Authors: TB and Marsh
Rating: R
Pairings: 3x6, 3xOC, long-past 3x4

Age Inappropriate (cont)

Yeah. He did. Remembered the solemn little-boy face looking gravely up at him, the pressure he'd felt to come up with something good, wise-- or something stupid and cynical enough to be passed off and forgotten. Slowly, he answered, "I said it was okay to be confused. Everyone is. All the time. You get used to it. And then by the time you do, you realise that whatever you want... whoever you want... is allowed."

"That meant everything to me. It changed my life."

He scratched his face. "If it made things easier, I'm glad." Hard to grasp, that idea. That he'd affected the kid, a kid, that way. This kid. And practically gave him advance permission to fuck him.

Well, really. Didn't that just change things.

"It's been you since I was eight years old, Trowa."

He scratched again, hard enough to sting a little, and occupied himself looking at the wall. "I don't deserve that."

"So?"

"So maybe you should save those kinds of feelings for someone who does."

"They're my feelings."

"I believe you."

"I love you."

Fuckfuck. It was as well he wasn't looking. A battalion of Leos couldn't have made him turn his head for that one. It was a miracle just keeping his voice from sounding as bombed as he felt. "I'm not ready to tell you I feel the same way," he said. "I'm still trying to-- to fucking justify the eight-year-old Kaelin with the guy I just spent the night with."

He was incredibly aware of the hand in his lap. The hand now stroking, slowly, caressing. "Maybe you'd better grasp the distinction if you got a grasp on something else."

"You're in a big fucking hurry, kid, and I just don't operate that way. Fuck, I've been trying to slow it down since I saw you in your dad's study."

"Do you have any idea how hard it was to wait this long?"

"No. I don't. I-- had no idea."

"Make it up to me." Kaelin sat up to him. He cupped Trowa's cheek, trailed warm lips down his neck.

Trowa said, "Maybe I should take you home."

"God, fuck off!"

"I'm not in position to offer you anything. And I'm certainly not ready to be your boyfriend."

"Yeah, well don't inconvenience yourself. You might sprain something." Kaelin stayed on the bed, though, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was hearing. Trowa let the silence grow, let the silence deliver the news. Listened to the shallowing of angry breaths, until it was almost impossible to hear.

"I'll get myself home," Kaelin said, and did.

Needed to be done.

He felt-- relieved. Yes. Relieved to have it over. Mystery fully explored. Kaelin was plenty young enough to bounce back from this romantic mush he'd made out of his big gay exile or whatever, and with some luck or divine intervention, there would be no consequences for anyone, including his incredibly blind and trusting father Quatre Winner. It was good to have it all finished. Kid would find someone else to change his life, someone who wouldn't accidentally-- accidentally-on-purpose take advantage of the things he had to offer. It was better this way. It was good. He was glad it was over.




So of course Kaelin came back the next day.

He'd finally gone through the bother of getting a rental car. He was sure thinking twice about staying, but in the cold light of logic it seemed stupid to let a single night of bad judgment chase him off the colony. Kaelin wasn't going to tell anyone, of course, especially if he hadn't even told his parents he was gay. At least, that was what Trowa assumed, when the only call he got from Quatre was a brightly delivered "Thanks for babysitting". Off to the false horizon, time to settle down and let bygones be--

Kaelin rapped on his window.

He took the time to breathe. Oxygen. Time to control his expression, to show nothing but the most neutral of hellos. He rolled it down, and said, "Hey."

"Where you going?" Kaelin asked.

"Apartment hunting." The kid had his school clothes on. Little navy blazer with a crest on the pocket. Still, not good, managed to look like a walking-- what was the word Quat had used? Immortal. Like nothing could touch him.

Except Trowa.

"Coming?" Trowa heard himself say, and winced.

"Yeah." Kaelin was sliding in the passenger side before he had a chance to take it back. So he didn't. If he acted like nothing had happened, he might even be able to just drop Kaelin off at his house and go on about his day.

Or not. He started the engine, and Kaelin said, "So if you live here, we could date."

"I'd rather be skinned alive."

"Why?"

"Because it's not just about you. And if you expect me to believe what you said was for real--" He caught himself plunging headfirst into that particular ocean, and just managed to pull himself back. "You'll respect what I need."

That earned him exactly nine blocks and two kilometres of highway. He was dreading Kaelin speaking again. When the kid finally did, he at least had vindication.

"Do you have an agent?" Kaelin asked. "If the places are empty we could try out the beds. Or the floors."

"Christ, you're stubborn."

"Very."

"When we get back, okay?"

Damn. Weak, Barton.

Getting weaker. He let Kaelin take hold of the hand he'd left sitting on the shift.

"Can I ask what the fucking hurry is?"

"It's been like twenty-four hours."

"Yeah, twenty-four whole grueling hours."

"Grueling."

"You know, I-- need to know if this is just regular teenage-- horniness, or if you think this is what it takes to hold onto me."

"Uhhhhh." Kaelin let him go. "You didn't listen to a damn word I said yesterday."

"Trust me, I heard you."

"If you don't love me yet, all right. But I really don't think it should stand in the way of us fucking all afternoon."

Intellectually he knew he ought to hone in on that "yet" so casually inserted into conversation. His mind wasn't much in control, especially once Kaelin put a hand in his lap again and demonstrated everything Trowa had taught him.

"This is getting to be a habit," he said, dry-mouthed suddenly.

"There are far, far worse habits you could have."

He would have to spend some time thinking about that one. Later. There was only so much a man could take. He was done fighting.

+

He hadn't asked questions, largely out of a reluctance to actually admit anything was happening that needed questions asked about it. Kaelin appeared at his door every afternoon at four and stayed every night until eight in the morning. Trowa acquired a few hangers of shirts for a smaller body, an toothbrush beside his own, the odd sock that didn't match any of his but nevertheless sat in his drawer. There was milk and chocolate cereal in his refrigerator, and a physics text on his table. For exactly thirteen days.

It started with Kaelin in a mood, though it didn't stop them from falling into bed the second Kaelin crossed the threshold. When they were naked and cooling in the spray of freezing air from the window unit, and he couldn't ignore all the sulky and teenagery sort of faces Kaelin was making, he said, "What?" and that was really the end of it all.

"She's so damn nosy," Kaelin answered, or exploded, rather. He kicked a misplaced pillow to the floor.

"Who?" Trowa asked, although he could guess. "Your mother?"

"And she flogs Dad into it, like he even cares what I do. And then he's all 'If you want to spend your money you can spend YOUR money' and he tells me give back my allowance, as if it's even a real allowance. I get thirty bucks! I have friends who get a thousand a month."

He dragged Kaelin down the mattress and tucked him close to his chest, to kiss his hair and tangle their bare legs. "What'd you do to get her knickers in a twist?"

It was as well they weren't looking at each other, lying like that. Kaelin said, "I told them."

Well, it made sense. Not even Quatre was that permissive. Noin sure as hell wasn't. It was amazing Kaelin had been able to walk his pert little bottom across the colony to-- "Told them what exactly?" he asked, because clarification might be sort of essential in this one.

"All of it. That I'm gay, that I've always been, that you are and you at least understand."

No, clarification wasn't helping much. "And that we're fucking?"

Not so hot-headed, now. Kaelin squirmed until Trowa squeezed him. "Yeah," he said, in a small voice.

"Shit." He let go and sat up, feet to the floor to get a solid grip on the situation. Still a lot of unknowns here, but did they matter much? Either Kaelin had told them last night and somehow slipped out of a double-locked door and the firing squad Noin would be bound to install, or it had just happened this afternoon after school and if it had, it was entirely possible that Kaelin, being the impetuous little braveheart he was, had acted his age and run away. Which meant Noin was on her way over with a shotgun. Trowa said, "I better call them."

"Why? What is there to say? They can't stop us."

"They could." He grabbed for his jeans, and the phone in the pocket. "You're a minor."

Possibly that hadn't occurred to Kaelin yet. There was a short, uneasy silence behind him, as Trowa pulled his pants on and checked out the window, just in case. "They wouldn't do anything involving the police," Kaelin said uncertainly.

"Your dad wouldn't," he admitted. "Your mom... can be a little vindictive. I wouldn't have touched you if you weren't the age of consent."

Well-- he would have. After all, he and Quatre had only been fifteen. And virgin or not, Kaelin hadn't arrived at Trowa's doorstep without a more than fundamental knowledge of sex, so he wasn't going where no man had gone before-- not that that was an argument likely to endear Noin.

"Don't stress out." He buttoned his shirt, taking the time to be sure the right buttons went through the right holes. "I'll talk to them. They'll cool off."

"I'll run away with you first."

"Bullshit you will." He did turn, at that, to see Kaelin staring back at him, pale and flushed all at once, jaw in a stubborn jut. "That won't help anything, you little idiot."

"I would have been out of the house by summer anyway. If they can't deal with this then I don't want to deal with them."

"They've known less than a day. Do you always react perfectly to things that take you off guard? What'd you expect, Kaelin? They know me. I'm too old, and I'm used, and you're not."

"I made my own decisions."

Ignoring the rest, because what spoilt and well-looked-after teenager wanted to give his parents credit at a time like this? Trowa didn't answer, because there was nothing to say to that that wasn't going to insult the kid's dignity, and he didn't want to go chasing Kaelin down the street if he made good on the running threat.

Kaelin glowered at the sheets. "I wanted to tell them a different way. All of it. I tried, this year. Mum especially, though, she just doesn't stop-- it's always who are you seeing, do you have a girlfriend yet. She just never even thought about the possibility."

"She probably has." He gathered Kaelin's clothes from the carpet. "Maybe she'd rather not, but your mother's not stupid." He held out the pile, until Kaelin took it from him. "Get dressed. Okay?"

No-- he knew that without even being told. Kaelin tugged at him until he sat, until he lay back, and kissed him with a harder edge than normal. He really was worried, and Trowa didn't blame him; there was plenty to worry about. It made Kaelin more dedicated than normal, too, taking a more aggressive lead than even their first night, pushing Trowa's shirt up over his stomach to suck at his belly, and then opening his jeans to suck lower, too. Trowa mostly wanted to be thinking of what to do next, but Kaelin didn't give him time to be tepid. Trowa closed his eyes, and reached out a hand that felt a thousand times too heavy to rub at Kaelin's neck, to fist his hair. Kaelin's head began to bob, and he gave himself up to it for the moment.

It took a while to float down, after. Kaelin stretched up beside him, staring up at the ceiling, not at him. He was a little hard still, and curled toward him when Trowa touched him, but he didn't ask for more, so Trowa let it wait.

"You feel better?" he asked, instead.

"Kind of. Maybe."

"Maybe?"

Kaelin bit his lip, pulling just enough to make it tingle. "Can I stay tonight?"

"Sure. On one condition."

"What?" he asked warily.

"I call them and let them know you're here."

"So they can come storming over here?" Kaelin sprang back up to his feet, full of instantaneous angst, and finally got dressed. "I just want one more night. I just want one more damn night to pretend that maybe they'll be okay with it, and nothing will-- will blow up tomorrow."

"They're going to be more okay with it if we trust them. And if you trust me."

"No. You don't know them like I do, you haven't been around. If you call them, it'll happen tonight, and I'm not fucking ready."

"That's enough, Kaelin." He sat up, too, until that made for something unfortunate with the zip on his jeans, and he was distracted with that long enough for Kaelin to make it into the bath and start running water as loudly as possible. Trowa followed him. "I've known your mom and dad for longer than you've been alive. And I know how they expect to be dealt with."

"Yeah, but they're not your parents." Kaelin squirted far too much paste onto his brush and attacked his teeth, still talking. "They're mine. And either I matter enough to count or I don't, and if I don't, fuck you anyway."

"You matter." Kaelin was scrubbing his tongue vigorously enough to suggest he didn't like the taste there at the moment, and even though it was silly, Trowa found himself a little miffed at the implication. He turned off the sink faucet. "Everyone matters equally."

"Then give me one night before I have to deal with them!"

"I'm trying to. But you're fucking falling apart." Enough was enough. He opened his mobile and hit rocket dial. Quatre had been Number One on the list since they were kids. He put the phone to his ear just as Kaelin rocketed past him, not sparing a hefty slam into his shoulder first. The next slam was the door, as Kaelin did exactly what he'd promised to do, and left. "Fuck," Trowa said.

Which, of course, was the first thing Quatre heard when he answered the ring. "Excuse me?" his oldest friend demanded.

"Oh, hey." Trowa grabbed his boots and slid into them, leaving the laces for the moment. "I was just calling to say I was keeping Kaelin here tonight and we could talk about it in the morning. But he just stormed out. I'm going after him. Can you just wait on this tonight, Quat?"

There was a long silence-- he'd forgotten where exactly it was that Kaelin got that talent from. Then Quatre said, "Where did he go?"

"He didn't want me to call you. I'll find him." Key, car keys, but if Kaelin was on foot it would be better to be the same. Where the hell would he go, anyway, out here way past the residential quarter? "Look, I have to go. Can you just deal with Luce tonight so I can do that?"

Another silence, long enough Trowa was opening his mouth to fight again; and then Quatre just hung up. Trowa cussed at the mobile, but there wasn't time to stand there being hurt. He made sure the door locked behind him, and set off at a jog for the street.

Tram. The tram was the most obvious. Kaelin didn't know where anything was around here, which meant he'd have to go back into town. Except he wouldn't go home. Where did kids go when they were pissed at all the adults they knew?

To their friends, of course. And he'd only ever heard one name repeated.

Jamie Schbeiker opened the door on a ratty little apartment, and said, "Kae's in my room. But you have to hurry. You gotta be out of here before my mom gets back. She doesn't know about you yet."

"Great," Trowa answered. "One giant fucking conspiracy."

Hilde's place had all the earmarks of a single parent household. Too dirty, too old, too frazzled. There were newspapers spread open on the table, red ink circles around the job ads. A hoover that hadn't been used in a little too long left out on the carpet. An overflowing trash bin full of microwave dinner trays. Duo's picture on the wall, taken with her back when they'd actually resembled a couple, in the Great Breeding Days after the war. Everyone had shacked up then. A real rash of war babies.

Including the one sitting on the bottom bunk bed, in the little closet passing for a kid's bedroom.

"Kae," Jamie said, and twisted away from Trowa's gaze when it turned to him. "He's here. You want me to tell him to go, or is it cool?"

Kaelin got to his feet, for the pleasure of turning his slim back on them both. He stared out the window as if he were too bored to look at them. "Whatever," he said.

"Thanks, Jamie." Trowa reached over the kid's head for the door. He levered it closed, slowly pushing Jamie out with it, and latched it when it shut. "Is he going to listen at the keyhole?" he asked Kaelin.

"He already knows all about you anyway." Kaelin refused to turn. "So are my parents right behind you? Or the cops?"

"No. Maybe." He nudged a pair of discarded shoes out of his path. "For the moment, it's just me. So get your head out of your ass and come home with me."

"Which home?"

"Our home."

Kaelin's shoulders slumped.

"I'm just... trying to limit the damage, here," Trowa said. "Come on. None of this is fatal."

"Feels like it." Kaelin exhaled. It was only a little shaky. "I left my toothbrush there anyway."

"So get over here."

Kaelin obeyed, finally. Trowa yanked him the rest of the way and kissed him; he tried not to notice, so much, that it was the first time since their first night that it felt tentative. He didn't mention he'd only asked for a night, and he sure didn't add that he'd be surprised if they got that much. Damage control. And no need for Kaelin to figure out that Trowa was capable of a little, very little, panic, too. Very little.

It was just that Quatre had never hung up on him before. Quatre had never stopped him from saying anything he ever wanted to say, before. They'd been-- Quatre had been-- a constant. A true north for his navigation. Even when he was walking away he'd known where he was leaving from. Not even dying or amnesia or-- pregnant girlfriends had fucked that up.

Quatre had never hung up on him, before.

+

He had figured that once they knew, there'd be visitors. He had expected Noin, and hoped for Quat. To open the door on Zechs Merquise was a surprise and a half.

"Why are you here?" Trowa asked.

Merquise shrugged at him. "I'm visiting," he answered, easily enough, as if they'd just met in the street by chance, and not at the hotel room where he was hiding a kid who didn't want to be found. "A third-party intervention seemed most likely to defuse the situation without needless... noise."

"Huh." Trowa pulled his shirt on and buttoned it. "You look good."

"You as well." Merquise was the kind of man who was never going to look right out of uniform, but he still carried himself well. Trowa had lived most of his life with soldiers of one kind or another, less legitimate, kind, and some part of him was used to judging people by ingrained standards. Merquise met them. Authority, and a level gaze, and a competent, deadly air. Even when he was politely running interference for a madwoman.

"So," Trowa said. "Which one of you persuaded her that beating me senseless wasn't going to stop us?"

Merquise raised an eyebrow. Even such a little movement was elegant. "Presumably a desire to keep the salacious details, which were not shared with me, quiet."

"That sounds like that snivelling PR guy Quatre has," Trowa noted. "They didn't even tell the messenger what he was messaging?"

"It's clear enough. Stop diddling her baby boy and find someone your age who doesn't look suspiciously like Quatre Winner."

That was like a precise hit with the tip of an epee-- slicing in exactly where it was meant to go, not a centimetre wide. Trowa smiled coolly. "No-one's forcing him to come here."

"I really don't want to have this argument with you."

"Fine." Trowa kicked the door wide and turned his back. Merquise could follow if he "really wanted" to. "Beer?"

"The boy's not in there, is he?"

"Not this time, no." And the lie would have flown, except Kaelin chose that moment to come out of the bath in a billow of shower steam, a skimpy hotel towel wrapped low on his hips. Trowa decided to just keep walking; he opened the fridge and took out three bottles. He twisted the top from one and offered it to Merquise. Then he slung his arm around Kaelin's shoulders.

Merquise looked at him, assessing him, and for the first time since arriving he looked actually engaged. He never once looked at Kaelin. He said, "We both agree this is hardly the worst thing you've ever done, but do you really think it's worth the damage?"

He tried not to visibly stiffen. Kaelin did, and gripped his belt in back. "No one's being hurt here," he said. "Except maybe Quatre, who has no right to be."

"Quatre's the one person who hasn't protested, and you know it."

"Tell your girlfriend to step off. She's not helping things." Deliberately, he titled Kaelin's head back, and sucked at his neck. He left a mark before he looked back again, to see if Merquise would take the point.

The problem, of course, with the kind of personality Merquise and those soldiers Trowa admired had, was that they didn't bend at the first provocation. If anything, Merquise went more internal, steadier even than before. He said, mildness itself, "Do you really think you turned out fine, after whatever man did this service for you?"

There was no possible way for Merquise to have aim that accurate. To know exactly how much of that to say, to know what there would be to remember--

Helluva lot younger than Kaelin.  And the guy was no hero.  It was ugly, violent, and furtive, deep dark in some bunker, some frozen shelter somewhere where Alliance wouldn't find them for a few days-- He'd traded his innocence for the hope of a little protection.  He'd gotten that, but the price hadn't hit home until he was older, until Quatre, until he'd had a real intimacy, and recognised what it was supposed to really be like.

He hadn't given Kaelin a lot more than that. A softer bed. A nicer-- not much nicer-- not much measurably more humane introduction to sex. And Kaelin had come back the next day to tell him it was love. Kaelin had believed every word he'd said and taken promises out of what he'd left silent. Kaelin had... been a child he'd treated like an adult who knew all the same things Trowa the adult knew.

Trowa licked his lips. "Kaelin. Go make us some coffee, okay?" He squeezed the back of Kaelin's neck. "A couple cups. Merquise. How you take it?"

"Black," Merquise answered. "Thank you."

The kitchenette was hardly out of hearing, but it gave at least the illusion of privacy. For the adults in the room, that was the implication, and Trowa had to admit that it probably illustrated exactly the point Merquise had come to make, but there was nothing to be done about that when what was going to be said was really directed at Trowa, not Kaelin.

He got right down to it. "He could've gone home with some gold-digger."

"And I'd be talking to someone else, then. But I'm talking to you, and you ought to know why I shouldn't be."

"He's better off here than he could be. I at least give a shit, no matter what Noin thinks. You think I can just drive him off? Do you really think I haven't tried?"

"No, I don't think you really have." Merquise came two steps closer. "He'll cry a little and he'll feel burned by love. And when he's older, and wiser, he'll be better for having retained at least a little innocence." Another step, and Trowa realised that he had his back to the wall, and the only door was behind Merquise, not him. Merquise never so much as moved to touch him, but Trowa was stiff with knowing he could, that not many men did this if they didn't mean to.

"Didn't you wish you'd had that?" Merquise said. "Just a little innocence. Would have helped with the long nights, wouldn't it?"

Boxed him in, nicely as an expert. You really had to know what you were doing, to get it right, so effortlessly. To know what effect it had. Stifling. Hard to look up, let alone breathe.

And then, abruptly, Merquise passed by him, to go lean against the kitchenette counter. Kaelin handed him a steaming mug.

"Thank you, Kae," he said, urbane as if he'd never just run a guerrilla hit against home turf and come out with the bounty. He sipped the coffee, and let the mug rest between his hands. "I'm sorry, son, but it's time for you to get your things together. I'll drive you home."

"And I'm sorry, too, Mr Merquise, but I'm not going to go," Kaelin answered, every bit as level, even if he was a foot shorter and as fresh-faced as any OZ cadet had ever been. "I'm where I want to be."

"And where you can return in ten months, when you're eighteen."

"Which is exactly how old my father was when I was born," Kaelin said, this time with the edge showing. "Which makes him seventeen when he and my mother, who was years older than him, were pregnant with me."

"It was a different time."

"No. It's different now." Kaelin flattened his hands on the counter. Trowa watched him, feeling as if he were listening to the sounds of some film playing in another room; he could see it all, but nothing felt real. "I've grown up to every story anyone could tell about the Colony War and the Alliance Years. I'm not with Trowa because I was forced to be, I'm not here because I'm hiding from an army or because I need food or shelter. I'm here because I love him. I'm here because I choose him."

"Kaelin."

The kid's head swung around to him. And then, a second later, without even being told, Trowa saw Kaelin understand.

"No," Kaelin started.

"Kaelin." He cut across the denial and got absolute silence, though Kaelin's eyes were already going red. "Go pack your stuff, okay. You should go."

Kaelin didn't protest again. Trowa could almost be proud of that. Kid didn't lack for-- anything but the things he wanted.

"Merquise will drive you home," he said.

Kaelin took it with more dignity than anyone enduring what he was ought to have displayed. His jaw went into lock, and his shoulders went back. Evenly, so evenly, he replied, "The coffee's on."

"Thanks."

"You want cream and sugar?"

"Look, Kaelin, it's just not worth it."

Kaelin ignored him. He poured a mug for Trowa, and one for himself. He stood sipping it, which announced as well as anything else he could have done-- that he was still a kid, after all, and thought if he pretended long enough he wouldn't have to hear it.

Trowa said, "Go home."

"You're not pitching me out."

"Yeah, I am. I'm not right for you."

"Because Mom's friend came over to yell at you? I was right enough last night."

"I'm not arguing that you're not beautiful. Or that you don't turn me on." Merquise stood there with his head ducked low. Kaelin stood there staring at him with too much going on behind the eyes, too fast. Trowa had to go two breaths before he could finish. "But I can't be what you need and I'm not willing to lose your father's friendship because we're fucking. There are plenty of appropriate guys out there. Find one of them."

Kaelin licked his lips, and looked down. He looked down at the mug in his hands, and then he turned and dropped it into the sink, and then the carafe after it. The carafe shattered on impact, and everyone flinched, except Kaelin. Kaelin said, low and poisonous, "I was so wrong about you."

"Yeah, kid. You were."

"They joke about how you're in love with him. I knew you were thinking about him when you were with me. They all think you're pathetic."

He took the second body slam Kaelin gave him in as many days, and thumped into the wall behind him. He didn't move, even after they left.

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