As The Candlelight Flickers
The trip to her destination so far was short and smooth, even as the limo hugged the curb. She stared at her reflection for a bit, noticing the slight gray circles under her eyes even in the tinted window. She watched the cars pass them up as the drivers went about their usual routine, ironically as she was taking a break from hers. Even she had to admit she deserved it.
The driver pulled the limo up in front of the building, before placing the car in park and turning behind him to see his passenger. “I’ll be back in two hours to pick you up, Miss Relena.”
“That would be fine, Paragan,” she told him softly as she stepped out of her car, in front of Barnes and Nobles. Her trip to Space was one of business, but this time around she allowed herself to enjoy one of the things she always had. Reading.
As Relena stepped through the doors, she closed her eyes and inhaled the familiar smell of wood polish and vinyl, watching the store swirl with leisurely activity. Her eyes widened as she took in the Starbucks to her right, and the endless tables and stacks of books to her left. The high ceiling kept the entire building at a comfortable temperature, and made the lighting perfect for reading.
“It’s been a long time,” she told the room as she stepped completely into the building. Looking about her, she couldn’t help but smile as she saw a couple huddled together on the couch, reading the same book, or how a four-year old was happily licking a sucker as she bounced around the room, her balloon trailing behind her. These next two hours were going to be well spent. “Where to begin,” she said playfully to herself, as she crossed the threshold and went down the aisle of fantasy.
Fifteen minutes later, Relena purchased a book on the tale of Lancelot and Guinevere and went to Starbucks for something to drink. Deciding on a Cappuccino, she slung her purse on her shoulder, held the book in one hand and her drink in the other, and surveyed the area for an empty seat. She didn’t want to settle on the couch (because she didn’t want to wrinkle her uniform before the next meeting), and she didn’t want to walk upstairs with her drink.
“Where to sit, where to sit,” she repeated to herself as she scoured the area. Out of the corner of her eye, she happened to see a small table in the corner that had two seats, but only one was occupied. “Today must be my lucky day,” she said to herself, walking briskly before someone else beat her there.
The other occupant of the table was bent towards the floor, fishing around for something in his backpack. Relena coughed politely so as not to startle him, hoping the seat was open. “Excuse me, is this seat taken?”
“No, go right ahead. I know it’s packed today.”
“Thank you.” Relena sat down at the same time as the person sat up. Her eyes widened and she nearly dropped her drink on the floor in surprise. “Duo?!”
“Relena. Hi,” he said, not entirely happy to see her either.
‘Okay, so today isn’t my lucky day,’ she thought to herself. “Well, Duo, I never thought I’d see you in here.” She dropped her head when she realized what she said. “Duo, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way...” Her head snapped up when she heard his laughter. “Duo?”
“No need to apologize. I know what you meant. But hey, a guy can change a lot in nine years, you know?” He winked at her. “I don’t blame you. How I remember me, I’d be shocked to find me in a bookstore too.”
Relena couldn’t help but feel more relaxed. “Maybe, but it was still rude.”
“No harm done.” He took a sip of his Dr. Pepper. “So, what brings you to L2?”
“An election,” she began. “The terms for the representatives are up, and it’s time to either vote them back in or the new nominations. I just have to be there.” She shrugged. “Duty calls.”
“Yeah, I hear that. So what else have you been up to?”
“Really, nothing.” She shrugged again. “With more people helping out, I’m starting to have more free time, and so here I am. What about you?”
“Nuthin’ much. Just school. I’m going to be a pediatrician.”
“Really? Duo, that’s wonderful!”
“Thank you.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s a lot of work, but I love kids and I’m good with them too. I guess it’s my other calling.”
“So who runs the scrapyard now?” She took her coat off and hung it on the back of the chair, making herself more comfortable.
“Oh, Hilde runs it now. She has better business sense than *I* do, believe it or not.” He laughed ruefully. “I’m still there though, only part time. Gotta study.”
Relena took a deep breath and braced herself for the answer to her next question. “So, is Heero going to school too, or does he help you and Hilde?” Relena watched, nervous, as all of the color drained from Duo’s face. She knew he was playful, but she didn’t know whether she should tell him to knock it off or call an ambulance. “Duo, are you alright?”
It was another second before he recovered. “I should’ve known you were going to ask.” He shook his head. “I should’ve known.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you-”
“No.” He waved his hand. “No, you didn’t upset me. I just... should’ve been prepared.” He smiled wanly. “But to answer your question, no. He’s not there. I haven’t seen him or heard from him for a few years now, to be exact.”
“Really?” Unconsciously, she leaned closer to Duo. “I know I haven’t seen him since the Mariemaia incident, but I thought surely he’d keep in touch with you.”
He laughed, but it was filled more with bitterness than humor. “No. I wish it was so, but I’m afraid not. To be honest, since that incident, I’ve seen him two... three times at the most, maybe. He just knows when he’s needed, comes to the rescue, then disappears. What made you think he’d keep in touch with me?”
Relena wrung her hands and blushed faintly. “Well, I figured something was going on between you two because... nothing ever occurred between him and myself.”
He snorted and pulled a bag of potato chips out of his pocket. “You’re correct on that one. There was something between us for a while. Want some chips? They’re sour cream and onion though. You might want a stick of gum before you leave.”
“Thank you.” She took a few chips from the offered bag. “What happened then?” Relena knew she was being nosey, but she just couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“I don’t know honestly. He stayed with me and Hilde for a couple of months, then one morning he was gone. He was gone for a few months. Then one day he was back. He stayed for a while and then he was gone again.” He shrugged. “He wouldn’t say anything to me about where he was going, where he went or when he was coming back. Just up and gone like a fart in the wind, then back again as if he’d never left. After he left the last time, I went crazy.”
“And that’s when you...” her statement died out.
“Yeah, that’s when Quatre had to have me committed.” He smiled ruefully again. “So you know about that, huh?”
“Well... Noin said something about it, but I didn’t understand what was going on. I figured it was because of the ZERO system or something.”
“Ha! I wish it was that simple.” He closed the book he had before him. “No. The last time Heero left, I lost my mind. I’d given him everything, Relena. Everything: food, shelter, my body, and my love. I didn’t have that even for myself, yet he took it when he knew he had no intention of staying.” He exhaled a deep breath. “So I went coo coo for cocoa puffs for a while.”
Despite the seriousness of the conversation, Relena couldn’t help but smirk. “That’s one way to say it.” She sobered. “But I would’ve never thought that you of all the pilots would end up that way. Wufei I figured, but not you.” Duo laughed again, and the sound of it made Relena’s blood curdle. “What’s so funny?”
“Wufei? No way. That man doesn’t let his hair down in front of me, let alone lose his mind. No. But because of that, Wufei has become my best friend. He has helped me the most through all of that. In fact, he’s upstairs right now, doing some research on an old method of mining to help the Preventers dig up some oil on Earth or something.”
Relena felt the blood drain away from her face. “He’s upstairs?”
“Yeah.” He took another sip of his Dr. Pepper. “No need to fret ‘Lina. He’s not going to help drug you up and cart you off somewhere again. Those days are over and done with. He’s gotten over Treize’s death.”
“Oh,” Relena said, not understanding what Duo was talking about, but letting it slide anyway. In her distraction, her eyes fell down to the book in front of Duo. The cover was interesting because it was nothing but a black background with a lit candle in the center. “What kind of book is that? Horror? What’s it called?”
Duo turned the book around so that she could see the cover. Relena read the title out loud. “As the candlelight flickers.”
“Yeah,” Duo said, lightly touching the cover. “It’s like an autobiography of sort, except it takes place around a certain time period in the author’s life. It’s by this chick named Karen. It’s weird, but I can relate to it.”
“Well, what’s it about?”
Duo turned the book back to him, gazing over the cover. “It’s about this girl who loves this guy, but he keeps disappearing on her. She goes crazy because of it, but uses the flickering of a candle as a metaphor to the times she went crazy.”
Relena tilted her head to the side, curious. “What did the flickering of the candle mean?”
Duo still stared at the cover. “When it flickered, it meant she was close to losing her sanity.”
Relena pouted in thought, her eyes drawn to the cover as well. “What happens if it flickers and dies out?”
Duo glanced up at her, with a dead look in his eyes. “Then she’s lost her mind.”
“For heaven’s sake,” Relena said, surprising herself. “Duo, I don’t know much about you, even after knowing you for ten years, but I know you couldn’t possibly relate to something so precarious.”
Duo grinned, his normal humor still not returning to his face. “That’s because you don’t know Heero. You don’t know what you’ve been missing. I loved him.”
Relena leaned across the table, going on the defensive. “I loved him too, Duo. Don’t you dare think you were the only one.”
“If you did Relena, truly did, then why weren’t you locked up in there with me? Hm? Why was I drawing stick figures on the wall by myself? I don’t think you understand.”
“Of course I do! Just the thought that he was with you rather than me drove me insane!” By now, most of the customers had left the Starbucks area, leaving Duo and Relena alone with a few other patrons.
“Did it really, Relena?” Duo’s voice was no longer full of bitterness, but desperation.
Relena was taken back. “Yes, it did.”
Duo sat back in his chair, unimpressed. “I don’t think so. Do you know what it’s like to be crazy? I mean really crazy?” She didn’t respond, only glared. He continued. “Do you know what it’s like to know that things are going on around you, but you can’t get your body to move and you can’t get your mind to make yourself care? Do you know what it’s like to literally be in your own world, because where you are mentally, you ARE the only one? Well, it’s like being a candle in a lightless room. Every breath around you, and every unexpected breeze, could be too strong and cause you to go out. The fact that you were once lit won’t amount to a hill of beans.”
“Why are you telling me this, Duo?” Relena crossed her arms across her chest.
He sighed. “Because you never had a clue. You’ve done great work for this universe, there’s no doubt about that. But you’re still clueless about a lot of things, yet you walk around like you know every damn thing. You chased him all over the universe when he needed to be focused, and then after saving your ass you don’t even check up on him. That’s love?”
“Well Duo, I’m sorry if I can’t hang onto the past like you can,” she spat out.
“I’m sorry if I can’t walk around with my head up my ass like YOU can,” he spat back.
Before Relena could retort, she felt a hand land heavily on her shoulder, and looked up to see that it was Wufei. At first she didn’t know what to think. It had been such a long time since she had seen him last, even though he worked so closely with Sally. “Wufei...”
“It’s nice to see you again, Miss Dorlian,” he said elegantly. There wasn’t even a hint of a sneer in his voice. For all that she could hear, he sounded very genuine. “I’m sorry we can’t stay longer. We have important business to attend to.” He looked to Duo. “I have what we need. We gotta get a move on if we’re going to pick Trowa up on time. He said he’d help me with this.”
“Sure.” Duo slid the book across the table, stopping it in front of Relena. “I think you should read this. You need it more than I do.” With that said, Duo picked up his backpack and left with Wufei in his wake. Relena sat there, staring at the door in fury until Paragon picked her up.
It was late when Dorothy arrived at the hotel room. She was tired, but restless as she passed through the hall to get to her room. As she passed Relena’s door, she thought that it was odd to see her light shining underneath the door. Not sure what to think, she gently knocked three times. “Miss Relena? Are you awake?”
There was a quiet shuffle before the door was opened. “Yes Dorothy, do you need something?”
“No, I didn’t. I just saw that your light was on. Is everything alright?”
“Yeah,” she said, looking over her shoulder to her bed. “I was just reading a book and... thinking about what someone told me today.” She turned back to Dorothy. “Dorothy, I need to ask you something.”
She raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment. “Oh? What?”
Relena took a deep breath. “Do you think I’m clueless?”
Dorothy smiled. “About politics, no. You’re a genius and there’s no denying that. About everything else... yes. You have compassion, but that’s not the same as experience. Some of your ideas may be naive, but you’re succeeding in getting those ideas heard and brought into reality. You saw your father murdered and in the end you didn’t exact revenge, but that’s not the same as repeated suffering. You’ve been extremely busy since the war with important things Relena, so sure, you’re not going to know every tiny detail about other things in life. You don’t have time for that.”
Relena frowned. “I guess you’re right.”
Dorothy took a step forward, trying to read Relena’s eyes. “Are you sure everything’s alright?”
“Yes, just fine Dorothy. Thank you. Good night.”
“Good night,” she said, as she started for her room again. Relena closed the door when she was gone and leaned against it, staring at the book that laid on her white sheets. She finished reading it hours ago, and even had time to read it again, but she still couldn’t sleep. She wouldn’t be able to sleep until she saw him again. Slipping into her houseshoes and a light robe, she decided to finish what had started.
“Hang on. I’m comin’ I’m comin’,” Duo said as he made his way to the door.
Hilde popped her head out of her room, trying to comb back her hair with her fingers. “Who can that be?”
“Hell if I know,” he said as he opened the door. Duo’s eyes nearly bolted out of his head as he saw his guest. “Relena?!”
“Hello Duo. Quatre told me where I could find you,” she said sheepishly. “I know it’s late but I needed to tell you that you were right. You were right about me. I didn’t love him like I thought I did.” She dropped her head, but it was soon brought back up by Duo’s fingers. “Duo?”
“I run and I hide, but I never tell a lie.” He sighed. “You were right too. I can’t keep living in the past. Gotta move on, right?”
She smiled. “Right.”
“Would you like some coffee? I’m making some,” Hilde asked over Duo’s shoulder. “Plus I think Duo could use the company.”
“Yeah, I would actually. Hilde refuses to watch ‘Night of the Living Dead’ with me again. She even came after my hair with scissors.” He feigned fear.
Relena smiled, glad that she decided to come. “I would love too.” Duo stood aside, dramatically gesturing for Relena to enter. She accepted, just as dramatically. As she entered, the three of them laughed as Duo closed the door, both to his home and to their past feelings.