by D.C. Logan
Duo stumbled to an awkward halt in front of the large display window. What the hell? They were finally open? He changed his path to the center every three days (a force of habit too strong to break), but he'd managed to alter at least part of his route to pass in front of this small gallery. The persistent bastards had been closed eight days running.
He tapped on the glass panel of the door as he entered, and a slim older man behind a desk shifted papers and lifted his head in polite query. Duo gestured to the front window, "The glass on display, what can you tell me about it?"
"Was there a particular piece you wanted to see, sir?"
Duo gave a small inward grin, yes, he was interested in something, and the gallery owner obviously smelled an eager customer and a potential sale.
"Hmmm, that is one of the more... dear... items from that collection," and he paused, taking in the relative quality of Duo's attire - a little on the shabby side for this exclusive little district.
"The angel is the only piece I'm interested in. May I see it please."
The man lifted the sculpture from its display pedestal and carried it carefully with firm hands to a side table. Duo followed, matching his progress across the room. Damn, he was going to be late for his morning meeting if this guy persisted in dragging the transaction out.
And then his schedule dissolved from his mind as the man backed away from the figurine, giving Duo his first unobstructed view.
She was stunning. Half a meter tall, made entirely and absolutely of glass. Clear glass formed her body, glass that had been folded and draped while liquid to create the loose gathers of her robes. Her face tilted downward, and when Duo knelt before the table and saw her expression, well, that was the end of any indecision he'd had. His angel's arms were crossed, holding a young child against the front of her body. The child was a veritable rainbow of vivid jewel-tone fluid glass. And the angel's clear wings mirrored the position of her arms, wrapping the child in a double embrace of protection. It was one of the most moving renderings of adoration that he'd ever seen. And soon it would be his, that much was certain - the excitement that presaged acquisition was running strong. He stood, quietly looking over the sculpture and thinking about what his account could handle.
And when the thin man moved in to put his angel back into the front window, he held out an arm and blocked his movement. "How much?"
The answer had done considerable damage to his account, but haggling had never been part of his ritual. He pulled the finance card from his pocket without reservation, and walked from the gallery financially poorer, but satisfied with a purchase as he hadn't been in months. The price was less than he'd feared, more than he wished, and he'd be eating reconstituted soup for the better part of the upcoming month. But knowing it was his and his alone was a good feeling, and he carried it with him for the rest of the day like warm stones resting within his chest.
His collection started two years ago, based almost entirely on the whim of one of his kids. He'd been volunteering at the Services Department for about six months at the time, and she was one of the first of his cases to not place into a new home. Instead, she'd aged out of the system and started out on her own. Alone, and a bit frightened of the enormity of an entirely self-sufficient life, Duo had taken the time to volunteer some unsolicited advice. And she'd wandered back into his office three months later, assured, confident, and finding her path all on her own. She'd given him his first angel, and he, amused by the irony and honored by the unexpected and well-meant gift, had displayed it on his desk for all to see.
His co-workers had taken up the cause with enthusiasm, and assorted winged figures started appearing in all sorts of places - in the department refrigerator, in his inbox, on his file cabinet: small angels, angels that stood a meter tall; glass, plastic, metal; handcrafted and mass-produced. Angels of all descriptions and colors turned up on his desk; some with harps, some playing horns, even one revealing an obscene amount of flesh to the room. Quatre knew about his growing collection - and thought it hilarious. "So the God of Death is collecting angels - don't your co-workers have a clue?" followed by a long thoughtful pause, "Oh good lord Duo, if they only knew...." But even Quatre wasn't privy to their real value. That was his secret, and his secret alone. And he held it close to him.
Okay, so what *else* could go wrong today? Along with the worst day at work he'd had in months - okay, maybe ever; the extra hours he'd had to put in to compensate for it; and the lack of food and yes, even coffee that afternoon - he'd had to call Heero and apologize for delaying dinner out *again*. And then made a subsequent call to cancel their date completely when his day had run past the hour even he'd anticipated. And when he realized his watch had died and it was two hours later than he'd thought it was, he cursed softly to himself and quickly gathered his things.
He'd run out of the office, long coat flung over his shoulder, paperwork caught under his arm, and even after sprinting the two blocks to the depot, he'd missed the last of the R1 shuttles and had to wait in the dark for the G3 to show up. That one didn't drop him off as close to his apartment as he liked, but it was either take that or hike the full twenty-three blocks. As it was, the alternate shuttle still gave him six blocks to cross before reaching his apartment. With any luck, the walk would give him some time to sort through his day. Yeah, with any luck; so far today 'any luck' was turning out to be all bad...
The first two blocks were uneventful, the third made up for them by turning into an unprecedented disaster. He tripped, and caught the hem of his long coat on the edge of his boot. It gave way with a long shredding tear. That had hurt - the coat was less than a month old. What pained him more was two blocks later when he tripped over the trailing edge of the coat and went completely down in a heap on the rough pavement - spewing his paperwork across the road and skinning the palms of both hands. That sure as hell didn't improve his mood any. And when he stood to make a better self-inventory, the left ankle collapsed painfully under him. If he had it in him to do so, he would have gathered his papers and his remaining wits to him and cried. But he never cried. No matter what - it was one of his Rules. Even with the day he'd just endured, it just wasn't an option open to him. And the ritual wouldn't allow for tears ... that *was* the problem after all.
As it was, he put weight back onto the sore ankle - a little more carefully this time - and tested it before attempting a few strides. It hurt like hell, but he reasoned that it should hold him for the remaining block until he got back to his apartment. He limped around in crouched circles, collecting his papers, cursing to himself in a low voice all the while.
He said a thankful prayer to whichever deity was cursing him that at least Heero was off the hook for the evening. Duo wouldn't make very good company tonight - and he knew it. Their relationship was too bright, new, and unspoiled for him to saddle Heero with his problems and emotional fallout. Soon maybe, given how quickly they were progressing, but not yet. He didn't want to scare him *that* badly this early on-had it really been only three months since they'd resumed their on/off relationship?
Well, he thought wearily, it couldn't get worse than this. But he was proved wrong for the fifth time that day. The "out of service" sign on the elevator was the last straw. Four flights of agony. He cursed his luck again, and again, one curse for each painful step. He limped down the dark hall (the light was burned out - again), and stopped in front of his apartment. It was dark under the reinforced steel door. The small part of him that had blindly hoped for Heero's company died, taking with it the last of his optimism.
Then he couldn't find his keys and his heart plummeted into his stomach with the thought that they were somewhere between his fall and this door. He frantically patted down all his pockets, one jingled. He'd put them in his left pocket instead of his right, and relief flowed over him. He lifted the key to the lock, but the magnetic tumblers were acting up again. He spun the key once, twice, three times against the plate. Nothing happened. He held the ring of keys up to his eyes. Yes, definitely the right key. And then dropped all of them as the steel chain he kept them on chose that precise moment to unclasp.
The tinkling chime of seven keys bouncing across the tiled floor frayed what little threads remained of his sanity. He said something very loud, and utterly profane, and the sound of his voice in the empty space stilled him. He pulled himself together, collected his keys without further incident, and tried the lock again. Surprisingly, the obstinate device worked this time.
He swung the door wide and released an evil grin as it hit the wall with a loud bang. And turned, and slammed it shut for good measure - it was on an automatic tensioner and it took real force to close it that way. He took a deep breath, trying his best to stave off what he suspected was building in him. And then let it go...
Home, safe; where he could be himself without worrying about maintaining his public face. He felt the shields he'd erected to make it safely through the day slip off to the side. And he took his handful of keys and threw them violently into the room - wallowing in the surge of satisfaction that rolled over him as the sharp tinkle of breaking glass told him he'd found a target.
He broke things when he got mad or upset. Ever since he could remember, it was the only action that brought relief. Valuable items were routinely purchased to this end - the rarer and more precious the better. He'd noticed he'd been buying more in recent months, not a good sign. Hmm, maybe the small angel with the drum under her arm would be enough this time....
He slapped at the switch on the wall, flooding the room with light. And gaped openly at his living room. Heero blinked at him from the sofa, then looked down to examine the key he'd caught in his left hand. He then stared carefully back up at Duo, who remained standing in rigid surprise at the threshold to the room. And Duo had a sobering thought - the drumming angel wouldn't be enough tonight. Not now. Not after this.
Heero cleared his throat, "Bad day, Duo?" he asked in an even, cautious voice. Duo had already thrown the keys, but who knew what else might be in his pockets or secreted about his person.
In all the years he'd known him, he'd never seen Duo quite like this. Happy, smiling, daring, and murderous - yes, but not exposed and angry. But then he saw the familiar shutters crash down over his face as Duo forcefully threw the contents of his bag across the nearby table, sending its previous burden to the floor. And he stormed across the room to stand braced in front of Heero. Forgetting the pain in his ankle, dismissing the miserable trip home, forcing his bad day out of his mind, and directing all of his residual anger at the one person who had absolutely *nothing* to do with any of his suffering.
Heero looked up at Duo; he was magnificent when angry - crackling with an intensity greater than he'd ever seen in him before. And he admitted to the tiny part of his brain that was still operating that he was just a tiny bit frightened of this new Duo. He shifted in place, and suppressed a desire to wet his lips ('bad idea,' his inner voice cautioned, it might be taken as an indication of fear - which could be dangerous at the moment). He schooled his expression into one of mild curiosity, and repeated his question in a level tone of voice. Carefully selecting a uniform inflection unlikely to set Duo off.
It didn't evoke the reaction he'd hoped for. Duo spun away from him with a guttural snarl, fists pounding the air in fury. He grabbed the nearest breakable object and hurled it at the wall over the sofa. Shards rained down the wall, but Heero didn't flinch or move in any way. He was being careful - doing his best to not attract Duo's attention to him. He didn't relish the idea of becoming his next target. Duo turned, looking for another projectile and tripped over the stack of books piled on the floor. He threw one. It felt good, but not as satisfying as the glass had been. He threw another, it felt better - but it wasn't helping. He had need of his ritual - it would help him if anything could.
"Goddammit, sonofabitch..." He stomped heavily into his bedroom and paused, looking over his collection of angels. He checked the shelf for the spun glass sculpture that was his current centerpiece: his favorite angel, its wings enfolding the young child clasped tightly in her arms. He walked over to it, considered and evaluated it against its peers, and reached out and lifted her from her perch. He held the figurine levelly in front of him - and she was a terrible weight in his softly trembling hands.
He shuffled, stiff-legged to the window and pushed the curtain aside with his elbow. Shifting his fragile burden, he moved the glass panel to the side and leaned out, judging the distance to the alley below. He heard a whisper of sound at his back and knew Heero was watching, but carefully tuned him out - he wasn't a part of this.
He lifted the angel in both hands to eye level, held her steady over the chasm, weighed her true value in his mind - balancing it against his loss that day-and released his anger and let it drop. Its brittle pieces sang on the hard ground below, and he looked down at his wrath and his silent fury of sharp glass tears. And he pulled at his hair when it wasn't enough and he had nothing else of equal value to sacrifice, and he stilled and grew cold watching the wreckage for a long time.
Yes, sometimes the ritual hurt like hell. But sharp pain was healing, and for as long as he could remember - the simple act of destroying something precious had granted him release from his grief. To his horror, he'd found it still worked - he hadn't found a better coping strategy than this, and a better way to release his emotions might not exist for him. "If it works, why break the pattern," he reasoned. "Because there will come a day when no sacrifice is enough," a small voice whispered. The little boy who lived within him crept out from under his blanket at the damnedest times. But Duo knew what he could do to send him back.
He wandered back into the living room, still angry, still keyed. He stalked in tight circles in the center of the room - like a carnivore in a small cage. Heero was moving about the periphery of the room, quietly setting it to rights, gently picking up the shards of glass from the shattered picture frame the keys had destroyed on their flight, and the pieces of the hand-blown vase that had met its end over the sofa.
Duo turned to him, fingers flexing against invisible bonds, and Heero stilled in place - watching him carefully.
"Dammit Heero, I'm not good company tonight," he raged. "Why the *hell* didn't you just stay home!"
"That's not what friends do Duo," he said in a soft and tired voice. "At least that's what you told me once."
"Oh just fuck off and go away. I want to be alone, can't you tell? Or are you planning on acting like your old screwed-up self tonight?"
There was no response to this, but Heero broke eye contact and continued to move softly about, righting objects and smoothing and stacking papers while studiously avoiding Duo's raging presence.
Duo grabbed at his arm, his fury loaning him strength, and swung Heero around to face him.
"Dammit, *why* won't you fight with me!?"
Heero matched his eyes - direct, heavy and considering. "Because it's not me you want to fight with, it's you." And then, after Duo stilled and reason entered his eyes again, "What happened today Duo?"
And, as he released Heero's arm, it all came spilling out in a flood of words and emotion. A deluge that culminated in the simple fact that a case he'd been working on, a young orphan with the prospect of a permanent home, had given her life into her own hands that afternoon. And then, surprised and amazed at himself for letting that out in front of Heero. He turned and his anger crashed, the wrath at the injustice of it all running out of his body - leaving him drained and exhausted far beyond just his physical limits.
He collapsed onto his lumpy, abuse-worn sofa, long legs extended like lifeless sticks, hair tufted in strange places from his frantic attempts to pull it out in his anger over a reality he couldn't change. And Heero looked him over with a careful eye and had never loved him more than at that moment. He was so beautiful when he let down his shields - when he let the hopes and regrets and fears he usually closed away behind his bright intelligent persona out to be seen. At the moment, his face was an open and broken door to his emotional state. It was the first time he'd let Heero in to visit the private room he hid his fears in. It didn't seem to be a restful place.
Duo remained immobile on the sofa. Face tilted towards the ceiling, eyes tightly closed. Why had he told Heero all that? Lord he was tired now that the grip of anger had released him. He shut his eyes and rested his head against the back of the sofa - completely drained of all energy and emotion. Wasted, shredded, fried, zeroed out, tired in his bones, exhausted in his skin.
He felt a weight settle down next to him. And then a warm arm encircled his shoulders and pulled him gently into a supportive embrace. The contact wasn't initially welcome, but he didn't resist, he couldn't, not even the remote possibility of movement remained, and all energy and any planned resistance escaped him. Nothing was left within him to fight with; he had no remaining power.
And then as his body warmed against Heero's chest, his feelings turned over into something else. Until that moment he'd completely forgotten how it felt to be comforted by another soul without any ulterior motive. Solo had done that he remembered distantly, and Sister Helen, and no other until now. If he had it remaining in him, he would have cried at the blanket of relief it brought to his tattered emotions. And then Heero's callused fingers swept up through the hair hanging in tendrils across his face. He tucked Duo's face into the hollow along his neck, and gently stroked the crown of his head in a slow repetitive soothing movement, and Duo found that he had tears left after all.
And as Heero wrapped Duo in the warmth of his arms, pressed his lips to his damp brow, and gently rocked him, Duo wept openly. And no longer felt shame at doing so. And Heero whispered a litany of promises, of his intentions to keep them, and of no limits or holds on time that could erase them. And Duo found later that he had no need of his ritual, not for as long as they had each other. He'd found a new ritual to replace the old.
And the glass angels lived peacefully on the shelf from that day forward.