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.

The following is ratedM+for sexual situations (which are somewhat more graphic than I've previously posted in this story). If you would prefer to read aless-explicit version,please do so here on fanfiction.net:Two out of Three, Chapter 18, Part 1

Two out of Three
Chapter 18: Better off as Lovers

It's me and my plus one at the afterlife...

Well, OK. Not quite "end of story." There was other stuff to figure out. Like who was gonna get the top drawer in the bureau and who got dibs on the single-car garage. That sort of stuff.

It turned out that we'd both come here with our belongings in tow, both hoping to stay but kinda doubting we would. I shared a wry smile with Trowa when we went out to our respective rental vehicles to fetch our things. I couldn't say we were eternal optimists. Maybe more like fellow lovesick chumps. Or inveterate gamblers. I was sure neither of us had arrived here certain that there'd be a reconciliation, but neither of us had been able to let that fear win out. We'd come denying our hopes, but we'd hoped nonetheless. Our pair of duffel bags apiece proved it.

Although we'd allowed enough hope to justify dragging our meager piles of shit here with us, neither of us had been presumptuous enough to procure provisions. So off we went on our first shopping trip as married persons. Trowa wrinkled his nose when I tossed a bag of ginger snaps into the cart and I rolled my eyes at the cans of ready-to-heat-and-eat stew he wordlessly added.

"Do we even have a can opener?" I challenged and that prompted him to chuck one of those onto our growing mound of food.

"We do now."

After I'd hunted up all the stuff I wanted, I asked, "Hey, can I trust you not to throw in dehydrated soup or canned sardines while my back is turned?"

"Why is your back going to be turned?"

"I'm heading next door to the drug store. We need toilet paper... and stuff."

"Ah," he agreed.

I boogied my ass to the next place over and willed myself not to blush. I was totally old enough to be buying shit like lube and condoms. Totally, definitely old enough. And married enough. I repeated this mantra as I purposefully avoided eye contact with the cashier.

Since I finished my errand first, I stowed the toilet paper, wet wipes, facial tissues, laundry soap, and other assorted gems of the modern health-and-beauty age in the car then went looking for Trowa. I caught him at the check-out, arriving just in time to pay for my half of the groceries. Clifden was a tourist town, but the sheer number of shopping bags we loaded into the car seemed to pique the interest of the locals. We didn't have our first run-in with them, however, until we'd gotten back home and I was trying to convince Trowa that the milk really ought to go in the fridge door and not on shelf above the veggie bin (whatever the hell that was supposed to do).

A knock on the front door made us pause in the middle of our staring contest and I sighed. Taking a step back, I warned him, "You put it there and I'm just gonna keep moving it."

"Fine," he agreed. As I left the kitchen I kept an eye on him and... yup. He put it above the veggie bin. I made it a point to finish rolling my eyes before I answered the door.

On the stoop stood a middle-aged blonde woman holding something vaguely brick-shaped wrapped in tin foil. My first instinct was to hit the floor and yell, "Fire in the hole!"

Shit, that's messed up.

"Grand day," she said, distracting me from the little moment I was having. Her voice was lilting and light and had a soothing, musical quality that I wanted to impersonate immediately but knew I'd fail horribly at. "Hello. My name's Lorna O'Michael. My husband and I live just up the road. Are you here on your holidays?"

"Uh... in a manner of speaking. This is our place," I confirmed. "Joe Cross. JC." I stuck out my hand. "Nice to meet you. Yeah, we're the new owners." I hoped she wasn't about to tell us that the septic system was primed to explode under our asses. The ink had been dry on the deed for weeks, so it was way too late to pass the buck now. Although, hell, what a way to write off a money pit, huh? If that was Une's plan all along, she was gonna bear some watching in the future. That kind of crazy-like-a-fox cunning was admirable, but damn annoying if you found yourself on the wrong end of it.

"A pleasure," Lorna O'Michael said, and then prompted with nosy-neighbor, gossiping-busybody expertise, "We?"

I tried not to smirk at her tone. I'm sure she was trying to sound politely interested. Heh. Yeah. That was a fail. Holding up a finger in a mute request for her to hold on a moment, I leaned back into the house and called, "Tris?" We've got neighbors! I didn't say. He'd probably reply with something about adding bait and traps to the shopping list. I didn't think Lorna O'Michael would appreciate the joke.

"Hey, babe," I continued, turning at the sound of his footsteps. "One of our neighbors is here."

Trowa joined me on the threshold and I looked back at Lorna in time to catch her blink of surprise. I guess same-sex couples weren't a regular thing around here. Or maybe my sweet set of rental wheels screamed Straight Guy.

"Tristan Armstrong," he said. Standing a little behind me, he offered his hand which Lorna shook before going back to clutching the tin foil brick-that-was-probably-not-a-kilo-of-C4. Trowa appeared to come to the same conclusion as me about it; when his gaze darted down, he automatically stiffened, and then forced himself to relax. Yeah, we probably didn't have a suicide bomber on our doorstep.

"Where are you from?" she asked, making conversation.

As I proceeded to basically let Lorna interrogate our prefabricated life stories outta me, I idly wondered why – if Trowa's left arm was behind my back – he wasn't putting his hand on my waist or something equally spouse-y.

"We'd invite you in," I said apologetically as I started my final approach to conversation's end, "but it's a real mess in here still."

"Oh, well. Maybe some other time," she replied agreeably. "If you've no plans for this evening, we'll all be down at the pub to watch the match. If you fancy coming along..."

"Match?" I asked.

"Gaelic!" she supplied in an unexpected rush, clearly a long-time fan of whatever it was. In response to my blank look, she added, "Football. Kick off's at seven o'clock, down at Mally's."

I pumped her for directions and she handed over the tin foil bundle, which she said was something called a Barm Brack. Hm. Sounded fun. Maybe not as much fun as C4, but there ain't much that is.

I promised we'd venture down to Mally's that evening and then she concluded her welcome committee routine. Hell, she was probably making a mental list of all the people she was gonna call as soon as she got home. Twenty bucks said Mally's was gonna be packed tonight.

As soon as she was out of sight around the bend in the drive, I shut the door and Trowa burst out laughing.

"What's so funny?" I asked, grinning. The whole thing had been giggle-worthy, true, but Trowa's eyes were freakin' tearing up.

He cleared his throat and straightened. Only then did he show me the carving knife he was holding in his left hand, the hand he'd been hiding behind me the whole time. Oh, Christ.

"Seriously?"

"Habit."

"Fucking hell," I remarked between snickers. "You're a headcase." Hell, we both were.

He smiled. "But you like me that way."

When he leaned in for a kiss, I gave it to him and, on a sigh, agreed, "Yeah. I totally do."

So, Lorna never knew how she'd come yea close to meeting Trowa's inner merc. I guess that was just as well, all things considered. Especially if I was gonna end up asking her to keep an eye on the place while Tro and I were working for Une. It'd take a real bulldog to run off the sheep, rowdy teenagers, and bored tourists. I was all for nominating Lorna for the honor.

It was a day of firsts: first joint shopping-for-daily-necessities trip, first lube and condom purchase, first official date. (Wait. Does that progression of events sound backwards to anybody else? Maybe it's just me.)

We un-dust-covered our furniture, vacuumed, did laundry, washed up all the dishes and utensils... Hell, Trowa freakin' cleaned the cupboards. I just let him do whatever. I was busy looking good in a chef's apron with soap bubbles up to my elbows. It was kinda too bad we didn't have a stereo. It was totally a day for tunes. I made a mental note to add it to the shopping list... right under the traps and bait for pesky neighbors. Heh.

That evening, Trowa and I descended on the town again – walking the kilometer and a bit from our place along the country road this time – for a couple pints of Guinness and a communal viewing of Gaelic football.

Lorna and her husband, Brian, were already there and, given how fast they came over to greet us, they'd clearly been on sentry duty. We were quickly introduced to the regulars and, after a fast and dirty round of "hey-howya-doin'?", Trowa and I were seated at a small, round table between Lorna and Brian on our 3 o'clock and couple of old geezers on our 9. I cheered and whooped when they cheered and whooped. I booed and bitched when they booed and bitched.

By halftime, the local favorite team had pulled ahead and everyone in the damn place had decided to share their pearls of wisdom with the new guys in town. By the time we made our escape, I knew more about where the local sheep liked to hide before jumping out in front of passing motorists than I knew about Gaelic football. It was still fun as hell to watch. I'd have to look up the rules for next time.

We got back to the house near midnight. As we climbed the front steps, Trowa dug into his pocket for his key. I put a hand on his arm to stop him. "Hey, don't I get a good-night kiss?" I teased.

"On the front porch?" he queried.

"It's the end of our date!" I argued persuasively and with a charming grin.

He leaned forward and pressed a quick, chaste kiss to my lips. "It's just the beginning," he corrected me, smiling.

With a line like that, you're probably thinking we beat a path to the bedroom and made hasty use of those supplies I'd acquired earlier, eh? Well, you'd be wrong. We crashed and twined on the sofa watching the world weather report, comparing notes on the different places we'd been.

"Load up on desiccant if you ever wanna go to Asia, babe," I said at one point, "because Japan takes humidity to a whole new level in summer."

"Estonia was nice," Trowa remarked idly when the satellite image of Northern Europe came up on the screen. "Despite the aggressive population of mosquitoes."

We dozed off listening to the weather dude give us the Tropical Storm 101 lecture as clouds swirled over the Caribbean Islands on his right. When I opened my eyes, it was middle-of-the-night dark and the TV station was cycling through the forecast listing for major cities in Africa and Trowa's hair was tickling my chin. I had an arm around his shoulders and his head was tucked down against my chest. At some point, I'd slumped deep into the corner of the sofa, and he was stretched out along the length of it (insofar as he could with those long legs of his). Oh man. I knew we were young and nubile, but this was so not gonna be comfortable to wake up to in the morning.

I nudged and nuzzled. I slid my hand under his shirt to pet and massage his taut belly until he stirred. "Hm?"

"Let's go to bed," I suggested, my voice a little scratchy. To match the itch developing in my shorts, maybe. But no. No, it was the middle of the night. It'd take a serious influx of either caffeine or adrenaline to inspire an actual follow-through in me at this point.

"Hm," he said again and I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing at Trowa the Drowsy Zombie. Damn. You have no idea how badly I wanted a plushie version of him lookin' like that. No idea.

I got him up and moving. After he set a course for the hallway, I turned off the TV and plunged the room into darkness. I shuffled, drowsy and defenseless, after him into the hall. That was when he struck.

I yelped as his hand clamped around my wrist and I found myself pulled back against his chest. "Just how sleepy do you think I am?" he growled, pressing his hips against my ass. The hard length straining against his fly was very persuasive in coaxing a similar reaction from me.

"Dude, do not play with me," I retorted. "You were 100% zombie-fied."

"I was," he admitted on a purr, "until I noticed this..."

I leaned back against him as his palm slid over my hip and down to the front of my jeans.

"Uh... whoops?" I breathed, rubbing myself against his hand. "Can't keep any secrets from you, can I?"

"Not big ones," he answered and I could hear the smirk in every syllable of his corny comeback.

I snickered. "Giving blatant flattery a try now, are we?"

"Whatever it takes."

"Mercenary."

"Thief."

That I was. "Unless you want me to steal your virtue here," I replied, ignoring the fact that he was the one holding onto me, "you'd better get your ass down to the bedroom."

He bit my earlobe. It hurt a little and I jerked even as a zing of something hot and fizzing shot down my spine. "Make me," he dared.

Ooooh, baby. Here we go.

What was that I'd said about having diminished capacity at this time of night? ...yeah, I can't remember, either.

I twisted out of his grasp. From there, I could have tripped him, taken advantage of a pressure point, fisted a hand in his hair, or all of the above. It didn't matter that it was nearly pitch black. I could have owned him and some dark part of me was very tempted by that. But no, I was not gonna go the underhanded route when it came to sex. It was head on or not at all.

So I went for the jugular. Pushing aside his shirt collar and the necklace I'd given him, I sealed my lips over the tender skin of his neck. Yeah-hah! I had a love mark to repay, didn't I?

His hands clenched into fists in my shirt. I rubbed against him, rolling my hips in a suggestive rhythm meant to put him in mind of one thing and one thing only until he groaned. Groaned but didn't beat a path for our room. Hmm...

I lifted my head, my lips and breath brushing over the damp spot on his throat, and complained, "What does a guy have to do to get his husband into bed, huh?"

Trowa chuckled. "I'm sure you'll think of something."

I grinned. If he wanted to play, I'd play.

"One step in the right direction," I bargained, "one kiss closer to..." I let my voice trail off as I smoothed a palm down his spine... and over the curve of his ass.

I had an idea, something I'd only ever heard of in passing and – at the time – it had kinda freaked me out, but I was thinkin' he'd like it... if I got up the nerve to actually try it.

"Intriguing," he purred and took a step backward, in the direction of our bedroom door.

Grinning in the darkness, I reached for his shirt and with only a brief warning – "Arms up, baby." – I had it over his head and hitting the floor. I nuzzled down his neck and along his collarbone, nudging aside his necklace and placing biting kisses every few inches or so.

He took another step back and I followed, tickling his chest with my fingertips before tugging gently at his nipples. He shivered and took a third step back. This time, I breathed a trail down to his navel, ringing his belly button with the tip of my nose before giving in to the need to taste him again. His hips twitched at the first tiny lick from my tongue and I felt his hands in my hair, his fingers playing with the strands like he was sorting through the wires of a detonator. That is, gingerly. Very gingerly. I rubbed my stubbled jaw against his belly, pressed kiss after kiss to his quivering muscles until he took yet another step back.

Now the pants had to come off. Trowa startled when I rubbed a palm against the bulge in his jeans and I heard him plant his hands – one against each wall in the hallway – to brace himself upright even as his knees sagged. Making good on my promise, I placed a hot, sucking kiss to the tender space just beneath his belly button as, crouching, I pushed his jeans off his hips and slid them down his legs.

"Duo," he rasped and the sound of his voice made me shudder helplessly. "You don't have to."

I smoothed a hand up the back of his bare thigh and massaged the muscle there. "I know." That's all I said. The next move was his.

He pulled his feet out of the jeans and underwear bunched around his ankles and retreated further down the hall out of my reach. I couldn't hear or otherwise sense him breathing in the darkness, so I guessed he was holding his breath, waiting and wondering if I was really gonna... y'know.

I didn't keep him in suspense too long. I crept forward in silence and then, with a hand on his hip to steady me, I leaned in—

Trowa gasped as my cheek rubbed along his length. Encountering the wet tip, I placed a kiss upon it as promised, tasting him and, yes, I liked the flavor very, very much. The thought of touching any other man like this viscerally repulsed me, but in Trowa's case, I was never gonna get enough. I wanted to sample every inch of him and then go back to the beginning for second helpings of everything.

He stuttered my name and I licked him once – slowly, savoringly – in reply. "Th-the door's..."

I knew precisely where we were. And I was well aware that the bed was a very, very big step away. "I can stop here," I offered and then gave him a brief, sucking kiss with a hint of teeth. I think he actually squeaked. I know he liked it, though, because he hardened even further, bobbing upward against my lips. "Or there's one more step..."

"One more step," he agreed after a moment, his voice thick with desire. He moved away and I heard him sit down on the bed.

"OK," I whispered, finding him in the dark and returning to the love mark I'd probably left on his neck. Settling myself on the bed, straddling his bare thighs, I repeated my journey, tasting and teasing him all over again until I was kneeling on the floor, leisurely enjoying the flavor of him.

He was nearly silent, but he didn't hold back. I heard his sparse groans, his breathed encouragements. I heard the way he said my name, like it was part of a prayer. I felt the butterfly-soft touches of his fingertips sifting through my hair as his thighs tensed and trembled beneath my hands. It was probably killing him to keep himself still, to keep his hands from fisting and his hips from searching out a rhythm. It was lucky for him, then, that I wasn't interested in tormenting him, in testing his controls, in finding out how long he could hold out.

Honestly, I was kind of curious as to how far I could go. I leaned back and took a deep breath. No time like the present to find out.

"Feet on the bed, baby," I directed. When he moved back, I took a slight detour, reaching in the bureau drawer to grab the small bottle of lubricant I'd bought earlier and one of the towels we hadn't used that morning. I shucked off my shirt and jeans and crawled onto the bed with him, finding him in the dark by touch alone and settling myself between his strong thighs. With a hand on his jaw for navigation, I lined up our lips and kissed him deeply, wondering if I really could go through with the idea that had popped into my head.

Well, of course I could. The question was whether or not I wanted to. I took a moment and deliberately imagined it... and I shuddered so hard the desire almost broke me. Did I want to? The answer to that was most definitely hell yes.

I still took my time winding him up. The fact that he was letting me told me he was maybe a little uncertain, too. Uncertain of what I was gonna do, of what he'd gotten himself in for. He trusted me, though, and I was not – under any circumstances – gonna betray that.

This time, when I brushed my lips over his length, I took him into my mouth deeply for the first time and, before I'd finished the first stroke, I groaned. God, he felt so incredible against my tongue, on the inside of my lips, along the roof of my mouth. I hadn't expected it to be like this. This wasn't about power and submission at all. It was about connection, about the physical manifestation of what was already true: Trowa was deep inside me just like I was deep inside him.

But I'd promised him one step further, and now I made my move.

He was panting, keening quietly, and I hated to interrupt him, but I wasn't sure if I'd be able to work up the nerve for this a second time. I released his length, pressed open-mouthed kisses to his sac which was drawn up tight and taut, and then I reached for his thighs, pressing them up and out so that he opened to me completely.

He rasped dazedly, "Duo...?"

"Nothing invasive," I breathed against smooth, warm skin. Was I the first to touch him here? To know this part of him? I was thinking I was; he sounded too unsure – and yet he was so trusting – for any other explanation to have a chance in hell of being true.

I turned my head, kissing the soft skin of his inner thighs, and then I slid down just a little further and ran my tongue over that tender spot behind his sac.

I had no words for the sound he made then. It was a growl, a shout, a groan, and a mewl. Hell, I had no idea if it had ever been made before in the whole of human history, but I was eager to hear it again. His thighs had tensed but were slowly relaxing now. I gave him a reassuring caress before I gently rocked his hips upward, and then I ran my tongue even further down until I felt—

"Fuck! Duo!"

I licked him again and he made that sound again. That desperate, pleading, growling, gasping, fuck-me-now-Goddammit sound.

Christ, he was hot. So, so hot. I had to force myself to pull back. His scent was heady and he was so, so warm. There was no corner of him that I was not dedicated to committing to memory, this one included.

"Turn over, baby," I rasped, and helped him reposition his legs, tugging on his hips so that he was crouching on the bed in front of me, braced on his hands with his knees spread wide. "Nothing invasive," I promised again.

"Invade, dammit," he hissed, pushing back against my hand when I reached for him.

"Not this time," I answered, massaging his hips. "Wanna see you when I do..."

He groaned and I leaned forward, nuzzling and nipping his cheeks.

"Duo..." he reminded me and, before he could beg, I licked the sensitive skin over his tailbone and then dragged my tongue down his cleft. He keened, his hips thrusting mindlessly toward me. I petted and brushed and circled him with my tongue, feeling him spasm with every helpless, rocking motion of his body.

When I figured he had to be as hard and aching as I was, I sat up and pulled him back onto my thighs.

"Nuh..." he gasped, his hips still moving even though I wasn't touching him there anymore. I could tell he was remembering it, relishing it as he wiggled and shifted against me. I pressed my forehead between his shoulder blades and let myself remember it, too.

I groped for the lube and, uncapping it, warmed what felt like a generous dollop of it in my palm. Then, bringing my hands together, I smeared the stuff across both. Reaching around his hip, I collected his straining length in my grasp just as I slid a hand between our bodies and slicked myself with the other.

"Ahh!!" He threw his head back and suddenly he was thrusting into my grasp and I was sliding against his hot skin, my length caressing his cleft with every roll of his hips. And, oh fuck, the feel of him around me, even though I wasn't inside him... Holyfuckinghell!

The lubricant still clinging to my palm and fingers made it nearly impossible to maintain my hold on his hip, so I banded my arm across his waist and followed his lead, letting him lean back against me, letting him feel-have-ride against me however he wanted. I just held on and panted against his skin.

Oh-sweet-fucking-Goddamn-yes-more!

We fell into a rhythm, Trowa's hands grasping my arm across his waist, moving-rocking-groaning-rasping-pleading-praising together until the tingles in the base of my spine collected like the gathering charge of a Buster Rifle. The end was roaring toward us – it was gonna be huge – and oh God it was gonna kill us both but what a way to die...!

In that moment before completion blasted me apart, my mind cleared of everything. The roaring of my own blood, the pounding of my heart, the sounds of my groans and Trowa's voice, hoarse and intermittently rambling – demanding and then exalting – all of it just faded away, like the absence of tide on a beach just before the tsunami hits.

And boy did it hit. It caught Trowa first. He screamed, jerking in my grasp and coming, coming, coming, coming—!

And then it hit me and I drowned in it, rolling beneath the waves in darkness.

When I realized I was still breathing, I noticed that I was draped over Trowa, pressed against his back as he lay sprawled on the bed. With an investigative wiggle, I determined I was soft and there was a sticky mess beneath the both of us.

"Baby?" I checked, my voice hoarse as I tried to lever my shaking self off of him. "You OK?"

He shuddered. "No. I'm never going to be ‘OK' again," he deadpanned. "You killed me."

I bit back a slightly-hysterical laugh. "You're not allowed to die."

"Too late."

"You can be a zombie, though," I bargained generously. The hand towel seemed ridiculously tiny in my grasp compared to the spillage I was feeling on my thighs, on Trowa's thighs, on the blanket... "Or a vampire. But cover your eyes, Count, I gotta turn on a light."

"Murf," he replied and there was a puff of air and a plopping sound that let me know he'd located a pillow and thrown it over his head.

I leaned over and clicked on the lamp.

Oh, man. First of all, we'd made one helluva mess. But, second of all, Trowa was still lying beneath me with legs splayed in a boneless, post-orgasmic, I-don't-give-a-fuck sprawl and I could see... Oh, Christ, he was beautiful. Someday, if he still wanted me, y'know, that way – inside him – I might really have to insist on lights-out because I was not gonna be able to hold out long enough to make it good for him if I got to watch him while I—

"Duo?"

I looked up as the pillow shifted and Trowa caught me kneeling between his thighs, gaping like a brainless moron, fantasies running riot in my brain.

"Let's be dead together," I proposed, blindly placing the towel on his thigh.

"What?" I guess his brain wasn't up to assimilating one of my sudden 180s this soon after melting and dribbling out of his ears.

I explained, "It'll save me the trouble of dying over and over again every time we..." I swallowed.

Trowa blinked and, tucking an arm under him, sat up a bit on his elbow to look at me expectantly. "When we...?" he prompted.

That was the question. What had we just done? What were we gonna call it? Fucking? Having sex? Or... "Make love," I heard myself say although it was almost unintelligible thanks to the clogging, rasping, choking quality of my voice.

Trowa stared at me for a moment, and then – with what I'm sure was a monumental effort – he sat up, sorted himself out so that he was facing me on the soggy blanket, and then reached for me. Before I could remind him where my mouth had been, he was kissing me. And kissing me. And kissing me.

The warmth and gentleness of it made me tingle anew and I moaned into his mouth. He was gonna kill me if he kept this up, but I wasn't about to interrupt him.

When he finally leaned back, our lips clung for a moment and I almost followed him. But then he spoke – too softly for me to hear – and I read in the shape of his mouth three words that I'd never really believed would be directed at me. For a second, I just blinked at him, astounded. It wasn't that I doubted him, it was just that I'd never thought he'd actually say it...

He shifted nervously, bringing me back to the here and now. I reached up to cradle his face in my hands as I mouthed those three words back. Fiercely.

He gasped in silence and I pressed a kiss to his jaw, his cheek, his closed eyes, his forehead as he shuddered, grasping my shoulders again and again as if he just couldn't be sure of his hold on me. Well, I certainly wasn't going anywhere. I wrapped my arms around his waist and guided him to a dry spot on the bed. It was his turn now to hold on and I kept my arms tight around him – so tight my muscles throbbed – until his inner storm subsided.

I guess I wasn't the only one who'd never expected (but perhaps secretly hoped) to be given those three little words.

The blanket was a lost cause so that ended up on the floor. I broke open the pack of wet wipes and we cleaned each other up. My hands were steady. Trowa's were less so, but he insisted. And, in doing so, I felt myself falling in love with him all over again.

I wound myself around him, both to keep him close and to reassure him that he wasn't gonna be getting rid of me anytime soon. I sighed out a breath into his hair and then sleep wadded me up like I was a scrap of paper and pitched me into waste basket of unconsciousness.

An instant later (well, it felt like it anyway), the pattern of Trowa's breathing suddenly changed and he shifted beside me. My eyes snapped open. Dawn was just making an appearance and the room was filled with a ghostly glow. I lifted my head from the pillow and blinked at my husband. We'd rolled apart at some point during the night and now he was holding my palm to his chest, looking back at me in contemplative silence.

"A nightmare?" I asked, doodling patterns against his skin.

He shook his head. "No, a good dream," he murmured, his lips pulling into a smile that took my breath away.

"What about?" I ferreted, wondering what could possibly make my Trowa smile with such innocence and delight and pure masculine beauty.

He closed his eyes and sighed. "You told me you loved me," he answered and I rolled onto my back, pulling him toward me and into my arms.

I kissed his forehead and then stroked his cheek with my thumb until he opened his eyes again. "That wasn't a dream, baby." I loved him. I wanted him. I chose him. I was staying with him until he left me or I died, whichever horrible inevitability came first.

"I know," he replied in a wondering whisper.

"You know a lot, huh?" I teased.

"Yeah," he answered, and even though it was just one syllable on a breath of sound, I knew exactly what he meant.

We still had other shit to deal with, but I decided it'd wait until after breakfast. Trowa was of the same mind on it. After we dumped the dishes in the sink and while I was putting the milk back where it belonged – in the door of the refrigerator – Trowa disappeared down the hall and then came back with two manila envelopes. Dropping them onto the table, he announced, "We make a good team."

"Yeah," I agreed, pulling out a chair and straddling it. We'd kicked total ass on X18999. I was lookin' forward to some variety of an encore, to be honest. It was a foregone conclusion that we'd sign up with the Preventers. I mean, I guess we could say to hell with it and take our chances with the War Tribunal. Maybe Une would get up there and be all boss on our behalf. But, after that? Were there any organizations on the planet or in the colonies that would appease the dark parts of ourselves while satisfying our need to make sure that the sacrifices we'd made during the war were not in vain?

Possibly, but they wouldn't have nearly as many cool toys.

"Whad'ya wanna sign up for?" I asked, tacitly agreeing to spend the next three years working for Une. I was kinda relieved, to be honest; I didn't want to risk losing Trowa, our marriage, and what freedom we had in a legal crapshoot. "They won't let us go in the field together as partnered agents." And, I had to admit that if anyone ever tried to hurt Trowa, my first priority would be to up ‘n' shoot their sorry ass. Pulling out the handcuffs and making an arrest would be a very distant second.

"They'd let us pilot."

That was a definite possibility and it thrilled me that he'd been the one to mention it; he obviously remembered me saying how much I'd missed it. I grinned. "Maybe handle surveillance and pre-op reconn."

Trowa nodded, a secret smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Those were the boxes I checked."

I laughed. "Me, too."

"But... if Une won't agree to partner us up?" he asked, playing the Devil's advocate.

I shrugged. "We'll do something else."

"Maintenance?" he teased, testing my resolve.

"Why not? Hey," I continued in response to his disbelieving look, "sure, I wanna pilot again, but being married to you and flying with someone else would be like... like... two outta three. Y'know?"

"And that isn't good enough?"

I reached across the table and brushed my thumb over his wedding band. "Not anymore. We're partners." I smiled and summed up with: "Work, life, the whole package."

He smiled back, his eyes sparkling with happiness. "OK," he agreed. "Looks like I've got myself a copilot."

"Whoa no!" I retorted on a chuckle. "No way, pal."

"You doubt my abilities?"

"Never," I replied, "but you'll let your husband behind the yoke at least half the time or else."

"Or else what?" Trowa teased back in a whisper-with-an-edge.

Maybe it was the subject matter, or maybe it was that almost-growl of his: something dark unfurled within me at the challenge, something that had only ever shadowed me on missions, something I'd only ever let out to play in a fight or while sparring, something I'd denied in the hallway last night when I could have turned that little game of how-far-can-I-go into how-far-can-I-bend-him. It filled me up now and there was no mission for it to fix its terrible focus upon. Nor was I staring into the face of an enemy or even a friend on a gym mat.

I was looking at Trowa. And the fact that he wasn't exactly prey was damn exciting.

Riding the irresistible, cresting tide of aggression building in my gut, I leaned forward and predicted, "Or else you'll find out."

"Find out what?" he doggedly questioned, bracing a hand on the table and moving closer.

We were close enough to kiss, to tell you the truth, but what I had in mind was far more sinister. I grinned. It was not an expression of mirth. More like anticipation. A dozen threats flashed through my mind. I went for something devious but also innocuous. I didn't have to be vicious, but I was thirsting for a fight. "How happy d'you think our buddy Q-bear would be to hear that we're renewing our wedding vows?"

Trowa blinked, the teasing light leaving his eyes completely and I saw something that struck a chord in me, something calculating and predatory.

My sharp-toothed grin widened. "Would he insist on another shopping trip, you think? Tuxes? Flowers? Color schemes?"

Scanning my expression, evaluating the depth of my madness, he growled, "You wouldn't."

Maybe not. Maybe Duo Maxwell wouldn't do something so utterly evil, but Trowa wasn't just married to Duo Maxwell, the Gundam pilot. He was also married to Shinigami and, like it or not, Shinigami was in the room with us right now, glorying in the undercurrent of frothing-churning tension. "Are you sure about that?"

He studied my expression. I was grinning so widely that my cheeks were starting to cramp.

"I've met your Silencer," I told him, nodding toward the butcher block and the knife he'd taken with him to the door yesterday.

"And I've met your Shinigami," he replied after a moment. We both knew there was more to both personas than we'd seen from each other thus far. While he knew what I'd done to ensure the success of the mission that had won us a second chance, he didn't know exactly how far I would have gone if necessary. And while I knew how cold and calculating he could be, I knew I hadn't even begun to plumb the depths of his mercenary resolve. Not yet. Maybe not ever. But I knew we were gonna have to respect those aspects of each other if we were gonna make this partnership work.

"All right," he agreed, giving me a hot, dark look. "Piloting, surveillance, and reconn. Fifty-fifty." And then he closed the distance between us and kissed me.

I used my teeth and so did he. I never would have guessed that a kiss could be so... feral, but it was. And it was winding me up faster than I could comprehend. I pulled back and growled, "Want you. Now."

He licked his lips. "The table again?"

"Whatever." I honestly didn't care.

He rounded the aforementioned obstacle, stalking toward me and I let him come. I stood my ground, turning to meet him, body taut with tension, vibrating with adrenaline. He paused just inside my personal space and our gazes locked. I bared my teeth. He struck.

I remember the sounds of zippers being undone, a flurry of motion, and then my bare thighs were leaning back against the rounded edges of the furniture and his lips were on mine. I bit him – his tongue, his lips, his neck, his ear, his shoulder – as I clawed at his jeans. And then he sank down to his knees, his hands shoving my hips roughly into optimal position, and he was taking me into his mouth and...

Yesyesyesyesyes!

I growled. I grasped the edge of the table for leverage. It was hot, fast, hard, and merciless. When I was on the edge, one glorious suck away from exploding, I reached for his neck and gripped him tightly, feeling his pulse shudder against the pad of my thumb. His hands reached up and clamped onto my wrist, but he didn't struggle. He glared up at me through his brows, giving me a look that promised no one would hear my screams as I died at his hands, and held his ground.

"Up," I ordered and steered him toward the chair I'd abandoned. He went because he wanted to, not because I'd commanded it – as if I could ever make the man do anything he didn't want to! – and, when he sat down, I slid onto his lap, straddling his thighs, fitting our hips together and initiating a grinding, punishing rhythm. We writhed, our mouths and teeth clashing as our hands clawed at one another.

Fuck, if yesterday morning had given us bruises, today was gonna give us scars.

Scars from Trowa's hands, Trowa's mouth. I shivered. I wanted that. Some dark part of me wanted those scars. Wedding rings were for yuppies and romantics. What Trowa and I had was more than they could ever hope to comprehend.

I came first, snarling, my teeth snapping at Trowa's ear. I reached between us, grasped him tightly despite the slickness of my release coating him and pulled like I was hauling him over the edge of a cliff to safety. He growled through his gritted teeth.

"Come, baby," I rasped. His fingers dug into my ass and he just about lifted me off the damn chair with the force of his thrusts. And then he came, choking on a shout and his next breath.

It was then, as I sat there on his bare thighs with his jeans bunched around his knees under my ass and we both just tried to figure out how to breathe again, that I sort of came back to myself. I blinked... and then I started to count all the red bite marks and scratches that I could see on his skin.

"Shit," I panted. I would have wondered what had come over me if I hadn't already known. It'd been too long since I'd wrestled with Heero and that was the first thing I should have done after finding out exactly how Trowa really felt about me. I'd been hoarding too much inside, ignoring the ticking time bomb in my psyche. Last night – the confessions we'd exchanged – had capped it all off and then Trowa's well-meaning but aggression-tinged challenge this morning had tipped the scales, had called the God of Death out. Yeah, I knew Shinigami was all in my head, but that just made him my responsibility to manage since he was impossible to exorcise completely. I could only placate the darkness. I hated myself for only now acknowledging it for the burden it was.

I looked into Trowa's eyes. On this rare occasion, his hair had been mussed in such a way that I could see them both. Endlessly green and glittering. It was on the tip of my tongue to apologize for saddling him with a freak like me, but I knew I'd only be insulting him. He knew what darkness lived in me. It lived in him, too. We could only fight it with each other, for each other.

It was humbling that he would give me this, even though I knew I gave him the same. Still, in a perfect world, we wouldn't need this from each other. But we didn't live in a perfect world. And even if we did, Trowa and I were never gonna be fit for it. I guess that, more than anything, was what moved me to say—

"I'm sor—"

"Shh," he shushed me, pulling me forward and speaking into my unbound hair. (Hold up. When had I lost the hair tie, dammit?) "We need this sometimes. To deny it would be too dangerous."

I sighed and forgot about the damn ponytail band. He was right. We might live in times of peace now, but Shinigami and The Silencer still existed within us just as they always had and likely always would.

"I hurt you." I regretted that most of all.

"I hurt you back."

OK, true, but... "Let's not get into some kinky S&M bondage shit, OK?"

A look of relief briefly flitted across his features. "Able body, sound mind, expressed consent," he swore.

"No power games," I elaborated.

"All right," he agreed, and that was the end of it.

I grinned, and it wasn't Shinigami looking out at him through my eyes this time. "I'm lookin' forward to this partnership of ours," I volunteered with abundant optimism. With any luck we'd see enough action to appease our inner shadows. Most of the time. "Pilots for the Preventers," I drawled waggling my brows. "We're gonna need code names."

Trowa smirked. "Do we get costumes made from spandex, too? In primary colors?"

I had no intention whatsoever of letting him wear spandex in public. No freakin' way. But, what I said was: "That might make us a little conspicuous."

"You think?"

"Hah!" I laughed. "This from a trigger-happy, knife-wielding, lion-baiting—!"

"Frustratingly secretive, obstinately independent, walking death-wish—!"

I broke off my own litany upon hearing his and cocked my head to the side. Giving him a contemplative look, I ventured, "Y'know what? I think we're gonna be good for each other."

"Long run or short run?" he quizzed, his hands now moving gently over my thighs.

I leaned in and gave him a soft kiss. "Let's find out."

So, that's what we did. We had something like four weeks left before the deadline Une had given us. We spent them going on short road trips around Connemara and doing the tourist thing—

"Hey, now. I'm driving, dammit," I told him as his fingers wandered up the inseam of my jeans along my thigh.

"Dodging sheep at seventy kilometers per hour," he corrected.

"Apparently, that constitutes driving here."

"Lucky us."

We spent the occasional evening during our four weeks of freedom at Mally's with the football crowd.

"Wasn't that a penalty?"

"No one's bleeding."

I pointed mutely to a guy who was getting a bandage wrapped around his head by an irritated-looking medic.

Trowa just did that rolling shrug thing of his. "I'll check the Internet again."

We spent one exceptionally long and tiresome day shopping in Galway for computers, a stereo, and, um, more towels.

"I am not getting matching laptops, babe."

"Afraid I'll confuse yours with mine?"

"And do what? Marvel at the complete lack of porn on the hard drive? No. I'm actually more leery of stumbling upon your cache of cute cat home videos by mistake."

Trowa gave me a wryly amused look. "We don't have a cat."

"Yet," I grumbled.

We spent a good part of those remaining four weeks on the sofa, using our new laptops to surf the Internet and learning everything from how to operate a wood-burning fireplace to the rules of local sports to activities requiring the use of those aforementioned towels.

Speaking of which...

"If you still want me to, uh... y'know, it's gonna hurt," I told him one evening out of the blue as he showered and I finished up brushing my teeth.

For a minute, I wasn't sure he'd heard me. I winced at myself in the mirror. I had such amazingly fantastic timing. Seriously. I was such a catch. I rinsed my toothbrush off and speared it into the holder.

"Duo," he began.

"I don't wanna hurt you. And I'm not gonna be very good at it the first time. I mean, I'm probably gonna, uh—" come five seconds after we get started. "—be kinda quick off the mark." I braced my hands on the counter and scowled. "I want it to be good for you. Y'know, really good and not it'll-probably-be-better-next-time."

As far as I was concerned, we could continue on with our unbroken streak of non-invasive, brain-meltingly hot sex until the end of time. I never asked him for anything beyond that, but there'd been times since his initial confession that I thought maybe he... well... Hell, there were times when – in the heat of the moment – he'd groaned my name so deeply and longingly that I'd thought he was about to come right out and ask. He hadn't and I didn't want to make him. I knew he was waiting for me to offer but I just really wasn't sure if I could.

If I hurt him, I would never forgive myself. But no. No, I was not gonna let that happen. Still, it was a foregone conclusion that he'd be disappointed.

The shower spray splattered and gushed and dripped for a long moment. And then he said, "Duo, get in here."

I was really in for it now. I had no idea what had made me bring it up tonight. We had a whole five days left before we returned our rental cars and caught a flight to Brussels to sign on the dotted line. Not that I wasn't looking forward to the coming challenges, but I didn't want to spend the last days of our time here in an apologetic funk because I'd totally failed my husband in bed.

"Trowa—"

"Now."

I blinked. "Ooo-kay..." I acquiesced, my tone making my misgivings clear. I pulled off my T-shirt and shorts and got into the shower. The first thing I noticed was how gorgeous my husband looked when he was naked with water sheeting over him. The second thing I noticed was that he was more than half hard. I gave him a look.

"You're—? Just from me mentioning it just now?" I dared to ask, disbelieving.

"Yes," he growled and pulled me under the spray with him. I'd already had a shower earlier, but I didn't mention it. I was busy being kissed stupid. His mouth was just as hot as ever and his tongue just as insistent yet soft. God, he tasted incredible and I hoped to whatever powers-that-be that I'd never, ever grow desensitized to it. When I groaned, Trowa let me come up for air and then took one of my hands off his hip and pressed a bar of hypoallergenic soap into it. "Lather up," he whispered, nuzzling my ear.

"Oh shit. This so should not happen here," I protested. I was pretty sure it'd be better for him if he had total control despite being on the receiving end. I ought to be under him so he could move however he liked for as long as I lasted. Besides, I'd be able to see him and I'd have a better indication of whether or not he was in any pain...

"Humor me," he purred persuasively, rubbing his chest against mine.

I bit back the choice selection of swear words that clamored to join the discussion and lathered my hands. "Look, baby, are you sure...?"

"Yes," he told me and then turned, bracing his arms against the wall of the shower, and angled his hips toward me invitingly.

I stared at the expanse of his back, studied the burn scars he'd told me one lazy morning spent in bed that he couldn't remember acquiring, and when my gaze dropped to the globes of his ass I felt suddenly lightheaded. I guess having all the blood in your body congregate in one organ can have that effect on a guy. I set the soap back on the shower rack, leaning forward and, in the process, rubbing my hardening length right where he was determined it end up.

His hands curled into fists against the tiles. "Duo..."

"I'm not teasing," I promised and placed my palms on his ass. I watched a shudder roll through him as I caressed soapy circles on his skin, and then I placed two fingers at the base of his spine and ran them due south.

He cried out when I brushed his entrance. I could not freakin' believe how wound up he was. Over the last three weeks, I'd gotten this reaction only when I was tonguing him. Now I was barely touching him, but he was probably already two or three steps ahead, imagining having me inside him.

Right. No tormenting my Trowa. I'd made a promise to myself to never do that to him, no matter what. I had to trust him even if I was uncertain. Especially if I was uncertain.

I circled his entrance and massaged, petting that muscle until he was pushing back against me, his head bowed between his raised arms. He said my name again and I twisted my wrist, sliding a single finger inside him. Oh Christ he was tight-hot-damn—!

I took a deep breath and began the massage again, this time working from the inside. The way he was moving against me was killing me. I leaned forward and pressed open-mouthed kisses to his spine.

"Oh, baby. You are so, so incredible." It was inconceivable that he wanted me – me – this way. If I were really asleep right now, this would be both a dream and a nightmare.

He groaned softly. "Darling," he pleaded. "Another..."

I pulled out and slowly eased in a second, marveling at how fuckin' hot he was and how badly I wanted to just keep on touching him here. Ten minutes ago, I hadn't really been all that interested in having my fingers inside him (although I'd known that, objectively, that was probably how it was gonna eventually happen) but now there was nothing theoretical or objective about it.

I dared a third, but not deeply. I mostly held still while he pushed back against me.

"Trowa, baby, what—? Where—?" God, I was so suave. I couldn't even ask my husband how he wanted to do this.

"Here," he panted. "Here, Duo. Here."

"No condom," I reminded him.

"Here."

Here it was, then. I withdrew my hands from him to lather up once again. I tried to ignore my own touch as I slicked my length. Reaching around his hip with my other sudsy hand, I grasped him and hoped the sensation would distract him from any discomfort I couldn't negate entirely. If his appreciative whine was any indication, I was on the right track.

"Hold still, baby," I implored as I aligned myself with him.

"Nugh...!" he protested-insisted-complained, wiggling in my grasp.

I gripped his hip with one slippery hand. I was just nudging his entrance and this show was gonna be over before it got started if he kept doing that!

"Still!" I ordered out of desperation. He went motionless but his fists tightened until the muscles and tendons of his wrists and forearms stood out in painful relief. Hell, even the ropes of muscle on either side of his spine tensed. Slowly, but firmly, I pressed forward. He pushed back and I was sliding in.

"Oh... fuck," I informed him, gritting my teeth to keep from losing it and giving in to the involuntary urge to just fuck him into the Goddamn shower wall.

"Nuh! Duo...!"

"A moment," I begged, squeezing my eyes shut. I was inside him – completely inside him – and I'd been right about this being over too fast. Panting, I reached down and had to readjust things so I didn't finish in the next three seconds. "Are you OK?" I rasped. "Pain?"

"Please," he groaned and my heart stopped. "Move..."

"Like this?" I tried to articulate, tentatively pulling out a bit before sliding back inside him.

"Ah! Yes!"

I repeated the motion. "Oh God, baby. You know I wanna keep this up as long as you can stand it but I can't."

Adjustments or no adjustments, I was gonna come embarrassingly fast.

"Just... just once more, once more, once more," he chanted and I focused on his voice as I moved against him, with him, inside him. He rocked with me, his length surging to and fro in my slick grasp.

I lost count of how many once-more's I managed. I knew I should be trying to angle my thrusts to hit his sweet spot but I could barely cope with keeping the rhythm. As that telltale rush gathered at the base of my spine, I leaned forward until I could press my chest against his back, molding us together.

"Trowa... Baby, I'm inside you," I observed, aching to come but trying to hold out for just one more once-more. "Just like you're inside me." I would probably want to shoot myself for the sappy line later, but at this precise moment, I was too preoccupied with Trowa's sudden, gasping shout. I kept this angle for two more thrusts and then my self-control snapped and I was moving too fast, too hard, probably hurting him, but I just couldn't control it anymore and I was coming—

I screamed against his shoulder as I came and came and came and came deep inside him. I wasn't even aware of the rest of my body. Everything just went white.

And then I took a breath and awareness rushed back into me. Trowa was trembling against the wall. I was still leaning against his back. My hand was still grasping him, but he was soft. He'd come? Or had it been that bad at the end? I knew I should have felt it if I'd brought him off, but I'd totally lost it there and I had no idea if...

"Baby? Are you OK?" Please be OK. Please, please, please...

I eased out of him slowly, looking for signs of injury, but I didn't see any. Taking heart in that, I gently turned him and had to use my lightning-fast reflexes to brace him up when his feet suddenly slid out from under him.

I called to him again and he blinked at me with eyes gone dark with dazed confusion. He was so quiet I assumed the worst. "First, last, and only time. I promise, baby. I'll never ask—"

Trowa took a deep breath and lifted a shaking arm, pressing his hand over my mouth. "If that was the first, last, and only time," he gasped out in a whisper, "I'll kill you."

"You... you're OK?" Could I be this lucky?

"Yes," he moaned on a whisper and pulled me close for a messy, aimless, completely uncoordinated kiss. Holy crap. I'd fucked him so far past senseless he'd lost control of fine motor function.

Somewhere in my mind, emergency support systems came online and I accessed a normally-hidden reserve of strength and focus. I took over, pulling him into my arms and holding him steady until he found his balance. Once he was standing on his own, I shut off the water and opened the shower door. It took a bit of maneuvering, but I got us both dried off, transported across the hall, and tucked into bed. He was out before his still-wet head hit the pillow.

Damn.

I lay there for a couple of minutes watching him sleep, gently brushing his damp hair out of his face. It kind of hit me then that he was my husband and I was his and nothing was ever gonna change that fact. Not now. And no force on Earth or in space was ever gonna separate us. Not even Director Une.

Less than a week later, she tried, but it was a halfhearted attempt at best.

"And if I refuse your request to partner each other?" she challenged.

I shrugged, grinning amicably. "Then you've got yourself two new motor pool mechanics for the next three years."

She frowned at us. I didn't have to look at Trowa to know he was with me on this. Our time in Ireland had given us the chance to deepen our non-verbal communication skills. All I had to do was shift my weight or tap my fingers in reaction to a comment or a look and he'd read my intent. It worked the other way around, too, of course, but Trowa tended to let me take point, stepping in to make course corrections with a wry remark or a well-said observation. I was pretty sure the citizens of Clifden were still trying to figure us out. Which reminded me: I owed Guillaume and Pierra Juarez and a thank-you letter and a photo of me and the husband they'd helped me realize I loved. Besides, I was sure the guys at the garage would get a kick outta it.

But that shit was for later. At the moment we were negotiating for our future with the woman in charge of our reputations. Given that fact, we hadn't poked around town after our arrival; we'd stepped off the plane and come directly here. So here we were. It was painfully easy to see that Une really wanted our asses behind desks, doing something investigative and awesome that she could take credit for, but I just didn't have it in me to be that accommodating.

"There aren't any openings in the motor pool," she informed us in a guarded tone. Oh yeah, she knew what our skill sets were and she wanted them covered by a pair of official badges. But, hey, I just gotta be me.

"Oh. OK. We'll take Building Maintenance, then," I parried.

Une's brows drew together in a frown. She tapped her pen impatiently upon the ink blotter. "Your former comrades have all chosen active roles. Mr. Chang and Mr. Yuy – now Mr. Yukitani – have signed up for field positions. Mr. Winner is on the fast track for Operations Management."

"Good for them," I said. "Can I request the name I want on my janitor's uniform? I've decided I'm more of a ‘JC' than a ‘Joe'."

"Mr. Cross—"

"Mister Cross? Nah. Too long. Nobody'll be able to read the writing if I have all that put on."

Une glared at me. Trowa cleared his throat, signaling that I was hamming it up again. I decided now was a good time to rest my case.

"It is highly irregular to have a flight crew – or a surveillance team – consisting of a married couple," the director pointed out.

"Irregular," Trowa replied levelly, "but not against regulations."

See, now I would have argued that a couple of exceptional guys like us required exceptional circumstances. But, I suppose Trowa's point was a bit more black-and-white than mine would have been.

"Well," she replied after looking from me and my pleasant smile to my blank-faced husband. (Whoo yeah. You don't play poker with that face and hope to win. You just don't.) "Welcome to the Preventers, Pilot Cross, Pilot Armstrong."

I tried not to gloat. Well, not until we'd left her office, anyway.

"Home, sweet home," I declared as we stepped into housing unit number fifty-four once again.

"That makes Clifden the honeymoon cottage?"

I grinned and, reaching out, snagged his belt loop. "Hey now, who said the honeymoon was over?"

He gave me a long look that ended with his lips curling into a suggestive smile. "Ah, taking things to the next level, are we?"

"Whaddya say?" I challenged in a teasing whisper. "You think you can beat me in the prelim training mile tomorrow?"

"Definitely, and when I do..."

"Oh, so it's to be gloating and posturing rights, is it?"

"No," he growled. "It'll be rights to this."

He leaned in and kissed me, ending with that Goddamn lip-sucking thing that made me shiver and groan. "Damn," I enthused. "You are insatiable."

"Hmm," he agreed. He might have followed that up with a demonstration if the doorbell hadn't chimed right then. I bit back a snicker as Trowa's gaze slid toward the door and his expression pulled into an adorably pissy glare. "We do not have good karma with apartments."

"If that's Sally on the other side, I will agree with you 100%," I promised, sliding out of his arms and punching the door release.

I wasn't joking about not wanting to face Sally on the threshold so soon after arriving, but, as it turned out, she wasn't there.

"You are back!" Quatre enthused, looking one and a half shades past tickled pink. Flanking him stood Heero and Wufei. Heero looked... uh, normal, I guess. Wufei was giving me a smug little grin that made me want to yank on his ponytail.

"Yup. JC and Tristan are back!" I replied, slipping them our new names just in case they weren't sure what they were supposed to call us.

Wufei, who I was pretty sure had kept his birth name, answered, "Yes, Gerald, Quatre, and I can see that."

"Gerald?" I squawked, giving Heero a flummoxed look.

"Yes?" he answered. Damn. Gerald. What was I supposed to do with that? I was tempted to call him "Gerry" but Trowa didn't have any knives hidden on his person and I was out of practice with escaping headlocks.

"Huh," I told him.

"Call me ‘Yukitani' if you prefer."

"Too many syllables," I complained.

Quatre – who apparently hadn't accepted his alternate identity either – laughed. "Join us for dinner," he more or less ordered, but he did it nicely so I didn't get grouchy with him over it.

"Sure. Why not?" I answered gamely. "You can buy future pilots Cross and Armstrong the first round."

"No alcohol on Preventers premises," Wufei informed us.

I cackled. "Who said anything about celebrating here?"

"Humor us," Trowa appealed to their hesitant expressions and I loved him even more for backing me up.

So, we dragged our old buddies out onto the street and I went in to reconnoiter a couple pubs before settling on one with an Irish flare, winning a knowing grin from Trowa, a baffled look from Q-bean, and a quick scan-for-threats from Heero – excuse me, Gerald – and Wufei. I ordered the first round and glared at Wufei until he paid for it. Heh.

I'm sure it's no surprise to you that Quatre is a cute drunk. Heero started waxing philosophical after his third beer and Wufei was dozing on Quatre's shoulder, drooling on the poor guy's pastel green cardigan, halfway through his second.

But it wasn't as if I was one to talk. The stool, the bar itself, and Trowa's shoulder were all working in concert to keep me upright and if any one of them suddenly disappeared, I was gonna be kissin' the floor. "Who's buying the next round?" I asked, perhaps a tad loudly.

Trowa reached around and pinched my lips together with his thumb and forefinger. "You did not just say that," he declared, blinking at me a bit blearily.

I was pretty sure I had, though. Hah hah! He couldn't fool me! "Let's play rock-paper-scissors for it," I suggested winningly.

Quatre snorted with helpless mirth. "Two out of three?"

My lips twitched even as something clicked in my brain. I blinked at him.

Two out of three...

The phrase shot me back in time to the evening before my wedding, to arm wrestling with Q and the negotiations we'd partaken in prior to that. It shot me back in time to Deathscythe's cockpit where I'd decided I wasn't gonna insult Trowa by settling for – and I quote – "two out of Goddamn three." It shot me back in time to an oak table in a little house in Clifden where I'd confessed that having a career without Trowa playing an active role in it was just not gonna be good enough.

Now, it shot me into a whole new realm of thinking. With a start, I realized that our codenames during the war had been Pilot 02 and Pilot 03, respectively. And I'd found myself – my best self – thanks to Trowa. So, that was two outta three, too, wasn't it?

Maybe it was just my alcohol-addled brain that made it seem so profound but... it really gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "best out of three." And it was an interpretation I liked very much, indeed.

"Two out of three," I mused, glancing over my shoulder and grinning dopily at my husband. "Yup. I guess you could say that." I lifted my glass. "Here's to ‘best outta three'."

Q lifted his nearly-empty mug in a token gesture, and then Wufei's since the guy couldn't do it himself (hell, he didn't even open his eyes as the movement of Quatre's arm jostled him, just grunted once in complaint). Heero solemnly saluted, looking like maybe he thought he knew what the hell I was rambling about.

I turned toward Trowa and, elaborated quietly, "Pilot 02 is at his best thanks to Pilot 03."

An unfettered grin stretched his lips, forming a breathtaking smile. "It works both ways."

"Are you sure?" I teased, giving him a speculative look. "The math doesn't seem right to me."

"It is," he insisted.

"Prove it," I dared.

Trowa set his beer on the bar and then looked back at me, still smiling. He leaned in, reaching for my mug, and rumbled in my ear, "I intend to."

I grinned. That was our cue. "Thanks for the party, guys," I told Heero and Quatre. Wufei snored softly in reply. "But I gotta get home before my husband gets pissed."

"We already are pissed," Trowa observed quietly, taking a little U.K. slang out for a spin and tapping into the joke I'd set up. Yeah, we were pretty drunk – a.k.a. pissed – but I figured a five-minute walk would perk us back up. The night was young, after all, and we still hadn't given our new bed a good test run.

Quatre snorted out a giggle. "So, I guess we'll see you in the morning?"

He was right to make it a question. I barked out a laugh as Trowa helped me off the stool. "Now's the time to place bets on it. G'night, Win-meister. Later, Gerald."

I gave them all a little wave and then Trowa and I were tumbling out onto the sidewalk. "You think they're gonna be OK in there all by themselves?" I asked as Concern dropped in for a belated visit.

Trowa snorted. "Definitely. Wufei's been trying to get me to take you home for the past twenty minutes."

"Eh?"

"Every time you took a drink, he'd kick me."

"Ungrateful bastard."

Trowa slung an arm over my shoulders and I wrapped one around his waist. There was something about doing the three-legged monster walk home from a bar with your lover that put you in a sappy mood. I proved it by remarking: "We have an awesome bunch of friends, don't we?"

"Yeah," he agreed, turning his face toward me and speaking into my hair. "We do."

I sighed. "Y'know, we never did attain complete freedom—"

"As if anyone does."

"True, but... I'm glad we've got three more years together. The five of us, I mean."

"Me, too, darling."

"Do you really think I make you your best?" I asked suddenly. The Preventers compound was within sight, but I just couldn't keep a lid on the question until we got inside.

Trowa stopped right there on the sidewalk and, turning me in his arms, said, "You really do."

And then he kissed me. Right there in full view of the whole damn world. If this was gonna be the tone we set for our marriage... I could get used to it. When he gently pulled away, I smiled and whispered, "Let's go home, baby."

We did.

The End

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NOTES:

The part about mouthing those "three little words" to each other was also used by Shoori in her 2x3x2 fic, "You say It Best (When You Say Nothing At All)," which can be found on raygunworks' site – "a little piece of gundam wing" – or on fanfiction.net and is one of my all-time fic favs.

Irish Gaelic football is AWESOME. Seriously, I need this on satellite TV. It is my life's ambition to get our local company to give it a regular slot in their program schedule.

Lorna's dialog was initially kinda of blah so a BIG THANK YOU to waterlilylf for supplying me with much more authentic phrasing for Mrs. O'Michael.

Aaaaand,thanks to waterlilylf, I learned about Barm Brack which "is a kind of fruit loaf made with tea." It sounds lovely! And although I'm told it's traditionally made around Halloween (and it's nowhere near Halloween at this time in my fic, although I never really say what time of year it is), let's just assume that Lorna loves making it.

The last bit there (i.e., "I could get used to it!") brings to mind the ending of the movie "How to Train Your Dragon" (which I adore).

According to the Episode Zero manga, Trowa has burn scars on his back that he can't remember getting. The author(s) hint that these scars might have been caused by an explosion, and we know that Catherine Bloom's parents and little brother (a toddler at the time) had been in an explosion. So it might be possible that Catherine's little brother survived after all... (But we all know he did, and he's Trowa. Even if he has green eyes and Catherine has blue... which is kinda weird but not impossible, I guess.)

So, that's the end of "Two out of Three"... but not the end of this fic universe. Keep an eye out for several side fics which follow "JC" and "Tris" in their new life together. Plus, I'm pretty sure they'll end up giving Preventer Agent Wufei Chang a hand with an upcoming high-profile case in the sequel, "Tag & Other Backyard Games".

Oh! And before I forget... Did anyone catch Trowa's birthdate in this universe? February 3, 179? 2/3? Yeah, there's another two out of three for ya.

Don't forget to ogle the fanart for "Two out of Three"!

If you enjoyed "Two out of Three", don't be shy: send me a PM (private message) or leave a comment. Praise feeds the hungry beast of Inspiration. Uh-hm. Yes, it does.

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