4-07-2001

Heero In The Garden
By LoneWolf
(kodoku na okami)

COMMENTS: Maybe it was the fever or the drugs (the flu -- oh joy) but, this morning, as I lay in bed half-asleep, I remembered "Vanessa In The Garden" and this whole story played out in my head. For those of you old enough to remember Steven Spielberg's "Amazing Stories" series (heh) "Vanessa" starred Harvey Keitel (in Duo's role), was directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Spielberg. So, yeah, this isn't entirely original, but it was my favorite episode of the series, and I think you'll enjoy it.

WARNINGS: suck it up and be surprised

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Duo stopped tearing pages out of the sketchbook and feeding them to the fire long enough to find another bottle of whiskey. Then, two long gulps later, he tossed the rest of the book into the fireplace and watched the pages curl and turn brown, then black as the flames licked over them. He took another drink and walked unsteadily back to his studio, where he picked up a dozen canvasses and dragged them back to the living room. He cut them off the stretchers one by one and watched the fire catch in the oils, melting the colors together before sending them and the fabric up the chimney as a long stream of smoke.

"Life." He sighed as the last of it floated away. Life was all about things going up in smoke. Just when he thought he had something good or had something figured out, Life or Fate or God or some cosmic force he didn't know walked in and snatched it away. Heaven forbid that Duo Maxwell should actually be happy and content. That was against the rules of the universe.

"Damn you," he mumbled to the fire. "Why wouldn't you wear the body armor? I know it was uncomfortable, but…" He wiped the tears from his face. Maybe he should go back to the old lie, the one that said boys didn't cry. "Why?"

He knew why. He was Shinigami, and everything he touched, everyone he loved, died.

He walked back to the studio, staggering into the wall halfway down the hall. He looked at the bottle. Well, not surprising. Half a fifth -- no, one and half fifths. It was enough to make anyone a little unsteady.

It took the whole night to find all of them, but in the end they were gone. Everything in the house that he'd drawn or painted while Heero was… here. "While he was alive," he whispered, forcing himself to face the truth.

Heero had inspired them all in one way or another. Something he said or the way he looked across the dinner table or walking in the garden together or any of a thousand other little things. And though Heero had been the subject of only a handful of them, Duo saw him in every one of them. Could remember the exact thing Heero had done that had caused him to create them. Could remember the way Heero had smiled when he saw each new image and Duo explained how Heero had caused it.

He looked around the living room, the walls strangely bare, then stumbled back to the studio for one last check. Only blank paper and canvas. Good. No more reminders of what he had lost. He set a canvas on the easel, picked up a brush and squeezed a bit of black paint onto a palette board. Black was definitely the right color.

The brush hadn't moved six hours later when Bernie's voice roused him from his trance. He stared at the creamy rectangle before him where there should have been something and sighed. His art came from his heart. That's what Heero had always told him.

The canvas reflected his heart perfectly. Blank. Empty. Lifeless.

He put the brush down and turned, intending to catch Bernie in the living room, but Bernie was already standing at the door staring dumbfounded around the studio.

"Where are all the paintings for the opening next week?"

Duo looked at him, looked down, sighed. "I burned them." The man had a right to be concerned. Agents didn't make money if their artists didn't produce.

"You what?"

"I burned them, okay? They reminded me of him. Every time I looked at them I remembered what he'd done or said that made me paint them. I couldn't stand it."

"Duo! We have an opening at Galerie Chanteuse next week -- as in seven days from yesterday. They're expecting at least twenty--"

"Cancel it, Bernie."

"Duo--"

"Cancel it!" Duo snapped. He pointed to the canvas on the easel. "That's what I've been able to do since 06:00, okay? I just… I just can't." He pushed past Bernie and out the door.

"Duo," Bernie hurried after him. "Duo, wait." Bernie caught up with him at the liquor cabinet. "Look, I know you're going through a bad time. I'll call the gallery and get the opening delayed for a few weeks. They were really interested in hosting your work and I'm sure they'll understand. That'll give you time to do some new--"

"Bernie," Duo said, pouring himself a large glass of something. He didn't much care what it was or what it tasted like as long as it numbed the pain he felt every time he looked around the room and saw where Heero used to sit reading or stand looking at the garden or hold him near the fireplace. "I can't. I can't paint. I can't draw. It's gone. It died with him." He ran his free hand roughly across his eyes before the tears could get away again.

Bernie looked at him for a minute, then laid a hand on his shoulder. "I'll come by again in a few days, okay?"

"Bernie--"

"I'm not going to nag you, Duo. Not too much, anyway. I just want to make sure you're okay. You painted before you met him, I have to believe you'll find it again one day, and when you do, I want to be your agent." He laughed. "I stuck with you all those years you were just another starving artist, and for the past three years when you were breaking even for me. I can wait a few more to turn a profit on you."

Duo nodded. Bernie couched it in business terms, but they were friends and had been for a long time. "Thanks, Bernie. But no promises."

"No promises, but--" he pointed to the glass in Duo's hand. "Go easy on that stuff, will you?"

Duo shrugged.

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Duo lay on the couch in the living room. It had been six months and he still couldn't sleep in the bedroom. There were too many memories there. Too many memories in this house they had built. For ten years, Heero had kept a secret from Duo. He had somehow found a way to save nearly a hundred credits a week out of his Preventers paycheck. Adding everything Duo had made from his first three "big" sales and doing a lot of the work themselves, they had only needed a small loan to build the place. It wasn't huge, but it was big enough for them, and they had filled it to overflowing with fun and laughter and art and each other.

He pushed aside the memory and walked face first into the night Wufei had showed up at the door. He had known what was coming, but had refused to think it until Wufei told him Heero was dead, shot four times in the chest at close range during a raid on a cell of ex-Oz soldiers who thought they could revive the "good old days". He had held together well until he'd brought Heero's ashes home and scattered them in the garden.

The garden. That was a happier memory. Heero had been tense, stressed out by work. Duo had suggested a hobby and had mentioned gardening just as a "for instance". Heero had latched onto the idea like a trained attack dog on a fleeing felon and had promptly spent two weekends researching on the Net. Duo had thought maybe a flowerbed. But, in his hobby, Heero had displayed his usual dedication to perfection -- or perhaps his usual obsessive mania, depending on how you looked at it. In the course of a year, he had transformed the back yard with a waterfall and fish pond, stone pathways, dozens of different kinds of flowers, a swing with jasmine trained over the posts, a Japanese cherry tree…

It had been beautiful, and in it, Duo had found subject after subject for his work. That, Duo knew, had made Heero happier than the garden itself.

He sat up and looked toward the French doors, relying on memory from that morning to see beyond the glare of the afternoon sun. It was still beautiful. Heero had done his work so well that even now, six months after he'd last tended it, it looked as if he had just finished touching it up.

He sighed. Too many memories, but he could never leave this place for exactly that reason. He poured himself a glass of scotch from the bottle on the end table and stood, walking to the French doors so he could look at the garden. They had stood there together on rainy days, watching the grey fall transform the garden into a misty, mystical place just out of reach.

He shook off the memory and forced himself to the present. He was still drinking too much, but it seemed so much easier than the alternative. And at least he wasn't doing two bottles a day like he had at first. Bernie seemed to be less concerned about his alcohol intake now. Maybe, given enough time…

He frowned. Someone was in the garden, kneeling at one of the flowerbeds, messing with it, probably picking flowers. Damn it. This was Heero's garden and he wasn't going to have some snot nosed little brat messing with it. He reached for the doorknob, intending to give whoever a piece of his mind, imperfectly sober as it may be at the moment, but when he stepped out onto the porch and looked up again, they were gone.

He walked down the path to where they had been kneeling, but there were no broken stems, just a few weeds laid to the side, freshly pulled.

So, that explained why the garden was still in good shape. Someone had been tending it behind his back.

He looked around. It was the first time he'd been in the garden since he scattered Heero's ashes. His original assessment from the house had been correct. He hadn't noticed then, but now he saw that the winter beds had been turned over and summer annuals had been planted among the perennials to fill in the colors. He wondered if Bernie had put someone up to it. It was the kind of thing Bernie might do, maybe hoping he'd go back to the garden for more paintings.

But how had they gotten over the fence?

Duo sighed and walked back into the house where he spent four hours in the studio with a blank piece of paper which was just as blank when he finally gave up. He went to the kitchen and made up a grocery order and called it in, then sat, not thinking as he waited for it to be delivered.

He had learned to sit and not think about two months ago.

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A week later, Duo stood at the French doors again, looking out into the garden, frowning at the person tending the flowerbed. He had forgotten to ask Bernie about it when he'd come by for his weekly visit. Duo knew he shouldn't be mad at the gardener -- he wasn't damaging the garden, was actually preserving it -- but it just seemed… wrong. In his mind, this would always be Heero's garden.

He reached to open the door and froze. He looked at the glass in his hand, then out the door again, then sat the glass in the chair beside the door, not taking his eyes off the figure in the garden. He couldn't believe it. It couldn't be true. He'd been drinking too much for too long and it was affecting his head. "Turn around," he whispered as the figure stood, but it walked deeper into the garden, then knelt again and resumed weeding around the swing.

The movement was enough. The firm, smooth grace. The way he squatted, then dropped to his knees, then sat on his feet. And how could he have forgotten the way tight jeans clung to lean, muscular legs?

"Heero!" He shouted, opening the door and rushing out. The figure vanished as it turned toward him, but not before he caught the briefest view of the profile. He crashed to his knees at the suddenly empty spot. "Why?" He looked around. "Damn it!" He shouted. "Why?"

"Shit," he muttered, shaking his head, standing, walking back to the house. "Now I'm talking to a hallucination." He closed the door behind him and picked up his glass. "Maybe I should just give up." He sighed, turning back to the door to make sure it was locked.

He was back. And…

Duo heard the glass shatter as it hit the floor, but he didn't care. He could clean it up later. Instead, he hurried up the hall and pulled down the stairs that led to the attic. He had just remembered…

Ten minutes later he found it. It was small, only twelve inches square, the one thing he had forgotten six months ago. He had planned to give it to Heero as a birthday gift, one the few paintings of Heero he'd ever done. Heero, kneeling in the garden, weeding.

He stared at it. A last, painful word from the otherwise beautiful chapter in his life called "Heero Yuy". His last connection to that past. Part of him wanted to burn it like the rest and let it all be gone. Instead, he took it downstairs and set it in the chair next the to door and stared at it, then out to the figure in the garden, then back at the painting.

Slowly a thought formed.

Drawing was like piloting a Gundam. You got rusty without practice, but you never forgot how. It took four hours to draw what should have taken no more than one, but in the end there was a picture of Heero in the evening, sitting on the couch in the living room, reading, listening to music on the stereo. He applied a final touch of shading along the collarbone and stood back, amazed that the paper wasn't blank.

Then he heard it.

Heero had always liked the "Moonlight Sonata", saying it was soft and dark and beautiful and reminded him of Duo.

Duo ran down the hall, but as he broke into the living room, the music stopped. He thought he caught a glimpse of a vanishing figure on the couch. "Damn." He sighed and headed back to his studio, only to be stopped by the music halfway down the hall.

"I'm losing it," he mumbled. "Or drinking way more than I thought. Seeing things. Hearing things. I have to prove this isn't real." And he knew exactly how. He went back to the studio and rummaged around in his desk drawer until he found the tiny disk recorder he had used to record his dealings with Bernie. He didn't really think Bernie would screw him, but he'd always asked Heero to give their negotiations a listen in case Bernie missed something.

He put in a blank disk and turned it on, then walked slowly down the hall, listening to the music growing louder, then suddenly stopping as he crossed the threshold into the living room.

He stopped the recorder, stared at it for a minute. "Might as well get it over with. If I'm really going nuts I might as well know it." He pushed the playback button. Silence. He sighed. Then footsteps in the hall and… music, getting louder. Stopping.

He fell onto the couch, eyes closed. Either it was real or he was so crazy they needed to lock him up and throw away the key. He wasn't sure which he hoped it was.

But if it was real -- if he could draw Heero back from the dead -- why couldn't he get close to him? Maybe that was Life's way of being sure he wasn't happy. Damn Maxwell Curse, he thought. "Why can't I be with you?" he whispered.

He frowned. God, it couldn't be that simple.

He ran back to the studio and pulled out his pencils and erasers, altering the drawing as the music played in the background, teasing him. Twenty minutes later, he tore the page out of the pad and ran down the hall, waiting for the music to stop.

Only it didn't. A familiar figure sat on the couch, reading.

Duo's breath caught in his throat. He felt tears. Damn it. Why should he be crying? He glanced at the page in his hand, then sat on the couch and put his arm around Heero.

"Hello, koi."

"God. Is it really you?"

"No, just Heero." That faint hint of a smile that signaled a joke.

"I've missed you. Bad." Duo pulled him close.

"I'm sorry."

As their lips touched, Heero vanished.

Duo stared at the emptiness next to him, more hopeless than he had been anytime in the past six months. He looked at the picture in his hand. Him sitting with his arm around Heero.

He reached for the bottle of gin which was currently occupying the end table, looked at it, then put it back.

He stood and walked back to the studio.

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Bernie gave up pounding on the door and dug the spare key out of its hiding place in the front flowerbed. He'd tried to call twice today, but had gotten the machine both times. Now with no answer at the door, he was afraid what he might find, but it was better to get it over with. It was such a waste, though. Duo had had so much talent, and he didn't believe that simply because he was Duo's agent.

"Duo?" He called as he opened the door. "It's Bernie. You okay?"

No response.

Damn. Such a waste.

He walked down the entry hall and turned into the living room. And stared.

Pictures.

New pictures.

Damn good new pictures.

Lots of damn good new pictures.

He hurried back to the studio. "Duo?"

Duo stood in front of a canvas, brush flying in seemingly random patterns, but Bernie could already see the outline of a beach scene, the waves and sand and people gradually gaining more definition with each pass of the brush, as if the picture were fading into view.

"Duo?"

"Go away Bernie," Duo said, the brush slowing as he spoke, then picking up speed again in the silence that followed.

Bernie had seen it before. Artists got on a jag and you couldn't disturb them. Some of them got violent if you tried. Duo had never done anything like that before… but he'd always had Heero to keep him in the here and now before. He looked around the studio at a half dozen paintings and drawings that hadn't been moved to the living room yet and frowned.

He pulled the phone out of his pocket and dialed as he walked up the hall to the living room. "Deb, it's Bernie. Guess who's working again. … No, Duo. … Yes. I'm looking at some of his new stuff now and it makes his best old stuff look like bug splatters … Yeah, I've heard of Jackson Pollock, but I'm talking Duo Maxwell, okay? Look, I need you to get over to the art supply store and pick up about fifty canvasses, various sizes, three or four sketch pads, and a couple of those big C-size charcoal pads, charcoals, pencils, a couple of paint collections and get them out here five minutes ago. … No, don't call them and get them to deliver, go buy it and get it out here now. I don't want him to run out while he's got the muse. … Look, I'll give you ten percent of my-- … Deb, just do it. If you get here and look at this and don't think it's worth it, I'll pay you whatever, okay? … Great. I'm here waiting. … The rest of my appointments can go to Hell. Now get those damn supplies here now. And get some watercolors and watercolor paper. … Yeah, I know he's never done watercolors before, but I think he'll do anything we give to him. And wouldn't the first Maxwell watercolor be a great draw for an opening? … Bye."

Bernie was still kneeling at the couch, looking through the two-inch thick stack of pencils and charcoals when he heard, "Damn, Bernie, I don't go for pictures of two guys in bed together, but…"

He looked up. "But what, Deb?"

"Their faces. It's like they're alive. And the expressions… And the way Heero's holding him. I want it."

"Duo's holding Heero."

"No. Heero's holding…" Deb paused, studying the drawing again. "I guess you could see it either way, huh?"

"Told you it was good. You got the stuff?"

"In the car. You'll have to help me drag it in. When's the opening?"

Bernie grinned. "I think I'll tell Galerie Chanteuse next week. He did all this in the last three days."

"Give me six more months," Duo said, walking in with the pieces Bernie had seen in the studio.

"Come on, Duo," Bernie said, "It won't take you that long."

"Six months, Bernie. November 14th." Duo leaned the paintings against the wall and dropped a handful of sketches on top of the stack in front of Bernie and Deb. "No questions. I need to get back to work." He turned and walked back to the studio.

Bernie and Deb looked at each other. Deb twirled her finger next to her ear. Bernie nodded. "Yeah, but crazy in a good way, I think."

"Did you notice anything odd about these pictures, though?" she asked, flipping through the canvasses Duo had just brought out.

"Uh-huh. Heero is in all of them and Duo is in most of them. Makes no sense to me. He never drew himself and almost never drew Heero before." He shrugged. "But I've never been able to understand artists, just spot the good ones and sell their work. Let's get him restocked."

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Duo fiddled with his tie as he wandered through the crowd. He had thought that people would rather see the real him, beat up jeans, scraggly T-shirt and all. Bernie had insisted he wear a tie. Bernie had folded on the pants, though, settling for a nice, new pair of jeans instead of slacks, and they'd compromised on a white button up shirt, not tucked in. He glanced at his watch. It was almost--

"Duo."

He sighed and walked over to where Deb stood with a man whose suit probably cost more than the asking price on some of the paintings. "Mr. Orfali was wondering if he could convince you to part with this one."

Duo looked at the small picture of a figure kneeling in the garden. "I'm sorry, Mr. Orfali, but that one isn't for sale."

"You haven't heard my offer, Mr. Maxwell. I want to use this 'Heero In The Garden' in an advertising campaign--"

"Mr. Orfali." Duo's mouth smiled, but his eyes didn't. "Not for Earth and the Colonies combined. You can negotiate with Bernie or Deb for any other picture, including the ones we haven't released yet. But this one… this one is a gift for my lover." He took the painting from its hook on the wall.

Mr. Orfali looked at him for a moment and shrugged. "I'll have to look somewhere else I guess."

Duo turned. He had an appointment to keep.

"Mr. Orfali, as Mr. Maxwell said, we have several paintings held in reserve. I know at least two or three--"

Duo smiled to himself. They were showing a tiny fraction of the work he'd done in the last six months, and there were several similar paintings that, by the time Deb was done with him, Mr. Orfali would pay twice as much to acquire.

He glanced at his watch and hurried through the crowd to the painting he'd finished yesterday. He checked the clock in the painting, then the clock on the far wall. Bernie had been reluctant, but Duo had insisted on showing it and had personally placed it, tweaking the position for three hours and driving the gallery crew up the wall in the process. Now, he stood, looking at it, waiting.

A hand touched his shoulder and he smiled. "I hoped you'd be able to do that." Now for the real moment of truth. He turned and found the one thing that had driven him these past months.

"I hoped I would too."

Duo slid an arm around the slender waist and held out the small painting. "Happy birthday. I made us a whole world."

"Aa. Let's go see it."

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"Is that the model for his paintings?"

Bernie turned and saw Duo with his arm around some guy's waist, walking toward the door. Who the Hell…

Then he saw the painting. The one he hadn't wanted to show. Duo, seen from behind, standing in front of a painting -- the painting he was looking at -- and Heero behind him, hand reaching toward Duo's shoulder.

Then Bernie saw the painting and how it fit into the room. He stared after the retreating pair, amazed that Duo had had the clarity of vision needed to paint the gallery as it would look today and understanding why he'd been so particular about its placement. Duo's companion opened the door, then turned, facing back into the room as he held the door open for Duo.

Bernie felt his jaw go slack.

He regained his composure quickly, though. Becoming moderately successful had required he learn not to let surprises get the better of him. As the door closed he said, "Yes, it is, Mrs. Roche," not sure how it could be true, but knowing it was.

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