The Christmas Arc
Part Three: Finders Keepers
by D.C. Logan
It had all started up again when he'd come home with his arm fractured and a bullet crease across his scalp. And things had started out poorly, turned bad, and just descended into worse from there.
"Dammit Heero! Why do you do this to me! I just can't take it! Why do we always have to fight, huh?" Duo's voice rose in anguish and fury. "Why can't you just listen to reason for once. It's too dangerous. What are you trying to prove anyway?"
Heero replied in a patient and, even to his ears, somewhat condescending tone, "It's my job, Duo."
"Yeah, right, your job to constantly get in the way of thugs and bullets just for money. Did you ever stop to think about how I feel about that? Geez, sometimes you're so dense that light bends around you. I've had it Heero, Just had it. I just can't take this anymore."
Duo pulled himself away from the argument and stalked to the door. His left arm was already halfway through the sleeve of his long coat, and his right scooped up his leather satchel. He ducked his head with an automatic nod through the strap before shoving his right arm angrily through the other sleeve.
He pounded down the hall to the front door and threw it open wide. And only then turned to face Heero with the darkness of the street behind him. His coat was flowing about him like a living thing in the light wind and with the repressed fury of his movement.
"When you're ready to talk, come and find me." And then, without even a slam of the door he was gone—running off into the night.
Heero stood in the empty hall, staring at the open door and the dark street beyond. More reacting than thinking at the moment.
What had he done this time to set Duo off like that? He knew better than anyone why Heero did what he did to make a living. It was all well and good for Duo to suggest, however politely, that Heero give up his bodyguarding job and move onto something safer. Duo had a good income now—his sideline of selling sculptures made from scrap metal had blossomed into a goldmine based on his untapped artistic talents. He made more selling a single sculpture than Heero made in a year of assignments. And Duo, not at all hesitant to ask a friend for help and advice, had cornered Quatre into explaining the best way for him to invest his unexpected wealth into funds and trusts he could live the rest of his life comfortably on.
Heero, while not exactly struggling financially, was reluctant to live off of Duo's largesse, no matter how generously it was offered. It stung his pride to admit it, but he wanted to meet him on even ground.
And then he stopped to think, really think, about what he was doing. Actually, when he stopped to consider their relationship objectively, he couldn't understand why or how Duo could continue to love him the way he did day in and out, especially when he persisted in showing off his personality flaws this way.
Humbled into reconsidering his actions by Duo's flight into the dark, his rage quieted. He stilled his hands and forced himself to relax into his center and balance himself before walking to the open doorway. Duo was no longer in sight. Heero sighed. Duo always ran when they fought. He'd mentioned soon after they'd become intimate with each other that it was his usual reaction to conflict. Heero had only realized later that he never ran from a battle or personal risk—only when his heart or soul was in danger. This was the third time since they'd been together that something he'd said in anger had chased Duo away. And like the previous times, it was up to Heero to find him and bring him home.
Heero lifted a coat from the standing rack at the end of the hall and moved through the door without pausing to consider where Duo would run. Only once he found himself walking quickly down the street did his thoughts catch up with him again.
It was late December, and even though he'd arrived home with every good intention of making things right between Duo and himself, his lack of tact when dealing with his partner's feelings had overruled the conversation yet again.
It was so hard, when the words wouldn't come to him to tell Duo how deeply he felt about their relationship. He looked down at his clenched hands and grimaced at the pain he'd brought to him this time. Maybe Duo was better off without him.
But even the mere thought of life without Duo rocked him. "No, not that...not ever." And the force with which he felt the renewed truth of his conviction sent him rushing into the dark.
Darkside on L2 wasn't like true night on earth, it was just a ghosted darkness that lurked in the corners and recesses of the buildings, blurring the features of the landscape. Duo had gone downstation last time, ending up at Mom Wong's noodle shop. Mom Wong, a large woman who treated her regular customers much like a large extended family, had chastised Heero severely for upsetting Duo that time around. So, since Duo was most certainly not a creature of habit, he headed upstation towards the Inter-Colony Transport depot instead.
By the time he arrived at the ICT terminal, it was nearly deserted. Long past the time when the usual crowds were coming and going into the community center, only a few souls kept him in polite company as he awaited the next shuttle. Just last month Duo had surprised him by waiting at the terminal for his arrival home. He well remembered the warm feelings of surprise, pleasure, and homecoming that had hit him unexpectedly and strongly in his solar plexus. And the look of joy on Duo's face when he'd realized how very much his effort at welcome had meant to his partner had meant nearly as much to him. That simple memory carried him on to his next destination.
The transport shuttle dropped him off in a loose-knit association of restaurants, shops, and galleries in a region of the colony colloquially referred to as "the warren." Duo was a welcome visitor here when Heero was out on assignment, and they both frequented the restaurants when they were together. He played a hunch and walked through the bright azure door of the "Blue Moon Cafe." And fell into the suffocating heat of packed bodies, strong spices, and herbal cigarette smoke. Standing on tiptoe to be seen over the crowd of humanity, he tried to catch the attention of the man tending bar midway down the room. He made eye contact and shifted through the masses until he reached the bar.
"Hey Riko, did Duo come in tonight? I'm trying to catch up with him." He had to shout to make himself heard above the din of the crowd. Riko shook his head in the negative and motioned Heero to an empty seat. Heero pretended he hadn't seen the offer and waved his thanks as he zigzagged his way out of the restaurant. Okay, one down, now where?
Aha, the Home on Lagrange was a block over, it was one of their long-time favorite dining places—he'd give that one a try next.
A quieter and more reserved crowd filled the room to capacity. He and Duo were regulars here as well and the maitre d' recognized him immediately. She motioned for him to wait as she dealt with the young couple in front of him. He nodded in reply and scanned the floor for Duo. No luck, but he saw an older couple working their way through one of his favorite dishes. A bit of his good humor surfaced and a small smile escaped as he remembered the last time he and Duo had shared that particular dish.
"Oh no, I insist that you have this piece."
"Oh do you now..."
"And what will you trade me for this succulent snack right here, hmmm?"
Duo could be most persuasive at times.
The maitre d' returned, and she looked serious as she walked over to Heero. Without preamble she asked, "Looking for Duo?" And at his nod she replied, "He was here about an hour ago, asked for takeout and left right after." Heero knew better than to ask if he'd told her where he was headed next. Velvet was protective of those she cared for, and Duo had somehow managed to sneak under her umbrella of protection. He respected that too much to violate the trust between them. Feeling somewhat cowed, he carefully left and resumed his search. At least he was making progress now.
Next stop was the coffee house Duo loved. He joked often about how he kept it in business with his frequent visits—he never went into the warren without stopping in for at least a cup to go. Heero stuck his head cautiously around the door before letting himself into the quiet shop. A quick scan revealed no Duo here either. Giving up on polite tact, he broadcast his request to the occupants of the shop.
"Hey, has Duo been in tonight?"
A sandy-haired man turned from his seat near the doorway and looked at Heero—once down slow and then back up to his face.
"Guy about your height and age, long black coat, long brown hair, and pissed as hell? That the guy you're lookin' for?"
Heero nodded soberly, it was an accurate description. It also meant that Duo hadn't run his mad off yet.
"Yeah, he said you'd probably stop by. He picked up some coffee and left." And the man turned back to his paper, clearly dismissing Heero as a non entity.
Heero left the shop and, giving up on the restaurants and following his next hunch, walked down the road towards the salvage district. The area was as quiet and still as a graveyard under dense snow. Empty hulks of buildings, high perimeter fences, and the irregular shapes of discarded materials loomed and passed in the darkness as he walked the familiar route to Duo's lot.
He caught sight of the bright glare of the mercury vapor lights before the building came into view. And he relaxed muscles he hadn't even realized he'd tensed with a sense of relief—he'd found him. He didn't admit it to himself, much less to Duo, but he worried over his personal safety. Duo was famous now—a celebrity, a talented artist, an ex-Gundam pilot, and a true friend to one of the most powerful and influential people in the colonies—though Quatre would deny that title with his usual eloquence.
He stopped at the building and stared up at the bright lights. Now, if the words would only come to him when he needed them this time...
Practicing a move he'd tested once or twice before, Heero grabbed a low-hanging support and used the momentum of his weight to swing himself lightly onto the low roofline of the storage barn Duo called his studio. He peered cautiously through a ventilation duct in the siding and looked down into the center of the metal-sided structure.
A table was set against the far wall and had the discarded remnants of a takeout meal scattered across its surface. It was keeping cluttered company with pieces of scrap paper and bits of chalk and stubs of pencil. Heero liked his home orderly. Duo said he created his best work out of chaos. The realization stopped him short; it was yet another example of how much Duo had adapted and changed for his sake alone. He made himself comfortable and stilled to an inanimate state that he could maintain for hours if necessary. He wanted time to watch and think before approaching Duo.
The artist himself was walking around a large piece in progress in the center of the room and sipping coffee from a plastic cup while talking softly to his creation. Heero looked carefully over the new sculpture, and his eyes widened as his brain fit the pieces together. And he realized what Duo had chosen as the subject of his newest work. Duo was making a dragon. He'd threatened to from time to time, and had even sketched out ideas in that causal graceless way of his on napkins and old newspapers. He'd always likened Heero to a dragon storming about the house, fuming and snorting in displeasure, yet intelligent and not to be taken as an idle threat. Heero never laughed when Duo compared him to dragons.
Duo had mentioned a new project in passing, but Heero hadn't asked about the subject matter. It occurred to him that he hadn't asked Duo about much of his work lately. Though he didn't like to admit it, even to himself, he resented the time it took from their relationship and the money it brought between them. Not that Duo seemed to realize this. Never before having the luxury of being able to obtain anything he desired, he tended to ignore the potential power it could give him. Instead he bought frivolous gifts for his friends and stockpiled the rest into a safe place for later in life.
The new sculpture project arose from a long tail coiled about its lower half. It crouched in readiness on the stained concrete floor. His creation rose to the height of a man, with a long sinuous neck outstretched along an uplifted forearm that ended in dagger-sharp talons. It was an ambitious piece, fully six feet tall, and Duo was in the process of covering the creature in polished and shaped scales that needed to be laboriously welded on piece by piece.
Duo appeared to be completely focused on the task at hand. He set the cup of coffee down on the floor next to the unfinished sculpture and shucked off his jacket before picking up the small hand torch and starting the work of fitting scales to framework again.
Heero lifted the ventilation flap aside and crept onto a support beam to gain a better view of Duo's activities. Duo was muttering to himself, apparently he'd had no problems shifting the power and anger of their argument into artistic energy. Heero was frustrated and admittedly a bit resentful of the ease with which Duo had been able to disperse the earlier conversation from his mind. Then again, Duo was truly gifted when it came to his art, and he'd often said that having his artwork to take his frustrations out on had saved their relationship more than once.
He watched as Duo exhibited his craft. And realized anew and with argument-objective eyes just how attractive his partner was. Duo, crouched next to his sculpture, Duo casually brushing his hair from his face, Duo moving his blast visor aside, reavealing heavy-lidded eyes. Heero visually traced the line of his hip when he bent down to sort through scrap, the graceful line of his body when he paused mid motion to sketch a new idea on the floor with bit of chalk. Heero felt himself grow hard with his voyeristic musings and the simple progression of his thoughts.
Duo continued his work, carefully avoiding looking up at the beams crossing the expanse of the building. He'd been waiting for Heero to find him, and was so tuned to him that he'd felt his presence from the moment he'd entered the building—even though he'd been careful to make not a sound. Calling himself a coward for not confronting him, Duo continued to alternately kneel on the dusty concrete to sketch out modifications to his initial design and crouch on the floor to weld the precut pieces into place.
Heero continued to watch Duo move about his work. Content to watch and think for the moment, now that he had tracked down his target. The more he thought about it, the more similarities and connections he saw between Duo's creation of sculpture and their own relationship. Despite an initial plan, the artwork was an ongoing process of creation and destruction; manipulation and change. The end result could be beautiful or tragic. With work and attention, mistakes could be corrected, and the truth behind the idea could emerge. The real work was in the planning, construction, and maintenance. The beauty was in the design. The love evident in the details.
Needing a distraction, Duo walked over to the second-hand stereo and kicked it awake. It was a relic from his early days of sculpting, and he insisted to Heero that he kept it solely for sentimental reasons. A soulful cello piece from a long-dead composer filled the room. He didn't always work to music, but with Heero's presence in the foreground of his mind, any distraction, however minor, would be welcome. Cognizant and careful of his audience, he stripped off his shirt and did a long, slow stretch backwards (and snuck a peek at the rafters to verify that his shadow was still paying attention). He knew that Heero tracking him down was as close to an admission of guilt as he was likely to get, and that Heero considered it a form of apology—but that didn't mean that Duo was going to let him off easy this time.
He slowed his movements around the studio, making sure that he reached that extra inch to pick up the welding torch, that he bent over from the waist to pick up a dropped tool, and when he sketched his solutions on the floor, he moved in a long leisurely crawl across the ground. He hoped Heero was having a difficult time perched on his rafter. He was doing his level best to ensure he was.
Duo's project soon took precedence in his mind, and as he gained progress against his goal, his focus alternated between his sculpture and Heero's presence. After a while, he relaxed enough under Heero's watchful eye to concentrate fully on the task under hand. But when he dropped his torch for the second time in as many minutes, and nearly singed his hair in the process, he decided to yank the plug on the stereo and call it quits for the night. Time to throw the ball back into Heero's court. He was too tired to maintain much of a grudge at this point.
Muttering about what a sad state this was, it being Christmas and all (pitching his voice just loud enough to carry up to the rafters), he slowly moved stacks of paper and bits of metal off of the ancient broken-down sofa that alternately served as storage, seating, and bedroom. Settling on at least removing all the pointy bits from his intended bed, he swiped the remaining material onto the floor. Then he crashed down onto the broken springs, half naked and completely exhausted from the combined efforts of the argument and his work, and pulled a mostly clean dropcloth over himself—fully intending to catch some sleep if Heero persisted in playing rat on a girder; or alternately setting the stage to get even for some of the pain he'd caused him that day. He settled his body into a light half-sleep/half-trance state he'd perfected in his youth, and waited for Heero to make his move.
Heero wracked his brain for the third time that evening. Oh shit, it was Christmas. He'd forgotten, again. He gave a heartfelt and softly audible groan. Oh the holiday preparations were there if you paid attention to such things, but they'd been clamoring for his attention for months. He hadn't realized how close the day had crept without his notice. Hell, no wonder Duo was so pissed off this time. He'd really blown it.
He looked down at Duo's ring, and twisted it around his finger. He hadn't taken it off since he'd exchanged it for his own, but he remembered the small scorpion engraved on the inside of the band with perfect clarity. Quatre and his artist friend had been right on target in their observations regarding Duo—he'd forgive Heero, but he wouldn't forget. And although he usually rose above his shortcomings, he often laid in waiting to sting back when stepped on.
Heero's moments of insight were few and far between, but no less valid because of that. No, Duo wasn't always easy to live with, but it would be impossible to live without him.
Heero slowly stretched his tired muscles and moved quietly down the support struts of the building to the floor. He walked silently over to the sagging sofa and looked down at Duo's body, wrapped in a cocoon of fabric, the few papers he hadn't bothered to move rustling with his breath. He looked exhaused, and appreared to be sleeping deeply. Dark smudges on his face and chest from the carbon and chalk added to the effect. So Heero wasn't exactly expecting the sleeping form to speak to him in a low and sarcastic tone.
"You know Heero, a hard-on doesn't exactly count as personal growth." Duo cracked open a wary eye, which, unfortunately for Heero was targeted at groin level.
He grinned in response. Now that was the man he loved, but he didn't rise to the bait. Instead he turned and sat on the edge of the sofa, rustling more papers as he did so. And Duo shifted onto his elbow to better see what his next move would be. Heero reached out a hand, hesitantly, as if fearing its reception, and touched Duo lightly on his shoulder.
The words didn't come any easier for all the practicing he'd done in his head while balancing up on the rafters. "I know I don't always say or do the right things when I'm around you. But the past years I've spent with you are all the better for you being there for me. I'm sorry I brought home a fight, and even sorrier that I let us drift apart enough that you felt you needed to run from me instead of talking out our problems."
He paused to find the elusive words again, but Duo reached up and pulled him down onto the sofa in mute understanding and with a long-standing accord for his feelings.
Heero shifted until his arms were around Duo and they simply held each other in the graying light. As they each considered the words between them, Heero let a light chuckle escape. It broke the moment, and Duo grinned at him. Heero's gut lurched in relief. He was forgiven again. He'd make sure not to waste his gift.
"What's amusing about all this then?"
Heero met his gaze with quiet but relieved eyes.
"You know, I was jealous of that damn piece of artwork. It's metal and solder and I envied the way you touched it and moved around it."
Duo grinned in return, "I always wanted a dragon in the living room to remind me of you when you're not at home." He paused to reinforce his point, "I made him for you Heero, he's your gift. Merry Christmas."
Heero turned to Duo, and met his eyes with a gentle smile of understanding.
And on that lumpy, uncomfortable sofa; in a drafty, rusting metal building; with cold coffee and the remnants of a half-eaten dinner for sustenance; and under the watchful eye of a benevolent dragon—they launched into another year together.