A/N: I swear, after this part I'm done demonizing poor Quatre ;-)

by: Aoe

Strangers in Paradise + Part 8

Duo rode the lift-strap down from Deathscythe's cockpit, scrubbing at the dried blood caked to his cheek and neck with one hand. From the corner of his eye, he watched Quatre, already on the floor of the hangar, hovering nervously. The blond was staring up at Duo, sea blue eyes wide and worried.

You know you're in for it, don't you, you little shit? Duo mused to himself. There could certainly be no question in Quatre's mind that he was going to be on the receiving end of a screaming fit when Duo caught up to him. So he hadn't even tried to run.

Wufei had gone back to the mansion directly after the battle, since his Gundam was badly damaged, but Quatre and Duo had split up, laying a false trail for any pursuers. That was twenty hours ago, and Duo was exhausted. But there was something he had to deal with before he could get any rest.

When Duo had approached the concealed entrance to the underground hangar beneath the mansion, he'd been not entirely surprised to find Sandrock standing there waiting. Quatre's face had popped up on his viewscreen, looking weary and miserable. His eyes were red and puffy, as if he'd been crying. He probably had.

"Duo? Are you... okay?" Quatre had asked nervously, peering at him in concern.

Duo hadn't been able to manage any better reply to that question than an irritated snort. He switched off his comm unit and walked Deathscythe into the cavern, Sandrock following.

Duo had very carefully and deliberately run through the shutdown process, leaving the central control unit to run a diagnostic program and determine the location and extent of damages. Only then had he opened the cockpit and grabbed the strap, sticking his foot into the loop and riding patiently down to the floor.

Quatre couldn't seem to control his nervous fidgeting, which was a sure sign he hadn't gotten any sleep either. Being overtired made him jumpy. Duo smiled humorlessly at the sight of Quatre frowning in confusion, bouncing on the balls of his feet and wringing his hands. He stilled as Duo turned, opening his mouth to speak. His eyes searched Duo's face intently, unconsciously seeking emotional cues. Duo knew that was what the blond was doing because Duo was very carefully and firmly repressing his emotions at the moment, and that always put Quatre off balance. Denied any ‘sense' of Duo's feelings, the Arabian scoured the braided pilot's face and body for any sign of what he was thinking or feeling.

But Duo had lots of practice projecting a false image.

Quatre closed his mouth without saying anything as Duo breezed past him, an empty, blatantly false smile on his face. He didn't look behind him as he walked away, but he didn't need to. He could hear the sudden staccato patter of Quatre's penny loafers on the concrete floor as the blond broke from his startled trance and realized Duo was leaving him behind.

Quatre caught up to Duo, but trailed along a few paces behind. Duo was sure if he looked, he would see the Arabian's head bent down, staring at his hands. He could hear the scuffing steps. If Quatre had a tail, it would be tucked between his legs. He was a Bad Dog.

Duo glanced around the deserted hangar, wondering where the Maguanacs had gone. Well, they had their own lives and agenda, no matter how devoted they were to protecting and supporting Quatre in every spare moment.

But I'm the one who uses and manipulates people to cover up my weakness and support me, Duo thought sarcastically. I wonder if he even pays them for their time and effort?

Pondering this question, since it conveniently distracted him from the emotions he was struggling to keep contained just a little longer, Duo trudged up through the basement and into the house proper. Duo wandered into the foyer, wondering how much longer Quatre could stand the tense silence...

Not much, apparently. The Arabian laid a gentle hand on Duo's arm and said softly, "Duo, please talk to me."

You asked for it, Winner, Duo thought, a nasty smile spreading across his face. Without warning, he spun, grabbing Quatre's slender shoulders before the blond could dodge, and using that grip to slam the blond down onto Duo's rising knee. Quatre gave out a very satisfying screech of pain and surprise as Duo's knee connected with a very tender area of his anatomy.

Duo released the Arabian's shoulders and stepped back, admiring the view as the blond sprawled on the floor. Ever since the explosion at the base that had destroyed all his fragile hopes for the future, he'd been waiting for this moment.

At first, there had been crushing grief, the kind that explained the phrase ‘dying of a broken heart.' It was a horrible, debilitating feeling, but Duo had been down that road before. This wasn't the first time he had lost everything that mattered to him. But this time... the culprit wasn't a plague. It wasn't a huge military organization, too big for his young mind to even grasp. No, this time... this time there was one person to blame for what had happened.

Duo took careful aim and rammed the toe of his boot into Quatre's ribs, feeling something snap beneath the impact.

Quatre yelled again, flipping over from the force of the blow. But he could be a tough little shit sometimes, and he rolled back over again to stare imploringly up at his attacker. "Duo," Quatre gasped, tears leaking from his eyes, though whether from pain or emotion, Duo couldn't guess, "Please, this... this won't help anything. I know you're hurting, I am too... "

Duo snarled at that last comment, squatting abruptly beside the injured blond. "Don't you ever compare your pain to mine," Duo snapped angrily, glaring intently into Quatre's startled eyes. "And don't even think I have the tiniest bit of sympathy for you," Duo added viciously.

Quatre frowned through his tears. "But... Duo, that's not fair. I am hurt. I... I lost the person I love back there ­ "

"Then why did you let it happen?" Duo shouted, grabbing Quatre's collar and pulling the blond up so their faces were only inches apart. Violet eyes blazing, Duo demanded, "What the hell were you doing out there? The rest of us were fighting a battle, you were off doing your nails or some shit on the opposite side of the base! Why weren't you paying attention?"

Quatre's frown dissolved as his chin began to tremble. "I... I didn't mean to," he whispered miserably. "I just... I shut the audio off because there was so much noise... you guys all make so much noise during a fight, it distracts me... "

"Well, if you turned the audio off so you wouldn't be distracted, explain how you completely lost track of the battle!" Duo spat, shaking Quatre for emphasis.

Quatre's eyes were darting nervously around the chamber, looking everywhere but at the boy directly in front of him. This was no mean feat, since they were so close Duo knew he was probably spraying Quatre with his vehement speech. Not that he cared.

"Well, I... I got to thinking about... other things, and ... I guess I just got caught up in something else. I didn't pay close enough attention to what you guys were doing, and... " Quatre's voice grew quieter and quieter as he spoke, until it finally just trailed off into silence.

"You weren't paying attention," Duo repeated slowly, incredulously. "In the middle of a battle, you got caught up in ‘something else'." Duo shook his head in disbelief. "Jesus, Quatre, do you know the kind of ass-reaming I'd get from any of you if I pulled a brain-dead stunt like that? We were all trusting you to be there when we needed you! You're part of the team, damn it! You wanted us to work together so bad, wanted us to trust each other to guard our backs, hell, it was your idea for us all to come here so we could plan our next move together, and ­ " Duo paused abruptly as a nasty suspicion he hadn't quite allowed himself to entertain yet suddenly burst into his mind.

"But this attack wasn't your idea," he said slowly, watching Quatre intently for a reaction to his words. Quatre frowned slightly, still not meeting Duo's eyes. "You petty little bastard," Duo breathed in horrified amazement. "Just because we didn't do what you said, cuz you were pissed off that we didn't follow your lead, you... " Quatre had gone very still in Duo's grasp, staring determinedly off to the left.

"You didn't want to play. So you let them fucking die," Duo ground out through clenched teeth.

Quatre finally turned to meet the enraged violet eyes, frowning angrily at this accusation. "Oh, that's just ridiculous, Duo!" he snapped. "You know I would never do that to Trowa ­ "

"But what about Heero?" Duo interrupted in a dangerously soft voice. Quatre blinked at him in surprised confusion. "You should have been the one to go after him," Duo growled. "Sandrock has the heaviest armor, and you still had ammo, and your freakin' sword things, you would have had a much better shot at rescuing Heero than Trowa, but you didn't fucking go! You just stood there with your thumb up your ass! You should have gone in without needing to be told, because there was a pilot in trouble! It's your job, damn it!" Duo yelled into Quatre's face.

But Quatre was retreating behind his placid façade now, staring back at Duo with grim blankness. "My ‘job' encompasses a great deal more than just piloting a Gundam, Duo," Quatre informed him flatly. "I have responsibilities, to my company, to my family ­ "

"What about to us?" Duo demanded harshly. He felt a sharp pricking behind his eyelids, and knew he couldn't hold the tears back much longer, talking like this. It was too hard to be reasonable and hold onto the anger. He surged to his feet, his grip on Quatre's collar dragging the Arabian along as well. Duo released Quatre with a hard shove, slamming him into the wall. "When you're on the field, your first and only responsibility is to us!" Duo yelled. His rage ignited again in the face of Quatre's stubbornly petulant frown, and with an inarticulate yell, he slammed a fist into the blond's stomach.

Quatre doubled up around Duo's fist with an anguished groan, and Duo grabbed one of the Arabian's arms, twisting it expertly behind the blond as Duo spun Quatre and forced him to his knees with pressure on the arm. "If you can't put the fight first when you're right in the goddamn middle of it, where exactly does it fall on your list of priorities?" Duo growled into Quatre's ear, leaning over the kneeling boy from behind. Quatre only grunted in reply.

"You are such a selfish, spoiled little brat," Duo spat, twisting Quatre's arm harder. "I've got your number, you know, Winner. I was getting too close to Trowa, so you did your best to make me hate myself too much to dare to reach out to him. Did you care that I was the person he felt closest to, the only one who understood him? Of course not, because you wouldn't even admit any of that. Because you knew that deep down, Trowa only felt close to you, right? And only you could understand him, right? Cuz only you got a raging hard-on every time he walked in the room, right? So of course it was true love, cuz you wanted him, and you're so fucking noble and pure that that's all it could be, right? Love, not lust. It was love that made you chase him and pester him even when he obviously wanted to be alone, and it was love that made you push so hard for what you wanted that he fucking fell to pieces on me ­ "

"Shut up!" Quatre yelled, jerking against Duo's hold but not managing to break it. "Shut up, you don't know what you're talking about! You don't know what love is, you're a prostitute! You'd screw anything for the right price! How could you understand what I felt for Trowa? I waited all my life for him, he was the only one I ever wanted, my soul mate, we were meant to be together... " Quatre's angry protests trailed off into sobs.

Duo might have let go of the Arabian's arm at that point if it hadn't been for the ‘prostitute' comment.

"Keep punching that button, Quatre," Duo murmured, twisting the arm he held until the blond yelped in pain. "It really hurt the first time you did it, but right now I couldn't give less of a shit what you think of me. I don't need your respect, you little asshole. I don't even want it. Because I don't respect you anymore. You were an insensitive little prick with Trowa, and that was bad enough. I was already pissed at you before the battle, but now... " Duo paused, shaking his head. His anger was fading again, leaving him drained and empty. "You betrayed us, Quatre. That's the simple truth. We trusted you to do your part, and you bailed. You stood there weighing your options when there weren't any, and Trowa had to pick up your slack. And he wasn't equipped for it, so he died. He's dead, and Heero's dead, all because you just don't know how to handle it when everything doesn't go your way. When everybody doesn't follow your lead, and do what you want."

Quatre remained silent throughout this speech. Duo stared at the bowed blond head and twisted the arm he held just enough to test. If he twisted it just that much more, something would break. Quatre tensed slightly when Duo twisted his arm, but didn't try to break the hold or pull away. He couldn't, really, not without breaking the arm in the process anyway, but the urge to struggle was instinctive. For him not to do so, it had to be a conscious decision.

Fuck that, Duo thought, suddenly releasing his grip on Quatre's arm. I'm not gonna be your penance.

"You betrayed all of us back there, but Trowa and Heero most of all," Duo said coldly. "You know, at first, I really wanted to kill you. But now... " The braided boy shook his head as Quatre turned to look up at him, sea blue eyes almost pleading for a return to simple violence. Duo just shook his head. "You disgust me," he muttered. "You're nothing but a fucking traitor." Quatre flinched at his words. Sound familiar? How does it feel, asshole? Cuz you know I'm right. You know it's true.

"You killed them. And now you get to live with that," Duo pronounced flatly, his hands balling into fists with tension. He was done with this now. The anger was almost completely gone, being replaced by a bleak despair that left him wanting to just crawl into a hole and disappear.

"Actually, he doesn't," a familiar voice drawled from the shadowed staircase that curved above the two boys. Duo looked up slowly, meeting Wufei's impassive gaze. You've been there a while, and you didn't interfere. Would you have let me kill him if I hadn't changed my mind? Duo wondered. Then Wufei's words finally filtered into his consciousness, and he frowned.

"You gonna kill him, then?" he asked curiously.

Quatre seemed oblivious to the entire conversation.

Wufei slowly shook his head. Duo frowned in confusion.

A small, triumphant spark kindled in Wufei's eyes. "I just caught a transmission about prisoner transfers from the base we attacked," Wufei said. Duo continued to be confused, although it was apparent from Wufei's slightly irritated sigh that that should have meant something to him.

Give me a break, man, it's been a rough day, Duo thought vaguely.

"Prisoner transfers, Duo," Wufei repeated. "For Gundam pilots 01 and 03. They're not dead."

Duo blinked at Wufei in utter astonishment for a moment. He managed to say softly, "Oh." And then his mind decided it had dealt with quite enough since the last time it had a break, and promptly shut down. Wufei raised an eyebrow in surprise as Duo crumpled to the floor in a dead faint.


Trowa stared blankly at the metal plated wall of his cell. He was dimly aware that he was hungry and cold, but he refused to allow himself to acknowledge these conditions. If he acknowledged his physical discomfort, his physical existence, then this would all be real.


Trowa ruthlessly shoved away thoughts of the Japanese pilot, but they hovered at the edges of his mind, awaiting an opportunity, a moment of weakness, to sneak back in and begin his torment.

I failed.



Trowa frowned slightly at the wall. There were scratches in the metal. Someone had counted off days, or hours perhaps. He began counting them very, very slowly.

He recognized on a certain level that he was being irrational, trying to deny reality by not acknowledging it. But he wasn't ready yet, to deal with what had happened.

It came to him in flashes.

Heero's face, grim but determined, mouthing silent words in his viewscreen.

The jarring impact of Epyon's massive beam saber meeting and shearing through his arm knife.

Reaching out to the armed self-destruct button and thinking that there had never been anything so repugnant in the universe. It seemed to throb with evil power. His hand froze inches above it, not wanting to touch it.

Then, the abrupt concussive force and the wall of fire that engulfed all three mobile suits, battering them about. Heavyarms fell to the asphalt, and the impact slammed Trowa against the control panel. He felt things break and tear, and then there was blackness.

And through it all, haunting his vision like a specter, a pair of blank, broken violet eyes, staring in mute horror...

He wasn't sure, even now, as those eyes hovered before him staring out from the cold metal wall, if he had actually seen Duo looking at him like that through the viewscreen or if he only knew...

Heero is gone. I failed to rescue him. I didn't really even try.

Trowa closed his eyes, lowering his face to his drawn up knees.

Duo, he thought bleakly. Your lover is dead. He sighed wearily, wishing, not for the first time, that fate had been merciful enough to let him go with Heero. He didn't want to have to see what this would do to Duo.

He didn't know what it was doing to him.

Be a friend to him, Wufei. I don't know if I'll have the strength to carry him through this one. The guilt is too heavy...

Empty, hopeless violet eyes.

Regretful, resigned blue eyes.

"Stop looking at me," Trowa whispered softly into his knees.

The door of the cell swung open.

Trowa was instantly alert, moving away from the small cot into the center of the room, backing warily away from the opening even as he sought any opportunity to escape. Much as he wanted to just curl up and die at the moment, just as it had back at the other base with Heero, the mission came first.

The soldier standing in the doorway, backlit by the hall lights in the dimness of the cell, would be easy to overcome. He carried an awkward burden in his arms. The four guards behind him with guns aimed at Trowa, though, were more of a problem. And he knew they wouldn't shoot to kill, even if he rushed them. These were professionals, the true Oz elite. They knew what they were doing, and were far too devoted to Treize's cause to kill anyone he wanted kept alive.

Of course, Trowa was only assuming Treize wanted him alive, but since he hadn't been shot yet, it seemed like a good bet.

The soldier in front stepped into the cell and over to the single cot, laying his burden down gently on it. Whatever it was, it was wrapped up in blankets. Trowa frowned. It looked about the size of a small body.

His frown deepened as he recognized the soldier who had carried it in as Zechs Marquise.

"Zechs," Trowa said flatly, not at all certain what was going on here.

Zechs straightened, turning away from the cot. He nodded at Trowa, long wheat-blond hair cascading over his broad shoulders. The older pilot really was a stunningly attractive man, Trowa acknowledged, not for the first time. But ‘stunningly attractive' was not much of a distraction to Trowa Barton.

Zechs smiled faintly, and stepped away from the cot, allowing Trowa space to inspect what he had left there. Never taking his eyes off Zechs or turning his back to him, Trowa stepped over to his bed and twitched back the blankets with a nervous finger.

He cast a brief glance at what lay within... and found himself frozen, staring down at the still figure on the bed without regard for the men watching him.

For a moment, he thought Zechs was indulging in some macabre form of torture, bringing the body of his friend here to rot, but... Trowa brushed Heero's cheek with his fingertips, and found the soft skin warm under his touch.

He went to his knees beside the cot simply because his legs had buckled beneath him in shock, and slid his fingers down to Heero's neck. The Japanese pilot's pulse throbbed beneath his skin, slow, but steady and strong.

Trowa turned back to Zechs, his narrowed eyes demanding an explanation.

Zechs' mouth twisted bitterly, as though he had been expecting and dreading this moment.

"There was... an incident, back at the base where you attacked," Zechs began slowly, his deep voice a shade rougher than usual with some emotion Trowa could not interpret. "A younger soldier, and some of his friends... seeking retribution for a wrong they believed Heero responsible for. They... took it upon themselves to... torture him. They... " Zechs trailed off into uneasy silence, and Trowa watched the tall man fidget slightly. That was unusual. Zechs was usually quite composed. What could upset the man so... ?


"Did they rape him?" Trowa asked flatly, cold green eyes boring into Zechs.

Zechs looked down at his boots, one hand clenching into a fist at his side at the question. "I wasn't in time to prevent... " he murmured, shaking his head slowly.

"I see," Trowa said quietly, turning back to Heero's still face. Part of him wanted to scream, and rage, and possibly kill someone, but there was no one he could kill here, and throwing a fit would do absolutely nothing for Heero. "Why is he unconscious?" Trowa asked.

"He... I took him to the medical ward... after. The doctors patched him up, but they felt... and I agreed... that it would be best for him to be sedated for a while. He should be waking up soon, and it occurred to me that he might feel... more comfortable with you," Zechs explained haltingly.

Trowa nodded, acknowledging the answer. It probably had been for the best for Heero to be sedated until after the move from the old base to wherever they were now. He probably would not have taken well to being trussed up like a turkey, not after...

Trowa let a soft curse slip out. It didn't really help.

"You said they were seeking retribution," Trowa said. "For what?"

Zechs cleared his throat uncomfortably. Trowa pondered the strange fact that he had never seen the blond aristocrat so entirely unsettled as he seemed by this occurrence. Of course, Zechs was not much older than the Gundam pilots, and had a sister Heero's age... perhaps he was capable of imagining... or even feeling sympathy...

"One of them had taken a girlfriend to an Oz social function. It was attacked by... a Gundam. She was killed," Zechs replied shortly.

Trowa scowled. Petty. "That happens, in war," he observed.

"So I told him," Zechs agreed quietly. "Well. I have duties." He turned to leave.

Trowa had been racking his brain for the answer to one last question, but it wasn't coming to him. "Zechs," he said, and heard the tall man stop. "When did Heero ever attack a social event?"

There was a moment of silence from Zechs.

Heero's stillness underwent a sudden, subtle shift. Trowa frowned slightly, wondering if he'd imagined it. Then he saw a small slit of blue peering through lowered lashes, and knew he hadn't. Heero was awake.

"He didn't," Zechs finally replied quietly. "But the soldier knew one of you had. Heero... claimed responsibility."

One of us... the circus. "Ah. I see," Trowa murmured weakly. Oh God, Heero... for me, you suffered this for me...

"This war has gone on too long," Zechs muttered. Trowa listened with half an ear, too caught up in a sudden tidal wave of guilt to pay much attention to anything else. Heero's eyes opened further, staring blankly up at him. "It's gotten dirty, it's gotten... personal. It's not at all what Treize intended, I think... "

"Then why are you still here?" Heero asked flatly. Trowa heard Zechs start slightly at the unexpected voice. "Well, Zechs? Aren't you Treize's most loyal servant?" Heero sneered.

"I don't know... how to make this the war he wants," Zechs murmured softly.

"Baka," Heero spat. "I told you how. I even gave you the means to do it."

"Heero," Zechs said thoughtfully.

"I don't understand how he thinks," Heero added, not as sharply. "But you do."

"I... thank you, Heero," Zechs said abstractedly. He seemed to be thinking about something else.

"Hn," Heero grunted. "Now we're even."

"Yes," Zechs murmured, leaving the cell and pulling the door shut with a heavy clanking of metal.

After a few moments of silence, Heero observed, "Actually, I don't care about Treize's dream war. I just want this one over with."

"Me, too," Trowa murmured softly, staring down at the dark blue eyes.

Finally, Heero scowled up at him. "Quit looking at me like that," he demanded. "I'm not weak. I'm fine."

Trowa frowned down at him. "You're not fine, Heero," he argued.

Heero's scowl deepened and he pushed himself into a sitting position.

"Yes, I am."

"No, you're not."

"Yes. I am."

"No, you're not," Trowa repeated calmly, watching Heero's shoulders tense angrily.

"How the fuck do you know if I'm fine or not?" Heero finally demanded, glaring furiously at Trowa.

"Because I know, Heero. I know what happened. I know... what it's like," Trowa answered bleakly, a shiver running through his body as memories too recently brought to the surface by Quatre's unwanted advances flickered through his mind.

"How could you... you know... oh." What began as a shout finished as a whisper of sound as Heero stared intently at Trowa. "Shit," the Japanese boy muttered after a moment.

"Hmm," Trowa agreed.

Heero sighed, slumping back against the wall. "I wish Duo was here," he muttered, reaching up to rub a fingernail along one of the slashes Trowa had been counting earlier.

Trowa fervently echoed Heero's wish. Duo was just so much... better at this sort of thing than he was... He'd done well enough with Duo, but...

That was because Duo knew the barriers. He knew which lines not to cross. Granted he occasionally crossed them anyway, but... for the most part, he knew what he was doing. Duo was used to being the emotionally supportive one, Trowa was sure of that. Where and why the braided boy had acquired that skill and mind-set he didn't know, but it was what had drawn him to Duo from the beginning. Duo had the patience and understanding necessary to reach out to someone who'd been hurt, like Trowa, or someone as emotionally crippled as Heero. How could they, wounded and untrained, possibly muddle through this mess without Duo?

We both... we need him, Trowa realized slowly. But... now, Heero especially... He was right, in a way. I know he's not fine, but I don't know much else. Everyone reacts to trauma differently, and I don't have the slightest idea how Heero will react to this. I know how he handles physical pain, he pushes it out of his mind and forges ahead. And I know how he handles guilt... not very well. But being attacked like this? I just don't know... Duo might not even know, but I'm sure he'd be able to handle it better, whatever Heero's reaction...

Heero frowned at the wall. "No, that's stupid," he muttered. "I'm glad he's not here. I'm glad he got away."

The statement sent a chill down Trowa's spine. He'd assumed, but now he realized he hadn't actually seen... didn't actually know...

Duo isn't here. And... he may not be coming. He could be... they could all be...

Trowa carefully shut that thought away in the back of his mind. It would only drive him crazy to worry about it when he had no way of knowing, and Heero...

He doubted Heero would deal very well at the moment with the possibility that Duo was dead.

Very carefully, Trowa laid his hand on Heero's tight shoulder. Heero turned his head slightly, looking at Trowa from the corner of one narrowed eye. Trowa could read nothing from the Japanese boy's expression. Heero, at times, helped Trowa understand what people found so frustrating about them both.

"I'm not Duo," Trowa admitted slowly, watching Heero closely for any sign of reaction, "but... I'm here. And I understand. And I... care about you, Heero."

"Hn," Heero grunted softly in reply. Trowa couldn't tell if it was acceptance, denial, or just indifference. Duo probably would have known.

Well, he would just have to do his best. Nervously, keeping a tight rein on his own misgivings about closeness, Trowa crawled up onto the cot, settling himself behind Heero. This would either be a good thing or a bad one, but he was at least certain he would find out quickly.

Heero sat stiffly for a moment, then slowly leaned back against the taller boy. Trowa let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding and slid his arms loosely around Heero's waist. Heero tensed slightly at the gesture, but not much more than he usually would have anyway.

After a moment, Trowa felt the tight muscles of Heero's back begin to relax slightly.

Eventually, Heero fell asleep in Trowa's embrace.

Eventually, Trowa joined him.

[part 7] [part 9] [back to Aoe's fic]