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Fool Me Once

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Trowa Barton sipped his gin and tonic, lip curling slightly as the string quartet adjacent to the bar began to play a whimsical rendition of Baby, It’s Cold Outside. To the casual observer, he appeared disinterested in the festivities taking place around him, but nothing could have been further from the truth.

Rather, his attention was focused on one particular festivity several feet to his left even though his eyes were fixed ahead, caught in the twinkling sequins of an older woman’s evening gown. The woman, who was clearly tipsy, stumbled a bit as she danced and let out a deafening cackle that set his nerves on edge.

A heart attack would be less painful than this.

Quatre had apparently decided an eye-for-an-eye was an appropriate punishment for last year’s holiday disaster after Trowa, mostly pressured by Catherine, had shown up with a pretty young woman on his arm. Quatre had been visibly crushed and somehow, Trowa’s date was keenly aware of it, flirting openly with Trowa and rubbing her status as his chosen companion in Quatre’s face until the blond had politely excused himself.

He wasn’t seen again until the next morning when he came down with his bags, expertly dodging questions and mumbling something about an emergency board meeting. His normally bright eyes were downcast and his cheeks seemed to burn with what Trowa could only assume was humiliation.

The worst part was knowing it was his fault, but not knowing how to fix it. Diplomacy was Quatre’s area of expertise, not his. He barely understood his own feelings at the time and they were further conflicted by Catherine’s insistence that he find a nice girl and settle down. Her logic being that he deserved a normal life and a normal life was not something Quatre could give him. The blond was too ambitious in her eyes, too driven by the spotlight he was raised in to be properly domesticated.

And of course, there was the whole, “But Trowa, he’s a man! A man can’t give you children!” can of worms she just had to open up at least twice a month, as if he didn’t know that.

Needless to say, he and Quatre hadn’t spoken since that dreadful night, exactly one year ago now. Heero hadn’t spoken to him for nearly six months and he probably wouldn’t have even invited Trowa to their annual Christmas shindig if not for Duo’s powers of persuasion.

It had been awkward upon first arrival, trying not to shrink beneath The Perfect Soldier’s scrupulous gaze. A subtle nudge from Relena had softened him a little and Trowa wondered if she’d given him a lecture prior to the party. Perhaps a reminder that both he and Quatre were adults and could handle themselves without interference from the peanut gallery.

It was touching that Heero was so protective of their friend and Trowa wished he knew how to reassure him that he had no intention of ever hurting Quatre again. Talk was cheap as far as Heero was concerned. If Trowa wanted to set things right with him, he would have to set them right with Quatre first.

He’d been hoping for his chance tonight, preemptively downing a couple shots of liquid courage to calm the panicky feeling that had settled into his bones. He nearly swallowed his tongue when he finally spotted Quatre, struck dumb by how much he’d changed since last year.

The blond bangs that usually hung down over his eyes were neatly swept off to the side, revealing more of his face. The face that had clung so stubbornly to the baby fat of his childhood had finally given way to prominent cheekbones and a sharper jawline. His shoulders were slightly broader, his waist more narrow, accentuated by the cut of his tailored suit. Last Christmas seemingly forgotten, he was his usual charming self, flashing white teeth and endearing dimples as he made small talk with some of the other guests.

In a word, he was stunning and Trowa was done for, so enamored that he’d failed to notice the large hand resting possessively against the small of Quatre’s back until he was only a few feet away. He’d stopped dead in his tracks, confused at first by the tall man pressed tightly to Quatre’s side. It was impossible to read their proximity and body language as anything other than intimate.

Blushing to the tips of his ears, he’d quickly retreated with his tail between his legs and parked himself at the bar. That was almost two hours ago and he still hadn’t moved. Half of his attention was dedicated to observing Quatre from the corner of his eye, admiring his beauty and charisma from afar. The other half watched his date like a hawk, seething whenever the man’s hands wandered dangerously close to places that were only meant for Trowa’s.

“You look like you’re about to commit murder,” an amused voice whispered into his ear. He recognized the smooth baritone and spicy cologne and relaxed a little. “Though I can’t say I blame you,” his friend added, chewing on what he figured must have been an olive. “That dress is an affront to fashion sensibilities everywhere.”

His mouth quirked as the dancing woman’s considerable backside swayed back and forth, sequins reflecting the array of Christmas lights draped over every inanimate object in the room. “The dress, or the lady wearing it?”

“I was talking about the dress,” Wufei snorted. “It’s too flashy. But now that you mentioned it…”

There was another laugh, off to his left this time and his mind was jerked away from its momentary distraction. God, how he’d missed hearing that laugh and how he hated that someone else was the cause of it. Jealousy simmered in his blood, making his skin feel hot and dry, but he didn’t dare look at the culprit.

“Ah, now it all makes sense.”

“Don’t, Fei.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t say it. I know I fucked up, okay? I know I’m getting what I deserve. I’ve heard enough of that from Heero already.”

“I wasn’t gonna say anything,” Wufei shrugged, stirring his martini with his pinky finger. “You know, I’m not nearly as judgy as I used to be.”

“Yes, I’ve noticed.”

“Yuy, on the other hand, seems to have crowned himself the arbitrator of all things Moral and Just these days.”

Trowa nodded vaguely. “I guess it comes with the territory when you marry a politician.”

“Or want to be one.”

Trowa gave him a shocked look. “Wait, what?”

“I have to admit, Senator Yuy does roll off the tongue rather nicely, doesn’t it?”

“You’re joking. Heero?”

“That’s the rumor. You didn’t hear it from me though.”

He stared down at his drink, brain struggling to make sense of the insensible. “I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this.”

Wufei made a chortling sound and munched on another olive. “Join the club. Duo nearly had a stroke when I told him.”

“Does Qua - “ he winced as his tongue tripped over the name. It felt like a curse, like he had no right to speak it aloud after the heartache he’d caused. “Does Quatre know?” He asked more forcefully, hoping the blond wouldn’t hear him over the din of the party.

Wufei pretended not to notice his blunder which he appreciated. “If he does, he hasn’t said anything about it.”

“I suppose he wouldn’t,” he mused. “Isn’t that some sort of unspoken rule? Don’t announce someone else’s plans to run for office?”

“Who knows?” Wufei spun around on the stool and flagged the bartender. “You want a refill?”

“Yeah, why not? Got nothing better to do.”

“You just gonna sit here and brood all night?”

“I’m not brooding. I’m thinking.”

“Are you planning on staging some unfortunate mishap involving Quatre’s man candy?”

“Jesus, can you not call him that?”

“His name is Antoine, apparently. He’s pretty hot, I’ll give him that,” Wufei mused. “What do you think he does for a living?”

“I don’t care.”

“Probably a cop...or a personal trainer,” Wufei continued. “Looks like he hits the gym pretty regularly.”

“Good for him.”

“Oh, lighten up, Barton. Look, if you really want to win your boy over, you’re gonna have to grow a pair and make the first move.”

Trowa groaned. “I can’t do that.”

“Why the hell not?”

“What am I supposed to do? Go over there like some kind of meathead and challenge the guy to a fight?” To be fair, that was exactly what he wanted to do, but he’d probably end up making even more enemies than he already had.

“You could,” Wufei agreed. “Or you could ask Quatre if you can speak to him privately for a few minutes and once you get him alone, confess all your deepest, darkest desires.”

Trowa gave him a sideways look. “You’ve been watching too many movies.”

“Well, you’re sure as shit not getting anywhere by being a wuss. I mean, look at this guy…look at him.” Wufei pointed his stick speared with olives at the chattering couple and Trowa reluctantly turned his head. “You’re both similar in build, but just look at his body language. Look at the way he keeps Quatre close to him, gentle, but assertive. He oozes confidence. He knows what he wants and he’s not afraid to take it.” He poked his stick into Trowa’s chest. “That’s what you gotta do. Be a worthy opponent. Show Quatre what he’s missing, or risk losing him forever.”

Trowa chewed his lip, the idea gaining merit the more he thought about it, but…”But what if he ends up hating me instead?”

“At least you tried.”

Couldn’t argue with that. He needed Quatre to understand how he felt. He needed him to know that he’d never meant to hurt him. Even if nothing came of it, at least he could say he tried. At least it was one regret he wouldn’t have to live with.

He’d spent the first seventeen years of his life staring Death in the eye, unblinking. He’d been fearless, never thinking twice about the risks he took. Back then, he’d had nothing to lose. Now...well, he still had nothing to lose. So why was he sitting on this barstool with his thumbs up his ass while some - some...personal trainer was threatening his territory?

He tipped back his gin and tonic, swallowing it in one gulp, and slammed the empty glass down on the counter. “I’m going for it, Fei. Wish me luck.”

Wufei raised his martini in a half-hearted salute. “Yeah, yeah.” He watched as Trowa slid off the stool and hobbled a little before he gained his footing. “Can’t believe that guy used to be an acrobat,” he said, glancing behind him. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”

Duo’s head rose up from the other side of the bar counter. “You did good, babe,” he said, nipping the shell of Wufei’s ear.

“I don’t like sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong. Still don’t get why you didn’t do it. You’re better at the whole pep-talk thing anyway.”

“Because if I did it, Trowa would get suspicious,” Duo informed him, casually pouring himself a beer from the tap and ignoring the bartender’s glare. “He always sees through my shenanigans. Besides, you did great, like I said.”

“Well, I’m not gonna do it again. If those two idiots can’t get their shit together this time, then they’re beyond help.”

“Duly noted, honey,” Duo conceded, kissing his boyfriend’s scowling cheek.

 


 

Trowa’s heart pounded as he advanced on the two men, but by some miracle, he managed not to trip and fall on his face. His gaze was fixed on the laughing blond who seemed far too comfortable with his date’s brazen hands. That was, until he noticed Trowa’s approach and his jolly good cheer instantly vanished. He took a step back, his date’s arms loosening their grip and then dropping altogether

His blue eyes were wide, but the surprise quickly turned frigid, reminding Trowa of arctic glaciers in the dead of winter. His posture became defensive and Trowa’s sharp senses detected a hint of fear in the air, igniting within him a strange mix of guilt and heady power.

Quatre’s date drifted closer, trying to act as a barrier between them. Trowa’s nostrils flared, a clear warning to stay out of his way, but the blond had already recovered from his shock. He shouldered his date to the side and gave Trowa a scathing look. “What the hell do you want?”

“I want to speak with you,” he said, glancing at the other man pointedly. “Alone.”

“There’s nothing you can say to me that you can’t say here,” Quatre sniffed, his demeanor shifting from skittish colt to boardroom barracuda.

But Trowa wasn’t falling for it. “Oh, there’s plenty.” Grabbing Quatre’s arm, he smiled at his companion who wasn’t sure how to respond. “Excuse us,” he said with exaggerated politeness, pulling the mildly protesting blond down a hallway that led to a small sitting room. He shoved Quatre into the room and pulled the door closed behind them, relieved that it had a lock.

Quatre rounded on him, arms folded and cheeks tinged pink with indignation. “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

He calmly slid the lock into place and leaned against the door. “We have some things to discuss.”

“I have nothing to say to you.”

Trowa pushed away from the door and stood over him, but Quatre refused to be intimidated. “Well, that’s fine. You can listen then because I have a lot to say to you.”

“God, this is so typical,” Quatre spat before he could continue. “So typical. You know, a year ago, you could have told me to jump naked into a den of rattlesnakes and I would have done it without question. I was so smitten with you and everyone knew it.” He jabbed a finger into Trowa’s chest. “Including you, despite that deer-in-the-headlights routine you like to pull sometimes.”

“Quatre -”

“So what do you do? You show up at our friend’s Christmas party with some hussy who proceeds to spend the entire evening mocking my feelings for you in front of everybody. Everybody! Do you have any idea how embarrassing that was? How stupid I felt?”

“That's what I wanted to -”

“So this year, I decided hey, I’m never going to let anyone make me feel that small and worthless ever again, but oh no! We can’t have that, can we? God forbid. No, you just had to swoop in like a jealous caveman, drag me off like a piece of meat, and ruin my night...again!”

“You know you could have stopped me if you really wanted to.”

“I - what?”

“Come on, Quatre. You think I don’t know who and what you are? I know you better than anyone here, probably better than you know yourself. You let me drag you in here. If you were really against it, I’d be lying unconscious in the hallway right now.”

Quatre’s mouth hung open, but nothing came out. It was one of the few times Trowa had ever seen him speechless. He almost wished he had a camera to mark the momentous occasion. Giddy with triumph, he couldn't help but push his luck. “Methinks you doth protest a little too much.”

“Oh, fuck off,” Quatre scowled. “I only let you because I wanted to give you a piece of my mind.” He turned away, but not quickly enough. Trowa saw him realize his slip before he’d spun around completely.

Busted.

“Alright, let’s cut to the chase, shall we? You let me drag you in here because you want to resolve this just as much as I do.”

“No.”

“You let me drag you in here because you know that guy out there can never make you feel the way I make you feel.”

“You’re either drunk, or delusional. Or both.”

He shook his head, confident that he was on the right track. “No, I’m being honest with myself for the first time in years. And you deserve the truth. You can deny it all you want, but I know you, Quatre. And you know me. You know I never meant to hurt you. You know how terrible I feel about it. How much I wish I could go back in time and do things differently. But I can’t do that. The only thing I can do is try to make it right, starting now.”

Quatre was quiet which was a good sign. A quiet Quatre was a listening Quatre so he pressed on, emboldened by the undivided attention.

“You know that you’re the only one I’ve ever wanted.” He stepped forward cautiously, stopping a mere inch from Quatre’s back. So close that he could feel the waves of heat radiating from the blond’s body and it made him weak in the knees. When he spoke again, his voice was barely a whisper, a puff of hot breath against Quatre’s neck. “You know that you’re the only one I’ve ever loved.”

Quatre’s shoulders slumped forward in defeat, as if that last statement had pushed a button deep inside him. His defenses crumbled, leaving him vulnerable against the onslaught of Trowa’s emotions. “Damn you,” he cursed, voice thick with something akin to regret. “God damn you.”

Anyone not close to him might have taken that as a rejection, but Trowa knew better. When he tugged Quatre into his arms, the blond went willingly, his fingers curling tightly into the fabric of Trowa’s jacket.

“It’s okay,” he soothed, pressing his face into soft, strawberry-scented hair. “I’m sorry. I never meant to you hurt you. I had no idea Terri would act the way she did. The only reason I brought her was because -”

“No, I know why you brought her and I know you were confused.” When Trowa leaned back to look at him, understanding - perhaps even a hint of sympathy - was reflected in the pools of Quatre’s eyes. “I mean, I had a feeling, but Duo confirmed it.”

“Oh.” He should have known.

“I just don’t know why you didn’t tell me. I needed to hear it from you, not from him.”

Odd how something that was so daunting back then now just seemed ridiculous in hindsight. “I know. I was...scared, I guess. I couldn’t think of the right words. I was convinced you never wanted to see me again and I didn’t blame you.”

“So why the sudden change of heart?” Quatre asked, sliding his hands underneath Trowa’s suit jacket to slip it off his shoulders. The touch was soft and warm and he closed his own hands over the blond’s to prevent him from pulling away.

“I haven’t been able to get you out of my head ever since. No matter where I go, or what I’m doing, you’re always there, in my thoughts, haunting my dreams. I wonder what you’re up to, what you’re thinking...feeling. If you - if you ever think about me…” He laughed as his face flushed with heat. “But to be honest, it’s nothing different. I guess seeing you with someone else was enough to light a fire under me.” He stroked Quatre’s cheek with trembling fingers. “Maybe I’m hoping I can change your heart?”

Quatre smiled up at him. “You don’t have to. You already have it. You’ve always had it.”

“But what about what’s-his-face out there?”

“Antoine’s my personal trainer and a good friend. When I mentioned what happened last year, he offered to come as my date. Mostly for moral support, but…”

“But…?”

“Well, Duo suggested that he pretend to be my boyfriend. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, but I let him and Antoine talk me into it.”

Ah, so it was all an elaborate scheme to make him jealous. He wondered if Wufei knew about it, but of course he did. Even if Duo wasn’t naturally loose-lipped, keeping his boyfriend out of the loop would have been difficult, if not impossible.

“I see.”

“I’m sorry. Are you mad at me?”

He yanked the blond into his arms and kissed him hard, groaning when Quatre’s lips parted and welcomed him inside. He kissed him until they were both dizzy, savoring Quatre’s taste on his tongue and his hot breath against his mouth. “Furious,” he answered with a wolfish grin. “The real question is, what should I do with you now?”