"I think I liked her," Trowa said, and was quiet for a long moment. How do I begin, he thought, and decided there was only one way.
At the beginning.
"I was found by mercenaries when I was two, maybe three," he said, his voice feeling hoarse and loud in the room. "The Captain adopted me, although I never had a name... I had a family, of sorts. Then, when I was ten, I found a girl in the woods, and," he paused, trying to figure out the right words, searching through his memory to understand his motivations. "I adopted her, in turn, I guess."
Duo moved next to him, almost imperceptibly, and Trowa recognized that the other man was relaxing into him. It was either as reassurance or recognition of the younger Trowa's purpose. Trowa wasn't entirely certain.
"She was a spy," he said, flatly. "Midii had a game, one of those pocket games... around her neck. It was a transmitter, and so was the cross she gave me." Trowa dropped his head, letting his hair fall over his face, feeling the old ache of the betrayal coming back. "The first real gift I'd ever gotten, and... it was a transmitter. We were betrayed, our location revealed, and... I'm not sure, but I think that's how the rest of the troop was contacted, and bribed enough to join the Alliance." And I, Trowa thought, was left with... He sighed. "When they turned on us, I killed all of them. And a day later, the Captain and I were ambushed, again, and the Captain was killed."
Heero's hand tightened in Trowa's grasp.
"It was me," Trowa said, tight, barely controlled. "I was carrying the transmitter so they could find us. I didn't just kill those who betrayed us, I was also the cause of the Captain's death, and all because I accepted a simple gift." And then I was alone again, he added silently. And I was, for years, even in crowds... He shook off the melancholy, trying to focus on what he needed to say. "They were my friends. But I made it so easy for the Alliance to control me, manipulate me into destroying them, through my own damn weakness and stupidity. She'd said... " He couldn't finish the sentence, couldn't go back to that place.
"You were a kid," Duo whispered.
"I was still played," Trowa retorted bitterly, then frowned, trying to let it wash over and through him, and pass. Control is an illusion, he reminded himself, and I was divested of that illusion far too soon. "There's no way to forgive, or forget, sometimes. It just is. You did the best you could... I did what I thought was right. I didn't know everything, and I couldn't see the strings."
Heero sighed, a long shuddering breath, and Trowa remembered following the other boy across Europe. Now, perhaps, Heero understood why Trowa had never required an explanation. Not knowing didn't mean there was any less guilt, and knowing one's ignorance only made the anger that much more bitter.
"If I went back now, still not knowing... I eventually accepted that I'd do the same all over." Trowa took a deep breath, and turned to look at Duo, waiting until the other man's blue eyes returned the steady gaze. "I took on trained mercenaries, and was the only one standing at the end. I survived... and I hated myself for it." He shook his head. "No... for a long time, I didn't even feel anything. Then, feeling came back-- " like a cauterized wound, he thought "-- but it wasn't regret. It was hatred. I hated my skills, my abilities. As if... being good at what I did, meant I was still dancing to someone else's tune."
The room was silent. A log cracked in the fireplace, and Trowa closed his eyes. The light was red against his eyelids, like the Captain's blood on the dark night's ground.
"By my own hand or my own ignorance," he whispered, "I killed them all, at the age of ten."
"You were taken advantage of," Duo replied, his hand warm and real, against Trowa's palm.
"And you weren't?"
"That's-- " Duo frowned.
"No, it's not really that different," Trowa insisted. "We acted as we thought best. Whether or not we knew it wasn't our tune, we still danced. And we can't live our lives hating ourselves for that."
"I hate them," Duo hissed. "I hate them... I hate them. The things they did," he gasped, suddenly, choking. "I can't even hear my own name. Hours and hours of the word played over and over, and every time a shock that made my heart nearly stop -- I bit through my tongue to keep from screaming, and screamed anyway, choking on my own blood... " Duo arched backwards as if he'd been struck, his face raised towards the ceiling. "I can't even hear my own name without pain!"
Trowa couldn't think of what else to do, so he put his arms around Duo, reaching for Heero, who matched him, after a second's pause. Duo collapsed within their embrace, panting slightly, but not crying. Instead, he was shaking, as thought caught in the grips of a fever, and not their arms. Trowa buried his face in Duo's hair, and all he could feel was lost.
But I can feel, he told himself. That's some small victory.
"Okay, guys," Duo said, abruptly. His voice was flat, his body tense, and he struggled against their hold. Trowa released Duo quickly, and Duo stood up, nearly tripping from shoving himself upright so fast. "Look... I... I just need... I think I'm going to go for a walk and think about this. Just... get some air."
Heero opened his mouth, and Duo put his hands up, shaking his head. A strange grin was flickering across Duo's face, but there was no joy in it.
"It's cool, Heero, I just... need to be by myself. I'll be back in time for dinner." The smirk faded, replaced with a sad, but genuine smile. "I just need to breathe."
"We'll be here," Trowa said, and it took everything he had to pull his arms back in. They were still warm from the touch of Duo against the insides of his arms, and Heero's arms along the outside. For a few minutes there, he'd felt complete, for the first time since Duo was back. Perhaps for the first time since they'd found Duo, months ago. He wasn't sure why.
Duo headed upstairs, and they could hear him rattling around, pulling on warmer layers, Trowa suspected. When Duo came back downstairs, Trowa didn't look up, but Heero nodded at what Trowa guessed was a parting wave. Then cold air rushed through the room as the door opened, and closed with a soft click behind Duo.
Trowa slowly leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and buried his face in his hands. Something inside him ached, and he felt like he wanted to cry, but he wasn't sure why. Duo was back, and remembering, and despite all the pain, he would be better. He always had been, before, Trowa told himself, but he knew that wasn't the issue.
"Hey... " Heero's voice was tentative, and a gentle hand settled on Trowa's thigh. "Are you... "
"No," Trowa snapped, his voice muffled by his hands. "I'm not okay. I am so far from okay... "
"What?" Heero's hand retracted, and there was an uncomfortable silence for several heartbeats.
Trowa couldn't lower his hands, couldn't look Heero in the eye, couldn't move. "Heero. I have to... " He dropped his hands, and stared at them. They'd been covered in blood, so many times, and now they were clean... but he still hurt. He could still feel. He wondered if it were better, if he had retained that emptiness he'd had as a child, he'd kept through the wars... "Heero," he whispered, turning his head away, unwilling to see his lover's face. "I'm... I think I've fallen in love with Duo."
The silence settled back over them, uneasy, and waiting.
"I see," Heero said, in a very small voice.
"I still love you," Trowa said in a rush, but it felt awkward, and forced. They'd exchanged the words only once or twice, in all their time together. Trowa knew his lips were twisting into a sardonic smile, and wondered how that looked to Heero. In four months of having Duo around, he'd said the words to Duo easily twenty or more times than he'd ever said them to Heero. It felt like a betrayal, to recognize that.
"I... " Heero stood up, and didn't finish his sentence. Instead, he left the room, his footsteps echoing in the emptiness of the kitchen.
At that, Trowa did cry. Quietly, he watched the fire, and let the tears pour down his face, unable to even raise a hand to wipe them away.
The phone rang, startling Trowa, and he sat up a bit, wiping his face with the sleeve of his sweater. Heero picked up the phone in the kitchen, but his murmurs were too low for Trowa to hear, and he could only sink back into the sofa, feeling drained and lonely. He closed his eyes, but a few minutes later something warm and hard nudged his shoulder.
"Tro," Heero whispered. "Take this."
Trowa opened his eyes to see Heero holding a steaming mug, and he took it, puzzled, as Heero moved to sit on the low table opposite him. This must be the talk, Trowa thought, and stared down into the cup. Now we get to discuss what to do next, because I can't stay with him, obviously, now that I've blurted it out. And I can't stay with Duo. It wouldn't be fair to Duo, not while he's trying to regain himself. He sighed, watching the ripples across the surface of the tea. If the phone's working, I'll call Quatre in a bit and ask him to come pick me up. I shouldn't stay...
"Tro," Heero said, a little loudly. Trowa looked up at him, and Heero visibly winced, then leaned forward and ran a finger under Trowa's eye, catching a tear. Heero regarded the drop with sorrow, then gave Trowa a tired smile. "I'm sorry... I just needed to figure out a way to tell you... "
Here it comes, Trowa thought. His fingers tightened on the mug. He was surprised when Heero frowned, and set down his own mug, reaching for Trowa's.
"Let go," Heero said, prying Trowa's fingers off the mug. He exhaled, blowing his hair out of his eyes. "Not my brightest idea, I suppose. Nor my best timing."
Heero took the mug, setting it next to his on the coffee table, and moved forward until he was perched on the edge of the table, his knees against Trowa's. His hands slipped into Trowa's, their gentleness once again surprising, considering their innate strength. Trowa could feel the calluses on Heero's palms, and he shuddered, remembering Heero's story.
"Trowa," Heero whispered. "Look at me."
Reluctantly, Trowa raised his eyes, bracing himself.
"I'm in love with him, too," Heero said, a wry smile twisting his lips.
Trowa's mouth fell open. "But... " He couldn't quite think. "You... "
"I didn't mean to hurt you," Heero said, his cheeks coloring as he dropped his eyes. "I realized, in the kitchen, I was hurt not because of what you'd said, but because I'd just taken it for granted that admitting how I felt was out of the question, and that you'd never ask me, and I'd never ask you, and we'd... "
"Just pretend we don't feel it?"
"Yeah," Heero said, ducking his head. "I know I follow my instincts, but my instincts are telling me that this is a bad idea." He glanced at Trowa through his eyelashes, and smiled a little. "Quatre's daughter would say that with capital letters. That kind of bad idea."
"I know," Trowa replied, and sighed, letting all his fear out with the breath. "For a minute there... several minutes, actually, I thought you were letting me have space so I could start packing."
Heero's eyes went wide, and he shook his head furiously, but never once took his eyes from Trowa's. "No, no," Heero protested. "I'd tie you down and not let you up for four days if that's what it took to get you-- "
Wrong topic, Trowa thought, but just as quickly, a memory bubbled to the surface, and in the giddy relief of knowing he wasn't hated for his feelings, he couldn't stop himself. "We tried that once already," he said.
Heero flushed, suddenly, which only made Trowa struggle harder to keep from chuckling. "Yeah," Heero agreed, a bit dryly. "But you wouldn't stop giggling."
"Can't help it if I'm ticklish," Trowa protested, and then he did grin. A second later his arms were full of Heero, and he was pressed against the back of the sofa, as Heero clung to him tightly.
"Don't leave," Heero whispered in his ear. "Please... I don't want you to go. Ever."
Trowa managed to get his arms out from under Heero, where they'd been trapped against his chest, and embraced his lover tightly. "I won't," he promised. "I was being stupid, but I'm over it now."
"I doubt it," Heero replied, and nipped on his ear. A sly finger poked Trowa in the ribs at the same time.
Almost an hour had passed, and Trowa was starting to worry. He noticed Heero's glances towards the door a few times. The phone call before had been Liddie, to let them know the phone lines were back in order. Heero had asked her to call again if she saw Duo, but the phone hadn't yet rung. A long, slow conversation, carried out in whispers between kisses, had brought them both to the conclusion that they would keep their feelings to themselves, as far as Duo was concerned. He had enough to deal with, and the last thing they needed was to lay more at his feet.
At an hour and a half, Trowa didn't want to say it, but he suspected Heero was wondering the same thing. They had both sat so they could see the clock, and after awhile, they gave up hiding the glances to check the time. Trowa was about to call quits on the game they were playing, put his jacket on and head for the creek, when the front door opened.
"Hey," Duo said, grinning cheerfully. He stomped on the mat a few times to get the last of the snow off his boots, and then bent over to untie the laces. Something thumped from his pocket, but Trowa couldn't tell what it was, and Duo stood up a second later, still grinning as he hung up his coat. "I forgot just how cold snow really is," he said, and headed upstairs.
Heero gave Trowa a baffled look, and Trowa nodded. Quietly he stood, heading to the door where the coats were hanging. Feeling down the sides of Duo's jackets, he couldn't feel anything in the pocket. Then he noticed his own coat was flipped backwards, revealing the interior pocket. A chill went through him, and he stuck his hand into the pocket, pulling out his cell phone. Hitting a button, he reviewed the last number called. He didn't recognize it, but it wasn't the secure line for Wufei. Someone had made a call since then. Trowa let the phone slip back into his jacket, glanced up at the loft where Duo was rattling around in the drawers again, and held his hand up to his ear in the universal signal for 'phone.'
Trowa dropped his hand just before Duo appeared at the top of the stairs, and managed to smile. "Want some hot chocolate?"
He got a smile in return, and Duo's smile grew to a grin as he led the way into the kitchen, collapsing in one of the chairs while Trowa poured milk into a pan and set it on to simmer. Heero finished putting the game away and joined them, leaning against the countertop as Trowa got out mugs and French chocolate.
No one said anything, and for once it was a comfortable silence, yet Trowa felt antsy. He did his best to cover it, keeping his breathing deep and even while he stirred the milk, sifting the chocolate in with an eagle eye. Behind him, Duo whispered an aside to Heero about Trowa's stinginess with the chocolate, and Trowa gathered himself together long enough to throw a wry grin over his shoulder at Duo.
Soon they gathered in the living room, Duo perched on the hearth, his back only a few feet from the fire. He sighed deeply, a look of intense pleasure crossing his face as he sipped his drink. Trowa watched out of the corner of his eye, from where he'd sat in one of the wing back chairs, and Heero stretched out on the sofa.
"I could get used to this," Duo said.
"Yeah," Trowa replied, not sure he understood, but preferring to pretend he didn't. "Too bad we're not independently wealthy. Not having to work every day isn't nearly as boring as I expected."
"We've been working our asses off," Heero retorted. "I wouldn't consider putting up drywall to be a relaxing afternoon."
"So says the man who can lift a single piece by himself," Trowa replied, but the barb had no malice. Heero shrugged, his expression just a bit smug. Trowa snorted, and leaned back in his chair, stretching out his legs. "Who's cooking dinner?"
Duo stared down into his mug, and Heero sighed melodramatically. "My turn, isn't it."
Trowa caught Duo's eye, and grinned.
"Ah... " Duo said, looking away, and Trowa frowned, confused. Duo stirred his drink with a finger, and sucked the chocolate off his fingertip before wiping his hand on his jeans. "About dinner... "
"You making a request?" Heero turned his head to give Duo a lazy smile.
"Yeah, something like that," Duo replied. "Well, see... you really only need to cook for two, tonight."
Trowa's first thought was that Duo had a date with Liddie.
"Ah," Duo said, his voice dropping even lower, the baritone becoming a whisper. "Actually, you don't need to cook for three again."
"You're too skinny to diet," Heero replied. Trowa wondered if Heero misunderstood, or was being purposefully obtuse.
Duo shook his head. "I'm... one of the Sweepers should be picking me up soon."
Trowa felt like he'd been punched. Unsteadily, he leaned forward, setting his mug down on the table before placing his hands on his knees. He gripped his jeans tightly, as though he needed to hold on. "Deo... is... did we do something wrong?"
"No," Duo's grin flashed as the man looked his way, but it was manic, and his eyes were flat. "Not at all. You guys have been good... you've been great, really. But... I think I'm in the way, here."
"You're not in the way," Heero said, sitting up. He swung his legs around, his feet hitting the rug with a thump. "You're welcome to stay for as long as you want."
"Maybe I don't want to!" Duo's voice soared, and he bit back whatever else he was going to say, settling down on his haunches with a scowl. "Don't make this hard on me, okay? I've thought it all out, and I'm going to stay with Howard for a while. I love you guys, I really do, and you're a great couple, but I think... I think I've been here long enough."
"Long enough?" Trowa swallowed hard, his throat too tight to force more words through.
"This seems pretty sudden," Heero observed. "At least on our end."
"Maybe," Duo said, and hunched one shoulder, then dropped it, in an abbreviated shrug. "But it's kinda been on my mind, that I should be moving along. You have lives to get back to, jobs, and places to be. And privacy," he added, a little darkly. "You haven't had much privacy in a long time."
Trowa wasn't quite sure how to respond. No, we're happy without privacy. That wasn't quite right; he missed having a door he could close, behind which he could do and say as he pleased with Heero. We can live without the privacy, for a little longer. How much longer? At what point does a couple need to be by themselves? He stared down at his hands for a minute more before finding his voice.
"We've compromised," Trowa said. "We can live with that... and we're happy with it." He glanced at Heero, who nodded.
"But I'm not," Duo replied quietly. "I... I went down to the creek and thought for a long time. I know why I was down there. That night."
He set the mug down by his knees, and reached behind him, pulled his hair around and finger-combing it quickly before braiding it in several deft strokes. Snapping a tie around the end, he flipped the tight braid over his shoulder and sat up straight, but his eyes were staring into the distance.
"I knew then that I can't be here, and... be myself," he said. " I didn't want to leave, but I couldn't stay. I thought if I could... freeze myself, become ice, become hard... then I could stay. I would... " Duo faltered, and closed his eyes, breathing through his nose before speaking again. "If I could stop feeling, then I would be free."
It doesn't work that way, Trowa thought. No feeling only makes you empty. It doesn't make you free.
"But you had to go and defrost me," Duo said, and that half-smile was back on his face. He shrugged and picked up the mug, tipping it back as he finished his drink. "So... now that I've melted across your floor and left muddy footprints in your lives, I think I should be going now and let you get things back to the way you like them."
"We... " Trowa hesitated. "I like them the way they are now." He glanced up at Duo, suddenly shy, but hopeful. His voice echoed in his ears, and he could hear the pounding of his heart, underneath the words. "Muddy footprints and all."
"Sure thing, Tro," Duo said, and laughed, but the sound was hollow, and it made Trowa's chest hurt. There was a honk outside, and Duo stood up. "I appreciate you saying it, but you don't need to lie to me. Not me, of all people, remember?" Duo set his mug down on the coffee table, and was gone before Trowa could say anything. His footsteps pounded up the stairs, returning a minute later.
Heero was on his feet, his expression pole-axed. Duo paused, giving Heero a quick grin.
"Hey, it's okay, buddy, Tro'll take care of you." Duo glanced over his shoulder at Trowa, the grin becoming tight. "Promise, right? You'll take care of Heero. Keep him safe."
Trowa nodded, coming to his own feet. This isn't happening. The horn sounded again, and Duo laughed, but it all sounded as though it were too far away. Trowa couldn't think fast enough, over the thundering sound of his heart, and the ache in his chest where something felt like it was being ripped in two.
"Hey, Heero," Duo said, and the door clicked open. "Don't let Trowa fall... "
And then he was gone, the door shutting softly behind him.
Heero stared at the door, then turned to face Trowa.
"He left," Trowa said, and raised his hands palm-up, then dropped them.
There was silence, and they could hear the truck's wheels crushing the snow as it backed around next to the Jeep. Then the engine revved, and after a few more heartbeats, it faded, leaving the two of them alone. Heero's face was pale, and his eyes were large, bewildered, creases at the edges of his mouth from the tightness as he panted softly. Five minutes, ten minutes passed as they stared at each other, uncertain, and unwilling to speak, for fear of letting the absence become real.
"I don't understand," Trowa finally whispered. "I thought... "
"I don't know."
Trowa frowned. "One minute he was... " He stopped, thinking back over the day, and raised his gaze to see Heero staring back at him.
In the blink of an eye, Heero's demeanor shifted, narrowing down to a fine point, only a second behind Trowa in comprehension. Trowa could feel his own face settling into the lines of his old life. The idyll had ended. It was time to deal with the consequences, and a broken heart was the least of their worries.
"Call Quatre, now," Heero called. He was already heading up the stairs.
They knew why Duo had left.
End Part 29
On to Chapter thirty
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