"Words from the Heart"
"You could freeze water in here," Duo observed under his breath.
Quatre made a small noise of despair, his wide eyes wandering from one pilot to the other. "What on earth could have happened?" he whispered desperately. "They were never the most friendly people before, but now you can cut the tension in the air between them with a knife."
"I have no idea," Duo murmured honestly, studying Trowa keenly where the other boy was stoically doing pull-ups across the room. "What's your space heart thingy telling you about these three dead-heads?"
Quatre placed his hand on his chest, his eyes closed. His face was creased with pain and sympathy. "Confusion," he said after a moment. "Anger, resentment. Pain.. guilt." His eyes fluttered open, his mouth curving slightly in a little frown of puzzlement. "Want," he added uncertainly. Duo's brows arched at that, and he looked more sharply at Trowa, then towards the other two pilots. Wufei was meditating in the corner while Heero sat at the other end of the long table he and Quatre were sitting at, oiling his gun grimly.
Quatre, watching his friend, could see the small light of suspicion in the thief's eyes. "What is it?" he demanded quietly. "You have an idea what's going on, don't you?"
"I don't want to say anything just yet," Duo said slowly, watching Heero with a thoughtful expression. When he looked back at Quatre, the blond could see the shadow of pity on his friend's face. "I'll only make things worse by jumping to conclusions," he explained. "Let me wait a while first, and see if I'm right before I say anything."
Quatre wanted to wheedle the answer out of Duo-- he'd learned recently that Duo had a strange weakness to begging of any sort... or from Quatre, anyway. He wanted to know what it was Duo was thinking, but he knew the other boy was right. Besides, Duo could be stubborn. If he really didn't want to answer, he would shut up tight like a clam and refuse to speak until the subject was changed.
Quatre sighed and reached in between them to draw a card from the deck. He slid it into his hand of cards, glancing at it distractedly. He was losing miserably, his mind elsewhere. Duo, who found it easy to split his mind several different ways, was kicking his ass. Quatre struggled to focus, thinking with amusement that he was going to owe Duo quite a bit of cash if he didn't get back in the game. It would help if he was a better player; Duo had only taught him the game a few hours ago.
Quatre flicked one last sad look towards the other three boys and sighed again. "And just when I thought we were finally becoming a team," he said under his breath.
Duo glanced up at him and said nothing.
An hour later, Quatre stepped from his quick shower and padded across his small room to where his flight suit was laid out on his bed. He wrapped a towel around his waist, running his fingers through his wet hair to air-dry it. He'd been feeling tense all day, and not just from the obvious tension between the three most stoic of the pilots. The battles had been getting more and more desperate; he instinctively sensed that the final fight was not far away. He wanted to be ready for it, but he had an awful feeling that it was going to be difficult to pull them all together now that three of the five pilots were so obviously distracted by something.
There was a knock on the door, and Quatre called for the person to enter absently, checking to make sure his towel was wrapped decently.
Duo poked his head in, grinning. "You got a sec?"
"Oh- yes," Quatre said, smiling at his friend. He was happy to see a friendly face in the midst of his dark musings. "I just have to get dressed.." he faltered when Duo nodded and slipped inside. "Uh.."
"Hey, we're both guys, right?" Duo scoffed, wandering over to the mirror. He licked his thumb and rubbed at a smudge of sauce on his chin.
Quatre hesitated, then pushed aside his shyness with an internal reprimand. Duo was right, they were both guys. It shouldn't matter. He unwrapped his towel from his waist and scrubbed at his wet golden locks vigorously to dry them. That done, he quickly dried himself off and picked up his flight suit. "Have the others cooled down any since lunch?" he asked over his shoulder, slipping his feet into the one-piece suit and pulling it up his legs.
"Don't think so," Duo said absently, his voice a little muffled from where he was rubbing determinedly at the sauce. "They won't even look at each other, and Trowa looks like a lost puppy or something when I peek in at him. He's sitting by a window, just staring outside. I have no idea where 'Fei is-- prob'ly meditating. Heero was doing five gazillion push-ups in the hangar last time I checked."
Quatre sighed quietly, wriggling to get the tight-fitting suit to fit over his butt and hips. "I wish I knew what was wrong with them."
"Who knows? Maybe this is just the way they deal with stress," Duo said carelessly. "I mean, we could be dead in a couple days. Zechs-- I mean Milliardo --is really hitting us hard."
Quatre hesitated with half the suit still by his waist. Dead in a couple days. He shuddered slightly at the morbid words, but he knew Duo was right.
He almost jumped out of his skin when a hesitant hand fell on his shoulder. He twisted his head, and almost bumped noses with the braided boy directly behind him. Heart jumping up a notch, he quickly turned his head back around. He felt nervous and jumpy, and confused as to why he felt that way in the first place. "Duo..?"
He could feel the other boy's breath tickle his ear, and shivered. "Sorry. Does this make you uncomfortable?"
"...No," Quatre whispered, staring helplessly at where his fists still clasped the front of his suit, bunched by his navel.
Duo's arms slid around him in a tight hug, and he felt the other boy's head bump lightly against the back of his skull. Duo's sigh fell on his neck. "Sorry," he mumbled. "Guess I just now really thought about it, in the past couple of days. Dying, I mean. I didn't really care so much, before, as long as I could bring a lot of them with me."
Quatre couldn't seem to move. He found he had to concentrate on his breathing. Duo's arms around him were warm and comforting, but at the same time made his heart pound. "And now?" he asked quietly.
Duo didn't answer for a long moment. "Now," he muttered, "I don't think I want to die anymore."
"I... guess I like someone."
Quatre felt his heart give an unexplainable leap, then crushed it with reality. "Hilde," he guessed, surprised at the forced casualness of his own voice.
Duo gave a short, amused laugh, and his breath on the back of his neck made Quatre shiver again. "That pushy chick? Nah. She's real cute, but she's not my type." His embrace tightened slightly, and his voice dropped to a whisper. "Damn, have I been too subtle?"
"Nothing." Duo pulled away. Quatre felt cold without the other boy's arms around him. Quatre turned to look at him, and saw Duo plaster on a hasty grin. "Better get dressed, Q-man," he said cheerfully, reaching out to ruffle the boy's hair. "See you in the fight."
Quatre couldn't think of anything to say, so he simply watched with wide, confused eyes as the braided pilot strode out, his braid disappearing with him around the door.
Quatre slowly pulled the flight suit up the rest of his body, sliding his arms through the sleeves. He zipped it up halfway and froze, staring at the wall.
Abruptly he turned and hurried out of the door. He stood frozen in the hall, watching Duo walk down towards his room. Closing his eyes, he reached out with his Kokoro no Uchu, desperate to discern what he hadn't been able to from Duo's vague words.
He could sense an almost overwhelming sense of grim determination that they were all feeling-- in preparation for the upcoming battle. There was also a little... self-annoyance? As if Duo was chanting "baka baka baka" to himself. A touch of regret, as well. And...
Quatre didn't let himself analyze the last feeling he could sense. He opened his eyes quickly and called out, "Duo!"
The slender pilot stopped, glancing over his shoulder with a quirked brow. "'Sup?"
Quatre hesitated, fighting an internal battle. He disliked jumping to conclusions, always worried he was wrong. But his instincts were railing against him, and so was his heart. He took a few steps down the hall, then he was running.
Duo gave a grunt of surprise as Quatre met him, throwing his arms around the startled Shinigami and hiding his face against the strong shoulder to hide his furious blush of embarrassment and fear.
"Quatre, what the-"
"Don't die," he croaked, the first words that popped into his head.
Duo's hands hesitated on his shoulders in the act of pushing him back. Quatre waited, holding his breath, as Duo remained silent.
Had his guess been wrong? Was he misreading his own feelings? He felt just as confused as he had earlier, but he only clung tighter to the other boy.
Duo's arms finally lowered, wrapping around him in a loose but warm embrace. "I won't say I won't die," he said quietly, "because I won't lie. But I'll try to stay alive. If you do."
Quatre nodded jerkily, his eyes stinging.
Duo put his hands back on Quatre's shoulders and pushed him back slightly so that he could see the blonde's flushed face.
This time when he pressed his mouth to Quatre's, it was just as soft as the quick playful pecks he'd given him before, but it lasted longer, and it made Quatre's Kokoro no Uchu sing.
Inside, he felt like crying.
The kiss felt like a goodbye.
Heero didn't bother to knock. He was not, however, foolish enough to actually cross the barrier into his reluctant ally's room. He pushed the door open and stood on the threshold, staring balefully at the boy sitting cross-legged on his cot, eyes closed in meditation.
"What do you want, Yuy?" Wufei mumbled, lips barely moving. There was a thread of warning to his tone.
"Tr- Barton's missing," Heero said shortly.
Wufei cracked open an eye to peer at him, his face still relaxed and void of emotion. "Go find him," he suggested snidely. He closed the eye again.
Heero leaned forward slightly so that his torso was in the room, propping himself on the doorframe with his hands. He forced himself to keep his voice slow but firm. He couldn't quite keep out the steely undertone. "He isn't on the ship, Chang. Have you seen him? Or do you have an idea where he's gone?"
"Since when does the all-powerful Heero Yuy care where any of us has gone?" Wufei demanded quietly, still not deigning to open his eyes. "You made him upset, Yuy. He's probably holed up somewhere to be alone."
"I made him--??" Heero started incredulously before cutting himself off impatiently. His grip on the steel doorframe tightened until his fingertips were white. "This is no time for anyone to be running off," he snapped. "We need all hands aboard for when Milliardo attacks-- which he will."
Finally Wufei opened his eyes, only to glare at the other boy. "Stop trying to make indents in my doorframe," he growled. "This isn't Maxwell we're talking about. It's not like he could have run off to blow something up just to relax. I told you, he's probably hidden in the cockpit of Heavyarms--"
"Heavyarms is gone."
Wufei was fully alert, now. He was uncoiled and up from the bed in a flash. "What?? Why didn't you say that to begin with?" he snarled. He stormed towards the door, making a chopping motion with his hand. "Move, Yuy."
Heero didn't budge. Wufei got right in his face, and they locked eyes in a fierce glaring contest. Ice against fire.
"You don't even know where he's gone," Heero pointed out coolly. "Are you just going to fly all over the place looking for him-- and give our position away?"
"Who do you think I am?" Wufei growled, his pride pricked. "Don't be an ass, Yuy. Get the hell out of my way, or I'll break what I have to in order to make you move."
Heero went tense in preparation for a fight, his eyes narrowing further.
Before he could speak, someone cleared their throat from the hallway. Duo appeared just over Heero's shoulder, eyebrows arched. "Am I interrupting something?" he asked innocently.
Heero turned his head slightly to aim his deadly glare at the braided pilot. "Stay out of it, D--"
It was only a brief second of distraction, but it was all Wufei needed. He slammed a fist into the other boy's stomach. Heero was caught off guard. He doubled over, the breath driven from his lungs at the strong blow. Ignoring Duo's yelp of surprise, Wufei seized a fistful of Heero's hair with his free hand and wrenched him aside so that he stumbled out of the way.
"Oi oi!" Duo said quickly, flapping his hands frantically, wide eyes flicking from one warrior to the other. "Jesus, chill out, you two! What the hell's the matter with you??" Wufei ignored him, stepping imperiously past Heero. Before he could get more than two steps into the hall, a wiry arm looped itself around his neck. With anyone else, Wufei would have been able to escape fairly easily. His reactions were incredibly fast-- but Heero's were faster, now that he had his wind back. As soon as the arm came into his field of vision, Wufei twisted, half-ducking. He would slip free, drive a palm up into Heero's jaw, send him stumbling back--
It didn't quite work out that way. He'd only just started to twist around when the arm tightened around his neck like a noose. He slammed a heel down to smash the other pilot's foot, bringing up a fist to catch Heero in the face. Heero snatched his foot out of the way and caught the flying fist with his free hand in a crushing grip that threatened to grind the bones in his hand. Wufei bit back a startled noise of pain and instead let loose a stream of furious threats and swear words in his native tongue.
In his half-completed turn, he'd ended up almost cheek to cheek with Heero. Struggling wasn't helping any, so he stopped swearing long enough to calm his furious breathing. Duo was still standing nearby, mouth open from the fantastic show of speed and strength. It had lasted only seconds.
"Heero," he finally said weakly, "I have to get back to the engine room to help Howard... If I leave now, do you two promise not to kill each other?"
Both pilots sent him such a furious glare that he actually retreated a step, hands in the air. "OK, OK, I get it. Just don't make it messy. I'm sure as hell not gonna mop your blood off the floor." Muttering about insane partners, the braided boy turned and strolled off.
When he was gone, Wufei tested the grip. "Let go of me, Yuy," he growled.
"Not until you control your temper," Heero said shortly, his voice cold.
Instead of cooling, Wufei's temper only sparked in frustrated fury. He turned his head just enough to glare right into Heero's steely eyes. "Damn it, Yuy!" he practically shouted. "He's yours, all right?? It's you he wants anyway. So stop taking your jealousy out on me!"
Heero's eyes widened, caught off guard by the verbal attack. "Wh-"
"Go find him, then," Wufei hissed, struggling furiously to pull away. He only just managed to keep himself from head-butting the blank-faced soldier. "No one's stopping you. Just stay- the hell- away- from me!!"
Heero's eyes began to narrow again. "I wasn't jealous," he said fiercely. As if Heero Yuy understood what jealousy was, Wufei reminded himself bitterly. "And Trowa isn't 'mine'-- he isn't anyone's. You're the one overreacting, Chang. You've been prickly ever since--"
"How do you expect me to act??" Wufei shot back angrily. "You accused me of something I would never do! You actually thought I would be so petty as to take advantage of someone with that condition? You- you-" He was beginning to sputter in his indignant rage. "Go to hell, Yuy!"
The arm around his neck shifted, a hard hand cupping the back of his head in a relentless hold. Before Wufei could think of how to use the change of position to his advantage, Heero tilted his head and crushed his mouth against Wufei's.
Wufei was too stunned to think of yanking away-- or even biting the lips smothering his own. When Heero pulled back a few moments later, he could only stare dumbly at the other boy.
Heero still looked angry, but mostly he looked frustrated-- almost lost. "I told you," he growled so quietly Wufei had to strain to hear him over his thundering heart. "Why should I choose?"
Wufei couldn't seem to make his voice work. He was still running to catch up with sense and order. What the hell just happened??
"If anyone's resentful of this, I think it's you," his partner pointed out in typical blunt Heero Yuy fashion. "You thought I was going to take Trowa-- but I said, he doesn't belong to anyone."
That, Wufei thought dazedly, is probably Yuy's once-a-year moment of psychological clarity. Except he was off just a little. Only Wufei hadn't realized it until just this minute. He had to bite his tongue to keep the denial off his lips, which were still tingling from the hard kiss.
Yes. He'd thought Heero's outburst that day had been one of jealousy. He'd thought Heero had come to take Trowa from him. Just when he was starting to realize what it was he wanted. But he'd also thought.. that meant losing Heero, too...
He felt his face heat up in humiliation at the thought. Idiot idiot! he scolded himself frantically. What was he thinking? Trowa wasn't for him, and neither was Heero Yuy. One kiss in a bedroom... or one make-out session in a ship hangar, it didn't matter. Those had been spur-of-the-moment occurrences. A one-time thing. To think past that was foolishness and presuming of him. He didn't..
Heero frowned at the rush of conflicting emotions that passed over Wufei's face. "Wufei?"
"Don't call me that," was all Wufei could think to say. His voice sounded hoarse to his own ears. Don't need...
Heero blinked, but before he could speak, Wufei gave a vicious wrench, freeing himself of the loosened grasp. Heero didn't try to grab him again. He let his hands fall to his sides, watching Wufei warily.
"I don't- need- anyone," Wufei snarled furiously, fists clenched as he glared at the other pilot. "Just stay away from me, Yuy!!" And turning his back, he stalked off.
He had to fight with his body not to run, and not to look back. It was harder than he liked to admit, even to himself.
But this time Heero didn't let him escape. He caught up to Wufei in a few quick strides and seized his wrist, jerking him to a halt. Wufei whirled-- to yell or strike, he wasn't sure. But he pulled up short at the furious look on Heero's face. That look had cowed bigger men, and Wufei was not foolish or suicidal enough to start a rant when confronted by such deadly eyes.
"You're worse than a woman." Wufei had never known Heero to be one to be malicious. But he was proving to be very good at it. He knew the way Wufei ticked, and he threw the insult in Wufei's face, knowing he was striking a nerve.
Wufei stubbornly refused to give the other pilot the satisfaction of an explosive response. He reigned in his temper with difficulty and spoke through gritted teeth. "Remove your hand from me, Yuy, before I remove it from your arm."
Heero shook him. He was only holding him by the wrist, but he was strong enough and Wufei was rigid enough so that his whole body shook at the jerking movement. Heero's eyes were burning, and Wufei's instincts were screaming at him to run before he was killed. The sight of all that anger focused on him gave Wufei pause.
"Nobody needs anybody," Heero said bitingly. Then he startled Wufei by adding after a moment, "That's what I was taught to believe. I can fight by myself, I can defeat my own enemies. You don't want anybody's help. Fine. But there are some things you can't do alone."
Wufei stared at him numbly, trying to ignore the painful grip on his wrist. He knew the admittance had to be hard for Heero, and that only confused him more. It was strange that Heero Yuy, of all people, should feel this way. Stranger yet that he was sharing it with Wufei. But Heero wasn't done yet.
"Quatre once told me that we had to work together to win this. He said that people need each other. I don't know how much of that I believe. But I know one thing he was right about." He hesitated, as if he had to force the words out. Admitting them to Wufei even as he admitted them to himself. "I can't win this war by myself. And neither can you. None of us can. I'll let Quatre make the speeches about teamwork, but that's what it comes down to. We need help to fight this war. Even if we don't want it. I don't have the right to walk away from this war." He shook Wufei again, furious all over again. "And you don't have the right to tell me what to do."
Wufei managed to wrench his wrist free at last. "I'm n-"
"I won't choose," Heero said in an intense voice, glaring at Wufei from inches away. "I shouldn't have to. And neither should you." He turned on his heel abruptly and started to march off.
Wufei allowed himself to rub his aching wrist once the other boy's back was turned, scowling weakly at the floor. Instead of making things clearer, Heero's words only made him more confused, flustered, and lost. Habitual resentment and rebellion rose up in him at the lesson Heero had been so crass as to try to pound into him, but he forced it back and swallowed the lump of shameful fear in his throat. "Heero," he called, so quietly he wasn't sure the other pilot would hear him.
But he did. He turned to look at Wufei over his shoulder, his face set in unreadable lines.
Wufei dragged his eyes from the ground and met the steady gaze. "Find Trowa," he said at last, subdued. "..Bring him back."
Heero didn't move for several moments. Finally he nodded once, and hurried down the hall. Wufei watched him go for a little while, then turned away. When he left the hallway, he left his doubts and his confusion behind him.
Maybe later, if he lived through this, he would think more on Heero's words.
But not now. Now was not the time. Later... later they would talk, all three of them.
For now, there was a war to fight.
By the time he reached the war room, his chest felt lighter already, as if a heavy weight had been lifted from it.
"I don't agree with what you're doing," Catherine said quietly, staring mournfully at her hands, clasped tightly in her lap. "Not really. I hate war. I hate it. It took my family from me. It means you're out there hurting people. It means you could get hurt." She looked up at last, hesitantly. "But," she admitted, subdued, "because of what you did before, you saved all of us on this colony."
Trowa didn't respond. He scraped the last of his porridge from the bowl Catherine had given him and ate it in silence, not looking at her. He couldn't bring himself to raise his eyes. Because she didn't need to speak those words for him to know. He knew her feelings on war. He knew what she must think of him, being a terrorist. And yet she was still his friend. He felt unworthy of it, and was unwilling just yet to say anything that might shatter that precious friendship.
"Won't you stay?" Catherine blurted at last, her eyes full of desperate tears. "These people you fight with don't need you to help them. You can just come back here-- stay with us! It will all be over soon..."
Trowa paused in the act of placing his bowl on the crate between them acting as a makeshift table. Her words stung him a little, even if they weren't meant to.
Didn't they? Did they really not need his help? Wouldn't it be better if he wasn't there, fighting with them? And even aside from the war, it was his fault that there was tension now between Wufei and Heero. He shouldn't have let Wufei kiss him... For that matter, he never should have let Heero kiss him, either. But at the time, it had felt right. He had wanted it... wanted them.
But now, because of his selfishness, he'd carved a rift in the vital partnership between the pilots.
He finally looked up, meeting Catherine's wet, hopeful eyes. Maybe it was better this way. Eating dinner with Catherine, surrounded by the achingly familiar noise of a circus and its animals. It could be like this everyday. No more fighting. No more confusion or pain. No more war.
Only his fighting would not make it so, and he knew it. No matter how much he wished otherwise, it was a cold, hard truth: whether he chose to fight or not, the war would go on without him. People would die. He could choose to stay here, to hide. To cast that life over his shoulder and never look back. The enemy wouldn't care; the war would keep raging. It would make no difference.
Except that if he did fight... he would have the slim chance to do something about it. To maybe save that one life. That helpless colony. To take out one more mobile suit bent on doing destruction. It wasn't much, maybe... but in the end, wasn't it better than doing nothing at all?
The hope in Catherine's eyes faded into desperate despair as she saw the sudden determination on her adopted brother's face. "No, Trowa," she begged, reaching out to clasp his unresponsive hand. "Don't... You'll be killed!"
He gazed at her, and his expression softened just a bit. She was only worried for him. She had been as good as a sister to him, and now he was about to leave her-- probably to die. He offered the faintest hint of a smile. "I won't," he murmured. She started to look hopeful, until he reiterated, "I won't die." Her face fell. It was a lie... but sometimes comforting lies were necessary.
He pulled his hand free from her loosened grasp and rose to his feet. Catherine jumped up, tears spilling down her cheeks, fists clenched. "No! You can't!" she cried. "I won't lose you again!"
"Find a bomb shelter," Trowa interrupted gently. "Stay hidden. It will be over soon."
She shook her head fiercely, still sobbing quietly. Abruptly her eyes darted away from him to look over his shoulder. She looked surprised, then suddenly furious.
Trowa tensed, glancing over his shoulder at the man stepping out from behind a stack of crates.
"You!" Catherine gasped. "Go away! Leave Trowa alone!"
The hard-eyed soldier didn't even glance her way. He was gazing steadily at Trowa, not saying a word. Trowa found himself unable to tear his eyes away, his heart speeding up a notch. Was Heero still angry? Why was he here?
"How did you find me?" he finally asked.
Heero's eyes flicked towards Catherine once. "It was a little obvious," he said bluntly. "You were upset. So I thought you'd came here." His eyes roved briefly, taking in the familiar sights of the colorful tents and the lion cages. "I was right."
Catherine hurried around the crate and put herself in between the two soldiers, arms spread out like a living shield as she glared furiously at Heero. "Get out of here!" she shouted. "He isn't going to fight in your stupid war any longer!"
"Catherine.." Trowa murmured.
She ignored him. "Go on, leave!" she shot at Heero.
"Catherine, what's going on here?" A lean man came wandering up, casting a curious look towards Trowa. "Oh, Trowa, you're back!" He sent Heero a suspicious glare. "Who's this? Is this guy bothering you?"
Trowa looked towards him. He recognized the man as one of the jugglers. He didn't know the man too well, but then, he'd done his best to avoid most of the troupe. His name was Oliver, if he remembered correctly.
"Yes," Catherine answered him quickly. "This man has come to kidnap Trowa!"
"What?" The man halted by the lion cage, ignoring its snarling. "Hey, kid, beat it," he ordered firmly.
"He's not a 'kid'," Catherine said venomously, glaring at the silent Wing pilot. "This scum is a terrorist."
Oliver's eyes widened for a moment, then narrowed dangerously. "You filthy son of a.." He reached out and seized the bolt on the cage door.
"No-" Trowa started sharply.
Oliver wrenched the bolt aside with a screech of rusty metal and hauled on the door so that it swung open. "Fortunately for us, these lions know their masters," Oliver called over the lion's growl as it stepped from the cage. "Unfortunately for you, my friend, they don't like strangers!"
"Oh," Catherine gasped, caught off guard. She scuttled backwards frightfully. Trowa remained where he was, staring hard at Heero. Silently urging him to remember the days he had spent recovering in the circus after his self destruction.
Heero retreated a wary step, his eyes flicking from the approaching lion to Oliver's smirking face. He looked tensed to run or dodge, but otherwise unafraid. The lion growled warningly as it advanced.
"I'm not a stranger," Heero said simply. When Oliver only stared at him, he looked back towards the enormous lion. "Prince," he remembered abruptly.
"What-" Oliver looked startled, then sneered. "Whatever, so you know old puss's name. That doesn't mean he's gonna like you!"
Heero didn't budge as the lion got closer, still grumbling low in its throat, glaring up at him dangerously.
"Oliver!" Catherine protested helplessly.
Prince was directly before Heero now, and he let loose an earth-shattering roar that made Catherine squeal in fear and Oliver flinch. Trowa still remained where he was.
Heero kept his gaze locked with the irritated lion and slowly.. slowly.. dropped to one knee so that they were face to face.
The great cat hesitated, obviously unsure what to do when presented with such a fearless man, though he continued to growl warningly. His nostrils flared as he scented the air, took in Heero's own scent.
A scent Trowa trusted the lion would find familiar.
Cat and boy were frozen for several tense moments, eyes locked in a stare-down. Then, at last, Prince moved.
His growl subdued into a more rumbling sort that was barely audible, and he turned his back dismissively on Heero. Oliver gaped, stupefied.
"Prince," Trowa called softly, holding out his hand.
Spotting his beloved master, the lion padded over and butted his head against the hand, demanding pets as a purr loud as a motor poured from his throat.
Slowly Heero rose to his feet, glancing towards Oliver, whose mouth was still hanging open.
"He was here before," Catherine said quietly, looking shaken. "Right before you joined, Oliver. He stayed with us a few weeks."
Trowa gave the purring lion one last scratch under the chin, then stepped around him and walked towards Heero.
"T-Trowa!" Catherine protested, taking a quick step forward.
Startled by the sudden move, Prince turned on her with a snarl. She froze immediately.
Trowa glanced over his shoulder at them. "Put Prince back in his cage," he said softly. "Goodbye, Catherine."
Trowa didn't look back again. He continued to walk, right out of the encampment and down the road. Heero followed without a word, leaving the circus behind.
Trowa stopped in the shadow of a bullet-ridden wall-- all that remained of a building. Heero stood behind him, watching him silently and waiting for the other pilot to speak. He already suspected what Trowa wanted to say to him, and he was right. The subject was on both their minds.
"I don't know what you personally were expecting after what happened on earth," the normally stoic acrobat said quietly, gazing up at the fake sky overhead. "Or if you were expecting anything at all. But I'm sorry if I hurt you when you walked in on... on Wufei and I."
"Iie," Heero said just as quietly.
Trowa was silent for a few moments, then gave a small sigh. "I know about the hangar-- what happened between you and Wufei. Wufei didn't tell me; I figured it out myself after something Sally Po said." He glanced over his shoulder at Heero, his face solemn. "Don't feel obligated to me, Heero. I do fine on my own, and I wasn't expecting anything from you. I don't want to be the reason for the fracturing of the team. I know you have a conscience, even if it is a confused one. Don't let it stand in your way. I won't stand in yours.
Trowa paused, a little taken off guard at the terse word.
Heero was glaring at him now in mingled frustration and impatience. "That's twice I've heard the same speech. I'm tired of hearing it."
"I don't need anyone. You can have him. I won't stand in your way," Heero quoted stonily, walking towards him in slow, deliberate steps. "Stop saying that. I don't expect anything. And whatever you choose to do is not my business. But both of you seem to be confused about why I did what I did. I'll tell you the same thing I told Wufei: I won't choose. You can decide for me, for all I care. Except both of you say the same stupid thing."
Trowa blinked, taking a step back instinctively under the onslaught.
Heero kept coming, narrowed eyes boring into him. "I wasn't looking for anything," he said sharply. "It happened. If something comes of it, then maybe it was supposed to. I don't look that far ahead. Neither do either of you, I assume."
"This is a war. We will probably be dead in a few days-- probably less," Heero continued relentlessly. He came to a halt right in front of the slender pilot. "I was told to follow my emotions. I don't really understand that. How can you follow something you can't understand or control? But I think this is what Odin meant. So stop trying to shove me off on each other. I won't choose." He shook his head once. "I don't want to," he added, a little more quietly, as if he was just now coming to that realization, and was maybe a little intimidated by it.
Trowa took in a quick breath, staring at him wordlessly.
"I don't see what's the point in thinking so much about it," Heero pointed out. "What happens happens. If we live through this, you two can argue about it all you want. But right now we have a war to fight. So are you coming, or staying?"
Trowa's eyes flicked over the stone face before him, feeling uneasy but somehow relieved at the same time. When Heero turned and marched towards where he'd landed his own Gundam beside Trowa's, the acrobat didn't hesitate before following.
And when the fight came at last, it was only by fighting together that the five pilots were able to beat back the enemy and seize victory. It was a victory that came at a price. Many dead littered the vastness of space. Milliardo had disappeared. Treize had fallen to Wufei. The five scientists who had created the Gundams were dead. And lingering animosities and distrust would likely remain in the hearts of the people for years to come.
But victory was theirs at last. Space and earth were free. And as he gazed at the weary but triumphant faces of his companions on Heavyarms' screen, Trowa began to feel free as well, for the first time in his life. And when a slow smile curved his lips, two pairs of eyes met his on the monitor and offered their own savage smiles.
Whatever was to come, Trowa would always remember that moment.
The moment he became truly free.
/END PART I\
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