By: Sintari
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

A/N: This is the final chapter of Tangled Up in Blue! I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it and that the ending meets your expectations. The chapter title comes from a song of the same title by The Smiths, a song that -- incidentally -- pretty much inspired the whole fic. I recommend giving it a listen sometime! Thanks again for reading and I really appreciate any feedback or reviews!

Tangled Up in Blue + Part 11
There Is a Light That Never Goes Out

Somebody once said,
"True love is likes ghosts, which everybody talks about and few have seen."
I've seen both, and I don't know how to tell you which is worse.

- Beth Gutcheon, More Than You Know


The zoo had given him two weeks off for bereavement, and Quatre spent most of it on the couch in his pajama bottoms eating ramen noodles and watching the classic movie channel. He had never been more thankful for Trowa. Though they had only been together for a few months, his boyfriend seemed to read his mind, showing up on nights he needed him there, giving him his space other times.

They carefully avoided the fact that Quatre hadn't given Trowa an answer about Tsavo.

They were in front of the TV eating Chinese take-out when the subject finally came up again. Rita Hayworth slapped Glenn Ford and milliseconds later Trowa dropped his chopsticks on the table with a clatter.

Quatre tore his eyes from the screen. He realized then that he and Trowa hadn't actually spoken to one another for over an hour.

"I was wondering," Trowa began. He was staring at the fallen chopsticks as he said it. "I know you don't have your passport, so I brought you this application. You need to file six weeks before you leave. And I leave in two months. So…"

Quatre was saved from replying by the ringing of the phone. He glanced at the caller ID and then guiltily back at Trowa before taking another bite of rice. They sat there in silence as the phone rang six times. On the screen, George Macready made a shady deal with some gangsters.

"Duo?" Trowa said quietly.

"Yup."

Quatre watched as Trowa held the application out so that it spanned the no man's land between them on the couch. When had they started sitting so far apart?

"Have you had time to think about it?" Trowa asked. Quatre regarded the paper until the fine print blurred before finally taking it. Rita Hayworth was singing a torch song in the background.

"Yes."

Trowa took a deep breath before responding. "And will you tell me what you've been thinking?"

Quatre chased a glob of rice around the carton before taking his own deep breath. "I've been thinking that I need more time."

Trowa nodded. Tentatively, Quatre reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. "I'll make my decision soon. I promise."

+

Duo was thinking about Katie Winner. Specifically, he was standing in the produce section of the ShopRite remembering the day she had taught him and Quatre how to identify ripe cantaloupe. Hearing her voice in his head, he located a slick spot on the rind of his current choice and so sat it back down with its brethren.

"A little out of your neighborhood, aren't you?" a familiar female voice said.

"I've always liked this store," he said casually, turning to face Iria. She stood behind him, her empty shopping cart blocking his path.

"I thought you might be hoping to bump into Quatre," came her neutral response.

Duo did not even blink. "Does he shop here? I never knew."

"From the moment he brought you home from school, I knew you were trouble," Iria continued, as if they had been in the middle of a heart to heart. "The best thing he ever did was drop you, Duo. Stay away from him."

Duo's knuckles tightened on the handle of his cart, and for a moment he considered ramming hers, just out of spite. But all he said was, "Can I go?"

"Trowa is good for him. He's stable, he's a nice guy. He was there for him when our mother died. Where the hell were you, Duo?" She seemed to want an answer, but she moved her cart out of his way as she spoke.

"Iria…"

"No more excuses, Duo. He waited around for you for years. Years! Now he's going to Tsavo with Trowa and he's going to make something of himself instead of living in your shadow. Don't fuck this up for him."

Tsavo? Suppressing the urge to scream at her, Duo managed to twist his lips into a smirk instead. That had always annoyed her. "How long have you been waiting to say this to me?"

All the anger seemed to drain from Iria's face and Duo suddenly remembered who she really was. A woman old before her time. A woman with two jobs and a pregnant ward. A woman whose mother had just died from a wasting illness. "Just don't let him down again," she said tiredly.

She left him there by the cantaloupes, her words hanging in the air.

Tsavo.

Kenya.

+

Letting himself in with his key, Trowa spotted the passport application sitting in the precise place where he had left it exactly a week ago. He gingerly picked it up, revealing a shiny, dust-free rectangle.

"In the kitchen!" he heard Quatre call. "Just a minute."

When Quatre emerged he was surprised to see Trowa standing by the door, the passport application in one hand and the red and white toothbrush he had taken to keeping in Quatre's spare bathroom in the other.

Reading the question in Quatre's eyes, he smiled thinly. "I have to go."

"Go where? You just got here."

"To Tsavo," Trowa said quietly. "And I don't think it's a good idea for you to go with me."

Quatre didn't seem to notice that he had dropped the blue dishcloth he had been holding. "What? Why?"

"Because I'm not your Hollywood ending."

Quatre crossed the distance between them in three quick steps. "What? I never asked…"

But Trowa took a step back, keeping them at arms length. "For as long as I can remember, I have lived to please. If foster parents wanted a hard worker, I was a hard worker. If some children's home expected me to misbehave, I misbehaved. When I first reunited with my sister, she wanted a rock to lean on. So I was a rock. I put up with calls at all hours of the day. I spent my every spare moment listening to her problems. And now you want a Hollywood romance. You want candy and flowers and romantic walks in the moonlight and everything that Duo Maxwell isn't. So I did that for you. I don't sleep at night because I'm lying awake wondering if I should turn down this grant. Because I love you, Quatre. I love you, but you don't even know who I am."

"Trowa, that's not tr…" Then his mind caught up with his mouth. They stood less than two feet apart, but suddenly Trowa seemed a world away. "I'm sorry," Quatre said quietly. He stooped to pick up the fallen cloth, because when you've walked on someone, it's hard to look into their eyes afterward. "Maybe I just wasn't ready."

Trowa's face twisted into an expression that Quatre wouldn't have recognized, even if he had been able to bring himself to look up. "It's okay. It's my own fault. I always do this." The sound he made might have been a chuckle, under different circumstances.

"No! It's my fault! I didn't realize what I was doing. I really, really liked you, Trowa. It's just Duo and I…." he was silenced when two long, tan, fingers pressed against his lips. Blue eyes met green.

"I'm going to Tsavo." Trowa said firmly. "I'll write to you, if you promise to write me back."

Quatre nodded, tears threatening to spill at any moment. And Trowa and his passport application and his toothbrush disappeared out the door, leaving Quatre alone again.

+

Three days later, Quatre awoke to knocking at the door. For the first morning since Trowa left, he did not immediately reach for him.

He peered out the peephole as he buttoned his jeans. Duo stood against the far wall. Quatre could see that his braid was thrown over one shoulder and he was twisting it in both hands. The cheap silver cross pendant Quatre had given him so long ago -- back when he still thought God paid attention to them -- caught the security light, a bit of brightness against his plain black t-shirt.

Maybe it was the way Duo looked at the ground dejectedly, or the way one hand moved up to his heart to clasp the cross between two fingers that made Quatre remove the security chain and open the door.

They took one another in for a second. Quatre thought Duo looked pale, and the slight widening of his eyes indicated that he was nervous. Very few people had ever seen Duo Maxwell's nervous face.

"What do you want?" Quatre asked, and even though he had had a full night's rest, just seeing Duo made him feel as if he hadn't slept in days.

Seeming to recover from the shock of actually coming face to face with his best friend again, Duo's words came out in a rush. "I want you to come with me. Just for one day." He had used both hands to push himself off the wall and take a few quick steps toward Quatre. But something stopped him from completely closing the distance between them, so he made his plea from a few feet away. It seemed odd to Quatre to be standing and conversing with Duo from a distance. He felt like he should raise his voice.

"Why should I?" he said, in a normal tone.

"I need you to help me with one thing. And then you can go to Tsavo and you never have to see me again." The words tumbled over one another, as if Duo was afraid Quatre would slam the door at any moment.

"I'm not-" Quatre began, but stopped. He had curled one of his hands around the doorframe and he suddenly felt the splintery wood beneath his fingertips. He moved his hand and put it in his pocket while the other remained on the doorknob. Pulling the door closer to his body, he shook his head. "I don't think that's such a good idea, Duo."

"Please. Quatre, please. If you ever loved me, you would come with me one last time." The pleading tone, coupled with the desperation in his eyes made Duo look hopelessly young and infinitely old at the same time.

Quatre laughed mirthlessly. "How could you even say that? If I ever loved you." He paused. "If you- if you think that, then we don't have anything else to talk about." He began to shut the door, an action that was intercepted by Duo's foot and shoulder.

"That was stupid! I shouldn't have said it!" he said hurriedly. All the distance between them was bridged with that quick gesture, and looking up at Duo from inches away, Quatre felt his heart in his throat. He had always known Duo was beautiful, but seeing him again after a few weeks' absence was enough to take his breath away. This was the face that could seduce even the most jaded Tangle patron, the face that could convince even the most skeptical investor to part with his money. He had often wondered it and he wondered it again at that moment -- if Duo hadn't been so beautiful, would his father have touched him? Would Duo be standing before him now with a look of such raw need on his face that Quatre had to turn away?

"I love you," Duo said, and his voice was ragged. Quatre wondered if he was crying, but he couldn't bring himself to look up and see.

"You should go." The words came out so quiet that he thought he might have to repeat himself, but Duo seemed to hear him.

Nudging the door open farther, Duo dropped to his knees, graceful even in supplication. He was in Quatre's line of sight now, and Quatre could not stop himself from looking down at him.

Duo was looking back up, into his face, and there were tears in his eyes. "I'm asking you on my knees. And you know - you know - that I don't get on my knees for anybody. Please, Quatre. Please. Come with me today and I'll get out of your life forever."

Turning away from the only boy - the only man - that he had ever loved was possibly the hardest thing that Quatre had ever done.

"No!" he heard Duo say quietly behind him. "No…" he heard again, and this time the sound was barely above a whisper.

Quatre took a few jerky steps toward the bedroom, unmindful of Duo still kneeling in the doorway.

"We were fourteen." Duo's voice behind him sounded steadier, though it still held that desperate edge. "The first time I told you that I loved you, we were fourteen."

Quatre froze.

"It was in your backyard. In the snow. You had just had your strawberry milkshake and you were freezing. But you had forgotten your house key and no one was home."

Quatre raised his head but did not turn around. He had crossed his arms over his chest and began rubbing his upper arms.

"You were wearing the red coat. The one you said made you look like a fourth grader. And you were so cold. You were rubbing your hands together and you said they were starting to hurt. Do you remember?"

"I remember," Quatre said to the bedroom doorway.

"I walked over to you and put my arms around you. I put my hands under your coat, and you put yours in my coat pockets. We were standing nose to nose in the snow and I remember thinking that you had never looked more beautiful than you did right then. And then I said it."

Quatre heard movement and turned around. Duo was standing now. Their eyes met.

"I said I love you, Cat. And I've never stopped meaning it since."

Quatre had to restrain himself from reaching out and touching Duo's face, from folding Duo in his arms, from stroking his hair, from kissing him. There had been so many times that such a confession would have been apology enough. "Then why did you lie to me on Death Day? Why did you tell me you didn't remember? That's the kind of thing people never get over, Duo."

"No." Duo reached out and took his hands. "This, you and me, is the kind of thing people never get over."

When Quatre didn't answer, Duo said it again. "Please come with me."

"Just for today?"

"Just this once and you never have to see me again."

+

The car ride had been completely silent. As they drove east the land gradually rose until they were passing soft green hills that reminded Quatre of the curve of his mother's hip beneath the sheets of her hospital bed.

He had an inkling of where they were going and he remarked on it when they passed a particular road sign.

"Kentucky?" The mild comment sliced through hours of silence between them.

Duo looked over at him then, taking his eyes off the road long enough to make Quatre nervous. "Yup, Kentucky."

Suddenly the silence was just too much. Quatre did not say anything, so Duo did. "Did you know that, during the Civil War, Kentucky was such an important swing state that Abraham Lincoln said 'We would like to have God on our side, but we must have Kentucky'?"

"No," Quatre said quietly.

The drove in silence for a few minutes more before Duo proclaimed, "I hate this fucking state."

+

Two hours later, Duo remarked, "That Wal-Mart is new."

"Then this is-?" Quatre asked.

"This is Taylorsburg. Over there," they had been following a muddy brown river and Duo pointed to its opposite bank, "is Black Cove."

Quatre looked where Duo pointed, as if his best friend's childhood home would suddenly manifest in the copse of spindly pines. "Why?" he finally asked.

Duo seemed to stare for a minute at a red light before turning beneath it, putting them on a smaller two-lane road. "I had some things I needed to take care of." Seeing, or maybe sensing, Quatre's eyes narrow, Duo explained further. "Some things I don't think I could do without you."

Quatre scoffed then.

"I was serious when I said you never have to see me again," Duo said. "I hope it won't be like that," he added. "I would miss you."

Quatre did not answer. It was his turn to stare as they passed a turquoise-colored trailer with a scattering of baby toys in the front yard. Never having strayed far from Solomon, he had thought those were only found in the movies.

"I like Trowa," Duo offered then, still apparently trying to coax an answer from Quatre. "Sometimes when he touches you, I want to break every bone in his fucking hand, but I like him."

Beside him, Quatre rolled his eyes. "Too little, too late," he muttered.

"What?"

"I said, too little, too late." And he tried hard not to think of Duo on the floor of his apartment saying all the words that he had ever wanted to hear.

Duo's hand went to his own chest, like he was about to defend himself. But noting the look on Quatre's face he stopped.

"I know," he replied quietly. "And I'm sorry."

Quatre just stared out the window, gripping the hand rest when they swerved to avoid a particularly large pothole.

His head was turned at such a deliberate angle that the first thing he saw when they turned into the drive -- it was mostly dirt now, with traces of gravel -- was the barn.

The barn.

He had expected it to be larger. A carnival house of horrors and the Bates Motel all rolled into one. Perhaps with a tall scary gable draped and a parachute sized spider web that would glisten in the moonlight.

Instead what he saw was a falling-in structure, made from wood that had been treated once but had now turned a uniform gray. It was tilting; its weight settling in one back corner, and Quatre imagined it falling down with one swipe of a giant's hand.

Beside him, he heard Duo swallow audibly. Quatre glanced over; Duo was peering past him, and past the barn, too, gazing at something no other living person would ever truly be able to see.

Duo noticed him noticing, and then one of his wolfish grins banished the memories that had shown so plainly on his face.

"This is it! The Old Maxwell homestead!" He threw his door open. "A lovely place to raise a child, right?"

Quatre inspected the house next. Even his unpracticed eye could see that it had started out as a square box, with additions enlarging it over the years. The house had been painted more recently than the barn, but its white paint was peeling off in long strips. A wide porch, sans any safety railing, protruded off the front of the house and a set of steps -- missing two -- led up to the front door. A hornet's nest clung to one corner of the porch roof. The yard was mainly dirt, but straggly weeds climbed up the house, nearly reaching the window sills. One of the windows was boarded up. Another, though empty of glass, was not.

"Nobody lives here now, I hope," he told Duo, who was walking slowly toward the house, leaving footprints in the dusty yard. Quatre remained beside the car.

"Not unless they're squatters." Duo looked at him over his shoulder. "I own it." Reaching the porch he stomped on the first step, testing it. It held. "Do you want to see where Duo Maxwell spent his formative years?"

He would have taken it back if he could have, but at that question, Quatre unconsciously glanced over at the barn.

When Quatre turned back to his friend, Duo's eyes were opaque. He had that strange, detached smile on his face. The one that usually preceded some impromptu crack about his childhood. The one that made Quatre want to cover his ears because he knew the next thing his friend said would become the stuff of his nightmares.

But Duo didn't say anything this time. Instead, he abandoned his testing of the steps and loped back over to the car. "Of course you want to see." He reached for Quatre's arm, but Quatre flinched away.

"I don't want to," he said softly.

The strange smile on Duo's face faded until they were regarding one another with no weight of memories between them except for the ones they had created themselves.

Duo answered just as softly. "Neither did I."

This time it was Quatre who held his hand out. Duo did not flinch away.

Quatre wordlessly entwined their fingers just as Duo tentatively toed the barn door open.

It smelled of rot, gasoline and some thick, dry scent that Quatre was sure he had never smelled before.

"Watch for snakes," Duo cautioned.

The barn's floor was made of hard packed earth. Quatre noticed spindly weeds growing in the swaths of sunlight that had filtered through the substantial cracks in the walls. It was surprisingly dark inside, but Quatre thought he could make out two sawhorses and some rusted equipment lurking in the shadows. He looked up and expected to see a hayloft from a rerun of Little House on the Prairie, but instead saw only several more implements hanging from the rafters.

Duo had stepped in behind him. Quatre felt the grip on his hand slacken and he turned to see Duo staring at a spot fourteen years away. Quatre tugged the hand a little.

"We've seen it. Let's go."

"No, wait," Duo said, but he wasn't staring into the corner anymore. Now his eyes were fixed on Quatre's face. "There are things I need to tell you about that time."

Quatre tensed. He couldn't think of a single thing about that time that he wanted to hear. But he stood there quietly, still holding onto his best friend's hand, when Duo began to speak in a low voice.

"This," he motioned around the barn. "This thing went on for a long time, you know. That spring when I told my teacher what happened and Dad switched to Nonnie. I was- I was happy. No, not happy. Relieved. I was relieved, Quatre, that it was her and not me." Duo was not meeting his eye, instead focusing on the rusted head of a rake that lay in patch of sunlight.

Quatre stared at him incredulously. "Is that all?" he finally asked and Duo's head snapped up. "I'm serious. Of course you were relieved," Quatre said, and he wasn't sure where the anger in his voice was coming from. "You were twelve years old, for fuck's sake, and for the first time in years one of the people who was supposed to love you more than anyone in this world wasn't-" He paused. "Wasn't abusing you. What were you supposed to feel, Duo?"

"You don't understand. I was older. I should have kept my mouth shut!"

Quatre took a step so that they were facing one another. "You always do this. You always think you know what's best for everyone. You think you could have stopped your dad from molesting Nonnie. You think you had to pay for my mom to stay in a nice nursing home to keep me happy. You think you had to-" Quatre blinked. Then blinked again. "You think you had to lie to me so that I would go with Trowa instead of pining for you."

In the stillness of the barn, Duo nodded slowly.

Quatre closed his eyes for a few seconds to process the fact that they were having this particular conversation in this particular place. The place was as large a part of their personal mythology as Death Day or Duo asking Quatre if he still loved him. The barn was their nightmare and their church and their Mecca. If he were going to get any straight answers out of Duo then this would be the place. Besides, in a way he already knew the answer.

"Is that why you've held yourself back from me all these years? Because you don't think you're good enough for me?"

Instead of answering, though, Duo paced across the barn and prodded with his foot at a shadow on the dirt floor near one of the sawhorses.

"I'm like a ghost," he said quietly. "And this, right here," he drew a line in the dust with his toe, "is the place where I was killed. Now, even though it might look like I'm living and breathing, all I can do is haunt the place where I died, replaying the events of my death over and over again." He looked back at Quatre, so that he was in three quarters profile in the edge of the gloom. "Is that what you want? A ghost?"

Quatre followed him across the floor. It was not nearly as difficult as he thought it would be to tear his eyes from the line Duo had drawn with his foot. Echoing a gesture Duo had used on him a thousand times, Quatre cupped his best friend's chin.

"No. That's not what I want. Because I refuse to believe that the person I've loved for over half my life is a ghost." Quatre's voice trembled but did not break. He tilted Duo's face so that he was looking at that line in the dirt. "If he killed you, then he wins." Quatre paused. "I always thought it went without saying, but maybe I do need to say it. There is nothing you could ever do that would make me not love you."

"Really?" Duo asked, and his voice was so small that Quatre wondered for a split second if he really was talking to a ghost.

"Yes." Quatre answered firmly.

"Then there's something I have to do." Quatre watched Duo march resolutely back into the daylight before joining him.

By the time he reached the doorframe, Duo was fetching a red plastic gas can out of the trunk of his car. It looked heavy and Quatre followed along behind as his best friend splashed kerosene on the barn's outer walls.

They had rounded two corners before Quatre found the presence of mind to ask, "You're going to burn it? Are you allowed to burn a building? Just like that?"

Duo glanced over his shoulder at him. "Watch me."

He finished the third wall and then added, "Or better yet, make yourself useful and move my car." Still dubious, Quatre did as he was told. When he got back, Duo was standing in front of the barn door, inspecting his handiwork. The kerosene was a dark stain on the untreated wood, though its stench was already drifting away on the wind.

"Stand back," Duo cautioned. Quatre didn't need to be told twice. He half expected an explosion when Duo pulled a matchbook from his pocket and tossed one at one of the dark stains with a muttered curse.

Duo walked to another corner of the barn and Quatre, noting that the first match had only created a small -- even tame-looking -- flame, followed. "This one is for Nonnie," he heard as Duo tossed another match at the barn.

Another corner. "This one's for Quatre."

Quatre felt a dull pain in his chest when the match struck the wall and a tiny flame appeared.

They circled back around the barn, and Duo stood in front of the barn door. There was a cozy little fire going in the spot where he had tossed the first match, though it was nowhere near the conflagration Quatre had expected. He watched for a moment as the wood blackened.

Duo regarded the barn door for a long moment, clutching the matches in one fist. Then he took one out and struck it against the small strip on the back of the matchbook. It lit on the first try and Quatre watched as Duo stood still for a moment, staring at the tiny flame until it almost burned his fingers.

"And this, you motherfucker-" He dropped the match and watched as the flames began licking at the barn door. "This one is for me."

Something changed then, it might have been the wind, or maybe Duo had spread extra kerosene on the door. Whatever it was, the fire suddenly took on a new life, spreading rapidly up the walls like a living thing. Duo stood in front of it -- far too close to the flames -- for a long second before walking backwards until he reached Quatre's side.

Duo's breath came out in a jagged sob. He made the most uncharacteristic motion; he clutched his hands together, fingers entwined and then fisted them underneath his chin, as if praying.

After a long moment, he stretched his arms out in front of him, then looked back over at Quatre and grinned. Quatre couldn't help but grin back.

"Well, there goes that," Duo said lightly.

"There goes that," Quatre agreed.

Duo was the first to laugh when sirens sounded in the distance. Quatre smiled up at him, and in Duo's mind, the blond lay on the bed again, naked, inviting. Quatre held his hand out, and this time there was no bloated body, no bloodshot eyes. In fact, there was nothing stopping him from taking the offered hand. Nothing at all.

"Let's get out of here before they get here," Duo suggested. "We'll let them take care of it. I know a back way."

For once, Quatre did not argue. He only took Duo's hand in his own as they trotted to the car.

"Besides," Duo continued, as he opened his door with the key and then tossed the set over the top of the car to Quatre. "There's something I've been wanting to talk to you about."

There is a light that never goes out.

End

[part 10] [back to Singles l - z]