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

Age Inappropriate (cont)

The bar was the least dive-like of all the dives on the block, but that wasn't why he chose it. There was a little rainbow flag almost hidden in the corner of the display window, under a hand-written sign for a new drink special. It wasn't like L2, where there were entire sectors full of gays or gay-friendlies. Bars like this were non-existent on L4. Almost. He was curious to see it, if nothing else, and hopeful of a certain kind of prospects, if it would help pass the evening faster.

Not much impressive, as it turned out. The bell clang as he opened the door was subdued, like the atmosphere. It was dim, but it was clean, at least, and the waiters wore actual uniforms, spruce polo shirts that showed off muscles in the right places without being overly obvious. The clientèle didn't measure up quite as well as the staff. He got a few glances on the short path to the bar, but it was mostly couples or older men, who stayed occupied with the business at their own tables. There was a prominent license displayed over the taps. Everything had the overly-cared-for look of a place that expected to get hit. It didn't exactly welcome with open arms.

He ordered a beer and chatted with the bartender long enough to decide he didn't want to stay for the conversation, and paid upfront for the drink instead of opening a tab. The bartender came back as he was taking out his wallet to pay. "What was that, three fifty?" Trowa asked him.

"Try five fifty, sweetheart," the bartender answered. "Here. With compliments from the gentleman." He put a long-stemmed martini in front of Trowa.

"I don't take drinks from strangers." Trowa used two fingers to push it away. It sloshed with a strong smell of sour apple green.

"Your loss, honey." He took the tenner Trowa handed him and went back to the register for change. Trowa turned, as casually as he could, and sent a subtle glance around the bar. There was no-one immediately obvious looking back at him-- no, there he was. Almost hidden by a support pillar, in a dark little corner table. Zechs Merquise.

Merquise raised his glass in a silent toast. Trowa grimaced and turned his back again. That was not a face he particularly wanted to see. In a gay bar.

It still stung, how Merquise had known exactly what to say, the day he'd come to take Kaelin away from the big bad man who was tarnishing his innocence. Merquise wasn't exactly one to talk-- child soldiers had one thing in common, no matter if they were "real" military or rebels hiding in abandoned satellites, and that was adults who wanted to control you and change you.

It wasn't fair, entirely, to compare Trowa to that. To compare Kaelin to that. They all chose, even if they only thought they did, but Kaelin was-- rich. Loved by his parents. Privileged. Educated. Safe. Trowa didn't want to change any of that, take any of that away. But maybe it was fair to say that he might, accidentally, without even wanting to.

Trowa turned around again. Merquise was still looking at him. Sour apples, indeed. That was probably meant to be a joke-- if it wasn't supposed to be an insult.

"Your change," the bartender said. "Honey, you listen good-- we don't get faces like that in here much. You need to take one for the team. Make us proud."

He cracked a smile at that. "Yeah. Probably you're right." He pocketed his cash, swept the drink off the bar, and took it across the floor to Merquise's table.

"You always were such a fag," he said, and took the open chair across from the man.

Merquise was drinking a perfectly normal whiskey. He toasted, again, and sipped at the icemelt. "Your boyfriend too young for bars?"

"I don't have a boyfriend." The drink tasted as bad as it smelled, but it was at least heavy on the liquor. "You slumming, Merquise? I didn't think this was your kind of place."

"I like to mingle with the common folk every other Tuesday."

That was funny. Might even have been true. They were the belles of the ball, certainly. There were definitely eyes on them now, people taking an interest. He wondered if people always fell over themselves for Merquise.

"So," the man said. "You broke up with Kaelin?"

"You should know," he retorted. "You're the one they sent to drag him off."

"I didn't really expect you to listen."

"You gave a pretty good imitation of it." He shrugged, and took a deep swig of the martini. He was back to the notion of finishing fast and getting the hell out. "Whatever. None of you were wrong. Apparently."

"He was too young for you."

"Yeah."

"No-one denies he's an attractive young man. I don't think the theory shocks anyone."

"So now that we've established this was the best thing for everyone, can we drop the platitudes and the rationalisations and just drink our fucking alcohol?"

Merquise took that in better grace than it was delivered. He even managed to shut up. He signaled the bartender for another round, and Trowa turned to make sure that what he got was a beer, not another joke. They were mutually silent until the drinks came, and with them a bowl of peanuts. Trowa seized on them first, not because he was hungry, but for something to do with his hands besides get drunk. Now that he had an audience who knew him, he wasn't so keen on getting shit-faced. No need to confirm all of his bad habits in front of other people. He broke open shells, several shells, and rattled the paper-skinned nuts in his palm before funneling them into his mouth. "So you really come here?" he asked around the mouthful. "On a regular basis?"

Merquize answered easily enough. "I discovered a long time ago that the person I used to be was not the person I wanted to be, and that it was a matter of choice."

He thought about that. He'd often thought about Merquise, actually-- the two men he had been. Merquise had re-invented himself, more than a few times, in the past. Maybe not so distant past as all that. "Who do you want to be?" he said.

"Sam Massey."

"Who?"

"Sam Massey." Merquise sipped at his new whiskey. "I went to Academy with Sam. He washed out. I had completely forgot about him, until I ran into him, totally by chance, a few years ago. He's a father. Two kids. His wife is a chemical engineer. She's gorgeous. He drives a family van and a Harley, wears a suit five days a week and leather the other two. He smokes dope once a month at poker, and what his priest doesn't know won't hurt any." He drank again, and let the glass rest gently to the table. "He's the most normal human being I've ever met."

The long answer amused him, when he hadn't expected to be amused. He began to let his guard down. Merquise wasn't here for another kick in the ass, after all, not if he was going to talk like that. "Kinda kinky there, Zechs. I don't know. Normal has never been for either of us."

"No," Merquise agreed. "But it's not the worst goal to bear in mind."

"Good luck with that then."

"So how long has this been going on with you? The mid-life crisis."

He coughed on a carbonated mouthful. "Mid-life what? You're kidding, right?"

"You have all the classic signs. Up to and including a fling with some pretty young piece of fluff." The creases next to Merquise's mouth suggested a smile. "I admit, going to your best friend's son was an extra effort, though."

"Kaelin was not a piece of fluff to make me feel young again. And you're on dangerous ground, Merquise."

"Stop feeling so threatened. The worst I'll do is take a few swipes at your pride."

"I'm not threatened. I'd just rather not talk about Kaelin."

"Message received." There was a pause as Merquise tilted his head and however many pounds of hair he still had back for the final swallow. "So in a week of what I presume was enthusiastic and athletic fucking on bear-skin rugs, you actually developed feelings for a teenager?"

"I distinctly heard, 'message received.'"

"Oh, was I supposed to obey something?"

"One rule. Kaelin's off limits."

Merquise reached across the table to touch Trowa's wrist. "All right. For real."

He wasn't fooled, this time. He didn't relax. "No problem," he lied. "You always did love playing devil's advocate. So to speak. Treize must've loved that."

"I believe he regarded it as one of my many sterling qualities, yes."

There was a lot about Merquise that Treize had probably 'loved'. Merquise was bland enough to let it hang there, implied. Trowa didn't like that. Didn't like that Merquise seemed to have the upper hand every time they faced off, knew where to strike whenever it came Trowa's turn.

"So you couldn't find a man your age who appealed?" Merquise asked, one more time disregarding his requests. Trowa slammed his bottle to the table.

"I only sleep alone when I want to," he said flatly.

"Want to, then?"

"What-- with you?"

"I did buy you a drink."

How was that for being blindsided. He called for a second beer, buying time. Who knew L4 was going to be full of offers? "I'm cheap, but not that cheap, your highness."

"I suppose I can spring for another."

"Why?"

"Why not?" The third round was fast arriving. Merquise arranged their empties on the edge of the table, a little glass wall between them and the rest of the bar. "I haven't had you since you were my bit of fluff, a few decades ago. Maybe you remember. Maybe not."

He remembered. It had been before Quatre-- well, during Quatre, but before he'd figured out certain important things. Heero had been monofocussed on the upcoming duel, those long cold weeks in the arctic, and Trowa had felt a loyalty to him, a need to be close to him and support him, heavily coloured with hero worship. The littlest things had been capable of utterly devastating him-- a frown when he'd expected a nod, silence when he wanted a thanks. Heero's steady resistance to touching him. His nights were full of confusing dreams, and with nothing to do but trail Heero around there was nothing to distract from everything he couldn't do anything about, and everything had taken on the same nightmarish importance. Catherine. The war. Blue eyes and a disappointing inability in himself to say no to them.

Well, that at least was in character. He probably couldn't get drunk enough to forget Kaelin in one night, but maybe it was worth a try after all.

"To what end?" he said, remembering suddenly there'd been a question.

"To your end." Merquise raised pale eyebrows. "Unless you're a top, these days."

There were ways and ways to forget, maybe. One of them probably wouldn't wake him up with a headache and nausea. So why not? They were both adults, which was Merquise's point, and he already knew it would be good. Assuming Merquise managed to keep his mouth shut, or at least put it to better use than poking Trowa at every opportunity. Probably he shouldn't count on that to happen, but he could always walk away. Merquise wasn't going to come stalking him, like Kaelin had. Nobody who wasn't seventeen was going to figure Trowa Barton was worth it.

Trowa finished his beer, and said, "I guess we can work that out."

Merquise grinned into his glass. "We can take the tram to my place."

It was the second time since arriving on-colony that he was dangerously close to getting off in public transport. Merquise stood close behind him, though there was plenty of standing room, even that time of night, gripping the same handle as Trowa, and sometimes just gripping his hand. Merquise was still taller, if not by as much these days; tall enough to lean a little over him, close enough to feel his breath when the tram rocked them against each other. And Merquise had an instinctive feel for how to touch, too; a man's touch, a mature touch. His finger trailed the soft hairs at the back of Trowa's neck, rifling gooseflesh and raising shivers; nothing more sophisticated than that, but he didn't need more. It was-- kind of perfect. Trowa found himself staring out the window with a crooked smile on his lips.

"I was never your bit of fluff, Zechs," he said.

Merquise smirked down at him with heated eyes. "You were damn close."

"I guess we'll see what else we can get close to now."

He played at almost-kissing Trowa. Their mouths were only a hair apart.

"Do it," Trowa whispered.

Merquise immediately released Trowa's waist. "This is our stop."

Tease. A very capable tease.

He couldn't have retraced the walk from the tram stop to Merquise's apartment if he'd had to. The reality of their little assignation was hitting him, and his blood was up-- a lot was up. And it felt-- different, than that short time with Kaelin, in ways he hadn't even realised he was missing. There was a strange kind of freedom in being able to do whatever the hell he wanted without having anyone look twice at them, or at least no more than they would for any gay couple walking up the street with their hands down each others' pants. Which Merquise was very free about doing, squeezing his ass, slipping a hand up his jacket to his pecs. He was turned on, no denying.

But not by little Mr Sam Massey. It was an odd thought to have. With Kaelin, it hadn't really been about sex. Sure, the kid had run a strong campaign to get him into bed, but he'd been aware the whole time of who it was revving him up. Now he honestly couldn't say it had anything to do with Merquise.

Merquise had a proper hotel, not the long-stay residence Trowa had got. They had to cross the lobby, though it was thankfully empty of anyone to stare as Merquise sucked on his neck. He got Merquise's shirt open in the lift, and Merquise pressed him against the door to do a very dirty thing with straying fingers. There was no more wasted speech, not now. Merquise finally got the key in the lock, and they tumbled through the door. Trowa got a muzzy impression ritzy modern digs, fresh flowers in an ugly black-and-white arrangement, two uniforms hanging neatly pressed in the open closet, and then Merquise had him against the wall again, stripping him of his jacket, pinning him there with his hips and rocking against him. There was no more play in the deep, forceful kiss that pressed his jaws open, in the tongue that invaded his mouth. Trowa dragged Merquise's jumper off over his head, dug fists into the tangled hair that sifted down. It was silent, and serious, and if it lacked a little of the-- sense of play, of excitement, that it had had with Kaelin, well, there was nothing going to be wrong with the way it ended.

"Bed, couch-- floor-- or right here?" Merquise opened his trousers and stroked him one-handed. Sure touch, callused fingers, with a primal sense of exactly how hard was just hard enough. Trowa returned the favour, ripping the man's zip open. No underwear, of course, which should've been silly, not sexy, but he was just glad to have the hot heavy cock come easily to hand. He'd forgotten how hung Merquise was. Smug about it, too, self-satisfied in the smirk Trowa tried to bite from his lips. He took a thick handful of warm balls and squeezed them.

"I really," he said, "don't give a shit."

Merquise did exactly what Kaelin had done. He reached for Trowa's wallet and found the condom in the pocket.

Painfully familiar.

There was only one way to deal with pain, in his experience. Bull right on through it.

He took the condom, this time. He tore it open with his teeth and got it started unrolling with his tongue, then went down between their hips to slip it onto Merquise. There must not have been too much like hesitation in his actions, because Merquise didn't pause at all, still jerking him off slow and rough, lips against his ear, his neck, teeth digging at his collarbone. Still close like that, Merquise walked him backward, fingers teasing his ass crack, fist on his dick around front using it like the handle of a push-cart to move him in the right direction. His calves hit a mattress, finally, and he went with the shove that pushed him backward, bouncing off a silky duvet. Merquise took care of the rest of their clothes, pulling his shoes off with his jeans and underpants, then kicking his own to the carpet. He posed for a moment with one knee on the edge between Trowa's legs, fisting himself with a palmful of lube, eyes hot as he touched himself. Trowa made an equal point of enjoying the show.

"Why'd you get involved with this at all?" he asked. He pulled one of the decorative pillows from behind his head and propped it under his hips.

"Noin asked."

"Don't you mean Lucy Darling?"

"Quatre makes her a better husband than I ever did. She was a comrade before she was a friend."

"Facts is facts, huh."

"You were wrong for the boy." Merquise lowered himself down, positioning Trowa's left leg high on his shoulder and setting muscular thighs to Trowa's hips. "He was wrong for you. This is right."

He shut down the conversation with a rough kiss. Merquise obeyed that signal, at least. He fit the tip of his cock to Trowa's asshole, and then he pushed in.

It had been several years at least since he'd bottomed. He had completely forgotten how it felt. There was no pause for adjusting, no consideration for any pain he might have felt-- not with Merquise. He was moving immediately, deep strokes that sawed in and out as if he could barely squeeze back in each time. Merquise didn't spare extraneous touches, not now, except to gather up his dick and balls in one tight grip that guaranteed he wouldn't be coming too quickly. No tenderness here, not even in absence-- it was a good hard fucking from start to finish, cracking the headboard against the wall, creaking the mattress springs, driving the breath out of him with each thrust. He would have had to be dead not to be into it.

Into it. Not Merquise.

They separated long enough for Trowa to roll onto his stomach. Merquise lay over him, sliding back in more easily now, urging him into a low crouch, a rougher rhythm. Trowa let Merquise take care of balancing them, freeing his hands to dig his nails into the thick flexing thighs behind him. "You have a great body," he said breathlessly. "How often do you work out?"

"Three hours three times a week." Merquise fisted his hair, wrenching his head down, exposing the back of his neck to sharp teeth. "You're perfect."

"I try." Merquise gripped the headboard. "Harder," Trowa said, and braced himself too.

Merquise could do harder. Harder everything. Trowa found himself pushed face-down into the pillows, his ass in the air. Merquise held him down for it, and abandoned himself to everything but the slap of their bodies together. Trowa didn't even have to touch himself. For maybe the first time ever, he came just from being fucked. He shot his load into the duvet and lay panting into the pillows. He rocked with the four more violent thrusts, and then Merquise stilled behind him, his hands painfully clutching Trowa's hips.

Perfect. Right.

He allowed Merquise to go collapsing on top of him, since it was kind of the done thing, but the man turned out to be pretty heavy. He bore it for a few minutes before shifting significantly. Merquise took the hint with a huff of breath, and rolled off him to the side. Trowa had to fight his hair off his face, smashed down and tangled from being shoved into the pillows, but the view was worth it. Merquise really was a good looking man. The-- he found a clock facing him from over the television in the entertainment centre-- twenty minutes of solid effort had wrung them both out, but Merquise was basking in the afterglow, sweat matting the hair on his chest, gleaming on his skin.

"Do this often?" he asked eventually.

"I don't sleep alone unless I choose to," Merquise mimicked him. There was no bite in it, though. He ran a lazy hand over Trowa's chest, and let his palm rest warmly over Trowa's stomach. "No, not often."

He smiled a little. He didn't, either, not really. Maybe if he'd been a little more-- satisfied--

Or not. There was more to Kaelin than a one-off. Whether he wanted there to be or not. It wasn't like he'd really said no. Kaelin had been able to waltz right back in where he wanted, minus a little pride, perhaps, but it was good to feel like you'd earned something. Won something. Not like Trowa, who was probably a little too easily pushed around. He'd let himself be dictated to since landing at the shuttle port. Go here. Do this. Sleep with me. No, with me. Let go. Merquise at least didn't seem to think it was a serious short-coming, or not serious enough to outweigh a ridiculously easy trip into bed.

He hadn't even argued about topping. Next time. Merquise was democratic enough for turn-switching.

Next time. His mind was making itself up without his input.

Merquise said, "Don't take it the wrong way if I drift off."

"Am I staying?"

"If you want. If not, I understand."

"I'm tired. It's cold out." It was perfectly balanced, of course, because L4 was nothing if not self-consciously perfect. Perfect. "No point rushing," he said.

Merquise yawned into his hand. "I'll toss breakfast into the deal." He finally got rid of the condom, and tossed a few fluttering tissues at Trowa. Trowa took them, but made the extra effort to get up and find the opulent little bath to take a piss. When he got back, Merquise was dozing, just as promised, mouth slightly open in a way that suggested snoring. Trowa nudged him over onto his side, which he took to without any protest or without really even waking, and that was the last thing Trowa remembered doing before going to sleep.

+

He woke up sore on the inside and numb on the outside. Merquise was draped all over him again, and his arm had gone tingly without access to his blood. He turned his head to bite Merquise's shoulder hard enough to wake him. He got a mumbled 'ow', but it served. Merquise rolled away. Trowa flexed his arm gratefully.

"You're heavy," he said.

"Are you blaming me?" Merquise fumbled for a travel clock on the bedside table. He muttered something unintelligible and got up for search that ended in clean underpants out of a suitcase.

"Late for something?" Trowa asked him.

"Starving."

He laughed. He rubbed a little sand from his eyes and stretched out the kinks. Merquise's swanky hotel had a better bed than the one he'd been living on. He'd have to sneak a look at the mattress tag later. "What's for breakfast?"

"Oatmeal."

"You're kidding."

"Yeah." He tossed a pair of boxers at Trowa, and shimmied into a pair of tighty whiteys with a disgusting sort of inherent grace. Trowa displayed absolutely none of the same, fumbling out of the bed, tripping in a corner of trailing sheet and having to look under all sorts of furniture he didn't remember being there the night before as he looked for his clothes. He found his jeans draped mostly behind a settee, couldn't locate his underwear. It wasn't worth wearing Merquise's, though.

Joining the list of ways Merquise's hotel was better was the expansive kitchen and dinette attached to the suite. It was as large as the kitchen Trowa had had in his last place on Earth, and newer and nicer, at that. Merquise was digging in the full-size refrigerator, and he emerged with eggs and packaged meat as Trowa followed him in. "Coffee?" Trowa asked.

"Cupboard over the stove. Get it started?"

"Sure." Snooty African beans in a jar, not a bag. There was a grinder next to them, which reinforced Trowa's notion that fancy food was another way of saying hard work. He filled the grinder and set it to running. Merquise had a pan on the stove heating, and a large spread was taking over the counter. Sausage, potatoes. Corned beef, being shredded, currently, with a fork, for a purpose Trowa wasn't awake enough to figure out. He did jump when Merquise suddenly turned around, a plant from the windowsill in his hand, a leaf being pushed past his teeth.

"Mint," Merquise said. "Chew it."

He did, but only because he could taste that it really was mint. "You're not normal, Zechs."

Merquise kissed him, lingering at it. "Mint," he said again. "How do you take your eggs?"

"Over-easy." He went through the business of setting up the coffee maker, autopiloting through a task his hands knew better than his brain. He was turned again for another culinary assault on his mouth, this time a cut pepper, and a minute after that a sliver of the corned beef. "What are you making?"

"Hash and browns." The pan was sizzling, and Merquise kept the contents moving, flipping, fussing with a spatula. Trowa managed to dodge the next bit of finger-food headed toward him, and warned, "I'm not fifteen any more."

"Who said you were?"

"You don't need to hand-feed me."

He shrugged his acceptance, and fed himself instead. "Plates are the cupboard over the sink."

Maybe he wasn't fifteen, but he did feel-- less. More awkward than Merquise. Maybe it was too much clarity in the memory of their last 'morning after', when Merquise had been far kinder than Trowa had expected, and been rudely dealt with because of it. Apparently Trowa hadn't outgrown that response. He didn't really care about the finger-feeding; it was the gentility of it that put him off. Grown men didn't finger-feed. They fucked and ducked. Assuming they stuck around til morning.

He'd been shoving men out the door for a decade. Until Kaelin.

Jesus. He had to stop thinking about the kid.

He set the table without being asked twice. "You surprised me. Last night."

"Did I?"

"A little. Yeah."

"Pleasantly or un?"

Trowa shrugged. "Plans for today?"

"Dinner with Quatre and Noin. Lucy Darling, that is. You?"

"Sure as hell not that." Merquise grinned at that. "I've got shit to do. You can come by after your dinner with the family if you feel like it."

Merquise left the cooking for a moment to meet his look. It hung there, his invitation, long enough for him to regret it, and to remind himself that fucking and ducking was a good idea for a reason.

"Want me to bring anything?" Merquise asked.

"Toothbrush." Trowa twitched a smile. "I hate when people try to share mine."

He still had Kaelin's.

Merquise nodded peaceably. "Probably around half nine, then."

"All right." He used the fork he'd put out on the table to reach into the fry pan. He speared a thick chunk of corned beef. "I'll stock up on oatmeal."

He finally got an outright laugh for that. "You do so."

+

The second time he went face-down in a pillow, he realised he'd forgotten to ask-- say-- about topping. In his own bed.

"Didn't I hear you were shopping for an apartment?" Merquise asked. He hit the mattress with a little jounce, muscular arms propped behind his head, all aglow and still awake, at least. Trowa, on the other hand, was fighting off a nap.

"Yeah," he said. "I applied at a couple of places." He squirmed for comfort. "So-- you're obviously carrying something, though."

"What?"

"It's like you're trying to get something out of your system." He grabbed for the tissue box. He was running low. He hadn't replaced it since renting the room. He shared the last two with Merquise, and flung them at his trash bin. "Out of yours and into mine. No-one fucks like that who hasn't got some kind of issues."

Merquise followed his shot with the second tissue, swishing right into the bin. "Maybe the rest of the time I'm trying to hold it in."

"Why bother?"

"Part of growing up is reigning in your impulses. Isn't it?"

It seemed like Merquise spent a lot of time reminding him of growing up. Trowa hadn't figured out if it was intentional. "Not all of them," he said. "Do that for long enough and you'll implode."

"Or grow up."

"Over-rated."

"I'm not surprised you think so." Merquise plumped his pillow and settled facing Trowa. "You haven't asked me if Kaelin was at dinner."

He tried not to freeze in place. "Why would I?"

"No reason, then."

"Was he?"

Short pause, with Merquise looking at him, blue eyes a mystery. "No."

He swallowed. Flicked his eyes to the painting on the wall, impressionist flowers, a terracotta house somewhere on Earth. "Lucy cooked?" he asked casually.

Merquise snorted. "Noin can't cook in a microwave. Quatre did."

"Let me guess. Paella." He could smile for that. "He always makes paella."

"Mmhm. Fresh mussels and langoustine. Decadent."

"Tin roof ice cream over chocolate pound cake for dessert."

"No, he didn't tell you? They're on low-sugar diets now."

"That's hilarious. And it won't last."

"I think it's precautionary. Family history of diabetes."

"Who, Quat?" He propped himself on an elbow, a little concerned now.

"His grandfather. He's not sure if his father had it. Died too early. Of course if he can't have sugar, Noin won't eat it, either. Better altogether to remove it from the house."

"Shit. He never said a word."

"He's not actually sick. Why would he say anything?"

He shrugged away Merquise's determination to be sensible. He was projecting and he knew it. He was just sure that Quat would never speak to him again, about anything; if it was his kid he probably wouldn't.

It didn't take Merquise but a moment to cotton on to his thoughts. He said, quite gently, "Quatre will forgive you. Noin won't, but you never cared about her."

"Not particularly." He pulled the pillow under his chest and lay on it. "One way or the other. Why would I?"

"She's married to your past lover and the mother of your present one. Reason enough to at least watch which way the wind is blowing."

"Kaelin and I are over. Quat and I probably are too."

Merquise kissed him, and rubbed his neck tenderly. "You really don't know the first thing about Winners, do you?"

"Apparently," he said.

+

He couldn't say life on L4 wasn't interesting.

The thing with Merquise became a regular. They never attempted to spend the day together, which he liked; if they made plans they were always for just the evening, never even for the night after, and he liked that, too. It made it feel spontaneous, or at least-- uninvested. What the hell.

What the hell, everything. Life had always been a bit fucked up. A lot fucked up. It was easy to hold back when there wasn't anything there to pour into. He had no anchors, and he knew it; no job, a fractured friendship, living in a hotel.

"Only for a little longer," Merquise reminded him. "By the way, did you need references?"

"You don't think Quat will say nice things about me when they call him?" He finished his steak and dropped the plate onto the coffee table. Probably Quat would, actually. He was just that fair. Ridiculously. "Une will make the light shine out my ass. Don't you think?"

"Oh, definitely. She doesn't hold grudges at all."

"You know, Quat said, the first night I was here, something about we'd both seen it coming. But I didn't." He swigged at the warming last swallows of his beer. "I knew I wasn't particularly happy. I thought it was general life entropy."

"Anyone who knows you could see you weren't cut out for a long-term commitment to a job as regimented as Preventers."

They worked, in an odd kind of way. It was comfortable. They were both men who reserved emotion. Who didn't make a big deal out of things that weren't. He still didn't like how Merquise had a way of saying uncomplimentary things as if they were obvious, but he wasn't wrong. For years he'd been feeling like control of his life was just out of reach. Other people seemed to find it easy and convenient to control him, though. It had been easy to develop inertia. An antipathy to creating his own movement. It didn't help that all around him there were people who knew exactly what they wanted and how to go out and get it. It was just like being back with Heero in those early days of the war, playing the clueless tag-along while Heero made all the decisions. Trowa had never known what he wanted. He hadn't ever really wanted anything.

Except Quat. He loved Quat, or at least that's what he'd told himself it was at the time.  The symptoms all fit the disease, and in his warped frame of reference, it was a sickness then.  A cumbersome sickness he was careful to hide, like he hid what he felt for Cathy.  He hadn't had the luxury of forming attachments then.  It wasn't until after the war that he'd accepted what he felt for Quat was what it was. In true form, of course; by then, having Quat was impossible. He'd meandered through his little angsty crisis for so long that Quatre's feelings for him had mellowed from passion to friendship. He still hadn't figured out what it meant that he'd been replaced by Noin, of all possible people. So maybe he'd lied to Kaelin. You were confused all the time, and by the time you finally got a little corner of your shit together, it was too late, and the opportunities you'd thought were immutable turned out to be as short as a nine-month pregnancy.

He cleared his throat. "I never was a good company man."

Merquise set his dish down as well, and settled on Trowa's little couch to look at him face-on. "What will you do now?" he asked.

"Go off somewhere. Write the great colonial novel."

"Oh, indeed."

"And there will be sex in it. A lot of sex."

He got a surprised and hearty laugh for that. "Well," Merquise said, "you've got one reader primed and ready." He lifted his hand from the back of the couch and let it rest on Trowa's shoulder. He squeezed gently, and then pulled softly at Trowa's collar. It slipped a half-heartedly closed button and opened enough for Merquise's thumb to brush his skin.

Trowa said, "Primed and ready is good."

They were well past the point where it needed any more introduction. Trowa pushed the coffee table skidding away on the carpet and settled on his knees. Merquise popped his jeans and Trowa peeled them down. He was already hard and leaking. Big surprise. Since they'd begun this he'd hardly seen Merquise any other way.

"More tongue," Merquise murmured at him, and there was something else after that, but he tuned it out. He knew plenty what he was doing and had no intentions of taking instruction. He even rather liked it. Even when the guy was hung like a baby's arm. He scooted closer, with Merquise's hand in his hair urging him on.

So of course Kaelin came in then.

Merquise got out a "Shit" when the door started opening. Trowa jerked away and threw a pillow at the lap he'd been sucking. Unfortunately, Kaelin wasn't a moron, so there was no hiding what they'd been doing. Kaelin stood there staring at them like he'd been stabbed in the chest. Repeatedly.

Trowa pulled his shirt closed. "Come on in," he said dryly.

"I knocked," Kaelin accused.

"Yeah, I heard you. Most people go away when no one answers. Did you come to return your key?"

Merquise eased to his feet, pillow secured in place. He grabbed his jeans from the floor, and made himself scarce. The bathroom door closed after him.

Kaelin was still in shock. His face didn't hide a damn thing. Every horrified thought was perfectly clear. Trowa fixed his buttons. "Hi," he said, trying for a gentler tone. "Sucks that you had to walk into that."

"I--" Kaelin's chest heaved with uneven breaths. He was still wearing his school blazer. He was carrying a flute case. "I've barely been gone a week."

"Seventeen days, Kaelin."

"With him?" He flung a hand after Merquise. "He's old!"

"Not much older than I am." Everything took a sideways slide into the ludicrous. He dragged a hand through his hair, only then realising it was standing on end from Merquise rubbing all over it. "Look, you don't belong to me any more. And it's better if I leave you alone."

"If you wanted to dump me for someone else you should have just said so!" Then Kaelin blanched, so suddenly Trowa actually took a step toward him. "Unless you were already seeing him--"

"You know better."

"Well, then-- why? I thought-- thought it was something--"

"And I thought you were gone."

"Because you tossed me out!"

"Yeah. I did. I care about you too much to put you at war with your parents for a relationship you're probably going to outgrow in a few months. And I care about your parents too much too."

"Yeah, I can tell you're really broken up over the whole thing!"

He tried for a reasonable tone. It went ignored. "Did you sit home pining the last couple of weeks, baby? Come on--"

"I thought we had something. I thought, I don't know, if I came back here, I could-- convince you." Kaelin swallowed. He opened his mouth for more, but the bath opened, too, and Merquise emerged, immaculate. Kaelin glared, but Merquise, with great aplomb, did not even glance at him. Instead he came to Trowa by the couch, and kissed his cheek. "Good luck," he murmured.

Trowa touched his arm. "Hey. Sorry."

"It's all right. Another time." He put his shoes on. "Hello, Kaelin," he said then, and inclined his head exactly the right increment to suggest they were all behaving like children, and should pull it together or else. The man was born to lead. "Good night."

It gave them exactly the right amount of breathing time, too. Trowa sat on the couch as the door snicked closed. Kaelin was clutching his arms to his chest-- it was a good visual for a broken heart. "You thought what, kiddo?"

Kaelin came a step closer as if he were jumping into a pit of snakes. And even though Trowa had just been going down on a man who was by any measure an ideal of masculinity and good looks, something in his gut went tight looking at this undergrown little boy who couldn't stop forcing his way into Trowa's life.

"Convince you to take me back," Kaelin whispered.

He had to clear his throat again. "Why?"

"Because I'm better for you than Zechs Merquise!"

He had to laugh. There was something kind of wonderful about that brilliant display of arrogance. He put a hand out, and that was all it took. Kaelin was on his knees at Trowa's feet like he'd flown the distance. Trowa urged him up onto the cushions, into the space beneath his arm, and held him there. Considering he'd just spent seventeen days talking himself out of this very thing, his brain didn't seem to be speaking louder than the elation, or the tenderness. The triumph.

Healthy dose of fear, too. God, the kid had defied everything to come back here. Even Trowa. What did you do with someone who could do that? He wasn't sure he could live up to the promise. The kid was no angel, but it felt like a long-lost chance. Like a fresh start.

"It's going to change things," he managed. Kaelin's hair smelled exactly as he remembered. "Between the two of us, and them, forever. Maybe in ways you won't like."

"I don't care," Kaelin said, of course. "They're just my parents. I love you."

He hugged Kaelin close with a shaky laugh. "That's bullshit. It's never as simple as that. But I... love you, too."

Quat would have heard it. Merquise might have, too. Kaelin had been raised with love, though, and those words were daily usage to him. Trowa didn't mind. It was enough that he knew. It was enough to know he'd been wrong, a million years ago, when he'd thought he'd never feel enough to actually say those words.

It was enough that Kaelin heard what he wanted to, which was the same adoration he was giving Trowa. He turned up to Trowa like chains couldn't have kept him down. Like masturbation had been hell. He kissed harder than he'd ever done it before, so deep that neither of them could breathe.

"You taste like him," Kaelin said. He slid onto Trowa's lap and bent his head back with hands cupped to his cheeks. "You smell like him."

"I'm sorry."

"You're mine. I'll fight for you."

He curled his arms around Kaelin's hips. It was like the whole world had gone back on kilter. It just felt right. He tried to tell himself the flood would pass and he'd wake up in the morning with a big load of reality to deal with, but his blood pressure wasn't listening. He felt high as a kite.

"You stole that key," he said. "Didn't you?" He bit Kaelin's plump lower lip. "I knew. I wondered if you'd use it."

Kaelin grinned down at him. "So what-- you expected me to come back all this time?"

No. No, he honestly hadn't. What a wonderful way to be wrong.

"Bastard." Kaelin bit back, enough to sting, and soothed it with soft caresses with his tongue. Trowa was hard as a rock, harder; crazily turned on. Kaelin arched in his arms, and his hands were fists in Trowa's hair, locking him into place. "You have no idea what I went through, and you were here going down on him."

"Sooner or later you'll forgive me." He had to move or go insane. He dumped Kaelin onto his back and pressed between his legs. It wasn't enough, but it was almost too much. He panted into Kaelin's neck. "Forgive me."

Kaelin dared him with dusky eyes. "Make me want to."

"Is that an order?" He fisted Kaelin's groin until he groaned, and then he popped open each brass crested button on his trousers until he could push them down the hips that writhed up against his. Kaelin tried to sit up after him until Trowa pushed him down. He lay clutching the sofa arm behind him as Trowa slipped his trousers down his long legs, and when they were on the floor by two shiny black shoes he opened his mouth over Kaelin's cock and swallowed him in. It wasn't at all like with Merquise-- he couldn't stop himself from touching skin wherever he found it, hips and belly, the heaving chest under the starched white shirt. Kaelin was touching him, too, his face, his lips, his eyelids, his hair. When he began to move his head, Kaelin gasped. There was talking, incoherent words, but he didn't have to listen to know what they were, a frantic explanation for things that didn't matter, now. Anger fell by the wayside, and the only thing left was need.

He needed. Wanted.

Kaelin wrapped his legs taut about Trowa's shoulders, the only warning before he came. Then he lay there, limp and fighting for his breath. Trowa swallowed and climbed gingerly to the cushions over him, waiting for a sign to start again.

He got a sign, all right. Kaelin opened his eyes, and said, "Be mean when you break up with Zechs. Really mean. Cruel."

Trowa grinned fleetingly. "I think we already did. Did you bring your stuff?"

"No." He went a little shamefaced. "I... wasn't actually sure you'd take me back."

"Are you sure now?"

The sun broke dawn on Kaelin's face. "Yes."

"Probably going to have to wait for a formal move until school's out for the year."

"I can really move in?" Kaelin's voice cracked in excitement.

"Isn't that the next step?"

He couldn't have said a single other thing that would have made Kaelin as wild as he was dragging Trowa down on top of him. He lost his balance, and they tumbled to the floor with a hard thump, but there was no time for pain. Kaelin ripped at his shirt, at his pants, couldn't get him naked fast enough.

They never even made it to the bed.

+

He drove Kaelin to school in the morning. He called the Winner house, but there wasn't an answer. There wasn't an answer from Merquise, either. It was at least possible they were all out together, doing something adult and normal, and not plotting Trowa's death. He tried to hold to that thought.

Quat was waiting outside his hotel room when he got back from the academy.

Trowa slowed, but the crunch of gravel under his boot was enough. The blond head came up out of the newspaper, and Quat straightened.

"Hey," Trowa said, around the clog in his throat that was probably his heart. And lungs, and stomach. "Lose your way or something?"

"Ask me in," Quat answered. "We'll order some kind of greasy food. I know you have beer in there."

He made a face. He could hardly believe it was going to be this easy; in fact he did know better. But it was at least not Noin, and maybe-- a little-- some tiny part of himself was glad to see Quat there, glad to know that Quat would look at him, speak him to still. He didn't like those tiny parts. They always got bigger, when it involved Quat.

"I don't eat greasy food any more," he said, and stepped past Quat to swipe his key card. The door swung open noiselessly and let them into a dark room. He chose against the overhead light and turned on the small dim lamp over the table, instead. He looked back to see Quat toeing off his shoes, as if the hotel carpet were something to worry about even.

Trowa removed his last two beers from the fridge and passed one, unopened. Quat wouldn't drink it-- he never did. It was one of his arcane little social graces, like the shoes, like the English style tea he always served because white customers didn't like the Bedouin coffee he should have offered. It had used to frustrate him, frustrate him so much, to watch Quat pretend to be all these things he wasn't, and probably it had been on the list of petty things he had taken with him in the flounce when he left. Probably it had been unfair. What Quatre was was a person who thought about other people first, and it made him happy to please them.

"Someone rang from Westwinds Apartments," Quatre said. He sat gingerly on the couch. Trowa propped himself on the coffee table. "I told them you were handy with the toolbox. I think it's in the bag."

"Thanks."

"I'm glad you're sticking around for a while."

"Yeah?" Trowa opened his bottle and put it to his mouth before the hiss of escaping carbon was finished. "Thanks. Want to me help me pack?" He swigged again, and thunked the bottle to the table. "Kaelin's not here."

"He was."

"Look--"

"You can only sleep on the couch for so many days before your back gives out, or your principles do."

That threw him off the confrontation he was about to start. "What--'s up her ass now? "

He was very surprised when Quatre opened the beer. He sipped, barely enough to taste it, before he let it sit again; but it was still more than he'd seen Quatre do with alcohol in twenty years of friendship. With concern he noted how tired the other man looked, how run down. It was a shock to notice grey hiding in the gold at his temples.

Quat said, "I was gone for so much of his childhood. Absent even when I was there. I chose work. And Lucy loved him more than she should have, maybe. Probably we did this to him long before you even showed up in the picture."

"That's bullshit, and we both know it. Kaelin didn't go looking to replace what you were, but were too busy to share. He went looking for exactly the opposite."

Quatre sipped again. "You know he almost drowned, when he was four. I don't know if he remembers. He fell into the pool at Lucy's parents' on Earth."

"So you and Luce have been crowding him ever since? He does, by the way. Remember. He told me."

"I pulled him out. He wasn't breathing." Quat peeled the label where it was sweating, carefully shredding it from the bottle. "I was holding him and he was so little and still. Cold from the water. I guess I never really let him out of my mind, from that moment. For years whenever I looked at him that was the first thing I saw, and not the person he was becoming. He's taller than me, you know. Three inches."

"Yeah, Quat. I know." He took a deep breath, to be sure he still could. His chest felt oddly tight. "You were probably right to put a stop to it. You always were good at taking care of him. He knows that. Even if he's mad now. It's just that--"

"I didn't come to hear you say I was right. I know I was right." Quat said it the same calm way, but there was a bitter undertone that didn't suit him. He took a real swallow of the beer, and grimaced it down. "They stop trusting you, this age. Even when they know your reasons are decent, they resent the intrusion. I want to shake the teeth out of him sometimes, but once he stopped trusting me, what else is there to do but let him make his own mistakes? Choices. Choices, not mistakes. I hope not mistakes."

God. Quat hadn't come to tell him to shove off and disappear. He'd come to give his son to Trowa.

"Up to him, though, the process. Up to you. The extent of what I ask is that you not hide from me, whatever you do with him. Just not behind my back. That's all."

He licked dry lips. "What are you doing? This is-- stupid. Do you really think I can give him what I couldn't give you back then?"

"I think it's possible," Quatre said. "I think I'd rather I not be the reason he couldn't at least try to find what makes him happy. I think I'd like to not be that reason for you, again."

"Your wife agree?"

"She won't interfere."

He knew that tone. He knew it was true because Quat had said it; and he didn't know an iota more, because Quat didn't want him to know. He didn't want to know. God, he could be destroying their marriage. Quat would let him.

No. Fuck it. Quat was a grown man and made his own-- mistakes. He'd married a woman he wasn't at all suited to, and she'd married him knowing Trowa Barton existed. This was how the world operated. People acted. People did. If Quat could let it go, so could Trowa. The only responsibility left was Kaelin, for all of them.

So in the end all he said was, "Thank you."

Quat didn't quite meet his eyes. "I explained things to him," he said. "He knows you did it for me. The rest of it, I suppose, is between you and him. Just-- date him. Try to remember how to do that."

Trowa stood. He waited for Quat to stand, too, and took his cheek, brushing it with a gentle palm. "It was never because he reminded me of you. Okay? I need you to know that. He's... not you."

Some of the lines by his eyes smoothed. "For all three of us, I'm glad."

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