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

Tangled Up in Blue + Part 9
Childish Things

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


- Robert Frost, "Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening"



Duo was wearing a suit. With his early morning wake up call, the protracted wait in the nursing home, and now the jail cell, Quatre had lost all track of time. Seeing his friend round the corner in the charcoal colored three-piece, Quatre realized that someone must have called him out of work. His hand automatically went to his hip, his thumb rubbing the place where the check rested in his pocket. Compared to everything else that had happened today, the little scrap of paper was insignificant. But, like a man whistling on his way past a graveyard, Quatre chose to focus on the small details instead of the dark emptiness surrounding him.

A policeman followed Duo and Quatre, surprised, watched him unlock the cell.

"You're free to go, son," the officer said, barely sparing a glance in his direction.

Quatre glanced from Duo's blank expression back to the officer. "Do I have to go to court?"

The policeman was cramming the keys back into the pocket of his too-tight uniform pants. "Nope, your brother-in-law decided not to press charges." This was said a touch more kindly and the officer even added a rather sympathetic "Stay out of trouble, son," as he ushered them to the station's front doors.

Quatre, as aware of Duo as he was of the weather, noticed the other man relax when they left the whitewashed walls behind. They walked side by side to where Duo's car was parked on the street, neither breaking the silence that had grown between them since the night of that last, tense phone call.

Bayard, Duo's step-father, had bought him a car for his sixteenth birthday. In high school, they had gotten into a sort of car routine. Duo would unlock his door and then toss the keys over the top of the car to Quatre to do the same on his side. He opened his mouth. He might have been going to ask Duo if he remembered. Instead, he stood by the passenger door and jumped a little at the beep and click as the keyless entry system worked its magic. Oh.

When they were in the car and Duo had his eyes fixed carefully on the road, Duo said softly, "I'm sorry about Katie."

Not trusting himself to speak, Quatre only nodded. They stopped for a red light and he snuck a surreptitious peek at his… at Duo. The braided man's knuckles gripped the wheel tightly and he was watching the circle of red intently, as if willing it to change faster.

Duo's voice was still just as soft and tentative. "I…" He stopped when the light turned green, made a left hand turn, and then started again. "Iria called me. We thought we were going to have to bail you out. I just found out when I got there that John didn't press charges…" he began to explain.

Quatre's hand was in and out of his pocket in a flash. He unfolded the check and held it out, inches from Duo's face. Startled violet eyes widened and blinked a few times. "Bail me out." He said flatly. "You certainly had the cash handy, didn't you?"

Duo swallowed. "I thought you would be grateful," he said cautiously. It was the wrong thing to say. If Quatre hadn't been restrained by his seatbelt, he might have launched himself at Duo, whether he was driving or not.

"Grateful?" he ground out. "Grateful that you would lie to me? That you always take it upon yourself to protect me." He spat out the word 'protect' as if it were sour milk.

Duo slammed the car into a loading zone. The eyes that met Quatre's were equally heated. Duo never could stand it when someone spoke coldly to him. He would rather be yelled at and Quatre knew it.

Duo ran a hand through his hair, mussing his braid. "Do you not remember how miserable you were that year Katie was in that public nursing home? I was worried about you. I had to do something. Godammit, you wouldn't let me pay your tuition."

Quatre began to sputter and Duo cut him off. "I had the money, Quatre. I wanted to help you."

"I didn't want your help." Quatre struggled to maintain the cold timbre of his voice.

"I know. That's why I didn't ask."

"I wanted…" Quatre stopped. For a second, the silence in the car was complete. Quatre stared out the window at the cars passing by.

"What did you want?" Duo's voice sounded irritable in the stillness. Belying the tone, one of his hands hovered over Quatre's shoulder, though he could not will it to take the final step and rest there.

Quatre studied the dashboard. "I wanted you to talk to me about her. You always pretended she wasn't even sick. Like she had just gone on vacation or something." Then he shook his head rapidly three times, taking a deep breath then letting it out before speaking. "I'm lying. That's not what I wanted." Duo hovered in his peripheral vision, he felt, rather than saw, the hand withdraw from the vicinity of his shoulder. "The only thing I ever wanted is something you could have given me. And it wouldn't have cost you a thing."

There it was. The white elephant in the room. Their old friend. Always there but never acknowledged. In his mind, Duo rolled off of Quatre, who still lay facedown on the mattress. The motion made his blonde head loll to the side and Duo was greeted with blue lips and a horrified expression. Bloodshot eyes.

"No!" he said raggedly. The words came out louder than he intended, and he saw Quatre's shoulders slump.

The hands of his best friend of fourteen years ­ calloused, he knew, from manual labor --reflexively clutched at the air. His voice was a mixture between shaky and bitter. It was unbecoming on him. "I guess I know how much I'm worth to you as just a friend, huh?" Still gripped in his fist, he held the check up to his heart. "Fifteen hundred dollars a month. Here, let me do the math. Figure out my net worth." The shakiness disappeared, leaving only the bitter. "It'll take me a minute. I'm not a genius like you, college boy."

Duo knew he should choose his words carefully right now. Somewhere, there was a correct path down this slippery slope. A sign, a guide rail, a mark scratched on a tree. Something, anything. Just enough to keep Quatre from walking away from him and never looking back.

"Trowa is good for you," he said neutrally. Quatre unbuckled his seat belt and Duo knew then that he had followed the wrong sign.

"And how the hell would you know what's good for me? What's good for anybody? Duo, you have the most fucked up life of anybody I've ever met yet you think you know what's best for me? Tell me then. Why is it that one person in all these years has been good enough for me, but everybody has been good enough for you. I… " Quatre ran his thumb and index finger down the slick band of the seatbelt and started again. "Why Trowa? Why now? You've sabotaged every relationship I've ever had. And I always thought that…" His fair complexion reddened. "That you were saving me for you. That one day you would say to me, 'Ok, Quatre. I'm done playing now. It's out of my system. It's you I've wanted all this time. It has always been you.'"

Quatre was surprised that the tears hadn't come much sooner. He put his open hand to his forehead, covering his face so that, if he were to look up, he would view the world through splayed fingers. "I've been so stupid," he muttered. The words were barely there. "Stupid all my life."

What he said now would change the course of the rest of his days. Duo knew this like he knew the curve of Quatre's lip when he smiled that smile reserved only for him. Duo had always been a careful man, to the point of hyper self-consciousness. He was constantly aware of his appearance, his hand gestures, the way he shaped his hill country accent to mimic the broadcasters on TV. And right now he knew he had two choices. Forever with Quatre or forever without him. Quatre could leave him and live with Trowa. Or he could stay, and die, with Duo. In his mind, Duo turned his back to Quatre, who now lay naked and inviting on the bed. He left the room and shut the door.

"I've leaving," he told Quatre flatly. "Bayard is developing a condominium project in Kentucky and I'm going to supervise." Having no desire to cross the line into his home state ever again, Duo had flatly refused the assignment. Tomorrow, he would go back to the office and beg for it.

Quatre had looked at him then; a mixture of shock and anger written across his features. But he did not say anything, and for that, Duo was grateful.

Duo put the car in gear. "I'll take you home."

Quatre surprised him by opening his door. "I'll walk." A pause. "Good luck then." The last was said when Quatre was already on the sidewalk.

"Thanks," Duo replied. He went unheard over the slamming door.

+

It was a day of inevitability. Inevitably, his mother was going to slip into death. Inevitably, he and Duo were going to have that conversation. Inevitably, the bliss state he had existed in with Trowa would end.

Quatre had never realized that he loved two people at once. It should have been something he worried and obsessed over, but it wasn't. Loving Duo was like breathing. Unconscious and intrinsic. It was as much a part of him as the blood under his skin, and just as necessary. Trowa, on the other hand, was everything you were taught to expect about love. He was romance, and candles, and a Hollywood ending. He could see himself growing old with Trowa and it was a comforting thought. Duo, he could never imagine as an old man.

He was in love with two people, but the two loves had absolutely nothing to do with one another. Until he thought he had lost them both.

Trowa was in Chicago, at the Field Museum doing research for his thesis. He answered his phone on the first ring and Quatre almost asked if he had dialed the wrong number. The unusual excitement in Trowa's voice was palpable.

"You're psychic, Quatre. I was about to call you! I just got the best news."

"What?" Quatre asked. If his tone was dull, Trowa didn't seem to notice.

"I got a grant to go to Tsavo! For up to two years, if you can believe it. It's weird. The deadline passed and I thought they had awarded the money to someone else. But it turns out they were debating whether to give it to me or a guy out of UCLA, and they decided on me." Quatre knew Trowa well enough to know that he would be shaking his head in wonderment. He was a brilliant biologist, yet he was still surprised when someone singled him out. Quatre thought this neurosis might stem from too many years of getting passed over for adoption.

"Oh." It was all Quatre could think to say at that moment and the one word seemed to cover the situation adequately enough.

A day of inevitability.

Until Trowa's next sentence. "I want you to come with me."

Quatre opened his mouth to say, "What?" and "My mother died," tumbled out instead.

It was Trowa's turn to say it. "Oh." Then, "God, I'm sorry. Are you ok? I'll come home right now."

Even over the phone, he sounded substantial enough to lean on. "It's ok. I'm fine." he said. His eyes scanned the familiar living room of his apartment numbly. "I know you've been trying to get time off for this trip forever. It was… it was inevitable anyway."

"Don't start with me," Trowa said in a too-calm voice. "This is more important. You're too important. I'll be home by morning even if I have to rent a car and drive."

Chicago was an eleven hour drive, he knew. They had looked it up on the internet when Trowa was planning the trip. Back on that morning three days ago when Quatre had dropped his boyfriend off at the airport, a week had seemed like a lifetime. Now half a day seemed too soon.

+

The next evening, Duo stalked his apartment, barefoot and shirtless. Mitch Maxwell leered at him from his corner and Duo flipped him the bird before picking up his sleek cordless phone and hitting number one on the speed dial. He had no idea what he would say when Quatre picked up. Maybe he would even apologize. Maybe. He needed to ask about Katie's funeral. And he could tell Quatre the date he would be leaving for Lexington. There would be no turning back now, he had already sublet the apartment to some single junior congressman Bayard knew.

Ring once, ring twice. Duo remembered how, when they were younger, Quatre always ran for the phone like it might be Ed McMahon on the other end asking directions on where to deliver the prize money. For some reason, he half expected to hear that breathless teenager gasping "Hello" when the phone clicked a connection. A familiar subdued voice, not Quatre's, answered instead.

Holding his breath, Duo hung up quickly. His heart was beating like a schoolboy calling his first crush. Which he was, in a way, though he didn't stop to reflect on that. He poised to dial again. Maybe they would get the hint and Quatre would pick up this time. He dialed.

Heero answered on the fifth ring.

"Come over. "

+

The first words out of Heero's mouth when he stepped into Duo's apartment were, "Hey, what's wrong?" Had he been that obvious? Maybe the nearly empty Jim Beam bottle and the single glass on the coffee table had given it away. His father had often bought smaller bottles and drank them straight. Duo always used a glass.

The bourbon had started to kick in before Heero arrived and Duo imagined he could feel the liquid, like bottled sunshine, burning a path through his digestive system. He threw an arm gregariously around Heero's neck, one nipple brushing uncomfortably against a button on the other man's work shirt. "I just wanted to see you, is all," he said against Heero's ear, before sinking white, even, teeth into the sensitive dip between neck and shoulder. Heero gasped and Duo could feel his cock twitch beneath the staid gray dress pants. Duo's tongue lapped at the vibration in Heero's throat as he swallowed.

"I have a feeling you've been…" Heero's throat closed up when Duo's hand plunged into his waistband and encircled his cock. "Have you been bad?" he managed to rasp out. It was a game they had started between them. With public-Duo, Heero wasn't sure how he had ever found the nerve to begin it. At Tangle, or just on the street for that matter, Duo exuded confidence and something else. A certain power. Heero would never tell him now, but that first night at Tangle, he would have gladly agreed to be topped if Duo had not consented first. Duo sucked people into his orbit like that.

But that was public-Duo. Private time was another matter. Duo never screamed louder or came harder than when Heero took him from behind, hands wound up in the braid, pounding into him rough and fast. Inscrutable rules applied. It could never, ever, after that first night, take place in the bed. And once Heero was inside him, there could be absolutely no talking. All in all, it was probably the hottest act Heero had ever participated in.

"I haven't been bad. I've been atrocious," the braided man breathed into his ear. Duo, always slippery at times like this, had wriggled around behind him now, pressing his arms around his waist, undoing the button at his fly with one hand while the other cupped his balls through the dress pants.

The button popped out of place and the zipper quickly separated. Duo's hand fluttered over the white boxer-briefs inside, waiting.

Heero leaned his head back, resting on one of Duo's slender shoulders. He unconsciously ran two fingers around his collar, loosening it a bit before deciding, "Atrocious, hmm?" he purred. "That sounds serious. I think that, first, you should take my cock out and stroke it."

Duo did as commanded, popping the button off the boxer-briefs in the process. The tiny plastic bauble made an audible sound as it hit the hardwood floor, coinciding with Duo's gasp. The hand that had been coaxing his length out into the open froze.

"Not good," Heero made a clicking sound with his tongue. "You'll have to pay me back for that." He neatly twisted and slipped an arm around Duo's waist, pulling their bodies flush together. Cupping Duo's chin with one hand, he told the braided man sternly. "Get on your knees."

And then he was reminded of the one thing he most adamantly did not like about their game. And why he would much rather take Duo from behind. From the expression on Duo's face, Heero knew he had discovered yet another one of those inscrutable rules. The braided man's eyes had widened, his lip trembled. And for a few seconds, he disappeared. One day he would work up the nerve to ask Duo where he went when he turned inward like that. But not yet.

Duo returned from that place soon enough. "I don't get on my knees for nobody."

Heero noted the grammar lapse, and how, for that one sentence, Duo's voice had stretched thin and flat into an accent that smacked of lands higher up and father south.

"Okay. It's okay," Heero made a rare attempt at speaking soothingly. "I didn't know."

Duo ran a finger underneath his bangs, smoothing them off his face. He then raised his eyebrows at Heero, as if he had just asked the other man a question and was waiting for an answer.

"What?" Heero was forced to ask. The stood just a few inches from one another now, their bodies consciously not touching.

"I have a sturdy dining room table," Duo said matter-of-factly, pointing to an open door just off the main room. "There's lube and condoms under the couch cushion." With that he unzipped his jeans and slipped them off then walked naked, braid swaying slightly, to the other room. He did not look back.

+

Catherine Mason was buried on a sunny Saturday in early summer. Birds sang over the grave side service and Quatre was reminded of a time when he was very small, before Frank, before Delilah and Scout, when he had woken up one morning only to realize that he had climbed in bed with his mother after a nightmare. It was spring and all he could hear were what sounded like thousands of birds in the two meager trees in their backyard. "Shhhh!" His mother told him. She had been running her delicate fingers through his baby fine white-blonde hair. "Do you hear those birds outside?" she had asked. "They're singing to you, Quatre. Just for you."

The thought made him smile and he whispered, "They're singing to you, mama."

Beside him, Delilah slipped her hand into his. A subdued looking John stood on her other side. They had all jointly decided that Delilah should stay with Iria for awhile. If Quatre had his way, she would have called a lawyer right away, but then, he rarely got his way. Delilah was already making noises about riding home with him after the funeral, "just to fix him some dinners to put in the freezer."

The small group of mourners made a semi-circle around the graveside. Duo and his mother stood in the back, carefully positioned ­ by Duo ­ out of Quatre's line of sight. After the service though, Miriam McNally insisted on speaking with the family, as Duo knew she would. What's the point of a senator's wife attending a pauper's funeral if no one knows she is there?

"Thank you for coming," Quatre murmured to them both and then he surprised Duo by shaking both their hands.

Miriam offered some insincere pleasantry along the lines of "It was a lovely service." They had turned to leave when Quatre asked politely, "Duo, when do you leave?" Behind him, Trowa also looked interested.

Duo spun around. Too quickly. "Uh… Next month, the 21st."

Quatre nodded and Duo realized that, for the first time in his life, he found the expression on the familiar face unreadable. The blonde turned to greet the next mourner and line and Duo stood there foolishly for a tense second before realizing he had been dismissed. He knew this distance between them was his own fault. But it still hurt.

They had buried Quatre's mother in an old, crowded cemetery with no walking paths between the graves. Duo instinctively offered his mother his arm, but she did not take it, instead picking her way carefully among the headstones.

Miriam McNally had not touched her son in fourteen years.

He watched her irritably as she made her way to his car and then stood imperiously beside the passenger side door. He flicked the button on the keyless entry just so she wouldn't have a chance to complain.

"Tell me again why you couldn't just hire a car?"

"We're not rich you know, Duo." She said crisply. Duo rolled his eyes, careful that she didn't see him. Yes they were rich. He read the annual report just like everyone else that worked for Bayard's real estate development conglomerate. "And besides," she continued. "It would be crass to show up at a… at Catherine's funeral with a car and driver."

A flush of anger on Quatre's behalf crawled up his cheeks. "At a what, Mimi?" he prompted. He added the dreaded nickname just for spite. His father had always called her that and she hated to be reminded that there had been life before the Senator. Duo himself was the living, breathing reminder.

"You know what I meant, Duo."

His hands clenched on the wheel. "Nope, can't say that I did. You were about to call Katie a what? A poor person? One of the little people? The proletariat?" He bit the last suggestion out. "Poor white trash?"

He saw his mother begin to shake in the passenger's seat. People were often surprised she had a son his age. But from his vantage point, Duo could see the thin lines crawling out of the corners of her eyes and across her forehead. She still had that scar, a pale indentation in the middle of her forehead where her father had once accidentally hit her with the buckle of his belt. At the time she told him that story Duo had wondered where exactly his grandfather had been aiming.

"Because," Duo continued conversationally, "That wouldn't be very sporting of you to say something like that, would it? I mean, Katie grew up here in Solomon. With indoor plumbing, I believe. Now if we wanted to talk about poor white trash…"

Strapped into the car left her at an awkward angle to slap him, but she managed it admirably. Though not without her manicured nails digging into his hairline.

She had touched him.

"The Good Book says to 'honor thy father and thy mother.'" The crispness was back in Miriam's voice now. She sat looking straight ahead as if nothing had just happened.

He shrugged. "Exodus, chapter twenty, verse twelve. It also says that 'every one of us shall give account of themselves to God.' That's Romans, 15:12." They passed under a bridge and the whites of Duo's eyes glittered in the darkness as he looked over at her. "Are there things you have to account for, mother?"

Miriam's lips were pursed into a thin line as she chose not to understand him. "I see you still remember some of what we taught you in church. Though even the devil can quote scripture to suit his own purposes."

Duo's face held a mirroring expression as he carefully watched the road. "It was either go to church with you or stay at home with dad."

"You should have listened harder. 'Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is an abomination.' It's written there clear as day, Duo, in Leviticus chapter eighteen, verse twenty-two." She seemed to be trying a different tack now. She was using a pleading, almost… motherly tone. Duo didn't think he had heard anything so funny in his life. If it hadn't hurt so much he would have laughed.

"Right," he scoffed. "And Numbers, chapter six, verse seven says 'He shall not make himself unclean for his father.'" His voice had risen unintentionally and the words hung there between them in the stale recycled air.

"I…I…" she sputtered, as unsure of her next move as a defense lawyer whose client had just confessed on the stand. "I'll not listen to you tell lies about your father," she finally decided to say.

"Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the Lord; and let not the sin of the mother be blotted out," Duo continued as if he hadn't heard her. "See? I listened enough, mother," he added. "Enough to know that what you both did was wrong."

They were at the McNally's big Victorian now, outside in front of the security gate that Duo had always found so pretentious. Miriam bolted out of the car, fumbling in her purse for the gate remote. He stepped out after her and leaned against the fender, watching her like a predator. She seemed to notice the shift in the balance of power at the same time he did and her violet eyes, the mirrors of his own, filled with a rage he had not witnessed in years.

"You're not half the man he was and you never will be," she spat out a parting shot.

Three days ago, Duo might have apologized to her. Three days ago, he never would have found the nerve to have this conversation in the first place. On the day of Quatre's mother's funeral though, he just laughed.

"First Corinthians, chapter thirteen, verse eleven, mother. When I was a child, I understood as a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things."

Duo smiled wolfishly at Miriam, who looked suddenly smaller as she stood in front of the gate, jamming the button on a black remote control. Her feet were rather wider apart than normal and she appeared to be having trouble balancing on lavender high heels which were dyed to perfectly match her tailored suit. He crossed the few steps to her side and took her in his arms, planting a kiss full on her lips. Then he hugged her close. He suspected it was shock that made her remain so oddly still in his arms. To someone in a car passing by, he looked like a dutiful son telling his mother goodbye. But Duo leaned in and whispered in his mother's ear. "I put away childish things. You can tell me until you're blue in the face that it didn't happen, but I'm not listening anymore."

He held her for a moment longer, looking down at her, close as a lover, studying her aging face. "Fuck you, Mimi." He was still smiling when he slammed the car into reverse and pulled out of the McNally driveway for the last time.

More than the day his father died, more than the thousands of times he had sated himself inside some willing lover, more than the first time he had given over control to Heero, Duo Maxwell felt free.

And now he had promises to keep.

[part 8] [part 10] [back to Singles l - z]