Drums of Heaven

Title: The Drums of Heaven
Author: Sol, but archived as Zefyr on FF & MM
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Action, Romance
Pairings: 1+R (past), others yet to show up...
Rated: PG-13 so far, but probably end up an R.
Warnings: Major violence, language, adult situations in later chapters.
Archives: http://www.fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=1437990, http://www.mediaminer.org/fanfic/view_st.php?id=39417
Archiving: Sure, just write me
Critiques: Always welcome, especially constructive.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, but I like to take them out and play with them.
Spoilers: Takes place 5 years after EW, and references some events/past history.

The Drums of Heaven by Sol 1056
Part One: Sight Of My Reflection

I caught sight of my reflection
I caught it in the window
I saw the darkness in my heart
I saw the signs of my undoing
They had been there from the start
--- Peter Gabriel

"She'll be there in a half-hour," Bernie was saying. "Have you even taken a shower yet?"

Heero glowered at the vidscreen, refusing to even dignify the question with a response.

"Come off it, Yuy," the man teased. "Either let her get at least one good shot for the press releases, or I'll send someone over to steal something from your mantel."

The young man bristled at the thought. No one could break into his apartment, he assured himself, not with his precautions. Perhaps one person, he thought momentarily, but then reminded himself that idiot wasn't likely to be on his agent's payroll. Heero had had enough of annoying roommates while at university, until he decided it was worth the extra money to have his own space. Hell, if he'd had a roommate at this point, Bernie probably would've already bribed the person into digging through all of Heero's private belongings.

"Look, I'll talk to the publisher."

Bernie had first discovered Heero's talent in a sophomore showing at the School of Design, and since then had managed to weasel the ex-pilot's pictures into showings back on Earth as well as at some prestigious galleries on L1, L3 and L4. Now, with the publication of a collection of Heero's photographs, there was the real possibility of becoming a big name in the art photography world.

When Heero didn't respond, Bernie sighed. "I don't think the picture of your camera is really going to do the trick."

"Why not?" Heero knew he sounded petulant. But it was eight in the morning standard time, and he wasn't interested in dealing with a second-rate photographer ordering him around in his personal space.

Bernie sighed. "Fine, I'll talk to them again. But, man, this is Taschen. They can make or break us. If they want a picture of you standing on your head wearing a beanie and dressed like a German yodeler, I say we give it to them."

That got a wry grin from Heero, who shook his head. "It's wasting time I could spend in the darkroom."

"Which is wasting time you could be spending taking another sixteen rolls," Bernie retorted. It was an old bone of contention between them that Heero insisted on using an archaic system of photography. Despite Bernie's repeated offers and bribes, Heero consistently ignored the miniature digital devices that could produce quality images, even when blown up to wall-size.

Heero point-blank refused to put down the antique medium-format view camera; all of Bernie's annual gifts of the latest digital cameras were still in their boxes in the apartment's storage unit. Heero understood the intent and was thus loathe to get rid of them, but he still refused to even consider taking even a lowly snapshot with them. They didn't feel right. He needed to hear that click of the shutter, that solid chunk as the film rolled forward into the next frame. The only reason he'd tolerated Bernie's good-natured teasing so long was because Bernie, on some unspoken level, understood this as well.

"Whatever," Heero finally replied, his eyes drifting to the prints hanging on the clothesline strung across his studio apartment. "Talk to them again, then. I don't want my own face in there."

"You're the weirdest, you know that?" Bernie sighed, then nodded, his wrinkled face creasing deeper as he leaned forward into the camera and grinned at the Japanese man. "But I still think you'd look cute as a German yodeler."

"Shut up," the young man told him, his eyebrow raised as he leaned forward, breaking off the connection. Heero combed his unruly hair with his fingers, considering, and was out of his chair in a heartbeat, grabbing his coat as he headed out the door. Being unavailable might stall the issue long enough that Taschen would settle for his anti-self-portrait.

Besides, the camera was all that mattered, Heero reminded himself, locking the door behind him. He was simply the finger that pressed the shutter, the hand that swiveled the viewfinder, the eye that measured the depth of field, the mind that calculated for light. The camera did the real work. He was only the tool.


Three days later Heero found himself trapped in his studio apartment, forced to deal with Bernie face-to-face. The older man was leaning against the table, perusing the few personal pictures he'd pried from Heero's resisting fingers. Heero stood sullenly at the side, irritated about the intrusion but reluctant to risk losing the deal with Taschen.

"Look, this picture." Bernie pointed at one of the framed shots. "Who took this?"

Heero shrugged and thought about the fact that Bernie so often started statements with the word 'look'. Like a photographer needs to be told to do that, he thought absently, confident that none of the pictures would suffice as a headshot. Bernie was hovering over one in particular, however, and it was making the hair on the back of Heero's neck stand on end.

"This one," Bernie repeated. "Earth to Heero. Well, actually, L1 to Heero." Bernie waved a picture at the younger man, who immediately scowled. The agent flipped the frame over, prying the casing open and slipping the picture out in a deft move before Heero could react. Bernie's brown eyes widened as he read the inscription.

"Qua... Winner? The Winner?" Bernie glanced at Heero's stiff shoulders, a little surprised. "You never told me you knew the head of the Winner Corporation."


"Yeah, I see how you are." Bernie grinned, flipping the picture back over. It showed a much younger Heero, standing behind another boy. The one in the foreground was grinning, a little wickedly; looking out from under tousled bangs that hung down in his face. Heero was standing behind him, one arm draped over the shorter boy's shoulder, the other arm wrapped around the other boy's waist. Both boys seemed completely at ease with each other.

Bernie studied the shot, glancing up to raise an eyebrow at Heero's glower before dropping his eyes to the image again. The younger Heero was glowering at the camera, but not in a malicious way, and Heero scowled as Bernie gave the image a fond smile.

"Mike could work it over, zero in just on you," the agent offered. His brown hands held the picture delicately, at the edges, as he studied the image carefully. "Could be done."


"Didn't think you'd agree," Bernie replied, smoothly, no break visible in his demeanor as he grinned at Heero. "Just like seeing you get all prickly."

Heero grunted, annoyed.

"Reminds me that you're human."

"I am human." Heero scowled, grabbing his teacup from the table before he realized it was empty. "I just don't like pictures of myself."

"This is one of only two pictures with you in the shot," Bernie observed, a little quieter. "Must be some reason you kept it."

"Just never bothered to throw it away," the younger man replied. His blue eyes glared at the image for a second before he turned away to refill his cup.

"Really? Here. Throw it away," Bernie taunted, offering the picture, lying across his palm like an offering.

Heero stared at it for a long second before shaking his head. "Maybe later."

"Right." Skeptical, Bernie dropped the picture back on the desk with a sigh. "Look, I've got the pre-publication reviews in, if you want to look them over. I've picked out some good lead comments for the back jacket, but thought you might like to see if there's any others you like."

Heero regarded his agent suspiciously, still nettled about the snapshot. Finally he nodded, once, curtly.

Bernie grinned again, irrepressible, and slapped his briefcase on the table, next to the stack of framed images, chattering as he snapped the case open and pulled out a sheaf of papers. "This has the pull quotes, and this folder contains the letters and forward reviews. Some have already been published. The press so far has been good. Great, even. When we do that international tour through the museums, it'll only get better. More so if Taschen's got the book out by then."

Five minutes later, civilities exchanged and teacups put away, Heero shut the door behind Bernie and settled down to read the reviews. He scanned the first two, unimpressed to read the second reviewer parroting the first one nearly word-for-word. Plagiarism still exists, he thought, his eyes drifting up to the latest images drying on the line. But then, he reminded himself, I'm doing the same as people have done since time began. He wondered if Rembrandt felt the same way, looking over his sketches, or Avedon, Mapplethorpe, and Elliot, in the heyday of portraiture.

All of them, he mused, simply saw what was already there, which no one else had bothered to notice.

Sighing, Heero turned his attention to the third review.

Yuy, coming out of nowhere after the wars - who goes by the strange Old Japanese appellation of Hito, which simply means 'person' - creates images that force us to accept the anonymity of observation...

Heero snorted. More crap. He flipped to the next review.

Despite the beauty of the ancient art form he's chosen, Yuy keeps his distance, allowing his subjects the dignity of expressing themselves, while the austere black-and-white format exposes his subjects to a harsh scrutiny. Businessmen, housewives, dockworkers, pilots, prostitutes are all laid bare yet retain some undeniable individuality...

The young man pushed the papers away from him in disgust. Psychobabble. Bernie could pick what he wanted, Heero decided. None of the reviewers had even the remotest inkling of what he was doing, anyway. They were too busy paying attention to the images themselves. None of them were willing to step back and look at all of them as a whole, as an entire body of work.

Heero leaned back in his chair, idly fingering the picture frames piled on the table. Without even meaning to, his fingers latched onto Quatre's lone photograph, dragging it across the surface and lifting it up to stare at it. Who was that other person? Who was that younger version of him? Who were those people that had been standing just outside the frame? Where did they go? Where did he go?

Now, here he was, trying desperately to reach that point again, and all the reviewers could talk about was whether the photographer was aloof. They never saw the movement towards, only away, saying he was putting a camera between himself and those in front of him.

Of course, Heero thought, derisive, as he frowned and dropped the picture. Photographers by definition require the use of a camera between themselves and their subjects, but that didn't mean he was separated from those he photographed. He was inextricably linked, once the image was created, because it was him, and only him, who had been there. His lip curled, a wry private laugh at his own secret longing, considering his belief in where he stood as related to the camera.

He had chosen 'hito' as a pseudonym because the publisher insisted he couldn't just use Yuy. No single-word authors, especially when so common a name, they said. You want common, he'd thought at the time, I'll give you common. John Q. Public, he thought, bemused. Person Yuy. Random photographer. Insert photographer here, and anyone could take these pictures. It wasn't the images. It was the reason.

He wanted to build a world of people, a series of memories and realities, where these people were born, lived and died, all in good time. Nothing cut short, nothing ending too soon. Their celluloid images would be immortal, unlike those whose lives had drifted away in the smoke and fire of battles and war: for every death too soon, an image to last forever.

Or maybe, Heero considered briefly, it's all the same thing. Always something between my victims - my subjects - and myself, he mused. Maybe I really am only the tool.


When the vidphone rang, Heero was rinsing a batch of negatives. He frowned at the timer, tapped the case against the sink three times, and immediately began turning it, letting the negatives get slowly doused in a series of flushing movements. Turn, count to five, turn, count to five. The vidphone rang a second time, and he hit the button.


"Heero?" Quatre's voice. It was a little deeper, a little smoother, but unmistakably Quatre.

The photographer nearly lost count, startled. Turn, count to five... was that five? Blinking, he checked the timer and turned the case again.

"Why is the screen off?" The voice came again, and Heero stared at the blank vidphone, just barely recollecting that it was turned off to prevent light from damaging his negatives if he answered the phone while printing.

"I'm in the darkroom," he finally replied.


Heero had no idea what to say, and was suddenly glad for the lack of a screen.

"Your agent contacted me," Quatre offered after a short pause, hesitant. "He said you wanted permission to reprint a picture I took."

"He did?" Heero sighed. Figures. "No, I don't need permission."

"Excuse me?"

"I mean, we're not using the picture." Count to five, turn, count to five, turn.


Heero could practically hear Quatre chewing on his lower lip, and the Japanese man bit back a smile before he remembered the screen was off.

"How are you doing?" Quatre asked, softly. "Haven't heard from you in... a long time."

"Five years."

"Yes." Another sigh, barely heard over the swishing of the chemicals, coursing through the case, soothing the negative into a stark capture of reality.

"I went to design school."

"That's what... Bernie, was it? Your agent... said something about a book coming out... "


"Excuse me?"

"The book. It's called Communication." Heero wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, checked the timer, and lifted the lightproof cap from the case. The pink liquid percolated from the lid, swirling around the sink, sliding away down the drain. "It comes out in two months, maybe three."

"You traveling to support it? Doing gallery showings?" Quatre's voice sounded unexpectedly hopeful. Heero wondered at that, when the other man could probably afford to travel around the world five times and consider the expense a day's spare change.

"Maybe," the photographer hedged. "I'm not really in charge of the itinerary."

"I see." Quatre's tone, however, said quite clearly that he didn't see.

Heero struggled to find his voice, amazed to realize he was reluctant to break off the conversation. He turned the water on, a thin trickle, and let it seep into the negative case through the lid's holes. "How are you doing?" He hoped his voice sounded casual. His heart was thumping rapidly.

"Fine," came the response, a little brighter. "I've been working with the Interstellar League, doing peace-keeping work. Unofficial diplomat."

"What about... " Heero struggled to find the words. "Your family's company?"

"I broke it up about three years ago, divided it among my sisters and myself. A kind of diversification, you might say." Quatre sounded amused.

"So things are going well?" The water was pouring over the top of the case, and Heero belatedly shut off the tap. Three thumps against the sink, and he began flipping it again. Count to five, turn. Count to five, turn.


"You keep in touch with everyone else?"

"I see Wufei pretty regularly."

Heero was startled. He expected to hear Trowa's name, or perhaps Duo's, but Wufei? The dark-haired man was puzzled, and took a minute, turning the negative case a bit while he pondered Quatre's comment. "What's he doing?"

"Already in graduate school, working on interstellar political conflict resolution, and the applications of absolute pacifism as developed by Gandhi." Quatre rattled the explanation off as though it were memorized.

Heero chuckled. "That all?" Turn, count to five.

"Pretty much."

"Ah." He studied the case in his hands, and shrugged. "I have to go, Quatre. I'm in the middle of developing negatives and it's going to get noisy in a second when I throw these into the wash."

He knew he could ask Quatre to hold. It would only take a few minutes, and the call was on the other man's dime, but he wasn't certain he really wanted to turn on the vidphone. He didn't want to see Quatre's face, and let it drive home just how long it'd been since he'd turned his back on everyone.

"That's fine." Quatre's voice had sunk back into the deeper registers; a tone that Heero realized was probably Quatre's diplomat's voice: polite, gentle. Not so cold as to be unfriendly, but definitely not the higher-pitched excitement that had been in his voice at the beginning of the call. "If you do any gallery showings in London, look me up."

"I will."

Heero disconnected the call without further comments. Somewhere inside he knew if he didn't end it then, he'd stay online, hoping silently that Quatre would tell him everything. Where is everyone? What are they doing? When they stepped out of the camera's frame, did they go on living? Do they care that he didn't?


Five months later, and it was late fall on Earth. Heero regarded the sky with something akin to distrust, having grown too used to L1's more temperate and regularly scheduled weather patterns. His mood wasn't improved by the growing suspicion that Parisian taxi drivers were using him as target practice. Stepping onto the curb as he narrowly missed yet another speeding vehicle, he cursed under his breath as his cell phone rang. He checked the caller ID. Bernie.

"What now?"

"Hey, is that anyway to greet your favorite agent?" Bernie's voice sounded self-righteously indignant.

"You're my only agent."

"And I love you for it. Gotta a favor to ask you."


"I haven't even told you yet."

Heero navigated around a clump of high school girls, and glared at a flower seller until the woman backed away, her eyes wide. His camera bag was heavier in Earth's gravity, and he shifted the pack against his hip. "Fine. Tell me, and then I'll tell you no."

"Look, Yuy, Taschen's let you out of showing up at nearly every gallery exhibit so far. At some point you're going to need to make an appearance, at least once."

"Why does anyone want to see me?" Heero glanced up at the street sign and took a right. He was pretty sure his hotel was down this street, and the light had been perfect for photographs all day. Now he had six rolls spent and all he wanted was to take a shower and a nap. "The photographs are what's important."

"Consider this a personal favor to me. I think you really should attend this one."

"I'm still not happy about you contacting Mr. Winner."

"You're bringing that up again?" Bernie was disbelieving, with a note of long-suffering joking underneath. "And he didn't consider you Mr. Yuy, I'll remind you."

Heero gritted his teeth, switching the camera bag to his other shoulder, and tucked the phone between his shoulder and his ear. Remind me for the hundredth time, he thought.

"Tonight, eight o'clock. I'll send directions to the hotel. Be there, and I promise you won't have to do anything more than show up for the installations at the next three museums."

"I'll consider it."

"Don't just consider it," Bernie said. His voice was taking on a more serious note; one that Heero knew meant Bernie was willing to fight over this one. The problem was, the photographer wasn't sure what the fight was about.

"Shut up," Heero said, and ended the call. He glanced around the street, and grimaced. His hotel wasn't on this street. Giving up, he hailed the first maniac taxi he saw.


When the taxi dropped him off at precisely eight o'clock, Heero steeled himself for a night of droning pseudo-philosophical crap about photography by idiots who had never held a negative. Or worse, joking idiots from the publishing company who thought it just hilarious that his idea of a photographer's headshot was a picture of his antique camera.

Heero stood on the sidewalk and regarded the Parisian townhouse with no little suspicion, then hefted the camera bag. Hotel security and safety deposit boxes be damned, he wasn't going anywhere without his gear. It was a quiet neighborhood, the streetlamps glowing softly in the late fall, but his skin crawled, as though someone were watching him. Glancing around once, he set his jaw and headed up the steps.

He paused, before knocking, startled by his reflection in the door's glass pane. Sometimes it surprised him that he was older, but a day of lugging equipment around a polluted city didn't wear off with one shower, and the weary lines around his eyes and mouth only heightened the impression. He scowled at the way his fingers suddenly itched to do something about his hair, tousled and hanging in his eyes again. His gaze traveled across the reflection, and he took measure of himself, starkly, as though composing an image: broad shoulders and muscular build under the casual button-up shirt and light sports coat, narrowing down to slim hips and long legs in khaki pants. Heero shook his head at himself, and knocked.

The door was opened immediately to reveal a tall gentleman in a dark suit. Heero was amazed when the man took his coat but didn't ask to take his bag. Definitely people from Taschen, he decided. They're the only ones sensitive enough to understand photographer idiosyncrasies. Satisfied, he followed the man into the front parlor. It was a second before he registered who had risen to greet him.

Quatre, Wufei... and Relena.

Heero froze, caught in the doorway, and it was several seconds before Quatre spoke. His eyes were as sky-blue as the last time Heero had seen them, five years before.

"Heero," he said. "You made it."

"Yes," Heero replied, awkward. His heart was pounding, too fast, and he took a moment to focus on calming his respiration and heart rate.

"We're glad," Quatre replied, stepping forward. He wasn't offering his hand to shake, Heero realized. Instead, Quatre was beckoning him to be seated. "I wasn't sure... did Bernie tell you we'd be having dinner?"

No, he didn't, Heero thought crossly. He also didn't mention I was being tricked into dinner with three people I've not seen in years. Heero settled for shrugging as a response, trying to appear nonchalant and wondering if he was failing.

Quatre picked up the sentiment easily, and flushed. "Bernie was very gracious to make a space in your schedule to visit," he continued.

"You look like you've been doing well," Relena interjected. Her blue eyes were large, glancing back and forth between Heero and Quatre.

Heero blinked, registering their height difference, and that Quatre was now an inch taller than his own height of five-ten. The corner of his lips twitched up. "Quatre," he said. "You've grown."

"So did you," Quatre replied sweetly. "Just not as much."

Wufei laughed, a startling sound. The Chinese scholar's hair was down, reaching past his shoulders, and his height was equal with Heero's. "It's gone to his head," Wufei said. "Ignore him."

"He's nearly as tall as Trowa, now," Relena confided, then halted. There was a flash of something across her face, but it was gone too quickly for Heero to identify. When she looked at Heero again, the smile was back on her face.

Quatre looked off into the house at movement in the next room and nodded, turning back to the group with a smile. "Dinner's ready."


Dinner was a small affair, and Heero tried to appear at ease, given that he had no idea where to begin or what to say. That single expression on Relena's face, gone in a split second, had been warning enough to not mention Trowa. Instinctively he shoved Duo into the same box, and locked any questions away. Instead, he merely listened, nodded, and danced around the details of his own five years away.

"I wouldn't have passed Advanced Geopolitical Infrastructures if it weren't for Wufei," Relena was saying. "More wine, Quatre?"

"Thanks," Quatre replied. "Heero, this must be boring you."

"No," Heero said, letting an unexpectedly shy smile dash across his face. "I'm enjoying it. I never... expected you three to become so close."

"We work together all the time," Quatre said.

"Despite my best attempts otherwise," Wufei deadpanned. "Neither of them are serious scholars."

"We leave that to you." Relena grinned suddenly, appearing much younger than her too-mature twenty-two years. "Besides, no one expects a bodyguard to be able to beat them down in debate as well."

"Bodyguard?" Heero glanced at Wufei, who shrugged.

"That's how it started," Quatre explained. "We traded off being bodyguards for Miss Relena at Cambridge, and eventually realized we were all interested in the same courses anyway."

"Not you," Relena retorted. "You had to go study business as well as interstellar political law." She snorted but somehow turned it into a somewhat ladylike action. "Overachiever."

"It was necessary!"

"Show-off," Wufei added.

Heero glanced between the three friends, his heart sinking slowly as he realized he was still watching with a photographer's distance. Did he even belong in this picture?


At ten, Wufei and Relena excused themselves with regrets. While Wufei bowed formally to Heero, Quatre kissed Relena on the cheek, and the two ducked out through the front room. There were several moments of silence at the table, during which they heard Wufei laughing at something Relena said that Heero didn't catch.

"Wufei... seems to be doing well," Heero finally said into the empty space, once the two friends had departed.

"Yes." Quatre shoved his plate away and rested his elbows on the table. "He's much happier now. He was good with the Preventers, but he's better as a scholar." Catching Heero's look, he shrugged. "Wufei still contracts with Lady Une when Relena needs him to play bodyguard, and no others are available. I couldn't do it for this trip. I had a conference that kept me until yesterday afternoon."

"Conference?" Heero pushed the green beans around on his plate.

"In South America," Quatre said. "Peace building."

Heero nodded, sipping the wine to cover his lack of conversation. Quatre laughed.

"Relax, Heero," he told the photographer. "I won't make you talk if you don't want to. You've hardly said more than ten words all night, anyway."

"Are... Relena and Wufei... " Heero began, letting his words trail off.

"Are... " Quatre was startled, but chuckled. "No. We're all just best friends. More like a sister and two brothers."

"Oh." Heero could see that might be a good thing. Wufei had lost his entire family, his entire clan, when they self-destructed the colony during the war. Relena was raised with no knowledge of her brother Milliardo. And Quatre, of course, had twenty-nine sisters, yet little day-to-day interaction with them for most of his life. "That's good," Heero said, feeling awkward again.

"It is," Quatre agreed, standing up. "Want to sit in the other room? These chairs get uncomfortable after awhile."

"This is your permanent residence?" Heero asked as he followed Quatre back into the front room.

"No. I live in London most of the time. This is my sister Janna's house, but she's off visiting two of my other sisters on L1."

"Ah." He stared at several of the pictures sitting across a tabletop. Some were of Quatre, some of a woman that must be Quatre's sister. Tucked off to the side, as if forgotten, was another picture. Heero leaned close. It was Trowa.

The picture looked as though it were taken late in the day, judging by the yellow-orange tint to the shot. Trowa was half-reclining in a window seat, the setting sun turning the window glazing to gold, a book in his lap. He looked surprised, a little excited, his hair swinging away from his eyes thanks to the motion of lifting his head. His eyes were wide, pleased, his mouth just a little open.

It was a sexy picture, and Heero found himself wishing he could capture people in movement like that. His pictures always felt static to him. This picture made him feel as though any minute, Trowa would move again, and the image would be lost. Behind it were two more pictures, which looked like still shots from videos, and both were of Trowa. Heero noted absently that in one, Trowa was dismantling a ship engine.

Heero straightened up, glancing over at Quatre. The blond was across the room, his expression shadowed in the low-lit room.

"Did you take... " Heero started to say, motioning to the photograph.

"Ah, the time," Quatre suddenly said, stepping forward with a polite smile on his face. His voice had dropped in pitch, becoming the diplomat's even voice. The skin prickled on the back of Heero's neck again. "I'm sorry, but I also need to be up early. Perhaps we can meet up tomorrow? Will you be at the opening for the exhibition?"

Heero realized he was being skillfully nudged towards the door. He accepted his coat automatically, belatedly wondering whether he should sink in his heels and demand an explanation. Listening to Quatre's smooth goodnights, he changed his mind. If there was an explanation, and if he needed to know it, then he'd find out. Otherwise, it probably wasn't important. Five years was a long time. The three friends had no obligation to fill him in on old history.

Numbly, he promised to see Quatre at the exhibition opening the next day, and stepped out into the Parisian night.


"My god, there must be a new world order and no one told me," Bernie quipped behind Heero. The photographer turned to the agent with an irritated expression.

"I'm only here because I promised," the photographer said stiffly. So far, none of the gallery managers had noticed him, and he was hoping to keep it that way. Having a camera stand in for his self-portrait was probably the only reason the two hundred people in line hadn't mobbed him yet.

"Couldn't have been to me," Bernie replied with a grin. "Maybe it was to that handsome man standing by the food table?"

Heero jumped, immediately assuming Bernie was speaking of someone different. If it was the week for old friends showing up, he thought, then there's only one person who'd station himself right next to food.

The next instant, though, he caught sight of Wufei's black hair, the ponytail reaching nearly to the man's shoulder blades. The Chinese ex-pilot was chatting with someone, his white teeth glistening as he grinned at something the man said. It didn't take long before Wufei sensed Heero's gaze, departing with a cordial comment to his companion.

"Do you need to be here the entire time?" Wufei said without preamble as he approached. Behind them, Bernie slipped away to discuss last-minute details with the curator.


Heero refrained from mentioned he hadn't planned on being there at all, except that he couldn't break a promise to Quatre no matter how ill-timed. He'd been up until four, frustrated with the darkroom bag he'd been forced to use because the hotel bathroom wasn't lightproof, but at least now he had ten rolls of film hanging to dry. The morning was overcast, turning the entire sky into a light box. Heero had halfway hoped for a few hours to take pictures before returning to the hotel for a well-deserved nap once afternoon's direct light set in.

"Quatre is waiting for us," Wufei explained. "This way." The pilot led Heero from the gallery, down a hallway to a side exit. A car was waiting at the curb, and the two men slipped in. Quatre was behind the wheel. He nodded silently in greeting to Wufei and Heero. The three rode in silence until Quatre pulled up behind his townhouse.

"Come in, Heero," he said. "There are some things we need to explain."



On to Chapter Two

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