by Bronze Tigress

Rainbow Sherbet + Chapter 4

At ten minutes before the main day shift ends, late that afternoon, Trowa stands up and gets his gear together. This, now, is more unusual than the silence he has kept through most of the day, since Trowa isn't known for skipping out of work early. None of the six ex-Gundam pilots are, really; they have that much in common, as well as being numbered among Une's top - and most specialized - Agents. "You leaving early today?"

"Ah, no; I wanted to check over something with Maxwell and Chang before I go; they brought back that V7-19 file this afternoon."

"Ah, that's fine then. See you tomorrow."

The errand isn't entirely faked; Trowa does want to check something with the two, but it's more a question of dinner arrangements than cases. Given Trowa's cooking skills - which according to him will suffice for either one or forty, but rarely anything in between - they decide on takeout and agree to meet back at the couple's home in an hour's time, since they are all familiar with the small size of the single quarters.

Dinner is German - schnitzel, spaetzle, kraut, carrots, and peas - and the conversation, as might be expected, has turned again to matters personal. This evening it is Duo's turn to share some of the details of the less-pleasant times of his life, when he was more or less alone on the streets after the Church burned down and before he managed to get himself caught thieving by a Gundam scientist(1). It is easy for his two listeners to see where some of his idiosyncrasies originate, as the story unfolds. Wufei, who had heard most of the tale before, is startled by a few of the more explicit details which had not previously been shared, but not terribly surprised; he has had to deal with a few odd side effects of Duo's past already.

Duo's stories continue on through dinner, cleanup, and into the living room with cups of cocoa. "And, see, that was the thing," Duo says as they take their seats there. "She told me she didn't think it was possible, until Tabitha showed her otherwise. She quit the street not too long after that. Dunno where she went, but Tabs said she'd realized she was worth more than that. I thought at the time maybe that meant she moved to one of the more expensive districts, you know? But Tabs didn't seem to think so, said she'd mentioned finding a job she was proud of. So who knows where she went? But I can't forget how Liss looked just before she left - like she had hope, again, and like she was sure something good was just waiting for her 'round the next corner. Never saw her look like that before, it was always like she was just waiting for the next bad thing to happen. I never did find out what happened -Tabs wouldn't tell me, said I was too little to have to know stuff like that - but I've got a few guesses - especially now." He grins at his partner at that, making it fairly obvious just what those guesses entail.(2)

"And then just after that," he continues, "things started going right for me for a change. In the next couple of weeks, I managed to finally get myself a new outfit, including the surcoat even, to replace the collection of patches I'd been wearing. And a lot of other good stuff too, although the circumstances were pretty dodgy sometimes. It hadn't even been a whole month after that when I got caught by G and the Sweepers. At first I didn't think getting caught was so good, but then I met 'Scythe, and well... Anyway, you know how it turned out after that.

"And the best part of all, I guess, was getting to know you guys and work with you all. I named myself for my first two families, but now, you guys, you're my family now, too. Like you said back in May, Tro, we're all brothers. There's nobody else who did what we did, who could know what it's like to be a Gundam pilot, to live through what we did. And I'm starting to think maybe, just maybe, I can let Shinigami go, now. Hell, we all damn near died in the war. And we're all still alive now. Maybe I'm not cursed after all, y'know?"

Wufei puts his now-empty cup down on the low table, gently detaches Duo's fingers from his to put it down as well, and draws his lover into his lap in a comforting hug. "We all lost our families to the wars, Duo. It is merely that some of us had them for longer to begin with, or found replacements earlier and for longer. You and Merquise named yourselves; Triton and Yui wore the names of others - and Yui still does. Only Winner and I knew our given families for long enough to count. We are all war orphans - although I was deemed a man before I lost what family I had, so perhaps I would not be counted so. We have all paid the price for the lives we took in the lives of those we loved. Your curse, if curse it truly is, is shared by us all now. I believe, altogether, we should end up being only one-sixth dead each, hm?"

"I've said it before, Wufei, and I'll have to say it again - you are a strange one... but probably correct. I wonder which parts of me are gonna die?"

"Silly," notes Wufei, swatting playfully at Duo's arm, "I am trying to be serious here!"

"I know! I know..." Duo wriggles away from the swat, not quite incidentally managing to squirm enticingly against Wufei's lap. "Anyway, Tro," he says, turning towards their guest again, "that's why you're here. I couldn't help Tabs get out, or any of the other walkers, but I can use what I learned from them to make things better for someone else. And what I've learned from Wufei, too - not just about going on from here, but what he finally figured out about righteous justice. It's not about revenge. It's about setting things right again, and how to do that... Hmm... jussec..."

With that, he squirms out of Wufei's lap, stands, and walks over to the AV system in the corner, flicks it on, sets it to audio, and then flips quickly through a few screens before finding what he is looking for. Soft guitar chords and a raspy male voice starts to sing, words that speak startlingly close to home for both Trowa and Duo, and then the singer breaks into a more melodic chorus that enjoins the listener to "kiss the past goodbye".(3)

"Very end of the 20th AD - you're sure not the first, and I doubt you'll be the last, Tro, 'cause it's just the same thing over and over, in every time period. But you've gotta let it go, because the alternative is to lose yourself."

"And you can help...?"

"Have we not already begun to?" is Wufei's answering query. "You spent the day locked in your own thoughts, according to Merquise. What did your contemplations gain you?"

"A heck of a blush and a few other problems, actually."

Duo snorts with laugher. "Okay, aside from the wood, what'd you get out of it? I think we already decided that you'd seen something unprecedented. The question is, knowing it's possible, what do you want to do about it? What's next, Tro?"

"I guess, really, that depends on what you're offering..."

"Whatever it takes, I think; right, Dragon-baby?"

"I will not be answering that unless you stop with the nickname..."

Duo kisses Wufei on the nose, eliciting a sputter, and then presses a soft kiss to his lips in apology, before turning back to Trowa. "How about, you tell us what you think will help, and we see from there? You need to talk? Great, we can do more of that, in as much detail as you like. You need to see? um... This really isn't a theatre, but... You need to do? We've already discussed that between us, and we can do that. It's why we'd originally suggested the weekend. Regardless, I believe you get the detailed lecture on the anatomical differences and how those work from Wufei..." Wufei nods at that.

"Ah... hm. All of the above?" Trowa sounds hopeful, but hesitant, as if he is afraid he is asking for far more than he is entitled to.

"Okay. You need to do - which role?"

"Ah..." Trowa is lost for words at how easily the request is granted. "Okay?" Disbelief clearly tinges the word.

"I run, I hide, but..."

"You never lie. 'Okay' it is then. Fah..." More disbelief, shading into surprised acceptance.

"Triton." Wufei leans over and takes Trowa's chin in one hand, turning his face and looking directly into his eyes. "You are our brother. We love you. Not in the same way as each other, of course, but that is as it should be, since you have someone already who does. We would not have offered were we not willing, nor had we not believed you were worthy of the gift. Do not question that; ask yourself, instead, what you are willing and able to accept of it."

"And what you can live with," Duo adds, "and what you're going to tell Dorothy - which, by the way, you might want to think about doing sometime real soon. I know what they say about forgiveness and permission, but it doesn't work that way with this sort of thing in relationships. Trust me on this one."

"Ah, yeah. True." Trowa thinks for a moment. "Can we try for both? Roles, that is? I think that would probably help, having a better experience to look back on. That assumes it will be one, mind." Glances at both of his friends' faces, however, show him only the certainty that it will be. "I know I want to have some idea of what I'm doing with Doro. And you're right. I'm going to see about talking to her about this tomorrow or Friday. She deserves to know - not just what I'm going to be doing this weekend, but why, and why I was putting her off before, since it's become obvious that distancing myself wasn't really keeping her from hurting."

"No, it was not. Good. In fact, if you like, you can call her now?" Wufei waves towards the phone with one hand.

"Hmm. Thanks, appreciate it." That said, Trowa quickly makes use of the vidphone to place a call to his girlfriend, making a date for the following evening. "Okay, all set. And, I told her the three of us had something for the weekend, so she knows not to tag us for Saturday's Tea party. So, now what?"

"Well, either you go home and sleep on it some, or you stay for a while and practice a bit."

"Practice?" Trowa looks blankly puzzled by the second option Duo has just put forth. "What do you mean?"

"Tro, think about it. You're planning to spend Saturday in bed with us. That means naked, full body contact. Tell me you're ready for that?"

Trowa blinks. "Eh... no, I suppose not."

"Didn't think so. We can start a little slower than that, okay? 'Fei, do we still have some of that massage oil, or the body lotion?" Duo is already working on undoing his shirt buttons as he speaks, and once again turns to the AV, this time picking some soft instrumental music that sounds to Trowa like an odd combination of traditional Chinese music with some decidedly newer and much more Western instruments and themes. It is softly soothing, little ripples of sound floating gently about the room.(4) "There, it's set to loop, so if you hate it tell me now before I get... aloe lotion all over my hands." This last is in response to the bottle Wufei has just returned with and is holding up for inspection.

"Back rubs all around, I take it? Good idea. But, perhaps I should do Triton's first, and then he can do yours? That way he has to pay attention to what I'm doing, and you will be able to tell if he was. If that works for you both...?" Getting a nod from Duo, he turns to Trowa, and waits until he nods as well before continuing. "Good. You will need to take the shirt off, Triton. Hmm. Are you going to be comfortable in those pants or do you want to borrow a pair of Duo's sweats? His should fit you; I am sure mine would be too short..."

Trowa is, once again, caught blinking and feeling rather confused. In fact, he is beginning to think that he has been in a continual state of slightly dazed confusion for most of the past 24 hours and then some. "Ah... isn't the point of this exercise to get the clothes off?" It is notable that even as he is speaking, his hands are moving to undo his cuffs, and then the front of his shirt.

"No," Duo replies, "the point of the exercise is to get you a bit more comfortable with - or at least more used to - skin contact. It wouldn't help to start off by making you uncomfortable. We're already pushing things way faster than we probably ought to be. You say the word, we stop. It's up to you. Like that juggling trick, I guess; we'll keep tossing in knives as fast as you can keep working 'em in, but ultimately, you are in charge of how far this goes."

Trowa assesses that statement quietly, fingers still working at buttons, noting especially that it comes from Duo, and what that implies. By the time he has pulled the shirt off and folded it, he has evidently come to a decision, because as he straightens from putting the shirt on the couch, he reaches for his belt buckle, undoing it. The pants button and zipper are next, accompanied by a rather startled, "Tro?" from Duo.

"It's okay, Duo. I take my shirt off in front of thousands of people every time I'm on stage with the Circus; I think I can handle you two seeing me with no pants, right? Where do you want me, Wufei?" The pants in question have already been slipped off slender hips and dropped to the floor, and Trowa steps gracefully out of them, then bends to pick them up and fold them, putting them neatly atop the shirt.

Wufei waves him towards the tatami - a much-appreciated apartment-warming gift from Heero - and with a shrug, begins taking his own uniform off as he heads into the bedroom. He is back inside a minute, dressed again in the loose red pants he wore the night before. His hair is still pulled back in its tail, however. In the meantime, Trowa, wearing socks and skivvies as if it were just another costume, has arranged himself face-down on the mat, head pillowed on folded arms, legs stretched out, knees and ankles together and one foot tucked under the other. Duo manages to close his mouth about the same time as Wufei makes his reappearance, then shakes his head abruptly, mutters something that sounds rather like, "Didn't think it'd be that easy", and takes himself off to the bedroom to change as well.

Wufei walks around beside Trowa's face, looks down, and shakes his head. "Triton? Could you either turn your head the other way, or move your hair? I need to be able to see your expressions..." Trowa's whole body stiffens almost imperceptibly, and there is no response for a moment, so Wufei continues, "It is only that it is usually quicker to tell if something is hurting you from your facial expressions than by relying on reading muscle tensions. Triton..." Wufei's voice holds a measure of concern as he kneels above the young man's head, laying one hand lightly on his friend's forearm, "Do you need to stop, or wait for a bit?"

The voice and hand draw Trowa's attention, and he draws a deep breath and holds it a moment before breathing out again and saying, "No, Wufei, I'm okay. Just... funny what makes us feel most vulnerable, right? I don't recall ever being really comfortable with showing my face, and I can't even remember why."

"Surely you are not ashamed of it?" Wufei is more than a little surprised by the thought. "This is not a face to be embarrassed by!"

"Ahh..."

"Heh. Let him be, 'Fei. A face that beautiful draws too much attention, when you're trying to go unnoticed. It's no wonder. I knew the pants were too easy..." Duo's voice is bright but sympathetic to begin with, and slides immediately through the slightest touch of appreciative lust right into slightly disappointed understanding. "It's not so bad, when the audience can't really see you, nor you them, right?"

Trowa nods, then speaks again. "Thanks... really, Duo. You're right, it's not the same. Then again, like you said, this isn't a show, right?"

Duo shakes his head. "Nope. Just us. We're in this together; nobody's watching, nobody's judging. It's okay to take the mask off, Tro. This is a safe place; we're here for you..."

Trowa nods against his arms. "Okay..." He lifts his head enough to brush his bangs down, off his face, before dropping it back down. His eyes are closed, so he misses the view of Duo back in the black pants he'd admired the evening before. Wufei doesn't, however, as he turns to smile his gratitude to his mate for the intervention.

"Very well, then. Shall we begin, Triton? I'm going to move over to your side here, and... lotion, Duo? Thank you..." He warms it in his palms before continuing the soft patter of explanatory speech, "We start at the shoulders, just so..." Wufei's voice continues as his hands do, always one step ahead of any movement, hands never losing contact with Trowa's skin, although periodically one turns over. Trowa realizes that Duo must be giving Wufei more lotion at those moments, although there is never a difference in temperature, so he assumes Duo must be warming it as well.

Wufei works his way slowly across the entire expanse of Trowa's back, gradually moving downwards and outwards, ending at the small hollow where the top of the hipbone intersects with the spine, and tracing that line gently outwards, finally resting his hands gently at Trowa's waist as he announces that he is done, and how is that?

"Mmnnnn..." Trowa seems to almost shake himself out of (yet another) daze. "And here I thought I was the one who's supposed to be good with skittish creatures..." He rolls each shoulder and then stretches, oddly without having to get up, but somehow managing to test each muscle along his spine. He ends by rocking his head in several directions. "I certainly know where to come when a mission goes strange and I have to play pretzel to get us out of it, now, that's for sure. Thank you, Wufei, that was..."

"Something else for the data file?" is Duo's suggestion. Trowa actually chuckles at that, then blinks his eyes open and begins gathering himself together to kneel up beside where he had been lying.

"Alright, then, let's see how much of that I can remember. Your turn, Duo, right?" He indicates the space between himself and Wufei with a sweeping gesture. Duo accordingly flops himself down in the indicated space, head on arms and legs loosely laid out, slightly apart. He has, however, somehow managed to tuck his hair under his neck and has the end of the braid tucked into his hands. Wufei raises an eyebrow when he notices that but makes no other comment. "Now, we start with some lotion, right? Wufei?" Trowa holds out a hand, palm up, and is given a small amount of the lotion which he is instructed to warm by rubbing it in his hands before beginning, then moves to start at Duo's shoulders.

At first, Trowa seems hesitant, until a too-soft touch on a ticklish spot causes a giggled yelp and an almost growled admonishment to use firmer pressure. Things proceed smoothly after that. As Trowa's hands move across Duo's back, his focus gradually shifts from the actual movements his hands are making and the specific firmness of touch required, to the way it feels, and he begins to realize how pleasant it is to be able to simply run his hands over that expanse of skin. Too soon, it seems, he is done.

By that point, it is getting well into the evening, and Trowa, needing to take care of some of his own household chores, opts to return home for the night rather than staying in the guest room again. And so, a few minutes later he is dressed and shod again. This time, however, he requires no prompting to draw Duo into a light hug before kissing him goodnight, or to then accord the same treatment to Wufei, before rather shyly thanking them both, and taking his leave.

"And you, Dragon - your turn now?" Duo's voice suggests far more than just the returned massage as he turns to lead the way back to the tatami. Wufei closes the door, then, leaving Trowa to guess at the remainder of the conversation as he heads down the hallway towards home.

++

(1) As far as I can tell from Duo's Episode Zero, there are a good four years between when the Maxwell Church is bombed and when Duo is picked up by the Sweepers group.

(2) Tabs and Liss aren't canon, they're mine.

(3) The song is Aerosmith's "Kiss Your Past Goodbye", from the 1997 "Nine Lives" album; as for the online stereo - the technology is already available for this.

(4) This album is by ShaoRong, titled "Orchid", from 2000; highly recommended if you can find it.

[ch. 3] [ch. 5] [back to Bronze Tigress' fic]