In which Quatre finds his friends to be irritating. Poor must suck to be an empath around this crew...
by: Shoori

I Know Who I Want... + Part 14

I glance around the table, carefully monitoring all my friends, while trying to seem as though I'm not. Since Duo, Trowa and Heero walked in a few minutes ago, the feeling of tension in the room has just been increasing.

It doesn't seem like they're fighting, though. They don't feel angry. Well, Heero does a little. But it's not...

I can't really describe it. Wufei asks me sometimes about the feelings I get from people, and always seems surprised at how hard I find it to articulate them. But really - think of how hard it can be to articulate your own feelings sometimes. Now imagine feeling someone else's emotions, filtering them through your own perceptions, then trying to separate them from yourself and explain them to someone else.

It's particularly hard with anyone that I'm close to, because it's just difficult to have the experience of feeling your friends' emotions. Especially when those emotions that you - and they - are feeling are negative or hurtful.

Heero is angry, but not at the other two. It's that futile, frustrated sort of anger that has no target, and so is the worst kind. It's also the kind generally turned upon the self.

Duo is worried. Nervous. Everything isn't as it's supposed to be, but he's not sure how to go about making it right.

And Trowa... Trowa is the hardest to read, because Trowa is better than anyone I have ever encountered at repressing his emotions. When he's doing that and I try to read him, I just get this deep, dark sense of nameless... feeling just sitting there, seething menacingly beneath an undisturbed surface.

I told Wufei that once, after the latest war, when we were discussing all of our friends, and he was very dissatisfied with that explanation. Wufei is very literal sometimes - he believes that everything can be explained, categorized and catalogued. I argued that the human vocabulary is severely limited when it comes to emotional expression, as it was mainly created to describe things tangible and visible, things that must be worked with, described and controlled in order to ensure purely physical survival. It's only in the last few centuries since sustaining life has become so much easier that the majority of people have had the time to worry much about their thoughts and emotions. Human language just hasn't kept pace with that development.

After the intense philosophical debate that that argument sparked, though, Wufei dragged me back to the subject of Trowa, asking that I try to explain to him what I meant by the feeling of repression I got off of him. I tried to explain it in physical terms. Have you ever been in pain - in the dentist chair, when you fell and hurt yourself, when you sprained your ankle - and felt that for some reason or another you weren't free to express that pain? Sometimes, when I'm in that situation, I create a smaller pain - bite my tongue, pinch my arm, dig my toe into the ground - and focus all of my attention on that pain. I feel it, experience it, focus on it to the exclusion of the larger pain. After a moment all I feel is that pain, from my tongue, my arm, my toe. All the time, however, the knowledge of that larger pain lingers in the back of my mind, the realization that it's there, waiting to spring on me if I let my attention slip for the barest of instants.

Trowa is like that. He deliberately focuses on the need to feel nothing until he does feel nothing - but the pent-up stream of painful emotion is there all the while, straining to crash through the barriers that he has created and descend with the fury of a tidal wave on his head.

Wufei stared at me for a moment after I told him that. Then he pulled me to him without a word and made love to me for hours. He hasn't asked me about Trowa since.

As my eyes move from face to face, though, I wonder for the umpteenth time about the veracity of my ‘gift.' Do I really feel these things off of people, or am I just really good at observing and cataloguing body language?

Heero's sitting bolt upright in his chair, in a posture that suggests that the seat he's sitting in is a straight construction of the most unyielding wood, rather than an ergonomically designed creation of the supplest leather. His jaw is tight - always a sign of tension to anyone who knows him. His hands rest flat on the tabletop, seemingly relaxed, but closer observation shows that the very tips of his fingers are pressed hard against the surface of the table, as if he's trying to dig them into the polished wood.

Duo is fidgeting madly - demonstrating how the seat swivels, sliding away from the table and then gripping its surface to pull himself back to it, teasing Wufei and laughing at his outraged responses, tugging at the collar of his crisp white dress shirt and laughingly berating Trowa for using too much starch when he ironed it, demanding of me whether or not I can believe that Trowa Barton, feared Gundam pilot, is actually so domesticated as to be ironing shirts... he hasn't been silent for a second since he entered the room. Duo is rarely silent, but there's a frenetic quality to his speech today that underlines his inner apprehension.

In stark contrast, Trowa has hardly spoken. He looks comfortable - there's none of Heero's rigid tension or Duo's frantic movement in his posture - he leans back in the comfortable chair, arms loosely crossed, calmly observing the room. He even smiles faintly at some of Duo's remarks, and responds politely to my and Wufei's questions and comments. But the blankness that he's keeping from his face appears in his eyes, and the tone of his voice is bland and expressionless.

I don't know. I don't know how much of my empathy is true feeling and how much is observation. But I suppose it doesn't matter. I know for a fact that something is wrong between my three friends, something that I can't help them with because I don't know if even they know what it is, or have even acknowledged that it exists.

They don't need this, any of this. They don't need Relena's bitchiness, or the World Council's weak indecision, or the pressure of coming down on one side or another of an issue... they need time.

But then, as Wufei pointed out to me last night, they had a year away from the world. It's a lot more time than most people get alone to work out their differences. Maybe they really do need to learn how to interact with each other within the world, with all the annoyances and inconveniences and troubles of everyday life that invariably intrude on us all.

I repress a sigh. Maybe they do need all that. But it doesn't make it any easier, or any better.

"So, Q," Duo says, suddenly directing a comment to me, "Are you planning on feeding us?"

I repress a smile. My father taught me a long time ago one of his favorite tricks for shortening the length of a meeting that threatened to go on forever. If, he said, you had people gathered together that you knew would go on and on and on you had to manipulate the situation so that they were willing to cut themselves off. Otherwise, they would complain that you didn't allow them to say everything they needed to say. The best way to do that is to schedule the meeting an hour or so before a normal meal time. Lunch works best, he taught me, because the dinner hour varies wildly for a lot of people. But everyone has lunch at around the same time, and most people skip or skimp on breakfast, so they're usually hungriest at lunch. So you schedule a meeting a little before lunch, make vague promises of a meal after the meeting, and let them go. When they get hungry enough, they'll all push to finish so that they can eat. If you feed them first, he warned, they'll settle in for the duration and you'll be stuck.

He was absolutely right. I've used this tactic many times over the course of the last few years, and it almost always works. I've rarely had an eleven o'clock meeting that went past two o'clock.

I'm not sure quite why I felt that this one needed to be scheduled this way. I just think that it's best if we can all meet, discuss and finish as efficiently as possible.

"We'll have lunch when we're done," I tell Duo, smiling in amusement at his theatrical groan of despair.

There's a knock on the door. We're meeting in one of the conference rooms in the business wing of my mansion here in Sanc. It used to be owned by some Sanc noble whose tastes ran heavily to polished mahogany, so the sound of the knock on the heavy wood is impressive.

I call permission to enter and the door opens, revealing the last member of our meeting today, American Nation representative to the World Council, Thomas Dufasion.

I stand up and move to greet him.

"Tom!" I call, shaking his hand warmly as I approach him.

"Good to see you, Quatre," he replies, lightly punching my shoulder with his free hand as he returns my handshake, the skin around his blue eyes crinkling as he grins at me.

"Come and meet everyone," I invite, steering him lightly into the room.

"Wufei, of course, you know," I begin, gesturing to my lover. Wufei nods politely, rising from his seat..

"Dufasion," he says, his voice cordial but slightly distant. I have to hold back a grin. Wufei - though he would die before admitting it - is a little jealous of Dufasion.

Of course he has no reason to be - I have absolutely no interest in a romantic or sexual entanglement with anyone in the world but Wufei himself. But it's kind of flattering nonetheless.

And I can't say I don't see why he feels that way. Tom Dufasion is quite good-looking. And the fact that I notice that means nothing but that I can see. It's hard to miss.

I glance across the room, and notice my friends noticing. Tom is about the same height as me - six feet, and he too has blond hair and blue eyes. We look almost nothing alike, though. His hair is a lot darker than mine, and his eyes are a darker blue. His shoulders are much broader than mine, his build more solid. Put a hat on him and you could picture him in one of those old American cowboy movies.

I move Tom over to introduce him to the others, carefully gauging their reactions him.

"Tom Dufasion, this is Duo Maxwell." I begin with Duo, who is seated to Wufei's left.

"Mr. Maxwell." Dufasion eagerly shakes Duo's hand. "I'm very pleased to meet you. I've heard a lot about you and... "

"Sadly, it's probably all true," Duo grins, clapping Tom on the shoulder. "Guilty as charged."

Tom grins back at him, and I feel the interested friendliness flow between them. I knew that Tom and Duo would get along. They're a lot alike, actually.

"Actually, Mr. Maxwell, I've heard a lot of good things about you."

"Duo," he corrects. "And you must not have been talking to Wufei much," Duo comments, grinning down at our Chinese comrade, who scowls back up at him.

"Call me Tom," he invites, wisely not commenting on Duo's last remarks.

They'll get along fine. One down.

I move Tom around the corner of the table. "This is Heero Yuy," I inform Tom, probably unnecessarily. Heero stands up and shakes Tom's hand.

"Mr. Yuy, it really is a pleasure to meet... "

"We've met before," Heero interrupts, scowling up at Dufasion. "Haven't we?"

Tom's eyebrows go up in surprise. "We have," he admits. "I'm surprised that you remember, though, it was... "

"But I don't remember hearing your name," Heero interrupts again, still frowning.

I know Heero well enough to know that he isn't really scowling at Dufasion, but at the fact that he recalls Tom's face but not his name. That's the kind of anomaly that would really bug Heero. I hope Tom realizes it too.

"That's because I wasn't introduced by my correct name," Tom grins. "We met in the reception line at a party at the palace two weeks after I was elected to the World Council, about a month or so before the Gundam attacked. I was way out of my league, awed to be meeting you, and when the guy introduced me as Tomas DaVavio I was too paralyzed to correct him."

I grin at the story, and Duo chuckles. Even Wufei smiles. It's the kind of story designed to put people at their ease - humorous, slightly self-deprecating with just a hint of judicious flattery. Masterful. Of course, the effort is wasted on Heero. He nods abruptly, the name obviously clicking in the right place in his methodical, well-ordered mind. He nods again, and I can almost see the metaphorical white-out erasing ‘Tomas DaVavio' and replacing it with ‘Thomas Dufasion.'

"It is an honor to meet you," Tom continues sincerely.

People are always genuinely honored to meet Heero. He's really a very impressive guy. He doesn't realize it, though, so testimonials like that always make him suspicious. So, true to form, he grunts, dismissing what he sees as flattery and abruptly sitting back down in his chair.

Well. Not as successful, but not a disaster. If Heero expressed unconditional trust upon a first meeting, I'd die of the shock.

"And, finally, Trowa Barton."

"Mr. Barton," Tom smiles, enthusiastically shaking his hand. "I... "

"Call me Trowa," Trowa interrupts. I wince, hearing the insistence in his tone. Tom smiles though, obviously missing it. I guess you have to really know Trowa to pick up on the nuances of his speech.

"Trowa," Tom repeats smiling. His smile drops slightly. "I hear that you were the real hero of the last war," he says seriously. "On behalf of the Council, which never does anything useful, I'd like to thank you for everything you did to... "

"You were a soldier, correct?" Trowa interrupts.

Tom blinks. "Yes," he replies, his voice hinting at the slight confusion he feels.

"Then you know that there is no ‘hero' in a war," Trowa says flatly. "Everyone does what they have to to win. Noone wins a war single-handedly."

"I didn't mean to offend you," Tom begins delicately. "I only... "

"You didn't offend me," Trowa says lightly, with a smile that doesn't reach his eyes. "You're just in a room with five veterans of that war. Credit, or blame, applies to everyone equally."

"Tom, you can sit here," I break in, trying to smooth over the awkward moment as I lead Tom to his seat at the foot of the table, and resume my own at the head, Wufei to my left and Trowa to my right.

That didn't go well at all. I try to smooth down the slight irritation I feel at Trowa. Of all times for him to go self-righteous.

Tom busies himself pulling papers out of his briefcase, lightly trading talk of the Council with me, but I feel the waves of uneasiness coming off him. Oh well. This is a tough room. Good practice for the Council, I guess.

"Well, to begin, I'm sure that Quatre has informed you of the conflict within the World Council," Dufasion begins, his voice suddenly brisk. "And of the two splinter groups that have formed."

Nods and murmurs of assent answer him.

"You're probably wondering who the Hell I am and how I got this position," he says next.

I grin. He's adjusting his tactics. Very good.

Actually, it's great. Over the last year, Tom has had to become a politician to deal with the politicians on the World Council. He's had to flatter, hint, and charm his way into deals. That isn't really him, though. He doesn't like acting that way.

And it sure as Hell isn't going to work on any of my friends. So, it's good to see that he can abandon those tactics and act more like himself.

"The thought had crossed my mind," Duo admits candidly.

"I am a citizen of the American nation," Dufasion begins. "I am thirty-two years old. When I was eighteen, I joined the Earth Force Alliance military. When OZ took over I was twenty-five, and was a lieutenant in charge of a small unit stationed in the Chinese nation. My unit resisted the coup, but were forced from our barracks into the woods. We continued to resist OZ for months, and pretty much got our asses beat across the continent," he admits ruefully.

"His unit met up with Sally's a few times," Wufei inserts softly. "She remembers him."

Heero nods, and I see him relax fractionally. He and Wufei are so alike in some ways. There must be corroboration before either will believe anyone's story. Allah himself could come and tell them something and they'd each need witnesses they know personally to swear to the truth of it before either of them would believe it.

"After the war, in the general amnesty Une offered, I joined up with the Preventers. I fought in the Eve Wars," he reveals. "I was at the Barton stronghold."

All three relax a little, even Duo.

"After that, I stayed with the Preventers for a few years. Then, one day, I was bitching about the stupidity of the World Council - they were refusing pay raises at the time," Dufasion grins. "As I recall, I went on at some length. Finally, my buddies told me to put up, shut up or act up - if I didn't like it, I should run for Council myself."

He pauses, grinning wider. "I'd drank quite a lot that night, so I was full of stories about how great I'd be as a Council member. Finally, to shut me up, one of the guys bet me that I wouldn't do it - wouldn't run. I bet him... well, I bet him a lot of money," he admits. "More than it would cost me to run a campaign. So, I took leave, went back home, and ran for a seat that was coming open. And damn if I didn't win it." He laughs, shaking his head. "Noone was more surprised than me. I took office a few months before the latest Gundam attack. And that's about it," he concludes.

"If you've been in office less than two years, how have you attained such an influential position already?" Trowa asks quietly. The expression on his face is politely curious. His voice is toneless.

Tom frowns slightly. He's not sure what to make of Trowa. He has that effect on people.

"Well, when Her Majesty began revealing her plan, a lot of people objected to it," Tom begins in the understatement of the day. "But she has a lot of influence. People weren't sure how to go about disagreeing with her. I wasn't smart enough to realize what a formidable adversary she really is," he admits with a smile, "so I opened my big mouth right up, and here I am."

"How did you devise your alternate plan?" Heero demands.

"Well, I relied rather heavily on my experience with the Preventers and on several members of the Preventers themselves." Dufasion lists off several names, and Heero nods approvingly. "I don't think there is anyone alive as qualified to run this organization as Une is," Dufasion says flat out. "And I'm hoping you're planning to resume your position," he adds, looking at Heero. "The Preventers need you as well."

"How come I never met you when you were with the Preventers?" Heero demands.

"I was in the field most of the time," Dufasion explains. He reddens slightly. "I, uh... well, I checked incoming ships for Gundanium."

I hide my smile. That was a very low prestige job. Une is a wonderful woman. She really has done her best to reunite the world, to build the Preventers, to create a lasting peace. But she's only human. It's odd how many of the people who resisted OZ have ended up with crappy jobs.

Heero doesn't react to the revelation or Dufasion's discomfort.

"So, what's the plan for us?" Duo asks bluntly. Dufasion looks inquiringly at him, and Duo shakes his head. "Don't beat around the bush, man," he advises. "We know you want something from us. We don't want Relena in charge of the Preventers any more than you do. Tell us what we have to do."

"So... you're willing to endorse our side?" Dufasion frowns.

Trowa sighs. "We were willing to do that before you showed up," he says flatly. "We trust Wufei and Quatre." The unspoken ‘even if we don't trust you' echoes loudly around the room. "What do we need to do?"

"Q said he'd scheduled a meeting for a week from Friday," Duo begins. "What do we have to say there?"

Dufasion takes a deep breath. I smile sympathetically at him. I know from experience how hard it is to move from the murky, painfully slow atmosphere of political boardrooms to dealing with my friends' sometimes brutal directness.

"I... You're sure you won't be offended if I speak frankly?" Tom asks, looking around the room, seeking clarification from each face.

"No time for games, pal," Duo says cheerfully. "What's up?"

"I've cancelled that meeting." Tom looks at me apologetically. "I think we need to get your divorce," he nods at Heero," cleared up before we begin anything else."

"It's not looking good," I tell him seriously.

Dufasion nods. "So I hear," he replies soberly.

"You hear? From whom?" Trowa demands.

Dufasion looks at him. "Quatre's lawyers are in contact with me," he explains slowly.

I turn my head and wince at the cold green glare directed at me. "Tom needs to be kept abreast of what's developing with Relena at all times," I explain.

Trowa drops his gaze to the table.

"If I may ask... " Tom's voice in uncharacteristically hesitant. "What is the... relationship between the three of you?"

There's a tense silence.

"I know that's a very personal question," he plows on. "But it's going to be asked a lot in the near future. And if we're going to figure out how best to win this issue, we need to sort everything out."

Duo sighs loudly. "We live together, we sleep together, we love each other, we call each other by pet names, we even cook meals and iron shirts and watch TV shows we don't like for each other," he rattles off in a patently false light tone. "Anything else?"

"I'm sorry," Dufasion apologizes soberly. "I'm not trying to offend you, I just... "

"Skip the apologies," Trowa says flatly. "What else do you need to know?"

Dufasion sighs. "Quatre sent me copies of some of the assertions Relena made in her divorce petition."

I very carefully don't look at any of my friends.

"I need to know if any of them are true."

"Well, I've never known Heero to be bad in bed," Duo muses thoughtfully.

Heero growls wordlessly, and Duo grins at him unrepentantly.

Dufasion chuckles. "Not quite what I had in mind, Duo," he informs the other American.

"Hey, say what you mean then, Mr. Dufasion," Duo suggests cheerfully.

Tom's face sobers. "How long have you all been sleeping with each other?" he asks bluntly.

Again, silence. I glance at Trowa. He's slouched in his chair, looking perfectly relaxed... but the muscle by the side of his mouth is tensed so tightly, it's twitching. He must have picked that up from Heero.

"Heero and I hooked up two days before the Gundam attack," Duo finally says. His voice is hoarse, with, for once, no hint of amusement in the tone. Heero flinches slightly, and Trowa stares steadily at the table.

"Trowa and I were together... and we sort of broke up after that."

"I left Relena the next day," Heero inserts briefly.

Dufasion frowns. "Were you two together then?" he asks.

Duo sighs, rests his elbows on the table and puts his face in his hands. "Here's the run-down," he says, in a flat voice that in no way resembles his usual tone of expression. "As I said, Heero and I first slept together two days before the Gundam attack. Trowa left when he found out I had cheated on him. Heero left Relena the next day. Later that day the Gundam attacked and we all had to leave for space. About a week after we got to space, Trowa left to surrender himself to Barton, in order to buy the rest of us more time to mobilize resistance forces." Duo pauses, and swallows hard. "None of us believed that Trowa would return alive. Heero and I slept together while he was gone."

An almost imperceptible movement to my right causes me to turn my head sharply to look at Trowa. He's completely still, his face, what's visible of it under the sweep of his hair, is completely blank. Looking past him, I see Heero's eyes close briefly, his face twisting slightly as though in pain.

"Trowa was gone for over a month," Duo continues determinedly in that eerily expressionless voice. "When he returned, he was very badly injured. We thought he might die. We went back and destroyed Barton's colony. I was caught in the explosion and presumed dead. When I returned, the three of us decided to admit the truth, which is that all three of us have feelings for each of the others. It is an unconventional arrangement, true, but that isn't really anyone's business, is it?"

Duo is almost yelling by the time he's done. He presses his lips together, obviously fighting for control, and leans back in his seat. His cheeks are flushed scarlet. Heero and Trowa stare at him intently.

Dufasion is quiet for a moment. "Thank you for telling me that," he says quietly. "I... So, you three have been... .together sexually since right after the war was over?"

"For Gods' sakes, Dufasion!" Wufei shouts, pounding his fist on the table . "What the hell is the point of all these questions?"

I look, surprised at my lover. His face is dark with anger, his eyes flashing furiously as he glares at Dufasion.

"Oh, come on, Quatre!" he shouts as he makes eye contact with me. "Why badger them about this? Leave it to the damn lawyers. There's no reason... "

"Believe it or not, this isn't exactly fun for me!" Tom shouts, finally flustered past the point of patience. "Christ, I'm not in the habit of pumping strangers for intimate details of their sex lives! But I can't - I won't - let that woman get control of the world's only real chance for peace!" he continues angrily. "I'm more sorry than I can say if I'm upsetting all of you, and I don't want to, but I have to and I'm already tired of apologizing for it!" He glares impartially around the room. "If we could just get through this and move on, I promise you I'd be as happy as all the rest of you."

Duo chuckles, breaking through the amazed silence that fell after Tom's words. "Well, Tom," he says ruefully. "You might turn out to be good for us here. We need someone to tell us to get over ourselves from time to time." He leans back in his chair, more relaxed than he's been since the meeting back. "Ask on," he says, waving his hand. "But don't say we didn't warn ya - you might get more than you bargained for."

[part 13] [part 15] [back to Shoori's fic]