Author: The Manwell
Notes
: Chapter titles and subheadings are from the album,Infinity on High,by Fall Out Boy.
Disclaimer: I don't own the boys, the Gundams, the copyrights, or the patents. But the snappy one-liners are mine, all mine.

Two out of Three
Chapter 13: Closing Arguments

Cut it loose and watch me work the room...

That single, euphoric moment of near victory lasted about as long as it takes for you to wake up from a dream.

One minute, I was on top of the world. The next, I was shaking like a Goddamn leaf. Holy fuck. I'd played my hand. I'd called it. My cards were on the table and now I was gonna find out if the mission – if the whole damn gamble – had paid off. Was Une really on our side or were we all just expendable soldiers to her? A convenient resource intended to serve a greater agenda? And even if the Director of the Preventers was willing to give us a pass, were the people of Earth gonna forgive us our acts of aggression during the war? Were they gonna let us make our own futures now?

Eventually, I'd have to emerge from the cockpit and face the music. I knew this. It wasn't gonna make letting go of the controls any easier, though. I could tell.

And then, damn, I was gonna have to navigate my way through debriefing. Oh, fun on wheels. Whoo hoo. I hated debriefing in general. It was pure torture to sit there in a little plastic chair with the adrenaline zooming-whooshing-whirling through you, going over the minutiae of the mission again and again and again. Only this time, it was gonna be more like an interrogation and while the other guys could honestly lay claim to ignorance, I was not so fortunate. Dammit, I was not lookin' forward to this. Couldn't put it off, though. I mean, hell, when Une – freakin' Une – gets on the megaphone and orders you to haul your ass out of her crime scene and into a designated hangar, you go.

So, I went. I waved farewell to Mariemeria and Relena, wondering if I'd really be sitting down for a chat with them later or if I'd be watching them on TV from my little cell-for-one.

I clutched the yoke hard enough to make my hands ache and my shoulders tremble. Shit. I was so close to winning. I was also just as close to losing. It was painful just thinking about it.

"If you can't tell me, then don't think about it."

The memory of Trowa's words hit me like a sledge hammer to the solar plexus. Oh, God. There was so damn much bundled up in that single memory that I just kind of imploded for a moment.

As if I didn't have enough on my damn mind, now I had to figure out what I was gonna do about Trowa, about our marriage, about all that... whatever that was between us.

You know what happens to people who get too close, Shinigami reminded me with obscene cheer and I had to stop what I was doing for a moment and close my eyes and brace myself against the snarling tornado of frickin' everything tearing through me. Shit, but that hurt! I fought against it with waning strength, all the while knowing it was a losing battle.

I thought of Trowa, that soft tone he uses when he's making a promise, that look in his eyes when he's seeing through all the bullshit and shedding light on the dark, dusty corners of my soul. What was I gonna do without him? It was a frightening question, terrifying because of what it implied. Did I not know how to make my own way anymore? Had I lost that part of myself somewhere along the line? Was it even now lying on an interrogation room table along with my severed braid somewhere in Earth orbit?

Fuck. I was not ready to deal with this shit. Hell, I wasn't even ready to face the future despite the fact that the future was all I've been working towards for the last four damn years; suddenly, the future was here and it was too damn soon. I needed just a little more past. "Hair of the dog" – isn't that what they say?

Choking on my own frustration and rage and I-don't-know-what-else – scowling fiercely the whole time – I focused on getting Deathscythe secured. Some geek types were probably going to be sorting out the self-destruct issue. Some salvage types would be retrieving the tank of toxic gas I'd sunk in the Baltic for safe keeping. Hell, some bureaucratic types might be confiscating my Gundam and I'd never see it again. I should have cared more about all that than I actually did. Deathscythe and the resolution of Dekim's attempted takeover should have been sizable blips on my radar. But – you wanna hear somethin' crazy? – all I could really think about, the only recognizable oasis in the churning mess of my own mind, was Trowa, seeing him in person and making sure he was all right and... and, hell, I dunno what else.

The hangar wasn't far, but with my disconnected comm. system to contend with, it took the workers a lot longer to talk me into the correct bay. There was much arm-waving and even some of those funny, day-glo orange sticks involved. I would have been chuckling manically if I thought I could manage it without puking.

The future was just outside, just there on the flip side of Deathscythe's damn hatch. The future was out there, but so was Trowa. No wonder I had an upset stomach. My need to see him was duking it out with my fear of the fallout and I had the feeling that, even if I hid out in this cockpit until Hell froze over, there wouldn't be a clear-cut victor.

Somewhere in the middle of all that emoting, they got me docked. I powered down as slowly as I dared, my hands shaking. I was exhausted. Done. Utterly outta gas. I was scared but I was anxious (for the aforementioned reasons). I had to sit there and just breathe for a whole damn minute before I could summon up the concentration to contend with the damn harness. Part of me didn't want to open the hatch and face the world. For four damn years, I'd had reality pre-packaged and force-fed to me. Now there was nuthin' between me and the real deal.

Quatre's not gonna be able to bail our asses outta jail this time.

I don't know where that thought came from – some dark, cynical place that doesn't see much daylight – but it kinda knocked me outta my funk. The hell! The plan had damn well worked. And, even if it hadn't...

But, no. It had worked. We had Hilde, the freakin' Preventers, Howard and the Sweepers and frickin' Catherine Bloom on our side! Maybe I was just suddenly too tired to be excited about it. Maybe I just needed... I just needed to be OK first, before I dealt with all that.

Well, if that was the order, then it sure as shit wasn't gonna happen in here. I hit the hatch release and, taking in the sight of the other Gundams lined up beside mine, I grabbed for the pilot's tether. Goin' down! Next stop: concrete of the free world, pokey medical checks, and endless debriefings...!

Down I went, looking – without trying too hard because what would I do if I didn't see him? – for a certain pilot of Heavyarms. But my gaze zoomed right to him as if we were magnetically connected, and I knew I shouldn't have doubted that he'd be here, putting off the medical team until I got my shit together and showed my stupid face.

The moment I saw him standing there looking up at me from between Deathscythe's big, black feet, the implosion that had jumpstarted all my doubts just exploded into something too big to fit in my body. I had to strangle the steel wire in my hands to keep still as I rode it down to where Trowa was waiting.

He was still zipped up in his zero G suit and his expression was so achingly urgent that I forgot that our marriage was only supposed to be a means to an end. Hell, maybe I wanted to forget that little factoid. As soon as I was within range, I freakin' jumped off the damn winch cable and glomped him. I guess the fictional state of our marriage must have slipped Trowa's mind, too, because he damn well picked me up, leaning back until my toes were dragging on the concrete floor, and buried his face in my neck. I clutched at him and listened as he just panted breath after sobbing breath against my sweaty skin.

"Oh God, baby! Are you really OK?" I rambled mindlessly. It was, hands down, the dumbest question I'd ever asked. I mean, hell, there was no way he'd be able to lift me up like this if he were seriously injured. No way.

I was yea close to wrapping my legs around his hips, but no, he was probably just as exhausted as I was and I did not want to topple us to the ground, giving us both injuries now. I settled for hooking one heel around the back of his calf and just held the hell on.

"Any injuries?" he rasped and I shook my head.

"Fine. Totally fine." And then I was leaning back, my chin bumping his, my hair brushing against his, and then our lips touched. I gasped at the sensation and Trowa didn't waste any time making the most of the opportunity. He kissed me as if he could fuse our mouths together from sheer force of will. I groaned.

His arms loosened by a fraction of an inch around me and I slid back down to my feet slowly, feeling every contour of his body against mine thanks to the tight, thin, hi-tech-insulated fabric of his suit. Oh, fuck. Where was a handy supply closet when you needed one, right?

Just fifteen minutes. That was all I was asking for. Just fifteen minutes alone with Trowa and I'd have that damn suit stripped down to his thighs and my hands would be piloting him into that mythical final frontier. (And no, I was not talking about the depths of space, for your information.)

He purred softly as the kiss softened and became a series of brief, soft touches. His hands moved over my back, one questing down to my hip and the other gathering my now-short hair between his splayed fingers as he cradled the back of my head. With a last nibble of my lower lip, he sighed and tilted his forehead against mine.

I had so much I wanted to say, but I just didn't have the words. Trowa's tiny, relieved smile charmed me into mesmerized silence. He let out a long breath and I just stared at his closed eyes, at the peace in his expression. "We did it," I said, just to watch him open his luminous eyes.

His lashes lifted and I was treated to such a gentle yet intent gaze that I actually felt something deep within me flutter in response. "You did," he argued.

"Couldn't have done it without you," I scolded softly, grinning and giving him a gentle shake.

He didn't answer with words. He nudged his lips against mine again and, this time, my tongue was the more adventurous, charting and caressing. And I had no intention of ever, ever, ever stopping. Well, not until the laws of physics got in the way.

"Ahem...!"

The sound of a throat being cleared – and probably not for the first time – breached the barrier of my focus. I ignored it. I was busy. My mouth was busy. Hell, my hands were busy, busy tracing the line Trowa's jaw and dancing along the length of his backbone from the base of his spine upward.

"AHEM!"

Dammit. I was of half a mind to shoo the damned interloper away with a rude gesture. Trowa took the choice out of my hands by pulling away and whispering against my lips, "Later."

I glanced from his heavy-lidded, desire-drowned gaze to his tender-looking lips and agreed, "Yeah."

I took a deep breath (which would have been more centering and steadying if it hadn't been so completely Trowa-scented) and, stepping back, I ran my hand down Trowa's arm until our fingers tangled and interlaced. Only then did I turn to confront the compulsive throat clearer.

"Trowa. Duo," Sally Po greeted, smiling broadly.

"The hell, woman. If you need a throat lozenge, write yourself a prescription."

Trowa snorted.

Sally gave us a mockingly haughty look. "If I were you, I'd cooperate with the people who are responsible for signing off on your clean bill of health. Do you know how many uncomfortable medical procedures there are that you could be potentially scheduled for?"

"I'm sure you do," I groused, playing along. My mask of humor clicked into place and I was so damn relieved that I could think again that I didn't even bother to point out the fact that there was no such thing as a comfortable medical procedure.

"Hm," she agreed.

I let my irritation – both real and just-for-show – evaporate as I stepped forward, bringing Trowa with me, to give her shoulder a squeeze in greeting. "You look lovely as always, Doctor Po."

"So it's to be charm, is it? That sort of thing doesn't work on me," she informed me, but then she winked. "Come on, Duo, Trowa. We'll get you cleared and sent off to debriefing."

"Oh, joy," I intoned. "Debriefing. I've been so looking forward to it."

She chuckled. "Well, the sooner it's dealt with, the sooner you can, er, get back to other things."

She had a point.

Eventually, I had to let go of Trowa's hand. When Sally nodded authoritatively to two separate examination rooms, there really wasn't much choice. I sat through the whole blood pressure and thermometer bit. I gritted my teeth through the urine and blood sample bit, and then I was shown into a lovely interrogation room.

Well, OK, it was a private conference room, but seriously. There was no point in sugarcoating what the next item on today's agenda was gonna be.

Not two seconds after the door shut behind me and I'd plopped my ass down, I felt my second wind coming on, refueling my internal boosters like I was on a caffeine IV. "C'mon, let's just get this over with," I grumped impatiently. I would have been swiveling my chair back and forth if it'd had that kind of capabilities. Unfortunately, it didn't.

Sighing, I waited for my tormentor to arrive and wondered if I still had the knack for looking just dumb enough when I was asked tricky questions. I soon found out.

"It's a remarkable coincidence that the Winner Enterprises building experienced a hazardous chemical situation precisely when it did," Director Une observed about twenty minutes after her arrival. We'd gone over the timeline of events front-wards, backwards, and polka-style. I figured now was the part where I got down and breakdanced or else.

"Is it?" I queried with a blink and a slight frown. I was trying to convince myself that it was a good sign that Une was conducting this interview herself. "Trying" being the operative word, here.

Her brows arched. "You don't find it odd that the Sweepers were not only standing by but also fully prepared, right down to their choice of hazmat suits?"

Since I really had no idea why Howard had shown up in the gear he'd been in – I'd never told him what kind of "opening" to expect – I could answer this one easily. "Yeah, you have a point." I shrugged. "They must've had an inside man... or woman," I added seeing as how that particular role need not be gender-dependent.

Une gave me a long look. I stared back, a pleasant and unassuming smile in place.

I could totally confess my role in orchestrating the breakout, but I sure as hell wasn't gonna volunteer the information unless the other guys were under heavy fire. I had no intention of letting the others take the heat for this, but I didn't want to implicate Howard, either. Not on the record.

The transmission I'd sent before our extraction was the ace up my sleeve. All I had to do was confess to that and I'd be in the hot seat. Just me and me alone.

Of course, there was also that suspiciously scratched access panel in the bathroom of the apartment Trowa and I had shared for all of thirty-some-odd hours. Since we'd taken precautions to make any surveillance equipment worthless, they'd have a job of proving who had actually done that damage and for what end. Plus, for all they knew, it had been scratched before Trowa and I had moved in there. And, as spouses, we couldn't be forced to testify against each other in court. So, unless they had video footage of me appropriating the degreaser, then it was all very shakily circumstantial. If Une pressed charges, it'd be down to a popularity contest in court and, I'll be honest, I could think of better ways for the government to spend the taxpayers' money.

Une could, too. The instant her lips quirked into a sardonic grin and her gaze slid away, I knew we'd arrived at an understanding: she wouldn't ask and I wouldn't tell.

Huh. Maybe I could grow to like her – just a little bit – after all. Trowa would be proud of me for overcoming my grudge.

Speaking of Trowa, he was the very next point she brought up.

"Your marriage to Trowa Barton," she remarked abruptly, glancing up from the fancy leather folio balanced on her knees.

I braced myself while trying not to look like I was bracing myself. Une pinned me with a stare so intense that I figured this is what all those Leo pilots must have felt like when I'd skewered their suits on my Beam Scythe. Y'know, just before they exploded.

"Do you love him?"

Damn, but she did not pull her punches. My hands, which were resting on my knees, tensed. My fingers curled into the meat around the joints. "That's none of your business," I answered aggressively.

"It is if you used your marriage to your advantage."

"The hell!" I spat. "Of course we damn well used it to our advantage! D'you think we wanted Dekim to threaten Heero, Quatre, or Wufei?"

"So you gave him a reason to focus his attention on the two of you?"

"I guess you could say that," I admitted with just enough reluctance. I wondered if she was gonna give me the opening I needed, here. Just dig a bit deeper, Une sweetheart. Just a bit more...

Une snapped, "Don't tell me what I could say, Mr. Maxwell. Tell me how it went down."

I sighed and leaned back as if I were giving in. "Look," I began, "the other guys... they should have stayed behind at WEI. They ended up on that damn colony because of me, because I was told someone had gotten their hands on Deathscythe. As the pilot, it's my responsibility to make sure no one gets hurt by my Gundam."

"But you were the only one with all the access codes," Une pointed out, clearly playing the Devil's advocate now. "You should not have left the compound in the first place. You gave them the key to operating Deathscythe when you submitted to—"

"What makes you think they would've taken ‘no' for an answer?" I retorted.

"So there was force involved at the compound?"

"The threat of it, yeah." I described the Taser that one of the goons had flashed at me.

"And both you and Mr. Barton combined couldn't diffuse the situation?"

"Maybe we could have," I allowed. "But at what cost?" I let out a breath in silence and decided this was my cue to offer up my rationale for dissection on the operating table. "Someone I trusted told me that my Gundam had been taken. I had to take that seriously. And not just for the sake of the innocent civilians who might get hurt with it. I was thinking of the total human cost – the idiots who were gonna get fried to a crisp when they tried to hack their way in, included." I let her poke at that a bit for a minute before I summed up with, "Besides, if Trowa and I resisted and were injured, we'd be totally unprepared for the worst case scenario."

"That being?"

"That being that someone actually did have Deathscythe and intended to use it no matter how many lives were lost in cracking its code. I could not let that happen. So, if we were dealing with someone like that, then Trowa and I would need to be in top condition when we had to double cross our captors and literally fight for our survival."

After a long moment, she observed, "It didn't come to that."

"Hah! That's funny. It kinda felt like it." We hadn't fought with fists and guns, that was true, but Trowa and I had fought for our survival nonetheless. I was under no illusions about that.

"I was referring to the fact that you did not, at any time, use lethal force."

"We're not at war anymore," I replied simply.

She nodded once, looking pleased. Although it was an encouraging gesture, I didn't feel all that, um, reassured. I was right to be wary.

"The general populace condemned you to a life sentence of public service," Une reminded me unnecessarily. "Why would you care if Deathscythe was used to harm anyone?"

I gave her a disgusted look. "Am I bitter over being incarcerated and made to live like a damn hamster running in a wheel that never goes anywhere? Yeah. A bit. I think I'm entitled to that. But I'm not vicious." Before she could look skeptical – my war record was working against me here – I went on, "Look, I screwed up during the war. Hell, we all did." I aimed a meaningful look at her. As far as I knew, no one had ever charged her with the assassination of Relena's adoptive father and we both knew she was guilty as hell of that. Plus a plethora of other underhanded nastiness. "We need to try to make up for that," I concluded. "Make reparations, I mean."

"So you wish to return to WEI?"

I think I pulled a muscle keeping the bark of sarcastic laughter from erupting out of my mouth. "No. I don't think that screening emails utilizes my full potential."

"I'm glad we agree."

Well, hell. That sounded ominous.

Une gave me a knowing grin. "But that discussion will wait for another time."

Snapping the cover shut on her fancy clipboard-thing, she informed me, "That's all for now, Mr. Maxwell. Get some rest. I ask that you remain on the premises until arrangements can be made for your accommodation."

Well, that was dissatisfyingly neutral. I had no hint as to what the aforementioned "accommodation" might be, but I sensed that asking would end up backing me into a corner before I was ready to fight my way out of it. So kept my damn mouth shut.

The director gestured me out of the interview room and, although I checked, I didn't see Trowa anywhere in the hallway or the lobby beyond. Presumably, he was in one of the other little "conference" rooms down this corridor. I had no way of knowing which one and I was pretty sure barging through one door after the other would kill the tentative truce Une and I were currently enjoying.

With a sigh, I schlepped my way out into the lobby, hoping Trowa's chat with Une would be short and non-incriminating.

"This way, Mr. Maxwell."

I looked up and grinned. "Hey, you look familiar," I greeted, wandering over to where Hilde was standing – looking very sharp and official in her Preventers uniform – next to the elevator bank. "Keeper of the peace is a good look for you."

"Dummy," she scolded playfully. "It's not a look."

"Oh, man!" I exclaimed, feigning shock. "So, like, the rumors are true?" I took a half a step back and narrowed my eyes with suspicion. "Unless you just lifted those threads from laundry...?"

"You underestimate me, as usual," she reprimanded, pressing the call button for the elevator. "Would you like to see my badge?" This she asked with no small amount of sarcasm.

"That depends," I retorted. The elevator doors opened and I waited until we were inside to finish the thought. "How photogenic are you?"

Hilde smacked me on the arm.

"Hey!" I objected.

"Serves you right."

"Does not. It was a legitimate question!"

"Only if you're nosing around for blackmail material."

"Ahhh... so you're not photogenic," I surmised smugly.

"More so than you will be if you keep this up."

I snorted out a giggle. "Admit it. You missed me."

She gave me a sidelong glance and an I'm-trying-not-to-laugh grin. "Why would I miss you?"

The elevator doors opened before I could demonstrate my helpful side by giving her a list of absurdly witty reasons. The sight that greeted me had my jaw unhinging with surprise.

Across the lobby of what looked like one of the residential floors, a young girl – still a little dusty and disheveled – was standing at the large windows overlooking the Brussels cityscape. If she'd been all on her lonesome, I might have gone over there and taken another crack at getting a cuss word outta little Miss Mariemeia, but she wasn't alone. Heero was standing next to her, hands in his pockets and shoulders slumped as he studied the night and city lights in silence.

Well. I guess if anyone could understand what Mariemeia had just gone through, it'd be Heero. Dr. J had used him and betrayed him with that damn order to self-destruct just like Dekim had used and, in the end, betrayed his granddaughter. Heero had also eventually defied Dr. J as much as Mariemeia had her puppet master. Both my old war buddy and Treize's daughter had chosen the hard path for the sake of the greater good: for peace, justice, and the preservation of lives. And although it hadn't been nearly as bloody as the war'd been, I knew lives had been lost. I'd overheard the casualty report as I'd waited for them to finish drawing blood down in medical. Three ESUN guards and eight of Barton's people had died in the initial takeover of the government building.

Eleven lives. That was one for just about every year that Mariemeia had been alive. One for every summer she'd seen, every birthday she'd had, every Christmas tree she'd decorated. Those eleven people would never enjoy another summer, celebrate another birthday, or sing another Christmas carol. Never again.

Heero would understand that, too.

Hilde tugged on my arm and, with a start, I realized I was just standing here in the hall, staring like a moron. I got my butt in gear and we quietly moved into the corridor, leaving a former Gundam pilot and the little girl who-would-have-been-queen alone in uninterrupted silence together.

When we were far enough down the hall, I dared to ask, "What's gonna happen to her? Foster care?"

"No," Hilde replied, our earlier banter long forgotten. "Director Une said she'll petition the courts for custody once formal charges have been filed against Dekim Barton."

So, the bastard was still alive. Well. I wondered if there'd be a trial. "Hey, do Heero a favor," I said impulsively.

"What?" She sounded curious more than anything else.

"Make sure Mariemeia knows where to send her letters, OK?" Something told me she'd need someone to write to and Heero needed someone to – I dunno – help him learn how to forgive himself.

"You don't ask for much," she joked. I gave her a look and she sobered. "All right. I'll take care of it."

I nodded. Then I changed the subject. "So... you teamed up with the Sweepers, huh? Do they have badges, too?"

Hilde rolled her eyes. "I'm still waiting for a thank you."

"Uh... thank you."

"You're welcome."

I leaned toward her and whispered, "What am I thanking you for exactly?"

"If you have to ask—!"

"No, no!" I replied, holding up my hands in surrender. I could make a few guesses. One of which was— "Howard told me you went to Une with the idea for the op. And handled all the setup."

She nodded warily, as if waiting for my verdict. I dunno where she got the idea that I was some kind of expert on that shit, but...

"Damn fine work, Agent Schbeiker," I congratulated her.

She grinned and it just mystified me that my opinion was that damn important to her. "Glad you think so."

"Hey, nobody died on your watch." That was pretty amazing all by itself. "Plus, you didn't have to improv." Which was frickin' unbelievable. "Hell, you must've had the Peace Million hiding in the colony's damn shadow," I mused. They'd certainly gotten into that docking bay awfully damn fast... although it sure as hell hadn't felt like it at the time.

"Of course," Hilde admitted. "Once I got assigned to the communications unit, it was easy to cover up their approach."

I demanded impulsively, "Tell me your other half appreciates how awesome you are."

"Oh, most definitely."

"Good. I'm too wiped out to beat anybody up right now."

Hilde let out an exasperated laugh and then stopped beside a seemingly-random door. "Here we are, big brother Duo. Housing unit fifty-four."

"Thanks, Hil," I said gratefully.

"Get some rest. You've earned it."

I'd have to take her word on that. But, damn. Earned or not, I was damn well gonna crash.

Ten seconds after hauling my exhausted ass over the threshold, I was face down on the bed, ready for the Nightie Night Fairy to pay me a visit. The trouble was I couldn't actually get to sleep and stay that way. I kept almost falling asleep, but then I'd jerk awake, my gaze darting around the cozy efficiency apartment as if I was looking for someone or as if I was sure someone ought to be in here with me. It was the weirdest sensation and it took my poor sleep-deprived brain a while before I realized just what was up.

I was looking for someone, all right. I was waiting for my mission partner, my Trowa.

Hold up. My Trowa? The hell.

I rolled over toward the edge of the too-big bed and sat up. The carpet tiles tickled and scratched my bare feet as I slumped there with my head in my hands. I was so tired I could cry. Of course, that's when all my thoughts slammed into one another and I hit critical mass.

Shit. Now it comes to it: Should I go looking for Trowa or stay put and wait and see if he comes to me? What exactly was our arrangement now? Did I have the right to go barging into his place? Did I have any reason to expect he'd come looking for me? He'd said later, but there were lots of different kinds of laters. And how could I both hate the word with a passion and feel comforted it by it all at the same time?

I pondered that for a moment... or an hour. I was too damn tired to keep track of just how long I sat there staring blankly into the darkness. I think I might have actually started to doze off when the front door whispered open.

I guess it was a measure of just how out of it I was given that I didn't even spare a thought for the fact that I was sitting here in full view of the hall in nuthin' but my boxers. I squinted into the light just as I heard Trowa's voice say, "Thank you, Hilde."

That sat me up straight. And then, belatedly, I fumbled for the light switch. The bedside lamp clicked on as the door closed and there was Trowa, still in his flight suit, just standing there. Looking at me.

"Hey," I croaked.

"Hey," he answered, continuing to – I dunno – keep the doormat from running off and joining the circus or something. (Yet another career path he knew a thing or two about.)

Drawing on reserves I hadn't really counted on still having, I pushed myself to my feet. He watched as I went to him. "You look like your ass is draggin', baby," I didn't say. "Did Une hang you up by your ankles or use the thumbscrews?" I didn't joke.

What I said was, "Is it later?"

They were just three words, but the result was explosive. It was like someone had flipped a switch, or pressed the Play button on some cosmic remote control. Suddenly, he and I were right back in the middle of the moment we'd abandoned in the hangar.

His arms went around me and mine around him and our mouths just freakin' crashed together. This time (unlike the instance in the bathroom of our suite on X18999), when he planted his hands on my ass and picked me up, I didn't bitch at him over it. Maybe later. Right now, I was more interested in moving us as expeditiously as possible toward the bed. My other main priority was our tongue war. Which I was determined to win.

Trowa groaned when I wrapped my legs around his hips and I momentarily gained the advantage in our kissing contest. When his shins encountered the edge of the bed, we broke for air and I grinned. Round One went to me, I was sure. Round Two didn't start until I was lying beneath him and had his flight suit stripped down to his knees, which took about three whole seconds. Plenty of time for a breather.

Our noses bumped and our teeth clicked as he wiggled his way out of the clingy-as-hell fabric. I reached for my underwear, my nails carelessly scratching Trowa's belly in the process.

"Duo," he said softly, intercepting my hand before I could shove the waistband down. "Shh," he soothed. "We have time."

Time.

For some damn reason, that single word just blew me apart. It blasted me open. I swallowed back a shout or a sob – I dunno which – and gripped Trowa's arms tightly. Too tightly. I was probably hurting him, but I couldn't let go. All at once, that raging tornado was back for an encore and I just didn't know what to do.

"I can't..." I began, my voice doing that broken bicycle thing again. "I can't..."

"Then don't," he advised, tunneling his hands beneath my back and holding onto me just as tightly as I was holding onto him. I wound myself bodily around him and buried my face in that quiet, soft, warm space along his neck, between his ear and the line of his shoulders, and just tried to breathe without breaking.

"Hold on," he urged me, not just permitting my circulation-strangling grip, but asking me to hang onto him like I was never gonna let go. "I'm here. Just hold on."

I pressed my lips to the pulse shuddering steadily beneath his skin, nuzzled against his beard stubble, and just marked off his heartbeats as I clung to him. I eventually lost count, but I was asleep before I could care.

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