by Bronze Tigress

Orange Crush

mid April, AC 197

Trowa's business with the Circus doesn't take him nearly as long as he thought it might. The Manager, who has in truth begun to become a little bit frustrated with Trowa's continual comings and goings, is able to find a new person to permanently take over the care of the lions within a few days, and Trowa's usual stand-in as Cathy's target is asked to continue in that role until they can find a permanent replacement for that act as well. He certainly doesn't have much packing to do. And even Cathy can see that, much as the Circus has become a home to Trowa, it's time for him to grow up and move away. So there is nothing to delay his return to his new job on Earth with the Preventers.

In less than a week, Trowa is back on Earth. On Wednesday morning, he walks calmly into Preventers' Headquarters carrying a pair of well-filled duffle-bags, completely flouting the security protocol which forbids such a thing, and going largely unnoticed in the process. He marches directly into Une's office, and within half an hour he is headed for a set of quarters labelled, in neat institutional letters, #203. He drops off his bags, then heads down to the requisitions department for a set of uniforms.

That evening, Trowa calls upon one Miss Catalonia, having used part of his settling-in time to locate her current address and vidphone number. They spend the evening in quiet conversation over coffee. Dorothy has by this time recovered enough from the shock of the hostage experience to be able to talk about it, and the long-suppressed memories of her childhood that it had caused her to recall. In fact, she tells him, in the wake of those memories, she has been rather rethinking her stance on war, peace, and fighting in the past week, and it's nice to have his perspective as a counterpoint to her musings.

Trowa, for his part, ends up telling Dorothy a great deal about his part in the War, and the various peacekeeping efforts the five pilots had been engaged in afterwards. "Ex-pilots, I should say, I suppose; the Gundams are gone now. We're still fighting the same battle, though, really. I'm not quite sure how to stop. I've never really been anything but a soldier, or a soldier between engagements. At least, now, I'm not some lone vigilante any more, and it's a good feeling to know that the people I'm trying to protect are backing me up for a change."

"Nonsense. You are still a pilot, even without a Gundam. You've done more for Earth and Space already than most people will ever dream of doing, and you've barely even started. Don't sell yourself short," he is told. Trowa blushes faintly at the praise in Dorothy's tone, and is only too happy to accept her offer of a repeat of the evening - say, sometime that weekend?

As it happens, then, these evenings over coffee and conversation become a regular event. When Dorothy approaches Une in mid-June concerning a position with the Preventers, Trowa will be the only one who is not surprised. And when, as spring turns to summer, the coffee dates become lunch, or the occasional dinner, or a Saturday afternoon stroll in the park - well, once again, neither one will be surprised. But - that's getting ahead of this story.

+

When he first hears about it, Trowa is quite surprised to learn that two of his comrades have actually agreed to share quarters. What surprises him the most about it is learning which two it will be. Nevertheless, he turns up on the first of May to help Duo carry Wufei's bookshelf down the halls to the apartment the two would be sharing, while Heero and Wufei carry the boxes of books, and Quatre trails along with boxes of lighter articles. Zechs appears from the other end of the hall just as they get the door to the new apartment open, carrying an armload of metal bedframe parts and followed by two burly men carrying a mattress.

"Hey, Wufei?" Zechs asks, "You got a double? Or is this thing Duo's?"

"What," Wufei throws back at the tall blond man, a flash of amusement in his eyes, "you do not believe me capable of finding someone willing to share it with me?" Duo stares, surprised, at Wufei for a moment, before shrugging expressively and directing the delivery men to the back bedroom with their cargo. Quatre is left speechless at the forthright nature of the reply for a moment, before he collects himself, and the box of shirts, to carry it into what is, evidently, intended to be Wufei's room. Heero merely raises an eyebrow.

The ribbing Duo gets when the second double bed set arrives only results in his cocky declaration that, of course, the Maxwell charm is irresistible. Duo's grinning pose is slightly hampered by the fact that he's carrying a box of kitchen utensils at the time, and it is Trowa who motions the delivery men to the front bedroom, where the small stack of Duo's new uniforms has already been deposited.

The move is completed in plenty of time for lunch, and the six Agents are only too happy to extend their morning off by going to eat together. Afterwards, they head back to help load Quatre's few things into his jeep, so that he can take them over to the apartment he's taken closer to the main new Winner Inc. buildings ten minutes away - in case of family emergencies, he'd said. The 2nd floor corridor, which had that morning housed all six ex-pilots, is unusually quiet that evening with half their number gone, and Trowa is only too glad that he has already made arrangements to see Dorothy for coffee that evening.

+

One day not more than three weeks later, a security-sealed envelope from a genetics laboratory on L4, addressed merely to Preventer Agent Rain at the HQ address, is placed on Trowa's desk. He looks at it, then sets it aside without opening it. Then he gets up, walks down to the door of Heero and Quatre's office, knocking lightly before slipping in to speak briefly with them. He then walks back, and on past his own door, into the corner office shared by Duo and Wufei, and bangs loudly on the door. Their partnership never ceases to amaze, and amuse, him - and the rest of the group as well - and the sight that greets him is no disappointment.

"Hey, Tro, whatcha shakin' us down for?" Duo's voice is as cheerful as usual, but the pinched expression on his face and the headphones hanging around his neck indicate that he's been working through sound samples again. The details of this particular pursuit - something involving toned timers - are rather fuzzy, but the braided man has been with headphones more often than not over the last couple of weeks. Peering over Duo's shoulder, Trowa spots Wufei, leaned back slightly in his chair, an open file folder in his hands, a small pair of glasses balanced on his nose, and lost to the world. Even with the headphones, somehow Trowa's not surprised that it is Duo who noticed the door's vibrations first.

"Poke Chang there for me, would ya? I need you both," Trowa replies. Duo blinks at him, then obligingly slips around behind Wufei and pokes him, ducking immediately out of range of the arm that swings around to catch him as Wufei starts out of his chair into a full defensive position with all the speed of a feral cat.

Two doors down, Quatre's voice is raised in laughter as Wufei's enraged cry of "MAXWELL!!" echoes through the section.

"Love ya too, W'Fei, but Trowa's here to see us," Duo informs his partner, who freezes in the act of reaching out to throttle the braided young man, then visibly relaxes before turning towards their visitor. Wufei's expression is carefully neutral by the time Trowa sees it.

"What can we do for you, Barton?" Wufei asks.

"I got an envelope in the mail this morning. I'd like you to drop by my quarters after work, if you wouldn't mind? It may be of some concern to you as well. It's not specifically work related, but I'd appreciate it if you'd come."

Duo and Wufei exchange glances, then Wufei nods, and Duo speaks. "Sure thing, Tro. What time do you want us there?"

"Oh, say 1830hrs? Time for us all to eat first that way," Trowa says. They nod, and he backs out of their office again to return to his own desk and partner, to whom he extends the same invitation in turn. Trowa spends the rest of the day studiously ignoring the large manilla envelope turned face down on the corner of his desk.

Trowa is, of course, oblivious to the discussion the unlikely pair holds following his exit, of which the only truly important portion is the following cryptic exchange:

"Really?"

"Really."

+

When Duo and Wufei knock on the door to Trowa's quarters at 1828hrs that evening, it is Zechs who opens the door.(1) He has apparently just arrived himself, as he is still struggling with his second boot. "Never gonna get used to this sockfoot thing you guys do," he grumbles as he finally gets loose. "Come in, come in, sit down," he says, in a louder and more polite tone, flashing them a quick smile. "You're the last, so we can start as soon as Trowa's ready I guess."

The three find places to sit, Wufei retrieving the kitchen stool, and Duo perching on the arm of the couch, since Zechs has just taken the last actual seat on the cushions thereof, and Trowa has already claimed the only other chair in the room. The envelope and a small throwing knife are the only things on the desk, and the decor is still quite empty, although a small bunch of daisies in a plain vase graces the low table.

"Sorry about the seating; guess they don't expect us to throw too many parties in these places," Trowa begins, tone shifting between concern and amusement before he sobers and comes to the point. "I asked you guys here, because of this." He picks up the envelope, gripping it tightly. "It's from one of the leading genetics research labs on L4; they do genetic materials comparisons, and I asked them to do a comparison test for me, between a sample of my blood and one of Catherine's."(2)

There are nods from all of the pilots except Zechs, who obviously doesn't recognize the name.

"I didn't tell Cathy," Trowa continues. "She cut herself sharpening one of her knives, and I managed to get some of the blood on me while cleaning her up. I know she didn't think of it before, or we'd probably have had the check done long since. I didn't want to raise her hopes, you see. She's still my sister by adoption, even if this is negative. Duo, you called me 'brother' last year(3), and I realized later that you were right - you guys are my brothers. I never thought I'd ever have a family. But I wanted you to be here for this; you deserve to know, and..." he trails off, then picks up the knife, saying, "shall we see what it says?"

Trowa carefully slits the envelope open, with surprisingly steady hands, and puts the knife back down on the desk before upturning the envelope. The papers inside fall out into his hands, which hold them a little too firmly as he unfolds them. Yes, it is most likely that the blood samples belong to a pair of siblings; it would be ideal to test suspected parental samples to confirm that conclusion, of course, but there is definitely a blood relationship...

"Hey, man, that's great! You found your name! Congrats!" Duo is first into motion, as he throws himself onto Trowa in an enthusiastic hug, pulling his quiet friend up out of his chair.

Trowa stands, still frozen with the shock of revelation, for a moment until the sense of Duo's statement seems to percolate through his brain. A brilliant smile spreads across his features as he slowly but firmly returns Duo's hug. "Yeah, I guess I did, didn't I?" He has to free a hand for Heero to shake, then pulls him in for a quick half-hug as well. Duo is still doing his best to cut off the air to Trowa's brain when Heero lets go so Trowa can take Quatre's hand and congratulatory hug as well.

"Duo, let Bloom-san go now; he needs to breathe - and it's my turn." Wufei's voice seems somewhat amused. None of the young men gathered are very surprised that Wufei has addressed Trowa so. However, Quatre gawks a little when Wufei steps in to untangle Duo's arms from their death grip on Trowa's ribs and separate the two with a well-placed hip. Wufei gives Trowa a brief, if respectful, bow and then clasps his friend by the shoulders with both hands and smiles. As he turns away again, Wufei shoots out an arm just in time to neatly corral Duo, who appears intent on launching himself back into the interrupted hug. Wufei keeps his arm firmly around his wayward partner's waist as he hauls Duo back out of the way so that Zechs can come forward and offer Trowa his own much more sedate congratulations.

Zechs moves forwards, then, to clasp Trowa's hand and forearm, and murmur softly, "I'm happy for you; it's good to know that some of the ills of this war can be, if not repaired, at least resolved. And thank you, for considering me family enough to be included in this; I am deeply honoured by that."

"You're my partner; you deserve to know stuff like this. And - I was thinking, you know, it was Quatre's idea to get us together, and Duo's to call us that. But you oughta be in this with us, too. And knowing these guys, if any of them didn't like it, we'd already have heard something about it."

An indignant squawk from Duo draws everyone's attention. Wufei has now not only got his arm wrapped firmly around his partner's waist, not incidentally managing to draw their bodies together from hip to shoulder, but also has the end of Duo's braid wrapped around his other hand, and has apparently just finished whispering something into Duo's ear, as he seems to be waiting for an answer. "Well?"

"Oh, all right, but I still eep! Okay! Okay, already! Sheesh..." Duo stops struggling and looks somewhat repentant, as if he has been told in no uncertain terms that his intended prank is being called off.

"Good, thank you," Wufei says, as he releases his hold, making sure that Duo has caught his balance rather than simply dropping his arm. He turns to the other four men present - who are all looking on with various expressions of shock and surprise - and says, "My apologies, gentlemen."

It isn't that Wufei has never reached out and yanked Duo to a halt before. He has, in fact, been doing quite a bit of that in the last month, since they were assigned as partners by Une. In the time that they have been working together, Duo's tendency to start moving before Wufei - or lag behind instead - has resulted in Wufei making more than a few very loud requests to Une for a leash and collar for his excitable partner. Usually, however, the grab has been made for Duo's collar, jacket hem, or perhaps wrist. This, however, is practically a full-contact embrace - and nobody grabs Duo's hair.

Even given that the two are sharing an apartment, under the circumstances none of the others had thought anything of it except to wonder how long both of their friends would survive in such close quarters with each other. The twin facts that the two frequently engage in loud verbal sparring matches, and that Duo is often seen blithely making his escape from a patently irritated Wufei after playing him some prank or other, makes this current behaviour that much odder.

It is Trowa who first gathers the wit to wonder where Wufei's pod is hidden. Duo blinks hugely at him, then doubles over in helpless laughter. Wufei has evidently also heard the reference, for he raises an elegant eyebrow. "Pod? I blew it up along with my Gundam - and the clone you met," he says, and then a smile flashes across his face as his eyes sparkle briefly with amusement. "So sorry, you will just have to adjust to the original. Speaking of which," he turns the question back to Trowa, "what is this name you have found?"

"Triton; my name is Triton Bloom..." His voice is filled with a subtle wonder at the fact.

Duo manages to get himself together, and then announces, "right! Okay, everybody, we celebrate now, right? Half an hour, our place, right, Wufei? I'll go set up, you guys go tell Une and Sally and whoever, and..."

Wufei turns Duo towards the door by the shoulders and tells him firmly to get going, then begins issuing assignments, concluding with his own course of action. He is interrupted not more than three minutes after Duo's exit by Trowa, who calls him to the vidphone - where Duo requests that his "sweetheart" scrounge up something that could be used as vegetable dip on his way back. "Yes, dear!" Wufei replies, in a chirrupy, high-pitched voice, then turns at the sound of a distinct *thud*. Quatre's mouth and Trowa's eyes have gone very wide indeed. Zechs looks rather confused, as well. Heero, however, has gotten the worst of it; he is sprawled across the floor, having evidently tried to sit down on the chair, and landed on his back and one elbow instead.

Wufei takes a good look at the three men still standing, before laughing. "You all look like... oh, like you just saw Tsuberov dancing about in a pink tutu... Here, Duo, look for yourself..." He swivels the monitor so that Duo gets a panoramic view of the room.

On the other end of the connection, Duo promptly dissolves into laughter. "Okay, you win!" he gets out, before collapsing.

"I don't mean to be rude, Wufei, but... what was that about?" It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Zechs who manages to get this question out.

"Oh, just something Duo said this afternoon. He owes me twenty creds now..." Wufei is now wearing a self-satisfied smirk that rivals Duo's usual grin.

Quatre blinks, decides the whole episode was a joke, and giggles. "Well, it's nice to see you're developing a sense of humour, Wufei, although I'm not sure it's such a good thing that you're developing Duo's sense of humour."

On opposite sides of the room, Trowa and Zechs smile and chuckle softly, at the joke, its explanation, and Quatre's obvious delighted amusement.

"Bah," Heero remarks from his position on the floor, rubbing gently at his elbow. "Maxwell's a bad influence on you, Chang. Next thing you know you'll be running around the department in a red dress and waving your sword around, screaming like a fishwife about 'injustice'."

Wufei just stares at Heero for a moment, stunned by the complete incongruity of the image he has just provided, before drawing himself up stiffly, and informing him rather tersely, "I'm afraid, Yui, that you have gotten me confused with my wife..." Of course, that particular phrasing, under the circumstances, only gathers him more blank looks. He shakes his head, not wishing to go into the details on this happy occasion. "A story for another time; remind me later." The hint of pain in his voice is gone almost before it becomes audible, except that Quatre abruptly stops laughing, and files quietly out to begin his search for fruit juice. "Well? Do we not have a party to set up for? Come on, people..." And Wufei, too, heads out the door - in search of vegetable dip and cake plates.

+

When half a dozen ex-Gundam pilots decide to get something done, it doesn't take very long to organize it. It is no more than an hour after Trowa first called them together that a small party is in full swing in Duo and Wufei's apartment. Celebratory music is playing in the background, people are circulating, and someone -probably either Dorothy or Relena - has even stopped by a bakery on their way over to pick up a small, rather plain sheet cake that has been inscribed with the words "Happy Name Day!" in a dark purplish-blue icing, and decorated with some very small multicoloured flowers. A large bowl of punch has been mixed up -and is being very carefully guarded against being inadvertently spiked - by Quatre, who is busily setting out enough small paper cups of the murky pinkish liquid to serve all of the guests. Wufei has borrowed a stack of small plates and forks from the cafe, along with the dip, and Duo has just brought out a tray of assorted vegetables to put on the table.

Seeing that everyone who probably should be present has already arrived, Duo whistles loudly, and when he has attracted everyone's attention, he announces loudly, in his best imitation of the barker for the circus, "listen up, ladies and gentlemen! We're here today to introduce y'all to a very special person! Some of you may think ya know him, but it is my distinct pleasure to present to you, for the first time ever, the new, the improved - Triton Bloom!" The new name rolls off his tongue with a decided flourish, and Trowa steps forwards, pinking slightly, and gives his friends his best stage bow. The assembled group claps, cheers, whistles, and laughs delightedly at the performance, and those who have not already done so, step forward to congratulate the new man on his naming.

Soon the congratulations swirl into general mingling and happy inconsequential chatter, and as the conversation becomes less important, so the music gradually becomes more suited to dancing. It isn't terribly long before people begin using the cleared centre of the floor for dancing, passing partners around as if it would be bad luck, or at least bad form, to dance with the same person twice. Even Heero, whose preparatory assignment involved a visit to the infirmary to find Sally and getting his sprained elbow iced and strapped, has taken a turn on the floor. Only Triton doesn't seem to join in the general merriment, waiting until Dorothy has completed her rounds and turned to him again.

"Aren't you dancing, Triton? It's your party after all," Dorothy exclaims.

"Of course I am, now that you're here," he replies, standing and holding his arms out to her in invitation. "Shall we?"

Off on the side, Quatre, who is back to ladling punch after his own tour of the floor, comments to Duo, "how very sweet they are together, don't you think?"

Duo nods, and smiles. "Ai-yup. I think they'll do just fine."

~Owari~

++

(1) While all the boys have been assigned code names, of course, Wind generally goes by 'Zechs' when code names are not required; it is what he's most used to, after all. And while the OZ Special was certainly famous, Milliardo Peacecraft was positively infamous as the madman representing the White Fang. The Prince, incidentally, is not dead, but is currently undergoing mental evaluation and treatment at an undisclosed private facility, according to certain carefully cultivated rumours...

(2) Based on the fact that it's a travelling circus, and there really wasn't time for Wufei to get to two colonies and back to Earth again, it's most likely that the circus was on L4 at the time of the Preventers 5 operation - and the circus would likely still have been there the week after when Trowa returned to it.

(3) A reference to Blind Target, at the beginning of Chapter 3; in the Japanese, Duo addresses Trowa as "oniisan"

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