Heero looked up at the statue as he sat in the gallery, listening to the constant drone of voices and the occasional peal of cultured laughter. Five weeks had passed since the night he’d posed for the sculpted work of art, but it seemed like an eternity. He glanced down at the muted beige carpeted that covered the floor, daring any to mar its expensive finish. He dug a little hole in the deep pile with the tip of his shoe, grimacing as he thought back upon his foolish behavior.
He’d left Duo asleep the next morning, stealing away like a thief. Later, he’d explained to Duo that he’d had to go to the construction site, but it had been only a half-truth. In reality, Heero had sat alone for several hours on one of the upper girders, work not scheduled to begin until later in the day. He knew that he was acting like some damned woman, but he couldn’t help feeling hurt that Duo had fallen asleep after professing his love the night before.
Heero sat looking out over the bustling cityscape, trying to make sense of his confused emotions. On the one hand, when Duo had shouted that he loved him, Heero had felt a blossoming of joy so intense that it had nearly brought tears to his eyes. But, on the other hand, he’d felt an equally sharp stab of disbelief.
He couldn’t help thinking about all of the ways that he and Duo were different. He’d been born into a poor, blue-collar family from Yokohama, while Duo’s parents had both been successful, wealthy businessmen from New York City. He’d barely finished high school, while Duo was working on his post-grad degree in a demanding architectural college. Heero couldn’t even spell Renoir, while Duo was conversant in all manner of artistic styles, let alone being able to produce his own, incredible creations.
But, what weighed on Heero even more was the image that had greeted him when he’d gone to meet Duo in the Sanq gallery the other day. As much as he wanted to plant his fist in Zechs’s elegant face, he couldn’t deny how Duo and the tall, handsome blonde had looked standing together in front of a particularly stunning painting. Right was the only word that came to mind. Even in jeans and a casual shirt, Duo had looked like he’d belonged there, at ease among the expensive art work and matching the blond gallery owner in unmistakable refinement.
He’s insecurities continued to pray on his mind as the workers arrived at the site and he made his way through the rest of the day. That evening, when he went home, Duo was there waiting for him. Acting as if nothing was wrong, or, more likely, not realizing that Heero’s demeanor was uncommonly sullen, Duo had been his usual, cheerful self, sharing the take-out he’d brought over and never once mentioning his impromptu declaration.
Instead, he chattered about his plans for the sculpture, the techniques he wanted to try, how long it would take to complete, leaving Heero to wonder if Duo even realized what he’d said last night. Heero went through the motions, trying to act normally, listening intently to Duo as they finished their meal, even taking him to bed and making love to him until they both cried out in completion.
But, there was no renewal of Duo’s confession and his own died on his lips time and time again. The next few days drifted past, Heero becoming ever more convinced that Duo had spoken unthinkingly in the heat of the moment. Zechs had given Duo permission to work on the statue at his gallery and Duo began spending more and more time there, prompting Heero’s jealousy to fester as his mind filled with images of Duo and Zechs together, alone late at night in the back warehouse of the gallery. He was well aware of what could occur in the secluded space and just thinking about it was enough to drive him insane.
They didn’t see each other much over the next few weeks and when they did meet, Heero realized that he was becoming increasingly distant but was unable to stop himself even as he saw how his unreasonable attitude was affecting Duo. The younger man wasn’t insensible to Heero’s strange behavior. Though he attempted to act as though nothing were untoward, Heero could see the confused hurt in the other man’s beautiful eyes. And, when his bewilderment continued to go unanswered, Duo’s smile became more and more rare, the causal touches he was want to bestow on any part of Heero that he could reach, eventually fading away. Even when they made love, it had become almost mechanical, as if it were something they had to get through, though they’d rather be anyplace else.
Heero wasn’t quite sure how it happened, but one day he realized that nearly two days had passed without him once seeing or speaking to his lover. Duo’s absence was keenly felt, seeing as how they hadn’t spent more than a few hours out of each other’s company for months. But, he couldn’t bring himself to call and he had to assume that Duo was too busy with his latest project to do so. Either that or he just didn’t care enough to get in touch.
Heero knew that the thought was unfair, that his recent coldness was to blame for Duo’s reticence, but he thought it just the same. A bitter inner voice told him that he’d pushed Duo away, that Duo had found someone else. Someone more suitable; someone who didn’t end each day smelling of sweat and covered with dust. Sometimes, he found his hand on the phone, as if some part of him was yelling at him to just get over himself already and to call Duo and apologize for being an asshole. But, he always resisted the temptation, his doubts continuing to grow until, when Duo finally did call, his sexy voice purring from the machine with an invitation to dinner, Heero was too afraid to answer the summons.
Duo had almost sounded like his normal, chipper self, as if their days apart hadn’t fazed him in the least. Heero could hear the hint of strain in the cheerful tone, however, and he hated himself for causing it. He was pissed at his own infernal spinelessness, but unable to free himself from it. He tried to tell himself that it was better this way. Better that he never see Duo again, that they just drift apart. He spent several sleepless nights repeating the resolution in his head, ignoring how cold and empty his bed seemed without Duo there to warm it.
Nearly three weeks had passed by and Heero had gradually come to believe the lie that he’d be fine without Duo. Then, one morning, as he sat working at his desk in the site manager’s trailer, a knock at the door disturbed him from his work. He called for the person to enter and felt his heart frantically attempt to escape from his chest when Duo stepped into his office. He hadn’t seen the other man in almost a week and his starved eyes swept over his erstwhile lover as though trying to forever imprint him in his mind. Heero clenched his hands into fists on top of his desk, fighting an intense internal struggle between remaining seated and grabbing Duo in his arms before throwing him across the paper strewn surface.
"Duo," he choked out, clearing his throat to get rid of the lump that had suddenly formed. "What..." Duo interrupted him before he could finish his question and ask why the other man was there.
"I came to take you to lunch, Heero. I wanted to see you and I won’t take no for an answer." Duo stood, feet planted and arms folded, an adorable look of determination on his handsome features. He was conservatively dress for a change, apparently having just come from class. He was wearing a pair of loose-fitting jeans and a black t-shirt, and Heero thanked God that he had forsaken his more accustomed attire. If he’d been able to see any more of Duo’s creamy flesh, Heero knew that he’d be unable to resist. As it was, he was barely finding the strength to stick to his resolve. He leaned back in his chair, trying to appear calm as he glanced down at his desk, unable to look the braided man in the eyes.
"I can’t right now, Duo. I’m really very busy," he finished weakly, gesturing vaguely to the mess of paper on his desk. Duo huffed and leaned forward, bracing his hands on the worn piece of office furniture. Heero closed his eyes briefly as he caught a subtle whiff of Duo’s aftershave.
"Well, when will you have time, Heero? I’ve been calling you for the last few days but haven’t heard back from you. What, is your answering machine broken?"
"I guess I thought that you would be too busy with your sculpture to see me, so..." Heero glanced up, wincing as Duo glared at him with angrily narrowed eyes.
"Alright, Heero, what the Hell is going on? Why have you been avoiding me? And don’t tell me you haven’t been. That’s bullshit."
Heero felt himself waver. If Duo was this upset, then it had to mean that he really cared, didn’t it? If he didn’t then it wouldn’t matter whether they saw each other or not. He started to wonder if maybe Duo hadn’t been as affected by their estrangement as he had been.
"I mean," Duo continued, "I really wanted to talk to you the other day. Zechs took me to dinner and told me that he really thinks I have promise. He saw the rough form of the sculpture and said that he’d definitely arrange for me to have a show once it’s finished. Zechs is a world famous art critic and it meant a lot to me for him to tell me that he loved my work. And, I really wanted to share it with you Heero because..."
The nervous stream of words halted as Heero abruptly pushed to his feet. He hadn’t heard anything after Duo’s words of praise for the gallery owner and had no desire to hear any more. He’d been right all along. Duo deserved Zechs. He deserved someone who could truly understand his creative drive, who spoke the same language. Heero knew that Duo must get tired of him preferring to watch his favorite soccer team on TV than to visit some exhibit at a museum. He must get annoyed with his plebian tastes and sometimes uncouth mannerisms.
No, this was definitely the right thing to do. Duo should have his opening and he should be with a man who could help him further his dreams.
"I’m sorry, Duo, but I don’t have time for this right now. I have too much to do. Maybe I can give you a call later or something."
Each word caused an almost visceral pain as he forced them past his lips. He looked askance at Duo and felt his chest tighten at the stunned look on Duo’s suddenly pale face. After a few, speechless moments, the braided man nodded and turned towards the door.
"No, Heero, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you. Never let it be said that Duo Maxwell couldn’t take a hint. I... I guess I’ll see you around."
As the door closed behind Duo, Heero mused absently about the strange way American’s had of saying goodbye. See you around. Was the entire country filled with hopeless optimists? Heero sat back at his desk, staring at the door until the sky faded to black and the last of the workers had left for the day. He continued to sit into the wee hours of the night, his soul silently crying in agony as he focused his eyes towards the last place he would ever see the man he loved.
The next week and a half had passed in a blur. Heero had done a fair job of pretending to be alive, though inside he was dying a little more each day. He would come to work early in the morning before sunup and refuse to leave before night had fallen, as though he could stop the ache in his heart by burying it under a ton of work. Eventually, his men had begun to notice, speaking softly when they were around him, since the littlest things would drive him into a furious, black temper. He drank his dinner more often than he ate it, falling into bed in a stupor, hoping that he might at last go an entire night without dreaming of his lost love. But Heero could find no such respite. Duo’s face haunted him, his sultry voice whispered in his ears, his touch brushed intangibly over him until his body screamed in denied frustration.
Heero knew that he was losing his mind but could discover no way to stop his descent into madness without Duo. He’d finally decided to resign himself to the inevitable when he’d found the innocuous envelope in his mailbox late one night. He’d started to toss it on his kitchen table with all of the other unopened bills when the return address caught his attention and made his gut wrench with shock. It had been an invitation to Duo’s opening at the Sanq gallery.
Suddenly, Heero could see himself clearly, how he’d let his formless, irrational fears lead him down the path of self-destruction. He looked around his wreck of an apartment, looked down at his wrinkled clothes and reached up with a hand to feel the unshaven stubble on his cheeks. He knew that his eyes were blood shot from too much sake and too little sleep. How had he come to this? How could he have been so stupid as to think that he could survive without Duo? Because he couldn’t. He realized that now. In a blinding flash of clarity, filled with the same determined conviction that had led him to push Duo away, Heero decided that he would get his lover back.
It didn’t matter how different their lives were or any of the other irrelevant banalities that he’d allowed to take override his sense of reason. He loved Duo. And, if Duo loved him even a little in return, then that was all the common ground they would ever need.
Heero refused to entertain any thoughts that Duo might not want him any more; that perhaps he had moved on. He wouldn’t stop trying until Duo told him to his face that it was over. That was the only way he would finally give up. If Duo was truly happier without him, then, somehow he would find a way to accept it and resolve himself to a lonely life without the man he loved. But, he had to at least try.
Feeling a presence standing over him, Heero glanced up and into Duo’s shadowed gaze. The partygoers continued to celebrate, but, apparently, Duo had managed to escape. Heero silently returned his gaze, knowing that he would be perfectly content to just be able to look at the other man forever. Duo shuffled and touched his tongue to his lips, drawing Heero’s riveted attention. Noticing the reaction he’d inadvertently caused, Duo flushed slightly and averted his eyes.
"Sorry about that. I tried to get away from Zechs and the others but I couldn’t until now." Heero unfolded himself and rose to his feet, noting with some satisfaction how Duo nervously backed away from the larger form that was suddenly crowding his personal space.
"It’s your opening. You should enjoy it." Just then, Heero felt as though he was being selfish. He didn’t want to ruin Duo’s triumph or his joy at finally fulfilling his most fervent desire. "This can wait until tomorrow. You should probably go back to your guests."
"No!" Duo glanced quickly over his shoulder, sighing in relief as he realized that his outburst hadn’t garnered any notice. "No," he continued more quietly, looking back towards the older man, "we need to talk now."
Heero took a deep breath. So this was it. Time to lay it all on the line. His future and, he prayed, Duo’s future depended on it. He nodded in agreement.
"Okay." He looked around, but was unable to find a private spot. He noticed Duo doing the same. "Where should we go?" he asked. "The back room?" He probably shouldn’t have mentioned the place, knowing the memories it held, but Heero couldn’t regret it when attractive color bloomed instantly in Duo’s cheeks. Duo glanced at him quickly, his eyes dark with hot recollections of the warehouse, before his eyes darted away.
"Um, no," Duo replied, his gaze fixed somewhere in the vicinity of Heero’s shoulder. His head came up slightly as he decided something. "Follow me."
Heero found himself being led through a small door towards the far side of the gallery. He hadn’t notice it the other two times he’d been there, both instances having found him too distracted by other things. The door led out into a beautiful garden, a manicured hedge separating it from the street, incongruously creating a peaceful, secluded alcove. There were a multitude of flowers in a riot of colors, lit discretely by hidden, indirect lighting. It was like stepping into another world and Heero was suitably amazed and impressed. The glass door closed behind them, shutting out the sound of the party.
"This is incredible," he said softly, loathe to break the quiet of the night, which was disturbed only by the gentle chirp of crickets. The flowers reminded him of the roses that were still clutched in his hand. He held them out and Duo accepted them without comment, save for a brief twitch of his lips.
"Zechs is really fond of gardens and he had this built for private viewing parties," Duo explained, as he examined the bouquet he held.
Heero felt the tension in his shoulders at the sound of Zechs’s name on Duo’s lips, but he refused to let himself be distracted by his hatred of the handsome man. If he hoped to have any chance of getting Duo back, he had to put such paltry feelings as jealousy aside. He’d realized during his days of depressed isolation, that his possessiveness meant that he didn’t trust Duo and Duo didn’t deserve that. He’d never done anything to give Heero any reason to think that he’d been unfaithful. For all of Duo’s brazenness with him, he’d never been even mildly flirtatious with other men he’d come into contact with. At least not that Heero was aware, and it wasn’t as if he really though that Duo snuck around, seeing men behind his back. That time in the gallery when he’d seen Duo with Zechs, all he’d seen was Zechs’s unreciprocated attempts to move in on his lover. Duo hadn’t responded besides with a, Heero now realized, startled, rather embarrassed blush at Zechs’s forwardness.
He looked over at Duo, noticing that the shorter man was deliberately looking everywhere but at him. Duo crossed his arms, grabbing them with his hands, and cleared his throat. Heero watched covetously as he worried his lower lips with even, white teeth. Resisting the urge to sooth the abused flesh with his tongue, he waited patiently for Duo to begin.
"So, um, I was really surprised to see you here tonight, Heero. I mean, I sent you the invitation, hoping that you would come, but I wasn’t sure you would. I’m very glad that you’re here. I wanted you to see the finished sculpture. What do you think? Do you like it? Everyone said they were impressed," he went on without waiting for Heero’s response.
"Can you believe how many people came to the opening? I wonder how many of them Zechs blackmailed." He laughed nervously. "I mean, I’m not all that good, right? I just like to paint and draw and stuff. Especially you, Heero. I really like to paint you..."
Heero interrupted the other man’s rambling by pressing a finger to his trembling lips. Duo still didn’t look at Heero but his eyelashes fluttered helplessly at the soft touch.
"Duo," he began. "You most definitely deserve all of this. You are so incredibly talented that I don’t even have the words to describe it. Don’t ever think that you aren’t worth everything you get, tonight and from this moment on." Duo closed his eyes, but Heero could see and feel the sudden curve of a self-conscious smile.
"But," he went on, "I didn’t come here to see your opening, as wonderful as it is. I came to see you, to talk about us. Duo, I just wanted to say that I..." He stopped as the other man turned away, jerking his lips away from Heero’s finger. The hands holding Duo’s arms gripped tighter, his knuckles turning white from the effort. Heero lowered his arm, his breath coming faster, terrified that his attempt at reconciliation had come too late. He waited for Duo to speak, his heart lodged painfully in his throat.
"H-Heero," Duo stuttered, "I k-know that we’re finished." The tremor that had begun in his shoulders was identified by the ill-concealed waiver in his voice. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say it, but I couldn’t keep it inside any longer. That night, after you posed for me and we were together and it was so unbelievably amazing, I couldn’t stop myself. I had to tell you how I felt, even though I knew it might frighten you away." Duo suddenly turned around, his amethyst eyes bright with unshed tears that gathered in anticipation on his long lashes, his hand clasped tightly around the long-stemmed flowers.
Heero felt off balance at the sight of the younger man’s distraught visage. During the course of their relationship, Duo had always been the more outgoing and assured of the two of them. It was Duo who had taken control, forcing Heero from his shell and prodding him out into the wonderful world of love. And now, it was as if their roles had been reversed, leaving Heero unsure of what to do. He suddenly realized that Duo used his cocksure attitude to hide his emotions and Heero grasped that he was the probably only person to see the full extent of his lover’s heart.
"I had to," Duo repeated in a voice gone husky with emotion. "If this is it, if it’s really over between us, Heero, then that’s okay. No," he said, shaking his head so that his thick braid moved fell over his shoulder. "No, it’s not okay, but I’ll just have to accept it, I guess. But please, Heero, please don’t say goodbye. If I have to watch you walk away, at least let me pretend that it isn’t forever. Let me pretend that I didn’t mess it all up. I want to remember you. I’ll always remember you. Every time I look at one of my paintings or that damned sculpture, I’ll be able to think about how much I love you. Because I do love you, Heero. I’m sorry if you don’t want to hear it, but it’s true.
"I love you."
Heero reached out for his lover just as the first tear slipped silently down Duo’s cheek. Duo stiffened in anxious surprise for the briefest of moments before he surrendered his fears and offered himself into his lover’s kiss. The long lonely weeks were readily forgotten as they came together with greedy lips, clutching hands, and hopeful hearts. For several, long moments, nothing existed for them but each other, the soft night air caressing them gently, eddying around them and binding them together. They held each other as close as possible given the annoying hindrance of clothing and publicity. And, when the need for air finally drove them apart, they held on even tighter, Duo resting his forehead against Heero’s warm neck while Heero laid his cheek atop Duo’s shining hair.
"I love you too, Duo." How easily the words came to him now. If only he’d spoken them long ago, they might have been spared the many days of uncertainty and regret. "I’ve always loved you. From the moment we first met, no, from the very first time I saw you, you took my breath away. I will always love you. Until the day I die, my heart is yours."
Duo’s slender body shuddered silently and Heero felt renewed wetness against his skin. Deceptively slight arms wrapped even more fiercely around his waist and he responded with calming strokes along the other man’s back.
"I want to be with you forever," he whispered, his oath witnessed by the velvet darkness.
"Do you promise?" Duo choked. He lifted his tear-stained face, letting his eyes meet Heero’s loving gaze. A gentle smile bloomed on his quivering lips. "Do you promise that you’ll always be there to pose for me?"
Heero chuckled, a profound relief making him feel so light he was surprise his feet were still touching the ground. He bent his head down and kissed the tip of Duo’s wet nose.
"I do," he answered, "as long as you promise never to ask anyone else." Duo laughed in turn and, raising his face, pressed his lips against Heero’s.
"Deal," he said.
No more words were needed or spoken. A toast rang out from inside the gallery, cheering Duo and his burgeoning career. But the two lovers heard none of it, content lose themselves to each other’s embrace while the moon basked them in her bright approval.