by: Aoe

Strangers in Paradise + Part 5

Trowa looked up from the book he was trying to read, distracted by the sound of laughter from down the hall. He listened to the sound for a moment, then frowned down at the open book. It was just a couple of Maguanacs. It wasn't Duo's laughter, as he'd half hoped, half dreaded it might be.

Trowa shut the book and put it aside with a sigh. His long fingers slid over the smooth leather binding, and then drifted up to brush gently against his lips, where Duo had kissed him goodbye ten days ago. At first, he'd done his best to put the memory from his mind, but after he and Heero separated and he found himself spending long hours alone, the remembered sensation of those soft, warm lips against his own had slowly crept back into his awareness.

Accepting the inevitable, Trowa had decided he would analyze his own reaction to the gesture. The first time Duo had kissed him, back at the little cabin, he'd been angry, and a bit frightened. The anger... had been due to the obvious fact that Duo had been using him to get to Heero. Trowa had resented such treatment deeply as a betrayal of their friendship, the depth of which they had only briefly acknowledged.

But this kiss had been no betrayal. Heero had been looking on, and hadn't really seemed at all bothered by the exchange. This had confused Trowa, especially after witnessing Heero's drunken staking of his claim to Duo. A slight smile tugged at Trowa's lips at the memory of Heero, thoroughly intoxicated, throwing himself on top of the braided boy and warning Trowa severely, "You can't have him! He's mine!"

The smile faded, though, as Trowa realized the memory had lost some of its humor somewhere along the way. At the time, it had been quite amusing, despite Duo's irritation. It had just been so ridiculous of Heero to be warning Trowa off of Duo. It wasn't as if Trowa wanted Duo.

Not at the time.

Trowa frowned, brushing his fingers against his lips again. He really wasn't sure if he wanted Duo now, but... well, that was just it. He wasn't sure. It had been a very long time since Trowa had ever been uncertain of his total lack of physical desire for another human being.

In fact, he didn't think he could remember a time when he had... wanted someone. Someone to touch, to hold... just to be close to. Trowa was used to being alone, and he liked his solitude. To give it up would mean lowering barriers that had been erected for good reasons. It would mean making himself vulnerable.

To a certain extent, he knew, he'd already lowered some of his barriers. Catherine, with her sisterly affection, had won her way past many of his walls, but that was a simple, unconfusing relationship. She wanted to take care of him, it made her happy to do things for him, and she expected nothing in return. He'd been wary at first, but she'd gradually won him over, much as he had the lions in the circus. She respected his silence and privacy, for the most part, and never pushed for more than he was willing to give.

The other pilots... that was a slightly different situation. They were his comrades in arms, much like the mercenaries he'd grown up among, which made him both more and less inclined to trust them. In a way, their little group was much like the only sort of ‘family' structure he'd ever known, but it was also different, probably because the others were the same age as himself, not older. In the first group of mercs he'd lived with, when he was little, some of the men had treated him, if not quite like a son, then perhaps as a younger brother. Someone you rode pretty hard for screw ups and maybe swatted around a little to teach him a lesson now and then, but in general someone you were fond of and protected.

The next group he'd hooked up with... He'd been older, then. And they hadn't been watching over him since early childhood. None of them had felt the sort of bond with him that he'd had with the first group, and they certainly hadn't seen him as a little brother.

No, they definitely hadn't considered him family...

Trowa shook his head, derailing that train of thought and forcibly yanking his mind back to his previous contemplation.

Yes, Catherine saw him as her little brother. The other pilots, though...

In some ways, the five of them were like family. They really only had each other to rely on and trust, and that sort of situation tended to forge stronger ties than mere blood.

But then, in some ways...

He could reason it all out, of course. What it was in each of them that unsettled him...

Heero... It had taken Duo months to get Heero's full attention, but Heero had always watched Duo. He had watched all of them. Something to do with his training, perhaps, made him wary and respectful of others' strength. Trowa had felt that cool, assessing gaze on his body sometimes. It wasn't exactly a sexual appraisal, but then it wasn't entirely objective either. Heero studied strengths and looked for weaknesses. But there was also a certain level of aesthetic appreciation in the dark blue eyes.

Duo... Trowa shook his head. Duo had confused him at first, being both repressed and blatant about his sexuality, occasionally at the same time. The American gave out confusing mixed signals that gave the impression he was a bit of a flirt and a tease. It wasn't really the exhibitionism Wufei accused him of, at least not entirely. As Trowa had long suspected and recently had confirmed, Duo had relied on sex for his survival for much of his childhood. It explained both his unconscious flaunting of his body, and his self-conscious shrouding of it in layers of heavy cloth. Duo's appraisals of his fellow pilots could be quite intensely sexual when he thought no one was watching him watch them, though.

Wufei... was perhaps the only one who hadn't, at some point, made Trowa uncomfortable beneath his gaze. Those dark, exotic eyes contained a reserve that was nearly the equal of Trowa's. Wufei was just as wary of forming attachments as Trowa himself, and he obviously didn't feel any sort of physical pull to the others. Trowa supposed he ought to have felt the most comfortable around Wufei, and he certainly didn't find the Chinese boy's company unpleasant, but the longer he spent with the others, the less he was... satisfied to sit silently beside a fire with the Chinese warrior. Of course, Wufei was slowly warming to them all as time went on.

Quatre. Trowa sighed.

Quatre bugged him.

It wasn't entirely the blond's fault, he supposed. But other than Duo, Quatre was the only one of them who ever showed any obvious interest in the other pilots that went beyond simple friendship. And being a teenage virgin long accustomed to getting whatever he wanted, he lacked Duo's more patient restraint.

Trowa smirked at the thought of how any of his friends, even Duo himself would react to that assessment. But it was the truth. Duo could be incredibly patient when he wanted to be. He'd been after Heero practically since the war began, but although he was certainly experienced enough to have taken the Japanese boy off guard and had his way with him, he'd opted to wait, and gently tease, and let Heero come to him on his own.

It was a technique Trowa wished Quatre would pick up.

Not that he had any intention of ever submitting himself to the Arabian, but that should have been blatantly obvious by this point. He just wished Quatre would be a bit less heavy-handed in his advances, if he refused to give up the cause entirely.

Actually, Quatre had backed off a bit lately. Trowa had been immensely relieved when the blond hadn't shown up to bid him a tearful farewell when he left to retrieve his mobile suit, and since his return, he'd hardly seen Quatre except occasionally at meals. The Arabian had been caught up in family business ever since Trowa's return. Industrial sabotage in a manufacturing plant and a sister who'd gotten pregnant out of wedlock. Quatre hadn't troubled Trowa with much more than a few longing, weary smiles.

But of course, Quatre wasn't the only one he hadn't seen much of, which brought Trowa full circle to the root of his problem.

Ever since that night in the cabin, Trowa had felt close to Duo, and Heero as well. But mostly to Duo. The American had revealed things about himself that night, painful things, surprising things. And Trowa hadn't thought Duo could surprise him. He'd thought he had the boy pretty well figured out and pigeon-holed. But there was more to Duo, a depth of pain that had shocked and unnerved Trowa. And learning that, watching Duo reveal himself to both Trowa and Heero, baring his battered heart to them without hesitation, without fear, had made Trowa realize how deeply Duo trusted them.

Trusted Heero... and Trowa.

Trowa had been amazed, and strangely humbled by that realization. A person like Duo Maxwell, he knew, did not give his trust easily or lightly. Trowa knew this because... in many ways, he and Duo were very much alike.

In his astonishment, he'd forgotten to reset his barriers in the morning, and before he knew what was happening, he'd grown accustomed to the gentle brush of slender fingers against his shoulder, through his hair... By the time he thought to pull away, he was far too conscious of what such rejection would do to Duo. The American had thrown caution to the winds, and opened himself up to his two companions. A part of Trowa resented the trap inherent in such an act. You couldn't trust someone that completely without obligating them to trust you in return. The burden Duo had laid on them both fairly demanded it. But Trowa found that his resentment quickly faded.

He'd grown accustomed to the new closeness between the three of them, and so he hadn't pulled away or run when Duo had taken that closeness a step further and kissed him goodbye.

And Trowa found himself not entirely certain if the gesture was merely friendly, or something more... and more importantly, which he wanted it to be.

He'd thought about it on and off for the entire time he'd spent retrieving Heavyarms and ditching his Oz pursuers. And in all that time, the only conclusion he'd come to was that he wasn't sure how he felt about the incident, or what he wanted it to mean.

The very fact of his uncertainty marked a change in him, though, that he hadn't been aware of, but could no longer deny.

It was just barely possible that Duo Maxwell had somehow managed to slip past Trowa's jaded, battle-scarred defenses and into the uncharted virgin territory of his heart. He'd been both frightened and excited by the possibility, and when he'd finally arrived at the mansion, indecision and nerves had kept him paralyzed inside his gundam for nearly an hour, until the Maguanacs had started asking if he were injured in there.

Finally, he'd come out, into the world again, ready if not entirely willing to face whatever it was that had grown up between Duo and himself without his notice.

He needn't have been so hesitant. In the three days since he'd been back, Trowa had seen less of Duo, and thus Heero as well, than he had of Quatre.

Trowa frowned at the thought. Obviously, he'd read rather more into the simple kiss than had ever been intended. He told himself he was just being silly, feeling rejected and lonely simply because the other two boys, so recently become lovers, were taking full advantage of their time together. They didn't mean to exclude him, but there was a point where friendship ended and something deeper began, and Heero and Duo stood on the other side of that line from Trowa.

He told himself firmly that he should be happy for them, and he was, and he should accept that what Duo had shown him was that the possibility existed that Trowa could one day find what Heero and Duo had found with each other. It didn't mean there was anything between Duo and himself. And he certainly wouldn't want to come between Duo and Heero, especially when he wasn't even sure what he felt...

The only thing he was sure of was that he missed them.

Wufei walked into the library, bringing Trowa from his reverie. He offered the Chinese pilot a solemn nod of greeting, carefully slipping the blank mask over his face. Wufei looked at him just long enough for Trowa to guess that he'd been wearing... some sort of expression when the Chinese boy had arrived. But after a moment's silent contemplation, Wufei simply nodded in reply and walked over to one of the shelves, scanning the book spines thoughtfully.

Trowa picked his book up and attempted to read again, with about as much success as before. Wufei eventually made a selection and settled into a chair facing Trowa.

About half an hour passed as they both sat there, Wufei engrossed in his book, and Trowa diligently attempting to read the same paragraph over and over again.

He couldn't keep his head from jerking up at the sound of a sudden, distant burst of laughter that definitely was Duo, but the sound was quickly muffled, as if a door had been closed. Trowa strove to maintain his smooth expression, but a glance at Wufei showed the Chinese boy watching him with sudden keen interest.

"Is he what's been on your mind?" Wufei asked quietly after a few minutes of silent staring.

Trowa frowned slightly. "What makes you think something's been on my mind?" he asked calmly.

Wufei's lips twisted in a smirk. "You haven't turned a page since I sat down," the Chinese boy observed.

Trowa's frown tightened slightly, but he didn't try to deny the accusation. "I was just wondering how he's doing," Trowa explained. "I haven't seen much of him." He refused to allow himself to wince at the unwonted note of bitterness in his voice.

One of Wufei's eyebrows twitched upwards, the only visible reaction to Trowa's tone. Finally, the Chinese boy offered, "I haven't seen much of him myself... since Yuy arrived." Trowa had expected a certain amount of outraged homophobia from the traditional Chinese boy, but Wufei displayed only a benign exasperation at the situation. "Yuy I have seen a few times. Maxwell occasionally sends him out for food," Wufei elaborated, his lips twitching slightly in repressed amusement.

"Hn," Trowa grunted noncomittally.

"Yes, that's been about the extent of our conversations," Wufei agreed, straight-faced.

Trowa's lips twitched reflexively.

"I spent some time with Maxwell before Yuy arrived," Wufei continued after a moment, his eyes dark and serious again. Trowa studied the Chinese boy intently, Wufei's manner making him worry that something had happened between their departure and Heero's arrival that he didn't know about.

"And how was he then?" Trowa asked cautiously, keeping his voice free of inflection.

Wufei didn't reply for a minute, simply watching Trowa in silent consideration. "Strange," he finally murmured. "We speak with more emotion of our enemies these days than we do of one another. There is an air of foreboding... darkness ahead, perhaps." Trowa frowned at this odd statement, but Wufei didn't elaborate further. Instead, the Chinese boy shrugged slightly and replied, "He was... coping."

"Coping?" Trowa asked sharply. Coping was what Duo had been doing weeks ago. Coping was barely getting by, functioning but not flourishing. The American had been doing better than that when he and Heero had left the mansion. If he hadn't been, they would not have left at the same time. Would not have left him alone.

Wufei's eyes narrowed, probably reading at least some of this from Trowa's tightened features. He nodded slowly in response.

"Something happened," Trowa said flatly. Wufei nodded again. They stared at one another for a few tense minutes.

"He made me give my word," Wufei finally explained, though his voice held an obvious edge of irritation at the admission.

Trowa blew out an exasperated puff of breath. "Has he told Heero?" he demanded, more sharply than he normally would have.

One corner of Wufei's mouth quirked up sardonically. "I rather doubt it," he replied, "considering the lack of violent retribution."

Trowa raised an eyebrow. If whatever had happened could inspire Heero to violent retribution, that explained Duo's desire to keep it a secret. But it also meant it was no small matter.

"I gave my word," Wufei repeated almost apologetically. Trowa nodded, accepting the Chinese boy's refusal to break an oath. He wasn't happy about it, but he understood how important Wufei's honor was to him. Wufei stood slowly, tucking his book under his arm and nodding farewell as he walked to the door.

He paused just inside it though, and cast an unreadable, dark glance back at Trowa. "I wasn't here when it happened either," he said slowly. "You might have better luck with... someone who was." And with that, the Chinese pilot quit the room.

Trowa frowned thoughtfully to himself. Someone who was here...

He rose abruptly and stalked out of the library.


Quatre set the last file aside with a weary sigh. He hadn't realized, when he first assumed his position as head of the Winner clan and of Winner Enterprises, just how much work was actually involved in both roles. True, the company ran itself for the most part, but there always seemed to be a few files that he absolutely had to read over and deal with personally, and emergencies springing up that required immediate attention... And his family... his sisters were all older than him, but some were just a bit older, and many of them still required a guardian. Quatre found himself in that position, wondering why he was suddenly responsible for the behavior and well being of several young ladies, some of whom were a decade older than him.

It was very wearing, all this responsibility on top of worrying about the war and his fellow pilots. The blond boy rubbed at his eyes, trying to summon the energy to get out of the desk chair that was too big for him and stumble down to lunch. Just as he had managed to push himself halfway to a standing position, palms braced on the desk, the door to his office swung open.

Quatre fought to conceal a surge of annoyance at the intrusion, but any irritation quickly faded away as he recognized his visitor.

"Trowa!" Quatre greeted the object of his affections cheerfully. Perhaps the worst part of dealing with his increased responsibilities was the fact that he simply hadn't had any free time to spend with Trowa since the tall pilot had returned. Quatre hoped Trowa wasn't hurt by his neglect, and was about to say something of the sort when Trowa stepped silently into the room and shut the door behind himself, leaning against it.

Quatre was surprised at this action. Trowa was usually careful to leave himself an exit from any room or situation. It was unlike the tall pilot to shut himself up with someone.

This fact coupled with the intense stare he was receiving from the shadowed emerald eyes caused a shiver of hopeful anticipation to run up Quatre's spine. Something in Trowa's posture, a combination of studied indolence and repressed tension, aroused hopes Quatre had been forced to keep in check so he could concentrate on business. But business was concluded now, so he might have time... if Trowa were interested... for pleasure...

"Is there something I can do for you, Trowa?" Quatre asked a bit breathlessly. He cursed his pale complexion as he felt heat rising in his cheeks.

Trowa frowned slightly, the expression only making him seem more intense, almost smoldering. "Yes," Trowa replied, and Quatre felt his heart beat accelerating. Trowa had never asked anything of him, ever... Could he finally be ready...

"You can explain to me what happened with Duo after I left," Trowa continued flatly.

Quatre's eager hopes were abruptly crushed by this request, the heat fueling the flush in his cheeks changing from desire to anger. This was really too much! Duo knew how Quatre felt about Trowa, how could the American have used their little disagreement to try and turn Trowa against him?

Of course, Duo wasn't the only one who knew about the... incident, Quatre reminded himself, attempting to rein in his anger. There was Wufei, Rashid... He was trying to give Duo the benefit of the doubt, even now. He shouldn't jump to conclusions like that.

He should damn well find out exactly what was going on.

"Did Duo tell you about it?" Quatre asked, a bit more sharply than he'd intended.

Trowa's eyes narrowed further, studying him intently for a long silent moment. Finally, he replied simply, "Yes."

Quatre couldn't suppress the angry scowl that twisted his features. Damn Maxwell! How could he twist his so-called friends' loyalties like this? It was obvious he had Heero completely under his sway, but Quatre had hoped Duo would leave poor Trowa out of his little games from now on. Obviously, this was not to be the case.

"I don't know what I can say to you, then," Quatre declared irritably, throwing up his hands in agitation. "He's obviously got you fooled as well, so there's no point in trying to tell you the truth. You won't believe me."

"He has me fooled about what?" Trowa asked calmly. Quatre felt a sudden stirring of hope. Trowa didn't seem to be getting angry at Quatre's words. Perhaps there was still a chance, to nip Duo's manipulations in the bud before he completely destroyed the fragile bonds between the five of them... Before he turned Trowa against Quatre. If there was any hope of preventing that eventuality...

"He's... " Quatre tried for a hesitant, worried tone, and found it came to him easily. He was deeply worried about Trowa, after all. "Trowa, he's just not as... healthy as the rest of you seem to believe," Quatre continued, watching Trowa closely for signs of defensiveness. But Trowa seemed to be listening thoughtfully to his words.

Words could only go so far, though. Duo was using more than words to control Heero and... possibly Trowa as well. Perhaps... for Trowa's own good...

Quatre began to casually ease himself out from behind the desk.

"What do you mean, he's not healthy?" Trowa asked quietly. His green eyes tracked Quatre's slow advance around the large desk toward him, but he didn't give ground. Quatre recognized that the taller boy was on the offensive, demanding information, and to back down would be a sign of submission, of surrender. The strategist within Quatre chortled in triumph. Trowa was playing right into his hands.

The question, though... Quatre pondered his answer. He couldn't tell Trowa what he really thought about Duo, about his manipulative behavior and state of denial, because Trowa would become defensive if Quatre directly attacked Duo. While he was not as deeply under the American's influence as Heero, he wouldn't be here if he weren't at least partially in thrall to Duo. So... what to say...

Quatre sidled a bit closer to Trowa. He was around the final corner of the desk, and only a few feet of open space separated them now. Quatre recognized from experience that he was just about at the edge of Trowa's personal space now. One more step, and the taller boy would casually move back, in that graceful glide that wasn't giving ground so much as it was maintaining a wary, respectful distance.

Quatre would have to take him off guard to get any closer. The strategist supplied him with the obvious method to do so.

"After you and Heero left, I found him down in the hangar, shooting up," Quatre stated calmly. A part of him was horrified at the lie, awash in guilt at so blatantly slandering a friend. Everything else he'd said so far, both to and about Duo, had at least been the truth, no matter how hurtful. But this quite plainly was not true. It was a bald-faced lie... and the shock of it held Trowa immobile just long enough for Quatre to step forward and wrap his arms securely around the taller boy.

Trowa went instantly rigid in his embrace, and Quatre held him tighter, feeling the tension in his muscles that betokened his intent to escape. Quatre couldn't let Trowa pull away from the only safe haven there was for him. After a moment, Trowa seemed to accept he wasn't getting free any time soon, and relaxed fractionally. Quatre stared up into that expressionless face, the eyes cold and hard as emeralds staring down into his own.

"You lie," Trowa stated calmly. Not a question, not even an accusation. There was no doubt in Trowa's mind that Quatre had just attempted to deceive him.

It wasn't an auspicious beginning to Trowa's deprogramming.

"Yes, I did," Quatre admitted, feeling relieved inside to be able to admit the untruth. He didn't want to manipulate Trowa with deceptions and emotional blackmail. The tall boy had certainly had enough of such treatment lately.

"Why?" Trowa asked quietly.

Quatre sighed, making sure he had a very firm grip on the slender body with one arm as he began to slowly caress Trowa's back with the other hand. Trowa shivered involuntarily under his touch. No doubt it was bringing memories of Duo's coldhearted use of him to the surface. Quatre felt some of his remorse melt away at the thought. But he couldn't be focusing on Duo right now. He had to help Trowa, had to free Trowa... had to show him the difference between being used and being loved.

He let his hand slide lower, over the curve of Trowa's firmly muscled bottom, and felt a stirring of heat in his own groin.

Love. He would show Trowa what it was to be loved.

"My poor Trowa," he murmured, pressing himself more closely to the taller boy, until his growing erection pressed against Trowa's thigh through the fabric of their pants. "You don't realize what he's done to you. It's unforgivable, really, but I suppose I can understand. Well, not understand, but sympathize. Of course he feels insecure, now that we know the truth about him. I'm sure he would do anything right now to ensure someone was on his side. To make someone loyal to him. But it's just so horribly selfish of him, not to think, or care, what his manipulation is doing to you and Heero... " As Quatre spoke, he continued to stroke Trowa with his free hand, and nuzzled his cheek against the smooth skin of the taller boy's neck and chest. Trowa wore a button-down dark green shirt, and a couple of buttons were open in the summer heat. Quatre moved his head as he spoke, so his lips ghosted millimeters above Trowa's skin, occasionally brushing the velvet smooth surface, his breath washing warm over the taller boy's chest...

Through it all, Trowa remained semi-rigid in his hold, but Quatre had expected a certain amount of resistance. Now that he had Trowa in his arms, though, the conclusion was foregone. The taller boy was a much better hand-to-hand fighter than Quatre, but the shorter blond was, like Duo, much stronger than his slender frame implied. With Trowa's reach advantage nullified, Quatre could easily keep him pinned, and they both knew it.

"He hasn't done anything to me except... to be my friend," Trowa protested faintly. Quatre glanced upwards at the subdued tone, and noted Trowa's eyes were slightly glazed.

The Arabian smiled up at the taller boy, who was apparently beginning to succumb to his repressed desire for Quatre as it became obvious that desire was reciprocated. Quatre's erection was almost painful, now, too tightly constrained, even in the loose khakis he wore. Experimentally, he rolled his hips against Trowa's thigh, and felt his own powerful response to the pressure and friction.

He'd meant to take this slowly. It would be their first time, after all, but...

Duo had already ruined it, Quatre acknowledged with a sad sort of anger. The American's manipulations had poisoned Trowa's feelings for Quatre, confusing the emotionally repressed boy even more than he already had been.

Maybe... maybe it would be best just to press his advantage quickly. To show Trowa his passion, which would almost certainly be far different from Duo's approach. The American was most likely practiced and businesslike in bed. Well, Quatre certainly wasn't practiced, and he was done with business for the day. Pleasure and abandon, that was what Trowa needed. That was what Quatre would give him.

"Let me help you, Trowa," Quatre murmured, gently nipping at the taller boy's collarbone between words. "Don't fight me. Just let me... Please. It will be so much better if you don't fight... " Quatre abruptly slid his hand beneath Trowa's shirt to caress the skin of his back.

Several things happened at once.

At Quatre's last words, Trowa's body had tensed fully again, and he had begun to struggle against the Arabian's hold. Quatre shoved his hand up Trowa's shirt to try and distract him. But when his hand slid up Trowa's spine, the skin he almost roughly caressed was not satiny smooth, like Trowa's chest had been. It was ridged and uneven, almost like... scar tissue?

In his surprise, Quatre's grip on Trowa had loosened, and the tall boy took immediate advantage of this fact, quickly pulling free of Quatre's arms.

Trowa backed off quickly, breath ragged, eyes wild and dark. He stumbled slightly against a small table, sending an expensive porcelain statuette to the floor in a tinkle of delicate destruction. Trowa's shoes crunched on the shards as he stumbled heedlessly backwards, making his way to the door as quickly as he could without taking his eyes off Quatre, who was advancing slowly.

Trowa was obviously spooked, and Quatre's mind was awhirl in confusion and worry over what he had discovered. What had happened to Trowa? When had it happened? Who had dared to hurt the boy Quatre Raberba Winner loved with all his soul?

"Trowa... please... please, let me help you... " Quatre murmured soothingly, trying to get close enough to keep Trowa from getting to the door before he could recapture the skittish boy. Trowa was obviously more confused and wounded than Quatre had ever realized, and he simply couldn't bear the thought of this broken-winged bird fluttering back to Duo's feline mercies. Duo couldn't understand pain of the sort Quatre was feeling pour off of Trowa in waves. The braided boy, with his petty self-interest and manipulations, would only injure Trowa further.

Trowa made it to the door, his hand fumbling for the knob. He didn't seem willing to take his eyes off Quatre to look for it, and the Arabian knew this was the last chance he would get. He gathered himself to cross the distance between them in a desperate lunge. He couldn't let Trowa leave, not in this state...

Trowa's eyes widened as he detected the tensing of Quatre's muscles, seeing the smaller boy was about to pounce. The taller boy's eyes then seemed to cloud over again, his shoulders slumping slightly in surrender. Quatre was elated. Trowa wasn't going to run from him! He moved to cross the distance between them, to sweep Trowa up in his arms...

When the taller boy's hand, still idly fumbling behind him, suddenly landed on the doorknob.

A gleam of fierce, feral triumph entered Trowa's eyes as he yanked the door open, and then he was just... gone.

Quatre completed his leap to the doorway, but when he stuck his head out the door, there was no sign of the tall boy in the hallway beyond. Trowa could move fast when he wanted to.

Quatre slammed the door and leaned against it, shoving a hand into his hair with a curse, not bothering to fight the tears of frustration and concern that filled his eyes. Where would Trowa go? Back to Duo? Or would he seek out some private spot, to rein in his fear and pain, chain it back securely behind his stony mask of indifference?

One thing was certain. It would be a long time before Trowa let his guard down around Quatre. The Arabian knew too much.

Quatre slid down against the door to huddle miserably against it, arms wrapped around his legs, face pressed to his knees.

And he wept. For Duo, with his unacknowledged problems that would eventually destroy him. For Heero, too tightly bound to the American to escape the fallout when Duo eventually self-destructed. For Wufei, blinded by his honor to the necessity of cruelty to force Duo to deal with the unpleasant reality of his situation. And for himself, apparently alone in his determination to prevent Duo from dragging them all down with him.

But mostly, he wept for Trowa. Confused, scarred, manipulated Trowa, tossed about on the winds of emotions he wasn't equipped to handle. Trowa, whom he loved... but couldn't seem to reach. He wouldn't give up. Trowa was well worth the effort, even if Quatre never seemed to accomplish much. But for now, Trowa was still lost.

Quatre hugged his legs more tightly as the tears flowed freely.

[part 4] [part 6] [back to Aoe's fic]