Author: pyrzm
see ch. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Broken Warriors + Chapter 113
Mission Mode (Again)

Heero had been researching weddings ever since Duo accepted his proposal in Japan, and with all his usual thoroughness.

It was a daunting prospect, this wedding planning. It appeared to take less advance preparations to blow up an entire military installation. Every aspect of the procedure, from attire to provisions, was fraught with endless permutations. Heero had been aware that there was more than one style of tuxedo, but until now had never needed to know that level of formality and time of day of the ceremony played into the choice. He was heartily grateful that a wedding gown was not a factor, as there was an even more confusing set of rules and choices in that department.

He didn't care about gifts, and suspected that Duo wouldn't either. He couldn't image the two of them lingering over china and crystal patterns, or appliances. They certainly didn't need sterling silver pickle forks. It seemed ridiculous to invite people to a celebration and expect them to spend money on items you could far more easily acquire for yourself.

Venue was a significant problem, too, for it was a crucial factor in the success of the event. Neither he nor Duo belonged to any religion, so a church wedding was not a strong option. That left him with no identifiable parameters. You could be married anywhere, according to his research: public halls, bars, mountaintops, skydiving, under water, the list was endless, and all of them presented what Heero considered significant and completely unnecessary logistical complications. Narrowing his search to "Gay Weddings" was no help. L-2 and several tropical Earthside locales were popular choices, but Heero didn't feel any particular affinity for those places.

After hours of online research and after amassing hundreds of documents for his file, he had finally happened across a short article in a woman's magazine he'd found at a Berlin grocery store, entitled "Make it Personal. Make It Yours." The author advised prospective brides-here Heero had to do his usual translation to be comfortable-to work with their fiance, exploring their own tastes and interests, and to design a ceremony that expressed themselves, rather than adhering to tradition or outside expectation. Heero read the article three times, and felt that a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He also suspected that he had narrowly escaped making a huge mistake; handing Duo a preconceived plan rather than including him in the process.

His instincts proved correct. Once the subject had been broached at that Paris cafe, Duo proved to be an enthusiastic participant, and immediately agreed with Heero's first proposal regarding location.

"It's perfect!" he'd exclaimed, hugging Heero excitedly. "How did I luck out and snag such a romantic genius, huh?"

After that things seemed to fall into place very easily.

+

They set the date for May 15, during the show's hiatus between Paris and the L-2 debut in June. Oddly enough, with this matter settled between them, Duo suddenly had second thoughts about leaving the show. In return, Heero and Trowa cut the kisses from their act.

Heero and Duo decided to forego any sort of advance announcement of the wedding in order to keep the press out, and issued the invitations in person, and by phone, swearing all the guests to secrecy and only inviting those they could trust to keep their secret.

"This is the second time I have to admit to being jealous of you, Yuy," Wufei told him with a sad smile, as they conversed by vidphone. "Zechs and I should have been married by now, if it weren't for the wretched school rules! I have to start in the summer term, July first."

"Why didn't you just try another school?" Duo asked.

Wufei looked surprised by what sounded to Heero like a perfectly logical suggestion. "Sanque University has the best program in Europe, and the Solomon Academy is the best preparatory school in Sanque, with the highest standards. It would be dishonorable to pursue anything less."

Duo shook his head after they signed off. "I guess the old Wufei still lives, huh? I'm just glad we didn't have to go back to school to do what we want."

"What do you want to do?" asked Heero. "You blow hot and cold on the circus work."

"Performing," Duo amended, going serious and plucking at the end of his braid, a sure sign of inner conflict. "Part of me loves it, the audience, and working with Trowa and Kat all the time. But another part of me wants some kind of life that's just the two of us, you know?"

"Yes," Heero replied. He knew exactly how Duo felt, because he felt the same, although he sensed he was more comfortable than Duo at the thought of leaving the others. The fact was, he had plenty of money, but no idea what he wanted to pursue, apart from helping his friends and loving Duo. Even after all these months, he was still unused to the idea that he could chart his own course, rather than follow someone else's plan.

Perhaps that's why the circus had been such an easy fit. He had thrown himself wholeheartedly in with Trowa's vision and, as he'd remarked to Meir, had fallen back on his old skills very easily. He wasn't sure how else he could operate, really.

+

An answer had come in an unexpected form, near the end of the Paris run.

In response to popular demand, Quatre had added a gift shop to the venue, selling tee shirts, posters, photos and some of Duo's masks, as many as he could manage to turn out between his other work. Most of them were far simpler than those worn in the show, but they commanded excellent prices. To help out, Heero had matted some of his pencil drawing and added them to the mix. They were portraits, mostly, and some drawings of the acts. To his surprise, these sold very well, even the small, quick sketches, and sold even when Quatre upped the prices on a par with the masks.

"I told you before, you have talent," Quatre laughed, helping him matte up new ones one night. "If you were willing to part with some of the nudes you've done of us, you'd really make a killing."

Heero had laughed at that, but one night, as he passed by the gift shop tent, he heard someone call his name. A large man with a gray ponytail stepped from the press and waved him over. It was Jim Arnaud, the painter from New Orleans who'd praised Heero's drawings.

"Hello. What are you doing in Paris?" Heero asked, shaking hands with him.

"I spend a few months here every spring. I have a studio on the left bank, as any painter should," Arnaud replied, smiling. "I'd heard you added some new acts and came to see them the other night. This time I came to see you."

"Why?"

In answer, Arnaud took him by the elbow and guided him into the gift shop tent, stopping where they could see people exclaiming over Heero's drawings, which were displayed on one wall.

"Do you know why they're buying your work?" Arnaud asked.

"Because they like the circus."

"Wrong. Because you did them. Oh, they'd buy any crap associated with the show, I'll grant you that, but your work, and those masks by that boyfriend of yours? You could sell those on their own merits, and your names of course. You can't discount that in the art world. It's as much about the artist as the art, and you two have plenty of cache."

Heero nodded slowly. He'd told Duo as much, many times, but never thought of his own work that way. Then again, hadn't Duo tried to say the same to him, and Quatre, too, only for Heero to brush their words aside, assuming the praise came more from love for him than any merit his work had.

But this wasn't Duo or Quatre. Arnaud had no stake in praising him. In fact, he looked annoyed. "Don't you remember what I said to you before? This shit you're peddling is fine for this crowd, but it's baby stuff. You're squandering your talents on glorified sidewalk art!"

"What business is it of yours?" Heero asked, stung by the criticism.

"Ah, you don't like that?" Arnaud grinned, and poked Heero lightly in the chest. "Feels kinda lousy right here, doesn't it? You know what that feeling is, kid?"

Stunned, Heero shook his head.

"That's your soul, buddy, telling you I'm right. Let me ask you this. You've been in New York, Berlin and Paris. How many art museums have you visited?"

The uneasy feeling was stronger now. "None. But we've been busy . . ."

"Doing what? Your art? Or supporting your friends' art? Hey, don't get me wrong. If being a circus star is what you want, then you're damn good at it and that's fine. But if you're drawing enough along with it to have enough to sell? Then maybe you're not listening to what your soul's trying to tell you." He paused and pulled a business card from the pocket of his ragged jacket. "Here's my Paris address and phone. If you get a day free, let me know and I'll show you some of what you've been missing. And bring that good-looking squeeze of yours along, too. He might learn a thing or two. It would be a damn shame if you both spent your talents being shadow artists all your lives."

Heero watched him go, not sure whether he should be flattered or insulted. As he walked past the display of his drawings, though, he discovered he felt a little embarrassed. Was that his soul talking again? And what the hell was a shadow artist?

Later that night he did an Internet search for the term. There were many entries, but he suspected he'd found the right one in a quote from a pre colony book by someone called Cameron. It meant someone who stayed close to artists, but didn't pursue their own talents. He sat for a long time, rereading that entry, and exploring the uneasy excitement it stirred up in his heart.

That night was a shared bed night, and as he lay there with the others, enjoying the closeness and security he felt with them, he screwed up his courage and told them his thoughts.

"He's right, you know," Quatre said at once, pressing a hand to Heero's heart. "Those pictures you don't show anyone else, the ones of Duo, and mermaids and the darker stuff? You're really, really good, Heero. Think what you could do if you actually studied."

"Like Wufei," Heero mused.

"Yeah," Duo said thoughtfully. "And don't settle for just any second rate place, either. I guess that's what Fei meant."

"The same goes for you," Quatre reminded Duo. "I think you should both go see this Arnaud fellow, see what he had to show you."

"Me? What's wrong with what I do? I though you loved my masks!"

"We do," Trowa assured him, propping his chin on one hand as he leaned across Quatre to join in the conversation. "And I won't lie to you. I'm selfishly scared to death you two will leave us, leave the circus, but I know it's selfish and that's why I'm telling you that up front." He grinned and ran a finger down Duo's bare shoulder. "I'm a selfish bastard, but I know what it means to go after a dream. If you two can find a way to do that, and still stay hooked up with us somehow, well, that's the best I hope for."

Duo shot Heero a guilty look. They hadn't said anything yet to Tro or Kat about leaving the show, mostly because they couldn't make up their minds about it.

"If you could give us the L-2 run, that would give us time to train up the understudies," Quatre said, reading them both like a book.

"I'm not gonna run out on you guys!" Duo exclaimed. "Not after all you did for me. Heero, too. Damn it, I don't know what to do."

"Yes you do," Quatre said, smiling as he kissed Duo on the nose. "You want to marry Heero. Let's focus on that for now, and work the rest out as we go along." He paused and gave Duo the killer puppy eyes. "Hey, you are still going to let me help with the wedding, right? You helped with ours."

That broke the tension, and Duo rolled over across Quatre and Trowa, wrestling his way between them. "Like we could get married without you!"

The rest of the conversation was lost in an impromptu wrestling bout between the four of them, which in turn devolved into snuggling and fooling around. Heero joined in, knowing that the others needed some reassurance tonight, with change looming so unclearly on the horizon.

The following Monday, when the show was dark, Heero and Duo took Arnaud up on his invitation. They started at his studio, filled with huge canvasses with tilting, dancing visions of Paris and other European scenes. Duo loved the colors and was better able to talk painting than Heero was. Arnaud let them mess around with paints and brushes for a little while, then took them off to the Louvre.

Heero and Duo were stunned. Neither of them had any background in art culture or history, and suddenly they felt like kids turned loose in a candy store. Arnaud led them from one shadowy room to another, explaining a little about periods and artists. Duo wandered off among the Greek sculptures. Heero discovered a whole gallery of sketches by people like Rembrandt, Rodin, Durier, and Michelangelo. He found he cared nothing for the Impressionists, but liked their style. Duo reappeared, eyes alight, and dragged Heero off to a display of native masks from around the world. He'd bought a sketchbook at the museum store and already filled half of if with quick sketches, inspiration for new works.

Hours passed and the day was over before either of them had had their fill.

"So, what did you think?" Arnaud asked as they sat in a cafe afterwards.

Duo showed him his sketches. "I've got enough material here to keep me busy for months!"

Heero was more subdued. "I think I have a lot to learn."

Arnaud took a folded paper from his pocket and slid it across the table to him. "A list of good art schools, here, and in America. I thought you might be interested."

"Thank you." Then, turning to Duo he grinned. "And mission accepted."

"Hey, one at a time," Duo warned, but he looked excited, too.


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