Ion Vignette #15
Sunhawk's last post: Ring the bells or break out the booze, because we’ve done it one last time. Christmas day with another twelve days of Christmas (hopefully) successfully behind us. I’ve been saying for years I needed to start these things sooner than I have, and I think this year is a personal record.
I need to give a number of thanks for making this thing happen for 2019. I dumped one hell of a work load on t_shirt1x2 this year, but I know she will have come through with flying colors as always. A big thank you to merula31 and lavendarlizard for helping fill the days with their traditional art gifts but also for being there with support over the years. Really a huge shout out to everyone who is reading this for the support, friendship, long ass email conversations, and positive feedback that made me want to keep this tradition going. And to my daughter, my little sword and shield who put her life on hold for these last so many years to take care of and help support me, and who I know without a doubt followed through with this last request of mine, daunting as it likely was.
Day twelve is a little (lot) different because I had to hand over the wheel once I set the GPS. But I hope it can be enjoyed for what it is.
Merry Christmas everybody. See you all on the other side.
From the Offspring: Oh boy… this feels significantly like getting up in front of the old high school speech class… I don’t mean to hijack the preamble here but I feel we all may need a little bit more context than what was left.
This has been my own personal sword of Damocles for the better part of a year. Not the posting, per say, since I was left everything I needed and very clear directions (it was just getting to the computer in time to post o.o). Days one through eleven were pretty easy; two of them I knew about because she dictated them to me and I typed, the rest I booted up to proof read and clean up as needed per day. Day twelve though has been a journey.
My mom had been talking to me about a final Ion Vignette for months as a story she wanted to tell, but had kept putting on the back burner. It was supposed to be the final story for this year’s Twelve Days, but when she got ill and began working on this project she sacrificed it to make sure she had the other eleven days preambles and written works done. There was no back up plan for day twelve, but there was no time left to write it. So she went over the outline she had in her head one last time with me and asked that I finish it for her. I promised I would.
The problem is… I’ve never read Ion. Honestly, until this year
mom life and Sunhawk life were two things I’ve always kept very separate
out of respect to her. I’ve always known how to find her as Sunhawk but
only interacted with that part of her life when she chose to share things with
me. So this story is built off an outline she constructed, and the few bits
and pieces of Ion that I do know about.
It isn’t perfect. I know I can’t have the characterization right, and I don’t write in first person so it isn’t in her style. But I hope I’ve done enough that you can see the vision she was going for. I tried my damnedest to write something she, and this fandom, would be been proud of.
I had mentioned back on day one of this that I had a few things I wanted to say, but that I would save it for the end. I wanted to thank everyone for the support. I have been reading and keeping up with every comment made on every post that was left for me to make in her place, but I haven’t felt right interacting or replying. I don’t have an LJ of my own, and replying from the Sunhawk account didn’t seem like an ok thing to do, because I am not her.
That being said, reading everyone’s comments and support and love for my mom’s work has been so uplifting. You’ve all brought a tear to my eye a number of times, and it has been a true honor getting to see this thing through to the end. I also wanted to apologize to those who emailed the Sunhawk account and that I did not respond to, especially back at the start of this year. I’ve seen most of the messages, and when I started out I thought ‘ok, yes, I can do this’ but it quickly got so emotionally overwhelming that I just needed to distance myself and shut down. I didn’t mean to leave anyone hanging, and I wanted to let you know that I appreciated each and every message received. I just needed time to heal. Again, thank you all so much for all the comments and for everything.
“You’re finished with it.”
Duo hesitated from where he had been in the process of cleaning up his work station then turned to eye Heero who was standing behind him appraising the latest work sitting on the easel. He hadn’t missed the slight nuance to the statement that made it stand out as a, well, statement instead of a question.
“Don’t jump for joy all at once,” he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the counter behind him. “I figured you would be happy to see this one go.”
“I am. It’s been causing you no end of stress for the last few weeks.”
“Yet here we are with you having a lot to say that isn’t getting said.”
Heero turned to look at him, face a carefully preserved mask of indifference, then looked back at the painting which caused Duo to sigh inwardly. He could see it clear as day because he knew Heero, how he thought, and more importantly knew his tells. Of course he gave the man credit for trying to spare his feelings where his latest work was concerned, but it lost a bit of the meaning when he could practically hear the gears grinding away in Heero’s head.
“I’m just surprised you made her look so young, that’s all,” Heero finally admitted with a shrug and settled on giving Duo his full attention instead of splitting it between him and the canvas. “I think it came out well though.”
“No you don’t,” it was a matter of fact statement as Duo gestured towards the canvas. “Honest answer and just spit it out. You really don’t like it.”
“I think it does her a disservice and doesn’t reflect your skills to your fullest, so no, I am not particularly a fan of it.”
Duo groaned and plopped down on his stool, pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. He appreciated the honesty, truly he did, and he couldn’t deny what Heero was saying because if he took a moment to be frank with himself he already knew what Heero said was true. The only part about the painting he himself liked was the fact that it was sitting there in a finished state, ready to be delivered and finally be wiped from his plate so he could move on to other things.
Really, when it came down to it, he had been ready to be done with the work on the day he had received the commission.
That day three weeks ago had started out as any other, perhaps even better than normal, which should have been the first indicator that something was going to go horribly wrong at some point during the day. That something just happened to show up on their doorstep at exactly ten fifteen in the morning, while Duo was sipping his second cup of coffee doodling aimlessly in his sketchbook.
One Relena Peacecraft had been standing on the other side of the front door when he opened it, and for a split second he had half the mind to just close the door again and pretend that nothing had happened, the doorbell had never wrung, and that his morning wasn’t about to go to hell in a finely trimmed hand basket. But he was civil, and somewhere between the shock and the mental ‘well fuck’ he managed a well-articulated greeting of “Uh… hi?”
“Good morning, Mr. Maxwell,” she had said with a slight nod of her head. “… Are you seriously still in your pajamas at this hour of the morning?”
“My time, my home, and at least I’m wearing pants,” Duo replied with a smirk, which broadened as Relena cringed. “I’ll make sure to loudly judge your clothing choice next time I show up unannounced at your place.”
“I’ll take that under advisement, but considering my day starts much earlier than yours and I don’t find there to be a need to laze around the house, I doubt there will be much to say.”
“Considering I have a few choice words for your current ensemble I wouldn’t be so cocky. All pleasantries aside, what exactly are you doing here?”
“Do you mind if we speak inside?”
“Yes,” Duo said, but moved aside from the door and gestured for her to enter.
From there Duo lead her to the living room, picking up and setting aside his sketchbook that had been previously abandoned on the sofa before offering her a seat and excusing himself briefly to go find actual clothes, debating which was truly the less awkward of two evils. Ultimately the thought of having any extended conversation with Relena in just a bathrobe and pajama pants won out as not being a particularly fun time, and he figured tossing on day clothes would be a quick enough procedure that she wouldn’t be left unattended long. His assumptions had been correct, and when he reentered the living room only a few minutes later she was exactly where he had left her.
“So,” Duo sunk down into a seat and watched Relena with just the tiniest hint of curiosity which was buried under a growing layer of thought hamster flags that just read ‘No!’ “I feel like this isn’t just a friendly chat between neighbors, all things considered.”
“You could consider it a business meeting,” she said evenly, hands folded primly in her lap, back straight as if she wasn’t fully at ease with where she was sitting. Duo mentally posited that she probably wasn’t. “I wanted to talk to you about a portrait commission.”
And that was the moment that the hand basket was oh so unceremoniously tipped in to its downward spiral, two hamsters along with for the ride with banners of ‘Ahh!’ unfurling behind them.
The conversation had been short, sweet, and blessedly to the point. She had wanted to commission a portrait for her office in that way that only people who thought themselves important ever wanted to do. Duo had refused the first advancement, citing that his art didn’t one hundred percent work like that and that he didn’t think that he would be the best choice for the job. She countered his concerns, stating that she could wait for his ‘muse or whatever’ to drum up some inspiration, and that she wanted to work with him specifically because she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the end product would have a level of heart and quality to it that other pieces wouldn’t if done by a commercial artist. It took some negotiating before Duo agreed to be amicable to the idea.
Ultimately signing his soul away on an official commission contract had compounded in to three weeks of stress, sleepless nights, multiple redesigns, cursing, ice cream binges, and a spiraling loop of loathing (“this is what I get for feeling generous, Heero!”) that allowed guilt-beast to gleefully set up shop in the workroom for a good number of days. When his muse did finally wake up and slap him upside the head with some inspiration he ran with it and was thrilled to be able to wash his hands of the piece.
Thrilled right up until that very moment Heero brought to the forefront the
paintings short comings.
“Alright, alright, it may not be my best work by, uh, any stretch, but it’s good, yes?” Duo dropped his hand from where it had been slowly massaging the bridge of his nose and let it hit his leg with a ‘slap’.
“The composition is fine, and the colors and style is alright, but Duo… do you really think it looks like her?”
“Of course it looks like her. I got her picture before she left, and pulled other references from online. It’s not like she’s a hard presence to find so I had plenty of resources. What would you have had me change?”
“Her face,” Heero said and hovered a finger over the painting’s eyes and nose. Duo felt his stomach drop at that. The face was, after all, somewhat the focal point of a portrait. That was the whole point of a portrait. “Her eyes are wrong. They look naïve, like she’s a child. And her nose and checks are just a bit too rounded.”
“She is naïve. With all the-”
“She was naïve, Duo,” Heero chided and Duo rolled his eyes. “You’ve captured her the way you see her. And to a degree you still see her as that spoiled little girl from how many years ago?”
Duo opened his mouth, closed it, opened it once more but made no attempt to actually form a coherent sentence so all that came out was an exasperated noise somewhat akin to a complaint. He stood and paced the room a bit, glared at the fond expression Heero was giving him, and finally with a huff snagged a sketchbook from the corner of his work space and flipped it open, walking over and jabbing a finger into Heero’s chest.
“Fine. If I’m not as unbiased as I thought that means that you can start telling me how to fix it.”
Turning on a dime Duo marched out of his workroom, dragging Heero along behind him and heading out in to the living room, dropping down on the sofa and patting the cushion beside him. Heero humored him and sat, leaning over a bit to watch as Duo put pencil to page, then started to offer suggestions and critiques as he drew. At first Duo bristled at such a thing, but despite the frustrations and the stress, it was still Heero doing the critiquing and he soon relaxed and warmed to the suggestions. It was nice to work together so closely, and he had to admit as the sketch started to come together Heero did have some nice suggestions. He worked at making the eyes smaller and less wide, smoothed out the fullness of the lips and cheeks and changed the hair style in to the up-do Relena was known to wear on occasion. He made notes of what colors should go where, to tone down the use of pinks and pastels, to use less of an exaggerated eye shine in the final piece. It was a soothing experience and for as joyous as it had been to think he had finally been done with the work, he couldn’t ignore the fact that the new sketch was coming out better than the original and would look better once on a canvas and finished.
“Were you still getting together with Quatre this evening?” Heero asked. He had long since shifted to be half turned on the couch, fully leaning against Duo and had picked up a book to read, dropping back to only suggesting changes at intervals as needed.
“That had been the plan,” he glanced up from the sketch and checked the clock hanging on the wall. “Damn, that late already?”
“Time flies,” Heero sat up and stretched, eyeing the sketch. “It looks much better.”
“Hm, you’re only saying that because you’re the one who was taking charge of the artistic direction,” Duo grinned and finished up his work, shutting the book before leaning over and giving Heero a quick kiss. “We’ll see if I like it once I get it onto a proper canvas and sized up. But right now, well, I don’t hate it.”
“That’s high praise. It means a lot to know you like my artistic changes that much.”
“Don’t push it.”
Heero rolled his eyes and made a smart ass remark about ‘accepting creative intervention’ as Duo stood and went to gather up stuff before he left the house to meet up with Quatre for what had become a somewhat standard dinner reservation, when they were both free and available at least. He made sure to grab keys, wallet, and a folder that had a few miniature paintings that Quatre had expressed interest in when Duo had made then on a whim (he had tried working on a miniature canvas as a way to warm up for larger projects, but had quickly come to the conclusion that working on a mini scale was more stress inducing than on a regular scale and ultimately still took just as long in some cases). Quatre however had liked the style and had, in essence, called dibs.
He also threw his sketchbook in to his bag, just to have on hand in case anything struck his fancy while out. It had been Quatre’s turn to set the dinner reservations and there was a solid fifty-fifty chance that the interior of the restaurant would have some interesting architectural designs to take note of. Bidding Heero good bye, he headed out feeling better than he had in days, which left guilt-beast grumpily staring after him from the window.
It was a solid forty five minute drive to the eatery that Quatre had chosen, a relatively new tapas bar that had sounded like it had an impressive menu and would be a good option in the future for any larger gatherings. When Duo got there he was surprised by the sheer number of cars in the lot and circled a few times before finding a place to park. Bypassing the crowd hanging around the main entrance as well as filling the lobby he spoke with the receptionist and let her know he should have been on the books for a reservation for two. Once confirmed, one of the wait staff led him through the maze of tables and booths to his seat, where Quatre was already seated.
“You know, my idea of McDonalds would have meant not having to deal with the crowd,” Duo said in way of greeting as he set his bag down and slipped in to the booth. Quatre looked up from where he had been reading something on his phone and smiled.
“You also suggested dumpster diving last month when it took more than ten minutes to be seated, so you’ll have to forgive me if I take your dinner suggestions with a grain of salt.”
“In my defense, you shouldn’t have to wait ten minutes for knock off Thai food,” Duo pointed out while Quatre laughed and conceded the point. “So how have you been?”
“Busy, as always. I was actually afraid I was going to have to take a rain check tonight but I decided that the emails I have sitting on my computer are going to be a future me problem,” his face fell a bit in a look that Duo knew said ‘overworked but still trucking’. Duo could sympathize. “What about you?”
“Eh, you know. Tearing my hair out and keeping busy.”
“Are those two things mutually exclusive or part of a whole?”
“Both caused by a commissioned piece, actually. Which then became work. Which also then became a pain in the ass and I’ve been trying to get it off my plate for the better part of three weeks.”
“Who commissioned you?”
“Miss queen of the world herself,” Duo paused as Quatre shot him a look as their waitress appeared to take their drink and food order. They hadn’t discussed what they wanted to order, and since the point of tapas was to get multiple small plates and share Duo just order a few things that looked good that Quatre hadn’t already placed an order for.
“Considering the viewpoints there, I would have figured that would be…”
“I was going to say challenging”
“It has been. I actually just finished the damn thing earlier this afternoon which felt great, by the way. Then Heero came in and decided to enlighten me to some… artistic liberties I had taken,” Duo fished around in his bag for a moment and produced the sketchbook, flipping it to the sketch Heero had helped with and sliding it across the table. “He did have some good points, though don’t tell him that in so many words, and gave some helpful opinions on a new sketch.”
Quatre reached out and picked up the sketchbook, studying the drawing there, turning the book a little this way and that to view the details of the sketch in the dim restaurant lighting before smiling and handing it back. Duo felt his heart sink. The man across from him had just as obvious a tell as Heero did when it came to thought process and not wanting to hurt any ones feelings, and it started with that soft pleasant smile that didn’t ever seem to quite reach his eyes.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Excuse me? I think it’s…” Quatre hesitated as Duo leaned back in the booth and just gave him The Look. “… It’s lovely, I mean that. But isn’t she a little stoic?”
“Yes. Look at her jaw line and the posture you’ve put in to her shoulders. She looks stoic to me, much more so than she is, and rigid. If you don’t mind a few thoughts?”
And Duo did mind, he minded so much he wanted to scream in exasperation and bang his head against the table top until the problem solved itself. The commission had caused nothing by a headache since he had agreed to the damn thing. Art wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t supposed to be so damn infuriating either. His own work was so easy, there was never anyone really to tell him ‘oh, did you mean to draw them like this’ or ‘wow, that was a bold choice for their personality’. He just drew as he saw people in his mind’s eye. His subject matter wasn’t usually a person so well known that everyone seemed to have a damned opinion on the facets of their personality. Relena was too well recognized by too many people that everyone would have an opinion or a thought or a suggestion or…
Tentatively, a thought hamster raised up a sign with just a picture of a light-bulb.
It bubbled up slow at first as the internal raging subsided, a little tickling thought that began to blossom the more he poked at it and investigated. Relena was a well-known political figure, that was true. Himself, Heero, and Quatre had known her during the wars, of course. Their interactions with her varied, and persisted over the years, but that was also true for Trowa, Wufei, Zechs, Noin… everyone he knew well would have had different histories with her. And also with each other.
“People have varying faces,” he almost whispered, then looked at Quatre who was cocking his head to one side with intrigue. “We all have aspects, masks we hide behind.”
“Sometimes, yes. Some more than others, but I suppose you really aren’t wrong.”
“Exactly,” Duo grinned and in a flash he was digging through his bag again until he withdrew a pencil. “Quatre, I need you to describe exactly the way you see Relena.”
“Of course, if it will help.”
They went to work then, Duo getting up and switching sides so he was sitting next to Quatre. Just like Heero had done earlier Quatre pointed out changes and adjustments to make to the sketch. When their food arrived Duo continued to work, leaving Quatre to forcefully remove the sketchbook from the table until everything had been eaten so as to avoid stains or spills. After the plates had been cleaned away Quatre relented and returned the sketchbook which Duo hungrily dove back in to. The end result a bit over an hour later was a mostly completed sketch of Relena looking much more elegant and regal than the previous two attempts.
Before they parted ways Duo had set up a time later the next day where he would be able to meet up with Trowa to repeat the process with him, and on the way back home got in touch with Wufei to make an appointment for the same reasons. He was giddy with the idea that had become a rolling boil in his head and when he arrived home (a little faster than speeding laws would typically allow for) he blew by Heero completely and holed up in his workroom, continuing to make calls and send emails until he had a number of other people who they knew onboard with his request.
With that squared away he removed the canvas that had been on his easel and set it safely aside before setting up a new one and getting straight to work. He tore the sketch Heero had helped him produce from his sketchbook and tacked it to the easel right above the canvas where he could reference it. He had found his footing on a difficult project and it had begun to snowball into a tangible idea.
That first night of working he only stopped at Heero’s insistence, and mainly when Heero cut the power to the house after multiple conversations had failed to entice Duo from his work.
“I’m not letting you burn out on this,” Heero had argued as Duo whined and fished around for a flashlight. Ultimately he knew Heero was right, especially as the break in his focus caused him to realize how heavy his eyes felt and how his wrist ached. But he had gotten a good portion of the new painting done, and could be content in letting the work rest for the night.
This was how it went for another two weeks. During the day around work he met with friends, and went through the process of creating a sketch of Relena with them. In the evening he would practically lock himself in his work room until Heero appeared to drag him out of it (though they had at least compromised on no more power outages). Steadily the room filled with more and more finished works until he had a grand total of fourteen portraits lined up against the wall.
With them finished he took a few days to rest, more at Heero’s insistence than anything else, but also to let the project sit in a mostly finished state for a bit, let it percolate until he was sure it was ready to be delivered. When he was sure there was nothing to change, he had Heero get in touch with Relena and set up a drop off time for the paintings. It was only then that he really stopped to let his heart try climbing out of his throat. The next day Heero began helping him pack up the paintings in the car.
He didn’t care what Relena thought in the slightest. She had commissioned him and he had provided the product in question, simple matter of a business deal reaching its conclusion. What bothered him was the fact that he and Heero were in the process of packing up the start of a show. It was a smaller one, yes, but only for the time being as it was something Duo had plans to expand upon. The snagging point was that Relena had to give the okay on it, and the track record there was spotty, at best.
They had arranged to meet at Relena’s office, Heero driving while Duo sat quietly staring out the passenger window and watching the world go by in that haze of swirling ideas he tended to find himself in. Guilt-beast had tagged along in the back seat, curled up asleep around the stacks of paintings, waiting to see how the situation played out later that afternoon. Duo sighed but smiled as Heero moved to take his hand in his own.
When they arrived they were met in the office lobby and led into a meeting room to wait. While Duo set up the first batch of paintings they had brought in Heero ran back to retrieve the rest of them, then settled in to watch for the next ten minutes as Duo arranged and rearranged the order of the paintings. His fidgeting was interrupted by Relena’s knock on the door.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” her voice was as clipped as ever when she spoke with Duo, but it was at least softer than it used to be, and it shifted from ‘political perfection’ to ‘what the fuck did you do’ in about point five seconds when she realized there were fourteen versions of herself looking right back at her. “What part of ‘a portrait’ went over your head this bad?”
“My ‘muse or whatever’ decided to go off to the races.”
“Eventually,” Heero whispered from where he sat and Duo cast him a side eye look of ‘seriously?’
“Races or not the contract was for one portrait, not a dozen,” she looked around and then approached the paintings, studying each one closely as she went.
“I’m aware. I want to do a show with these.”
“A show?” she repeated and Duo saw her eyes dart over to Heero. He resisted the urge to sigh and roll his eyes.
“Yes. It’s an idea I had after Heero and Quatre both were so ever so kind to tell me that I had royally missed the mark on my original painting. Turns out everyone else I talked to agreed but couldn’t agree on the details of why. So instead they each told me how to fix my drawing to best reflect you. And I realized everyone is like this. For example, every person you’ve ever met has a different image of you burned in to their brain,” he gestured at the paintings. “The same would be true if I asked people about myself, or Heero, or any one of the workers around this building. Everyone has facets of themselves that some people see and others don’t, and they are all different. I wanted to capture that on canvas, and ultimately I wanted to do a show with the concept.”
Relena stopped looking at the paintings and instead focused on Duo, silence stretching between them. They had a civil respect of one another, a far cry from where they had first started, but Duo seriously doubted that the interactions between them would ever become what one would call ‘comfortable’ or even ‘casual’. The fact that she could easily shut down the whole artistic vision he had at the moment also hung heavily in the air, and she knew it as well as he did.
“How… big of a show?”
Testing the waters, he could respect that. “Hadn’t put too much thought in to that. I figured you would have terms.”
“It’s unsettling seeing yourself over and over like this,” she turned back to the paintings and lingered over one of them, the one Noin had worked with him on. She looked much younger in that painting, even younger than how Duo had first painted her. “To know how people see you…”
The silence fell back between them for a moment as she moved on to one of the other paintings. She looked carefree in it, happy and innocent, untouched by the trials of war or politics. Zechs had worked with him on that one.
“… A private show,” she finally said in to the stillness of the room. “A pre-approved guest list at an art gallery of my choosing.”
“It would be a gallery and not a warehouse, right?” he asked then held his hands up in a placating manner when she glowered at him. “Just checking.”
“It will be a respectful gallery. I just have one issue with all of this pomp and circumstance you’ve taken the time to set up.”
He had to resist the urge to roll his eyes again and swallowed down the snarky response rising in his throat. “And that is?”
“You’ve not yet finished what I asked of you,” she said and for a split second she sounded tired on a level that was much deeper than just lack of sleep. “These are all nicely done portraits, I’ll concede that fact, but as you said, these are each the way other people see me represented.”
Duo shrugged, then reach in to one of the bags that the paintings had been transported in and pulled out his sketch book, opening it to a blank page.
A few months later when the art show opened in an upscale gallery in the middle of the city, it debuted not with fourteen portraits but a well-rounded fifteen.
(Fly high and free Sunhawk)
A few months later when the art show opened in an upscale gallery in the middle
of the city, it debuted not with fourteen portraits but a well-rounded fifteen.