~One Month Later~
Trowa looked up with a little start. The look on Catherine's face hinted that she'd been calling him repeatedly, and he flinched inwardly. He still wasn't used to the name she insisted on calling him-- the name of her long-lost brother. "Nani?" he asked quietly to forestall any complaints at his delayed reaction. He removed his hand from Prince's mane and rose a little stiffly to his feet. He'd been sitting in the lion cage longer than he'd thought, lost in thought and gazing up at the fake stars above through the steel bars.
Catherine put her hands on her hips and sighed, though she couldn't hold back the quirky, affectionate grin. "You missed dinner again. I saved you some. Come out of there and I'll heat up your plate."
He wasn't hungry, but he didn't feel like getting into an argument, either, so he merely said "Aa" and stepped out of the cage, shutting and locking it securely behind himself. He followed in silence as Catherine led him back to their trailer, chattering on about this and that-- Trowa wasn't really paying much attention. His mind was still lingering on his earlier musings.
She finally noticed his distance when they reached the trailer door, and paused to offer him a worried look. "Triton? Daijabou ka?"
He blinked and focused on her concerned face. "A-aa."
"You were doing it again," she accused as they stepped inside and she headed for the covered plate on the narrow counter.
He offered her a blank look when she looked up, and she heaved a little sigh. "You weren't here," she pointed out. "You were up there again." She jerked her chin towards the ceiling, indicating the sprawl of space looming just outside the colony.
Trowa tried to think of an answer or excuse that would satisfy her, and in the end chose to keep his mouth shut. She would have plenty to say, anyway. He seated himself at a stool by the counter and watched as she stuck the plate in the heater and flipped the switch.
"I'm not angry with you," Catherine said hastily, back turned as she fidgeted with a dishcloth, eyes on the heater. "I mean, you spent a long time in space, right? You said you used to work on equipment in space even before the war.." Close enough, though Trowa had no intention of telling her the exact details of his life as a young mercenary. "So I know you're used to that life. Alone, surrounded by stars and death. But Tro-- Triton, that life is over now." She turned to face him anxiously. "And it's not like we have to stay with the circus forever," she added quickly. "As soon as I have enough money, we can leave. We can start over, anywhere you like. Even earth."
Trowa gazed at her silently, hands flat on the table. He allowed himself a twinge of guilt. She was willing to do anything and give up anything to keep him with her, to give them both a chance at a "real" life. He felt a little like a betrayer, losing himself day after day in memories of the past. He'd hoped that this was what he'd really needed and wanted: family, security, and a new life with his sister. But instead of feeling at ease and content, his mind wandered constantly, and he found himself wondering more and more often how his old partners were doing. Wufei and Heero in particular. Had they been able to carry on a relationship without him? He certainly hoped so. He didn't need another dose of guilt. If by leaving he had somehow ruined things for them... but no, that was being presumptuous of him. The two of them had a spark; even without him, they would find it easy to let the past go and start again with each other. He didn't let himself remember that he had been the one that had found it easier to express affection, and that without that link the two of them were going to have a lot of problems.
He hadn't heard anything from them since he'd left, and though he'd been a little disappointed, he wasn't really surprised. Wufei was probably still mad at him, and Heero wasn't the type to really keep in contact. He'd returned the favor by leaving them alone. Still, he couldn't help wondering how they were doing.
The heater buzzed, bringing him back to the present, and he reached for a fork as Catherine took out the steaming plate and placed it before him. "What would you like to drink?" Catherine asked cheerfully. She always seemed happy at the smallest excuse to look after her younger brother. "Milk? Coffee?"
"I don't know if it's any good."
Trowa blinked a few times to dispel the memory, brought into surprising sharpness by the smell of the bitter drink. He glanced up at the steaming mug Catherine offered him and suddenly realized he wasn't in the least bit hungry. He rose to his feet. "No thank you," he murmured. "I'm going to use the bathroom while this cools off."
"Oh. Ok." Catherine looked a little startled by his abruptness. She put the coffee aside. "Milk, then?"
But he was already halfway out the door and didn't hear her.
He berated himself mentally as he wandered blindly in the direction of the latrine. Even when he could make himself stop thinking about the other two pilots by focusing his attention on something else, it seemed that fate was wickedly determined to force his mind that way anyway. Little, innocent things somehow brought out memories of the two in startling clarity, as if he was actually there, hearing the other's voice or watching the expression on the other boy's face. Not even the lion cage was safe; every time Prince growled in his sleep, Trowa remembered how Heero had fearlessly faced off the big cat when he'd come to fetch him back for the final battle. He no longer could stand the smell of coffee, remembering that first night with Wufei after the boy's failure to kill Treize. Watching Catherine argue furiously with Timothy, one of the animal handlers, as he tried unsuccessfully to wipe off his smug smirk at having riled her so, reminded him a little too much of the "fights" between Wufei and Heero.
He ran a hand fretfully through his long bangs and came to a sudden stop, taking a deep breath. It was ridiculous. They probably weren't thinking of him at all. They'd gone on with their lives. Why couldn't he? He had something neither of them had any longer-- a family. Heero had never known his, and any remaining relatives of Wufei's had been killed when L5 had been obliterated during the war. They had no family, but he did...
What was family? he wondered abruptly. Father, sister, brother, mother? What made them a family? He gazed up at the fake stars scattered over the colony's hull and allowed his mind to run absently down that track. Did "family" mean being blood-related? Or just living in the same home? Duo's idea of a "family", for instance, was probably wildly different from Quatre's. Quatre had grown up surrounded by a gaggle of older sisters and a stern but loving father. From what little Trowa had ever dug up on file on Duo's past, Duo had been an orphan for as long as he could remember, until he'd been given sanctuary at some church or other, the name of it long lost. Duo had probably considered the other orphans his adopted "brothers" and "sisters". The nuns in charge of him had been his "aunts" or "mothers". That had been his family. People he trusted and loved. People he was comfortable with and would do anything to protect.
Then who was Trowa's family?
Trowa's hand fell from his scalp and he turned sharply to look back at the light coming from the trailer he shared with his sister.
If "family" was really just a group of people one loved, trusted, and wanted to be with... if that was family, then what family did Trowa really belong to?
He knew the answer, deep inside, even if he'd never before examined it and given it that particular title. Catherine was his sister by blood, but she wasn't his real "family".
Family was the brother who had grinned cockily at him and told him only half jokingly not to worry, that he had the "God of Death" himself to watch his back, so he'd better not die.
Family was the brother who smiled at him so gently that-- if even for just an instant --the war seemed far away, and nothing was important but the notes from the instrument in his hands.
Family was the brother who seized his wrist, studied the scars, and made no judgments; who gave him his space without question when he recoiled.
Family was the brother who knew him so well he had noticed immediately when temporary amnesia was no longer an issue; who almost immediately afterwards had been willing to put his own future in the closet to offer Trowa the chance to be with someone they both wanted.
Trowa had had a family all along; he'd just never noticed. He'd taken it for granted, never giving much thought to what they had all found in each other. For the first time in a month, Trowa felt the beginnings of a real smile pull at the corners of his mouth.
Because for the first time in his entire life, Trowa felt like he knew exactly where he belonged. And it wasn't in the middle of a bustling circus, surrounded by animals, even if his real sister, who honestly loved him, was a part of the crowd.
His place was in a small apartment with rusty plumbing, sharing his personal space with two proud, insufferable ex-terrorists. Unable to completely banish the small smile, he turned his feet in the direction of the communications trailer to put in a long-distance call to Colony 0167.
But the voice on the other end was not familiar, and for a second he thought he'd gotten the wrong number. But when he hesitated, about to apologize and hang up, the gum-smacking girl on the other end suddenly said, "Oh, wait, you must be looking for the guy that was staying here before me."
Before her? Trowa frowned, leaning over the desk, receiver pressed to his ear. The communications officer behind the desk didn't even glance his way, flipping through an entertainment magazine and puffing at a foul smelling cigar that made Trowa's nose crinkle.
"Brooding guy, looked kinda young?" the girl asked, still smacking her gum noisily. "Brown hair, scary blue eyes?"
"That's him," Trowa affirmed cautiously.
"Yeah, he moved out about a month ago. He didn't leave a forwarding address or anything, though."
"He was the only tenant?" Trowa asked, frown deepening.
"Yeah. Lika-something or other."
None of them had been foolish enough to put their real names on the contract, and Trowa recognized Heero's pseudonym vaguely.
"I think he was heading for Earth, though," the girl said in a sudden moment of cleverness. "That's what the tag on his bag said, anyway."
Earth? Trowa thanked the girl and hung up, staring with unseeing eyes at the trailer wall and ignoring the curious glance the guy behind the desk shot him. Why was Heero going to Earth? And where was Wufei? The girl had seemed quite certain that the apartment had had only one occupant before she'd moved in. Heero was going to Earth-- alone. So where was Wufei? Unease began to churn in his gut. Trowa could think of only one reason for Heero to return to the little blue and green planet.
He straightened, pushing aside his initial decision to turn his back on it and forget the whole matter. He allowed himself a little selfishness as he strode from the trailer, already making plans in his head. Maybe Heero had decided that his new life should be on that planet, with Relena. But that didn't mean Trowa couldn't go see him, talk to him. It didn't mean he couldn't look for Wufei to see how he was doing.
Trowa had been the one to keep them together immediately after the war.
Now he was going to try to bring them together again. And if his attempts were met with blunt refusals... well, there was always the circus life.
Wufei tossed his papers in his bag and slung it onto his shoulder, ignoring the girl in the row behind him obviously trying to catch his eye. Head held high, walk arrogant in a way that befitted a young man of his lineage, he strode through the university halls ignoring the chattering students clustered in it.
His mind was wandering from his History class to a mental grocery list of what to pick up for dinner as he walked down the shaded path on the school lawn, when a familiar voice hailed him from the small cluster of rare real trees gracing the study area where students liked to have their lunch and relax.
He stopped, turning to wait as a man detached himself from the shadow of a tree and jogged over, hand lifted in greeting.
"You're out early," his companion said as soon as he was closer. He tossed aside his cigarette and fell in step beside the shorter boy as Wufei continued down the main path towards the stairs. "How was class?"
"Fine," Wufei said shortly. He'd never been one for small talk. He flicked the older man a sideways look. "What are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be giving a test to your biology class next period?"
The slender young man gave a wave of his hand that was meant to be casually dismissive, but still held traces of grace and arrogance from a former life of aristocracy. "Some fool mixed the wrong chemicals in the class before mine and set off a small fire. Not much was damaged, but the headmaster is as paranoid about chemicals as he is about everything else. He doesn't want anyone in the classroom until it's cleared of fumes. Not that my students are complaining." He walked with his hands clasped behind his back, and for a moment Wufei didn't see the lab coat and suit his partner was wearing, but rather a dignified suit cut in the style and pattern of his people. Bai Ling may be a lot more laid back than Wufei remembered from childhood, but the older man was unable to shed years of propriety and stance drilled into him since youth. He would always walk like a king among peasants, while Wufei's stride would always be the more cat-like stalk of an assassin. As usual, just being around his cousin made him feel insignificant and ill-bred, even if Wufei's own family had been higher up on the hierarchal chain.
It had been a real stroke of luck, running across the older man while house hunting on the obscure colony. They were distant cousins who'd grown up together, and been playmates when they were very young, before duties and tutoring had drawn them apart. Bai Ling had left L5 shortly before the battle that had claimed Meiran's life, to study at an exclusive university on a far-flung colony. The transferal had ended up saving his life, as their home colony had been destroyed a few short years later in the war, before Wufei's very eyes.
But having found a survivor-- and one who was a relative --was not the only luck Bai Ling brought with him. He'd also had in his possession a way for Wufei to claim his family's fortune, of which Bai Ling himself had fallen heir to in the disappearance of his cousin. With Wufei's reappearance, Bai Ling had been honorable enough to hand over the information of the bank on the secure colony-- a sort of Fort Knox of space --where his wily grandfather had smuggled the money at the beginning of the war in case of such a emergency. When Bai Ling had suggested they move in together, Wufei had felt honor-bound to accept the older man's proposal. It was the least he could do. Not only had Bai Ling given him back his family's fortune, but he'd helped him settle into a decent apartment and gotten him enrolled in the university he himself was a professor at. Wufei had finally found his feet; something he'd thought would never happen after the war. He had a roof over his head, a substantial amount of money, a thoughtful roommate who more or less shared his own ideas of propriety, and had finally taken up his studies again.
It was perfect. Or at least Wufei kept telling himself it was. It would be perfect if he could get rid of the occasional wandering thoughts that popped up in a moment of distraction or right before sleep. He'd told himself, after leaving 0167 three days after Trowa's own departure, that he would put everything about their strange relationship behind him, along with burning memories of the war. It wasn't working out exactly as he'd planned, but he was confident that within a year the other pilots would be but a dim memory. A job that kept his busy and focused would help with that, but Bai Ling was constantly trying to talk him out of it, insisting that with his wealth and background, there was no need for Wufei to belittle himself by entering the work force.
Bai Ling wasn't always the easiest to live with, but he was family, so Wufei had somewhat expected some friction. His cousin sometimes had ideas that were so far-fetched from what Wufei had been brought up or taught himself to believe, that sometimes he found it difficult to deal with the older man. Bai Ling had been away from the strict upbringing of his home colony long enough to have adapted to the laid-back way most colonists viewed life. He would never be a Duo Maxwell, but he was still much more relaxed about things than Wufei could bring himself to be. He shrugged off many things that bothered the hell out of Wufei, and had lost his people's obsession with personal space and ban on outright affection.
Of course, there were plenty of temptations to further steer his cousin from his upbringings. Bai Ling was not by any means a bad looking man, and had a whole flock of female-- even the occasional male --students who fawned over him. He did nothing to discourage them, either, as Wufei had noted more than once in vague disgust. Bai Ling was a charming, well-bred man, and drew people to him like a flame. He liked attention and affection, and looked for it wherever he could: clubs, parties, even school. He'd often lamented over the fact that Wufei seemed so aloof and unapproachable, but Wufei had ignored his invitations to various nights on the town. Not that Bai Ling seemed to have given up on his idea of "humanizing" his younger cousin.
Once they were out of sight of the school population and heading down the sidewalk towards home, Bai Ling put one of his hands affectionately on Wufei's shoulder and leaned towards him sideways, smiling impishly. "Must you always look like you've swallowed something sour, cousin?" he teased. He'd affected the drawl of the colonists in the passing years, but his voice was still tinged with the lofty arrogance of his previous high standing. He spoke in the Basic lingo all the colonists used; it was usually only at home or when they were having a private discussion in a public place that they both switched to Chinese. Wufei had learned quickly to cut the occasional Japanese and English phrases and words from his speech, as they seemed to annoy his cousin. He'd picked them up from hanging around the other pilots, who often reverted into their native languages in frustration or anger.
He'd stopped noticing it after awhile; it wasn't until he was surrounded by Basic-speaking colonists that he realized how often Heero had lapsed into Japanese when arguing with him, Trowa had muttered soothing words in what vaguely sounded like French-- no doubt picked up in his years as a mercenary --, or Duo had started shouting bloodcurdling threats and curses in English... all without Wufei noticing. He'd simply gotten used to it, and had picked up a lot of it himself, even if he still tended to use curses in their various languages he didn't fully comprehend. The venomous Arabic sentence that had spilled out of Quatre's mouth over the com when an OZ soldier had nearly crippled his Gundam's left side had sounded alien to him, but its basic meaning was all too clear, and Wufei had caught himself hissing the same phrase just a week ago after spilling hot tea all over himself. Bai Ling had teased him about it, with an air of disapproval in his tone, and Wufei had started concentrating more on keeping such words out of his vocabulary. Wufei had always been able to best his older cousin one-on-one when sparring, but that didn't diminish the respect he'd always felt for the older man, and did not want him to think ill of his younger, obviously battle-scarred relative. Bai Ling had never done any real fighting outside of the dojo on L5, but Wufei didn't hold him in contempt for that. In a way he almost envied him.
Wufei lengthened his stride just enough to shake the hand from his shoulder, and Bai Ling chuckled at him. "Come, cousin... you're never going to get over your squeamish dislike of human contact if you won't even let me touch you. You know what you need? A girlfriend. If you'd just come out with me when I asked you, I'm sure you'd find a pretty little thing to occupy your mind."
Wufei flinched at the idea. He had neither the time nor the desire to find female companionship. Not yet, anyway. In time, of course, it would be sensible to find a woman of decent standing and start a family to continue his line. But not now. Not when all his pent up sexual frustration brought images not of soft female curves, but hard, calloused hands holding him down, and a very masculine anatomy pressing against him. It was too soon. Not until Trowa and Heero were just a vague memory would he even consider seeking a lover or wife. Besides that, he'd yet to meet any women that interested him. They were mostly a gaggle of tittering, flirtatious, and otherwise empty-headed ninnies, and he had no patience for them. He was sure he would find a level-headed, intelligent woman among the student body in time, but he hadn't bothered to look yet.
"Unless," Bai Ling drawled, catching the wince, "you swing from a different tree."
Wufei shot him a sharp glance. He never would have caught the strange implication a few years ago; but hanging around Duo's puzzling slang and teasing had opened his eyes to a lot of things cleverly veiled in offhanded comments.
Bai Ling grinned at him when Wufei merely glared. "Or not. But even if that was the case, you should still come out with me at night. Some of the people at the parties and clubs I attend have the same inclination."
"Not interested," Wufei said shortly.
Bai Ling sighed and snagged his arm, jerking him to a halt. He stared seriously into Wufei's annoyed eyes. "Wufei." He lapsed into Chinese. "You never said anything, but I'm not stupid. You are running from something. And I keep getting the impression that this 'something' is a lover. Did you have a bad break-up? You can't let that keep you from finding happiness again, my cousin. Plenty of soldiers like yourself have found someone they can be with and open themselves up to completely. You can do the same."
"They were soldiers," Wufei reminded him acidly in their native tongue. He pulled his arm free. "I do not have the luxury of 'opening up' to anyone. In case you'd forgotten, not everyone has such an open mind concerning those labeled as Gundam terrorists."
Bai Ling gave a faint wince, as if he had indeed forgotten the way the Gundam pilots were viewed by many people. "Be that as it may," he conceded, "that doesn't mean you shouldn't give another relationship a chance. If nothing else, I know you've got to be dying for some sexual release."
Wufei couldn't quite stop the blush that stained his cheeks. The colonies had certainly changed Bai Ling. Never would the topic of sex have been broached so openly by the people of his clan in the past.
"Don't be such a prude, cousin," Bai Ling chided with obvious amusement. Then he stopped, his elegant eyebrows shooting up. "Don't tell me you're a virgin?" he blurted. "Though it would explain someone breaking up with a fine looking man like yourself."
Wufei growled at him and started walking again. Bai Ling caught up easily, obviously trying not to laugh. "I can't believe it," he said. "You can't be that young.."
"Sixteen," Wufei reminded him shortly.
"A teenage boy who hasn't explored the mysteries of sexual intercourse is a deprived child indeed," Bai Ling chuckled.
"I'm not a child," Wufei snapped, irritated and embarrassed all at once. "Drop it, Bai Ling."
"I think I can guess what happened, then," Bai Ling mused, ignoring the command. "You wouldn't put out, you shied from affection and human contact as you do with me, and you would not tell her-- or him, perhaps --anything about yourself. You cannot expect anyone to stick around under those circumstances, cousin."
"That wasn't it," Wufei shot back without thinking.
"Oh? What, then?" Bai Ling tried to see his face, but Wufei turned his head aside. "Bad argument? Guilt? Wrong partner? Come on, you can tell me. We're family."
"Only distantly," Wufei muttered, but Bai Ling caught it. He put an arm around the shorter boy's shoulders and tugged him closer before he could wriggle away.
"Very distantly," he murmured in Wufei's ear. Wufei froze. A warning bell went off in his head, but he couldn't figure out why. The next instant Bai Ling had released him, and was being flippant again, so Wufei dismissed the moment's alarm. "All right, I can see you're obviously going to be stubborn about this. Don't tell me, then. Maybe in time you'll trust me enough to finally tell me about this mysterious partner you are running from. In the meantime, I want you to do something for me."
"What?" Wufei asked, feeling a little resigned.
"Come out with me tonight," Bai Ling insisted firmly. "I promise it will make you feel better. You spend too much time stuffed in the house or in a classroom. You almost never go out except to shop. Come out with me this once, and I promise if you don't like it, I'll never bother you about it again."
Wufei sent him a narrow glance. He had no desire to go out to one of the many clubs and parties his cousin frequented, but the promise of letting it drop after tonight was tempting. Almost worth a night's boredom and uncomfortablness. "Fine," he finally ground out. "But only for tonight," he added sternly.
Bai Ling grinned at him as if he'd just won the lottery. "We'll have fun," he said confidently. "I promise."
Wufei wasn't so sure about that.
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