Chapter 20
"One-Man Search Party"

    Trowa had no idea where to start.
    He might be able to find Heero on earth, as he suspected. But his real problem was locating Wufei. Best to find him first, since he had a good idea where Heero was. Or rather, who he was with. Trowa felt his lips tighten in a small frown at the thought of Heero in the company of Relena Peacecraft twenty-four seven, and quickly smoothed it away into an impassive mask. Duo's jibes about Relena having a "crush the size of L1" on a certain Perfect Soldier had not bothered him during the war, but they did now.
    He shook it off and glanced around a little cluelessly. No one paid him any heed. The citizens of 0167 had made it a habit to mind their own business and pay no attention to strangers standing in the middle of the sidewalk. It was a colony that had become home to many who'd had no place left to go after the war. Everyone was jumpy and untrusting of their fellow man. It was the reason Trowa and the other two had picked this floating tin can. Trowa likewise ignored the people passing him by, and looked up at the apartment he'd stayed in for a month in the company of his two bull-headed friends.
    It was unlikely that Wufei had left behind any clues as to his destination, but Trowa had hoped the other boy might have left in enough of a hurry to have left something. But he'd been prowling the streets all day with no results. He'd even gotten the girl now occupying their old room to let him have a quick look around, and had checked at the shuttle port, but old habits died hard. Wufei had covered his tracks well. Which left Trowa with a daunting question.
    Where would Chang Wufei go for refuge?
    His home colony was gone, and Trowa could think of no reason for him to go to Earth, though he would eventually have to check just in case. He wracked his brain and could come up with only one other possibility.
    The remaining two pilots.
    He hadn't heard from either of them in the months after the war, but his first guess was that Quatre would be on L4, presumably picking up the reins to his father's corporation. If Quatre couldn't help, he might be able to point him in the direction of Duo. Trowa certainly hoped so. If Duo didn't want to be found, he could be slippery as an eel and invisible as a shadow in the dark. It would make his job much easier if he could get some kind of hint as to where to look for the boy.
    Trowa sent one last glance up at the apartment, then turned his feet towards the shuttle port.


    Duo picked up an apple and put it down again. He picked another one and inspected it absently for bruises. He could always get fruit from the grocery store, but he preferred the street vendors. Their fare was usually a little fresher. He rolled the apple to his other hand and began digging for another. The man behind the counter barely glanced his way, eyes focused on the small vid-set perched on his side of the stand, watching the sportscast avidly. Duo held the fruit up to the light and pretended not to notice the eyes boring into his back.

    A young thief squatting in an alley across the street eyed the braided boy slyly. This certainly looked promising. Quick eyes took in the slumped shoulders and hooded eyes. Exhausted. Spacing out-- obviously paying no attention whatsoever to his surroundings. Easy pickings.
    L4 was by no means the slum that covered most of L2 and 0167, but poverty was everywhere, even on this thriving colony. The boy had traveled two hours to get to the edges of the city in search of a quick theft. He hadn't eaten anything even remotely fresh for days, and the sight of all the fruits and vegetables made his stomach growl insistently. But he knew a handful of colonist currency got you a lot farther than a handful of food. He'd learned that the hard way. So he'd waited and searched, looking for his chance. And now here it was, no more than ten feet away, all wrapped up in a stained bomber jacket and a ridiculously long braid.
    The young boy slipped from his hiding place and crept up on the oblivious young man. In and out-- and run! That was his simple but usually effective plan. He couldn't afford to get caught. Not again. He still winced at the memory of the last time he'd gotten caught. He'd been sloppy-- trying to run with an empty stomach and a head light from exhaustion. He'd gotten five steps, tripped over his own feet, and gone down in a heap. The plump man he'd tried to pickpocket had snatched him up by his ear and proceeded to beat him on the back with his cane until his howls had brought the police. He'd escaped jail time only because he was a minor. His back shivered as he remembered the heavy cane coming down across his skinny back. The welts were just now starting to really go away, and he'd been forced to sleep on his stomach ever since. No. Couldn't get caught this time. Little chance of that, though, he thought confidently. This wasn't even a grown-up. The guy looked only a little older than his own brother. And he looked tired to boot.
    He'd reached his prey. He sent a quick, worried glance towards the man behind the stall as he snuck up on silent feet. The man's eyes remained glued to the vid-set, his back to the young thief.
    He'd been doing what he proudly called his "handiwork" when he was boasting to the other kids for almost a year and a half now, and had gotten damn good at it, if he said so himself. And his hands were small enough to make it that much easier. Quicker than a snake, he slipped his grubby hand into the jacket pocket and seized the wallet there. His hand was actually out and he was a split-second from making a run for it when a hand like a steel trap seized his wrist.
    It was so sudden, the little thief didn't even have a chance to gasp. He stared wildly up at the amethyst eyes boring down into his own and felt his heart jump into his throat. He wanted to run, but his feet felt glued to the pavement with terror. Caught! Impossible-- he hadn't even rustled the cloth! He hadn't had a target feel his grab since he'd first started his "handiwork".
    He managed to tear his eyes away for a second to throw a frantic glance at the stall keeper, but he hadn't even looked up. The young man he'd tried to rob was still digging through the apples with his free hand, searching for soft spots with his fingers, though he was staring down with an arched brow at the little thief whose hand was still caught half in his pocket. Any moment now he was going to hit him, going to tell the man selling the apples to call the authorities...
    That gave him back use of his limbs. He tried to yank his arm free, but the hand wrapped around his wrist was surprisingly strong. A whimper crawled out of his throat before he could stop it. "Lemmie go--"
    The stall keeper looked up at the noise and his beady eyes narrowed dangerously. "What's this?" he demanded, starting to remove his bulk from the creaking fold-up chair. "Dirty little punk.."
    "Don't worry about the squirt," the man with the braid said smoothly, looking at the big man with a quirky grin. "He's not bothering anyone. How much for these?" He held up the three apples he'd chosen.
    The boy gaped at him.
    "Ah.." The man blinked and looked back at his customer. "Five."
    "That's a bit much for three dried-up apples," the braided boy sighed. But he handed over the money. From an inside pocket, the thief noticed with a silent curse. He tried to pull away again, to no avail. Was this guy going to drag him to the cops personally?
    The apples were handed over in a bag, and the thief found himself dragged down the sidewalk. He found his voice and let out an indignant yell. "Hey, lemmie go! I didn't do nothin'!"
    "Damn, you are one skinny runt," the boy said with dry amusement, glancing down at him with another quirky grin. "When's the last time you ate?"
    "Lemmie go, I said!" he yelled louder. If he could get some people to come over and investigate, he could escape in the confusion before this freak dragged him to the police station.
    They turned a corner and came to a stop at last. The thief looked around quickly, feeling his fear mount. They were close to a neighborhood, now, and the nearest person was way down the street. He considered kicking his captors' kneecaps, but the braided boy was holding him at arm's length by his forearm.
    "Geeez," the boy sighed, looking amused and exasperated at the same time. "You're pretty good, kid. Didn't even feel ya." The thief blinked up at him dumbly. If he hadn't felt him, then how..? "Did it ever occur to you to ask?" his captor asked bluntly.
    "...Wha.." He gasped a second later when his arm was twisted so his hand was palm-up. He tried desperately to yank the arm away, expecting to have it wrenched painfully. He almost jumped when the braided boy pressed a small wad of currency into the open palm.
    Dumbstruck, the skinny kid looked up quickly into the boy's face; he'd leaned down so they were almost eye level. A trick. It was a trick. When the cops caught him, he'd have the money on him, they'd pin him to a crime he hadn't even gotten to commit...
    But there was no malice or even anger in those strange-colored eyes. The boy wasn't grinning anymore, he looked solemn. Almost sad. His eyes reminded the kid of the old man who lived in the run-down apartment above him. Old, jaded, and scarred. His fist closed impulsively around the money.
    "Next time," the man in the bomber jacket murmured, "don't get caught, kiddo."
    He released the boy's arm abruptly and started walking away, whistling an old colony tune and rummaging in his bag for an apple. The thief could only stand in the middle of the sidewalk, clutching a fistful of money that would guarantee food on the table for another two weeks at least, and stare in a mixture of confusion and awe at the retreating back and wagging braid.


    "There's a visitor for Quatre-sama," the maid told him the moment he returned home. She looked meaningfully in the direction of the den. "He said he was an old friend, and Rashid said he recognized him. I asked him to wait in there. I didn't know what else to do. I figured maybe you should see him instead..."
    Duo raised his eyebrows, lowering the apple core he'd been gnawing at, and glanced towards the den doors. "Old friend, huh?" he repeated suspiciously. "What'd he look like?"
    "A little taller than you, with hair in his face," the maid reported with a slight frown. "He didn't say much, and I don't know if he's even blinked since he got here-- his face is like looking at a statue. He don't smile or frown or nothing."
    The corner of Duo's lip jerked up in a sour smile. "Figures they'd find us sooner or later," he muttered to himself.
    "I'll talk to him. Thanks, Patrice." He hung his jacket haphazardly on the coat rack by the door and strode towards the den, heavy boots clomping on the hardwood floor in deliberate stomps to alert his guest of his approach.
    When he opened the doors and stepped inside, he spotted the familiar lean figure immediately, standing by a display case, fingers splayed on the glass, head already turned towards the door expectantly.
Duo grinned in welcome, shutting the doors be   hind him and strolling towards the fireplace to enjoy the warmth. He flicked a glance at the display case his old partner had been scrutinizing before focusing once more on the familiar blank expression. "Well, well, Trowa Barton. I was wondering when one of you would darken this doorstep." He nodded towards the display case. "You have an interest in music, too?"
    Trowa glanced towards the instruments displayed-- a set of violins and a pair of flutes. But he ignored the question. "I didn't expect to find you here," he stated honestly. His voice was inflectionless as ever.
    Duo shrugged, also ignoring the unvoiced question. "So what's the bad news, Tro?" When Trowa only looked at him, he elaborated. "I figured the only way one of you guys would actually bother to seek out any of us would be if it was one of those 'danger is imminent' days. So what's the deal?"
    Trowa shook his head once. "I simply wanted to know if Wufei had come by in the past month."
    Duo arched his brows, caught off guard. "Old stick-up-the-ass Chang? Hell no, man. If there's a guy who hates company more than you, it's him. I ain't seen you or Wufei since the last battle. And I haven't seen Heero since we patched him up here almost two months ago."
    Duo thrust his hands in his pockets and cocked his head curiously. "Why you asking, anyway?"
    Trowa had been glancing around the room, and he focused again on Duo impassively at the question. "Why are you here?" he countered.
    Duo coughed, and it was his turn to look away. "Just chillin', mostly. Bunkin' with Quatre til I straighten some things up for my own personal 'bright and shining future'." He said the words mockingly, making Relena's promise to her people sound cheap and silly. "How about you? You back with that circus again?"
    "...I'm not sure where I am," Trowa admitted quietly after a slight hesitation.
    Duo worried his bottom lip with his teeth thoughtfully, studying the solemn-faced pilot. "Uh huh. Well, sorry, man, but like I said, I don't have a clue where old Wuffers might be."
    "I see." Trowa glanced towards the doors. "Where's Quatre?"
    "Asleep," Duo said with a slight edge to his voice. When Trowa looked at him with a brow quirked inquisitively, he scowled and focused his gaze on the fire. He tried to change the subject before Trowa could trap him with a pointed question that he wouldn't be able to squirm around. "You never answered my question. Why are you looking for Wufei, anyway?"
    "I need to talk to him," Trowa said carefully. "We parted on... bad terms."
    Duo looked at him sideways. "Parted, huh? I get the feeling you're not referring to the day we split up after the battle."
    Trowa's mouth twitched in the faintest suggestion of a frown. "...No."
    "Hm." Duo faced him fully. "And how's Heero doing?" he asked suddenly.
    Trowa blinked, the only sign of his surprise. "I wouldn't know," he said truthfully.
    "How was he doing last time you saw him?" Duo reiterated, watching him keenly.
    Duo couldn't quite hold back a grin, though his eyes narrowed a little in obvious puzzlement. "Y'know, I kind of wondered if maybe there was somethin' going on on the Peacemillion. Somethin' I couldn't quite put my finger on. I thought maybe I had a vague idea when the fighting was done, but you've just managed to trash every last suspicion I had. So why don't you just tell me straight: which is it?"
    Trowa blinked again. "Pardon?"
    "Heero or Wufei," Duo said bluntly. "Or am I really stretching here? If I am, don't get all huffy, I was just wonderin'."
    "I don't see that it's any of your business," Trowa pointed out a little coolly.
    Duo held up his hands defensively. "All right, all right, chill out. Just askin'. Just puttin' the old detective skills to work. They're gettin' a little rusty..."
    Trowa tilted his head slightly, and if Duo didn't know any better, he'd have sworn the look on the taller boy's face was almost... sly. "Mine are, too, I think. For instance, I can think of only a few reasons why you're here. In Quatre's house. Two months after the war. Maybe you should tell me which guess is right."
    Duo's eyes narrowed again, and for a long moment a tense silence hung on the air.
    Abruptly the braided pilot gave a bark of laughter. He turned his back and began scratching the back of his head. "Ok, I get it. I'll keep my nose outta your business, you keep yours outta mine. Deal?"
    "Deal," Trowa murmured. He touched the glass of the display case momentarily, lingering on a memory of music and sunlight. "I have to leave again. But I would like to see Quatre before I do, if there's a chance."
    Duo didn't answer for a long time. He remained with his back to Trowa, hand tugging at his braid in what could have been a nervous habit, though Trowa wasn't sure. He hadn't hung around the cocky 02 pilot all that much during the war. Heero would know, but Trowa could only wait until the other boy spoke to guess at his inner thoughts.
    "He's sick, Tro," Duo said at last, sounding a little defeated. When he turned to look at him again, he looked tired. "Been sick since the end of the war."
    Trowa's hand slipped from the glass, and the sunlit memory was whisked away as if by a strong wind. His brows drew down. "Sick? How sick?" But it had to be bad; he could tell by Duo's tone and face.
    Duo waved a hand to calm him. "He's getting better. Slowly. But he is getting better," he repeated firmly. "It's going to take awhile until he's our old ray of sunshine again... but he's getting there," he finished almost in a whisper, his eyes focused on something Trowa couldn't see.
    "You've been looking after him," Trowa said. It wasn't a question. He realized it now, as he really looked at the other pilot and saw how tired he was, yet how determined at the same time. Duo had been here the whole time. Nursing Quatre back to health.
    Duo glanced at him sharply, as if in warning. Trowa realized he was close to stepping over a forbidden line, and compensated by letting out a bit of his own secret. "Thank you for taking care of Heero," he said quietly. "He recovered quickly after leaving here."
    It was only a crumb-- a hint that Trowa had seen Heero afterwards. But Duo's mind was quicker even than his trigger finger. And he had a silver spoon to boot. "Yeah, well.. he was a real bear of a patient," he drawled with a wry grin. "He must've given you guys hell."
    "A little," Trowa admitted-- then snapped his mouth shut. Too late. He narrowed his eyes a little, but Duo only grinned triumphantly, and he didn't have the heart to be really angry. Duo continued to grin, but his eyes were a little wide in surprise he couldn't quite hide.
    Trowa glanced away, and Duo cleared his throat, looking down at his feet for a moment before saying gruffly, "I guess you can see him for a couple minutes. Unless he's asleep." It was his own apology for tricking the answer from Trowa. He shuffled towards the door. "C'mon. He's upstairs. But whatever you do," he added with a flash of warning in his amethyst eyes, "don't mention anything about the war. Got it?"
    Trowa nodded silently and followed him out of the room and up the spiral staircase.
    When they reached the Winner heir's room, Duo knocked softly and called in a hushed voice, "Quatre? It's Duo." He opened the door a crack and peeked in. He hesitated before pulling his head back out and shaking his head. "No go," he murmured. "He's KO'd. He'll be like that for most of the afternoon. I'll tell him you said hi, though..."
    Trowa ignored him and gripped the edge of the rapidly closing door, pushing it open. Duo hissed at him, but Trowa barely heard him. He took a few steps into the room and stopped, staring at the figure under the blankets. A nurse was sitting in a chair by the bed, reading a book, and she glanced up in surprise at the intrusion. She started to rise, then spotted Duo behind him, and sank back into her seat slowly, looking from Quatre to Trowa questioningly.
    Trowa could only stare at his small friend, once so full of life and conviction.
    He was thinner. Paler. He did look sick. And he seemed to be having a nightmare; his face would screw up every now and then, and he'd give a little jerk or kick. His hand, curled on the pillow by his head, flexed continuously as if he was firing a gun.
    A hard hand on his shoulder made Trowa look back at Duo. The braided pilot shook his head once, mouth a tight line. The look in his eyes made it clear that he would not tolerate anything foolish Trowa might do. Trowa sent one last look at the boy on the bed, then followed Duo out of the room silently.
    Duo shut the door quietly behind them and let out a small breath. "I'll show you out," he said firmly. Trowa nodded dumbly, knowing better than to ask any dangerous questions, and trailed slowly down the stairs after the other boy.
    At the front door, Duo watched in silence as Trowa shrugged on his thin jacket. He'd picked up his duffel back and turned for the door when Duo finally spoke. "I'm sorry I can't tell you where Wufei is," he said abruptly, and Trowa glanced back at him, hand on the doorknob. "Or Heero, for that matter. But you want some advice from an L2 gutter rat?"
    Trowa arched a brow, but nodded once.
    Duo's arms were crossed tightly across his chest, and his eyes flicked almost unconsciously upwards, in the direction of the bedroom and its occupant above. "You learn something quick on the streets, when you got to fight for what you want," he said quietly. "You learn that once you got your hands on it-- when you've finally got something you want --you hold onto it. You hold onto it hard and don't let it go. Or some other punk might grab it when you're not looking. And you could lose it forever." He looked into Trowa's eyes solemnly. "If you really want this, Trowa... don't let it get away from you. Hold onto it."
    Trowa gazed at him in silence for a moment before finally nodding once. Duo managed a shadow of his normal cocky grin. "Evening the odds up, huh? Geez. Good luck, man. You'll need it."
    Trowa frowned to show his confusion at the term.
    "Odds," Duo explained, flicking a finger against Trowa's chest. "01, 03, 05. Quat and I are the evens, obviously."
    Trowa stared at him for a moment before saying bluntly, "That still isn't even. Five, three, and one are nine."
    Duo's eyes widened slightly, and he gave a short laugh. "OK, since you're going to go all literal on me..." He tapped the side of his nose and winked impishly. "True enough, that still equals an odd number. But you're forgetting a number in your equation, Tro."
    Trowa's frown deepened. Duo was making no sense whatsoever.
    Duo tilted his head back and his face broke out in a smug grin, though his eyes had softened somewhat. "When you find that missing number... when you really can 'even the odds', as it were... then you'll know you have what you want. Gimmie a call when you do. It'll be a load off my mind knowing my old buds have finally found something for themselves."
    Trowa still had no idea what Duo was talking about, but he nodded anyway. Duo gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder and held open the door for him. "Go get 'em, tiger."
    "Hn." Trowa offered a small half-smile in return. "Goodbye, Duo."
    "'Bye, Tro. Say hi to the scowl twins for me when you see 'em."
    "I will."
    Trowa left the Winner mansion with a heart both heavy and hopeful at the same time. The sight of Quatre lying helpless and pale on the bed had been sobering. But Duo's "L2 advice" had given him new determination-- and new insight into his already tangled and confused feelings concerning two dark-eyed pilots.
    He wasn't sure if either of them would even want to see him when he found them. But he was going to try anyway.
    He was going to hold onto what he wanted until it was snatched away from him.


    Relena had made reservations in one of those fancy restaurants reserved only for the very rich and high society. Heero felt decidedly out of place as he followed his charge and the maitre de to their table by the window. Once they were seated, a snooty looking waiter came over to light the candle on the table in between them and ask what they would like to drink as he handed over the leather-bound menus.
    Relena tried to order champagne for the both of them, but Heero declined, asking for water. "I'm on duty, Relena," he reminded her firmly.
    "Oh, Heero," she sighed, looking put-out, "no you're not. This is just dinner. Can't I just enjoy a dinner alone with you without you trying to go all soldier-boy on me for once? Relax."
    Heero frowned slightly, but didn't respond. He buried his nose in his menu to stall. Not on duty? That's what she thought. And anyway, what was this all about? Did she have to discuss something with him? If so, it would have been wiser to do so in the privacy of her quarters, where no spies could hear. But why talk to him about it? She'd turned to him for advice a time or two, but she had advisors for that sort of thing. She usually only looked to him when it was a question of strategy or danger. He picked something from the menu at random and sent a searching glance around the room before studying the girl across from him with a touch of suspicion and a good helping of confusion. "Was there something you wanted to talk to me about?" he demanded bluntly.
    She began to fiddle uselessly with her napkin, as if trying to smooth out the creases in it, eyes glued to her empty china plate. "Well, yes," she said hesitantly. "I've been meaning to talk to you alone like this for.. quite some time. But I think it was too early before. But now..." She looked up at him suddenly, eyes a little hopeful. A slow blush rose to her cheeks as she spoke. "Heero. Don't you agree that we've become... closer? In the month that you've been here on earth?"
    Heero's eyes narrowed slightly. He had no idea how to answer that. It was hard to take such a question literally when he could sense what she really meant. She didn't mean geographically, obviously. Could she mean that they had learned how each other ticked? That was probably it. She had gotten good at reading his expressions and tones. He couldn't say he understood her as well, but when he was surrounded by the fruits of her labor, her fight for total pacifism (as unrealistic an idea as he sometimes privately thought it), he thought he could understand her motives, at least. So he nodded.
    She smiled a little shyly, looking back down at her plate and settling the napkin carefully in her lap. Heero reached for his own napkin and mimicked her, dropping it into his lap; best to fit in.
    "I'm glad," she murmured, lashes lowered demurely. "I feel that we've grown closer, too." Somehow, when said in that tone, the same words he'd just thought he'd analyzed sent warning bells off in his head. He shifted in his seat a little nervously, shooting another searching glance around the room. "Heero, what are your plans for the future?" Relena blurted, seemingly fascinated in the curve of her soup spoon.
    Heero stared at her for a moment, giving the question just a little thought. He hadn't, he realized abruptly, given much thought at all to the future... not since he'd left 0167, anyway. He shook his head to show his ignorance.
    Relena offered a fleeting, teasing smile. "Do you really plan on being my bodyguard forever?"
    "Unlikely," Heero responded. "If your pacifism ideal ever comes to full fruition, you'll have no need for me anymore. Other bodyguards will do just as well."
    "Then..." her eyes lowered again, "you have no wish to stay by my side, Heero?"
    Heero blinked. He was lucky she wasn't expecting him to answer right away, because he had no answer to give her. "Because," she hurried on, "I would like that very much. If.. if you would stay, I mean," she finished a little timidly. She chanced a quick peek up at him. "When your services as a bodyguard are no longer required... or you decide you no longer want the position... I would very much like it if... If you would stay with me."
    Heero was completely lost now. "If I am not to be your bodyguard, what else use would I be?" he inquired, frowning deeply. Surely she didn't expect him to be an advisor. And there would be no real need-- not in her mind, anyway --for a military strategist once her pacifism dream had come true. If it comes true, he corrected himself with the touch of pessimism he'd picked up from Wufei.
    "Oh, Heero!" Relena looked upset. "Don't you understand anything??"
    Heero began to privately panic, though his expression remained unreadable. He'd made her upset, and he couldn't figure out how. What the hell was she getting at, anyway? "Relena-"
    "I- I love you, Heero," she gasped, keeping her gaze locked with his despite the furious blush that bloomed in her cheeks. "I think I have since I first saw you on that beach. I want you by my side. Always."
    Heero's mind went blank. His eyes widened, but he couldn't make his mouth move.
    "Please don't run away." She reached out suddenly and clasped his hand in hers. Heero started, but stopped himself from jerking away, caught in her sad, hopeful gaze. "I know you haven't had the chance to experience anything like.. like love. I know your life must have been hard, even before the war. Let me help you. Let me.. let me show you how to love. And be loved."
    Heero carefully drew his hand free. "Relena.." he shook his head, unsure how to respond. His mind was still spinning with shock, and he felt suddenly trapped. Unconsciously, his eyes did another swift scan of the room. A movement by the front door caught his attention, and he froze, staring in surprise and disbelief at the figure staring at him from across the room.
    The young man stared back at him for a long moment, face as impassive as ever, before giving the barest nod of greeting.
    Relena blinked, obviously puzzled by Heero's rigid stance and his unblinking stare. She twisted in her chair to see what had caught his attention, and drew in a sharp breath of surprise.
    "That's... one of the pilots, right?" she asked quietly. She looked back at him quickly. "What's he doing here?"
    "...I'll be right back, Relena," Heero murmured, rising to his feet quickly.
    "Stay here." He tossed his napkin onto the table and followed the boy who had turned and was heading back outside.
    He was waiting at the edge of the parking lot, hands in his pockets, face calm as he watched Heero approach. Heero stopped several feet away from him and stared at him in silence for what felt like hours before he felt he could trust himself to speak without his voice coming across as harsh. "Trowa."
    "Heero." Trowa nodded again. "I thought I might find you here."
    Heero crossed his arms over his chest, recognized it belatedly as a defensive posture, and let them hang by his sides instead. He narrowed his eyes slightly to show his bad humor. He was, secretly, a little happy to see the other boy. But no need for him to know that. He'd been the one to leave, after all. "What are you doing here?"
    "Isn't it obvious?" Trowa arched a brow. "Looking for you, of course."
    "Aren't you supposed to be with your sister?" That had come out a little sharper than he'd intended.
    Trowa glanced away for a moment. "She knows I'm here," he murmured. "And while I was there, I came to understand a few things. About you. And Wufei. About us."
    "Wufei was right," Heero said shortly. "A relationship," because that was what they'd been trying to build, he realized suddenly, "between three people-- three men --can never work."
    Trowa looked back at him quickly, mouth set in a firm line. "I don't believe that," he said flatly.
    Heero stared at him. He meant to ask "why don't you believe that" or even call him a fool. Instead, what came out in a tone of steel was, "Then why did you leave?"
    Trowa flinched, but didn't look away. "Stupid reasons," he admitted softly. "Reasons I came to regret later. I childishly thought that with Catherine I could have a real life. That with a family, I would finally be 'normal'. I also left because..." he hesitated. "Because I suppose I was a little afraid."
    Heero frowned inquiringly.
    "Wufei was able to voice his fears," Trowa murmured. "He didn't think it would work. And I think secretly he was almost expecting us to break off like we did. I never voiced them... but I had the same fear. None of us made any real effort to keep the.. relationship.. going. To make it work. We were all afraid. And we aren't like Quatre, who can show his affection so easily." A momentary flash of pain showed in his jade eyes at the name, and Heero wondered at it. "But the question I had to ask myself was... do I really want it to work? Am I willing to make the effort required to make it work?"
    Heero waited, realizing belatedly that his heart had sped up a notch.
    Trowa looked him dead in the eye, face serious. "Yes," he said simply. "I am. It took me a month to realize that. But... I do want it to work, Heero. I'm willing to fight for it. To fight for what I want. Duo helped me really understand that. I can understand how you'd be mad at me. I must have broken our trust, leaving like that and not coming back. And I'll understand if you tell me to go to hell." His lips quirked slightly in a humorless smile. "But... until you do so, I'll do what I can to keep you with me."
    Heero's breath caught in his throat in surprise at the speech. Strange, how not two minutes ago he'd heard a similar proposal from Relena, and it had thrown him into a panic... but now, hearing those words from Trowa gave him something he'd thought a foolish emotion. Hope. Oh, there was resentment there, as well. He was still a little irked that Trowa had left in the first place. But he thought now he understood why Trowa had done so. And hadn't he, too, run away by coming to earth? And Wufei... he hadn't even talked to the boy. Had he felt the same rejection and resentment he had felt? While he'd never known Wufei to run from a fight, he knew the boy had problems dealing with his own inner emotions and wants. The same thing that had made Heero come to earth had driven Wufei away, as well. He'd assumed that that was the end of it; that the three of them were through with whatever they had tentatively been trying to build.
    But now Trowa was back, with determination in his eyes and a hint of.. pleading? his tone. If Trowa was willing to fight to keep this, was he?
    He shook his head sharply, crossing his arms tightly over his chest and glaring at the ground. No matter what Trowa said, Heero couldn't completely dismiss the wary distrust he still felt, the bite of resentment and the unwanted feeling that had hounded him since Trowa had left.
    Trowa was studying him carefully, watching the emotions flicker in his blue eyes. He sighed quietly, then dug in his pocket and held out a slim card. Heero stared at it, uncomprehending, before reading the words on it. It was a shuttle pass, he realized.
    "I'm leaving on a shuttle tomorrow morning at 0800," Trowa said quietly. "I'm going to find Wufei. I don't expect you to make up your mind right away, and I don't expect you to forgive me overnight. But... if you change your mind.." he pressed the ticket into Heero's limp hand. Heero glanced up quickly and met the other boy's tired eyes. Trowa's fingers on his palm felt warm, and made him draw in a quick breath through his nose. "If you change your mind.." Trowa repeated softly, leaving the rest unspoken. With a last, lingering look that spoke volumes despite the impassiveness of his mask, he turned and walked away.
    Heero watched him go in numb silence, clutching the ticket in his fist. He didn't move until Relena came out a few minutes later to check on him.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 21
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