Hello, all!!  I just want to take a quick break to tell you all "Thank you!" for commenting!! I'm sorry I'm so bad at replying to comments, but I read and love and deeply ponder each one of them! Thank you SO much!!!!  And thank DA, who pojked and prodded me, for this update ;)
No, no Duo yet ;) But some Quatre being a guy...
by Shoori

Marking it Down to Learning + Chapter 9
This Endless, Aching Need


Quatre sighed, stopping in his tracks for a moment as he entered the living quarters of the huge Sanc townhouse that had been part of his enormous inheritance. He stood still for a moment, then shook his head sharply, pushing into the room and closing the door behind him. He moved into the kitchen, flicking on lights as he went, and placed his briefcase on the counter. He opened the fridge and peered inside, staring wearily at the contents as though, if he looked long enough, they'd turn into a ready-to-eat meal, waiting for his consumption.

After a few minutes of staring at the crammed shelves, he finally was forced to surrender to the idea that the raw materials weren't going to turn into dinner any time soon. With another sigh, he pulled out a white container that held some kind of Chinese take-out that he was fairly certain wasn't too old, and a can of Coke. He didn't usually drink caffeinated drinks this late at night, but if he didn't, he was going to fall down.

He opened the small white container and sniffed. Lo mein. And it didn't smell too bad... He dumped the noodles into a bowl, fastidiously wrinkling his nose when they retained the shape of the container they'd been stored in. Very appetizing. He pulled the congealed mass apart with a fork, then began shoveling the cold noodles into his mouth.

He grabbed his Coke, and wandered through the apartment to the living room, toeing off his shoes as he went and leaving them where they fell. He plopped down on the large sectional sofa, and put the can down on the coffee table, heedless of the polished wooden surface, and grabbed the remote control.

He flicked casually through the channels as he ate his impromptu meal. Nothing much unusual going on so far as the rest of the world was concerned. The markets had risen a few points. Some psycho had been caught kidnapping people and holding them hostage in the Americas. He stopped momentarily as a couple of familiar faces flashed across the screen - Queen Relena and her brother, Prince Milliardo, were in Paris, attending a World Nations summit.

Quatre grinned as he devoured another forkful of the lo mein, sucking the dangling ends back into his mouth. Prince Milliardo.

Poor Zechs. He'd just wanted to be by himself, to go off and sit somewhere being happily miserable and alone. But that hadn't fit Relena's agenda. She'd bullied him into coming back to Sanc, resuming the title he'd been born with, and helping her with government matters, political and cultural functions and international affairs.

Duo had termed him "Relena's Diplomacy Bitch."

Quatre grinned again as the news blurb continued to unfold. They were showing a clip of Relena's speech. She stood at some podium, speaking away on her favorite topic - Absolute Pacifism. Zechs - Prince Milliardo - stood behind her to her right, his face grave, his attention properly focused on her.

He was so much prettier than she was. It was amazing that Relena didn't realize that, and make sure he had less camera time.

But then, Relena was incredibly politically astute. She probably knew full well that her brother was more attractive than she was, and realized that having Mr. Hottie with her all the time could only help keep people's attention focused on her. Besides, Zechs was great at his job, was often a much-needed voice of reason, and was very popular with the general public, despite the fact that he'd once attempted to destroy a fifth of the population of the planet.

People could forgive a lot, if you were six foot two, built, with long blond hair and fascinatingly piercing ice blue eyes.

Quatre flicked off the remote and set his empty bowl down on the table. He stood and picked up the can of Coke and finished it off in several big gulps. He dropped the can negligently onto the table and stretched, reaching high above his head, feeling the vertebrae in his back crack. He belched loudly, and his stomach growled as the food and liquid settled.

"Excuse me!" he said aloud to the empty room. He brought his hands down, rubbed his stomach, and sighed. He guessed it didn't really matter if he was disgusting. There was noone here to witness it.

It was after midnight. He'd been at work all day, memorizing increasingly complex lies, scenarios and possible accounts for this mission. He'd had to talk to Dacia and Michel today, had to see their faces as he explained to them his role in their attempted take-over of the Order, and had to ask those children for details of how their... patrons had behaved.

He hadn't wanted to make them relive all of that. He certainly hadn't wanted to take fucking notes on what they told him. It had sickened him. This whole mission was sickening him.

But they had to go through with it. They had to get it done, as soon as possible, so that those people weren't tormenting innocents like Dacia and Michel any more.

Plus, the sooner they were done with the mission, the sooner they could turn their full attention to finding Duo.

Quatre sighed aloud, picking up the discarded bowl and can and padding his way back to the kitchen to put them away.

It had been a week now since the other man had disappeared. One week since everything that had been status quo for three years had been completely and utterly disrupted, upended, destroyed.

For days they'd all scattered, each of them retreating into their own little shells of shock and hurt. Finally, he and Wufei had talked, and managed to confess to each other that they didn't want to lose everything that they'd come to care about over the course of those three years. They'd cornered Heero, who had been amazed and grateful to find that he wasn't despised by everyone for the enormity of his blunder.

Quatre scowled as he opened the refrigerator again, poking through the contents for something more to eat. Heero. Quatre really, really wished he'd managed to handle himself just a little better. Even if he'd continued being remarkably obnoxious and insensitive to Duo - as Quatre had no doubt that Heero had been - if he'd at least stayed to be that way Duo wouldn't have been able to disappear so thoroughly.

Quatre was... very... worried about Duo. The American had a deep tendency toward melancholy, one that he generally concealed so well that Quatre was sure that the others didn't even really know of its existence. The only reason he knew about it was because of his own abilities. During the war, he'd spent a good deal of time with Duo, and had become familiar with the streak of depression and hopelessness that was the dark balance to Duo's generally bright, happy nature.

Since the war, Quatre had had as little to do with his own empathic abilities as possible. It was... uncomfortable to be able to sense everyone's emotions all the time. Even though he'd begun to become much better at directing and controlling this strange sense of his, he'd suddenly wanted no part of it. It was... a burden, and he'd borne burdens enough in his short life. He'd wanted some time off.

And he'd taken it off... taken several years off. Oh, he'd worked for the Preventers, he'd managed his family's company and his family - the company was much easier to handle and more rewarding as well - and he'd instigated and built up the arrangement that had grown between him and the other four former Gundam pilots. But he'd relished the distance that he'd established between himself and other people. His thoughts and feelings remained inside of him, and he'd kept other people's out.

It had been... relaxing.

But it had also been, he was forced to admit, something of a cop-out.

He pulled a plastic container out of the fridge, this one filled with rice and some sort of white substance. He grabbed another fork and tasted it - one of Wufei's concoctions. It kind of sucked cold. He continued eating it, though, leaning against the counter as he chewed.

He might not like the fact that he had this other sense, but by virtue of the fact that he had it, he ought to use it. So maybe it wasn't fair that he was the one that always had to be on the alert, always had to be fixing things and worrying about the concerns of other people. Oh well.

That was the doctrine his father had preached to him all his life. Put your own wants and desires aside, and focus on the needs of the people you are responsible for. In his father's view, that had been the family and the people employed by Winner.

When Quatre had submitted to H's schemes and joined the war, he'd insisted that he was following that credo - put the needs of others first. He could admit now, though, that he hadn't really been that altruistic at all. He'd been following his own quest for adventure, his own need to make something of his life that was of his own devising, rather than following in the path that his father and family and dynasty had laid out so neatly before him.

Sure, he had managed to help people through his actions in the war. But that had been mostly incidental. In essence, he was merely what his father had labeled him - a disobedient child.

He'd gone off and fought, and done what he signed on to do. He'd found, though, much to his own consternation, that the world and the people in it weren't what he'd thought they should be - weren't what they were supposed to be. They weren't all working for Good with a capital "G," as defined by Quatre Raberba Winner.

That had pissed him off, and he'd been angry ever since. To punish the world for not living up to his standards, he'd withdrawn from it. Oh, he still worked to make things better. But not to the best of his capabilities. The one skill that separated him from everyone else, that gave him a decided edge, he'd refused to exercise. He wasn't going to cause himself the added stress and pain that the use of his power could bring in the service of a world that didn't appreciate it.

A world that didn't appreciate him. That didn't run to do what he wanted because he was himself and deserved that.

He'd been a moron. Of course things weren't going to work out that way. What was ever achieved without work and misery and effort? Who ever really changed anything without making enemies? If everyone liked you, you just weren't doing your job right.

But he'd refused to acknowledge that. He'd... he'd been sulking. Pouting, as his father had called it, a demeaning insult that had driven him to incoherent fury in his childhood. He'd been fourteen - fourteen-year-olds didn't pout!

Well, now he was twenty-three, and was having to face the fact that he'd been pouting for six years. It was rather lowering.

"All right, Dad, you win," he muttered aloud, swallowing the last of Wufei's crummy rice dish and throwing the empty bowl into the sink. "You were right. Now what?"

No cosmic revelations came to guide him from beyond the veil, although he stood still, the tile cold against his socks, for a full two minutes. He sighed, and opened the fridge again, pulling out the milk. He grabbed a box of cereal from one cabinet and a bowl from another, and poured one into the other, finishing it off with half the remaining milk.

He pushed himself up onto the counter, and began to eat the cereal. It was one of Duo's cereals, multi-colored and sugary, and he noted as he ate it that it was turning the milk pink. Pretty neat.

But it made him think again of Duo, drawing his mind back to the current dilemma. Quatre sighed. How had everything gotten so very complicated so quickly?

Wufei and Heero were both still back at Preventer Headquarters. Wufei was drilling his troops. It was a good thing that he'd never actually been part of any military organization. He'd have killed recruits, not purposely, but they'd have expired from exhaustion within days of beginning training with Wufei. Fortunately, everyone he was working with was a trained Preventer, with enhanced abilities and endurance. That was probably the only factor that was keeping them from revolting and murdering Wufei.

Quatre didn't even want to think about Heero's activities. He knew that the Japanese man was one of the most skilled computer scientists in the world, but the thought of Heero blithely wandering through his business, personal and financial records set his teeth on edge. Added to that was the knowledge that Heero was traipsing through those records to plant evidence of illegal deeds in them, and it was enough to make Quatre want to howl. It was necessary. He knew that. That's why he was allowing it. But he didn't have to like it.

Better Heero than anyone else, though. Heero knew the steps to take to protect him. The last time he'd seen the Japanese man, earlier that afternoon, Heero had been engaged in a full-scale verbal battle with Une. The woman had been bellowing at him to stop bothering her and just make the necessary changes, and she'd authorize them after the fact. Heero, hardly raising his voice, had told her that he would see her, himself and the entire Preventers organization permanently relocated to someplace very, very hot and uncomfortable before he would believe that one. Une's face had taken on a very unbecoming hue somewhere between red and purple, and Quatre had hurried away, not wanting to be a part of the ensuing explosion.

But it was comforting to know that Heero had that particular problem safely under control.

Trowa. Quatre sighed, the spoon slowing in its path between his bowl and his mouth. He hadn't seen Trowa for more than five or ten minutes at a time since the night a week ago when he'd let bombshells, punches and recriminations fly all over the place.

He'd been so angry at Heero - Quatre had rarely seen Trowa that angry before. He'd tuned into his own empathy again for the first time in almost a year, trying to gather some sense of what had happened from Heero. Heero's own guilt and pain had been hard enough to handle. But Trowa...

Trowa was angry, far more angry than even the desperate situation warranted. He was angry at Heero, but his anger was not reserved for Heero... most of it wasn't even focused on anyone at all. It had no discernable source, and the focus was smeared and spread over everything that Trowa saw or thought about or encountered...

He'd only seen Trowa that angry once. It was on a mission, after a target who had kidnapped, tortured, mutilated and killed several innocent women and children. Trowa's rage had been visible in his face, his eyes, his body language... He'd vented that anger on the target. They hadn't been able to stop him, and by the time he was done... they had to access the man's dental records to get a positive ID.

They'd managed to conceal most of what had happened from Une, but even with her limited understanding of the situation, she'd threatened to throw Trowa out of the organization and into jail if anything like that ever happened again.

That incident had been profoundly unsettling, but they'd all decided that it was the stress of the case that had made Trowa react so strongly. Some of the children involved had been very young, and the killer had left them in... horrifying positions for the authorities to find.

But that time Quatre hadn't been attuned to Trowa's emotions. He only saw and responded to him in the same detached way that everyone else interacted with the people they encountered. He'd only called on the regular five senses to observe Trowa in that instance.

This time, Trowa was almost, if not just as angry, and Quatre had employed his empathy. And it had been painful. Acutely, physically painful, in a way that his ability had never really been painful before.

Trowa was so angry, and that anger consumed him, filled him, and hurt him as much as sharing it had hurt Quatre. It had been... shocking to find out how much powerful rage swirled beneath Trowa's impassive facade.

And then... still reeling from that shock came further shocks. Duo's past, and Trowa's. Quatre had a bit of an advantage on Wufei and Heero - he'd known that there was a deep horror lurking in each man's background, knew that each bore scars from wounds that had gone deep and bitten painfully and that had, in many ways, never really healed.

But they had seemed healed. And he'd shut off his power, so he hadn't known that they weren't healed, really.

He'd failed them. Both of them. All of them, actually. He alone, of the five of them, had had the ability to anticipate, and perhaps prevent, this disaster. But he hadn't, because it was uncomfortable for him.

Maybe it was time to do what his father had been urging him to do when he was fifteen, and grow up.

Quatre grimaced at the thought, and stared morosely down into the bowl. The cereal was gone, except for one or two sodden pieces that floated forlornly in the tinted milk. He heaved a great sigh, and lifted the bowl to his mouth, gulping down the milk.

He swore as some of it escaped the edge, and ran down his chin and chest, soaking into his shirt. He set the bowl down and pushed himself off the counter, pulling the wet shirt over his head, cursing as the buttoned cuffs refused to pull over his hands. He finally managed to wrench the garment completely off, and threw it spitefully on the floor.

Time to grow up. And that meant, time to face the music.

Time to face Trowa.

Trowa was here - he'd known it since the minute he walked into the apartment. But he'd been stalling. He hadn't wanted to face it.

For one, he didn't want to feel more of that rage. He still wasn't sure how to handle it, and it had frankly hurt to experience.

And because he'd still been reeling from that part-physical, part-mental pain, he'd handled Trowa's confession about his past very badly.

Trowa had practically told them what he'd wanted to hear when he'd told Heero how the Japanese man should have reacted to Duo - he wanted to be told that it didn't matter, that they didn't think any differently of him, thatthey still cared about him. He wanted them to stay with him, assure him with their presence that he was still a worthy person.

And they - he - hadn't done that. They'd met his story with horrified silence, or exclamations of shock or pity. Trowa had then continued to push his limits, to see if he could really push them away, and it had worked. Heero had shoved him away, and when he fell, none of them had helped him up.

He'd extended a hand. But he'd done it hesitantly, afraid that Trowa would turn on him as he had turned on Heero.

And Trowa had read that fear in his face.

In that moment, the hottest of the rage had faded away, replaced by pain, loss and betrayal. He hadn't even needed his ability to know that - those feelings had been clearly written on Trowa's suddenly open, vulnerable face.

But by then it had been too late. Trowa had turned his back on them and left, left them as surely as Duo had left them, if not as literally.

He'd stayed - stayed at work, stayed at the house - but he was biding time. Quatre knew it. He was waiting for the mission to be over, and for them all to find Duo and ensure that he was safe, and then he planned to leave.

Because he believed that, because of his past, they wouldn't want him anymore.

One of the worst parts of Duo's departure had been the realization that he had left because he didn't trust them - didn't believe that the other four had cared about him enough to accept him, regardless of what he had done or what had been done to him in the past.

It had hurt to know that he hadn't believed in them, but it had also hurt to realize that they had failed him. He shouldn't have thought they would react like that. But he had.

Then, the same night, moments after that painful realization, he'd been forced to face the very same failure, again. This time the hurt and reproach didn't come to him through a note penned in despair, but through a look of hurt betrayal in suddenly bereft green eyes.

Quatre kicked his discarded shirt in petulant frustration, cursing as the damp material tangled around his foot. What did everything have to be so damn complicated?

Yeah, why did a five-way relationship between five men with wildly different backgrounds, all laced with varying degrees of trauma, have to be complicated?

His father had wasted a lot of money on his education.

Quatre squared his shoulders, and hurried out of the kitchen, heading toward the east wing, which held all of their private rooms. That, he knew, was where he'd find Trowa.

He slowed down as he entered the wing. Two of the doors were open, and light poured into the corridor from each room.

Trowa's room, and Duo's.

Quatre frowned in confusion. He sniffed the air as a sharp odor caught his attention. He knew what the smell was, but he couldn't quite place it. It was something familiar, something that he had smelled frequently before, but it seemed somehow out of place here tonight...

He stopped in front of the first door, Duo's, and peered into the room. It was empty, but his eyes widened in amazement, and he stepped in, forgetting to be quiet in his surprise.

He could now identify the strange odor that had permeated the hallway. It was paint. Duo's room, which had been decorated in understated yellows and greens, was now a bright, vibrant blue. It was almost the color of the sky on a hot summer day, but a little deeper, a little more vivid. He touched the wall gingerly. The paint was dry, but the smell that still hung in the air established that it had been recently applied.

The pale coverlet and eyelet-edged pillowcases were gone. The bed, which was placed against a different wall than it had been before, was covered with a black comforter, shot through with seemingly-random streaks of violet and red and the same blue that covered the walls. Matching curtains framed the two windows. The bureau and desk were still there, but they'd been pushed to different places. The bureau rested against the opposite wall from the head of the bed, and a large, new vidset rested atop it. The remote that controlled the set rested on the bedside table, which held a new, much-brighter lamp.

Quatre turned around in a circle in the middle of the room, trying to take in all the changes. The walls, that had been covered with a few prints that had matched the room, were mostly bare. A few posters were hanging up, other spaces were apparently reserved for future finds. One poster Quatre recognized as a portrayal of Duo's favorite rock band. Another showed characters from one of the mangas he read religiously. Another was a humor print, emblazoned with a slogan that, though it made Quatre wince, he knew Duo would have found incredibly funny.

[cont]