La Petite Mort

It had been a simple project gone wrong, a disfiguring hole in the middle of his living room wall, a lot bigger than a nail but a lot smaller than a ping pong ball. As trivial as it was, it had become the source of many pious observations. For the most part, the hole had been covered up, only plastered with tape with a promise to be repaired at a later time, preferably when he felt like it. The rest of the time, because human creatures cannot help but be curious, it served as a source of some exquisite sightings.

Needless to say, the exquisite sightings were anything but trivial as the disfiguring hole on the wall would suggest. Trowa never intended to look. By all accounts, he respected privacy but sounds, interesting sounds, had a way of enticing people to steal a glance into the forbidden.

It wasn't so much the sounds coming from their mouths as it was the rustling of sheets, of the almost imperceptible sound of skin against skin. He was beautiful. The first time he saw him between shirts hanging from the messy closet, he was magnificent. A light sheen of sweat was covering his skin as his bony shoulder rose slightly and as his breath hitched the tiniest bit over and over again before letting out an almost soundless, breathy gasp. Thin, long fingers clung to the mindless drone above him all while his toes curled with too much insistence on staying curled. Hair the color of sunlight bounced against his forehead as if the light sweat covering said forehead did not dare keep it plastered.

The expression on his face was a mix of ecstasy and agony. For a while, Trowa thought that he may have been uncomfortable, but that was the beauty of the situation. The fine line between despair and selfish indulgence caught his concentrated eye unlike the way it confused his wildly beating blood. The man's eyes were glazed. Against harsh, florescent lighting, it even dared to shine. It had been beyond what he'd imagined. Transfixed, he had watched to completion.

Moments like these, most less rapturous than the first, had become a regular occurrence and by no surprise had become filled with variety as it became apparent that his neighbor did not believe in monogamy. It was a shame. He looked like a keeper.

He had never been caught and had attributed that to the fact that his hole was conveniently located in his neighbor's closet. Although, sometimes, when those eyes would risk a glance at him seconds at a time, he would change that opinion. There was no denying the change in emotion of those glassy eyes as they locked with his own. Caught in the middle of being caught and being uncaught, he simply decided that it was up to his neighbor, not him, to decide.

Therefore, it was with great surprise when he saw his neighbor outside his apartment for the very first time. Seated in front of his door, his outstretched arms were placed atop his folded knees, his face downcast as he stared at something on the ground. Trowa had just come home from the grocery and he was quite ready to ignore the man seated next to his door when his attention was called.

"It's strange that I've never even seen my own next door neighbor."

Trowa looked southwest of him to acknowledge the statement and to find familiar, now unclouded eyes staring up at him. His neighbor was neither happy nor annoyed as he presented him with a completely neutral face, one that a stranger would use to casually talk about the weather.

"You have beautiful eyes," his neighbor said next in a way that made it sound like he was simply stating a trivial fact, a fact that was just as trivial as the hole on his wall. "Do you mind if I stay at your place for a bit while I wait for the locksmith? My partner changed the locks on my apartment. These keys," he said while holding up a bundle with various keepsakes attached to them. "These are useless right now."

Trowa did not respond verbally, only stepped aside after opening his door to allow entry into his apartment. The man entered with no further prompting.

"The name's Quatre," he said after a long silence. Seating himself by the kitchen counter, he placed his chin on his knuckle and stared at him.

"Trowa," he answered as he put away his groceries.

"Trowa, what do you do for a living?"

"I paint," he answered while pointing at his living room which had become his make-shift work area. It was filled with covered canvases, paints and easels. He had no furniture.

"I thought that was more of a hobby," Quatre responded with a bored stare at his living room.

Trowa did not respond although he chanced a peek at his guest who seemed suspiciously interested in him or maybe that was just his imagination.

"Guess what I do for a living?"

Trowa shrugged.

"I get paid to do nothing," Quatre said, sounding apathetic as he did.

"That's trite," Trowa finally responded to which he received a sudden quirk of the other's lips.

"Trite? That's the first time I've heard anyone say anything the least bit negative about my job," he said, his chin leaving its purchase on his knuckles. Genuine interest seemed to radiate from him as he explained further. "Usually, I get a lot of commendations or I become a source of envy. If you must know, my more specific job description is to stay out of trouble."

Trowa had no doubt that he was not doing such a good job in that department. He knew. He was witness to Quatre's many misdeeds.

"Trowa," Quatre said, this time with more intent. "I shave my armpits."

He already knew that but it was beside the point. The statement was random and in his kitchen, it was oddly placed.

"Now that you know something about me, I want you to tell me something about yourself that other people don't know about you."

"There is nothing interesting or shocking enough for me to reveal to you," Trowa responded without contemplating. It sounded insignificant but so was the one about the shaved armpits.

"That was a dull response, but I suppose I'll take another turn. My partner locked me out because I cheated on him."

Again, Trowa already knew about that, but it did still count as something that other people may not have known about him. He stared at a bag of carrots in thought. Try as he might, he couldn't help but feel guilty but still circumspect at the one-sided exchange.

"I do my groceries on Thursdays," he said after deciding that guilt was useless. They had just met. He owed him nothing.

"Boring," Quatre said with a roll of his eyes. Even though he wasn't animated as he talked, he was more energetic than he had been when he first entered. "Most of my confessions are exciting. Why don't you give me something with a stronger zing?"

"I have a sister."

"Again, that's a boring fact and a fact that other people probably already knew about," Quatre insisted.

Trowa felt somewhat annoyed and a little harried as he tried to think of something that would appease his neighbor. Blurting out the last thing he could ever think of saying was how it turned out in the end.

"I'm a voyeur," he said, almost dropping a can of soup in the process.

"I did say tell me something that other people don't already know about you," Quatre responded.

For a moment their eyes locked and Trowa thought he saw a hint of mutual understanding but that was gone as soon as he saw it.

For the next few days and weeks that followed, Quatre became a regular guest at his apartment. Most of the time, he would talk of random things. Very rarely did he ask questions about him. He would bring take-out. Sometimes they'd order delivery and watch the most inane movies while seated on his living room floor filled with discarded leftovers from his work.

Other times, when Quatre did not visit, Trowa knew to look into his accidental hole. As if he could religiously predict such an occurrence, he would find his next door neighbor with one partner or another in a tryst of bodies that spoke of carnal pleasures. It wasn't to say that Trowa simply did this for his own lascivious desires.

"You've been buying a lot more groceries lately."

"I've been selling a lot more of my work recently."

"I've never seen your work," Quatre spoke. It was the first time since their first meeting that he said anything even remotely close to a question that hinted at a bit of curiosity.

Of course, Trowa felt ill at ease to show the results of his mischievous activities. Most of these paintings were of Quatre and they were not exactly the type to be shown to the unknown model without care.

"I promise you," Trowa said, his attempt to hide his misdeeds overtaken by a sense of liability. "I will show you my work when I become successful enough to be allowed an exhibition."

"Sounds like that's a long ways to go," Quatre said and that was the first and last time he ever asked about the subject matter.

As Quatre's visits became more frequent, Trowa felt more attached to the appearance of his next door neighbor. Some might even say that he was becoming fond of him, but that would be a false assumption for who would be fond of someone while allowing them to be taken by another? Perhaps, a more accurate description would have been necessity. Trowa thought he needed Quatre to fuel his work, to bring in the groceries, and probably to bring a touch of spark to his otherwise austere way of life.

However, Quatre's attachment to him also had its consequences. There were a few instances when he was visited by jealous lovers, ones who did not know they were being cheated on several times over anyway. After having been gifted with a large bruise on his left cheek, a black eye, and a broken arm, he had made it a point to pay attention and start fighting back. He did throw a good punch if he wasn't concentrated on something else such as which guy on which night was the one punching him.

When Quatre sees the damage to him, he never questions, just treats him the same way he would any other instance. Sometimes, Trowa thinks he catches glimpses of concern on his face but again, that small sign of worry quickly disappears as soon as he blinks. For that reason, he considered Quatre to be a bit selfish if not a little dense.

This was the way things were between them. Quatre never asks and never divulges. Trowa never questions, only listens.

The first time he visits Quatre's apartment, he feels surreal. The setting is that much different when not viewed from a hole on the wall. Quatre's apartment is bare. Save for a bar replacing the kitchen, nothing else seems special. The bottles on the shelf are just as many as his lovers and in just as many varieties as those he invites into his bed. There are not much furnishings - a table here, a chair there, and a simple bed in the middle of his bedroom. Everything looks stark white, a stark white salvaged by an occasional, odd picture on the wall.

"It feels nothing like you," Trowa admits and Quatre does not answer.

Quatre walks directly to his bedroom and Trowa's reaction is to follow, his curiosity driving him toward the trivial hole on his neighbor's closet, the closet that was never closed. Trowa likes to think that he is discreet as he glances at his nail and hammer's handiwork. As he suspects, the hole is not obvious. With the clothes hanging from its place of refuge, it was almost invisible. These were exactly his thoughts before he was pulled aside and Quatre kissed him.

Their first kiss was like nothing he imagined. It felt of tongues and saliva and sloppy messes. For all Quatre's partners he would have thought it would be better. Still, it may have just been the case that he simply failed to respond.

"Fuck," Quatre cursed as he crash-landed on his bed. This was a more than obvious sign that he had failed to return that slightly French, slightly genuine first kiss.

"What the fuck, Trowa?"

To this, he failed to respond as well. His mind came up with excuses - shock, indecision, confusion - but none of them came up anywhere near accurate.

"Should I assume you just like seeing me get fucked?"

By this time, Trowa had lost any ability to speak his mind and Quatre had gained the ability to use the same curse word at least once in every sentence. Consequently, he was unable to save the situation.

"Don't tell me I was mistakenly reading into things," Quatre said with frustration before sitting up from his bed and grabbing his cell phone. "I have a lot of fuck partners, Trowa. Which one do you want to see fuck me this time around?"

Trowa had automatically left him then. It was the first and the last time he would ever visit that apartment.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the incident was forgotten and just like old times, Quatre's visits were prevalent. Just like old times, they would eat dinner together while watching movies ostracized but celebrated by society. Negligible topics would come out of Quatre's mouth and sometimes, when the topics became too prosaic, Trowa would wish he shared a more than shallow relationship with Quatre. He wished for a relationship where it was okay to ask, okay to answer, and okay to pry. But then, he really didn't know what he was wishing for in the first place because Trowa kept himself separate as much as Quatre did the same. Because of this, they had already been doomed from the start.

The last time he saw Quatre, he looked different. Unlike any other times, he looked defeated, as if tired from a lifestyle he'd thoughtlessly imposed upon himself. Four words introduced his dilemma.

'My father is visiting' was all he said before leaving for his own apartment.

Trowa heard the entire argument clearly from where he stood. In the middle of his messy living room, from a stranger's voice, he learned much more about Quatre than his neighbor ever revealed about himself.

"I allowed you to live in this filthy place on the condition that you would stay out of trouble."

The perfectly audible, severely authoritative voice that boomed from Quatre's apartment was surely one to be feared. Trowa did not hear Quatre answer back.

"I played your game long enough Quatre. Your irresponsible conduct never fails to make the papers. One of your apparent lovers revealed to the press where you live. I will deal with this 'lovers' issue later. But since your location has been compromised, you can no longer live in this place. You are moving out of here this instant."

Trowa thought he heard a whispered 'no', but Quatre would not probably dare go against that voice.

"You will follow my orders. As I've already told you, I will be retiring this week so I expect you to be in your best form when I present you as the new head during the next board meeting. We have trained you extensively to take over. I will anticipate nothing less than what you have been taught."

Trowa never heard a response to the orders and never saw Quatre in his apartment again. The only parting words he received from him were written on a post-it note in long, slanted cursive.

Months passed before he could get used to not being around his former neighbor. Years passed before he could land an exhibition, but when he had finally made it, all the guilt and misdeeds seemed to come full circle. In the end, he had ended up creating a shrine dedicated to his next door neighbor. Titled 'La Petite Mort', the exhibit was beyond his expectations.

The first time Trowa looked through each one of his paintings carefully hanged on the walls, he thought of Quatre. He thought of the chance encounter brought about by the trivial hole on the wall. But most of all, he thought about the way he'd managed to immortalize what his soul had truly been lamenting all these years.

Each and every painting in the exhibit was of Quatre. He was sure that no one would recognize it but himself because they showed only expressions - the many facets of Quatre as he reached that rapturous state of climax. For that reason, his works were scandalous, but those who saw them could not take their eyes away from those beautiful manifestations of anguish.

"You've been touted as one bold enough to display such - as some would say - shameful things," a man who had interviewed him once said. "Are these faces hurting or are they euphoric?"

"They are both," Trowa had answered. "They also lay bare my punishment."

"Punishment for what, may I ask?"

"Punishment for a love realized too late."

Once, Trowa thought he saw his former neighbor in the museum observing one of his paintings. Seated and eating a sandwich, the Quatre he'd always known looked normal except for one significant detail. Flanked on each side by a bodyguard, he looked unmindful and almost nostalgic as he smiled the tiniest bit. It was the tiniest little expression Quatre had always liked to use on him.

A woman passed through his field of vision for a second before he found that the scene was gone. Quatre was no longer there. Only strangers were left whispering praises, criticisms, and commentary.

Trowa picked the revered piece of paper out of his pocket. Unfolding the post-it note from long ago, his fingers passed gently through the worn material. Written in long, slanted cursive, it read the one line that always seemed to hurt just a little bit more every time.

'Every time I saw you was like dying a little death and so I learn to accept and live with that death.'

These paintings may have been Quatre's many beautiful little deaths, but they would always and forever be his to bear.