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

Two out of Three
Chapter 7: Make it Bend and Break

I want these words to make things right, but it's the wrongs that make the words come to life...

Trowa didn't mention what had happened in the bathroom. He didn't apologize for more or less attacking me when he'd figured out what kind of risks I'd taken. Nor did he acknowledge what had, er, come right after. I looked for it, but if he felt any embarrassment or regret, I sure as hell didn't see it. I grabbed a towel off of the rack and schlepped my way into the living room as Trowa started filling the tub with water. I assumed my clothes were destined for a long soak. They were my clothes so, it should have been me cleaning them the hell up, but I just did not want to freakin' get into it. Not that I thought we'd fight over who was damn well gonna do laundry, but...

I told myself he'd looked like he needed a few minutes to think, but I knew I was omitting a helluvalot of truth there. Truth that I just was not ready to face. So I listened to the sound of water running, of clothes being dumped into the bath, of the plastic bottle being carefully rinsed out and tossed into the trash and took my ass into the bedroom to towel my hair dry.

I pulled on my T-shirt and shorts from the night before and plopped down on the unmade bed. My wet hair was gonna soak the sheets, but I couldn't summon enough practicality to really care.

I was running away from something – not that there was anything wrong with that, in and of itself – but this was my mission and, dammit, if I wasn't in charge then who the hell was running this show?

Now that was a scary thought.

A motion in the doorway drew my gaze and I looked up to see Trowa, towel wrapped around his waist and his laundry bundled under one arm, hesitating on the threshold.

"Come in if you're coming in," I heard myself say. "It's half your room, man."

He winced. It was barely a twitch, but I saw it. It took me a moment to realize why. I'd just called him man, not babe. Um, shit? I didn't even know what to think of that.

He lifted a hand to the necklace at his throat and asked softly, flatly, lifelessly, "Should I take this off?"

I looked at the onyx pendant. I thought of the word etched upon it: Trust. Did I still trust Trowa? Of course I did. Hell, he hadn't hurt me. And even if it had come down to a fight – which it hadn't – I would've held my own. That wasn't the issue. The issue was, quite honestly, he'd freakin' dumbfounded me. Trowa – solid and steady-as-a-rock Trowa, sacrifice-your-comrades-for-the-good-the-mission Trowa – had, for all intents and purposes, flaming panicked.

What was I supposed to think of that? Had the intervening years since the war changed him so much? Was he not the consummate actor I'd thought he was? Were his nerves of steel rusty and brittle these days?

No. No, I didn't believe that. I knew a thing or two about Trowa's past, not details or anything, but I had a general idea. See, after I'd met him, I'd looked him up. Professor G really shouldn't have left a backdoor into Doktor S's network like he had during the war. Or maybe Doktor S just shouldn't have kept such meticulous personnel files on his people, but he had. If you worked for S, he had a file on you, from the original Trowa Barton himself all the way down to the lowliest mechanic with no name at all. Yeah, I knew a thing or two about my partner's past and I did not believe that a man who'd purportedly been a soldier from the time he could walk and talk would break now. Bend, maybe, but not break.

It was my nature to wonder how far he'd bend, though. And I was realistic enough to admit that it might have a significant impact on coming events.

But did I want him to remove the necklace I'd given him? Even if I did, it was too late to go back now. I couldn't get a do-over on our marriage – those records were well and truly public by now. The mission had been set in motion and there was no gettin' off this ride until it came to a full and complete stop, which meant I had to keep my arms inside the car at all times and the safety bar in place. Basically, I was not in a position to not trust Trowa. Besides which, I still needed him to trust me.

The best way to keep that trust was to give it as best I could.

I stared at his still-raised hand, at the necklace and pendant resting against his collarbone, and shook my head. "No."

He lowered his hand, his eyes fluttering closed as he released the breath he'd been holding.

Sure, I still wanted to ask him to explain why exactly he'd tweaked out. Well, maybe that wasn't the only question I wanted an answer to. I wanted to know why he'd tweaked out like that. But I couldn't ask because he couldn't tell me. We couldn't risk it if someone had our apartment bugged.

As dissatisfying as it was, I'd have to wait for an explanation. In the meantime, the world wasn't gonna stop turning. Nor was there anything else mission-related that had to happen tonight. We probably wouldn't have power for much longer. Hell, we'd be lucky if the fire alarm and sprinkler system weren't tripped. Might as well enjoy our modern comforts while we still had ‘em.

"Hey," I said and held out my hand in invitation.

He dumped his clothes in the laundry basket by the door as he crossed the room. He still seemed wary and I kept the sardonic grin the hell off of my face. Did he think I was gonna bite him? He sank down onto the bed next to me, just out of reach.

"Hey," I said again, turning to study his face. He seemed drawn. Not really pale but... stressed. And, lemme tell ya, being stressed after getting off like we had not ten minutes ago in the shower just wasn't natural. We should both be as energetic as neutron soup. That is to say, not capable of doing anything whatsoever. Clearly something was wrong. It frustrated me that I didn't know how to ask.

But, then again, maybe talking was overrated.

I sidled toward him and he looked up, a little surprised by my voluntary approach. Abandoning the towel around my shoulders and my undoubtedly tangled and still-dripping hair, I reached up and cradled his face in my hands. He watched me, wide-eyed, as I closed the distance between us and placed a kiss on the corner of his mouth.

A measure of tension bled out of his shoulders and I felt his hand move to my bare knee. It was now my turn in this conversation-without-words, so I tilted my head to an accommodating angle and waited. He paused and then lifted his chin, hesitated once more, and finally brushed his lips against mine. I brushed back. He nibbled my lower lip. I licked his, and then we were sharing breaths. I invited him to taste me with a brief foray from my own tongue, and his response was immediate. We held onto each other, my face cradled in his hands just as his was in mine as we kissed. It was long and languid and just really, really... nice.

He topped it off by drawing my lower lip into his mouth and I shivered, pulling back with a groan. "No way, babe. Round Two doesn't start until we finish dealing with the mess we just made."

His eyes widened slightly, flaring with sudden heat at the mention of Round Two. "Mess?" he rasped, his gaze fixed on my mouth.

I reached behind me, grabbed for the brush I'd tossed onto the bed, and – taking ahold of his right hand – slapped it into his palm.

He smiled softly then and glanced at my hair. I didn't even want to look at it in the mirror. I could just imagine the snarls. And the snarls' snarls. Ugh.

Trowa mused, "Is that Duo Speak for telling me you'd like a hand?"

"One hand?" I retorted with mock affront. "I'll take two and not a pinkie less."

"You drive a hard bargain."

"You think? All I'm after is your immortal soul."

"In that case..." he replied and I studied the nuances of the soft smile I'd been seeing quite a lot of over the last week, "it's yours for a song."

"A song?" I replied, snorting. "You do not want to hear me sing, babe. Trust me."

Trowa leaned toward me and pressed a kiss to my wet hair. "But I do.” Before I could skeptically-eyebrow-arch him into explaining that, he continued, "It'd be worth it to hear the words."

I considered this before ferreting for another hint. "Would they happen to be magic words, like ‘please' and ‘thank you'?"

"Magical," he corrected softly, and then he got up to fetch the blow dryer.

Naturally, as soon as he sat down behind me and turned it on, that's when the power went out.

"I think it's a sign," I sighed, moving away so that when I twisted my hair up in the damp towel resting across my shoulders, I wouldn't elbow Trowa in the eye or something. Although, it seemed like he only ever used one of them at a time anyway...

"I'll get the lanterns," he volunteered and I heard him moving around the apartment with confidence, locating our battery-powered table lights. They kind of looked like those fat, little, round candles except there wasn't a flame. Trowa opened two packs of four, placing them on both bedside bureaus and the chest of drawers. The room was still pretty dim, but at least I could see enough to work on my hair without worrying about causing collateral damage. And it looked like I had quite a lot of work ahead of me what with the blow dryer being out of commission. I stood and started squeezing the water out of my hair with the towel. Behind me, I heard Trowa rummaging in a drawer and then there was the unmistakable sound of a wet towel being tossed into the laundry basket. And no, I most definitely did not turn around and peek.

When Trowa next entered my line of sight, he was wearing his flannel pajama pants. I watched as he stripped the bed of its shower-water soaked linens and put down fresh ones.

He made that bed with military precision. Twice over. I didn't know why he was still futzing with the damn thing. Hell, in the time it had taken me to towel dry and brush out my hair, he could have assembled a cool dozen handguns with a side of missile launchers. I turned and leaned back against the chest of drawers as I started to braid, just watching him open drawers and tuck things away. I'd just finished tying of the end when he came within three feet of me – the closest he'd been since the lights had gone out – and bent to pick my wet towel up off the floor.

It was then, as he glanced at me out of the corner of his eye, that I realized he was avoiding me. Hell, he wasn't even making eye contact. What the hell? We'd gone over that shower scene and moved past it, hadn't we? Why was he treating me like a warm bottle of nitroglycerin?

I frowned in thought, but the expression only served to drive him further away.

He tossed my used towel in the basket and then, bafflingly, he moved toward the doorway as if he were going to the living room to... I dunno... sit alone in the dark.

Something squeezed uncomfortably tight within my chest, like I had some kind of dull muscle cramp in there. I crossed the distance before he could make his escape and placed a hand on his arm. He paused and turned toward me with an aloof and expectant look. The hell! One minute he was freakin' steaming with heat and then next I got cool indifference?

That was so not gonna cut it.

"Where ya goin'?" I heard myself demand.

"If the front door isn't locked down, across the hall.” Quatre's apartment was across the hall and two doors down. "To see if anyone else has lost power."

I looked him up and down. "You're going to see other men – after dark – in your jammies?" I teased, but there was a note in my voice that distantly reminded me of Shinigami.

Trowa opened his mouth and I sensed that one hell of a retort was on the way, but then he just stopped and, lifting his hand to his necklace again, asked, "Would you rather I stayed?"

"I'd rather," I replied, "go back to the part where you were sitting next to me and talking to me."

He blinked at me once. He swallowed. "I..."

He didn't finish the thought and I had so little to work with that I couldn't tell where he would have gone with it. I prompted, "You... want, like, need...?” Three cheers for multiple choice tests, yeah?

"I don't want to argue," he finally managed, still standing with his arm unresisting in my grasp.

"Argue," I parroted, as if repeating the word would give me better conversational footing. "What would we argue about if you stayed here and we just hung out?"

I saw half a dozen thoughts occur to him in real time as his expression shifted minutely. In the end, all he said was, "Duo..."

His tone was a dead thing, dead like it had been back during the war before he'd lost his memories. His posture was ramrod straight, like a soldier standing at attention. He practically screamed back the hell off and yet he was just standing here, letting me hold onto his arm, and wearing only a necklace and a pair of sleep pants. I studied him until his green eyes focused on mine and—

Was that a flash of desire?

Curious if this was the answer to his sudden shift in mood, I experimentally leaned closer. He was on high alert, but he didn't back up. In fact, his gaze drifted down to my mouth and his lips parted in helpless reaction.

I shifted into his space and his posture melted. He let me push him up against the door frame as I moved closer. He watched me, but it wasn't wary or suspicious. He wanted me.

"I wouldn't have argued about this," I told him.

He didn't answer with words, but when I leaned in and kissed him, he opened his mouth to me and groaned softly. The moment put me in mind of our second kiss, the one in front of his door last Tuesday evening. I molded him to me as my mouth moved languidly over his. My hands ventured up and down his sides and his hips pressed against mine.

He was hard.

I broke the kiss and opened my eyes to gauge his reaction. He, meanwhile, seemed to be gauging mine. Did I want him? I wasn't sure. If I thought about it in too much detail, what we'd done in the shower was bound to send me into a panic. It was one thing to bring each other off in search of relief. It was something else altogether to willfully touch someone with the intent of making him come.

"Duo?" he whispered tentatively, bringing my mind back in focus.

Trowa hadn't moved a muscle. He was still there, leaning back and waiting for my verdict, utterly submissive to my will. I could refuse him, but... something told me not to. He was vulnerable and if I walked away from him now...

How could I ask him to watch my back in the future – when I'd really need my partner – if I couldn't do the same for him? Half-formed thoughts of fairness and need, of reciprocal relationships and trust came to me. Through it all, Trowa waited, breath all but held.

I made my decision. "I'll get the towels," I offered softly, and then I caressed his sides again before nodding toward the bed. I kissed him once more, briefly, and then I got the hell on with fetching and carrying before I changed my mind and either got busy with him right there in the damn doorway or ran screaming from the apartment.

It wasn't until I reached up to grab a pair of hand towels from the linen rack in the bathroom that I realized I was in the process of getting hard. Hell. These hormones would be the freakin' death of me.

When I reentered the bedroom, my gaze zeroed in on the bed. Trowa was sitting up in the middle of it, waiting for me but still dressed in his PJs. He watched my approach in silence, ignoring the towels when I tossed them onto the nearest flat surface. I met his gaze, and then I daringly reached down to peel off my T-shirt. The fabric, still damp from my only partially-dry hair, stuck to my back a bit, and when I tossed it aside, my braid slapped heavily against my skin. Trowa's fingers twitched aimlessly.

Taking that for an invitation, I crawled onto the bed and continued my advance toward him. He didn't meet me halfway. Instead, as I approached, he leaned back, bracing himself on his elbows, and then finally lay flat as I hovered above him.

I didn't have much personal experience with this sort of thing – only what I'd gained in the last two days – but it already felt different, unnervingly different, from the other two times we'd touched. In fact, the way he was now, supple and compliant beneath me, reminded me again of that submissive pose and the heavy-lidded gaze, the whispered invitation: "Are you coming in?"

I suppressed a shiver and leaned in. The kiss I pressed to his lips was warm, chaste, and brief. I pressed a second to his jawline, to the shuddering skin over his jugular, to the rise of his collarbone. It occurred to me that I was teasing him. I was only touching him with my lips, occasionally my nose, and – by necessity – the nearly-dry strands of my hair. His hands were at his sides, his fingers curled into the bedcovers. Noticing this, I sat back a bit and ran a single fingertip down the corded muscles of one arm to investigate that desperate grasp. As I drew my forefinger around his knuckles, dipping between the digits and tracing the lines of his veins, he stiffened. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his hips twitch and the fabric of his flannel pants tent further.

I didn't ask if he wanted them off. He'd stop me if he didn't. But when I reached for the waistband, his hips were already rising to accommodate the coming motion. I worked the elastic band over his length. I couldn't avoid getting an eyeful as I carefully maneuvered the waistband over his hips. I had to watch what I was doing unless I wanted to rudely scrape or bump his sensitized skin and I didn't. I wanted to be careful. His sudden fragility seemed to demand it, call it forth from inside me.

I met his gaze when the top of his pants were clear and all I had to do was sweep them down his long legs. He shivered slightly as I tossed them on the floor and I was struck by the sight of him in the dim, ghostly glow of the emergency lanterns. I wouldn't call it romantic, exactly, but there was a moment of bare-ness, of being exposed and open in a way that wasn't nearly as harsh as fluorescent light would have demanded.

I kicked off my shorts and slid back up toward him. My hand found its way to his knee and he didn't even hesitate to spread his thighs and make room for me there. He gasped a little – it was no more than a sharply indrawn breath – when I accepted the invitation and crouched between his legs. It occurred to me that I could look down and see all of him. He was completely naked except for the necklace he never seemed to take off.

At the thought, blood rushed hotly to my groin and Trowa broke our staring contest first. He glanced down and very briefly – with no teasing at all – licked his lips. "Duo?" he asked, his hand fluttering uncertainly against the bedcovers.

I think I understood the question, so I replied, "If you want to, you can.” I was giving him permission now to touch me there and it felt like a completely different touch from the one in the shower earlier. When he brushed his fingers against me, from base to tip, I reached out and grasped his bent knees, my thumbs moving against his skin as he explored slowly. His other hand rose to my hip and urged me closer. I shuffled forward a bit, just until I could feel his thighs against mine, but the grasp upon my hip was unrelenting.

Damn, but if I moved forward any more, I'd be kneeling on certain bits that would not appreciate the attention, and I was pretty sure that was not what he wanted.

When I didn't budge, he lifted his hips and slid down in bed just a bit, until his sac pressed against one of my knees. I hesitated then, wary of moving and upsetting the balance between us. One careless squish and we'd have to play charades to pass the rest of the evening.

And then he made a loose fist around me with his hand and pulled gently all the way to the tip, making me hiss and grit my teeth. His hand moved again, sinking back down and I struggled not to thrust. It was then, as I was hanging onto control by a thread, that I felt his fingertips brush over my sac and the touch was electrifying.

"Ah!” I bucked once, and then pulled back.

Trowa leaned up a bit, as if to chase after me, but it wasn't necessary. In the next instant, I'd stretched out over him, our lengths bumping and rubbing incidentally as I drew his lower lip into my mouth and nibbled it.

His hands clutched my shoulders and his long legs wrapped around my hips and it was perfect. The heat of his skin against mine and the soft, purring sound he was making as I charted the contours in his mouth were both winding me up and grounding me. I lowered myself until I was braced on my elbows and our chests were brushing, making my nipples tingle with each writhe. My hands grasped his shoulders and I pulled myself up as I tugged him down and our hips came together squarely. He groaned and I rocked against him, lost in the body heat, in the kiss, in the scent and sounds of him.

Either Trowa and I were getting better at kissing, or I was losing that edge of alertness that has kept my ass alive all these years. And if the latter was true, it was evaporating at a freakin' terrifying rate. But as long as I was kissing Trowa, I didn't really give a damn. Maybe this was my version of the Sampson tale.

This time, I took the initiative and did my best to share a bit of the gift that keeps on giving. I shifted my weight to one arm and placed my other hand on his knee, then ran it up over his hip and side to his chest, where I rubbed circles over his nipple. The little, breathy sounds he made muted the warning bell in my head and freakin' backhanded every "But I'm straight!" thought into another hemisphere. I couldn't help it. We hadn't used soap or shampoo tonight when we'd been in the shower so the scent that captivated me was all Trowa. I pulled my mouth away from his, our lips clinging briefly, before nuzzling his throat and then burying my nose in the silky hairs behind his ear and inhaling.

All I wanted was to feel him moving with me, beneath me. The only taste on my tongue was the flavor of his mouth and skin. His scent was my breath and his touch was my language. I answered him with lips, with breathy agreements that sometimes sounded like yes but mostly just sounded like moans.

There was something about having him beneath me – something about having his warm, roughened hands searching again and again over my bare back, something about his thighs spread wide and cradling my hips with muscular warmth – that just downgraded all higher brain function to optional. That must be why, as Trowa pressed his mouth to my throat and began to breathe-nibble-brush my skin, my hand untangled itself from the bed clothes and found the bare flesh of his inner thigh.

"Duo!" he gasped, panting, rolling his hips in these hopeful and suggestive little motions meant to encourage my hand to venture further upward.

"This?" I teased breathlessly as my palm obligingly moved, rubbing small circles as I went.

His fingers closed around my braid, tilting my head down so that our gazes met. His lips were wet and swollen from my kisses, his pupils dilated. His chest heaved with each pant. Dear Christ. Trowa was the embodiment of desire.

"Nuh, Trowa," I mouthed on a breath and then I gasped as his hands dived from my shoulders down to my ass and his back arched, pressing his hips upward and...!

With my knees between his, even the tiniest shift of our bodies had me thrusting mindlessly against him. I needed more, more, more. I abandoned my intention to continue teasing him and thought very seriously about touching him in earnest, about measuring his length and feeling him twitch and swell in my grasp. Oh, God. I wanted to touch him again!

I decided I would be horrified later. This was one impulse I couldn't stop myself from following.

"Trowa..." I whispered in his ear, shifting my hips away and caressing his thigh. "Can I—?"

My hand hovered meaningfully over his swollen length. Still, I didn't glance down. I was waiting for permission and it took every ounce of concentration I had.

"Yes," he breathed. "Yes, yes, yes..."

One would have been sufficient, but I liked his enthusiasm. Looking down, I let myself really study him for a moment, from the curling hair at the base to the flushed and glistening head. And then I fitted him against my palm and just rubbed up and down.

"Ah!” His hips came off the bed and his voice cracked and it was so, so hot. He was hot. His surrender was doing me in. I was never going to be the same after this, now that I had this memory of him in my head, holding me close as he rode against my hand, his head thrown back and breath panting, his throat arched and nipples stiff.

I curled my fingers tight around him and began to stroke.

His thighs fell open a bit more as he rocked toward me. "Duo..." he pleaded and I leaned forward until our lips met and I was invited back inside his mouth. It was too bad neither of us had the concentration to take full advantage of it. I felt him swell a bit more in my gasp; it wouldn't be long now.

"You wanna come like this?" I asked, nuzzling his throat.

He groaned. "Say that—word—again," he panted and I had to wrack my brain to figure out which one he'd meant.

I made an educated guess and rasped, "Come, baby. Come."

He did. I felt his release hit my stomach and then it ran back down over my fingers. I held on as he pulsed once, twice more and then he softened and slipped from my grasp.

In that moment, just before I reached for one of the towels I'd brought out, I realized that I was still hard. I also realized that I didn't really want to come right now. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't exactly comfortable but, bizarre as it seems, I wanted this time to be for Trowa and if I got off on it, too, that would turn it all ‘round and backwards. This wasn't about me, and I didn't want it to be about me.

I set out to prove it by taking care of the clean-up.

Trowa didn't move away from me – in fact, he snuggled closer – but he was too drowsy to notice I hadn't contributed to the spillage I was mopping up.

"You OK?" I checked, reaching up with my clean hand to brush his bangs back so I could see both his droopy, dopey, green eyes.

He nodded, nuzzling my palm, and then his lashes drifted shut. It wasn't until his breaths had long since evened out and deepened that I managed to get comfortable enough to join him.

I woke to continued darkness punctuated by the glow of the emergency lights. I also woke to the feel of a warm, naked body pressing against my equally naked back and ass. I could tell from the purposeful way he shifted – as he deliberately tried not to disturb me – that he was awake.

"Trowa?" I said, rolling toward him. Our knees banged and he was lying on the end of my braid, but once we got all that sorted out, he leaned forward and kissed me softly.

I hummed at him and he took that as an invitation to snake an arm over my chest.

"Nightmare?" I guessed as his breath puffed softly against my bare shoulder.

"No," he murmured, a thigh sliding over mine. "A good dream.” His arm tightened briefly and I smiled, glad that I seemed to be part of it in some way. I wasn't sure how many good dreams I'd be around for now that the lights were off and the power company guys would be on the way. If they weren't already.

With a sigh, I recalled that I'd tossed my wristwatch in my duffel just before my stuff had been escorted over here on Sunday. I still hadn't dug the damn thing out yet. Without a window through which to judge the time of day or a battery-powered alarm clock to inform us of the hour, I decided not to make any effort whatsoever to be up and about "on time". Time was relative now, and here in our black box of an apartment, it freakin' did not exist.

I think Trowa could sense that things were about to change for all of us. I was sure he'd be able to follow my act of vandalism through to its logical conclusion. What he didn't know, and what I hadn't told him yet, was that I couldn't guarantee that the people funding our rescue would be tree-hugging pacifists.

As Trowa slept, I played my part as his body pillow and dozed on and off. The mission plan started running through my head whenever my eyelids started drooping, so I didn't get much shuteye. When he stirred next, I didn't let him relax back into sleep. I turned toward him and braced myself above him. His lashes fluttered open as I pressed butterfly kisses to his jaw and he sighed. I don't think I imagined that it was a contented sound.

He rubbed against me in this sexy, whole body stretch-and-wiggle that was fascinating to watch and felt freakin' irresistible. I couldn't tell you if it was actually morning, but my body seemed to think it was close enough. So did Trowa's for that matter. Our hips rocked together and his arms came around my shoulders and, in the next instant, I was lying between his thighs again, bracing myself on my hands on either side of him as I nuzzled his chest.

I clutched the rumpled bed covers as we moved clumsily together. I wasn't very suave or graceful and sometimes our thrusts were off, but ask me if I gave a damn. It was messy and hot and freakin' fantastic. It was also the best I could manage this soon after deciding to officially wake up. As things got a bit more desperate, I opened my eyes and met his gaze. Yeah, last night had been for Trowa. This was for us, and I wanted us to come at the same time, just like the first night we'd spent together.

Trowa rocked his hips up to meet mine once more, grasping my arms for leverage as he did so, and suddenly I was lost to the promised rush.

And, oh man what a rush. I was still panting, my forehead resting on his shoulder when he pulled me tight against him, thrusting helplessly in silence, and then he joined me in release.

When I could breathe again, and when I thought it might be possible that Trowa was capable of higher thought, I asked, "Was that OK?"

"Mmm," he purred and I grinned at his typical no-comment noise. God forbid that the guy ever admit to anything.

My forehead still pressed to his shoulder, my grin widened and I marveled at just freakin' everything about this moment. Was this what married life was like for normal people? It was pretty damn hilarious that Trowa and I could be normal at anything, as fucked up as our respective pasts were and as messy as this mission might get.

Speaking of which... I collected the second towel I'd brought out here last night, and wiped us both clean. I figured I'd roll outta bed and see if we had any running water for a quick shower before trying to bust my way outta our apartment and hunt us up some food, but Trowa just kinda draped himself over me in a blatant move to postpone that plan.

"Still early," he informed me, his eyes closed.

I was starting to wonder if he could frickin' sleep through Armageddon. "How do you know?" I challenged him.

"Wristwatch on the bureau."

I peered over his shoulder and, sure enough, Trowa's timepiece was sitting right there. Since he was still technically awake, I pretty much crawled over him to reach the damn thing and press the illumination button. Trowa didn't even grouch at me. He just looped his arms around my thighs and sighed against my ribcage. When he settled down and I could concentrate again, I ascertained the time – 05:11.

Well, hell. It was definitely too freakin' early. Too bad my stomach thought it was a marvelous time to get some chow. I winced as it growled at me. With a sigh, I rolled out of bed to get some water. That was pretty much all I could do for myself at this point unless I wanted to scope out the halls and emergency stairs to see if I could get to a vending machine.

I considered that option as I pulled on my shorts and took an emergency lantern out to the kitchenette. Well, "nook" was maybe a better word. It was just a corner of our living room, partitioned off by a free-standing bar with a couple of stools. Against the wall were a few token cupboards. There was a single-basin stainless steel sink, a mini fridge, a water cooler, an electric hot water kettle, and the garbage disposal unit. There wasn't much mischief people could get into with those. I guess that was why no one was allowed to cook in their rooms, especially when the average employee was a middle-aged married guy-living-away-from-home who'd never cooked a day in his life.

I set the lantern down and grabbed a plastic tumbler from the shelf and then helped myself to some water. That was always the first line of defense against hunger: fill up on water and see if your belly is still trying to get to your intestines.

I wasn't so sure it'd work this time. Or, to rephrase that more accurately, I wasn't sure I wanted it to work. I was itching for an excuse to try and do some reconn, but I didn't even know if I could open the damn front door. It seemed unlikely that my old apartment would have opened despite a power failure, but Trowa and I were in poorly-secured civilian quarters. I figured I had a 50-50 shot.

I downed the rest of my water and went to hunt up some clothes. I wouldn't get very far in my PJs in the event that I could get the door open. The water pump seemed to be operating, so I took a very quick shower – just to take care of the, er, collateral damage dried to my skin – and then I pulled on the clothes I'd absently grabbed. I ended up in a pair of black jeans, a red short-sleeved turtleneck thing, and my combat boots. I returned to the bedroom and dug my leather jacket out of the closet for the hell of it. Through all of my quiet rummaging, Trowa remained utterly silent. Maybe he was sleeping and maybe he wasn't. I didn't ask and he didn't make a sound.

Returning to the main room, I laid my jacket across the kitchenette counter and got to work.

An investigation of the card swiper revealed it to be completely nonoperational. The palm scanner was also dark. Right, so either the magnetic locks that sealed the door shut were deactivated which meant I should be able to shove the thing open – at least, that was the theory – or the door was locked down until the power was turned back on.

So, next I had to see if I could slide the door open with no handholds whatsoever to get a grip on. Oh, this was gonna be fun.

I braced myself as best I could, flattened both palms against the surface of the door for maximum traction, and pushed.

Nothing happened. Well, except for when my palms got a little sweaty from the exertion and I lost my tentative grip. I nearly fell flat on my face. How freakin' embarrassing. It was a good thing my only possible witness was asleep in the other room. It looked like it was all up to Howard and his crew now. I wouldn't be doing much in the way of helping them extract us from this damn prison unless I wanted to risk running into a security guard when I went down the elevator shaft and pried open the doors to the lobby. Screw it. It was easier to sit on my ass and wait. Huffing out a sigh, I grabbed my jacket and returned to the bedroom.

I didn't feel like crawling back in bed, so I placed a chair next to Trowa's side and sat my ass down to think. With no windows, there wasn't much I could do except speculate on when we'd see the action I was expecting. Yeah, I expected they'd drive up in utility vehicles or something. No one ever suspects the repairman, right? Well, I guess airlifting us out was a possibility, but it was a little flashy. It practically screamed "prison break", right? And besides, just escaping this pile wasn't enough. Hell, the five of us could have escaped a whole damn hour after being incarcerated. It was the after the escape part that was tricky. With the whole damn world against us, we'd have to hide for the rest of our lives. Where could we show our faces without being picked out by the local cops? Eventually, we'd have to work around the law until we turned into the very thing people feared we'd become. I didn't want that. Hell, none of us did. The goal here was freedom. And, as far as I could see, there was only one way for us to get it. So, no air evac... unless it was a medical chopper, which I had to admit did have some definite potential.

However, more importantly than the how of our extraction was the who: who exactly had Howard gotten to help him with this little op? Undoubtedly, it'd be someone looking to upset the peace that the five of us had fought and killed and bled for. The real question was how competent they were, how gullible, and how desperate.

Swallowing a sigh, I turned my thoughts away from the freakin' infinite number of possibilities, and studied Trowa in the dim light. My gaze traced his features, relaxed in sleep. At some point during the night, we'd burrowed beneath the covers, but the sheet only came up to his chest. He was lying on his side, one arm tucked up against his body and the other flung out across the bed as if searching for a connection.

I couldn't deny that we had that, he and I. Even before this whole marriage business started, we'd become friends over the years. In some ways, he knew me better than Quatre, despite the guy's empathic abilities and the fact that he'd pretty much single-handedly gotten me though my rage and grief at Heero's idiotic compliance with J's self-destruct order. Q was a great friend, but he didn't really challenge me.

Trowa challenged me. Hell, he challenged me in ways that even Wufei never had and couldn't. Over the years, Trowa's silence and straight face had become a kind of red cape to my charging bull. And, whereas Wufei had his limit with regards to teasing, Trowa had never drawn that particular line. With the exception of his nightmare the night before, he'd never shut me out, never told me to back off, never raised his defenses. This very mission was kinda proof of that.

I was even a little surprised that Trowa was a better fit for me than Heero when it came to missions. Hell, even back in the war, when I was being held by OZ, and Trowa – posing as an OZ officer – had slugged me in the gut in order to pass me that damn handheld projector so Wufei and I could read up on the improvements being implemented to our captured Gundams, that had been a kind of partnership. That seditious moment, I mean. We'd played our roles perfectly right under the noses of the other Ozzies. I'm not sure Heero could have done that. I'm positive that he wouldn't have. The jerk would have taken off in Wing and left Wufei and I to muddle through our own crash course in mobile suit upgrades as we made our escape.

But then, Heero always looked out for number one. Not that there was anything wrong with that. He'd been trained to place the success of the mission above casualties. He'd probably figured that if Wufei and I couldn't handle our new Gundams from the onset, then we must not be very good soldiers to begin with. He might have even trusted us to figure it out for ourselves; after all, they didn't just hand out Gundams to anyone. Trowa, on the other hand, even at his apparent dastardly worst, even when he'd – for all intents and purposes – been parading around as a damn turncoat, he was still looking out for us as best he could.

Someday, I would have to ask him if any of his OZ comrades had ever mentioned cutting off my braid for shits and giggles. I was almost sure they'd thought of it – no good interrogator would neglect to contemplate all the ways to crush a prisoner's spirit short of a war crime – so someone must have looked at my long hair and thought, "Hm. There's a potential weak point.” Amazingly, someone must have talked them out of it or, at the very least, delayed the implementation of that move. And I bet that person was Trowa. As I sat in the gloom, studying his peaceful features, I promised myself I'd ask him sooner rather than later.

I pulled the aforementioned rope of hair over my shoulder and ran a hand down the plait. Commander Une could have had it chopped off before my execution, but it probably would have made me look pathetic instead of insolent. It was hard to hate a kicked puppy and not nearly as hard to despise a long-haired, cocky "terrorist".

I guess that explained how my damn braid had made it through the war intact. Half thanks to human nature and half thanks to Trowa Barton.

It was six-thirty according to Trowa's abandoned wristwatch when he shifted in the bed and inhaled lazily. An instant later, his lashes fluttered.

"'Morning," I greeted him.

He glanced away from the empty place in bed beside him and up at me. I watched him take in my choice of clothing and, in an instant, his sleepy relaxation disappeared. He sat up and I gave him an apologetic grin.

"I bet someone'll be here to fix the power soon."

He nodded, acknowledging the information, and I stood up. He watched me replace the chair against the wall and collect my jacket. As I headed for the door in order to give him some privacy so he could pull on some clothes, I heard the sound of a drawer opening behind me.

"Duo."

I turned and reflexively caught what turned out to be a pair of protein bars he'd squirreled away in his bedside bureau. "Awesome," I thanked him with a wide grin. "I'll go set the table."

"Use the good china," he quipped and I laughed.

I dropped the protein bars on the coffee table in the living room and fetched the single emergency lantern I'd brought out earlier. A pair of water-filled plastic tumblers completed our feast. When Trowa stepped out in his customary jeans and green turtleneck, he glanced at the front door briefly and summarized, "Locked down?"

"Yeah.” I wasn't sure if it was just because the power was out or because the emergency systems sensed a toxic, airborne substance on the premises. "Pretty sure that means we've got the day off."

"You just jinxed it," he replied, sitting down next to me and reaching for one of the still-wrapped calorie cakes.

I leaned a shoulder against his and picked up the second. We peeled and ate with measured bites in silence. It wasn't nearly as bad as military rations and it was miles better than the half-spoiled morsels I'd scavenged on the streets in my childhood. The company was pretty good, too.

I popped the last bite into my mouth and leaned back on the sofa, laying my arm across the top of the cushions behind Trowa's shoulders. He finished his own breakfast and carefully placed the empty wrapper on the coffee table before slumping down next to me. I felt a small tug on my braid as his hand found it pinned beneath my arm. I shifted so I could pull it out and let it drape over my shoulder.

"You know why I wear it like this?" I asked softly, not as if someone might be listening, but as if speaking loudly would shatter the moment.

Trowa shook his head, grasping the tail in his hand and using his thumb to fiddle with the very end of it. "It must be important to you."

"The memory is," I confessed. "Someone I loved taught me how to braid my hair like this. I didn't know her long before she... Well, I guess Sister Helen was like a mother to me even though it was just for that year and a bit."

Trowa's touch changed and he now stroked the plait reverently.

"Thank you," I whispered, taking a gamble.

"For?" he prompted softly. I think he knew what I was going to say, but he wasn't going to confirm it before he was sure of the direction of my thoughts.

"I still have it because of you... don't I?" I checked.

He looked up and I met his gaze. He didn't concur that some bastard Ozzie had wanted to chop it off in an attempt to break me. Instead, he said, "I told them to re-examine your file. I said you were vain and shallow. You thought having long hair would get you more attention from girls."

I snorted, my lips curving into a smirk. "I can't say that it ever worked on girls.” I wondered if it had worked on Trowa, though.

"It was nice seeing this during the war," he volunteered. "I hid as best I could.” At this, he gestured to his fall of hair, which never failed to conceal half his face. "But you wore yours like a banner for the colonies. It defied all logic that you'd been able to keep it such a long length during a war.” He smiled as he petted the end of my braid again. "It spoke of... moxy."

"Moxy?" I checked, wondering if I should be flattered or affronted. "Isn't moxy for, y'know, girls an' stuff?"

"Rebellion?" he offered. "Defiance, strength, perseverance, bull-headed stubbornness..."

I shoved at his shoulder playfully. "Knock it off, babe. You're makin' me blush over here."

"... fire," he softly concluded with some reluctance.

Liking that last one quite a lot, I turned toward him and pressed my face against his soft, silky hair. "Y'know, I always figured you were the type to play with fire," I teased... only, it didn't come out teasing.

"We always want what we don't have," he murmured, still holding the end of my braid captive.

I wanted to scold him for saying something so stupid, but I whispered instead, "You have fire, babe. I see it in you."

His silent pause just about tasted doubtful. “No," he denied. "You don't."

"I do," I retorted tenaciously, pulling back and looking him in the eye. "I saw it burning in you last Tuesday when I stopped by your cleaning cubby. I saw it when you came by my desk every damn day, when you spoke of Q's damned speech being on the news, when you—” I broke off then, suddenly embarrassed. I'd been about to tell him that I'd sensed a frickin' atomic blast when he'd kissed me. "You're flamin' burning up inside, you have so damn much fire," I told him, my voice rough. "You hoard it, though. For control."

He was very still beside me. I didn't push, but I did say, "You can tell me anything, y'know. I'll keep your secrets.” It was no small thing I was offering him, but I figured he deserved it. He was a freakin' amazing guy and he ought to have a friend who would never betray his heart or judge his past. I was sure Quatre would do his best, but I didn't think a guy who'd lived such a sheltered childhood could really understand the darkness and uncertainty Trowa and I had endured.

That was why I'd chosen Trowa in the first place. He and I knew what it was like to face adversity every day, to have it be what wakes you up in the morning with a messy smooch. And we were well and truly used to persevering despite (or perhaps due to) having little more than the clothes on our backs and our own wits at our disposal.

"I know," he replied. His hand sought mine in the gloom and I clasped it tightly.

We sat like that for a long time, my arm across his shoulders, our hands clasped, my lips sifting through his hair. If only we could have stayed like that forever.

Eventually, real life got in the way. I'd had a lot of water since I'd woken up. It wasn't romantic, but the need to piss rarely is. While I was in the bathroom, I brushed my teeth thoroughly. Who knew when I'd next have the chance. When I came out, Trowa went in to take care of his own business. We both ended up back on the sofa, though, this time with me leaning back against his chest and his arm around me as we waited for something to happen.

Long minutes passed before Trowa spoke again. This time, he told me the story behind his name and I had to bite my tongue to keep from berating him for being dumb enough to announce his presence at the scene of a murder. And to the murderer himself, no less. I could imagine the scene, though. The Trowa I know had faded into the background so well that when the real Trowa Barton had started to stir up trouble about going through with that damn Operation Meteor, one of the assistant scientists had shot him impulsively, thinking only he and S were present. They'd completely forgotten about their nameless, kid mechanic. But, Jesus, it boggled my mind that anyone could possibly overlook him.

Still, it had taken some serious balls for that lowly mechanic to come forward and offer to pilot Heavyarms. I couldn't really understand how he could have not only offered, but done such a damn fine job over the course of the whole damn war if he hadn't had a freakin' wildfire roaring within him. I mean, a guy without conviction never would have made it past our collective failure at New Edwards where Heero had killed the Alliance's pacifists in one fell swoop. Trowa had more than made it. He'd freakin' blossomed.

But, that did not excuse the mindless risk he'd taken in revealing his presence as the L3 scientists had stood over a dead man's body and fretted about the fate of the project.

"No wonder S was impressed," I managed to say after wrangling my impulse to shake some sense into his younger self. "Nerves of steel."

"Apathy," he replied. "Back then, I didn't care whether I lived or... not."

He didn't come right out and say it, but I heard it in his careful choice of words. He was speaking only of the past. I took that to mean that he cared now.

I turned in his loose embrace and reached for the onyx pendant. Words tangled up in my chest, rose up and clogged my throat. I honestly couldn't imagine him... y'know. Dead. My very being rebelled at the thought.

"I need you," I told him roughly, desperately trying to urge him to never consider giving up.

His arms tightened around me, drawing me nearer. I braced myself on the sofa cushions and leaned in. Our noses bumped. Our lips brushed. And then—

Bright light freakin' poured into the room and a soft whispering whoosh registered in my brain.

Someone was sliding our front door open.

"The hell—?" I bitched, turning and glancing back over my shoulder.

And there on the threshold stood Howard, posing like a freakin' superhero in a hazmat suit, a spiffy plastic helmet tucked under his skinny arm.

"Son of a bitch," I informed him and he let loose with that wheezy geezer laugh of his.

"It's nice to see you, too, Duo," he replied happily as Trowa and I got to our feet. "And I believe I owe you some best wishes and a round of congratulations."

"Shove it," I told him, grinning. "You can buy the first round instead."

When he laughed for a second time, I joined him. Damn. The cavalry had arrived.

And the adventure was just beginning.

-----------

NOTES:

When Trowa tells Duo he can have his soul for a song, unbeknownst to Duo, he's using old mob slang. Someone who "sang" was a member of the mob who confessed to and/or cooperated with the enemy (e.g., the cops). I can kind of imagine this term carrying over to the world of mercenaries in After Colony. Basically, Trowa wants to hear a confession of the heart. He wants Duo to "sing".

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