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Stay

Jay


Part One

The world was dreary and monotonous, autumn dragging by, and I was fatigued in ways I could barely comprehend. Energy was draining from my listless hands into the very earth I stood upon, seeping through the already stained carpet and through layers of cement. I was dimly aware of a certain slickness over my hands-- a slow, inquisitive tongue (my own) swiped across the surface of my palms and my face twisted in a grimace.

Vodka. Cheap vodka slid down my raw throat like tonic; a sort of firewater to dull the senses and drown my sorrows. The war was over. The war had been over for some time, and the orbit of space had settled down gingerly into a tentative peace. What had first seemed like a blithe reverie had quickly descended into a nightmare-- or rather, the bleak reality of listlessness and despair. There were no missions to be completed. There was no peace to be won.

So I waged my own war and watched as my mind and body slowly burned away, the sole casualty of a pointless battle.

The door swung open, squeaking uncertainly. Squinting, I could see the black outline of a slender form. I blinked, and the world disappeared into darkness...

"Duo?"

...To remerge in blinding light.

Dove hands cupped my face, drawing my eyes up. My vision swam, the air stinking of alcohol, and a voice replied, slurring. I realized that it was my own, drawling out with uncertain syllables and choked sobs. It finally caught in my throat, even as he pried open my eyes, fingers scraping along my cheek, intense gaze drawing me in.

I felt like I was drowning.

My shoulders slumped in defeat and my head lolled to one side. He repeated my name again, forcing my head up again.

"Heero." His name fell from my lips as clear as those eyes of his and I slumped against him, arms wrapped around his neck for support, relishing the feeling of skin against skin. I hadn't seen him since the war and my mind wrestled over this curious fact.

"Tell me why," he commanded, one arm delicately woven around my waist. I realized that I was weeping, crying softly, sobbing like an infant in his arms. When I didn't offer any answers, he sighed and patiently hoisted me up.

"Stay with me, then," he whispered, voice guileless and soft; and we're both drawn into the waiting shade.


There were mornings then, after I'd stayed with Heero for a few months, that I would wake early and creep out of my bedroom. We slept in adjoining rooms, uncannily positioned so that if all the walls had evaporated and the space between had disappeared, we would have fit together-- intrinsically filling the other's empty spaces. In the grey dawn, I would slip into his room and watch him slumber fitfully, before sliding out again to lie awake and ponder all these things in the world: the rising sun, the dip of clouds over the canopy of metallic sky, the song of birds and smell of sandalwood and ginger-- and above all else, Heero. He remained in my thoughts as the hours slipped by and the misty daybreak dissolved into the fair morning.

On one occasion, I'd ventured to smooth one errant strand of hair from his face. He stirred, twisting in the thin cotton sheets, eyes fluttering and rapidly descending from the vertigo of sleep and consciousness. I stole from his room back into mine, to the awaiting mattress that both beckoned and mocked.

A few scant minutes later, he emerged, hair rumpled from sleep, clad in a simple, creased t-shirt and plaid boxers, and leaned against the doorframe.

"Awake yet?" The furtive whisper escaped his lips, nonchalant.

I rolled over to face him. The light of morning streamed through the windows, but seemed to stop short of his body. I caught the tiny shiver that shook his frame, trembling fingers hooked on his own sleeves, and I wanted so badly to rise from my bed, walk across the few feet between us, and hold him. I wanted to cradle him, capture some of him-- some elusive spirit-- or just the smell or taste of him, clean herbal soap and fresh linen. I wanted everything, or anything trapped in his eyes or innately held within his bones.

In my mind, we kissed: chastely, harshly, soft, and bruising.

And there, we stared at each other over the expanse of those few feet, the distance indomitable.

"Yeah," I finally said, voice faint.

He nodded and shrugged, turning to leave with just one enthralling glimpse of the curve of his calves. All this hurt in a way that continues to defy description, and I was left with nothing but the dull beat of my heart clattering in my ribcage-- a now familiar ache.


The world was black and white and snowy; mid-December and the stars were coming out. And there they were: spread across that dark dome, spanning across the horizon. We were staring at the sky, catching snowflakes on our tongues and laughing at the icy chill that dissolved in our mouths. His face was a picture; warmed by the light of a nearby streetlamp, eyes glittering, pale skin against the dark streets and white snow. He had snowflakes caught in his eyelashes, and he laughed-- something I nearly never heard-- voice ringing up clearly to the heavens. This moment was separate from anything and everything-- a single piece of space and time, as clear and crisp as the air that night.

"Duo?" The way he said my name was like a consideration of the person I was. He stared at me from out of those dark blue eyes that could tell me the weight and worth of my soul. I paused, mouth still agape, snowflakes still disappearing on my tongue.

"Yes?"

We stood in the glow of the lights, frozen on the sidewalk, the indigo sky stretching over our heads as the snow fell.

Heero looked a little uncertain, drawing one delicate hand up to smooth the unruly mop of dark hair back from his eyes. Then he smiled, and the world began to move again, alive.

"Nothing."

We stared at each other for another moment before returning to the building and disappearing into our respective rooms, alone for the night again.


He was twirling a lock of hair, absentmindedly-- this was one of the idiosyncrasies I'd grown to love about him. Heero was sprawled on his bed, legs up, head propped up with one hand, and the other entangled in his own dark brown hair. He gazed at me with a lazy grace, just slightly gnawing on his lower lip. We sat in companionable silence until he spoke.

"Duo." Here he paused, looked at me awkwardly, and continued. "Are you a virgin?"

And there it was, posed in his typically blunt way. There were levels on which I wasn't surprised, but the entire concept of this was startlingly amusing. Heero Yuy, who had killed thousands and saved millions, who had been trained from his waking breath as a living machine, who had been reminded of his expendability as a weapon countless times, asking me, equally dangerous in my own right, if I was a virgin. It was spring, now; maybe it was in the air, tiny bits of pollen drifting from his nose to his brain.

"Well?" He arched an eyebrow.

"No," I admitted. We both lapsed into silence, a note of conclusion drawn. He shifted slightly, and I finally offered a few more words. I stared straight into his azure eyes and said, evenly, "It's overrated."

"Aa."

I got up to leave, and he watched me, silently ushering me out with his eyes.


I walked into my room to be plunged into the scent of flowers.

Irises, bouquets of blooms of irises, covered my bed-- violet petals were strewn across the floor.

And he sat perched on a chair, one leg slung over the arm, like a nymph.

"Haru no umi," he said succinctly.

"They're beautiful," I murmured, overwhelmed to the point of distraction. My eyes traveled to him, unfocused. "Where. why.?"

"They're Japanese flowers," he said. "They reminded me of your eyes."

My throat constricted. He got up and walked over, offering a single flower to me. "Smell," Heero commanded. I stared at him, uncertain and unbelieving, before inhaling a little of the proffered bloom.

"It's nice," I replied, unable to keep the husky tones out of my voice.

He smiled. He smiled and it was an epiphany, a revelation, like the world changed in some profound way. "I'm glad you like them," he said, quietly. Heero began to walk past me, just brushing my shoulder-- the barest contact, the smallest friction.

I spun and put out a single imploring hand, blindly. "Heero."

He turned and stared at me with luminous, questioning eyes. "Yes?"

/Nothing./ I almost said it, regressing back into old patterns. /Nothing./ And he would have left. Instead, I stared at the blaze of violet around me, gesturing helplessly. My hands caught his wrist, pulling him towards me. He was surprisingly pliant and calm, waiting for me to continue.

"Stay," I said desperately.

The sun was just setting.

I looked into those eyes again. "Please. Stay."

The last rays of light filtered through the open windows, breeze rustling the petals that adorned the sheets and the floor. My heart ached, blood pounding through my veins, and all I could think, all I could hope to articulate in the convoluted nerves of my mind was the sudden revelation: this was beauty. This, before me, was all the beauty the world could offer; the beauty that memory could never fade. This scene, with its sharp violet, blue, and black like bruises on skin, was true beauty. All else-- the bustle and rumble of the outside world-- paled in comparison.

He looked at me with those eyes, those clear blue eyes like the darkening sky or the horizon fading into space, and stared curiously at me.

Heero finally, eyes shifting away, replied. "Why?"

My mind spun with the possibilities. "Because..." My voice quivered and faltered, before piping up in childish tones. "Because I love you."

That face, with its lines and slants and curves, looked at me calmly, clarity skimming over the surface of his eyes.

"Because there's no one but you..." I clasped his hands and words began to spill of their own volition. "Because the world is grey without you, and because you could save me, Heero. Because-- because I know you, because I've memorized every line and angle of your body so I could still see you when I close my eyes. Because I go to sleep dreaming of you and wake thinking of you. I love you-- I want to live in your heart forever, Heero, because I'll die one day and I'll disappear from a world that won't miss me. But because I loved you, I'll exist in the little sanctums of your memory. I love you, Heero. I'll love you even if you leave." I knelt, staring up on bended knee, still holding his hands, my fingers curled around his palms.

"Heero... stay."

The world ceased in my mind, as if this was the beginning of all time and of all things. This might have been the first confession of love or the first adoration and boundless infatuation. Life paused for a single, painstaking second that seemed to go on for an eternity as Heero looked down, a wistful expression passing through his eyes. Finally, he offered an answer.

"No," he said hollowly.

And the world exploded again.


Part Two

"No," he said hollowly.

And the world exploded again.

I stared at him, my fingers loosening from his. I trembled, struggling to maintain my composure. My voice still cracked.

"T-tell me why," I asked, like a dying man's last plea. In a way, it was.

"Because..." Heero hesitated and then bowed his head. "I can't be the center of your universe, Duo. I don't even think I can save myself-- how can I save you?" His hands balled into little fists.

I tried to make sense of it. "I..."

"Duo..." His voice was tremulous, teetering minutely. "I'm-- if we-- if I... I would have to give all of myself to you, and I would have nothing left of myself. And I don't know what I would do if..."

"Heero, please," I begged. "Tell me-- please, God, tell me-- do you love me? If you won't stay, then tell me... please..."

Heero blanched, color draining from his face. "I can't be a martyr, or an angel," he murmured distractedly, running one hand through his hair.

"Do you love me?"

"I..." He stared at me, fixing me with a beseeching look before abruptly jerking up. I stared at the floor, aware as he began walking away. The door clicked shut.

It was fifteen minutes before I realized I was crying.


I began to write, now, and I began to walk outside in the mornings when the sun was low on the horizon and the city was awakening to a new day and the people were hopeful. I took up smoking. I read poetry in the park and scribbled little rhymes on the blank leaves. I sat, crouched before a glowing screen, trying to reconstruct that one night in spring. The dried irises rested in a bowl beside my laptop, and the smell reminded me of Heero in the most painfully wistful way.

There were some mornings in June where I sincerely wanted to die.

We shuffled by each other in the hallway, not touching, and ate separate meals. The silence between us was tangible, but I remained. I remained because now I had something tactile to draw fantasies from; I had the moments before the rejection. I had the sun setting and the smell of flowers and the image of sharp lines and that curving mouth, forming the syllable that snapped the world into glittering shards.

But I had something.

The world seemed to have dimmed afterwards. I can't explain it, but forms were blurred and indistinct, the colors pale and faded. My eyes looked at the city like an old photograph, worn and dog-eared at the corners. I can best describe those months in smears of monotone that swept over and around me. However, once in a while, I would be staring at some object-- fixed or moving-- and things clicked in my mind. Occasionally, things would burst like fireworks or confetti, and for a few, scant moments the world bloomed. I remember looking at a teenage couple in the park, arms around each other, laughing as they walked down the cobbled pathway. They stopped for a moment to look at the lake-- it was late noon, geese were flocking overhead-- and suddenly, their heads turned and their bodies shifted and they *kissed*. I could see the red of their lips and the metallic blue of the lake and the shadows of geese against the technicolored sky. I was awed that such a thing could exist.


We began to speak again in early August.

It grew from nods in the hallway as we passed each other into eating silent meals together. Heero would ask, sometimes, how my day had been and I would dutifully respond and he would nod and make a vague, general statement on his day. Then we lapsed into not-quite-companionable silence, but a good enough facsimile so that the quiet wasn't stifling.

I still loved him hopelessly and completely, and hopefully discreetly. I was enamored with the minutest details, as always. I was afraid of looking at him, however, dreading impending doom or some kind of psychosomatic effect.

So I stared at the inky lines on the paper I held in my hands. I wrote and scribbled more, and stared at the bowl of dried irises in my room while my mind spun with the insinuations of pseudo-adoration.

Hope is a terrible thing.


<<He sat in the low, fluorescent light, body all sharp angles and thin lines, and cracked his knuckles. Tristan's lips were chapped and cracking, and the blood slid between his lips onto the harsh swatch of his tongue. Bradley was quiet, since he found that the only real reverence between them was silence.

"Did you love her?"

Tristan's head rose and he looked at Bradley with a mixture of weariness and surprise.

Bradley motioned to the dead girl who lay on the floor like a broken doll or a splintered marionette. Carrie's hair washed over her ashen face-- little ringlets of spun gold-- and the simple cotton of her shirt was stained with the burgundy of blood.

Tristan considered it for a moment, glancing at the pistol in his hand. He cleared his throat.

"Maybe.">>

Tristan was my favorite character. I thought he was a pure revelation in himself; maybe one of those angels with singed wings who traded in his harp for a lean sword but still sang hymns when he killed. I toyed with the last thought, but found the idea of Tristan in any kind of religious comparison absurd. Tristan did not lose his soul: he lacked one from his conception. He was not doomed, merely overlooked.

I don't know why I found him killing Carrie. I don't know why I made Tristan so desperate and lonely-- or so cold. Or why I gave him blue eyes. Why I made him a killer at all.

At least, I told myself I didn't know. The answer slept in the next room.

It was late, now-- or early, depending on your point of view. 4:12 a.m., and my eyes were blurring the lines of the laptop monitor. I fumbled through my handwritten notes and, with a defeated sigh, shut down the computer and lifted my cramped bones to fall asleep.


I found Heero sleeping on the couch the next morning, in a dirty t-shirt and a pair of worn boxers. The thin blanket he had brought with him was crumpled on the floor. The sweltering summer heat of mid-August usually left us running the air conditioning at every possibly chance.

I averted my eyes and headed for the kitchen. Eventually, the sound of pots being displaced and the hiss of boiling water woke him. I heard the pattering of bare feet on the floorboards as he approached the kitchen, settling by the breakfast table and peering at me from under unruly bangs.

I stared critically at the pan, and broke two eggs. I reached for the milk. "Why the couch?"

He shrugged. "Couldn't sleep, and kept waking up. I dragged myself out here at four this morning." His eyes were rimmed with the pink of insomnia.

"I was up," I mentioned, stirring the now-scrambling eggs. "You could have dropped by."

"I heard you typing," he yawned. "Thought you didn't want to be disturbed."

"It's cool," I replied. "Next time, feel free to come into my room. I'm a pretty nocturnal person."

"Hn." The tone in his voice was undecipherable. It might have been reflective, it might have been accepting, and it might have been careless.

"I'd enjoy the company," I ventured.

My eggs sizzled and popped.


He took me up on my offer that night.

His soft silhouette slid into my room and the light burned through the night.


We talked about insignificant things like the price of milk, and fleetingly touched upon the past, our voices rising and sinking as we spoke of the war and the blanks of childhood. The more we talked, the less I wrote. Most weekdays he would retire around 10 o'clock, but some weekends he'd spend the night. We eventually slept in the same bed, but in terribly awkward, unaccustomed positions-- neither one of us wanted to snap the fragile friendship by waking up in a tangle of limbs and hair.

However, there were times where I wished that we did. There were times when I was convinced that a few moments of bliss would be worth it-- just one fleeting touch or a brush of lips against foreign skin.

But dawn crept towards us inexorably, and Heero would leave in the early morning as if he could never bear to share those hours with me, creep into his own bed, and leave me to wake alone.

So I returned to the same screen, half-filled with text, and typed sparsely in the moments when my emotions overlapped and blurred.

<<The streets were grimy, and the pale yellow light that streamed over Bradley's face hurt his eyes. He shivered-- his clothes were wet and the chill of the evening prickled his skin-- and looked up at the cracked windowpanes on the third story floor.

Home. His mind tried to reconcile with it. Home. This was home.

He opened the door cautiously, half expecting some apparition from the past to greet him in the stairwell. The cement was littered with broken glass and cigarette stubs, and colored with graffiti and peeling posters. He reached for the handrail, but recoiled at its coldness. Bradley tucked his hands into his pocket, and slowly ascended the stairs.

He finally stood in front of a door. The brass number above it read "10C." Bradley's lips twitched.

/Home./

His fingers grasped the knob. The building was condemned, abandoned; no one was here. Slowly, it turned, and the door clicked open.

The lean youth walked to the far wall, moonlight rippling across his face. His hands, after pushing away shards of glass, settled on the windowsill gingerly.

/Home is where the heart is./

His hands tightened into fists.

"Tristan, you idiot," he whispered.

"Bradley?" A voice rang out, uncertain in the emptiness. "Brad?"

He could hear Tristan walking in: hear the door closing and the creak of the floorboards. He felt tentative fingers settle on his shoulder, stroking the tenseness away, then pausing, waiting for something to break the silence.

Bradley acknowledged him with a quiet, "Tristan."

"What are you doing here?" There was a tight, coiled emotion in that voice, however suppressed. He could hear anger, fear, and curiosity at least.

"Just visiting home."

"I thought I was home now," came the sad reply.

Bradley took a shuddering breath. "I thought you were too.">>


He found them in September.

I really ought to have hidden them. They were too clear a look inside the mess of grey matter that was my mind; they revealed too much, left too little unsaid, and tread on the uneasy line of reality and fantasy with bare feet. They were diminutively dangerous words in their tiny print.

I'd finished the final paragraph of their love scene. I had already memorized their movements like I had lived them; in a sense, I *had* lived them, albeit vicariously through the cold fašade of fiction. They were my own clandestine masterpiece, as well as my dirty little secret. They were clear evidence of what my heart swelled with each morning.

And they knew too much.

I planned on killing the both of them when I got back.

Those files were a threat. I had serenely planned out the very last scene as I briskly stepped across the asphalt. Bradley-- fitting that it would be Bradley, loudmouth, obnoxious, self-destructive Bradley-- would fumble for the Ruger 22/45 that he kept underneath his bed. He would stroke the stainless steel grip like it was something erotic. His eyes would glaze over and he would slide back under the covers, drawing Tristan to him. He would line up the muzzle carefully and close his eyes. His index finger would crook just a little, adjusting to the trigger. He would murmur, "Tristan... I love you."

And pull the trigger.

And my crazed catharsis would be over.

By the time I got back and strode into my room, Heero was on the second to last page. He turned and looked at me curiously. My mouth was dry. My head hurt. I slowly walked over and looked at the screen.

<<"Come here," Tristan commanded. His eyes swirled, a furious blue.

Bradley walked over slowly and sat on the edge of the bed. A single lamp was on, its light throwing shadows on the floor. Tristan leaned over; the sheets slipped from his body.

"Lie down."

He leaned back and stared at the ceiling. Bradley closed his eyes. Tristan settled down alongside him. One hand reached out and began to unbutton-->>

Heero was silent as I closed the document. I cleared my throat, distrusting my voice.

He finally said, "Did you write that?"

My hands clenched and unclenched. The answer was low, rasping, "Yes." I stared down at the floorboards. Heero got up from the chair and stood by me. He stood so close, I could feel his breath on my cheek.

"Was that about-- us?"

I caught the hesitation in his voice. There was a lump in my throat that I couldn't will away. "I... yes."

There are moments of absoluteness when you are aware of nothing but the pounding of your heart. The delicious intoxication of adrenaline was absent; there was a bitter taste in my mouth.

There was a pause as Heero Yuy digested the information and the moment. Then, he only asked, "Do you still love me?"

I raised my head and looked at him. His eyes were averted, and there was a lingering tint of pink that washed over his cheeks. His mouth was solemn. We stood in silence until his shoulders suddenly sagged; he looked defeated. He began to walk away.

"Yes," I murmured.

He stopped and his head jerked up.

"Duo?" His voice quivered, hanging on the last syllable like a reluctant note of music. He sounded lost and unsure. He sound confused. He sounded... absolutely terrified; the tear that cloaked his voice seemed to stretch across the space between us and draw me in.

I looked at him and waited. He never said anything.

I stared at the floor again. "I'll be gone by 4," I said, voice clear and distinct.


It came to a black laptop and a single, dilapidated suitcase. It was worn and red, and one of the buckles was missing. Inside of it rested the entirety of my life for the past year: five pairs of boxers, four half-clean shirts, three rumpled pairs of pants, assorted mismatched socks, one tie, a few books and photos, the handwritten notes of Tristan and Bradley's-- I realized that it could never really be mine-- saga, and a small box of desiccated flower petals.

Heero was still in his room when I left. I couldn't bring myself to say goodbye. I touched his door, briefly, and then raised my knuckles to knock.

I never did. I picked up my suitcase and my laptop and walked away.

And sayst thou yet that exile is not death?[1]

The door clicked shut behind me.

The elevator ride down was uneventful. When the metal doors parted, I trudged out, nodding at the doorman, and departed from the lobby. My chest was tight, and the sun hurt my eyes. I didn't know it would be so bright at 4 p.m. I crossed the street, too impatient to wait for the lights to change, the two-way traffic sweeping past me. I set down everything and waved for a taxi.

I stared at the building that I had called home.

A moving truck whizzed by, a blur of bright yellow.

When it passed, Heero was standing on the other side of the road. I was still waving. My hand clenched into a fist and my nails dug into my palm. He stared at me for a moment. Then, his mouth moved. The word drifted across the traffic and into my ears.

"Stay."

A taxicab screeched to a halt in front of me. My hand dropped to my side. The passenger-side window rolled down and the cab driver quirked an eyebrow at me.

"You gettin' in?"

He has eyes the color of the sky when the world is approaching dusk.

"No," I said slowly. He grimaced and shook his head.

"Whatever, kid." He shrugged. "See ya." He pulled away from the curb. Heero was still on the other side of the street. The red light had momentarily stopped traffic.

Heero began walking now, stepping down from the curb and weaving between cars; I started towards him. We met in the middle of the road, exactly where the yellow line divided the asphalt. His hand reached out and stroked my cheek. It slipped down to my collar and he drew me to him. I felt lusciously faint, like someone in the vertigo of dream. His mouth pressed against my ear.

"Stay. Just... stay."

He kissed me, and suddenly there were no words. There was no space between us, not even for the articulation of adoration. A few cars honked appreciatively. His mouth was soft against mine, but firm enough so that I knew he was there. Finally, I pulled away from him.

In the corner of my eye, I could see the walking man blinking orange, signaling the imminent light change.

I realized, looking at the sweeping grandeur around me-- clouds forming, maybe a storm, children playing, crying, living, and breathing-- this Earth of mine was sincerely profound. Life had suddenly drawn into itself-- into me-- and all the joy rushed through my veins like electrically-laced ambrosia. My existence was not limited by the futile measures that all men are assessed by; it was so much more.

The light changed and the cars began to move forward. Always forward.


The End

Notes:
[1] C'mon, you know this! Well, if you don't, it's just a snippet from quite possibly my favorite piece of Shakespeare. It's Romeo (Romeo & Juliet; Act III, Scene III) talking to Friar Lawrence. ::swoons:: "Hence banished is banish'd from the world, and world's exile is death; then 'banished,' is death mis-term'd.

 

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