Quatre caught a flash of dark clothing and a white crescent of teeth before he found his person suddenly invaded by Duo Maxwell.
“Buddy!” cried the former Deathscythe pilot, wrapping his arms around Quatre and lifting him a few inches clear of the floor in a massive hug. “It’s been ages, how’re ya doin’!”
“A bit lighter, I think,” Quatre tittered, wincing. “Either that or you’ve gotten stronger.”
“Well, lifting a few hundred kilos of scrap metal every day can do that to a guy,” said Duo, setting his friend back on his feet. “Keeps my chiropractor busy, at least. Look at you, though! Mister CEO in a three-piece suit, briefcase and everything! You look good, man. I missed you.”
Duo feigned a playful punch to Quatre’s cheek, his eyes bright under the shadowy brim of his cap. He had changed marginally—mostly height and weight, filling out the gangly shadow he had cast a teenager—but his smile was as warm and friendly as it had been five years ago. His long braid still hung down his back, a familiar landmark in a slowly changing town. Quatre’s heart glowed with happiness at the sight of his old comrade. He opened his mouth to ask how work was going, but he had waited too long; Duo was already on the next subject.
“I should’ve guessed you’d be invited to the big Elemental pow-wow,” he said, referring to the Preventers and their annual, highly-classified intelligence summit. “Seems like no matter how hard we try, we just can’t keep our noses out of the government’s business, huh?”
“Well, their business is our business,” said Quatre cheerfully. “Civilians or soldiers, it’s hard to stop caring about something we were once so involved in.”
“Yeah, I guess I shouldn’t complain. It’s a small price to pay for peace and democracy. Speaking of which, have you seen any of the others around here? I think I still owe Trowa money.”
Quatre shook his head. “Wufei was here, but I didn’t get to do much more than say hi to him. I think he was on call—he left before my session was finished and I was trying to find him when you found me.”
“Well, damn. Guess it’s just you and me then,” sighed Duo, but his disappointment was fleeting. “Wanna grab some lunch? I know this great Greek place about ten minutes from here, best moussaka you’ve ever tasted. Oh, and I’ve got a safe place to stash your stuff if you need to. It’s not far from here, we can take the transit and be there in a couple minutes. Of course, I know you’re a busy guy and all, so I understand if—”
Realizing that Duo was going to babble them both into a full week’s itinerary if he didn’t jump in, Quatre interrupted as politely as he could: “It’s no trouble,” he said, smiling. “I’d be delighted.”
Duo looked genuinely surprised, then outrageously happy. “Really? Awesome! Well, let’s get movin. I’m starved, how about you? Those doughnuts just didn’t hold me over. I bet they’d improve attendance if they started catering these things, or just brought some finger sandwiches and punch, y’know?”
They walked though the automatic doors, one talking breathlessly, the other listening patiently—and both glad for each other’s company.
Apollo’s Greek Restaurant was a charming, rustic little place off the main stretch, a bit close and dim inside, but the food was excellent and the atmosphere perfect for casual, unhurried meals. That didn’t stop Duo from attacking his colossal bowl of salad as if he hadn’t eaten all day. The brick of spanakopita didn’t last much longer, either. How he managed to eat as much as he did and still say slim was baffling to Quatre, whose modest order of Caprese and moussaka ended up being too much for him. Duo generously adopted the leftovers and saw that they found a good home.
After Quatre had said all he could about the riveting life of a chief executive managing the growing number of subsidiaries of the Winner Corporation, it was Duo’s turn to carry the conversation. He told Quatre about his new venture, ScytheTech, a data recovery and encryption business that utilized some of the talents he had developed as a Gundam pilot. His enterprise was thriving and he already had a small congregation of rather high-profile clients. ScytheTech paid the bills, but Duo’s passion (more like a bad habit, he admitted) was in trawling scrap yards for hidden treasure and running a pirate radio station out of his garage. He and other radio enthusiasts in the L2 Cluster would meet up via ham net every other Saturday night and talk old school tech for hours. Heero was mildly fascinated by Duo’s outdated hobbies, but never got into it himself.
“Oh, are you two working together?” asked Quatre.
A look of discomfort pinched Duo’s face for a brief moment. He grinned and looked down awkwardly. “That’s a loaded question for sure. Um . . . we used to. But then he started getting contracted pretty regular by our pals at Elemental and doing security at the big ESUN meetings. He was moving around a lot. He likes that sorta thing. But me . . . I wanted to put down some roots, have a place to call home. Maybe get a dog or a goldfish or something. So in 198 I went back to L2 and . . . picked up where I left off.”
Quatre, having realized within the first few seconds of Duo’s response just how much pain he was covering up, tried to backpedal. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it to sound like . . . I never assumed you two were . . .”
“Oh, we were. I think. I dunno, really. It’s complicated.”
“You see him much?”
“Occasionally. He winds up in my end of the galaxy every now and then and we hang out, try not to talk about the past. The future’s so much brighter, y’know.” He smiled. It was genuine, but melancholy. Quatre’s heart hurt to see it. He took a breath to change the subject, but as usual, Duo was quicker.
“Speaking of complicated, how’s Trowa? Still doing the pincushion routine with Carrie?”
“Cathy. I dunno know why I always wanna call her Carrie.”
“You haven’t heard about them, have you?”
Quatre’s eyebrows went up. “It’s been confirmed—she’s his sister.”
Duo’s eyes widened. “No shit? Wow, that’s awesome! How’d they find that out?”
“Well, it’s a long story but—”
“I’ve got time.”
“—apparently Cathy started having some really bad back pain a few months ago. She thought it was kidney stones, but she had anemia and some other troubling symptoms, so Trowa took a leave of absence and went to Earth to take care of her. The doctors discovered she has polycystic kidney disease.”
“Oh jeez. Is she okay?”
“She’s fine now, but one of her kidneys had failed completely and the other wasn’t doing too well, and they asked her if she had any next-of-kin who might be able to donate a kidney to her.”
“Donate? Couldn’t she have gotten an artificial one?”
Quatre flipped his hand back and forth. “It’s hit-and-miss with artificial organs. It’s best if they can find a donor with related DNA instead of going the one-size-fits-most route.”
“And let me guess: the doctors.”
“Yes. Even though Catherine had no living relatives, she asked Trowa to have his blood typed to see if he’d be a match. Well, when it came back the same as hers, she asked the doctors to run an STR to—”
“Short Tandem Repeat. Basically an analysis of sequences between one DNA profile and another. And Trowa and Catherine were within the 99th percentile of the 50 percent average needed to confirm their relation. Annnd . . . that was that.”
Duo shook his head in amazement. “Hell of a way to find out you’ve got a brother.”
“Well, Trowa was surprised, but I think Cathy knew all along.”
“Yeah, I remember how she practically adopted him when he had that bout of amnesia. Huh, how ‘bout that. So did ol’ Zero-Three end up losing custody of one of his kids?”
“No, thankfully. The doctors removed Cathy’s failed kidney and got the infection under control. The other kidney strengthened once the sick one was gone, and she was able to recover. She ought to be fine, especially now that she knows to watch for signs of renal failure.”
“Hm, close call. I guess that means Trowa’s a permanent fixture at the circus now, huh? It was hard enough trying to pry him away from Cathy before she knew he was her brother—I bet it’s even harder now.”
Quatre smiled thinly. “No, but I’m sure he’ll be spending a lot more time with her now that he knows who she is—not that she wasn’t important to him already. He’s down on Earth right now to take care of some personal business; paperwork, identification, name change, that sort of stuff.”
“He’s changing his name? But, but I thought he decided to keep it. That’s what he told us, right?”
“Don’t worry! It’s a nominal change at best—”
Duo waggled his eyebrows and Quatre chuckled at his own zinger.
“—besides, ‘Trowa’ was only name he’s ever taken, said it’s a part of him now. His real name is Triton.”
Duo made a sour face.
“Yeah, even Catherine said that she liked the name Trowa better. She has too many sad memories associated with Triton and thinks it would be best to keep the name all his friends know him by.”
“Okay, so whadda we call him now?”
Duo sat back and grinned. “Trowa Bloom! . . . I’ve gotta start thinking of ways I can use that to razz him. I’m sure there’s some good gardening jokes in there somewhere.” He rubbed his hands together wickedly. “Or maybe firepower: Trowa Kabloom, Ordnance Disposal Technician! Actually, that sounds like a personal trainer who eats a bowl of Testoster-O’s every morning. Lots of options here. I oughta have enough ammunition to make him wish he’d stayed a Barton. Heh heh.”
Quatre was laughing—rich, hearty guffaws that shook his whole body. The soreness in his stomach made him wonder when he had last laughed this hard. He couldn’t remember.
Duo beamed, energized by the positive feedback, and handed Quatre a napkin to wipe away the tears in his eyes.
They lingered at Apollo’s long enough for the waiter to clear their table and bring them an order of coffee. Quatre informed Duo about Trowa’s part-time progress though university (he was expected to graduate next year with an advanced degree in mechanical engineering), as well as his new career as a technical advisor and design consultant for Nagato Manufacturing based there in the L1 Colony. Nagato specialized in engines and heavy equipment, and most of their staff were made up of technicians who used to build mobile suits. Incidentally, they were one of the largest manufacturers of mining and construction equipment , and the Winner Corporation was their biggest client.
“You and Trowa must cross paths pretty often then,” said Duo innocuously.
“Yeah,” said Quatre, and suddenly couldn’t find any other words to add behind. He swallowed air.
“. . . and he really likes it. His job, I mean. Big machines. He’s a real gearhead. You should hear him and Wufei when they get started on motorcycles, ha! They carry on for hours. I think if you cut Trowa he’d bleed diesel—”
Duo lounged back in his seat and gave his friend a patient, knowing smile. “You know damn well what.”
Quatre let out a heavy sigh and raked a hand through his hair. “Alright. But not here.”
The transit would have been faster, but for some reason they both ended up walking back to Duo’s apartment. The day was growing dim although the hour was still young—typical of the L1 Cluster depending upon the time of the month. Most of the colonists never noticed it. Only travelers between LaGrange Points could feel the difference. The two pilots commented on the phenomenon, the words between them thin and general until Duo unlocked the door and turned off the security system.
“Getcha anything to drink?” he asked, heading toward the kitchen. “Cuppa tea? Beer? I think there’s a bottle of vodka still in here somewhere . . .”
“Not right now, thanks,” said Quatre, loosening his tie and unbuttoning his waistcoat. He sank down onto the couch and thought about what he was going to say while he listened to Duo rummage around in the fridge. There was a hiss, a pop, a metal clink, and presently he sat down on the other end of the couch with a beer. He put his feet up on the coffee table and took a swig. Quatre still hadn’t thought of anything to say, but mercifully Duo spoke first.
“This used to be Heero’s place,” he said, digging in the cushions in search of something. “Before he went gypsy. I set up the security system for him, camera network, encrypted the phone lines, fiber optics, anything that ran into or out of these walls. You could run ESUN from here it was so tight.”
“Why all the extra security?” asked Quatre, pulling a remote control out from behind a throw pillow and passing it to Duo. “Were there any threats against him?”
“Nah. Heero just likes his privacy. A lot. It’s prob’ly the most important thing to him, come to think of it. Complete anonymity, unable to be seen, heard or touched.” Duo clicked on the stereo system across the room and began to surf the frequencies. “Kinda like this place. No one gets in unless he wants them to.”
“He let you in, didn’t he?”
Duo shook his head. “I like to think that he did, but I’m not sure. It’s hard to tell what’s genuine and what’s not with him. He knew what I wanted and he gave it to me, but I don’t think his heart was ever in it. He was just . . . responding in the appropriate way.”
“At least he responded.”
Duo looked over at his friend. “You mean you and Trowa haven’t . . .”
Quatre shook his head and stared at his lap, his hands fidgeting and squirming. “No. Though not for a lack of trying, that’s for sure. At least on my part.”
Duo put down the remote. “You mean you’ve been holding the torch for this guy for five years and he still hasn’t made a move? The hell, man. I know Trowa’s not stupid, but damn, I figured you two would be married with assets by now. What gives?”
Quatre smiled wistfully and shrugged. “He’s not ready yet, I think. He’s still trying to find out who he is and what he wants to do with his life. He had found a place to call home, but now he’s got a real name and a real family, and it’s all happening rather fast. I think it scares him a little.”
“Scares him? Why? What’s there to be scared of?”
“Because it means he’s got something to lose. He’s never had that before. No connections, nothing really binding him to anything—”
“Ah. Completely free and unattached. No baggage.”
Duo nodded and took a long sip from his beer. “So for the first time ever Trowa is vulnerable. He must hate that.”
“Oh, I’m sure he does. He’s been anxious for weeks. He thinks he can hide it, but I can tell when something’s bothering him. He does this thing with his bottom lip, holds it between his teeth when he’s really thinking hard about something. He’ll touch his lips, too. Press his hand against his mouth and just sit there.”
“You really read him,” said Duo softly.
Quatre rolled his eyes and gave a short sigh. “I’ve known him long enough to recognize when he’s got something on his mind. He’s been stressed out for a while, but my attempts to reach out to him just . . .” He made a plummeting gesture with his hand. “All I can do is give him space. And time.”
“Maybe he needs less space and more you. You’re the cure for the common neurosis if there ever was one, Quatre. All Trowa’s doing is obsessing about the negative stuff and not even considering there’s a bright side to all this.”
“That’s something Trowa has never been introduced to, I’m afraid,” said Quatre gloomily.
“Bull. Shit,” stated Duo, sitting up. “He was introduced to you, so he knows damn well there’s a bright side. He just forgets it’s there because you, being the kind and considerate, helpful, peace-loving hippie that you are, give him just enough of that space and time to hang himself with. You’ve gotta be more assertive, Quatre. Get in there and drive away those black clouds that he builds up. Show him you mean it. I’m just hypothesizin here, but maybe he thinks you don’t care enough about him to try to help him through these funks he gets in. Maybe he’s interpreting your . . .” He twirled his hand, searching for the word. “. . . patience as coldness.”
Quatre looked completely gutted. “God,” he murmured. “I never even considered that.”
“Look, I’m not sayin you should bust in with a cape and a rose in your teeth and try to save him from every problem he has, but just . . . be there for him. Physically. When he sees that, he’ll have no choice but to face the fact that you love him and you’re not gonna budge until he makes it through. Then the spell will be broken and you two will live happily ever after, the end.”
Quatre gave him a dubious glance. “You really think it’ll end up like that? All stardust and rainbows?”
Duo made a grim face. “You’ve gotta hope. If it weren’t for fairy tales and wishful thinking, I’d have never made it past age fifteen. I’m an optimist, but I’ve still got a good grip on reality—and Quatre, if you don’t allow a little bit of fantasy to creep in every now and then, you’re gonna die bitter and heartbroken and a lot earlier than you should.” He reached over and grasped Quatre’s hand. “You gotta hang in there, buddy. ‘Cause if you give up, then I might as well give up too, ‘cause my odds are hell of a lot worse than yours.”
Quatre smiled bravely and squeezed Duo’s hand. “You know, if it weren’t for our shitty taste in men, we might be pretty happy by now.”
Duo doubled up with laughter, lifting his legs from the coffee table and spilling beer on his jeans. “You’re right,” he admitted, wiping the tears from his eyes. “You are so right. What is wrong with us?”
“We’re attracted to the damaged and emotionally unavailable, that’s what’s wrong with us.”
“No, no I think you and I are just fine—it’s those bastards that have problems. Seriously. Who’s the most normal out of all of us? You and me, Quatre—you prob’ly more so. We’re not the ones wrestling with an identity crisis or, or trying to interface human emotion with physical action. We’re not struggling to figure out how we’re going to survive in a world without war—we’re already successes! We’re superstars. We’ve found our niches and we’re building things and moving forward and we’re . . . just . . .”
“Miserable,” finished Quatre.
A dejected silence settled between them. Songs changed on the radio, music whose authors were long dead and now part of the shuffle on some cosmic playlist in a future they could never have imagined. And here they were, Duo Maxwell and Quatre Winner, sitting on a couch in the L1 Colony with their worlds shrinking around them, frantically bailing out the non-essentials in their lives to make room for the things that mattered—only to find out that the things that mattered most were people who had made no room for them.
Quatre swallowed down the knot in his throat and leaned his head back against the couch cushions, staring up at the ceiling. “Maybe they’re right,” he said quietly. “Maybe we’re the ones who have it all wrong, hanging on to the idea that we can be normal and happy and have friends who return our love.”
Duo set down his beer and turned to face his friend. “Quatre, if anyone deserves to be happy and loved, it’s us.”
“Why? What makes us so special?” Quatre’s voice quavered, though his tone was stern. “Because we saved the colonies, the world? Because we helped bring peace to a chaotic political quagmire? They can call us heroes now, but we killed people, Duo. A lot of people. We wrought havoc and destroyed countless—”
“We atoned for that already, Quatre, and you know it,” said Duo sharply. “The Gundams are gone. We’ve paid our debt and signed the papers and we’re done. Look, we spent the first seventeen years of our lives fighting for other people’s happiness, and now it’s time that we fight for ours. The world owes us that much.”
Duo studied Quatre’s crossed arms and trembling lips, and slid closer. “Don’t go back there, Quatre,” he pleaded. “We’ve spent enough time using the past as a club to beat ourselves over the head with. It’s time to move on, leave all that blood and bitterness where it belongs. Trust me on this. I used to carry my past around with me like a cross—and for what? Because I was afraid of forgetting all the people who used to love me, afraid that I would never find anyone like that ever again. I used to think you only had one chance to get your life right and if you missed, well, tough luck. But I was wrong, Quatre. Things fuck up all the time. That’s life. You can be the greatest, most wonderful guy in the world and still have shit blow up in your face for no reason. When that happens, you’ve got two choices: you can push on through and keep fighting, or you can shut down and spend the rest of your life alone and unhappy. I have been down that last road, buddy, and lemme tell you, I’d rather go through all that misery again, losing Solo and Father Maxwell and Sister Helen, watching my Gundam get blown outta the sky, than go through life thinking that love is meaningless.”
He let out a long sigh and leaned back, joining Quatre’s thousand-yard stare at the ceiling.
“It’s easy to make friends and start relationships,” he went on, “but keeping them from falling apart is tough. It takes time and energy and tears and it makes you wanna commit murder sometimes, but it’s . . . it’s so much better than being alone. Even the worst times I had with Heero were better than the best times without him.”
Quatre turned his head. “Because you love him.”
Duo set his jaw and swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “Yeah. And I think I always will.”
Tears flooded Quatre’s eyes and he suddenly leaned over, pulling Duo into a fierce hug, all hair and hot breath and awkward limbs twisting to find a better hold. Duo reciprocated and they became a knot of flesh, two ventricles of the same heart, bleeding out the pain which had made it so sore and tired.
Quatre held Duo’s hot, clammy face against his neck, catching the faint scent of shampoo in his hair and beer on his breath. They both had so much to give, he thought, so much love and affection, and no one who would accept it. They were hemorrhaging, bleeding internally from wounds that no one could see. Everything looked fine on the outside but inside they were drowning in the one thing that was supposed to keep them alive. It was a horrible way to die—and an even more horrible way to live.
“I love you,” Quatre murmured, and he felt Duo begin to tremble against him. So he repeated it. And repeated it. And repeated it again.
He said it because it was true—he did love Duo. But he also said it because he knew how it felt to be waiting for those same words to be spoken to him.
After what could have been minutes or a millennia, Duo pulled away and sniffed, his eyes shimmering. “Quatre,” he said, voice cracking. “You’re so . . . sweet and—”
“Shh.” Quatre smiled and laid his hand against Duo’s cheek. Duo reached up and grasped it, soaking up the kind words, relishing the gentle touch.
Then he leaned in and pressed his lips to Quatre’s.
Fireworks went off in Quatre’s chest—cold shock, heart hammering, electricity racing up and down his spine—then he found himself sliding an arm around Duo’s shoulders, under his warm braid, and leaning into the kiss with breathless, dizzying intensity. Lips parted and he felt the caress of Duo’s tongue, tender but earnest, and another thrill jolted through Quatre’s nervous system. This was something he could get used to. This was . . . oh, this was so nice. So delicious. So good.
Duo snaked both arms around Quatre and squeezed him, cradled him. Guided him slowly down.
Something stirred deep in Quatre’s subconscious when he felt the cushions against his back, but he ignored it and surrendered to the sensation of Duo’s body against him, the mouth that left his lips and began to kiss his neck. It felt so satisfying to be wanted, to be held, to have the attention he so craved. Even if . . .
His face flashed through Quatre’s mind. Sensitive green eyes, dark with pain. A sorrowful expression, a quiet, gentle voice full of hurt and confusion. How could he do that to him? After waiting so long, how . . .
“Duo,” Quatre begged, grasping his shoulders.
“Oh, Quatre,” Duo uttered, catching his lips in another slow, sensual kiss that made every hair on Quatre’s body rise up. He pulled away and looked at him, his eyes hot and dark and almost vividly violet. Had those eyes ever looked at Heero that way? Had he ever realized just how much love Duo was capable of giving him, love which he was about to give to another?
It was the most difficult thing he had ever done in his life, but Quatre forced himself to say it: “Duo, please. I . . . can’t.”
The world froze for a second. He heard Duo’s jaw snap shut as a bewildered look came to his eyes. The blazing intensity in them went out. Then came the horror.
“Oh. Oh my God, Quatre, I’m so sorry. I didn’t . . .” He hastily sat up, leaving Quatre sprawled beneath him. “I didn’t mean to—I, I don’t usually get my signals crossed. I thought—”
“No, no,” insisted Quatre, propping himself up. “It was my fault. I shouldn’t have . . . encouraged you. It just, it felt so good.”
“Yeah . . . No. No, I shoulda known. I shoulda been paying attention, but I was so. I was . . .”
“Lonely. I know. Me, too.”
Duo collapsed on the other end of the couch and put his hands to his head. “God, I hope I didn’t just fuck things up between us. That is the last thing I need. Shit. If I wasn’t thinkin with my dick I—”
“Calm down, Duo. It’s okay,” said Quatre, crawling over to put a soothing hand on his shoulder. “We’re still friends. Closer than ever, in fact; I think we just went from ‘best’ to ‘boss’, so if anyone asks, just tell them we leveled up and leave it at that.”
Duo grinned, though it was mostly for Quatre’s benefit. “I’m sorry, man,” he said, dropping his arms. “I know you’re saving yourself for Trowa. I shouldn’t have tried to muscle in on that. I guess a part of me was hoping for . . . a connection. Something.”
“Duo, I can’t give you the connection you want. Only Heero can do that.”
“I know. Fuck. I know and I still did it! That’s what’s so reprehensible.” He clapped his hands over his eyes. “God, I can’t believe I could be so stupid. What the hell is wrong with me? You must think I’m some kinda desperate perv or—”
Quatre reached over and grabbed Duo’s wrists, pulling them away from his face. “Duo. You’re my best friend and I love you. You’re a wonderful, funny, charming, witty guy and . . . and a really good kisser.” He laughed. “My heart’s still pounding! Look, there’s nothing wrong with you. We both made a mistake and it’s, it’s like you said, we can either sit down and cry about it or smile and move on. So let’s start smiling again, okay?”
Duo honored the request, but it was forced and tense. He gave Quatre a long, affectionate gaze, looking beyond the dark turquoise eyes and into the shimmering, sympathetic soul that lay beneath. “God,” he whispered. “If I had any brains, I’da been chasin after you all this time.”
Quatre shook his head gently. “You would have had your heart broken.”
“Yeah, I know, but . . .” Duo helplessly shrugged one shoulder. “Mighta been worth it.”
Quatre gave his hand a reassuring pat. “No, that mission belongs to Heero. Besides, I don’t handle guilt very well.”
Duo laughed. “Yeah, I guess it’s only fitting . . . if I can ever figure out a way to let him know my heart is his to break.”
“Have you tried just telling him?”
“Nah, I need a more direct method. Like a cat-6 cable hardwired to his brain.”
“I’m serious, Duo.”
“So am I. There’s no such thing as ‘just communication’ with Heero. He’s got a programmed response for every occasion and he makes everything sound so rational and reasonable that I can’t . . . I can barely make an opening statement before he’s blowin my whole argument outta the water. It’s like trying to win a game of chess against the guy who invented it. No match, no contest. I guess that’s why we gave up talking and just.” Duo bit off the end of his sentence.
“Just what?” asked Quatre, not sure he really wanted to hear it.
“Just . . . y’know. Do it.”
“Oh.” Quatre blushed and rubbed the back of his neck.
Duo shook his head guiltily. “Yeah, I know, it’s like the unhealthiest relationship—hell, who’m I kiddin, it’s not even that—the most dysfunctional hookup ever and it ain’t doin’ either of us any good, but I. I just can’t say no, Quatre. This is the only way I can get even remotely close to him. Heero, he . . . he understands but he doesn’t comprehend.”
“I know, that made zero sense. Let me think a sec. See, this is why me talkin to Heero is such a monumental effort.” Duo pursed his lips and searched his memory banks for an alternate explanation. “Okay. Heero understands that I’ve got a physical need, an attraction to him. Follow?”
“He sees my need and he responds to it. I don’t even know why or if he really wants to. Does he care about me? Maybe, but I’m not sure. Is he just tryin to keep me around because one day my expertise might be useful to him? I don’t know. He doesn’t give me a clue. He’s a total blank, like an automaton. All action, no heart.”
A light came on behind Quatre’s eyes. “How ironic. And here I’ve got Trowa who is all heart and no action.”
Duo snarled and kicked the air uselessly. “Sonsabitches. I could just kill ‘em both.”
“Well, before you unleash the God of Death, let’s see if we can resolve this peacefully first.”
“Yeah. Then we’ll kill ‘em.”
“Yes, in cold blood.”
“With hammers and nail bats.”
“Whatever you say, Duo.”
“Thanks. Okay, now, peace negotiations?”
Quatre thought for a few moments. Duo waited with patient hope.
“Heero understands action,” he said finally, almost to himself. “His thought processes are all about assessment and implementation. He thinks and then he does, and he doesn’t spend much time waiting between the two—he doesn’t like it. He’ll wait if it’s necessary, if he knows it’ll bring about a desired result, but it’s always a result that is calculated and expected.”
Duo stared. “Are you psychic? It’s like you’re hacking into his brain. How are you doing this?”
“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction,” Quatre continued, trying to keep his train of thought on the tracks. “Heero approaches a problem with the expectation of a result—or results. He thinks in mathematics. He can work with multiple variables and solve for each one. Quickly. That’s why he’s so hard to debate with, Duo. He inputs the problem, comes up with several solutions, all precisely calculated and correct, and fires them one after another until you retreat.”
“That bastard,” Duo muttered, slapping his fist. “He’s treating me like a goddamn tactical exercise. He’s using combat maneuvers!”
“Amazing,” said Quatre distantly. “Mathematical evaluation with military execution. He’s still the Perfect Soldier.”
“He’s a perfect asshole. Verbally annihilating me, then shutting me up with sex because he knows that’s what I want. That sociopathic motherfucker!” Duo performed another futile attack against the air for a few moments before finally settling down, looking completely deflated. “Quatre, just shoot me now,” he moaned. “Anyone pathetic enough to love someone this evil needs to be euthanized.”
“Put down the poison, Romeo. Maybe this is the only way Heero thinks he can communicate with you. He’s come a long way, but he still has a few things to learn about the dynamics of the human heart. It’s so capricious, full of so many illogical, inexplicable possibilities . . . maybe that’s what disturbs him. Maybe he’s finally faced with an equation so complex and with so many variables that he couldn’t possibly get an accurate solution for them all. So instead of opening himself up to vulnerability—and we both know how much he likes to be secure—he overrides the whole issue by offering a solution he knows you’ll accept.”
“Damn.” Duo wilted, looking utterly exhausted. “And I’ve been lettin him get away with it. I’m so desperate to get close to him that I’ll take whatever I can get and leave it at that. God. Why in the hell did I have to fall in love with someone who’s so fuckin complex?”
“Look, I’m probably not completely right about all of this—it’s just conjecture.”
“Well it sounds pretty spot-on to me.”
Quatre joined Duo shoulder-to-shoulder, slumped on the couch. “So what’ll you do?”
“I dunno. Maybe hit him with something he doesn’t expect.”
“A paternity suit.”
Quatre chuckled. “I don’t think he’ll be convinced.”
They were quiet a while, lost in mutual thought. Then Duo spoke, softly and decisively: “Maybe someday I’ll just say no. If I can ever find the courage.”
“You afraid you’ll lose him forever?”
“I don’t think that’ll happen. Heero is a classic introvert. If he didn’t want you in his life, you’d have been out of it years ago. But you’re still in it. There’s gotta be a reason why.”
“Yeah. And I’ve gotta find it out.”
Duo heaved a sigh and turned his head to Quatre. “I say we give these losers of ours two years to get their shit together, and if they don’t, you and I run off and get married.”
“Only if we can honeymoon in Paris.”
“Fine with me. I love French food.” Duo paused, grinning slyly. “Whadda ya think it’d be like, you and me?”
“Stardust and rainbows,” said Quatre, smirking.
Duo chuckled, then sighed.
Quatre nudged him. “We really need to see each other more often. What are you doing a month from now?”
“Oh, the usual. Sittin on my junkpile, tryin to hatch a Gundam. DJing my station. Calming hysterical clients who crash their servers or need to hide their porn addictions.”
“Let’s get together. On L2. You can show me how you run your radio station.”
“Sure, I’ll even let ya spin a few records. Or you can bring your violin and we’ll do a live show. Then we can grab lunch, there’s this great Thai place about ten minutes from my house, best pad priew wan you’ve ever tasted—”
Quatre smiled and leaned his head on Duo’s shoulder. They sat on the couch and listened to the radio, one talking breathlessly, the other listening patiently—and both glad for each other’s company.
All Roads Lead Rated: T (Ghost Rider) The Prince of Hell is left for dead on a desolate desert highway. Johnny Blaze is the man who finds him, and takes it upon himself to cure...
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