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

Tangled Up in Blue + Part 8
Some Things Get Lost

Brief is life but love is long.
­ Alfred, Lord Tennyson



"Who are you really, and what were you before? What did you do, and what did you think?"

Duo lifted his head and opened his eyes to regard Heero.

"It's too early in the morning for multi-part questions." He snuggled back into the pillow, but Heero could still make out a mumbled, "What kind of a question is that anyway?"

"It's a good question. And I want to know the answer to it. So maybe I stole it from Casablanca."

"Isn't that an old black and white movie?"

Finally, Heero had managed to catch Duo in that pivotal moment before he could roll out of his bed and leave. They had spent three nights together. Last time, Heero had finally learned Duo's last name. Today, he had hopes that they would embark on their second adult conversation. The first had been on their "date" before Duo had dragged him out of the movie theatre for some gymnastics in the back seat of Heero's SUV. It wasn't that he was averse to spending all their time together, well… sleeping together, but he was interested in Duo for other things. It was time to find out if the same was true of the braided man.

"Yeah, it's in black and white but so what. It's a classic! Haven't you seen it?"

"Black and white hurts my eyes."

Heero propped himself up on and elbow to look down at his companion. Duo lay unselfconsciously naked on the expensive sheets.

"That's such bullshit. We should watch it. You would love it."

How do you know what I would love? Duo thought pensively.

"There's a guy in it that reminds me of you," Heero continued.

Duo eyed him skeptically. "Yeah," he shrugged. "All right."

"Next weekend? Over here?" Heero suggested. "We can order in."

Heero could practically see the wheels turning in Duo's head. It was apparent that the braided man was wide awake now.

"I don't think Quatre's seen it either," he finally said. "Maybe we could invite him and Trowa and everybody else. Make a movie night of it."

Heero nodded slightly, wearing an expression that said Duo had just confirmed something he had always suspected.

"I was thinking that it could be just me and you." He left the words hanging in the air.

Duo was up in a flash, pulling his pants on. "Oh well, yeah. Sure. Whatever."

The shirt was on now. "I just wanted you to meet all my friends, is all," he added, almost as an afterthought.

Duo languidly began rubbing at a pillow mark on the side of his face. Heero lay on the bed, admiring how Duo could make such a mundane movement into a sexual act and remembered again why he was willing to put up with the braided man's doubletalk. For now at least.

+

They were occupying a table at Tangle that night. Quatre had brought Trowa, Sally was finally finished working her evening shift schedule and Hilde had the night off. Duo and his flavor of the week would be joining them, too, making the group just a bit too big to comfortably huddle around the bar.

"Flavor of the week," Quatre thought pensively. It was his convenient label for Heero, even though it had been more like two weeks. And it was the first time he had ever used that label in regard to his best friend. Most of Duo's flings were more like "soup of the day."

Duo had even gone on an actual date with this Heero guy. They had met, got in the car, and driven away with the precise intent of doing something together that, at least at first, did not involve condoms and lube. Up until last Friday, Quatre was pretty sure that he was the only person that had ever performed that particular activity with Duo. And yes it burned. Even though he had Trowa, it burned. It was like Duo was just waiting for him to find someone before he got on with his life.

"Do you remember the first time you told me you loved me?"

"No. No, I can't remember."


And why should he? It was becoming increasingly apparent that the best memories of Quatre's life were unimportant to Duo. Or worse, like the story of their first kiss, they were jokes. He was starting to think that he might not know Duo at all.

"I can't believe I missed this guy the other night," Wufei was saying. "He must really have something to keep Duo interested."

"Twelve-inch cock," Quatre muttered.

"What was that?" Trowa asked. He was sitting between Quatre and Wufei, one arm draped around his boyfriend's shoulder.

"Clearing my throat."

"He was really hot," Hilde threw in, shrugging. Looking over Quatre's shoulder she added, "Correction. He's still really hot."

"I don't see the big attraction," Sally said dryly. Quatre noted the suspicious look she threw Hilde's way.

Within seconds they were joined by Duo and Heero. Quatre watched as Heero saw Wufei, paused and then took a step back. A slow smile spread over his face and even Quatre couldn't help but admit that he wasn't bad looking when his eyes lit up like that.

Even more surprising, Wufei was chuckling. "Out of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, you had to walk into mine."

"I came here for the waters," Heero grinned back.

"We're in the desert; there are no waters, Yuy."

"I was misinformed."

"Um… We're not in the desert," Hilde put in.

"Long story," Heero and Wufei said at the same time.

"So how in the hell do you guys know each other?" Duo finally asked, after they had settled into the circular booth and Duo had introduced Heero to everyone else.

"We went to school together," Wufei explained. "At Columbia."

"Chang was always at the head of the class," Heero added.

Wufei just shrugged, but the grin hadn't left his face. "And Yuy here still got all the grant money. What the hell are you doing in Solomon anyway?"

Heero leaned back in the booth, lacing his fingers behind his head. They all expected him to start whistling at any second but instead he said, "Heard of the McClaren Grant?"

Wufei's eyes narrowed. "You're not!"

"I am."

"Who are you working for?"

Duo began to drum his fingers on the table impatiently. "So, Cat, Trowa, how have things been with you two?" he asked loudly. Those were the first words they had exchanged between them all evening.

Heero and Wufei leaned closer to one another to talk in quiet voices. Quatre could make out Wufei saying, "I will bury you."

"We're getting a new chimp," Trowa answered Duo. "So we've both been working overtime to get ready for that." Quatre only nodded. His and Duo's eyes met for a few tense seconds. Duo was the first to look away.

"I just can't imagine you and Wufei as college buddies," Hilde soon interrupted the sotto voce conversation.

"I don't recall that we were buddies." Wufei answered her.

"More like enemies," Heero agreed. He was rewarded with another narrow look from Wufei.

"And how is Relena?" Wufei asked innocently.

"We keep in touch," Heero answered nonchalantly. "And Meiran?"

They all watched Wufei cringe a little. "We don't."

Heero motioned around the room, indicating the gyrating bodies on the dance floor, most of them male. "I never knew, Chang."

Wufei shrugged a little, embarrassed that he had opened up this particular can of worms. "I could say the same for you."

"We're just a couple of late bloomers, huh?"

"So who's Relena?" Quatre asked as politely as he could manage with his teeth gritted.

"Ex-fiancée," Heero shook his head. "Hey, I was confused in college." He smiled at Quatre and didn't seem to notice the lack of a smile he got in return.

"The McClaren Grant," Wufei repeated just before lying his head down on the table with a put-upon sigh.

Duo stood up, drawing all eyes to him. Quatre quickly looked away, staring into his drink instead. The braided man held out a hand to Heero. "I came here for the casual drugs and recreational sex, not to sit around talking all night. Let's dance."

The little party was effectively broken up after that. Quatre and Trowa danced to a couple of songs and then left for Trowa's apartment. Heero made plans with Wufei to have a drink the next night and Sally and Hilde were left sitting alone in the booth.

"Could you be anymore obvious staring at Heero's ass like that?" Sally asked her friend nonchalantly.

Hilde blushed and stammered, "I… I wasn't."

Noting the hesitation, Sally pressed her advantage. "When's the last time you actually went on a date, Hil?"

"God, Sally! What kind of a question is that? Besides, it's none of your business!" Hilde began drumming her fingers on the table and used the excuse of scoping out dancers to avoid meeting her friend's eye.

Sally crossed her arms on her chest. "I've known you for eight years and I want you to be happy. I ask you one little question about your love life and you get all defensive. If I didn't know better I might think…"

"Well you do know better!" Hilde said, standing up, purse in hand. "Just stay the hell out of my business!"

Wearing a puzzled frown on her face, Sally watched the spiky blue mop move through the crowd and out the door.

+

That next Tuesday, Quatre woke up at 6am to a ringing phone and a half recalled memory of similar situation on a day eight years ago. Back then they only had the one phone, in the living room, and his mother had run through the duplex on bare feet. The kids ended up in the doorways to their bedrooms, all except Delilah, who could sleep through a buffalo stampede. They watched as their mother listened to someone on the phone and then blinked a few times before turning her back to them. Then she took out the notepad ­ filled full of her doodling ­ and wrote something down. She was always practical like that. Quatre remembered her hanging up the phone and turning around. For some reason, her beautiful blonde hair hadn't been up in curlers that night. Its funny, the things you remember.

She looked them all over, really looked at them, and then said, "Your daddy's dead."

"Our mama's dead," Iria said, when Quatre sleepily answered the phone.

+

She had died peacefully in her sleep. Or at least that's what the doctor said. She had checked on Katie Winner Mason the afternoon before, but her condition had been no different than in the past few months. "It was just her time," she told Quatre and Iria.

All four of them had all held their mother's hand one last time. There were no more muscle twitches; no more unnatural, repeating smiles and Quatre knew that he was supposed to be happy about that. Her photo menagerie lay undisturbed on the dresser. The picture the nurses had chosen to sit on her bedside the day before was a picture of all six of them, Katie, Frank, Iria, Quatre, Delilah and Scout. An irrational thought skated across his mind. Had she been waiting, day after day, for them to choose that particular photograph so that she could see all of her family before she died?

They were hustled out before the mundane tasks of readying her body for transport to the funeral parlor could begin. In an immaculately furnished office, Quatre stood alone while Iria sat on the couch and comforted their two sisters. He could have joined in the group hug, but he didn't want to. The two youngest were crying while Quatre could only feel numb. Iria had once told him she did not have the luxury of crying and finally he knew exactly what she meant.

Because he was alone, or maybe because he was male and that supposedly made him more stoic, a young woman in a pinstriped suit took him aside. "I apologize for bringing this up at a time like this, but sometimes it's helpful to the family when their planning the funeral to know…" She trailed off, holding up a slip of paper. A check. "You had paid in advance for next month. Here's your check back. I just need you to sign here and here."

Why was she talking about money at a time like this? Wait. What check? The state government paid for his mother's care.

He stared at it blankly for a few seconds. The signature line caught his attention with its overly-large looping D and M, interspersed with small, illegible characters.

"Thanks," he told the administrative assistant noncommittally. She seemed to expect him to say something else, but when he turned his back to her she finally left them all alone in the office.

Quatre folded the check in half and slipped it into the pocket of his jeans. He really could not deal with this right now.

Delilah broke away from their sisters and came to him. She wrapped her arms around his waist and nuzzled her head under his chin, much like she had done when they were children and home alone at night. Delilah was scared of lots of things ­ the dark, barking dogs, hair dryers, bugs. In school, she had been a slow learner to the point where the teachers recommended special classes. Though things like reading and multiplication didn't come easy to her she was the only one with the patience to braid Scout's hair into hundreds of tiny plaits when she insisted that it was the only proper Pocahontas costume for her class play. She was also the one who, when Quatre came out to his family, said that she didn't care if he was gay or purple or curly, he was still their brother and they loved him, didn't they? Now would they all stop crying and watch a movie or something? As far as Quatre was concerned, of the four of them, she was the best of all.

Delilah reached up to wipe at a tear that had appeared unbidden on his cheek and the long sleeve of her shirt slipped down. There were purple finger marks on her wrist, inches away from her gold wedding band and its chip of a diamond.

Now this he could deal with.

He put an arm around her shoulder. "Where's John today?"

"He's working. Somebody's got to put food on the table."

From the unconscious change in inflection in Delilah's voice, Quatre knew his sister was parroting something she probably heard everyday.

"Is he still working at that McDonalds?"

"No, he's working with his buddy, Dave. They're painting houses. You know that, Quatre!"

He hadn't known. Apparently there were a lot of things he hadn't known.

"We're going to get five thousand dollars when he finishes this job. John's going to buy a big screen TV for himself for his twenty-first birthday. But now that mama…" she paused. "Maybe that money could pay for the funeral." Quatre had heard Iria bitch to the girls about the price of funerals. He had been appalled at first until he realized that complaining was the one luxury his older sister could afford.

Quatre looked at this sisters, really looked at them, for the first time in a long time. Iria's old eyes staring at something no one could see, her mouth set in a grim line. Scout still sat on the leather couch, head in her hands, hiding a tearstained face, one of her trademark halter tops barely covering the slight swell of her pregnancy. Delilah stared up at him with the same trusting expression reserved for a big brother who checked under the bed for boogey men.

These were the people who needed him.

The folded bit of paper burned in his pocket but he was able to ignore it.

+

When you're a known fag in high school you either resign yourself to getting the shit kicked out of you or you learn to kick back.

Delilah's husband was on a job site not far from Quatre's apartment. Even from his car, Quatre could see the green paint speckled across his face like radioactive freckles. Noticing that Quatre had parked in the yard and not bothered to close the car door, John began climbing down from his perch on a rickety looking ladder. John's expression vacillated from sympathetic to confused to angry as he watched Quatre stalk across the yard toward him. Reaching the ladder, Quatre grabbed his brother-in-law's shirt-tail and pulled him down with three rungs to go. The short fall combined with the swift motion made John lose his balance and he lay sprawled in the grass for a few tense seconds before Quatre coldly told him, "Get up."

The other man, must be the mysterious Dave, had come around the corner of the house now. "What the hell?"

"It's a family thing. Unless you're a wife beater, too, then you can get in line."

John had gotten to his feet by then, his hands curling into fists. His face was red and the sweat from his day's work had plastered his hair to his forehead. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about, Quatre," he said nervously, the tremble in his voice belying the words.

Quatre took a step toward him; his stance was relaxed, almost casual. The cold tone in his voice was not. "There are finger marks on my little sister's wrist. You know John, I would normally give you a chance to explain but today I don't really fucking feel like it."

A right hook caught John square across the jaw and he stumbled against the freshly painted house. Recovering, he launched himself at Quatre, thousands of years of animal instinct telling him get his adversary on the ground. But Quatre was ready and he quickly sidestepped the furious movement. Another blow landed on John's ear and he lurched backward with a stunned grunt. Dave had come up behind Quatre and grabbed him around the arms, trying to pull him away, but Quatre put a stop to that with a head butt to the nose.

There was a roaring in Quatre's ears and he was on top of John again before he realized that the sound was his own voice. He was shouting, and he was crying. He closed his eyes and saw Delilah's trusting blue ones and that gave him the power to unclasp the hands that had snaked around his brother-in-law's throat. John crab-crawled away from him, still eyeing him warily.

This was the scene the cops found.

+

Only after he was processed and led to the holding cell was Quatre let out of the handcuffs to assess his damage. The two smallest knuckles on his right hand were covered in dried blood where a punch had connected wrong, but other than that the only thing harmed seemed to be the legs of his favorite, most worn-in pair of jeans. Somehow he had managed to cover his right leg almost entirely in lime green paint. His own brittle, near-hysterical laughter covered up the sound of footsteps approaching the cell.

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