brown wool jacket. A brightly colored plaid vest shown inside the jacket, adding a bit of flair to so common a man, but Heero suspected he was anything but common.
The young man leaned over the railing, giving a wide grin as though feeling superior now that he was above the crowd. Heero watched the unguarded display, and was surprised when their eyes met. A nod of acknowledgment would have been appropriate, but Heero simply stared. The stranger's smile faded, and his expression shone with discomfort and perhaps a sense of being trespassed upon. But there was a frozen moment when they just looked at each other. And then the young man turned away, slipping from Heero's line of vision.
That brief connection on the air gave Heero a shiver. Of all the people he had watched in the last hour, in the last few days he had spent in this city, this was the first to hold his attention. There was something in the young man's eyes, in his demeanor, bold at first, but then showing glimpses of insecurity. Who was he? And who was that man he was meeting?
Heero settled into a large, leather chair to wait. Eventually there would be another sighting. He swirled the remaining brandy in his glass. This part of the lounge looked onto the lobby, while another section, behind closed doors, was reserved for smoking cigars and loud conversation. He preferred this space. It was adjacent to the hub-bub of the socialites and their suitors, and yet removed enough to be undisturbed.
The rain settled, coming down consistently, but less harshly. His fellow man, and woman, had now accepted its presence and had adjusted accordingly. The lobby was considerably quieter, but no less busy on this weekend evening.
He considered retreating to his suite of rooms on the 12th floor when the lift doors opened to reveal the long-haired stranger. He spoke to a bell boy, and Heero overheard the employee say, "The rain has made them scarce." He was pointed in the direction of the lounge. Heero swallowed. The young man turned and scanned the bar and seating area. There were several gentlemen sharing the space quietly, but there was plenty of room for one more. He approached, and sat down in a chair not five feet from Heero.
Heero glanced casually at the young man's profile. It was sweet, but masculine, and slightly older than he first thought. Though the young man's hair was pulled back, giving the appearance of short hair from the front, from the side it was plain to see the beginnings of the braid, mostly hidden under his jacket. How did he function in society with hair like that? Obviously he understood it was not acceptable or he would not be trying to conceal it.
Heero's eyes were felt, and suddenly the young man looked over. He seemed annoyed, but also uneasy.
With the upper hand, Heero decided to be polite. "If you're waiting for a cab it could be some time."
"That's what I hear."
"The rain has made them quite the commodity."
"Do you have far to go?"
"Across town. I have a train to catch."
"In the morning."
"Well, there's no hurry then... for the cab."
The young man grinned. "I suppose not." His eyes turned back to the lobby, and his posture seemed to indicate a readiness to bolt. Was he that eager for his train?
"You're staying at the Wilmot?"
"Hmm?" the young man turned to him again. His eyes had the look of being distracted, and perhaps a bit too much in a hurry.
"I was inquiring if you were staying at the Wilmot? It's the closest hotel to Union Station."
"Oh." The young man blinked. "I was planning to grab an empty bench for the night."
"Indeed? Is that permitted?"
The man shrugged, and once again turned his attention to the lobby.
Heero was intrigued now more than ever. This chap was very independent, but what was he doing here at the Lord Baltimore Hotel? His suit was passable for a clerk in a news office, but not of a standard to suggest he could even afford to breathe the air here. And yet this was where he had planted himself, meeting with someone mysterious and now seated in the gentleman's lounge waiting for conveyance to Union Station.
He had questions, but they were too prying for so public a venue. And he was experiencing a powerful attraction-one that required further investigation. Sitting in this lounge, restricted in so many ways, would not do. He set his empty brandy glass down, and reached inside his suit pocket withdrawing a calling card from a silver case, and placing it on the mahogany table between them.
"A gentleman always introduces himself."
The young man looked down at the card, no doubt admiring the fine calligraphy the printer had used for Heero's name. He looked up, and then politely held out his hand. "I'm Duo..."
Heero looked away casually, not accepting the hand, and silencing the man's introduction. This chap had no flair for discretion. Heero ran his finger around the rim of the empty glass. "I enjoy cognac on cool evenings."
The large, plum-colored eyes were staring at him again, locked on him in confusion and curiosity. "I've never tried it."
Heero grinned. There was something special about this one, something that made Heero want to throw caution to the wind. "Of course, one should never drink alone," he said, withdrawing a brass key from his pocket and holding it in his open palm to reveal the embossed number 1201.
He stood, having made sure the young man-Duo-had taken a good look at the number. To emphasize the invitation, Heero twirled the key between his fingers. It was as obvious a seduction as he could make under the circumstances.
~ ~ ~
Duo watched the brass key roll between the gentleman's fingers. Like some nimble, practiced trick, the action mesmerized him. When he lifted his gaze, the man's deep blue eyes were locked on him. Their intensity and the obvious invitation could mean only one thing. Duo swallowed hard, but said nothing.
The man turned and retreated to the lift without looking back. Duo's brow furrowed. He covered the calling card with his hand, consciously dragging it across the small table and then curling his hand around it. He read the name again-Heero Yuy. It meant nothing to him, but obviously the man had money. His clothes were impeccable and so well tailored that they more than hinted at the fine physique beneath them. How presumptuous to think that Duo would follow him to his room like a puppy.
But this Heero Yuy hadn't wanted to talk to him. His observations seemed to conclude that Duo, a working man, was good enough for a fuck, but not for conversation. These wealthy industrialists were used to getting what they wanted. Did he assume that Duo would do as he was bid? Like some prostitute to be commanded and made grateful for the business.
The thought made Duo's blood boil. This was exactly why he was on this campaign. This experience alone would fire his speeches for months to come. The rich wanted to fuck the poor, but not give them a living wage and a safe work environment.
He shrugged his coat back on and headed for the door. He would hail that cab himself.
~ ~ ~
Outside, Duo stood next to the door man in his pseudo uniform. He sneered at the way the tan suit embellished with black piping and gold rope made the man something of a joke. Dressed up like a street performer's monkey, serving the rich with a grateful smile, and wearing white gloves so as not to soil them with his working class hands.
Yes, that encounter with the dark haired man stuck in Duo's craw. It took some nerve to make an introduction like that. And when Duo had tried to shake his hand he had gotten snubbed. In Duo's ideal world, there would be no line in the sand between rich and poor, between the men of leisure and the ones who did all the work. In his world, the laborers would be honored, revered for being the backbone of the nation, not looked down upon for dirtying their hands so that the nation could grow and thrive.
The doorman was now scrutinizing him.
"What? Am I in the way?" Duo asked, sounding very much like he had a chip on his shoulder.
"You look like you're ready to explode," the man said with a touch of humor.
Duo sighed. "I should've given someone a piece of my mind just now."
"Sometimes it's best not to say anything if you're upset. You might regret it."
Duo gave a snort. Hell, his life was about saying exactly what people didn't want to hear. It was this kind of attitude, better to keep quiet than make trouble, that smarted.
He tucked his hands in his coat pockets and immediately felt the calling card there. He had stuffed it there for reference, to prove his story when he met with his pro-labor buddies back in Kansas City. His finger rubbed the rectangular card as he looked down the street at the mix of horse and automobile traffic. Only the very rich could afford the noisy, smelly automobiles, and it seemed the rich also had first dibs on handsome cabs.
God, it'd be nice to give them a piece of his mind. Give that guy a piece of his mind.
He tilted his head up, looking into the rain and then back at the tall hotel building. Somewhere up there, on the 12th floor, Heero Yuy was waiting for him. The smug bastard thought Duo would be on his way, ready to beg for crumbs from a rich man's plate. Under the delusion that a working man would take any opportunity to experience that world---even if only for a few hours while being thoroughly fucked in oh, so many ways.
Duo had been given a pass; the calling card would allow him access to the 12th floor. He could go up there and make a stand for every working man and woman in the nation. Make Heero Yuy feel the passion that fired Duo's life.
He spun around to face the door. He had never backed down from an opportunity or a fight in his life. Why start now? Clenching his jaw, he stepped forward.
"Where you going?" the doorman asked.
"To stand up for you... for all of us." If the doorman replied, Duo didn't hear him. In an instant he was in the lobby, removing his coat and cap in a single motion and making his way across the marble floor to the lifts. He flashed the calling card. "Seventeenth floor. I'm expected."
The lift operator's brows went up, but he didn't say a word. At the 12th floor, Duo got out and was greeted by another hotel employee, probably part bouncer and part attendant.
"May I help you, sir?" the man asked.
Once again, the calling card was shown.
"Oh, very good. Mr. Yuy is in suite 1201. Down the hall and to your left."
"Thank you," Duo said.
Seconds later, Duo was standing in front of the door to 1201. He took a deep breath to collect his thoughts. He had to do this right. He had to represent all the workers of America. What he said and did could have a reverberating effect on hundreds, if not thousands of people. The laborers in Heero Yuy's sphere of influence might feel the consequences of this encounter.
He knocked on the door, a solid, confident knock to announce his arrival. Moments later, the door opened. If the industrialist was surprised to see Duo he didn't let it show. Instead, he stood there in his satin smoking jacket, eyeing Duo like a platter of savory treats.
"You put two and two together."
Duo's eyes narrowed. "Math was my best subject in school."
"Come in." Heero grinned and stepped back to allow Duo entrance to the suite of rooms.
Duo tried not to show his awe of the elegance of the suite. The drawing room was decorated in sky blue and burgundy carpets, drapes, and furniture, all perfectly matched and complementary. There was a fireplace at one end of the room, lighted and heating the space. Duo was immediately drawn to it.
"Allow me," Heero said, taking Duo's coat and cap from his hands.
Duo nodded and then stood in front of the fire, holding out his hands. He hadn't realized that he was cold, that he'd been chilled by the rain.
"You've been in the rain again."
Duo looked over his shoulder at his host. "I was leaving."
"What stopped you?"
The answer hesitated on Duo's lips. He turned to face Heero, looking into his sharp, blue eyes. He thought he had known why he came here, but now he wasn't so sure. Somehow this man made him forget his purpose.
"This is an opportunity," Duo finally said.
"Yes, it is. I have good taste in cognac... and many other things."
"That's not it." Now Duo remembered his mission. "I came here to represent the working class."
"Fine," Heero said, moving toward the cabinet where the cognac was stored. "Let's drink to the working class."
"It's not a joke."
Heero threw a glance over his shoulder as he poured the amber liquid into glasses. "I see that you're serious."
"My message is serious. The working class is abused, oppressed by people like you."
Heero turned to face him with a glass in each hand. "People like me? What do you know about me, mister...?"
"Maxwell. It's Duo Maxwell. Just look at you. All the money, the clothes. How do you think you can afford to stay here?"
"Years of hard work and sacrifice."
Duo laughed. "By other people."
Heero nodded, seeming thoughtful. "Yes, other people have helped me along the way, but I stand by my accomplishments. I am a man of action."
"And what of those people who helped you?" Duo was on a roll now. He could see he had been right about this fat cat. "What kind of living conditions have they endured for your success?"
The gentleman gave a deep sigh and then turned to find a comfortable chair. He set down one glass on a small round table, and sipped the other, staring at Duo intently.
"Well?" Duo persisted.
"Sit down and enjoy your cognac."
"Is that all you think about... personal comforts?"
"I invited you here for a drink, and I won't tell anyone if you enjoy it."
Duo's hands curled into fists. "Despite what you think my life is not devoid of pleasure."
"Then you are amenable to pleasure?" Heero asked, raking his eyes over Duo's body. "I'd like to know more... please sit down."
Duo hesitated, took a half step forward, and then hesitated again. What was it about this guy that enraged him and made him warm at the same time?
"If you sit, we can speak as equals," Heero said.
"Equals, right," Duo said with a snort. But he did sit down, and took the cognac when it was offered to him. He stared into the drink, avoiding Heero's eyes. He could feel those eyes on him, and knew this encounter wasn't just about sharing a drink and some conversation. He had known that from the start. And yet, he wanted to fool himself into believing this was just business.
"How old are you?" Heero asked.
Duo looked up. "I'm twenty. And you?"
"Do I look old for my age?"
Duo shook his head. "Not exactly, but I thought you'd have to be older..."
"To have so much money?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"What do you do for a living?"
"It's hard to explain," Duo said.
"I write, give speeches, whatever is needed for the cause."
"Like meeting with mysterious men in hotel lobbies?"
Duo would never betray the network of men and women working to unite the laboring class. He dismissed the question. "What do you do, besides inviting men to your room for drinks?"
Heero gave a smug grin. "I'm the sort of person you hate."
Duo knew this man was goading him, and gritted his teeth to stop himself from taking the bait. Heero Yuy was defiant about his great wealth, status and place in the food chain. He wore it like a badge, and seemed to be taking great pleasure in using it to vex Duo further.
"Hate is a strong word," Duo said.
"Should I have chosen more carefully? Perhaps you prefer ‘despise'."
"No, hate is just fine," Duo said, taking a gulp of the cognac. The alcohol was smooth on his tongue, but burned all the way down his throat.
"It's meant to be sipped."
"I prefer beer," Duo said with a shrug.
The man swirled the cognac in his glass with some force, practically spilling it. Duo wondered at the subtle change in emotion. Perhaps Mr. Yuy had wanted to impress him? Or get him drunk? I won't be drinking enough of this stuff to get drunk, Duo thought.
"I wonder... what motivates you?" Heero asked. "Could it be that man you met in the lobby?"
"Him again?" Duo blurted out. "How long were you watching me?"
"Since you came out of the rain." The man's calm had returned. His words were steady, just like the rain outside.
"If you thought I was suspicious you should've had me thrown out."
"And ruin the entertainment? The rich are very boring."
Duo wanted to growl. "That's what I am... entertainment?"
"There's nothing wrong in being entertaining." Heero leaned forward, putting an elbow on his knee. "May I call you Duo?"
Duo inched back in his seat, suddenly feeling like prey. "Only if I can call you by your first name."
"Agreed," Heero said with a nod. "Now tell me about that braid."
Instinctively, Duo curled his hand around it at the base of his neck. "People make too much of it. It's just hair."
"And lots of it. Do you have Indian blood in you?"
Duo swallowed hard. He didn't like talking about it. Most people didn't understand, and only treated him with more contempt once they knew the truth. But somehow, with Heero looking at him like that, with those deep blue eyes unwavering in their gaze, Duo wanted to tell him, and maybe hoped to shock him in the process. "Yeah, I'm part Lakota. Got a problem with that?"
"On your mother's side?"
Duo nodded. "We didn't live on a reservation. No one wanted us. We lived in a shack outside of town."
Duo cocked his head. "Why are you sorry?"
"You mean, how can a man who has everything feel compassion for what you went through?"
Yeah, that was about right. There was no way a guy like this could understand what it felt like to have no money, and be shunned from society-the White man's and the Red man's.
"You're angry," Heero said, his eyes narrowing on Duo.
"It doesn't matter anymore."
"I think it does. I think that's what motivates you."
Heero reached out his free hand to touch the braid. Duo froze, allowing the hand to brush past him and pull the braid over his shoulder. It warmed Duo, his face, his entire body to have this man hold his hair and feel its weight.
"You don't like people touching this... do you?" Heero asked.
"But you let me."
"Yeah." It was all Duo could say. He could hardly breathe. His chest was tight with nerves as Heero looked into his eyes. And then Heero lent forward-the braid in one hand, cognac in the other, their faces inches apart. Duo shifted his eyes downward to safety, watching the dark amber sway softly in his glass.
"Are you experienced?" Heero asked.
Duo looked up sharply. "What?"
"I don't blush. I'm warm from the fire."
"Actually you do blush, and it's very attractive on you."
Just then, a wood log popped on the fire, startling Duo.
"Relax," Heero said, letting the braid slip from his hand and then running his hand down Duo's arm. "We're the same, you and me. I watched you and you watched me."
Duo shook his head. "I stared back is all. I wasn't watching you."
Heero grinned. "If that's what you want to believe." He leaned closer, his breath touching Duo's lips. "Set aside the world for a moment." He kissed Duo then, taking his lips in a deep, exploratory kiss.
Duo flinched, conflicted in his feelings, but in an instant he was leaning toward Heero, surprised at how much he wanted this touch and how good it felt. Heero's kiss was possessive, and his lips moved hungrily against his own. "I shouldn't..." Duo said, finally pushing Heero back and spilling his drink on the carpet in the process. "Damn."
"It's all right," Heero said, retreating slightly. He set his own drink down and then took Duo by the wrist. He pulled Duo up with him and stood toe-to-toe. They were equal in height if nothing else.
Duo pulled back, but Heero's grip was firm. The man seemed accustomed to taking charge, and maybe a little too experienced with unwilling partners. But was Duo truly unwilling or just guilty about where this was leading? "I gotta stop thinking so much."
"Then come with me," Heero said, tugging on the wrist and taking Duo into the bedchamber.