Disclaimer: Don't own anything.

Pairings 1+2, 1X1,2X2
Warnings : yaoi, AU, slight angst, sappy...?

Authors notes: This is my first AU fic, and it will be quite long, chock full of romance, and probably a lemon. I got the idea for this in my college fiction workshop class for this semester. We are doing the "Exquisite Corpse" (don't let the title fool you- it has nothing to do with human corpses!) project just like I describe in the story, and as soon as my professor told us about it, my brain started racing with the thought of how cool the concept could be when applied to a 1x2x1 story. I hope you enjoy!

Love Before First Sight
by Mara
Part 1

~~~~~~~~~~Monday Afternoon

Duo Maxwell broke into a run when he finally reached the spacious quad that separated many of the buildings on his college's campus. It was a gorgeous day, both warm and breezy, and even though he wasn't late for class, he wanted to run just to feel the air and sunlight on his skin and in his long hair. He reveled in the pleasant feeling, for however short a time it lasted.

All too soon, he came to the end of the park area of the university grounds and approached the English department building. It was here that he had Fiction Workshop class in the afternoon on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. A crowd of other students were gathering near the entrance, and some of them watched Duo with interest as he marched up to the door. Duo had just started his freshman year in college, and even though less than a week had gone by since the start of classes, he knew some of the other kids had already decided they didn't like him. He had done nothing to earn their disrespect, but had heard many comments behind his back about his long hair. He had seen the obvious looks of distaste and superiority that scores of boys his age were throwing him.

It was all exactly the same as it had been in his home town during high school. The girls were always fawning over him, admiring his slim body, his cheerful and handsome face, and the long braid of chestnut hair that reached down to his hips. They all seemed to like him because of his looks, and he had honestly tried to like some of them back. It had never worked; he always found the girls superficial and only interested in him because, as he'd heard them put it, he was the "prettiest boy in school." None of them ever made an effort to really get to know him. Duo even found that when they made sexual advances at him, he could never return the sentiment. He wasn't sure why, but knew that the thought of being with any of his female pursuers did not turn him on at all.

Duo never had an official girlfriend all through high school, though all the girls had continued to chase him relentlessly. Even the ones who had boyfriends were not shy about flirting with him in public.

For this reason, the guys in high school had always been envious of Duo and decided that making fun of him was the only way to staunch their own insecurities. Through it all, Duo had somehow remained cheerful. Now that he was in college, Duo had hoped from the bottom of his heart that things would be different. He wanted to secure some real friendships, to find some people who shared his interests and would look past the perfect face and body that everyone seemed to see on the outside. Duo was also anxious to find himself a significant other. He had started using that term when the realization hit him during his senior year of high school that he might not be straight. He wasn't sure if he was attracted to boys, because he'd never met a boy who had affected him in a sexual way. Then again, he also never met a girl whom he felt this way about, so Duo was unsure what to picture when he tried to imagine what his perfect lover would look like.

Because of his confusion, Duo had never even been kissed, though he'd had to push away quite a few unwanted advances for a kiss. He had never masturbated until about a year earlier, when he'd unexpectedly woken up in the middle of the night with an erection. It had happened to him a few times before, but he usually ignored the reaction. That time, however, he decided to try touching himself and see how it felt. He had started stroking his arousal tentatively at first, figuring out what felt the best. Duo found that he didn't need to picture any "perfect lover" when he masturbated, and that he could come quite easily just from the sensations that touching his sensitive cock produced.

Duo had chosen to go to a college somewhat far away from his hometown, so he lived in a dorm on campus. His roommate, a freshman named Quatre Winner, luckily turned out to be a very nice guy. He was somewhat quiet, but was a good listener and had a great sense of humor. Quatre had been one of the few good things about Duo's move to college; he could already tell that they were going to be good friends. Duo wondered at first why Quatre hadn't joined the scores of other boys who instantly scorned him for "stealing" the attentions of every girl imaginable, but soon found out the reason for this. Quatre was definitely more sure of his sexual preferences than Duo, and told Duo almost immediately that he was only interested in boys. Duo was worried that he might have gained yet another rabid fan when Quatre reassured him. He said that although he certainly thought Duo was attractive, he wasn't really his type.

Aside from Quatre, Duo had not made any friends yet. He only joined one club on campus, and that was the martial arts club. Some of the boys in that club had been friendly to him at first, but most had become jealous when all of the few girls in the club immediately latched onto him. He was hoping that more time at the school would quiet the girls' interest when they realized that he didn't want any of them. Or perhaps he would find someone he wanted to be with, and *then* they would take a hint and leave him alone. Duo tried to be optimistic, but somehow he didn't think they would give up. They never had before.

He couldn't help thinking about this as he walked into the English building and received the envious and distasteful stares of a few guys, not to mention the lustful stares of quite a few more girls.

He walked up two flights of stairs and came to his class for the afternoon: Fiction Workshop.

Duo liked Dr. Granger- the teacher for this course- relatively well. He was about fifty, with gray hair, a long and hooked nose, and glasses. So far, he'd presented himself as a teacher who was open to letting his students experiment with any kind of writing that interested them. That was good for Duo, because he liked to try different kinds of fictional stories. Writing had become his escape and his favorite hobby, and he hoped one day to publish some of his short stories.

It was Monday, and Duo expected that class would start with a usual reading and critique of one of his classmate's latest stories. Dr. Granger quickly made it clear that he had something else planned.

"Before we start, I want to tell you all about a new project we'll be doing in here for the duration of the semester."

There were a few soft groans and expressions of despair at the sound of the word 'project,' but Duo was somewhat eager to hear what the assignment was about.

"This is something that we will be doing in conjunction with one of Professor Solway's photography classes. Have any of you heard of an assignment called 'The Exquisite Corpse?'"

Most students looked disgusted with the title, and all of them shook their heads.

"Good," Dr. Granger said. "Then it will be new for everyone. It's pretty simple, but will allow you a lot of creative possibilities. The project will start on Wednesday when you come into class and receive a photograph that your partner in Professor Solway's photo class will have taken especially for you. It could be an image of anything at all, and she has also instructed her students to be creative and try some unusual things. Like I said, I will give you the photos that your partners took during our Wednesday class, and then you will write something as a response to it. Your response can be absolutely anything you want, and any length that you want. It can be prose or poetry, or even just lines of character dialogue if that's what you feel would work best. It will be your job to look at the image your partner provides you with and give them your creative reaction to it in any form you want. You can go off on any kind of tangent you want. For example... if your partner sends you a picture of a fire truck, and that makes you think- 'The color red reminds me of roses, my favorite flower,' then write a poem about roses. That's a trite example, but I think you get the idea. You can create any piece of writing that the photo inspires you to."

There were murmurs of interest at this, and Duo was also impressed with how the project sounded so far.

"When you write something to express your reaction to your photo, it will be delivered to your partner in the photography class for the next day. They will take another picture in response to your writing, and you will receive the second photo in our class on Friday. You will write another response, and we'll continue on with this cycle for the rest of the semester. At the end, you will each make a big portfolio of the pieces that you and your partner in the photo class exchanged."

A girl raised her hand, and Dr. Granger called on her.

"Do we get to pick our partners?" she asked. "I have a friend in one of Professor Solway's photo classes..."

"That's the other catch," Dr. Granger interrupted. "It will all be secret; you won't know who your partner is. And don't go around trying to figure out who it is. The point of the Exquisite Corpse project is to be openly creative and react genuinely to the photos that Professor Solway's students will send you. That spontaneous creativity could be jeopardized if you know who you are writing to." He smiled. "You will, however, have a chance to meet your partner at the end of the semester. We will have one combined meeting with the photography class where you will find out your partner's identity and be able to discuss the work you two did together."

He explained that each student would be given a single letter to identify themselves for the duration of the project. A student in the photo class would have the same letter as each of them, and the partners would be randomly selected that way.

"All right, now I'm going to go around and assign each of you a letter designation."

He started on the right side of the room and gave each student a letter.

"Duo, you will be 'E.'"

Duo nodded and wrote the letter on the top of his notebook page, just in case he forgot.

"You will refer to yourself as your letter plus the number two," Dr. Granger explained. "A-2, B-2, et cetera. You will put your writing pieces in a special envelope that you and your partner will share. I will not look in the envelopes while the project is going on, and neither will Professor Solway. We want this to be a total creative exchange, without any guidance from us."

He smiled at the pleased reactions of the whole class, and went on.

"The students in her class will also have a letter to represent themselves, plus the number one. So, if your designation is A-2, you want to be sure to grab the photo marked A-1 each time we get our stuff from the photo class. All right?"

Duo couldn't help feeling glad for this assignment; it seemed like fun and in his opinion was actually a very creative concept. Today was Monday, and at Wednesday's class, he would get his first picture from the photography student who got the designation E-1. He honestly couldn't wait, and wondered what kind of image the random student would give him to work with.

~~~~~~~~~~Tuesday - Photography class

Heero Yuy listened attentively as Professor Solway explained the Exquisite Corpse project to the class. She told them they would be the ones to start off the creativity exchange by taking a picture and developing it as soon as possible for delivery to the partnering writing class. Thoughts of what he might photograph flashed through Heero's mind, but he could think of nothing exactly right.

Though he was a freshman, Heero had been placed in this higher level photography class when Professor Solway took a look at his portfolio. It contained some of his best work, and she had instantly been impressed. Photography was Heero's major, and he took it very seriously. Unlike other students who used such classes as time off from what they called "real school work," Heero spent huge amounts of time trying to come up with interesting new ideas for his photography. Then, when he was in the process of developing the film, he liked to play with different effects that could distort and enhance the images within. He liked to create various surreal effects with his photography. Nothing gave Heero more joy than when someone could understand the passion he put into creating and altering images he shot, though usually they did not. Each one was taken and changed with a specific emotion in mind, and though Heero loved to express himself this way, few ever seemed to understand the meaning behind each of his pictures. He wasn't sure whether Professor Solway had understood him when she first looked at his portfolio, but she had let him in this higher level class, and that was all that mattered to Heero.

Heero was something of a loner. He had tried many times to enjoy social gatherings like parties which involved a lot of people, but had quickly found that he was not meant to be a very outgoing person. He stuck with photography and his other hobbies, and limited his friends to the few who also shared these interests. He was currently single, and had been for the better part of a year. Heero's years in high school had found him to be somewhat popular with the girls his age, and he had dated a couple of them. Nothing serious had ever developed because Heero had tended to want his girlfriends for companionship or friendship rather than sexual reasons.

It had been almost two years ago when Heero just discovered the power that photography could have, and he figured that if anyone should want to understand him and his work with photography, it would be his girlfriend. He quickly learned he was wrong when more than one girlfriend left him in a huff after finding out that he would rather spend time in the dark room developing pictures than spend time making out with her.

Heero was obviously hurt by the nature of these rejections, but it only hardened his resolve that if he were going to have a relationship with someone, it must be because they liked him for who he was and how he liked to express himself rather than simple physical attraction.

Heero's perception of sexuality itself had even changed during his senior year of high school. During the occasional wet dream that he had, Heero would find himself starting to imagine boys. At first he found these dreams terribly embarrassing, especially because he was sure the kind of boy he pictured was not something even most homosexual men thought of. He had always thought that long hair on girls was exceptionally beautiful, and when Heero fell into a wet dream, he found himself imagining a boy with amazingly long hair. He could never picture facial features on the face of his dream lover, but the body was always slim and willowy, and he never failed to imagine endless streams of long hair on his fantasy. The image was the slightest bit feminine but yet so decidedly masculine that after having many of these dreams, Heero was sure that he wasn't straight.

He started to think of this dream lover when he masturbated, and found himself coming with much more intensity when he imagined himself making love to the fey, long haired creature.

Heero had been hoping that he might find a boy he was interested in during his first year of college. So far, he had been disappointed. He wasn't expecting to find the embodiment of his every dream, but none of the boys he met on campus interested him very much.

He was now hoping that this new project in photo class would provide him with something of a challenge, and so far he was slightly interested in the idea of a creative collaboration with a unknown student.

He realized that Professor Solway was just finishing her explanation of the project to the class.

"Since Dr. Granger's class needs these pictures for tomorrow, I suggest you go out right now and find a good subject for your one photo. I need them in their respective envelopes and on my desk by one o'clock tomorrow afternoon." Professor Solway looked liked she'd forgotten something important as the students stood up to leave. Suddenly she called,

"Oh, wait! I told you about this, but I forgot to do it. You each need a letter designation to correspond with your random partners."

She went around quickly and assigned them a letter. When she got around to Heero, Professor Solway told him that he'd be 'E.' Heero nodded and walked outside to start thinking about the possibilities of photo subjects.

He began to walk through the university's huge quad, hoping against hope that there would not be too many people around to disturb his thoughts. He clutched his camera tightly, pressing his fingers against the sides of it as he took long strides forward, as though willing the camera to give him an idea. The professor had said the first photo should be meaningful, and not something totally random. She wanted them to give their unknown partners in Dr. Granger's Fiction Workshop class a powerful image to start off the project, something that would get them thinking. This instruction was especially not lost on Heero, who put part of himself into every photo he took, whether it was for school or just for enjoyment.

Heero's wish for quiet was instantly dispelled when he heard two people arguing just ahead of him. He couldn't see them yet, as a few huge oak trees obscured his view, but he could hear that one of the voices was female and the other was male.

'Great,' he thought gruffly. 'A couple fighting.'

Heero kept moving forward, but did so now with a little more caution. He tried to step more quietly to keep them from hearing his approach. He had no idea what he was doing, but continued to advance.

"No!" The unseen girl cried out. "I don't *want* to end it! We can work things out like we always do, Brian!"

"No, we can't," the boy insisted. "This relationship has been bad from the beginning. You know that!"

"But... I love you! Don't you understand that?"

There was no reply from the boy, but then Heero heard the sound of retreating footsteps.

'Coward,' Heero thought. Though he didn't know why, Heero took the one last step that would put him in a place where he could watch the scene. He placed himself carefully behind one of the oak trees and peeked over.

The guy had indeed run off, and a tall blonde haired girl was left standing there alone. She had one hand reaching out for her retreating lover, and the other was plastered over her mouth in a pose of disbelief. A moment later, tears began streaming down her face.

Without thinking, Heero brought the camera up to his face and centered the shot. He snapped a picture quickly, realizing that the girl didn't yet see him. When she seemed to realize that her boyfriend was not going to return, she slumped to the ground and drew her knees up to her chest, still crying uncontrollably. Again, Heero snapped a picture without thinking.

He quietly left the scene a moment later. The taking of those two pictures had certainly been an impulse, and though Heero felt a little guilty for spying on someone, he now thought he had a use for the shots. Ideas for an alteration of the two images were already coursing through Heero's mind, and he hurried back to the photo lab to begin work on his first piece for the Exquisite Corpse project.

~~~~~~~~~~Wednesday - Fiction Workshop class

The moment that class started, Duo felt himself squirming in his chair. He had been thinking about the Exquisite Corpse project all morning, and was anxious to see the kind of picture that 'E-1' had given him to write about.

Unfortunately, Dr. Granger decided to start class with the usual agenda. For the first hour of class, they discussed a short story that one of the student's had written for his final writing portfolio. Duo tried to contribute to the discussion as they all offered compliments and criticism of the certain boy's work, but he found himself glancing at the clock every few minutes.

When Duo thought he could wait no longer, Dr. Granger finally reached into his briefcase and pulled out a stack of large, manila envelopes.

"Inside are the photos the photography students have taken to start out our project," he announced, holding the stack up high. "I want you to spend the rest of class writing your answer to the pictures in the form of poetry, prose... whatever you think would be best. Remember, it can be as long or short as you want. And I don't want you to simply write out a factual description of the photo you get. Be creative. Think about how the picture makes you feel, and write whatever comes to mind. You can go off on any kind of tangent you want." He smiled at them. "Like I said, be creative. When you finish writing your response, you can leave class."

He spread the large envelopes over his desk and the students went up to look for theirs. Duo spied the envelope labeled E and brought it quickly back to his desk. He pulled out the single photo, which was blown up to an 8X11 size.

The image was actually two photos which had been double printed on the same piece of paper, and both shots were of the same, college aged girl. On the left side of the picture, she was standing with one hand outstretched, obviously reaching for a person or begging them to come back towards her. The girl's other hand was pressed flat against her face and part of her mouth as though she were in deep shock or disbelief. Her cheeks were flushed, and Duo could clearly see that she was crying.

The photographer had taken two shots of her and printed them on the same photo, so there was another image of the crying girl just next to the first one.

In this shot, she was sitting on the ground with her knees pulled up to her chin. She had one arm partially covering her face, and the other hung limply at her side. There was the shadow of a tree over her cheek, but Duo could still see her tears quite clearly.

When Duo looked closely, he could see that the photographer had taken some kind of blue coloring ink and spread it thinly down the lines of the girl's tears. It made the physical proof of her sadness stand out even more in contrast to the picture's other elements.

The whole image spoke of despair and the loss of something of great importance. Duo was instantly touched by it.

While other kids were already scribbling their responses to the pictures they'd gotten, Duo just stared at his.

It was too sad. He thought he could tell by the angle and distance of the shot that the person taking it hadn't wanted the crying girl to know she was being watched. In other words, the image was candid, certainly not fake. It was perfect, and the double image showed a progression of movement and emotion that was shockingly human. The picture was simply beautiful, but just too sad for words. Duo realized that was a pretty accurate description, because he had no idea what kind of words he would compose in answer to the photo's challenge of emotion.

He sneaked a glance at the photos that kids sitting around him had received, and was somehow not surprised to see his was the only one which seemed to delve so deeply into the mind of it's photographer. Other students held pictures of trees, of smiling teens- probably the friends of the photographer- or of random objects like buildings, cats and dogs, or shots taken from the window of someone's dorm room. None were like Duo's, which so freely gave a look at a part of human emotion. He was touched by it and felt honored to be the one who ended up partnered with 'E-1.' He wondered whether E-1 was really sad about something or whether the subject of the of the photo had simply intrigued them. Duo was inclined to think the first was true, and that his unknown partner was dragged down by a sadness which had inspired the melancholy image. Believing that, Duo felt like he was already being shown something forbidden and intimate in the person's existence. How would he feel about meeting E-1 when the project was over?

As such, Duo was a bit apprehensive about formulating a reply. He started to think that no idea of his own could match the sentiment of that photo, but instantly told himself that was ridiculous.

'Just do what the photographer did,' he though suddenly. 'You were touched by the piece or work, right? Go with your feelings and whatever you do will be just as genuine.'

He thought for another long minute before finally putting something down on paper:

"I realize that I have never lived. Equally: never been loved enough for happy tears, never been hurt enough to fall on my knees and sob. I have no doubt that I could give that to someone- the tears of happiness- if I would be allowed to. What device I would use to inspire that happiness, I could not say. I do not know, but with that same whole hearted effort, I would keep the other kind- tears of despair- away. There is one requirement for this kind of love... (But I'm alone; people must find it too hard to comply with.) I wish to be loved as well. But is there a person who is incapable of hurting someone else? I would give every part of myself to and for them. I could not accept less in return. I have never cried those tears of ultimate despair, but if I did, I would never stop. That is what I fear, the only thing I fear. If there is only one person in the world who is incapable of hurting, of breaking a heart, of leaving... that one person was put here to be with me."

Duo looked over what he had written and realized that the short bit of writing was from his own heart. He hadn't been just writing a response to E-1's photograph. Duo had taken the photographer's own emotion and explained how it related to him... in a very intimate and personal way. When he wrote stories or poems for his classes, Duo usually liked to experiment with writing from the perspective of a narrator or character that was most decidedly not himself. But this time, he'd unintentionally used his own voice. He read the lines again and knew there was no word within them which did not express his feelings.

For a moment Duo wondered if he should send something so obviously personal to someone who didn't know him. He glanced at the picture he'd been sent and stared closely at the girl within it.

No, he had to send the piece of writing, exactly as it was. It was genuine, something Duo had thought of off the top of his head, and he didn't want to change one word of it. It did, however, seem to be a bit incomplete. Taking a deep breath, Duo wrote down one last thing at the end, the first thought that entered his mind:

"Love, for me, can only possibly happen once."

He was about to sign his name to the bottom of the paper, but quickly remembered that he couldn't.

"From E-2," he wrote in block letters on the last line.

Duo put the sheet of paper in it's manila envelope with the letter E stamped on the front and placed it on Dr. Granger's desk as he left the class. He felt a bit uneasy about baring himself so completely(1) to his unknown partner, but also couldn't wait to see what E-1 would come up with as a response. Duo couldn't believe he had to wait two whole days to find out.

~~~~~~~~~~Thursday - Photography class

Heero had almost forgotten about the Exquisite Corpse project by the time class started on Thursday. He went immediately to the photo lab to finish developing some old prints when one of his classmates stopped him.

He heard the voice of Trowa Barton, a boy in his photo class(2), from down the hall.

"Heero! Did you forget? Professor Solway wants us to look at the pieces of writing that our partners sent back. We're supposed to meet in the photo classroom today."

Heero frowned; he was starting to feel apprehensive about the project. Most people didn't understand his photos, so why should he assume that a random student would? He grumbled to himself, thinking that he almost didn't want to see what some stupid English major(3) thought of his work. Probably, they found it depressing and had sent him a flowery poem that had nothing to do with it in an attempt to change the emotional direction of the project. He grudgingly went back to the photo classroom to see what he had been given.

Professor Solway called out their letter designations, and Heero went up to get the E envelope when she held it up. He sighed heavily and reached inside. He expected to simply skim through the work, but the first sentence caught his attention immediately.

"I realize that I have never lived."

Heero felt his eyebrows raise in surprise as he read on. With every following line, he realized that he'd been wrong to judge the project so quickly. Whoever E-2 was, they had obviously understood the seriousness of his photo. Even more clearly, the person had been touched by it. The words before Heero's eyes were screaming with understanding. He read it again, and then again, feeling like he was reading a letter from it's writer that was addressed only to him.

He caught himself on that one; the writer was asking to be *loved,* after all. Yet it was so personal that Heero couldn't help feeling that the words were meant only for him.

Heero finally put down the piece of writing and stared at the classroom floor. He had sent E-2 an open sentiment that reflected his mind, and his partner had responded with a piece that just as clearly reflected his or her own self. Heero did not question for a moment that the words were genuine; they seemed to him too heartfelt and personal sounding to be work of a fictional voice, however good the writer might be.

Suddenly his mood had improved, and the Exquisite Corpse project was the only photo assignment he wanted to work on at the moment. He glanced around the classroom and saw that the other students were still reading and considering the work of their unknown partners. He raised his hand and Professor Solway acknowledged him.

"Can I start working on this right now? I think I have a good idea for something to send in return."

"Sure, Heero. Go ahead." The professor looked genuinely pleased that Heero had taken such a quick interest in the project. Heero heard her announce to the rest of the class that they could also get started on a response if they had been inspired by the work of their partners. Then he was out of the door in two seconds, ready to create something new.

Heero now wanted to test the reactions he could get from his partner. He was excited, and even though he loved photography, Heero couldn't ever remember feeling so elated about someone seeing his work. He felt now like he could do whatever he wanted, could express wished, and E-2 would give him a heartfelt and serious response. Heero wanted to show his partner some other aspect of his mind with his next photo, and would wait anxiously to see if the unknown writer could again understand him. The possibilities overwhelmed him.

In-story notes:
(1) Not his body! His emotions, you hentai! ^_^
(2) Trowa likes taking pictures? ...of what?!? That's a future hentai possibility if I ever saw one! *evil grin*
(3) Oops. I just insulted myself.

on to part 2

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