And now we finally hear from Trowa! He's all about backstory, as it it turns out (hence the past perfect tense all over the place), but there is a new development in the story near the end of the chapter. I hope you enjoy his voice. He's a very serene (yet focused) character to write. I guess that's because he exerts so much control over himself and his mind. (Well, my version of him does, anyway.) Where Duo is a total chatterbox (as a narrator), only a few rebellious thoughts manage to slip past Trowa's guard.
Two out of Three
Chapter 16: Broken Down on Memory Lane
I cast a spell over the west to make you think of me the same way I think of you...
When Duo had leaned back and proudly crowed those two words, my entire being had just stopped. My heart had thudded to a halt, waiting for the inevitable punch line. Duo always had a punch line.
I'd tried to tease him back – I'd done my best to soften the blow I'd known was coming – and I'd asked, "Is that a proposal?" I'd meant for it to come out a bit dry, a good setup for the joke. Duo counted on me for that, I knew. I liked giving him the perfect openings for his one-liners. I liked it a little too much... most of the time. That evening, though, with the sun setting on the far distant horizon, I'd wished for indifference. But the instant the words had left my mouth, I'd known that I'd failed. I was looking at him – really looking at him like I'd been trying not to do for months upon months – and, despite myself, I was hoping.
I hoped far too much. Any hope at all invited disappointment. I'd learned this lesson well in my lifetime but, where Duo was concerned, I had apparently lost my mind.
And my heart.
But it hadn't been a joke, neither had the kiss which had followed. I'd never let myself imagine him permitting that, but he had. Oh, I'd known it had all been for the sake of a mission of some sort: I knew he needed a partner and he needed the pretense of being married. I hadn't understood why he'd chosen me but, at the time, I hadn't cared. Not when I'd been sitting beside him on the roof of the building nor when he'd turned the tables and kissed me outside my door.
After the fact, when I'd retreated to my room and reaction had set in, I'd realized I was shocked at myself for offering to let him come inside. I'd lectured myself not to get caught up in the moment; I'd been battling an infatuation with him for years and this burst of emotion was only a kind of release, an explosion of years' worth of pent-up feelings. Things would settle. But, in the meantime, there was no reason why I couldn't really be his fiancé.
And then it'd occurred to me that Duo had essentially given me carte blanche to court him. I could touch him now. I could kiss him. And – if I bought his line about being a good catholic boy and took the implication seriously – once we were married, I could—!
I wasn't sure how far Duo would go to maintain appearances or how desperately he'd cling to one excuse after another – like that catholic line – to keep me at a comfortable distance, but I'd take as much as he'd give, venture as far as he'd permit. I'd show him what kind of partner I could be. And maybe, if I was incredibly lucky and fate inconceivably kind, Duo might choose to be with me... even after the mission was over.
It was a mad plan. Utterly insane. Heero had been right to call me a gambler. I was gambling with my heart. And, given the fact that I could not be an objective partner in whatever mission Duo was undertaking, I was also gambling with his life.
Things could have turned out so badly and it would have been completely and undeniably my fault.
But, at the time, I'd been drowning in my new freedoms with Duo. I could see how hard he struggled to let himself be mine, even for the sake of the mission. He wanted it enough to make it work, to make our deepening relationship seem genuine, but then, somewhere along the line, I think those changes actually became genuine. He genuinely started to want me.
It hadn't been the gift of the necklace. Though I'd treasure it always, that had not been the moment. It hadn't been the swim or the following shared shower. I would never forget handling his hair for the first time, becoming part of a ritual he must have upheld for however long it had taken to grow his hair to that length. I'd known his braid was important to him; it had survived innumerable close calls, pilot training and the war – only part of what I'm sure he has endured in his lifetime – and it was perhaps as tough as the leather that made up my necklace. But that moment under the shower spray had not been the moment, either.
I'm reasonably certain it had happened in the first floor store of all places. Duo had tilted his face up and let me kiss him in a public space that wasn't just this side of personal domain. I think that was the defining instant. Of course, I'd confiscated his boots thereafter, guarding them while he'd tried on suits. I had not been prepared for Duo Maxwell to run and hide from me. But he hadn't done that at all. He'd still fought me, but it was a losing battle. The kiss I'd given him in front of our friends on the eve of our wedding confirmed it. I would have him for as long as I could.
And then either I would have to let him go or he'd choose to stay.
I'd been heartened by his kiss in the chapel. He'd been seeking something with that, and I'd offered myself, hoping it would be enough. It hadn't been until later that evening, as I'd stood facing him, my body tense and blood roaring as I'd held his undone necktie in my hand that I'd acknowledged my hope. When he'd leaned toward me, said my name...!
It was bliss. He was all I wanted. And then I'd had him beneath me on the bed and it was every desire I'd never let myself contemplate... until he'd pulled away and panted for me to stop. I hadn't been surprised. Not really. I'd pushed too hard, too fast. I'd promised myself I'd go slow; I'd let him come to me...
I'd ruined my chance.
But then, amazingly, he hadn't let go of me. He'd held on and he'd asked what I wanted and then he'd agreed.
There were no words to describe it. And its perfection had been increased twentyfold when he'd said my name as he'd found his pleasure. Mine. Borrowed, stolen, or otherwise ill-gotten, Trowa was my name and Duo had been thinking of me.
Did I dare hope I could be more than his friend? Could I be his anchor – his lover – as he was mine?
He'd fought me again after that, foregoing his usual stop by the maintenance closet the following morning. Despite all his kindness and humor, I could see the challenge and rebellion in his eyes that afternoon at lunch. I let him have it. We were married. I had time.
Or did I?
That night, while I'd waited for him to return from infiltrating the building crawlspace, I'd realized that things were still moving forward. How long would it be before the mission hit its main objective and lives hung in the balance? And when he'd returned carrying an empty plastic bottle with droplets of blue liquid clinging to the inside, I'd known – I'd simply known – what he'd done and what price he might end up paying before the end.
As Duo would say, I'd freaked the hell out. I'd had to make sure he was safe, that he hadn't inhaled a damaging amount of fumes or gotten any minute traces of the cleanser in his eyes. But that hadn't been enough. I'd needed for him to be completely clean, completely safe. I'd needed his hair washed and his nails scrubbed. He'd just risked his life and I'd known what that signified. Change was coming. He might be taken from me or I from him and I wasn't ready, not after I'd just found him, had him, made love to him!
I could have ruined everything that night. If he had told me no, I don't think I could have stopped. Nonetheless, I'd touched him without his expressed permission – something I'd told myself I'd never do, no matter what. I'd justified it by weighing the infraction against our dwindling time together: if that was destined to be our last chance, then I'd wanted there to be no denying that he wanted me.
I'd anticipated that he'd run and hide after that, as much as he was able. It had occurred to me as I'd dumped his clothes in the bath to soak that I might have just destroyed his trust in me as well. But, when I'd dared to enter the bedroom, he hadn't wanted me to take off the necklace. He hadn't asked me to keep my distance. He had, in fact, recruited my assistance in dealing with his hair.
My relief had turned into desire so fast I'd been dazed. Thankfully, the power had gone out then. Locating and setting up the emergency lanterns had permitted me a moment to get myself under control. I could not afford to push him a second time in one evening. I'd done the only thing I could: I'd put a buffer between myself from Duo. I'd thought he'd appreciate the space.
He hadn't. He'd come after me. I'd wanted him so badly that I couldn't pull away, couldn't hide it... and then he'd agreed.
Waiting for him on the bed had been one of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life. And then he was there and I was ceding to him and his touch... It was unparalleled. Afterwards, when I was sated and floating in tingling warmth, I'd felt him move away even though he was still fully hard. Suddenly, I'd realized what he'd done, what he was still doing. He was running again. Hiding and denying. It had chafed, but I'd known when to surrender ground. I'd let him keep his control. Not eight hours later, he lost it in my arms.
What I wouldn't give to wake up like that every morning for the rest of my life, to hold him against me, wrap my limbs around him, and feel him moving, feel his breath hot against my neck, hear the soft noises he makes whenever we touch. Perfection. So naturally, it couldn't last.
Opening my eyes to the sight of him sitting beside our bed, fully dressed and ready for the next phase of the mission had eviscerated me. Hell, the whole mission eviscerated me. I'd lost count of the number of times I'd nearly thrown up from pure worry over him. Not just because I wanted him, either.
Duo was so much more than just an object of obsession for my hormones to rally around. He was the one who, more than anyone else, had never let my silence intimidate him. He'd never seen my self-containment as an obstacle to being my friend over the years. In fact, his unwavering devotion to treating me like someone worth knowing had eventually convinced me that I was worth knowing. The kid No-name was gone, or had grown up into someone deserving of friendship. I was somebody. Duo thought so and, with him blazing a trail, the other pilots had followed suit.
Not that the others had ever ignored me intentionally, but they'd always seemed reluctant to approach me. They honored my nonverbal request for space and time to myself. But, by the end of our first month in WEI, the kid gloves had come off, so to speak, and I was suddenly included in the brotherhood that had tentatively blossomed at the end of the war. All because Duo had gone the extra mile to poke and prod at me until he was sure he knew me, until I'd started to know myself. I'd become somebody, thanks to his tenacity. It was at that point that I'd realized just how much I liked being somebody. In fact, I wanted to be somebody's somebody. I wanted to be Duo's.
That thought had gotten squashed and locked away. Duo was straight – at least, I was pretty sure he was – and I'd never have a chance with him. What did I have to offer him, anyway? Nights disrupted by nightmares? An unremarkable life of hopeful anonymity? Duo deserved more.
But then he'd asked me to marry him. I had not been capable of saying no.
"Does he know you're in love with him?" Heero had interrogated me on our last Friday at WEI just as the clock had struck five p.m.
"That's none of your business," I'd replied, only mildly surprised that Heero had figured out my feelings for Duo. Something Duo (or I) had said or done had apparently alerted him to the fact that things were not as they seemed, that our engagement wasn't just for the sake of a mission. Heero was concerned on my behalf, and I appreciated that, but it was my life and my choice.
Quatre had stood nearby, ready to mediate but keeping his opinion to himself. I could only take heart from that. Surely, Quatre would warn me if he sensed nothing more than friendship from Duo. Surely he wouldn't be so cruel as to give me hope by omitting something so important.
"Tell him," Heero had ordered. "Before the wedding."
"Your opinion has been noted."
"You're an idiot."
"I'm in love," I'd responded and, as far as I was concerned, the two were synonymous with each other. Then I'd walked out of Quatre's office to return my cleaning cart to the closet and find my fiancé.
I think I'd sought out Duo, in part, to spite Heero. Seeing Duo wrestling with Heero the day before had bothered me. Watching them together, I'd wondered if Duo would call off the wedding, if he'd prefer Heero to be his partner... but he hadn't. I'd never believed in God – or any god, for that matter – but in that moment, standing in the gym and hearing Duo say he'd missed me, I'd nearly thanked the Almighty. Duo had still wanted me. Me.
I vowed to be the partner he needed. That task, as it turned out, had gotten harder and harder as time went on. I'd more or less held my breath throughout our extraction. I hadn't been able to be anything other than hyper alert during the shuttle flight. Alert and afraid that old ghosts were about to be risen from the past. A lowly mechanic like me had never been invited into the inner circle of the Barton Foundation and I'd seen very little of the actual project beyond what had gone on in the mobile suit hangar, but I'd heard rumors about the ringleader behind it all – a man named Dekim Barton – and the colony – X18999 – he was planning on sacrificing for the sake of Operation Meteor.
When our shuttle's destination had finally been revealed... well. I hadn't wanted to leap to conclusions and it would have been pointless to try to communicate my suspicions to Duo. He'd been just as tense as I, just as aware of how dangerous the situation could become. Besides, what had I really known? Nothing current enough to be pertinent. I hadn't wanted to risk rocking the boat until our new friends revealed themselves for who they really were and what they wanted. Being met by Mariemeia had only confirmed the fact that our patron was as careful as we were. Thus, the dance had begun and, with Duo beside me, I'd known I couldn't possibly have asked for a better partner.
And he'd proved me right.
Once we'd been shown to our assigned rooms and had begun checking the place over, seeing those... things in the bedside bureau, those things which had blatantly mocked the long-secret desire of my once-stone-cold heart, I'd snapped. And, shockingly, Duo had forgiven me, he'd teased me, and he'd said yes to me when I'd confessed to wanting him again. What he hadn't known was that I wanted him every minute of the day. I wanted him forever. I'd been telling the truth when I'd told him I played for keeps.
Keep me, Duo. Please. Keep me.
I could hope he'd heard the words I hadn't said while he'd lain awake, taking the first watch. The fact that he'd volunteered to let me rest first... that meant something, I was sure. Then, the moment in the tunnel, when he'd promised to stand with me – together – that had meant something as well. It'd been those two moments that I'd drawn upon as I'd watched his braid being sliced off on the orders of that bastard, Dekim Barton.
I'd almost screamed. I'd almost launched myself at the nearest gun and taken them all down right then and there, but I trusted Duo. And when I'd next met his eyes, the fire that I loved – the fire that had drawn me to him from the first moment we'd met, when he'd come at me in Deathscythe and we'd ended up fighting right there on the tarmac at the Alliance's New Edwards Base – had still been burning, and burning bright.
After that, we'd distracted ourselves from the tightrope we'd been walking there on X18999 as best we could with humor. The possibility of failure had never terrified me before, but I'd suddenly had something other than my own life – which I'd long ago deemed worthless – to lose. I could lose Duo.
In the end, it hadn't mattered. No, of course not. In the end, I'd watched him walk away from me. He'd promised to be in touch. He'd said he just needed to sort some things out. I knew – intellectually – that it hadn't been me he was rejecting. I knew he liked me, trusted me. Maybe even loved me, in his way. I knew we needed this space to clear our heads and figure out what was going to happen next.
That didn't mean I had to like it.
I spent the following twelve weeks being invisible. I worked the nightshift at a convenience store, going by my new name. I went back to my hole-in-the-wall apartment every morning, closing my eyes just to avoid the dawn and another empty day, trying not to think about Duo out there, meeting women and letting them take him home. Or maybe he was pushing his limits with men (and I didn't doubt that Duo's contrary nature had the potential to lead him down such a path) just to see if he could like it, want it, choose it of his own free will. It was pure torment to think of him letting someone else – anyone else – touch him when I'd give anything for the privilege. It was easier to hide in the tentative realm of sleep – to stop existing for a few short hours – than to face those thoughts. But no matter how hard I tried, the things I most wanted to disappear from were still there when I opened my eyes.
The truth was always lying in wait for me.
I still loved Duo. I wanted him. I missed him. I wasn't myself without him. Or, maybe I was myself without him: my old self, my former self. I didn't want to be that nameless, invisible nobody anymore. I wanted to be special. I wanted to be the way I was when he was around and focusing all his considerable energy on baiting, teasing, joking, deciphering, confiding...
Waiting was hard, but it was better than a confrontation that might end in a flat-out refusal of my suit. As long as I was waiting, there was a chance – a small chance, but a chance nonetheless – that he'd miss me, too.
Eighty-seven days since I'd watched him walk away, my videophone rang. I nearly gave myself a concussion as I dived over the chair to answer it. And it wasn't even Duo.
"Wufei," I greeted, trying to hide the look on my face that probably made even the unimaginative Chang Wufei think I'd just dropped my heart into the trash can and set it on fire.
He didn't ask me how I was. I don't think I could have answered if he had. He didn't ask me if I'd heard from Duo or if I'd been to the house – our house – yet. Instead, he said, "All these damn women are driving me insane."
I almost laughed. I almost thanked some anonymous higher power for Wufei. He always knew when to shut up and when to rant about inconsequential irritations. And then, just as I was starting to feel a bit better, just as something smart and cynical danced on the tip of my tongue, someone knocked on his office door. He asked me to hold on a moment when I would have simply hung up. My finger was hovering over the disconnect button when I heard his voice – Duo's voice – muffled by distance.
"Hell, Wufei, aren't you happy to see me?"
I would have given everything I owned to see him. I snatched my hand away from the keyboard, holding my breath.
"Extremely," Wufei replied so drolly I almost didn't hear the word itself amongst the sarcasm. "You had better tell the director that you're back."
"Why, so she can arrest me?"
"So she can thank you for dealing with the threat your Gundam posed the general populace, and then having the brains to see that it was secured."
"Oh. I was wondering how she'd take it."
Duo had been monumentally stupid to take off in his Gundam which I'd been told was officially state's evidence against Dekim Barton. At least the engineers had made a copy of the machine's hard drive before Duo had decided to sort out the self-destruct problem on his own, thereby erasing Une's precious evidence. Still, thinking of Duo out there in the middle of nowhere, tinkering with code, one mistake away from blowing himself up made me want to destroy something with my bare hands, so I stopped thinking about it.
"Um, look," Duo began uncertainly, breaking the awkward silence that had begun to stretch out. "I need to get a message to Trowa."
"I am not your secretary, Maxwell!"
"You damn well are!" he hollered back. "You're our Goddamned contact or handler or whatever the fuck Une's calling it."
"A piece of advice, Maxwell," Wufei said calmly after a moment. "Call your future boss Director Une."
"What makes you think I'm gonna sign away my soul like you and join up with this whole damn rat race, eh?"
"You want peace. Just like the rest of us."
Wufei has always known exactly when and how to strike – hard and fast and accurate, leaving his victim left holding his own guts in his hands and wondering what had just happened. Now was no exception.
"I need you to tell Trowa something for me," Duo repeated after a long moment of silence.
"Do you love him?"
I winced as my heart stopped, strained, and started beating backwards.
"I appreciate that you're trying to look out for a friend," came the hoarse reply, "but there is no way in Hell or on this Goddamn green Earth that I'm gonna tell you that."
"What do you want from him?"
I listened as Wufei interrogated my husband about his intentions toward me. I could have told Wufei that it wouldn't work, but the fact that Duo was so passionate in his irritation at Wufei's meddling told me he cared. He cared enough to keep our private things private still.
"Tell him I'll be at the house this time next week," Duo growled and I inhaled so fast the air burned my lungs which, in turn, bashed and bruised my heart. Then, in response to perhaps a glare from Wufei, he added, "Everything else I have to say, I'm saying to him and him alone."
At that point, Wufei stepped behind the desk again and glanced at the video screen just to make sure I was still here, still listening, still clinging pathetically to every word being said. I nodded; I'd be there. I'd damn well be there with bells on.
Wufei's mouth lifted at the corners. Looking up again, he said, "I'll make sure he knows."
I listened to the sound of Duo's combat boots scuffing on the carpet tiles as he headed for the door.
Wufei called after him. "And get a haircut in the meantime!" A moment later, Wufei's lips twitched helplessly before he could suppress a self-satisfied smile; I deduced that Duo must've replied with one of his favorite non-verbal gestures. I wondered which one he'd used this time.
Wufei's office door slammed shut and I disconnected without a word. My fists clenched upon the table on either side of the keyboard. My head was too blank and my chest too full. I closed my eyes, bowed my head, gritted my teeth. A week. I'd see Duo in a week. It was almost cruel, knowing I had so many days ahead of me. But the relief – it would be over soon! – was there, too. But... what if it was over forever?
Duo didn't leave you.
I knew this. He'd been very clear on that. He hadn't walked away from me. He'd walked away from the mission, from the fiction, from the pretense. Could I hope that there was still something left now that the dust had settled? Could I hope that he'd come back? That we could build something other than sandcastles from the debris?
If, by some miracle, he still chose me, I swore to myself that I'd consider the last twelve weeks erased. I wouldn't ask him where he'd been, what he'd done, who he'd been with. If being with a hundred different women (or men) sent him back to me, I'd be grateful and leave it at that. Just... just...
I could tell already that the coming week would be a nightmare. Not as horrible as the one I'd had on our wedding night – there would be no enemy mobile suits hovering nearby, no threats of betrayal from former comrades, no sounds of gunfire, and (most importantly) I would not end up pulling Duo's body out of a still-smoldering suit that I, The Silencer, had just shot down in cold indifference – but the next seven days were going to be hell, nonetheless.
NOTES:Right, so now we all know what Trowa's been thinking. If you ever re-read this fic from the beginning, you'll hopefully spot all of the signs that point right to these very thoughts. Enjoy the read-it-again if you, you know, read it again.
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