Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, wish I did, just enjoy writing about ‘em for free etc
Pairings: 1x2, 3+4
Category: AU, romance
Warnings: Yaoi, lemon
Word count: 91,970
Notes: Duo Maxwell had a glowing future ahead of him, a young man full of talent and a lust for life; but it was all slipping through his fingers. Heero Yuy already had the successful life; but was struggling to enjoy it to the full. Neither knew what to do to change things; to find what they were missing. But then, neither of them had met the other yet.
Written for gwyaoi’s OTP Novella Challenge 2004.
With *huge* hugs for Steph’s invaluable beta-ing, and title suggestion!
Also, with my usual apologies for any poor research – all errors are mine own!
Feedback: If you liked it, PLEASE let me know!
“Sooo… whaddya think it is?” The thin, pretty girl with the spiky hair leant her head to one side and peered at the giant canvas on the wall in front of her. “Funny title – 4:0045. There’s all that blue – and the green spots. Can’t see anythin’ properly…”
“’S a metaphor, yeah?” replied her friend. He pushed the thin wire glasses up his nose, and squeezed at her arm, in sympathy for her ignorance.
“Metaphor – a symbol for somethin’ else.”
“Sooo… ‘s not a thing then? Like a pet? Like his house?”
“Christ, Jo, y’are so not in tune with art! This ain’t paint-by-numbers. This guy is angry, y’know? He’s yellin’ at us – he’s demandin’ we stand up and be counted! It’s a comment on the c’mplexity of modern socialism – on the diversity of p’litical issues in the context of failing economic standards and the rav’ges of war –“
Jo felt a soft hand at her shoulder, and she turned to see bright blue eyes staring at her. They flickered to her companion, then back to her. She saw a cute nose crinkling in amused distaste; chestnut hair brushed away from a wide brow. She registered it was a guy, and she ran her eyes quickly down a tall, slender, muscular body, dressed in a wickedly brief, vivid blue vest, and skin-tight leather pants. He looked like one of the art students; perhaps one of the caterers. Who cares? she thought, with a rush of excitement that went straight to her head. The leather pants on the long, lean thighs were compellingly gorgeous – dammit, gushed her next thought, so was he! Then he spoke to her, in a low, easy voice.
“It’s a picture of my last hangover, actually – uh – Jo, isn’t it? That’s the time I got thrown out of the bar. The main thing is, though – do you like it?”
“It’s cool,” she nodded, feeling a flush high up on her cheeks. “Bright. Bold. Makes me feel sorta tingly –“
Her companion made a snorting sound.
But the blue-eyed guy didn’t seem annoyed at her naiveté – rather, he nodded back, and his expression widened with pleasure. He glanced again at her friend, and then turned deliberately to face her. “Sooo, Jo,” he drawled. “I dunno who the patronising prat is on your arm, but I think we’ve both listened to more pretentious twaddle tonight than either of us deserves – wouldn’t you agree?”
There was a brief moment of shocked silence.
The mystery guy grinned, and pressed his hand back on the girl’s shoulder. “You wanna talk feeling tingly – call me, OK? Number’s with the blond guy at the front desk.”
“Now wait up! – Aren’t you –“ spluttered Jo’s friend. His glasses bounced on his nose, awkwardly. He waved the brochure in his hand towards the other guy’s face; it was folded open at the publicity photo of someone.
“Yeah,” smiled the guy. “I am. So get over it! Enjoy the exhibition!”
And he’d gone, weaving back into the crowd.
“He’s –“ came another splutter from the young man. “Didn’t you see, f’God’s sake? He’s -!”
Jo wasn’t really listening. She stared at her friend instead, and wondered exactly why she thought she’d liked him in the first place. He never listened to her, he talked too much himself, and when he did talk, he really was a prat! It wasn’t as if he had anything going for him in the looks department, either, as some kinda compensation for having the charisma of a clothes peg…
And then the call for hush came from the gallery director, and the chattering around the room slowly ceased.
“Ladies and gentlemen – your attention please? This is the opening night of the gallery, as I’m sure you all know –“ Polite laughter from around the room. “I’m sure we can already see that this will be the first event of many - that this brave but thrilling venture will have a glorious future ahead of it! It is supported, of course, by the brilliant family whose name it bears – the two incandescently talented brothers, who bring some of their own pieces for us here tonight, to hang amongst some pretty prestigious company.” Eyes wandered round the room; murmurs of appreciation followed.
“Unfortunately, the older brother is unable to join us tonight – a European tour, you understand!” More murmurs; heads nodding. “But let’s just raise a glass, in amongst all this fun, to the younger of those two inspired young men, who is already making quite a mark in the art world, and is sure to become as famous and as respected as his brother, and who is – most luckily! – here with us tonight! Indeed, he has favoured us with the best pieces of his recent work on these walls, and one of the main aims of this gallery is to become a show place for his own collection.”
There was some light clapping.
Jo heard the quiet buzz around her.
“They say he’s a charming kid – “
“…exciting talent, exciting ideas…”
“He designed this whole show himself, y’know?…”
The gallery director’s speech resumed. “So we welcome the latest addition to the art world, another of this famous family, and wish him more of the success and praise that he already commands. And – of course! – we look forward to his coming season of new works, and many more following that!”
More clapping – more enthusiasm now. A couple of whistles from the more bohemian of the guests.
“Ladies and gentlemen – Duo Maxwell!”
At the back of the room, an entranced Jo stared at the tall, handsome young man who moved quickly to stand beside the director; whose unconventionally long, braided chestnut hair swung heavily behind his back, brushing at those same leather jeans that she’d earlier admired.
He stood with the same swaggering confidence that he’d shown before; waved the same hand that had settled firmly on her shoulder as he spoke. And he gazed around the room with the same bright blue eyes that had teased her earlier, full of the same amusement. As she stared, open-mouthed, he caught her eye.
And he winked at her.
Two young men and a young woman stood outside the entrance of a building that had just been sold, and stared up it. It had a visually stunning façade; wide, high windows; cool, pale brick walls. The upper storey had a single picture window spanning the whole front of the building; it embraced the sunlight like a welcome lover. Downstairs, there were the remnants of shop fittings and demonstration materials, showing that it had once been busy with visitors of one kind or another. There were a couple of broken chairs; a single bulb still intact in a modern light fitting set into the ceiling. There was a mounted board that stretched across all of one wall – hanging precariously from only one corner’s fastening, now.
At the back, there was a door through to other rooms; to the upstairs apartment. The door was ajar.
It was all viewed through dusty windows; all viewed past derisive graffiti on those same pale walls.
The woman peered distastefully through the nearest window. “It’s in an appalling state,” she said. She was almost model-thin, with a gauntness to her face that proclaimed her figure was hard-won rather than natural. She had perfectly coiffured blond hair – a designer suit and shoes. Her eyes were sharp, intelligent – and cynical. She sounded as if she’d made up her mind even before arriving. “I can’t see what use it’s going to be to the Corporation.”
The taller of the two men turned to look at her. “Malia, you’ve read the documents as well as I; as indeed have the three sets of lawyers. Please don’t imply I’m a fool. We want the access – and we need the opportunity to expand the current operations. That means we need this side of the street as well. This whole block is perfect for our purposes. This unit has obviously been totally neglected, but it can be redecorated – it’s basically sound.”
“But the Corporation’s never considered a gallery, Heero. Why don’t we convert it into another set of offices? Legal Services needs some new space – “
The man beside her cleared his throat. He didn’t need to do any more. Malia Trent flushed a deep pink – he was the only man she’d ever known who could do that to her, outside of orgasm – and her mouth pursed shut.
“It was built as a gallery – it’s perfect for its purpose. I’m not one to pass that up, Malia. You know my opinions on waste. I have an art collection – this can be a promotional showroom for it; a frontispiece for Media Services. We’ll use it for the entertainment of clients, and for presentation events. That – of course – is your particular department.”
It wasn’t that he was asking her opinion. The decision had already been made.
Malia sneaked a look through her false lashes at her boss. He was young; probably mid-twenties – but no-one would ever have accused him of being immature. Heero Yuy was a fairly private person – but his name and reputation were known to anyone who followed the financial papers. In his early teens, he’d become the sole heir to a large trust fund, set up when his wealthy parents died, and the tabloid press had waited hungrily to see how this rich young child would fritter it away. However, his lawyers had appointed him an eminently sensible financial advisor, and although Heero Yuy had left school at the earliest opportunity, he’d moved swiftly into employment, to learn about commerce.
He showed an astonishing aptitude and determination, and had been promoted as the youngest Board Director of the firm where he trained. Over the next few years, he was one of the youngest traders on the Exchange; the youngest man to manage a successful acquisition of a publicly quoted corporation; the youngest man to make a million dollar fortune from his personal portfolio. Everyone admitted that he had an amazing talent that was beyond his years. The trust fund remained substantial, and well invested.
He was self-controlled, in both business and his personal life. There was no scandal in his young life – there was no controversy. Business rivals both hated and feared him, and even though he was still young, they underestimated him at their peril. When they sold to him, or negotiated with him, they knew that the compensation they’d receive would be commercially fair, but very aggressively priced.
And as an employer? He was often cool to the point of coldness – could be hard to the point of harshness. Again, he was not to be underestimated. He paid extremely well – but he expected 24/7 commitment, much as he gave himself. His decisions were rational and carefully measured, but he was fair to his staff; he’d listen to feedback and reasonable suggestions. His business instincts had been proven to be accurate, time and again; so his people stayed with him. As a result, most of them had the experience of their lives.
Malia could only guess at his personal wealth, for no-one in the company came near to those details. And he was bloody hot! she thought. Wore his designer clothes like they’d been tailored solely for him. Tall, tight body – limbs that moved like liquid steel. His skin was dusky, with the shine of excellent health; his hair was dark, cut beautifully, but still a shaggy, sexy mass on his forehead. And he had such incredible eyes! A mixture of deep blue and purple; dark pupils that reflected the subject, but never exposed the watcher. They were fabulous even when they were like flints, as they were now. Yeah… he was gorgeous! she sighed to herself. She felt the familiar flush in her groin, and fought it down. She wondered – as she often did – why she never saw him with the same girl for more than a month or so. Wasn’t he dating that supermodel at the moment? Internationally famous – supernaturally thin. Malia Trent seethed with jealousy.
Half of her was damned glad that Heero Yuy had never made a pass at her. The other half lay awake at nights, tempting her with erotic dreams of what she might have expected if he had.
“The Maxwell Gallery,” murmured the third member of the group, a young man who had been hovering behind her.
Heero Yuy turned to the pale, blond man, and focussed his eyes on him. “Do you see a sign there, Tony?”
“N – no,” Tony stammered. “Sorry, Mr Yuy. That’s just what everyone knows it as –” He hopped from one foot to another; paler than ever, and wishing that he could lie down and melt into the pavement, to escape that glare. Which was worse, he thought miserably – Malia’s acidic tongue-lashing, or Mr Yuy’s cool contempt? Not for the first time, Tony wished he’d taken a different choice at college, and stayed at home to run the family business. Might have stood more chance of living to see his twentieth birthday.
But Heero Yuy’s anger never materialised; he even seemed to relax a little. There was a thoughtful twist at the corners of his mouth. “You knew Solo Maxwell?”
“Knew of him, sir. The story was all over the city at the time; when he died, y’know. He was a hell of a character – always at an event – always in the public eye. Brilliant artist – presented works to the President himself, they said. Bought this building for his family – for his younger brother.”
“The brother…” murmured Heero.
Tony was gabbling on, in his nervousness. “I thought the kid still lived here – though he doesn’t show; doesn’t even paint anymore. Just hides out here, since – well, you know. They said he – the younger brother - had a brilliant talent of his own. Very different from Solo Maxwell – much bolder; a different medium altogether.”
“It was,” said Heero. Tony was rather surprised that he offered his comment.
“Duo Maxwell, he’s called. A black sheep…” murmured Malia, a little acidly. “I met him once…”
“Yeah, more than a little wild, the papers always said,” said Tony, more confidently now. If there was one thing he was good at, it was garnering gossip! “This gallery was gonna be his launch into the art world – his ticket to his own success.”
“But that didn’t happen, did it?” said Heero, his voice suddenly sharp. Tony looked up at him, startled. Not sure whether he was angry or upset. “And that was well over a year ago.”
“Yeah…” sighed Tony.
Heero tugged gently at the cuffs of a beautifully understated jacket. It fit him like it had been made for him – which, in fact, it had. “It’s never mattered to me why it’s on the market, Tony. I just needed to know that it was, and that my price was accepted.”
He stared once more at the grimy windows, and his voice settled again.
“I have no interest in buying ghosts.”
The tired barman sighed as the panelled door to the outside world creaked and swung open again; it was past midnight - he’d been about to lock up…
But then he saw who it was, and he knew he’d not be serving any more drinks tonight. He half-raised a hand to the slim, brown-haired man who’d slipped into the bar, and nodded him towards the only other inhabitant of the room.
“Asleep again, I guess. He’s not asked for more since eleven. I was gonna call you…”
“’S OK, Marty,” murmured the newcomer. “I went round his place, and he wasn’t there, so I guessed he’d be here. Anyone else -?” The question wasn’t fully spoken, but the barman knew only too well what was meant.
“Nah. There was a kid with him earlier, they were – y’know – kinda interested in each other, so much ‘s I had to ask him to keep his hands on the table for the sake of the other customers getting irate. But the two of ‘em had words, and the kid left hours ago.”
“Fine,” sighed the man, in a tone that showed it was anything but. “I’ll take him now.” He wore jeans and a loose tee shirt, and the weary expression on his face seemed to say that he’d had a hard time of the night himself. He rummaged in his jeans pocket, pulled out a few bills, and placed them down for the barman. They nodded to each other, closing whatever arrangement they had between them. Then the brown-haired man moved quickly towards the guy they were both talking about – a chestnut-coloured head, dropped on to arms that were folded on top of a stained table. A face hidden in folds of a cotton shirt; the slight sound of a low snoring. A lean young body, folded uncomfortably on a seat in the booth – but obviously not uncomfortably enough to prevent him sleeping where he sat.
The slim man moved the half-empty beer glass to one side, and looked down on the sleeper. “Stupid asshole,” he murmured, though without any particular anger, and not as if he expected his words to be heard. “You’ve got a bed at home, haven’t you? And a friend to come visit and see to you. A real one – not the kids you pick up and caress when the fancy takes you. So why’re you hanging out here again?”
The sleeping man must have heard him, though, because he stirred. Groaned. One of the arms peeled itself out from under his heavy head, and stretched itself straight with an ominous crack of the joint.
“Shit, Trowa – is that you? Where the fuck am I -?”
“Where d’you think?” muttered the brown-haired man. He sat himself down on one of the other seats, with a sigh. “Thought you’d given this up, after the last time. Drinking yourself stupid at Marty’s.”
“Am not –“ protested the other. “Not stupid at all – else he’d be yammerin’ at me for the bill…” His face could be seen now, though he kept rubbing a hand over it, obviously trying to wake up properly. There were tired bags underneath the bright blue eyes; the smooth, tanned skin was dull in the dim lights of the bar. His fringe hung limply over his forehead – and now he tugged at a weight at the nape of his neck; it was a long, thick braid of hair the same bronzed colour.
“Fuckin’ hair…sat on it, Trowa! It’s killin’ me…”
“Something is,” said Trowa, grimly. “Go home, Duo.”
Duo Maxwell groaned again, and sat up straight; it seemed to nag at some pain in his lower back, because he grimaced a little. “Got no home, though, have I? Gonna sign it all away tomorrow. Lose the whole fucking lot tomorrow –“
“Duo, you did that some time ago; lost it all - or drank it away! You’re no fool – you can’t play the innocent victim with me. You had a chance – but you fucked up. You’ll get another. So get over it!”
“This your Kindly Friend approach, Trow?” sighed Duo, wearily. “Or you practising for Oprah?”
“Duo…” sighed his friend. “Do you want me to go on lying? Go on pandering to you? You know you’re a bright, smart guy with talent the rest of us’d kill for. Instead, you drink your checks away, bury yourself inside a filthy apartment, and snarl at anyone who gives you the time of day – or try to fuck ‘em, seems those are the only two options you’ve got in your repertoire –“
Duo growled at him, but half-heartedly. “I kinda feel you’re pissed with me, Trow. I can walk, y’know – you won’t need that fireman’s lift you used last time –“
“I’m not gonna carry you anywhere, Duo. Physically or metaphorically. Drop the past - move on. I’ve tried, haven’t I?”
“Guess so,” replied Duo, a thread of anger in his own voice now. He pushed at the table, and got up on unsteady feet. “Guess you think you’re better ‘n me. But this was just a farewell drink, y’know? ‘Cos I am making the break, ain’t I? Changing my life! Ain’t you pleased with that?”
Trowa’s deep green eyes stared at his friend, with unfathomable emotion. “I don’t think I’m better than you, Duo…”
“Sure!” replied Duo. He looked steadier on his feet now, and his mouth quirked with a sly smile. “You ain’t got the looks, boy! And I bet the last thing you painted was somethin’ your mam put up on the door of the ‘fridge…”
Trowa smiled slightly, responding to him. “You’re a real pain as a friend, Duo Maxwell.”
“Yeah… I am. Guess if I had more friends, they’d tell me that as well as you,” came the sigh in reply. “Can I come home with you tonight, Trowa?”
Trowa started. “I –“
Duo’s deep blue eyes latched on to him, and the depth of misery Trowa saw there took his breath away. It was all so very reminiscent – heart-wrenchingly so.
“’S corny, fella, but I don’t wanna be on my own. Don’t get excited – I ain’t making a pass at ya!”
Trowa slipped an arm round his shoulder; for a second, his fingers brushed at Duo’s sallow cheek. “I’m far from excited, Duo. You’re not exactly at your best right now – I doubt you’d do yourself justice in bed. Or me, for that matter…“
“Fuck that!” said Duo, but rather fondly. “C’n still get it up, y’know…I like boys ‘n girls, Trow…never been one to restrict my options…”
Trowa smiled; a strange mixture of emotions in his face. It was perhaps a memory of some other time; some other voice. “I’ll give it serious thought, bright boy. But – not tonight, eh? Come away now, if you’re coming back to mine - though I’ve only got the sleeping bag.”
He dropped his arm down to hold on to Duo’s waist; it didn’t look quite so obvious that he was helping him stand up. Not that he and Marty didn’t know the score – but Duo had his pride; even if he used to drown it rather too regularly.
Duo coughed; Trowa felt the shake of his body through his own. “I am doing the right thing, Trow? Ain’t I? It was all the past – you’re right, I’ve gotta drop it, and find something new.”
“He said the same, Duo. Solo. All the time. Find something new – move on. No regrets.”
“Easy for him to say, eh? Mr Happy Corpse. Mr Leave it All Behind for some other poor fucker to suffer, and sign over the worldly goods –“
“Duo – “ warned Trowa.
“I know,” hissed Duo. “But that’s where I’m a little more honest than you, eh? I got no fucking interest in ghosts, Trowa. None at all…”
The cab pulled up at the front entrance of the Park Gate Apartments, and the doorman bent quickly to get the door. Heero Yuy stepped out, smoothing down his jacket, and allowing his case to be lifted out for him. The doorman greeted him formally, and Heero moved quickly and with familiarity past the desk inside. The receptionist turned away from another resident who was asking directions, to confirm to Mr Yuy that his laundry was ready for him, cleaned and pressed, and that his mail was in an orderly pile for his collection. There were no messages. He nodded thanks.
The apartments were even more than select, in that they had their own in-house facilities. There was a gymnasium – a reasonably sized pool. They also had a prestigious restaurant, and a bar and lounge for the residents. Tonight, Heero wandered over to the bar, and the bar manager was ready at once with his favourite rum and coke. The restaurant manager was at his elbow, with a respectfully murmured offer to bring over the menu, to take his order for dinner. Heero accepted the service quietly and calmly. He’d been living in this block for a year now. It was what he was used to.
As he debated the salmon over the sole, he leant against the bar and watched other residents arriving. He knew few of them by sight, and none by name; most of the individuals were as select as the apartments themselves. He saw the sudden grin on the doorman’s face, as a younger couple joked with him about the weather. He saw the receptionist lean forward at the desk and blush, as her previous customer complimented her on something or other. Behind him, the bar manager flicked a peanut at his new barman, and they smothered an instinctive laugh.
When he turned back to pick up his glass, the respectful quietness had returned around him.
He noted the contrast, and not for the first time. He didn’t know why it made him feel a little depressed.
“Lookin’ a little morose there, Yuy!” came a familiar voice at his shoulder. Heero jumped a little, startled. He’d not been aware of any of his thoughts showing in his expression. “Wishin’ you were a man of the people? They’re scared of you, y’see…”
“Scared of me? They barely know me.”
“OK,” sighed the speaker. “Maybe not scared of you. Just scared of displeasing you. They got jobs and loans, y’know? They need happy tenants. They need the regular income from your exorbitantly priced suite! Upset Mr Yuy, and watch all that go bye-bye…”
Heero’s eyes tightened. “That’s crap, Winner, and you know it! I only expect what other clients do – the best care; attention to every detail. It should be the standard. Don’t you agree?”
His companion walked around to face him, laughing softly. He was a slim, blond man, of a similar age; dressed far more casually than Heero, but no less expensively. His pants were crisp linen; his silk shirt was open at the neck, and sported an aggressively multi-coloured pattern that barely obscured a famous designer name. His hair curled behind his ears, giving him a more boyish look – but his light blue eyes were as sharp and astute as Heero’s own. As he moved, his hand trailed gently against Heero’s arm, and when the dark-haired man shook it off impatiently, he laughed again. His voice bubbled with a sense of fun – with confidence and mischief. His drawl was obviously exaggerated, but attractively so. It was noticeable that several staff were drawn to watching him – each movement followed with fascinated eyes.
He’d have been amused, and nothing more. Quatre Winner was used to the mesmerising effect he had on people; indeed, he often cultivated it for his own entertainment.
“You bite every time, don’t you, Yuy? Chill some. I’ve been waitin’ a whole hour for you. Didn’t we agree on dinner tonight?”
Heero sighed, and ran a hand through his hair – it was an uncharacteristically confused movement. He turned, and lowered himself into one of the plush armchairs in the bar. The blond man dropped into another one beside him.
“What is it, hon? Hard day at the office?”
“Christ, Quatre,” growled Heero. “Every damn phrase you use is loaded with innuendo, isn’t it? Don’t you get tired of the lounge lizard act?” But his voice didn’t sound as angry as the words themselves. And Quatre Winner didn’t seem to take any offence.
“Guess I was right,” the blond smiled. “Come and eat with me, Heero. Eat, drink, and I swear to God I can make you merry. Gonna let me?”
And then Heero laughed. Only a short laugh – only the ripple of amusement that would have been dismissed by many as nothing special. But from Heero Yuy, at his most severe, it was a precious gem.
“You’re the only one who can do that, Quatre Winner! Amuse me in the most unexpected way… How the hell d’you get away with such outrageousness?”
Quatre looked candidly into Heero’s eyes. For a moment, the dilettante act was dropped, as if that’s all it ever was. “It’s good to hear you laugh, Heero. Glad to be of some service!”
“Quatre…” protested Heero. “I didn’t mean to –“
“Forget it!” laughed the other man. His eyes were brighter than before. “That’s why I’m one of your few and priceless friends. You can say what you like to me – and I accept it without judgement. Just – relax a bit, OK? Let someone close – let someone know what you’re really like. Let the damned world touch you on its own terms. It’s not weakness to join in, sweetheart…!”
Heero’s expression told him exactly the opposite, and Quatre had seen it for too many years to think his argument would hold any influence.
“OK, Yuy. I pass. I’m as rich as you – I’m as bored as you. No-one tells me what to do; not even you. And I guess it works both ways, eh? So you can play your hardass act with me, your Mr Big Business; but I can make you laugh at the end of another fourteen-hour day. Then I can stretch these long, limber legs out on your king-size bed, and drink your best brandy, and maybe you’ll let me massage those knots out of your too, too generous shoulders.”
Heero stared back, unfazed. “What are you really like, Quatre Winner?”
The blond shrugged elegant shoulders. His playboy mask was scooped up and worn afresh. He unfolded himself from the chair and waved an aimless hand at the hovering restaurant staff. “I’m damned hungry, darlin’! For anything else, ask the gossip papers. They tell me what I’m doin’, how my stocks are climbin’; which of my horses are winnin’. Even who I’m fuckin’…Oh, especially that!” He grinned, instantly looking much younger. “And I can’t remember the last time they got it right, OK? Like you should try reading the info on yourself, sometimes…”
“Let’s eat,” said Heero, firmly. He stood up, smoothly.
Quatre rolled his eyes, and linked an arm into Heero’s. They were ushered towards the exclusive hotel dining room. “That saucy little stick of supermodel ass joinin’ us tonight?”
Heero tsked, but his heart wasn’t in it. “Don’t pretend you like her, Quatre, I know what you think. Anyway, Remy is busy, as I recall. Another photo shoot. A magazine interview. She said something like that.”
Quatre pursed lips that wanted to spit out a caustic comment. But, unusually for him, he bit it back. From the look on Heero’s face, it had really been a bummer of a day.
“I’m not bored,” said Heero, suddenly. “Am I?”
Quatre’s expression was a strange mixture of emotions. He had known Heero Yuy one hell of a long time. The guy didn’t trust many to get close to him – though the two of them had shared history that was a bond between them both. Even so – there were places in Heero’s life that even he dared not go. He answered with a question of his own – one that he’d asked several times before; and had received a variety of answers over the last few years. “You wanna try some place else after dinner?”
There was a flash of something in Heero’s eyes. He took a deep breath. It was more like a sigh.
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’,” smiled Quatre. “I gotta invitation to a new place that’s very discreet – very fresh. Very wild…”
“You said discreet?” asked Heero. The maitre d’ was showing them personally to Heero’s usual table.
“Hon,” drawled Quatre. “I don’t do anythin’ else where you’re concerned. Slip me that wine list and call me up a Greek salad, OK? I’m gonna be needin’ some sunshine in m’ veins if we’re goin’ out a-huntin’ illicit excitement.”
Heero looked round him, with a small twist of distaste to his mouth. It was eleven a.m., he’d been offered nothing but lukewarm instant coffee, and he was suffering a mild background hangover from the previous night. The lawyers’ office was a study in faded elegance – a building that had been built for more glorious use, but was now cluttered with cheap office furniture and mis-matched drapes. Heero sat on a chair with a painfully sagging seat, glared at his embarrassed lawyer, and wondered where the hell the five hundred dollars an hour chargeout rate was spent.
There’d been some trouble at the gallery property – a break-in.
“Musta used a teaspoon,” hissed a third man, slumped in a chair opposite Heero. “Musta taken all of twenty seconds to crack the state-of-the-art locks…”
Heero turned to look at him. The man was tall and lean, and his legs were folded awkwardly around the legs of his own chair. He wore his hair almost ludicrously long, tied back in some kind of a braid. His expression was a scowl, but Heero saw how striking his looks were, even through that barrier. His body looked fit, and coiled around some internal energy source; his slim, muscular arms were folded tightly across a broad chest. His clothes looked like they came from a thrift shop – but Heero admitted grudgingly that he brought a style to them that even Remy and her designers would be envious of. He stared at the guy for longer than he felt comfortable with.
He knew who he was, of course he did! This was Duo Maxwell, the owner of the property that his careful signature had just agreed to buy. The owner of a reputation for rudeness and aggressive harassment. The owner of a dwindling collection of once-lauded paintings. The owner of a debt the size of Heero’s generous apartment block.
There were many stories about Duo Maxwell, grown up over the last few years of his chequered life. And about his older brother, the late Solo Maxwell. Heero Yuy didn’t see any reason to let the man know how much he knew about his life. After all, the information had only been gathered in order to facilitate this deal. A specific, one-off deal.
“Is the problem dealt with now?” He directed his question back to the lawyer. “Was anything taken or damaged in the burglary?” He ignored the deliberate snort from Maxwell.
“There was – nothing taken, that we know,” said the lawyer, slowly. He flushed slightly.
“Fuck all to take!” announced Duo, almost cheerfully. His voice was loud in the sterile office, and was rich with tone and layers of emotion. “That’s what y’mean, ain’t it? The gallery was stripped out a year back, by the loan jackals – and my apartment boasts the sumptuous total of three of my unsaleable paintings, a kettle and an exclusive collection of beer bottle tops. Oh – and there were probably some empty pizza boxes there last night. I ate before I went out to – ah – celebrate my new, homeless status. Then I stayed out at a friend’s overnight. You wanna check my alibi? Wanna check whether I even knew the name of this one? I guess I don’t usually bother askin’…”
The presiding lawyer’s mouth bobbed like a goldfish’s. Duo’s own lawyer – one of the more junior clerks of the practice - sank his head a little further into his hands. He was becoming used to this sort of scene; he’d worked for the Maxwells since the boys’ parents had died in an accident, and he always seemed to draw the short straw on attending any negotiation meetings with them. Solo Maxwell had been smart enough, but never reliable; he’d been difficult to deal with. Duo Maxwell was just damned impossible!
Heero moved on his less than comfortable chair, acknowledging him. “Mr Maxwell - I’ve seen your work.”
Duo Maxwell flashed him a look of pure suspicion. “So whoop-di-doo! Bet that enriched your day, Mr Yuy.”
Heero examined the strange vibrations that Duo’s hostility seemed to provoke in him. There was never any excuse for rudeness, of course. His reply was carefully phrased, and he felt rather than saw the shudder of nerves through his lawyer’s frame. “I see. I can understand that you don’t wish to talk about your work. About your lack of it, in recent months.”
Heero continued. “I merely wished to ask what your personal plans were now that we’ve exchanged contracts. I’m aware that the gallery is also your apartment, and I have no particular plans for the living quarters, so they are still available. I know they include a studio room. Will you wish to paint, yourself?”
“Paint myself? Like greasepaint, y’mean?” said Duo, insolently, deliberately misunderstanding. “This place may stink of a circus, but I ain’t joinin’ up myself just yet.”
The lawyers winced at the rude hostility. Heero was unfazed. “It was a civil enough question, Mr Maxwell, whether you are currently pursuing your artistic talents or not. The offer is still there, tenancy of the studio apartment. I sent the terms to your lawyers.”
Duo’s lawyer coughed in the background, confirming it. He didn’t dare explain what his client had actually done with the covering letter from Heero’s lawyer. It was probably considered a crime in some states.
Duo scowled even further. “You’re not interested in my welfare, Yuy. I’m just an investment. Yeah?”
Heero’s voice was stronger; it was sharp-edged. “Your building is the investment, Mr Maxwell. You would merely be the tenant. You are correct about the negligible level of my interest in you. Yeah?”
There was a shocked silence. Lawyers exchanged glances across the room, over their clients’ heads. Papers were shuffled, nervously.
Duo recovered himself well. Six months of sinking, socially, from enfant terrible to embarrassing acquaintance had prepared him for such snubs. “Sure. Whatever. Guess I gotta live somewhere. ‘Til I get something better.”
For a moment, they glared at each other. There was no-one else in the room, as far as they were concerned.
“All done, then?” Duo said abruptly. “I can unpack my toothbrush – Mr Yuy can expand his empire unchecked.” He rose to his feet, in a slightly shocking rush of limbs and barely controlled emotion. Heero couldn’t tell exactly what emotion it was; but then he’d never pretended to be perceptive where people’s private lives were concerned. And he was certainly not interested in Duo Maxwell’s.
He didn’t know what possessed him to speak again to the man. “You’re no friend to yourself, are you, Mr Maxwell?”
Surprisingly, the chestnut-haired man laughed aloud. “Fuck all interest it is to you, Yuy. You won’t be the first to say it, either! But maybe I’m not lookin’ for a friend – like I think you weren’t lookin’ for a tenant when this whole project started.”
Heero stared at him, wondering what he meant. The mixture of hostility and anxiety in the other man’s expressive eyes confused him. Meanwhile, Duo turned towards the door, and his lawyer leapt to his feet to follow, bending to scoop up the dropped papers from his lap.
At the doorway, Duo paused. His hand pressed against the doorframe; his legs bent slightly. Heero’s eyes were drawn to the creases in the tight black jeans, up behind his knees; the slim band of naked skin shown above his waistband, where the skimpy shirt rode up over his belly.
“So, Mr Yuy – you say you know my work?”
“Yes,” nodded Heero. “I have two of your paintings.” He didn’t state it as either a boast or a challenge. Just a fact.
“Right… “ drawled Duo. A look of surprise had darted across his features; but now he had settled back to his previous cynicism. “They were a recommended investment once, eh? Let me guess which ones…”
He expected Heero to protest – to be embarrassed at such a childish party game. Neither happened; Heero just continued to stare at him.
Duo swallowed hard. “It was 4:0615 and 4:TXTS.”
Heero’s eyes widened slightly. “4:0615 – yes. You couldn’t have known that, as I bought through an agent. You’re more perceptive than I would have thought.”
“Nah,” grinned Duo, as if he forgot he was meant to despise this man and all he stood for. “It fits your profile! 4:0615 for a smart new day! Rich yuppie; modern abstract painting. What every condo needs on its bathroom wall. Goes with the chrome fittings and the jacuzzi. And 4:TXTS? For those who substitute real life with new, electronic gadgets -?”
“No,” replied Heero. His look was almost a challenge. “I have 4:DRMS, actually.”
Duo looked stunned. It was the last thing he’d painted, before – before it happened; all that shit with Solo. The last time he’d used those colours – the last time he’d thrown himself so deeply into that maelstrom of obsession and creativity. He’d dreamt vividly for days – never knew which came first, the painting or the troubled nights. They’d fed off each other. Nothing else he’d ever done had compared with it, for pure, raw, emotional impact. Almost as if he’d known what was gonna happen in his life…
“It’s full o’ – violence - that one,” he stammered slightly. “The colours disturbed even me. It sorta took me over…I was never sure how I felt about it. Christ, the schemes were just plain crass – I was fucking amazed when somebody bought it, to tell you the truth! And I can’t see it fitting on any o’ your apartment’s oh-so-understated wallpapers…”
Heero’s voice was low, and flat. “I’m colour blind, Mr Maxwell.”
“I chose it for the very violence that you say disturbed you. I chose it for its movement. I thought that it illustrated turmoil far more clearly than any mixture of shades or dyes. Which, of course, I would never have appreciated.”
He also stood, and moved swiftly past the astonished Duo. “And, of course, I need hardly say that you have no idea how I’ve decorated my apartment, so your assumptions may well have been offensive. However, I also assume that doesn’t disturb you. I’ll send an engineer round to fix your broken lock this afternoon, and to collect the first month’s rent. Good day, Mr Maxwell.”