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

Age Inappropriate (cont)

"I'm sorry," Trowa said, and surprised himself by genuinely meaning it. "I guess we're going to have to quit having sex."

Merquise laughed.

"You're not much chagrined," Trowa noted.

"Not much." Merquise smiled at him, a very nice smile, with actual warmth behind it. "I knew."

"Knew?"

"That you're a pushover."

Trowa made a face. They weren't quite so much the centre of attention this night; maybe the crowd sensed it was over, too. The bartender was making them wait between rounds while he flirted with dewy-eyed Pakistani at the bar. Trowa tilted his glass to swirl the few remaining drops together. "Knew all along, didn't you. Hell, you probably helped push this along."

"Don't give me that much credit, please. That I'm smart enough to see the light of day is plenty."

It was odd. He actually felt-- friendly. He never felt friendly. "Yeah," he said, and reached for the nuts. "Well, whatever. Thanks anyway."

"No, I mean it. I think you're a fool, you know," Merquise said, but gently. "He's still a child in ways that matter. In ways neither of us ever had the opportunity to be, or his own parents, for that matter."

"I guess we'll see."

"He's made up his mind about you, certainly." Merquise set a few bills on the table for his drink. "He chose well."

"Now you're just being stupid." He slid the money back under Merquise's fingers. "I'm buying tonight."

"Thank you." Merquise covered his hand. He gave Trowa time to draw away; he could tell what was coming, but he let it happen, anyway. Merquise leant over to kiss him, not quite on the mouth, but near enough to express what it was meant to. It lingered a second long enough to convey an affection Trowa was sure he hadn't done anything to earn, and then it was over.

He exhaled hard. "You need someone a little bit permanent in your life."

"I thought that perhaps I might have found him." Merquise quirked an eyebrow. "Well, on to the next. As it happens, my leave is up anyway. Back to Earth for a while."

"You should look Wufei up," he said, inspired. "He's settled there. And he's an actual grown-up."

Merquise laughed. "Are you setting me up?"

"Would it work?"

"I think I've had my fill of Gundam Pilots."

"Ha," Trowa said. "Foolish mortal." He wet his lips. "It's a nice facade, Zechs. The normal guy routine. It's good on you. Or does it go to the bone?"

Merquise shrugged with a modesty that might even have been real-- but probably wasn't. Trowa didn't blame him. Sometimes you were just that good, and he had a feeling Merquise was. "It's not effortless," Merquise acknowledged. "But I like this work better than I liked the other kind, and I come out the better for it."

"It's a change for the better." Who would have thought? Considering they'd only been fucking for a grand total of-- what, ten days? He was actually a little wistful now that it was over. Before, when he'd let an opportunity go past, there'd never been warning, never been surety. This was definitely an opportunity, but he knew with absolute certainty that he was making the right choice.

Merquise, as he always did, seemed to know what Trowa was thinking. "Don't get your heart broken. It would be a shame."

"We both know I probably will." He pushed a peanut shell through a condensation ring on the table. "It's not some-- sideways fantasy. Or a mid-life, whatever..." He twisted his mouth and tried to shrug it off. "I'm man enough to admit I lost Quat because I thought I'd get him dirty if I stayed. I probably was, for real. Quat... he's the kind of person who would break hard if anyone ever hurt him. It terrified me. Kaelin's less like him than you'd think he would be."

"He's a strong young man. Independent, God knows."

"Yeah." Fiery and independent, exactly. And they were free, now, to just find out if it would even work. The pessimist in him-- the realist-- gave it a year. Maybe two. Kaelin would grow up, grow away from him, and become his own man, and the man he'd be would be shaped by a great childhood love. There was symmetry in that. There was good in it. For all the pain it had been he wouldn't give up even the memory of Quatre, for his own life, even. Even knowing Quat loved him back, he'd never thought about what it was like to be the object of someone's feelings like that, someone's foundation. Someone's ideal. He'd fought wars, and figured this was probably more important and better a mark to leave in the universe.

He heard Merquise inhale, deeply, and looked up. Merquise smiled at him, just a small curve of the lips this time. "Call, some day," he said simply.

"Absolutely." Trowa smiled back. "You too."

+

When he noticed the braid, the thought that occurred to him was that L4 was some kind of odd special slice of the space-time continuum. He'd been thinking about Duo Maxwell, a month ago, when this had all started.

And a month ago probably would have dropped his sunglasses over his eyes and let his least-favourite war-buddy walk by without a word. But L4 was some kind of special odd slice, and so he didn't even surprise himself when he called out.

Duo detoured toward him immediately, before he even recognised who was calling. His face lit up, right into a toothy grin, and he clapped Trowa's extended hand into a firm shake. "Man, Trowa Barton," he said, with that ear-to-ear grin. "Been an aeon or two, huh?"

Since the war, practically. Duo looked exactly the same-- hair the same, a worn blue jacket. Grease stains on the knees of his jeans. A line or two where there hadn't been before, but when he laughed they vanished. "A while," Trowa agreed diplomatically, and released his hand to resume his slouch against the bumper of his car. "I didn't know you were on-colony."

"My kid's graduating." Duo gestured to the academy at the head of the parking lot. They weren't the only people still outside, not inside watching the ceremony; Trowa figured it was mostly dads, the occasional smoker or uncomfortable relative unsure of his reception. Or maybe Duo was just late. He wasn't wearing a watch. Trowa had never met an adult man who forgot to wear a watch. He did have gum, though, a battered pack. He popped a piece and offered it to Trowa. "Why're you here?" he asked. "Visiting Quat?"

"I live here now." He took a slice. "Moved here a little back."

"There must be some kind of advantage here I don't know about."

"Kaelin. I guess."

"Quat's kid, right? Jamie's always talking about him." Duo took lack of no for permission and joined Trowa on the bumper.

"Yeah," Trowa said. "I've been seeing him."

"No way. I thought for sure Hilde was bullshitting me."

He found a grin of his own. "Nope. It's for real."

Duo snorted. He added a new piece of gum to the sizable ball he was hoarding in his cheek, and unwrapped a third. Without thinking about it, Trowa took the pack away from him and pocketed it. "Hey," Duo protested, though he didn't try to get it back. "Tha' was mine, dude."

"You've got enough already, dumbass."

"Still mine."

Trowa shrugged. He'd been waiting for about an hour. Quat had said it would be over by five, but it was getting on toward five thirty. If he'd taken the ticket, probably he'd know why. But at least this way he wasn't stuck in some stuffy auditorium in cramped seats with a lot of people he didn't know who had kids he didn't know either. Duo's tardiness began to make more sense.

"You and Hilde getting back together?" he asked idly.

"Not in this lifetime. Why? Jamie saying that?"

"No. She is."

"Fuckin' cunt." He patted his pocket for the gum, then remembered who had it. "I don't know where that shit comes from."

"Wishful thinking?"

"Guess I'll probably go home tonight then. Don't want her making anything of it if I stay at her place."

"You wanna come over?"

"Yeah?" Duo looked at him in surprise. "Really. Yeah, that'd be great. I told Jamie I'd take him for brekkie tomorrow."

There was a simple sort of pleasure in the exchange that did surprise him, finally. Helping a sort-of-friend. Being here, out in the perfect L4 weather on the perfect graduation day, waiting for their perfect young men to come running out to show off what they'd done. Accomplished. Maybe that's what it was, what Duo reminded him of. A lot of orphans, the five of them had been, hadn't he been thinking that very thing about him and Duo? Duo was the one who probably understood this particular part the most. Heero was too much of a robot to care if he'd been born to parents or machines; Quat and Wufei had had families and had known what it meant to lose them. He and Duo, though, had been in some sense defined by not having anyone but themselves. There'd been no-one to congratulate them at the end of the war, no-one to tell their accomplishments to.

Duo echoed his thoughts. "Kind of wild, huh?" he asked. "They grow up fast. Well, not that you'd know. Or maybe you would."

He didn't feel as much shame about it as he should have. It was worth a little wince, though. "Yeah," he said. "I've got a pretty good idea."

"Ha."

"Ha yourself. Where've you been living?"

"Bogah over on L2. Keeps me warm. You?" Duo turned inquisitive eyes on him. "You weren't always up here, right?"

"Did a little time on Planet Earth. I missed the colonies though."

"I could never get it up to go back to Earth. Never feels right."

There was that, too. Quat was colonial born and bread-- chartered, for that matter-- but Duo had in it in the blood. He understood. "It never will," Trowa agreed.

"Yeah, probably." Duo blew a bubble and popped it noisily. "I kind of hate having the sun over my head, you know? Unnatural."

So much for a deep moment. That's what he got, rhapsodising over the nearest warm object, especially when that object was Duo Maxwell. "That may be the stupidest thing you've ever said."

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Hell of a thing, graduating from school. Jamie's even gonna go to college."

"Here in the colonies?"

"Yeah, there's a trade school on L3 he likes. He even got a scholarship."

"He's a smart kid. Unlike his dad."

"Don't need to tell me that. Damn it, Tro, gimme back my gum."

"Why?"

"It's getting hard."

"Get rid of what's in there already and I'll give you another piece." He grimaced. "Fuck, I sound like Chang."

"You sure as hell do." Duo spat into his hand and wrapped the wad in paper. He stuffed it back into his pocket, too, which made Trowa grimace again. He went in after it, grabbing the paper out along with fuzzy lint, and tossed it at the trash bin two cars over. He gave Duo the pack back. "One at a time, okay, genius. It's gross."

"I'll have as many pieces as I want and you're lucky you didn't get a handful of ba-donk-a-donk, goin' in there like that." Duo grinned that toothy grin at him again. "Man, how long's it really been? Like, forever? You are totally the same."

Not especially. Not lately. "He doesn't look much like you. Jamie."

"No reason to. I just jizzed in a cup for her." Duo crushed another gum between his overworked jaws.

"Romantic."

"I'm just a big sweetie at heart, really." He was unwrapping a new piece, until Trowa kicked his shoe. "He's not like me at all, really. It's funny, you know? Cause it's not like I'm around or anything, but you'd think there'd be some basic kind of similarity."

Jamie sure as hell didn't talk as much as his dad. "How come you're not?" Trowa asked, suddenly curious. "What happened?"

"Never was much for the family ideal. It was better when Hilde moved out here. She's more, what's it, socially mobile. Good for the kid."

Not to mention the advantages of having an Uncle Quatre Winner. Trowa wondered if that had been Hilde's idea, or Quat's. Social mobility went a lot faster when you had help getting your son into the best schools and a billionaire making calls for you when you were out of work. "Out of work," he said aloud. "Not so good for the kid."

"I know." Duo's face went blank like a curtain falling. "I send money." He did pop the gum then, cramming it in. "I'm not a deadbeat. She can make it on what I give her til she finds something."

"Kaelin likes him a lot," he said, in the search for something to fill the awkward space. "I know they're excited. About graduation."

"Yeah."

"What's with the gum?"

"I just quit," Duo said.

And didn't elaborate. Trowa didn't ask. Obsessive-compulsive, he'd been thinking, but now there was something darker hanging between them, and it wasn't the right place. Time. Five-forty, now. The doors were open, and there were some stragglers coming out, but not the big crowd yet. It was odd, though, because he didn't really regret, yet, asking Duo to crash with him. It almost felt--

Grown up. Being the one to extend a helping hand, for once. To someone who maybe needed something that resembled a care.

There they were. He saw Noin first, in a pretty lavender suit, and then Quat next to her, every inch the proud dad, the handsome husband, one arm around Kaelin's shoulders, his hand in his wife's, grinning down at them.

He took Duo by the wrist and clicked his pen open. "This is my address," he said, and inked it on Duo's palm. "Can you still pick locks?"

"Can I still-- please. This is Duo Maxwell you're talking to."

He laughed. "Good. Let yourself in if you get there before me. See you tonight, okay?"

"Yeah. Okay." Duo sucked his cheeks in for a second. "Tro-- thanks."

"It's not a problem," he said, and it wasn't. He squeezed Duo's shoulder, and gave him a little shove away from the car. "Jamie's coming out now. Congratulate him for me."

He only waited another three minutes before Kaelin escaped the large group of family crowding around him and sprinted across the parking lot. He hit Trowa at full speed and knocked him back onto the car, threw his arms around Trowa's neck and kissed him thoroughly. Trowa suffered through what was probably less exuberance and more a show for the grandparents, who were staring, and straightened Kaelin's little robe for him.

"You look so stupid," he said, and Kaelin jabbed at his ribs. "Kidding. Congrats."

Kaelin slapped his chest with a rolled paper. "I'm an adult. With an education and everything."

"And everything." He caught Quat watching them, and tried to focus on just Kaelin. "I got you something."

"You got me a gift?"

"Yeah. It's small."

"I wouldn't say small," Kaelin smirked, and cupped him, hand tight between their bodies. Even though it would have been hard to see, given the billowy sleeves of the robe and the distance they had from the family up there on the steps, Trowa still cut it short.

"Behave," he threatened, "or I won't give it to you."

"I'll behave." Kaelin's eyes were a bright icy blue. "What's my gift?"

He suffered only a little twinge, presenting the box. He hadn't wrapped it, but the box itself was pretty enough, and he hadn't been entirely sure how he wanted to play this. Kaelin took it with great care, as if he wasn't sure either, and opened it. He turned it back to face Trowa, a question hovering on his parted lips.

"You're the educated adult," Trowa said. "What do you think that is, Kaelin?"

"I think it's a key."

"Yeah, funny thing. I have one just like it." He nudged at the box, and curled his fingers around Kaelin's. "It opens my apartment door."

He'd earned one of those rare things-- a smile out of Kaelin Winner. This time Trowa kissed him, and pulled him close. They just held for a minute, standing close and warm, fitted together. He murmured, "If you can manage not to grope me at dinner, I'll help you move your stuff in afterwards."

Kaelin actually laughed. Softly, but it was real. "I'll behave. No promises about after dinner, though."

"I'm going to hold you to that."

"What's the charm?" He had the key ring dangling from his finger. The charm lay against the broad inner part of his thumb, two locked gears.

Trowa kissed his knuckles. "Us. I guess."

"Huh."

"They're different, but they fit together. And they only work because they do."

He liked that better. His lips brushed gently over Trowa's chin.

"Your grandmother's turning purple."

"They're taking us out. Are really you coming? Dad said you could."

"That groping thing still goes. In public especially."

He got pert little pursed lips. "I told you I'd be good. And I will be. Over and over and over again-- after dinner."

"I'm counting on it."

A throat clearing made them both jump. It was Quat, who seemed amused at having got the drop on them. He didn't speak, though, and he waited far enough away to give them a few more moments of privacy. Trowa pulled it back anyway, though Kaelin kept hold of his hand. He didn't mind.

"So I guess I'm joining you for dinner," he said to Quat.

"Italian, of course," Quat answered, with no slight irony. Trowa grinned at him. Quat had lived with twenty years of Italian, and he hated all of it except veal piccata and gelato. Which he probably couldn't eat now, if they'd gone sugarless.

Kaelin sensed the moment's focus was leaving him, and recaptured it with barely any effort. "Nonna gave me this huge check," he announced. "For travelling. She said I could take Jamie, too, that's why she gave us so much. She wants us to go use the family villa in Italy. On Earth."

"You should go," Trowa said.

"Of course I should. So should you. Can you imagine? Sunsets on a villa, vineyards, Roman ruins..."

Quat's eyes dropped to the pavement. So, he'd known about the check. All along? No, that wasn't like Quat. So he'd been caught, too. Noin.

Yes. Noin. She was watching them, too. He couldn't see her expression, at this distance, but he could make some guesses. She hadn't lost her touch, after all.

He squeezed Kaelin's hand, and let go. "Send me postcards."

Kaelin was staring at him. He blinked, twice, and then deliberately, forcefully, recaptured Trowa's hand. "We'll have to give Jamie your address. So he can send them to us. Besides, maybe he'll actually meet a girl, if he goes without me. He always lets me talk for him, otherwise."

"Kid. I'll still be here, if you--"

"Feel the same way when I get back?" Kaelin ignored his father, ignored the entire world around them, and took Trowa's face with his palm. "I told you once. I will fight for you."

What world? It seemed to disappear, for a moment, except for Kaelin, looking him right in the eye and refusing to back down, even to reality. What reality.

"You can try," Kaelin said, "but you can't make me leave you. I waited a decade for you, remember? Don't forget again."

What struck him was the realisation that for Kaelin a decade was forever. To Trowa, it was almost a blink. It was a good illustration how different they were. Still were. Everything was so urgent to Kaelin, even this; especially this. He had this beautiful tunnel vision, and it gave him a lot of power, a lot of strength. It was a kind of maturity-- in the sense that it underlined how young he really was. Trowa had been that young, once. Had lived in that space. He knew better than most that no kid should be that blindered, could be that blindered, forever.

If the time ever came, he wouldn't have to make Kaelin leave again. There would always be a check from a grandmother, or university, or a job somewhere that wasn't where Trowa was. Hell, he might wind up with his own opportunity somewhere else. Kaelin wasn't always going to throw them aside for love, no-one, even a Winner, was that privileged. Ask his father. If--

But maybe that was the point-- if. He'd been feeling for years like he didn't have control, didn't have custody or-- or dominion over himself. If. It came down to control being mostly an illusory goal, anyway, because there were always going to be too many variables, too many-- opportunities. He'd spent his decades of forever obsessing over the things he couldn't do anything about and the losses he thought were irretrievable. But Quat was standing five feet away from him with this soft look in his eye like he'd used to have, forever ago, and so what if it wasn't for Trowa alone? It was for Trowa and for his son, together, and maybe still some for all three of them, and that was a good thing. And Kaelin would be in his life until there was a good reason for him not to be, and that was how the world worked. He couldn't do anything about it and worrying over it until he was almost eager for it to fall apart was the worst kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. He knew exactly how that road walked.

Or--

What happened down the road or what might happen-- didn't have to be more important than what was standing right in front of him. And that was Kaelin, who was holding his fingers so tight they ached, looking up at him with fierce love that was every bit as genuine as anything a thirty-four year old dredge up.

"I won't," he said, and didn't have to lie.

(end)

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