Rattlesnakes + Part 7 (cont)

~*~

The couch was too plushy. It was the sort that one sank into as one sat down, which meant that once one was fully seated, one's knees were practically bumping one's chin.

Trowa didn't have the energy at the moment to hate the couch. He would hate it tomorrow, with a furious passion. Tonight, he would just loathe it passively as he tried to keep his knees from breaking his jaw.

Quatre was talking. Quatre had been talking a lot. Trowa decided it was more fun to pay attention for only a minute at a time, and fill in the gaps himself. Quatre's mouth curled into something like a pinwheel as he spoke. Trowa didn't remember it doing that before.

Quatre's mouth was small and pinkish. It was... oddly disturbing. Men should not have pinkish lips. Duo's lips weren't pinkish. Trowa was certain that he would remember a key detail like that.

In fact, he was pretty sure that he knew Duo's mouth perfectly. Duo's mouth was wide and wet. Duo's mouth was always wet. And hot. Trowa was certain that he knew Duo's mouth perfectly.

He readjusted his knees as his eyes flickered around the room anxiously. Duo and Relena had been gone for too long. He wanted his lover back.

Duo had a way of drawing attention away from the painful, torturous parts of life. Very often with sex, but sometimes with humor and darkness. Duo was an essential part of Trowa's social life.

Trowa didn't mind that anymore, either. He had accepted it. He and Duo had become a team; they fended off the weak attempts of psychoanalysis from Dr. Clarkson, Duo fended off boredom for Trowa, and Trowa fended off Heero for Duo.

They made a good team, Trowa thought.

"Trowa?" Quatre was standing very close to him now, leaning down so he could peer into Trowa's eyes.

Trowa turned his head away. He missed the person Quatre had been as a child. "Yes?"

"I asked you a question." Quatre's bottom lip protruded slightly as he expressed his annoyance.

Trowa shrugged. "I wasn't paying attention."

Wu Fei smiled, swirling his water around his glass. "It's hard to believe it it's really been ten years. It doesn't seem that long ago that we were all running wild over the earth and in space." Wu Fei seemingly spoke to his glass, his eyes warmer and more affectionate than Trowa ever remembered seeing.

It gave Trowa pause. Whenever he thought about the past, even in the time of the war in which he wasn't alone, it was always with a clinical detachment. He felt the same way about his own past as he did about human interest stories in the news. He just never could care that much about it. What happened, happened.

He didn't expect Quatre, or even Duo to feel the same way. And he was always of the impression that Heero internalized much more than he would ever show. But he had thought of Wu Fei as a soldier.

Perhaps he had been wrong. Wu Fei might call himself a 'warrior.' Perhaps that term was apt; warriors might look back on their battles with satisfaction.

"Sometimes, I feel very old." Quatre laughed, reseating himself across from Trowa. "I look at my family, my house, my work... and I feel very, very old." It seemed that Quatre expected everyone else to get the joke, too.

Heero grunted. "Some things never change."

Trowa eyed Heero. If he looked at him in a certain light, squinting his eyes just a bit, he could still see the boy - becoming - man that he had admired and idolized so much. But if he looked at Heero too long, he could only see the man who hurt Duo for pleasure.

It was a good reason never to have heroes.

"Balance can only be maintained by a system in constant flux; it may seem as if nothing changes, but the river is always flowing forward, is it not?" Wu Fei was apparently in a philosophically romantic mood tonight. "Isn't that the point of this gathering? To 'commemorate.' Not to celebrate, but to remember. Because we, as a population, are still in constant motion, so in order to maintain the peace, the balance, we must remember, we must always gravitate around the truth; we were once barbarous beasts, and we could become so again."

A silence settled over the four men, and Wu Fei smiled as he took a drink.

Trowa revised his opinion. Wu Fei was no warrior, try though he did to mold himself into one. Wu Fei was a scholar.

Trowa felt an odd sensation in his chest as he realized how Wu Fei had changed in the past ten years. Now, Wu Fei was closer to being the person he was born to be than he had ever been before.

Trowa's heart beat a little faster, and his head felt a little light. He narrowed his eyes, and evaluated the sensation. Was that hope? Did he still think there was someone he had been born to be?

He would have laughed if it could have been in any way appropriate. He wanted Duo with him; he was never prone to pontification when Duo was there to distract him.

Quatre was speaking again, but Trowa had already unconsciously missed the beginning of what he had said, so he didn't bother to start listening.

It was when Duo called out that Trowa started to pay attention again.

"Hey, here you are," Duo said, exhausted, walking quickly across the drawing room to where they were sitting. "And hey! There's the bar!" Duo walked right past the couches, and started to pour himself a drink.

A very large drink.

"Duo!" Quatre chastised primly. "I don't think you should have so much to drink. It isn't polite to take advantage of our gentle hostess."

"Gentle hostess...?" Duo made a face, bewildered. "I didn't think anyone actually talked like that..." Duo took a long sip of cognac from his tumbler, sighing. "Anyway, Q, if I'm gonna get through this without going postal, I need a drink. Several of them, intravenously, if possibly." Duo refilled his glass, and then sat on the arm of the couch next to Trowa. "I've been paraded through every damn hall of this, that, *and* the other thing, seen every knick knack and trinket and gift from the amazing, wonderful, generous, hard-working people of Sanc, reviewed every article of clothing that Relena owns... I earned this, damn it."

Trowa smiled, and put his arm around Duo's back. Duo smiled down at him, and it was enough to make Trowa smile as well.

Quatre snorted with refined derision.

"Dinner should be served shortly," Wu Fei reminded with amusement, earning him a smirk from Duo, who was drinking pretty steadily.

Heero grunted with derision. "You are trash."

Duo grinned, and toasted Heero for his next sip. "Hey, I fought for all the regular people, so they could eat, drink, and be merry. Speaking of which... Q, where's the little woman?"

Quatre picked at his fingernails properly. "My wife is with the ladies, in the ladies' room."

Duo stared at him.

Quatre glared back.

"Ladies room? You mean, like, a bathroom?"

Trowa smirked, hiding his face behind Duo a little to conceal his mirth.

Quatre noticed. "No, Duo. A ladies' drawing room. It isn't necessarily considered proper for ladies and gentlemen to commingle in social gathering of this sort."

Duo's brow wrinkled in confusion as he took his next sip. "I don't understand. Why not?"

"Well," Quatre explained, a little ruffled at the imposition, "it is a question of place. It isn't a lady's place to participate in the affairs of men. Matters of business or politics simply aren't the concern of ladies of leisure."

Duo burst out laughing, and nearly spilled his cognac all over Relena's expensive antique Persian rug. "Oh, man, Q, I would pay *dearly* to see you explain that to Sally! Or even Relena!!"

Quatre's eyes darted to Trowa, flummoxed. "Well, *obviously*, women like *that* are not ladies of leisure! But my wife knows her role."

Duo sobered instantly, his eyes suddenly sharp as he examined Quatre's expression. Quatre turned away from Duo's gaze in annoyance and embarrassment. "I see. And since you brought it up, are your children here? How many little Q's are there? Do we get to meet them?"

If Quatre was horrified at the idea of Duo meeting his children, he was subtle enough to be discreet about it. Unfortunately, he was surrounded by people who knew him as well as he could be known. "Ah, no, my eleven children are still in L3, with their governesses."

Three expressions of shock and fear faced him. Quatre looked from Wu Fei to Heero to Duo in confusion. Trowa gently slipped Duo's drink out of his hand and took a sip. He had never had cognac before, but the smell alone was enough to tell him that he wasn't likely to have it again, either.

"How... how is that even possible?" Duo stuttered, still shell-shocked.

Quatre blushed bright red. "Well, most of our children were artificially conceived and gestated. Like I was."

"But," Duo took back his drink from Trowa's slack grip, "I thought you resented your father for being born like that."

Quatre blinked twice, then dismissed it with a shake of his head. "It's important to me, culturally, to have a large family. Arab customs dictate that the leader of a strong house has a large family. I'm simply doing what must be done to maintain the Winner name."

"Aren't those customs outdated?" Duo took another drink, his voice only marginally accusatory. "I mean, how can you give your children the love and attention they deserve when there are so many?"

"Oh, we have wonderful governesses," Quatre beamed. "Each child is getting the best possible care. Even better than if I or my wife were caring for them!" Quatre smiled, turning to each of his friends to share the joke.

Duo smiled. "Of that, I have little doubt." He finished off his glass, and got up to get another.

Quatre watched him with a dark, uncertain expression.

"I was surprised to hear that you two have been... cohabitating." Wu Fei leaned back in his chair, decisively changing the subject as he looked from Trowa to Duo. "That is certainly unexpected. I don't remember you two ever exchanging five words during the war. I suppose none of us have taken the path that was expected of us when we were fifteen."

Heero grunted, and Quatre sighed. "I certainly never expected it."

Duo downed half a glass of cognac, and grinned a little broadly. "That's life for ya. Always ready to throw ya the curveball."

Wu Fei smiled abruptly in appreciation. "That is most certainly true. I was... startled to hear some of the things that have happened since last we met. We should... keep in better contact. After all, there is no one in all of the United Earth Sphere that I trust as much as I trust the four of you. You challenged me and guided me through some of the worst days of my life; I hope you know that I would return the favor." Wu Fei kept looking from Duo to Trowa, his eyes stormy with passion.

Trowa felt his skin crawling. He felt cold, as if the bathroom tiles were pressing against his skin. He wanted Duo to say something. Duo was certain to say something. Trowa didn't like this silence; Duo needed to speak.

"Hey, Wu, don't think of it. Really." Duo grinned, loafing over to Wu Fei to put a hand on his shoulder. "We all go a little crazy sometimes, it's not the end of the world." Duo's voice was light and quick, and his hand left Wu Fei's shoulder almost as soon as he touched it. He flopped over to fall on the couch next to Trowa. "Anyway, we should just relax and enjoy the party while we can. Right? After all, pretty soon, they're gonna want us to march into the dining room and be perfect little gentlemen." Duo propped his chin up on Trowa's shoulder, grinning madly. "So we gotta have fun while we can."

Trowa felt an odd desire to kiss Duo right there, in front of Quatre, and Heero, and even Wu Fei, but he couldn't ascertain his own intentions, so he kept himself to himself.

Heero eyed Duo dangerously. "You're already pissed. Disgusting. You can't act like a reasonable human being for ten minutes straight, can you?"

"Straight?" Duo asked with a laugh. "I didn't think you'd like me straight, Heero." Duo winked at him, and Trowa was afraid that Heero planned to do something with his balled fists, but then a porter came to stand subserviently at Heero's arm.

"Excuse me, Mr. Yuy? Her Highness requires your presence for the procession to dinner."

Heero's back was stiff, and he turned to the porter with menace. "Thank you, Smith."

Smith bowed to Heero, and then turned his eyes to the other men present. "Sirs, if you would please make your way to the dining room, we would be much obliged."

Heero left the room purposefully, without preamble. The remaining four went off more slowly, taking a moment to adjust their jackets and ties. Quatre went ahead to collect his wife, so Wu Fei, Trowa, and Duo went together to the dining room.

They had been placed at the main table, with Duo right at Relena's side. It took a long while for all of Relena's guests to file in; politicians from around the world, representatives of every major political party or movement, religious leaders, scholars, military and scientific representatives, journalists, artists, and citizens of Sanc lucky enough to get invitations filled the tables sumptuously laid out for a grand feast.

Two days before Christmas, and the eve of the end of all wars, and everyone in the world seemed to be gathered into one great hall, festooned with reams of shimmering fabric, candles, and ice sculptures. The tables were decorated in silver, the pale white china rimmed in silver, and the cut crystal catching the light in a million different ways.

The chatter and music died as Relena and her fiancÚ were introduced to the room. Relena wore a gown of silver, a mature design that hung straight down to her feet, with a long slit up the right leg. Her hair was pulled back, and her makeup was perfectly designed to highlight her cheekbones and the color of her eyes. She was radiant, in the center of her world.

Heero walked stiffly next to her, staring straight ahead. He had been changed, so that his waistcoat and tie matched Relena's dress. He was dressed perfectly, and he looked completely out of place.

The dinner began right after Relena said a few words of welcome, and as the dinner began, the wine began to flow. Duo's glass was never empty, but it certainly wasn't from a lack of his trying. The food came out on glass dishes, each course being swept away just as the last fork was placed down, quickly to be replaced by the next course.

Duo and Trowa ate less than a quarter of one meal between them, but no one seemed to notice. Duo kept up lively conversation, more than once eliciting loud laughter from Her Majesty. There were bound to be rumors before the night was out, and Trowa would have been very surprised if the tabloids didn't suggest that Duo and Relena were going to run away to have a love child by the next morning.

He didn't mind. He was seated between Duo and Wu Fei, and he had very little to do but push the food around on his plate and keep Duo upright. Duo was vibrant, in the way that Trowa remembered from the war; only on this night, he was able to enjoy Duo's tireless cheer.

Even though he knew that it was little more than a mask, it was as appropriate as anyone else's fašade.

During the dessert, there were speeches. Important person after important person got up and spoke over the murmur of conversation in the room. Even Quatre got up and spoke, 'representing the Gundam Five,' and talking about the colonies' pursuit of self-determination.

It was all exceptionally boring, but Duo would make a face or just look at Trowa from time to time, and Trowa knew exactly what Duo was thinking at all times.

Trowa and Duo left as soon as the speeches were over. Duo could barely walk, so Trowa kept his arm around Duo's waist as they left, supporting him. He heard the word 'colony' from a few people as they passed, and since Duo stuck his tongue out, he assumed that he was right and they weren't talking about politics.

He had to be directed to their room, as neither had been there yet. They got lost in the maze of halls that lead to the guest housing, but there was always a cheerful but demure servant at the ready. Duo was half asleep as Trowa dragged him into their bedroom.

Their suitcases had already been unpacked for them, which Trowa felt was an intrusion, but he shook it off quickly. Duo flopped on his back on the bed, and Trowa undressed him affectionately.

He didn't mind that Duo had gotten drunk and passed out. He almost liked it, really. He couldn't tell why.

It felt defiant.

He had spent too much time with Quatre, and his casually judgmental preconceptions. It was... liberating, to have chosen to be with the one person Quatre disapproved of the most.

Trowa got a wet washcloth, and washed Duo down a little, to alleviate some of the smell. It occurred to Trowa that he was completely over Quatre, now, but he didn't dwell on it.

As usual when Duo was drunk, he slept noisily. Trowa didn't mind. He slipped into the bed, naked. Duo woke up, groggy, as Trowa tried to arrange them. Grinning up at Trowa, Duo tried to be seductive. "Heeeey, Tro."

"Hey, Duo."

"Wanna do it?" Duo threw his arms clumsily around Trowa, obstructing his efforts at getting them both under the covers.

"You won't be able to," Trowa reminded kindly.

"Ah, thas ok. Just do what Heero'd do - flip me over and do whatever. I won't mind. You always use plenta lube. Heh. Trowa." Duo grinned up at Trowa, unable to maintain his grip on Trowa's neck.

It was almost endearingly cute.

Trowa kissed Duo's forehead, his cheek, and his neck. "We should both be grateful that I'm not Heero. Let's go to sleep."

Duo was out almost immediately, and Trowa pulled Duo's body on top of his own. He petted Duo's hair, and once again he thought that maybe he could unwind the braid now, when Duo wasn't awake and wouldn't be awake for hours. He could run his fingers through Duo's long, long hair, and feel it filling the space between his fingers, feel the texture of it as he rubbed it between his forefinger and thumb.

The fantasy of Duo's hair lulled him to sleep.

~*~

Duo hid beneath the covers in the morning, and Trowa sighed. He agreed to 'fetch' breakfast for the two of them, promising that Duo's share would be a vat of coffee.

Trowa felt self-consciously underdressed as he wandered the halls of the palace in his slacks and shirt. It had been ten years ago today that he had found evidence of Dekim Barton on the colony the circus had been performing in.

He decided that he would find a 'phone and call Catherine. She deserved to hear from him today.

Before he could find where breakfast was being served, he ran into a servant of Relena's who directed him to a private dining room she was *sure* Her Highness wanted the 'Gundam Five' to eat in. Trowa felt forced to follow her directions, as she recommended he go in a direction almost completely opposite to that in which he had been headed. Trowa wasn't sure if he wanted to go to a private dining room with Quatre and Relena and Heero, but as he had little choice, he merely submitted to it.

Arriving, however, things were not as bad as he had suspected. The room appeared empty, so Trowa quickly started to fill a plate to take back to their room.

Fate was not with him, however. Just as he was pouring out the coffee, Relena entered.

"Trowa! Oh, I'm so glad that you're here! And, we have the room to ourselves!" Relena bounced over to Trowa, her happiness glowing off of her. "Where's Duo?"

Trowa repressed a sigh, and hoped that Relena was still fixating on Duo. "He was not quite ready to face the day."

Relena smiled, and she reminded Trowa of Catherine. "I'm not surprised. I think he drank half the wine in Europe last night."

Trowa raised an eyebrow. "Only half? He'll be disappointed."

Relena grinned, and took Trowa's arm. "He'll have plenty of time to make up for it; now sit with me. We need to talk.

"There are things I want to know about Duo. And things I can tell you that you may not know about him."

~*~

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