Disclaimer: Ashen, despite her most fervent wishes, does not own and does not have any relation to Gundam Wing and its affiliates. Ashen is not making any profit from writing this, nor does she have permission to.
Pairings: 1x2x1, probable mentions of 3x4
Summary: Duo's exhausted, overworking himself to the point of death – and he welcomes it all with open arms. But then he finds mysterious drawings appearing, showing him what he'd lost, and he begins to rethink his life…
A Thousand Words
I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be. --Douglas Adams
There are some defeats more triumphant than victories. --Michel de Montaigne
He stirred once, swimming towards the not-light, the less-dark, but gentle hands and murmured words soothed him, and he slept again.
A long time passed.
He dreamt, indistinct and vague images, hazy and softly colourful. Whenever they began to sharpen, come into red-tinged focus, they were chased back by those hands, those words, smoothed down, gentled away.
He was safe in a way he hadn't felt for a very long time. It felt... right.
Nothing had felt this right for a very long time, either.
It was that thought that brought him to consciousness again, and this time there was nothing to hold him back. He didn't know whether to be regretful or relieved – it felt like he'd slept for ages, but he'd been without sleep for so long that it still felt like it wasn't enough. He debated sleeping again, but his senses registered the soft sunlight that hinted at mid-morning, and that pushed him past the roll-over-and-go-back-to-sleep stage.
He washed up, brushed through his hair and re-braided it, and then stumbled blearily into the kitchen and dropped into a chair. He groped for the glass he could make out before him through half-open eyes and gulped down half of its contents before he blinked. "I thought I was out of orange juice?"
"You were. I bought some oranges instead of another carton. Freshly squeezed is always better." Heero put a plate down before him – chocolate chip pancakes – followed by the butter dish and a butter knife, and a jar of maple honey. "It's the brand of honey you like, though I still swear they all taste the same."
"Ah, but natural is always better," Duo said with a quirk of his lips, reaching for the butter. "How long?"
"The whole of yesterday, and this morning. The rest did you good. You look better – hey, I told you before, don't put so much butter, it's unhealthy."
"Don't be a grump, the healthy honey makes up for it."
"Healthy honey is an oxymoron. That stuff will give you diabetes. Besides, you slather on so much of that too, that whether it's natural or not makes no difference."
Duo sighed, and reached over to smear the remaining knifeful of butter on Heero's pancakes. "Fine, happy now?"
He could hear the smile, even if he steadfastly refused to look up and meet those impossibly blue eyes. "Yes, actually."
He didn't say anything to that, just concentrated on eating. God, but the pancakes were heavenly. Something occurred to him, and he asked suddenly, "Did you make coffee?"
"No. You can have some later. Like two years later."
"But I like coffee," Duo said, hearing a petulant thread creep into his voice.
"We both know you've been taking too many caffeine pills. It's not healthy, particularly since you haven't been taking care of yourself."
He grumbled a little under his breath, but subsided. Then he thought back to the brief glimpse he'd had of his worktable just now. "Hey – I didn't see –"
"I threw the bottle away," Heero said calmly.
"What!" Duo's head shot up to glare at Heero, but the Japanese man was looking right at him with an odd half-smile on his face as he ate a neat forkful of pancake. He quickly looked back down, and muttered, "I need those."
"No." There was a note of finality in Heero's voice. "You won't need them again."
Well. When he got like that, there was no point in arguing. Duo didn't try.
They ate in silence for a little while longer, and then Heero ventured, "I'm almost done with the Barker case. In a couple of days, maybe, you'll be able to press charges if you want, or at the very least get back what he took."
He couldn't help the feral grin that flashed across his face. "I can't wait to confront him with real evidence." He hesitated. Then he figured what the hell, and said in a rush, "If you like, since you did most of the work, you can come too. And you're pretty scary all by yourself, when you want to be."
"Plus the fact that two are scarier than one," Heero agreed. "I would love to come along."
He felt good enough to raise his head and give the other man a fleeting smile, before ducking his chin again. "He won't know what hit him."
They finished their meal without speaking again, but it was a comfortable silence this time. Duo remembered other times like this, times he'd forced himself to forget, back when they'd lived together and worked together as Preventer partners. Of all the people he'd known, he'd missed Heero the most – missed him with an ache that cut so deep he'd pushed all thoughts of them together to the very back of his mind, even further than he'd pushed the other three ex-pilots.
He'd loved Heero for so long that he didn't even think about it anymore, and was content to just take whatever the other man wanted to give, but being together like this after so long brought that yearning to the forefront again. All the immunity he'd gained to each and every aspect of, of Heero-ness, had been lost with lack of constant exposure, and now it was like the time he'd first discovered that he was in love, all over again. Duo snorted – what was Heero, a disease? He couldn't be the chicken pox, then, it only came once.
"Share the joke?"
"No, no, it's just... nothing." Duo smiled despite himself. "Actually... I was wondering, if you were a disease, what disease would you be?"
Heero eyed him as he collected the plates. "On second thoughts, let's pretend I didn't ask."
He rose to help put away the butter dish and the honey while Heero deposited the plates in the sink and began washing. Done with the butter and honey, Duo got a cloth and began wiping the table, then went to dry the dishes while Heero washed. It was such a familiar routine that he felt the lump rise in his throat.
And like always, his thoughts seemed to resonate with his partner's, for Heero said softly by his side, "I missed this. I missed you, Duo. When you just vanished, I didn't know what to think. I thought we were partners, but then..."
Duo's movements stilled, and he stared blindly at the plate in his hands. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
He realized that Heero was done with washing, and had dried his hands, only when the plate was taken from him and set aside. Heero gently turned him around, and when Duo raised his eyes slowly, he seemed to find what he was looking for, because he smiled a small smile. "Come on," he coaxed, tugging Duo gently.
Duo let himself be led into the living room, and his knees folded automatically when hands pushed him down onto his armchair. He stared when Heero knelt at his feet, looked up into Duo's face, and said solemnly, "What Heero Yuy Thinks Of Duo Maxwell."
"Shh. Duo Maxwell is... an intriguing man. Frustrating at times, because he can be so pigheaded, but that's just him, and I wouldn't change it for anything. Impossible at times, but he's so charming when he is that it's just something I'm more than willing to indulge him in. Amazing all the time, because he cares so much that he's hurt deeper than anyone else would be, in his place. And only recently I admitted to myself that because he's, well, Duo, I can't help but care for him in the same way, that I want to keep him from hurting, that I want to give him back some of what he gave away."
Heero looked away at that point. Duo just continued to stare, eyes huge in a pale face, as the Japanese man said in a faraway voice, "Unfortunately, I haven't done a very good job of that, because like him, I was struggling – but while he was struggling with the world, I was struggling with myself, and my feelings. And because of that I wasn't a very good partner, and didn't see it coming when he ran away. I cannot forgive myself for that – looking back, the signs were all there. If I couldn't have stopped him, at least I could have gone with him for as long as he needed me to. I would have gone with him."
Heero took a deep breath then, and let it out slowly. Duo could only sit frozen, fighting back the panicked urge to laugh hysterically at the utterly unreal situation, as Heero took his unresisting hands in his own and looked down at them, absently rubbing little circles on the soft skin with his thumbs. "But his running away did one thing, the only good thing to come out of this mess, I think. It made me realize that in a way, I'd already come to accept him. I'd grown used to his presence in my life, so much so that it wasn't really my life anymore without him in it."
The blood drained from Duo's face, and he saw Heero notice and quickly rush on. His eyes came up to lock onto Duo's, and even the little voice screaming run away now in his head couldn't tear his gaze away from that earnest one. "In the time that you were gone, I thought a lot about our partnership. And I realized that I needed my partner back, because things were simply wrong without him. But when I found you, you were... in a very dark place. I know you well enough to know that if I had confronted you you'd have run. That you'd never have accepted help willingly. So I did what I had to do, and now... here I am. Here we are."
"What you had to – but why – what, the, the drawings and food and the paperwork..." Duo began confusedly.
"You weren't taking care of yourself," Heero said simply. "I decided it was high time I started taking care of you, since you did it for me all these years. And it was also to remind you of what, of who you'd left behind –"
"The drugs?" Duo blurted.
Heero had the grace to look embarrassed. "I misjudged your reaction to them. I thought I'd gotten your guard relaxed enough to try to get you to relax physically... it served to show me how hard you were really running, though."
"Hence the tapes?"
"I didn't tell them what to say, you know. You think so much more badly of yourself than anyone does. I had to, as you would put it, shove that fact in your face. Much more your style than mine, actually."
"Who are you and what have you done to Heero the Insensitive Bastard Yuy?"
Heero grinned briefly. "I killed him and buried the body because he was being stupid."
When it became clear that Duo was thinking too hard to say anything else, Heero stood and picked up a tube of paper from the low table and put it into his hands. He backed away a little as Duo stared at it, and then slowly unrolled it.
It was their balcony, back at the apartment they'd shared, a place in which they had often sat and stared out at the night, talking about everything and nothing. But this time, instead of sitting in separate lounge chairs, they were standing at the rail, together. Paper-Heero held Paper-Duo securely, the shorter man nestled comfortably against him in the crook of his arm, soft shades and hair-fine curls of charcoal making them glow against the sunrise that spread sweeping across the paper sky. Their faces were up-tilted to face the sun, and the just barely visible soft curve to their lips and their smile-gentled eyes made their quiet joy clear.
Joy, and – something else.
"Why did you come after me?" Duo said finally, voice hoarse. He realized that he was on the verge of real tears, and blinked rapidly, carefully rolling the paper back and putting it safely on the table by his chair.
"Like I said, I needed my partner back," Heero answered carefully.
"We're not going to work together anymore. I'm going to quit the Preventers."
"Heero..." He felt guarded and hopeful all at once. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying..." There was a hesitant pause, as if he was searching for the right words, and then Heero said solemnly, "Come home with me, and teach me how to show you that the depth of what I feel for you is in no way less than the depth of what you feel for me."
Happiness surged in his chest, and he tried to make light of it, seeing how uncomfortable Heero was. "Avoiding the L-word, are we?"
Heero looked slightly shamefaced. "I'm not... I'm trying, but it's hard – it was okay when I was doing it from a distance, the last few weeks, but..."
He decided to give his partner a break. "I know. I'm pretty amazed already, I must say." He touched the drawing lightly with his fingertips. "I never knew you drew so well."
"I discovered it by accident... when you left, I thought about so many things that it was all tangled together, and one of the outlets Louis suggested was drawing."
"I... well." Now Heero really looked embarrassed. "Without your influence to hold me in check, and with the stress of not knowing what had happened to you, I... lost control. Twice. No permanent harm, before you ask."
Duo blinked. And then burst into laughter. "A therapist? Louis is your therapist!"
"I prefer the term counsellor," Heero said with haughty indignation, and smiled to himself when it made Duo laugh all the harder, doubling up and clutching at his stomach. It had been too long since he'd seen Duo so happy.
When Duo caught his breath, relaxing back in his chair, loose-limbed and smiling, Heero felt a sudden urge, and deciding that he'd repressed his feelings for too long a time, he stepped forward and leaned down. One hand slid behind to gently cup the back of Duo's neck, holding his head in place, and, using the other hand to brace himself on the armrest, Heero tilted his head to one side and kissed him.
Duo's eyes flew open, and then gradually fluttered shut. It was the sweetest thing he'd ever felt, gentle pressure and unbelievably soft lips pressing against his own, slow, lingering, tender. Heero pressed kisses to the corners of his mouth, the edges of his jaw, his cheekbones, his eyelids, butterfly-soft and delicate. One kiss to the middle of his forehead, and then back to his lips, unhurried, little touches of tongue and playful nips of teeth.
He made a little helpless sound, low in his throat, and was rewarded with a swipe of tongue. He understood what Heero was trying to say, trying to show him, now and for the past few weeks, in his kisses and drawings and specially-ordered organic honey and all. He didn't need words. Words were overrated. He didn't need anything else, only these slow, languid touches, like they could go on like this forever.
Finally Heero pulled away, though only going so far as resting his forehead against Duo's. They breathed deeply, quietly, and Duo with his eyes closed wondered if Heero looked as overwhelmed as he himself felt. He didn't have the strength to open his eyes to check, though.
It wasn't enough, not by far, and yet it was too much.
"Come home with me," Heero murmured. "That friend of yours, Kimberly, he wants to expand his company, he wouldn't mind buying yours over. You can work it out with him. I'll help. Then you can come back and we can... we can work us out."
"What if I don't want to leave?"
The answer was immediate. "Then I'll stay. I won't leave you." Then Heero paused, and added hesitantly, "It's just that the others miss you, too. Trowa has his hands full with Quatre, and Sally tells me Wufei is fast becoming unbearable, and, well, I took leave for only two months when I decided to come after you, and the paperwork for additional leave is unbelievable. I'll have to –"
Duo laughed softly, barely an exhalation of breath. "I was just teasing." He opened his eyes to meet Heero's intense gaze and had to ask. "You're really serious about this? I mean... no regrets? I can be a very demanding... partner."
"You are a very demanding partner." Seeing Duo frown, Heero added with mock resignation, "But I'm used to it."
Laughing, for real this time, Duo gently pushed Heero back. "Well then, let me start being demanding. The faster we tie up things here, the faster we can go back and Quat can smother me to death while Wu-man lectures my ears off. Show me the stuff you have on Barker."
"No," Heero said immediately. "You might be rested, but you've still gone six months pushing yourself over your limits. You need more rest." He quirked a smile at Duo. "Finish that book you bought."
Duo rolled his eyes. "You know, I really should be more upset with you spying on me. And breaking into my house. And leaving me potentially-poisoned food. And starting an office-wide revolt, you ass! I'm not even going to mention the drugs. You messed me up good, these few weeks."
"That was rather the point."
"Fine. Fine, I'll rest."
Heero looked wary. "You will?"
"On one condition."
The look on his face said plainly, I knew it. Nevertheless, Heero gestured for him to continue.
"You draw me a picture of yourself. To make up a complete set."
His partner sighed heavily. "Duo, self-portraits are the most difficult of all. I'm not sure –"
"Please?" Duo gave him hopeful puppy eyes.
"How about a nice photo –"
"We're going to take heaps of photos, Heero my man, but I want a drawing."
"Or I'm going out there to buy another bottle of caffeine pills."
Dark blue eyes narrowed. "You can try."
Duo smiled sweetly at him. "You know, after so long, I'm not at all certain I can keep myself from getting hurt in attempting to, say, swing from window to window, perhaps."
Glare met smile, and crumbled under the onslaught. Heero sighed. "I'll try. I'm not kidding about the difficulty, Duo. But... I'll try."
"You have our whole lives to practice," Duo assured him. Seeing Heero trying to cover up a moment of wide-eyed joy, he grinned and slid off the chair, going over to wrap his arms around the other man, nuzzling the crook of his neck. "Thank you for coming after me, partner-mine," he whispered.
Heero's armed wrapped around him in return. "I'm only sorry it took so long," he sighed, and Duo knew that he didn't mean the six months, but the long years.
"Don't worry about it," he sighed. "It's not like I wasn't partly at fault."
"Promise me you won't do something like this again. When you start feeling guilty about people getting hurt around you –"
"I'll come running to mummy, I get it."
He laughed softly. "I'll come running to you. Promise."
"Duo. I – someday I'll be able to say it, but – you do know, don't you?"
He smiled into Heero's skin, and thought about how his and Quatre's and Wufei's and Trowa's drawings were all perfectly everything that they were and everything that they hid, and everything that they tried not to show but nevertheless was in plain sight, all at the same time. He thought about that last drawing, just an arm's reach behind him, and he thought about how Bonaparte was right, how it did speak a thousand words.
A thousand words, and all of them were beautiful.
"Yes," he breathed. "I know."
The best quote I can find from this chapter that just about sums the entire story up is just two paragraphs above, so I won't bother putting it down below to end the chapter.
A-Levels are OVER. Oh, my laptop, how I've missed you. Anyway, that was why I took such a long break. Sorry!
I think some might find the ending a little too quick, but I was hoping to show how they just... click into place. Oh well. Perhaps someday if my writing skills improve enough I might redo this last chap.
Hope you all liked.
Oh, and I just remembered why I numbered the Mondays the way they are. It's because this Monday, this last chapter, is the first. (: Which is symbolically significant, yay.