Author: Maldoror
Genre: Angst? Bleakness, certainly.
Pairings: 1x5
Rated: PG13
Warnings: Language, trauma, painting?
Spoilers: Bit for episode zero if you look at it long enough
Feedback: Please! Particularly what you like/don't like about the fic.
Disclaimer:Gundam Wing belongs to its owners (Bandai, Sunset, and a whole host of others, none of which are me) and I'm not making any money off of them. Not a single peanut.
So. I asked my bunnies for a fic for the Angst contest at GWAddiction, but not a deathfic, 'cause they depress me, and I don't need depressing these days. If I want to get depressed, I watch the news.
*shakes bunny and listens to a suspicious rattle*
I think my plot bunny's broken. This is bleak rather than angsty, at least I think (but as Sol will witness, I'm terrible at judging these kinds of things, so... here it is - at least it's short, which is a minor triumph for me right there.)

Flayed Horses

"How can you become a world-renown painter and not know how to draw?" Heero asked, a bit plaintively.

"Heero, go stare at some Dali," Wufei replied, poking him in the sides without looking away from the painting.

Heero glared at the picture rebelliously. He wasn't asking for much here, but it was refusing to meet him even halfway. He scowled at the collection of boxes and curlicues which the guide book was trying to convince him was a beautiful woman playing the guitar. He had a sneaking feeling there was some kind of joke going on here, and no one had gotten the punch line yet.

He didn't add anything but Wufei could probably feel the waves of confusion and annoyance coming off him; without a comment he gave up on the Cubist section to lead Heero off to the Renaissance.

At least people looked like people here. Heero was no longer confused. Now he was just bored.

He fetched up before a picture of a woman holding a strangely proportioned baby. The woman was staring at the kid in a stunned way, as was the cow and the horse looking over her shoulder, against all rules of sanitation, assuming this was a nativity as it claimed to be. There were sheep, too. Heero stared at it and tried to figure out why this deserved to be in a museum.

"Heero... "

He turned to look at Wufei with a blend of repentance and rebellion.

"I told you you'd be bored," Wufei pointed out gently, closing his guide book. "You should have gone for a walk downtown." Patient, as always. It would surprise anybody who knew him, how gentle and serene he could be, if only with Heero. He'd been through the fire of war at Heero's side and then he'd endured the peace; nothing much could ruffle him any more.

Heero glowered at the cow in the painting. The idea of this vacation was that they spend time together. Wufei was normally busy with the Preventers, and Heero stayed at home working on his freelance programming job.

The first three days had been great; walking through the Alps, seeing the sights... Heero had wanted to go rock climbing, but Wufei had gently reminded him about the limitations and everything. Heero had let himself be guided, Wufei was probably right. Just walking had been... nice, a concept which was still a bit alien to Heero, but he was learning.

Wufei had planned a couple of days visiting Geneva and seeing some of its museums. He'd taken a liking to European art recently. He'd read extensively about some of the paintings before coming here. There were whole books about them. In which there'd been pictures of the paintings in questions, and actual explanations. Heero thought there wasn't much point actually seeing the damned things after reading all about them and looking at prints of them, but he'd not said anything, and accompanied Wufei gamely. Wufei had tried to explain some of the interest in the pictures this morning, but Heero had quickly found out that he lacked essential knowledge and background to understand what he was looking at.

"Here," Wufei slipped the gallery's brochure in his hand, folded to reveal the map. "There's a gift shop here, go and buy a book, and wait for me in the café. I'll be there in less than an hour or-"

"No, don't hurry on my account," Heero mumbled, feelings twisting and knotting- a firm hand slipping into his and giving it a squeeze interrupted the start of the spiral.

"That's okay; I can always come back tomorrow, while you visit the architectural museum two blocks away. We can go to the town centre this afternoon. Go on."

Heero let himself be shooed off with some guilty relief. He walked through the empty rooms, his boots squeaking and sending echoes back at him from the walls hung with splashes of futile, bewildering colors. It was a weekday at ten in the morning, outside holiday season, there was hardly anybody there. He passed a couple of people staring intently at portraits of other people who'd died, at a reasonable estimate, over six hundred years ago. Heero resisted the urge to tap them on the shoulder and ask them why the hell they were so interested. It would probably offend or embarrass them; maybe they were only pretending.

A glance at the map showed him a short cut to the cafe, through a big round central room. He hooked a left, passed a few portraits of doleful looking flowers and still life paintings that made fruit and fish look as unappetizing as possible, and went through a narrow archway.

For a second he was confused. A wall appeared to be bisecting the circular white room, one that hadn't been on the map. Then he realized the 'wall' was hanging from the ceiling, and didn't go all the way across, or reach the floor. It was a white expanse of over ten feet by twenty five, and it was just hanging there, for no apparent reason. He was back in the twentieth century painting section, he realized. Heero shook his head. Art. He would never get it.

He made his way around it and headed towards the archway out of the room. He noted an information panel nearby, quite a large one. Surprised, he glanced behind him.

A horse screamed, its body twisted and splayed. The animal was larger than Heero, overwhelming in its grey and white pain. Its body was a crude jumble of hatched shapes, except for the neck and head that pulled out of the tangle in agony, smooth and taut with muscles, as if it had been flayed.

Painting... ? Fixed on the white wall- it was so big it wrapped itself around his senses.

Heero followed its maddened gaze - next to the tortured horse, a bull was staring over a woman's shoulder at the child in her lap. The child was dead, the body limp and dangling like road kill. The woman shrieked, her neck twisted so violently it looked like it had been snapped by her grief. The bull was screaming too, the horse was screaming, another woman was screaming-

Someone was panting harshly. Heero tried to concentrate on the fact that the perspective looked like it'd been drawn by a three-year old, and somehow that made it worse, the aching, ugly lines tore at him like a bullet hole.

The horse was trampling body parts -- a head, a torso, a severed arm clutching a broken sword. A woman was running nearby, crouched, body grossly swollen -- the white sections and the women's tortured faces kept flashing in his eyes like flares from a blast -- something exploded in the sky, above the horse's head, ripping chunks from its body -- a building was spiked with crude flames like broken glass, a woman cut to shreds falling from -

"Heero? You still- Heero?!"

The buildings tumbled onto the body parts and dead children, the dying horse and the helpless-

Heero shouted as he was jerked around. He fell into warmth he could feel only distantly.

"Calm down, breathe -- fuck, fuck, I didn't know they had that here- I'm sorry, so sorry- deep breaths, centre yourself, don't -- open your eyes, Heero, look at me, okay? Look at me-"

Wufei was trying to ground him, give him an anchor. Heero knew the methods, he knew the symptoms of the disease, he knew, without looking, that Wufei was scrabbling around in his backpack looking for his medication. It didn't matter. His mind was in a place that couldn't be reached by that. A place of broken, burning buildings and dead children.

"It's not even our war, Heero, it's- it has nothing to do with you, okay? Don't- Heero, listen to me, please?"

He was being lead away from the white room with its black, white and gray trauma cutting it in two. He couldn't feel the arm around his shoulders. He felt cold all over, removed from his body. His ears were ringing, like he'd been caught in a bomb blast.

Not our war. Could be, though. Could be one of the bases I bombed -- some had civilians living in the officers quarters. Could be the towns in Sanq that I couldn't protect. It could be-

How long? How long have people looked at this painting, and still gone to war anyway? After seeing the torn animals and mothers screaming over the bodies of their children? Never stops. Never, never, never stops.

"Here. Swallow. Be careful, don't choke."

Heero swallowed the pills obediently. He was staring blindly straight ahead. People walked past them in the street. Some stared at him. He wondered if he'd killed anybody they cared about.

"Here, come here, sit down... " Wufei whispered. Heero followed him blindly, automatically. Wufei was the one who'd found him, caught in the black and white of fallen buildings and dead bodies. Who helped him into a place where they were no longer quite so visible, where, if he wore a pair of blinders and never left the house except with his lover, he could ignore the body parts scattered around him, the stink of charnel fires, the screams of the dying. Wufei had given him a few precious moments of color, and even though Heero knew they were a lie, he still loved them and their creator passionately, desperately, like a drowning man reaching for the distant sight of land.

"Sally? It's Wufei. Sally, Heero's just had a bad one. A really bad one. Can you -- no, of course I avoided the bombed out areas this time! I was careful, I -- I didn't know - shit, Sally, the bloody museum had Guernica on display as a special exhibit, I didn't know- okay. Geneva, right in the town centre- go ahead, give me the address, I'll get a taxi to take us... No, I know- if only I'd thought- if only I'd checked!... I know, I know. I'm just-I'm sorry... "

I'm the one who's sorry, Wufei. The only thing I can resent you for is the promise you extracted from me. It would be so easy to surrender it all to a bullet right now.

Heero forced himself to look away from the grey concrete his eyes were fastened to, the amorphous pieces of papers ground into it, the splayed shape of a piece of gum racked across the road by someone's shoe. The sky was grey, a seagull nailed against it above a small park, trees caged in iron and cinderblock art. He thought of the efforts it would take Wufei to once more put a bit of color back into the world for him, and it tired him just to think of it. So much work, and it would get stripped away again sooner or later, and then more effort to drag Heero out from the depression - it exhausted him. That bullet would be so much easier. Better for him, infinitely better for Wufei, better for everybody- He pressed himself into Wufei, felt the arm rise to hug him, and he wished he could feel the warmth of the other's body. His hands felt numb, as if they'd been using a machine gun for too long, the repetitive hammer deadening the nerve endings in his fingers.

"Never stops. Never, never-" he heard his own words drag around in circles, and Wufei put away the phone to hold him with both arms.

"It will, Heero. One day it will. I promise." But Heero had stopped believing in that a long time ago. Wufei shouldn't be holding him like that; Heero couldn't enjoy it, and Wufei hated public displays of affection- Heero struggled limply but the arms only tightened. It didn't matter. Nothing did.

"Come on, Heero. Let's get a taxi. Sally gave me the address of a clinic here, we can go and... " the rest of the words faded into a meaningless jumble.

They'd eventually see Sally again, Sally and her medication and her talk of post-traumatic stress disorder that tried to put the pain into neat pigeonholes. The worst would pass; the sound of bullets, explosions, the memory of a slaughtered childhood, they would all fade into the grey and white days, and then Wufei would get to work again and try-... and Heero would be once more pitifully thankful for whatever shreds of color and feeling and hope his lover could give him, as he hid in their home. Blinders to conceal the sight of corpses, a gentle voice to cover the sounds of screams. Until next time. And the next. Never, never stops.

In his mind there would only ever be dead children and flayed horses.



In case anyone doesn't know:

Guernica, by Pablo Picasso, 11 feet 6 inches high and 25 feet 8 inches wide, commemorates the aerial bombardment - and obliteration - of the ancient Basque town of 5,000 inhabitants by German and Italian squadrons on April 26, 1937, requested by Franco.

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