Ah yes, the Billy Joel fic I've been meaning to write for, like, two years. Ah well, better later than never, right? As a huuuuge Billy Joel fan and a huuuuuuge 1xR fan, I hope you enjoy this fic as it's suddenly quite close to my heart.

Note: Some dialogue taken from the following Billy Joel songs: "Summer, Highland Falls," "I Go To Extremes," "The Stranger," "Modern Woman," "You May Be Right," and "A Matter Of Trust."


The Stranger

By Nessie


The bar was dark and quiet, smoke coating the air with pollutant, the grey mist letting the patrons hide the way they wanted to. The bar wasn't crowded, in fact there were probably no more than eight people present altogether, including the bartender. Most of them were gathered around pool tables, taking pulls from long-necked beer bottles.

Heero was the only one that sat at the actual bar, leaning on the dark strip of scarred wood, his feet propped up on the footrests of the stool that held him up. One of his hands lightly gripped a short glass of whiskey. He'd recently moved the glass, and its former place now held a water ring. He ran the fingers of his other hand through and through the cool liquid, as his mind sunk deeper into thought.

He was in the corner. Someone would have to be looking for him to actually see him, so the chances of him being found were slim. No one would be looking for him. Like most of his life, except that one, short time, he was all alone now. He had a job. He was no bum. But his coworkers weren't friends, and any friends he might have had had taken off for their own lives a long time ago, and they had all forgotten Heero in the process.

It didn't hurt. He thought it might have at first. But he was a true New Yorker, and loneliness wasn't a prospect that frightened him. Heero Yuy was the last person who would be frightened by anything anyway…at least, that's what she had said to him.

"You're too brave." Her voice sounded almost sad, and her eyes definitely held a degree of pity as they looked into him, really saw him. "You have no fright of anything. Do you ever really live, Heero?"

"Do you?" he countered, the words empty. Every single element about her betrayed her love for life. A blink of her eyes, a turn of her head, the gentle turn of her lips as she smiled – all emanated a certain light that Heero rarely ever saw in people in the world of today.

"I like to think I do," she answered unabashedly. "And yet, we are forced to recognize our inhumanity. At times, I find myself as indifferent as you pretend to be."

She was a very good speaker, if nothing else. The recollection made him smirk the tiniest bit, and he raised his whiskey glass to his mouth as though to wash it away. Heero had known just by talking to her that she could be whatever she wanted; a lawyer, an actress, a million-dollar model. But in the end, she'd informed him that she had just received her art degree a couple of years before their meeting and she had recently gotten a little studio for herself. She had given him a card advertising her work. It was engraved with her name and her address, and a telephone number she could be reached at.

Heero had never called her. He had never even spoken to her again. But he had seen her. He'd seen her and had been tempted to do all of the above, but Heero was smart and knew when it was necessary to keep away. He was a sculptor, she painted. They auctioned at the same gallery now. She was technically an adversary, and Heero had always taught himself to not fraternize with the enemy.

She might have thought him ridiculous, had she known any of this. But it must not have bothered her, because he knew that she had seen him as well, and never had she set out to make any sort of contact with him either.

In a way, they lived with each other, as artists represented by the same company must. They dealt with the other in their lives with as though they were strangers to each other. And really, they were.

Heero didn't resent her, and he knew that she held no disdain for him. They respected each other. She did good work. Truth be told, he had secretly bid for one of her pieces under an anonymous name, and it sat as the centerpiece in his front living room in his apartment on 23rd. Favorites, it was called. By Relena Darlian. The piece was a beautiful oil work, depicting a slim female hand in a larger, male hand. The hands were being held underwater. When he'd first seen it, he had felt like he'd understood it. Two people, he'd imagined, that were staying together, even if they suffered for it. He'd paid a full sixty thousand for it.

He still didn't know why. Her work was first-class, but he'd never before paid such an amount for anything short of being fifty years old. And while the painting did speak to him, it didn't sing, and his wallet usually settled for nothing less than a cantata if he was going to splurge on art.

There was a reason he had bought Favorites though. While it was one of the better paintings in Darlian's collection, her best had called to him with a deep, sultry voice, like a devilish angel, but an angel nonetheless. And that's what that painting had been like; tarnished purity.

It had really been a rather simple work, but clever and ultimately modern. Two eyes, two, dark blue eyes framed with thick lashes but were still masculine were being see through the figure of an alcohol glass not much unlike the one Heero held now. There was a hint of a face that went with the eyes but they were more last-minute brush strokes than planned efforts. A jaw line here, the curve of a cheek there. There wasn't a whole face. The eyes were the focus. The title was Eager To Please, Ready To Fight. a name that perfectly fit what the work represented.

Heero had at first gotten the ridiculous notion that he had been staring at his own eyes, but then he'd berated himself and checked his ego. And he did have an ego. He also knew that his eye color wasn't particularly rare. Hell, Heero figured Relena could have been inspired by her own brother, Milliardo, who was in charge of White Fang Records on 38th and had a known drinking problem. It made sense at least.

If nothing else, Relena Darlian was somewhat of an enigma. She talked to people easily, and was a very liked artist by the Times. A former beauty pageant winner, she had even appeared in Vogue a few months before, but the company grapevine swore that she had only done it for publicity for her art. It must have worked too, because Heero had heard that someone in China had just purchased a still life of hers.

Art. Heero scoffed into his beer. He loved his work and he appreciated other people's as well. But sometimes he just didn't understand why the hell he'd gotten into the business. Tonight's auction had nearly killed him.

"It made you come here too?"

If Heero was easily startled, he'd have jumped a mile high. The addresser was completely unexpected, but he managed to only turn his head and look at who had spoken to him.

He should have been surprised. But when his eyes settled on Relena Darlian's gently smiling face, he found he wasn't the least bit stupefied.

Like him, she was dressed up. But Relena had an original sense of style, so she wasn't as fancy looking as he was in his suit. She wore the customary New York black turtleneck, textured with vertical lines that gave her a slim illusion. A dark purple scarf hung around her neck to mid-thigh. The black jeans that hung tight on her were flecked with silver, as though she'd taken a wet brush and flicked paint all over it, and indeed, Heero imagined that she had. Her hair, long a golden, was currently pulled up in a casual bun and secured with a pair of ornate chopsticks, though a few strands had escaped to hang in waves near her face. Sterling silver hoops dangled from her ear, and tiny gems embedded in them that were probably diamonds cast chips of light on the bar. A small purse hung from one shoulder, while a knee-length tan jack was slung over her arm.

She was sophisticated, stunning. She looked sleek and she seemed so professional. Everything a successful New York City artist should be.

Heero almost smiled to himself. She was his polar opposite.

"I tell you what." She dropped onto the stool next to him, and even that casual act managed to come off as graceful. "I thought I was about to die tonight, Heero. I don't think I even started breathing until Mr. Huang picked up the final bid on Rose Drops." She gave her attention to the bar tender for a moment to place an order, and Heero felt somewhat skeptical. They hadn't spoken since their first meeting over a year ago, and now she was here talking to him like they were old friends. When her sky blue eyes returned to his, his face went grim. What had happened?

"I think I could have as easily gone into theatre as art," she went on, rolling her eyes. "There's about as much competition and definitely as much drama."

Heero was forced to agree with that. "Yeah," he said, lifting his glass and taking another drink.

"Sorry." Relena grinned a little sheepishly as the bartender returned and set a Shirley Temple before her. "I guess I'm a little wired. I didn't know you were here." She absently swirled her straw through her beverage. "I heard you hit fifteen thou tonight. Congratulations."

"Hn." Heero didn't comment further. He'd gotten fifteen thou for a piece he'd hardly worked on at all, while the one he'd slaved away at had only made about four thousand dollars at the most. It was enough to drive him mad.

"Sorry," Relena apologized again. "I guess you wanted to be alone. I'll just…slide a few stools over."

"No." Heero didn't even realize he'd said it until Relena's surprised stare hit him full-force. His brain scrambled to catch up with his impulses. "You can stay."

She continued to stare for a moment or two, and then her expression relaxed to smile at him. This smile was different than the greeting one she'd given him. It was softer somehow, more human, and less polite. Heero was suddenly hit with the thought that the Relena Darlian presented to the everyday world was a whole different person, even a whole different artist, than the one she kept to herself. "Thank you."

They drank together, calmly, with the quiet respect that is between contemporaries in the same field. They had little to say because they worked relatively closely and new all that was going on in each other's lives anyway.

"You're such a stranger," she said at last. "My brother once told me that we all have a face that we hide away forever. And we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone. Like masks…satin, steel, silk leather."

Heero nodded. She'd be satin and silk, he imagined. A small smirk came to his face. Maybe a hint of leather for fun. "He was right."

"So what are you? Are you a crazy man by night?" She laughed, tinkling notes of music, as he looked her in the eyes. "Or a charity man who drowns in good intentions? I think I could believe that."

He found himself smirking. "It's been awhile since I've done charities," he admitted.

"Oh! So you will talk to me." Grinning, Relena took a sip of her drink. "Seriously. Why don't we ever talk, Heero? We did once."

"You should talk more. I understand your hands are your strength but really, you should talk more. You have a nice voice."

"I remember," Heero acknowledged, returning his eyes down into his glass. "You'd just bought your studio."

She positively beamed. "You should come see it. It's a mess right now, but it's really quite beautiful."

"I bet." He reached into his pocket for his wallet. Heero was beginning to feel strained speaking to her. He'd pay and get out of here.

"If I'm not annoying you, then why do you ignore me?" Her voice had gone suddenly frosty, and Heero looked at her. His eyebrows rose a fraction to see the cool but also slightly insulted look on her face. "I don't claim to know you well, Heero, but neither do you know anything about me."

He was on his feet now, prepared to go. He had nothing for this woman, this beauty of the same world he claimed each day to be a part of. But something had him turning back and meeting her eyes, letting intensity pass over him in waves.

"I know you're an emotional girl," he told her. "I know you've been hurt by your brother and the way he is right now. I know you have doubts. It took a lot for you to not lose your faith in this world."

Relena stared at him as though she'd never seen him before, let alone every day for a year. "Who are you, Heero Yuy?"

Heero shrugged. "I stopped asking that question." He pulled up his jacket from the stool beside him and slipped it on. "But you may be right." Leaving a bill on the table that was far more than enough for his drink alone, he walked away. His voice echoed back to her: "I may be crazy."

He exited the bar onto the chilled New York streets and prepared to hit the subway to get home. He had made it down half the block when—


He turned to see Relena jogging toward him, silver flecks flashing on her jeans as her heels clicked audibly on the pavement. He waited for her, not knowing why. She was breathing with effort when she reached him, but a smile was wide on her face.

Completely ignoring any shyness, she slipped a gloved hand through his arm. She grinned up at him. "Then it just may be a lunatic I'm looking for."

The delayed retort caught him off-guard, and he smirked. "Why is that, Relena?"

"Because I don't want to be strangers anymore. Strangers are for people who don't have the opportunity to get to know each other. We've had plenty opportunity." Retracting herself, she hopped in front of him, stopping him in his tracks. "You can see my studio some other time. Why don't you show me yours?"

An eyebrow rose on Heero's handsome face. "Why?"

"Because while I do like my own place, I really would like to see what Favorites looks like in your apartment." He must have betrayed himself somehow because Relena laughed again at his expression. "Company grapevine."

Heero agreed to show her but speculated on the way. Relena was no gold digger; she had style and she made her own money so there was no reason for her to go after his. What was her goal here?

They arrived at his building and trekked up a couple of flights to his door where a long, squarish package was waiting for him. Lifting it, he said nothing as he unlocked the door and they went inside.

"It's in there," he said without feeling as he flicked on lights and set the package on the table in the apartment's front room. Relena obediently went into the next room, her interest caught by different pieces scattered around the apartment. Pots of clay and cups of paintbrushes could be found within inches of each other. Heero heard her turn up the light-switch in the living room. Her gasp was audible from where he stood tearing postage paper away.

"Oh, it's beautiful here! So much better than the way itlooked at my place."

Heero had no reply. For in his hands was something that occupied his mind more than Favorites. In his hand was Eager To Please, Ready To Fight, the same painting of Relena's that had called to him upon first seeing it.

Relena came back and stood next to him. "This will look better here too."

He brought his eyes from the magnificent painting to Relena's beautiful face, a question in his eyes.

"It's a present," she said simply. Setting a hand on his shoulder, she nodded. "You're not so brave anymore, Heero. And I don't feel like you're a stranger now either."

Silence reigned between them as something passed from one artist to another. Heero found no words, and Relena had none to give, so both found a certain peace in the quiet.

Heero smiled, something he didn't do often. He reached for his coat again. "Come on. Let's go see your studio."

Relena smiled. And for a moment, Heero understood that that was the best piece of art she would ever create.



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