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It Could Only Be You

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Duo must have facepalmed about fifty times in the last fifteen minutes. Trowa seemed perpetually unable to understand the gravity of the situation. He was of half a mind to slam the laptop closed and just say, “Fuck it.” Problem was, he simply cared too much about his friends, believed in his heart of hearts that Trowa and Quatre were meant to be. This whole situation just seemed so wrong.

“He's got a new guy. Looks like you. Again.”

“Good for him. What else is new?”

Duo felt the incredulity on his own face and knew it was obvious when Trowa looked irritated and snapped, “What?”

“Does this not bother you?” Trowa shrugged and turned back to folding his laundry. Duo stared through the computer monitor at the brunette's bare back, watching the muscles shift beneath the skin, and wondered how dense his friend had to be to not get this. He could also see the sweat that coated Trowa's skin from ten feet away and remembered the circus was currently in Florida. “Don’t you have air conditioning?”

Trowa glanced at him over his shoulder as he folded a t-shirt. “Cathy has it in her room.”

“Might want to invest in another one, buddy. Your bangs aren’t as...springy...as usual.”

Trowa tossed the shirt down onto his bed and turned to face him. “Is there an actual point to this discussion?”

Duo threw up his hands in exasperation. “I don’t know! Is there? You’d think another guy getting into Quat’s pants would get more of a reaction out of you than this - this...cadaver impression you've got down to an art form.” Though, despite his frustration, he was getting hot just watching the sweat roll down the prominent pecs and ridges of Trowa’s abdomen. He wiped a hand across his damp forehead and momentarily questioned his sexuality. “I can’t believe this doesn’t bother you.”

“If it bothers you so much, why don’t you date him?”

“Ha. Ha. Ha. You’re a funny guy, Tro. Not that I'd be opposed to shacking up with Blondie, but Hilde would murder me.”

“Are we finished?”

“No! Not until you admit your undying love for Quat. Preferably to him.”

“Bye, Duo. Nice talking to you.”

“But, Tro -”

Trowa closed his laptop and stepped away, swiping a small hand towel off his bed and using it to wipe the sweat off his face and chest. He propped his hands on his hips and blew out a heavy sigh. It had to be a stifling one hundred twenty degrees in here. The tiny portable fan accomplished nothing except to move the scorching, stagnant air around. Perhaps it was time to invest in a window rattler.

 

***

 

Trowa had thought war was Hell, but nope. He was so wrong. Hell was erecting a giant circus tent in ninety seven degree heat with one hundred percent humidity. He pushed his bandanna up his forehead and rubbed stinging perspiration out of his eyes. The cloth tied around his head was only useful until it became so drenched that it stopped preventing the sweat from running down his face. He pulled it off and wrung it out, his eyes widening at how much fluid dripped from the soaked cloth. 

"Jesus."

Who in their right mind would actually choose to live in this sun-baked swamp?

“Yoo hoo!” He turned at Cathy’s cheerful chirp and watched his sister’s approach as he tied the wet bandanna back onto his head. She tentatively balanced a tray on her arm with two glasses of lemonade teetering on top. The melting ice made a pleasant tinkling sound against the glass and Trowa’s mouth watered at the prospect of cool refreshment, wondering how he hadn’t sweated out his saliva yet. 

She stopped in front of him and graced him with a bright smile. She was wearing her signature bikini top in hot pink and a pair of cutoff denim shorts. In her other hand, she clutched a white parasol to protect her from the worst of the sun's rays. Her skin was only mildly damp in contrast to his. Trowa accepted the beverage with a derisive grunt. His wet fingers slipped in the condensation on the outside of the glass and he had to grip it tightly to keep from dropping it. He shot her an irritable, resentful glare when she clinked their glasses together. No one had the right to be so perky in this God awful heat.

He grudgingly acknowledged that Cathy would be one of those people who chose to live in this sauna, otherwise known as the Sunshine State. Trowa grumpily drank his lemonade, cringing slightly at sickly sweet taste. Why did she have to put so much sugar in it? 

Too thirsty to give a fuck, he tipped his head back and guzzled it down. It was so hot, the walnut sized ice cubes were now only half the size of a quarter. He crunched on them eagerly, still parched. 

“How’s it going?” She asked him. He cracked ice between his teeth and gave her a look that said, How do you think? 

She picked up on it easily and scoffed, applying a kick to the back of his calf with a flip-flopped foot. “Oh, don’t be so grouchy!”

Trowa reached up and grasped the cords that were used to tie the giant canvas cover to its poles. He yanked them tight and threaded them through the loops and hooks on the pole. “I’ll be less “grouchy” when I’m not on the verge of a heatstroke. Whose bright idea was it to schedule our itinerary so that we would end up in Florida in the middle of July?”

“Oh, it’s not that bad. Don’t be a drama queen.”

“Says the woman who doesn’t have to put this thing up.”

“Duo called, by the way.”

Trowa groaned and pressed his forehead against the steel pole, lamenting the fact that it wasn’t even cool enough to feel good on his overheated skin. “What now?”

“He said it was urgent.”

“Of course he did." Everything with Duo was urgent. Everything was an emergency. The last time Duo said it was urgent, it had been to ask Trowa to settle an argument between him and Wufei over whether sharks were fish, or mammals. Trowa couldn’t imagine what kind of pressing matter needed his immediate attention now, but he was sure it was just as stupid as the last time.

“I’ll go see what he wants. I need a break anyway.”

Cathy grabbed his shirt which was hanging over one of the support rods and handed it to him. “Wipe that sweat off. I don’t want you dripping all over the carpet.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he muttered, rubbing the soft cotton of the tee over his drenched skin and hair. He grimaced at the wet splotch left behind and slung it over his shoulder as he made the trek back to their trailer. He had to wipe himself down a second time because the walk in the oppressive sun had him sweating all over again. 

He stepped into his room and flicked on the air conditioning unit that blocked half his window now. He tipped his head back and raised his arms out to the sides, sighing in sweet relief at the almost frigid air that blew against his damp skin. It was such a stark contrast, he shivered involuntarily as he spun in a slow circle, then used the shirt to wipe off the last of the perspiration. 

Finally cool enough to think straight, he pulled his chair out, plopping down in front of his desk, and flipped open his laptop. He pulled up his contacts and found Duo’s, clicking on the name. The video call screen opened, black for the moment. He rested his chin on his fist as he waited for Duo to pick up.

“Y’ello! Oh hey, Tro. How’s it hangin’, dude?”

Trowa blinked at Duo’s image, his keen eyes taking in the almost nervous expression despite the braided man trying to cover it with a smile. “What did you want this time?”

Duo tipped up the bill of his cap and scratched his cheek. It was a trademark gesture of his when he was uneasy, or worried about something. “Erm...it’s about Quat.”

Trowa’s resting bitch face never changed. “What? He broke up with his latest fling? What’s his record now? Six in six months? This isn’t news, Duo. He’ll find another one.” He was trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice, but Duo faltered for a moment, almost as if he’d caught it. Trowa mentally kicked himself and increased his attempts to school his features and voice into neutrality. 

The problem was, Trowa was bitter. Very much so. Quatre tried to start a relationship with him ten years ago, even confessed his love for him. Trowa panicked, terrified at the prospect of not only being in a relationship, but being in one with someone like Quatre. Someone who was beautiful and loving and kind and intelligent. Quatre was everything Trowa wasn’t. Popular, outgoing, friendly, charismatic, ridiculously wealthy. How, or why the blond had ever fallen in love with him was incomprehensible. 

Instead of responding in kind even though he felt the same, the only thing he could think of to do was escape, to run away because it was just too much and it could never work in a million years. They were from two different worlds. It would just never work. So he shut it down in the most effective way possible which unfortunately, was to break the blond’s heart. Even to this day, he felt like dog shit that had been stepped on and left out in the hot sun. And despite the fact that he’d walked away two years ago, his feelings for Quatre never wavered. He was still in love with him and it hurt.

He justified it by telling himself it was for the best and tried to move on with his life. But he thought about the blond often and it was difficult to pretend he didn’t care when Duo called to tell him Quatre was seeing a new guy. Truth was, he did care. What he really wanted to do was pummel each and every one of Quatre’s boyfriends to a bloody pulp and tell them never to go near him again. It pissed him off even though he couldn’t blame Quatre for trying to move on with his own life.

Though he hadn’t expected Quatre to become somewhat of a serial dater. His flings were passionate, as told by the media, but always short lived, with the blond eventually dumping his lovers before the month was over. Trowa, and Duo, also didn’t fail to notice how every man Quatre dated possessed an almost eerie resemblance to Trowa. Tall, muscular, with brown hair. Something Duo never failed to mention whenever he called to tell him Quatre had a new beau. 

He stared through the video screen, watching Duo fidget, and waited for yet another account of the flighty blond’s escapades ending in yet another Trowa doppelganger getting his heart broken. The odd thing was, Duo was never nervous when he reported to Trowa about Quatre’s break ups. Typically, he used it as an opportunity to goad Trowa into making his move.

“Tro...Quat’s getting married.”

Trowa's expression didn’t change. He never even moved. To an onlooker, he would have seemed completely unfazed, but inside, dumb shock had taken over. 

“What?” He tried, he really did, to keep his voice steady, and winced when the question came out in more of a squeak than a word.

“The guy...Evan, his name is. I don’t know if I told you that when I talked to you last month. He proposed, Tro. And Quat said yes.”

Trowa leaned back, blinking at the screen. He heard what Duo said, but for some reason, it wasn't computing. Quatre...married? This was something he hadn't anticipated. Quatre jumping from one relationship to the next was one thing, but this...this was...this was something he wasn't prepared to handle.

Duo was waving his hand in front of the screen. "Hellooo? Tro? Did I break you? You okay, man?"

No, I'm not okay! "Yeah, I'm okay."

"You sure? Because I could have sworn -"

"Thanks for letting me know, Duo. I have to go."

"Well, wait a minute. What's going on? Did I finally hit a nerve? You know, you still might have time to -"

"Bye, Duo."

"Damn it, Tro -" Slam! Trowa stared at the white painted wall behind his desk, too stunned to do anything else. He never once believed Quatre would actually get married. He didn't know how to process this information. He jumped a little at the soft knock at his door and shook himself out of his zombie-like state, running a hand through his hair. 

"Yeah."

The door cracked open and Cathy's head popped in. "Everything alright?"

No. "Yes." He stood up from his chair and stepped over to the door. "I've got to get back to work." He brushed past Cathy who waved her hand in front of her nose.

"Pew! Remember to take a shower when you're done."

 

***

 

Trowa was forced to endure more of his sister's company as he cleaned out the lion's cages. As if the smell wasn't bad enough on a normal day, the heat made it infinitely worse. Of course, it was his job since he'd practically begged the ringmaster to keep them after the stodgy man had made arrangements to sell them. Trowa wasn't above clasping his hands in front of him and dropping to his knees.

The ringmaster had sniffed. "Fine. But they're your responsibility. Feed them, bathe them, exercise them, and muck out the cages. I'm too old to deal with it."

This time, Trowa's bandanna was covering his nose and mouth as he shoveled the manure into a wheelbarrow to be buried.

"You look like a gang member."

Trowa's eyes were sharp over the red cloth covering half his face. "Is there a reason you're here?"

Cathy looked mock offended. "What? You don't like my company?"

Actually, it wasn't all bad. Cathy just had a penchant for trying to discuss Trowa's love life, or lack thereof. It was...complicated. He didn't know how to tell her that the only one for him was Quatre, but that he'd broken his heart because he was afraid of having a relationship with him. And he had virtually zero interest in dating anyone else. But Cathy was nothing if not totally onto him.

"It's him, isn't it?"

"Who?"

"Don't play dumb, Trowa. You know who."

God, it was too hot for this. "Can we not talk about this right now?" He wasn't thrilled about discussing the lost love of his life while shoveling lion shit. 

Cathy shrugged, not bothered in the slightest. She twirled the parasol on her shoulder and crossed one bare leg over the other, foot kicking idly in the air. "Suit yourself. What happened between you two anyway? You never told me."

"Nothing."

"Doesn't seem like nothing."

"Cathy -" He lifted his hand to pinch the bridge of his nose, but thought better of it after looking down at his manure stained work gloves. "Look, it just isn't something that's feasible, okay?"

"Why not?"

Damn, but were girls always this obtuse? "Because he's rich and famous. Everybody loves him. Who am I? A nobody." He gestured towards the poop-filled wheelbarrow. "Look at me, Cath! I'm cleaning shit out of a cage!"

"Don't be vulgar. It was your choice to keep them."

He dropped his arms and tipped his head back, gazing heavenward. Did she have to be so infuriating? He scraped the last of the manure off the bottoms of the cages and tapped the shovel's tip against the edge of the wheelbarrow to dislodge it, his face contorting in revulsion. "Never mind."

Cathy huffed, a putout sounding sigh as if this was inconveniencing her in some way, and closed her magazine. "If you say so. Just know, you can tell me anything. You know that, right?"

"Yeah, I know. Thanks."

"And if you love him, go get him! Who cares about all that class stuff?"

Lots of people, he thought, but didn't voice it. 

"Does he care that you're not rich?"

"No."

"So then, why should you?" She stood up, tucking her magazine beneath her arm, and folded her lawn chair. "Honestly, Trowa. It's not a crime to be happy. I really wish you'd quit punishing yourself, or thinking you're not worthy, or whatever it is you're doing. I'd much rather that than see you moping around here all the time."

"I don't mope."

She rolled her eyes and perched her parasol back on her shoulder. "Sure you don't. I'm going to take a nap before tonight's performance. You need anything?"

"No, I'm good. I'm just going to hose these cages down and bury the sh - poop. I'll probably take a nap, too, after that."

"After you shower."

Now it was his turn to roll his eyes. "Yes, after I shower. Jesus."

"Don't take the Lord's name in vain."

Trowa shot her a perplexed look. "Since when do you care about blasphemy?"

She shrugged and slid her sunglasses onto her nose. "I don't. Just seemed appropriate."

He snorted, leaning on the shovel handle, and watched her leave. He listened to the fwap fwap of her flip flops slapping against her heels as she walked and rubbed an itchy spot on his nose beneath the bandanna. Why did the damned thing have to itch? He propped the shovel on top of the wheelbarrow and pushed it to the spot where he would bury the manure. He was completely soaked by the time he was done and hosed himself down in the refreshing cold water before he turned the spray on the cages. 

Perhaps she was right. Perhaps Duo was right. The only reason he and Quatre weren't together was because of his own hangups. He didn't know how he would be able to get through Quatre getting married, especially if he was invited to the wedding, which he doubted. 

Trowa, I love you and I think you love me, too. 

I don't love anyone. Not even you. 

He winced at the memory, kicking himself for being so cruel. They hadn't spoken since so it was unlikely he would be invited. Maybe he could crash it? Do the old, clichéd 'bust in when the priest asks if there's anyone who doesn't believe these two should be joined in matrimony, speak now, or forever hold your peace and declare his love for the bride' spiel. He tried to envision doing that and wound up picturing the herd of Quatre's twenty nine sisters beating him over the head with their jeweled handbags.

He could kidnap him. Throw the blond over his shoulder and run out of the Mosque and into a waiting getaway car. But the likelihood of successfully pulling that off was slim to none. It wasn't easy to abduct and hide away a multi-billionaire playboy, especially one who'd been a Gundam pilot. Not to mention the fact that Quatre would probably not appreciate it.

Hmm. Maybe that's a bad idea. 

Of course, Duo would probably tell him to go for it. There was really only one person he could objectively talk to about this. Someone who would tell him the honest to God truth. He finished washing the cages out and unhooked the lions' chains from around the trees. They'd been languishing in the shade of the surrounding forest and weren't too keen on moving. He managed to usher them back and promised them a tasty treat after the show. They yawned and curled up in their cages, going back to sleep. 

He headed back to the trailer and immediately jumped into the shower. It felt so good to wash the sweat and grime off. He tried not to groan in relief because it would no doubt wake Cathy up which would inevitabely lead to awkward questions. He considered jacking off, but decided he was too tired. He glanced down at his dick which hung limp against his thigh. "Why are you so tired? I did all the work." 

He dried off quickly and tiptoed past Cathy's room, not missing the loud snores that drifted through the door. Once in his own room, he flipped the air conditioner on and sat down at his desk. He took a moment to brace himself. The person he was about to talk to hadn't spoken to him in ten years either. He wasn't sure how his call would be received. 

Here goes nothing...

He opened his laptop and pulled up his contacts. Near the bottom of the list, he selected Heero Yuy's private number and clicked on it. Folding his hands over his mouth, he waited anxiously for his old comrade to pick up.

Chapter Text

“You look splendid, my good Sir. If I may be so bold.”

Quatre resisted the urge to roll his eyes and fiddled with the black cummerbund wrapped around his middle. “You may,” he said with a barely audible sigh and could not resist adding under his breath, “Allah knows you’ve already got your head so far up my ass, you can see what I had for lunch.”

“Beg your pardon, Sir?”

“Nothing.” He turned away from the mirror and stepped down from the carpeted platform. The tailor immediately rushed over and began fussing over nonexistent imperfections. Quatre bit down on his lip to keep from snapping at the man whose hands fluttered over his person like a fretting grandmother. He endured adjustments he really didn’t need and clenched his hands into fists, fighting the temptation to deck the simpering sycophant when he felt a pin poke into the skin of his thigh.

“My apologies, Sir.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ve had worse.” It was strange, but even after ten years, the stab wound he’d survived still ached when the air turned chill and damp. And, ironically enough, when Dorothy Catalonia was in sniping distance.

“If I may, how did you get that injury, Sir?”

Now that was a can of worms Quatre was not thrilled about opening any time soon. Sufficed to say, just thinking about it drudged up memories that were much better off being laid to rest. Weeks of unbearable pain, a perpetual drug-induced haze, and at the center of it all was a young man who, when Quatre confessed his undying love, ran for the hills and never looked back.

“Long story. Are we finished?”

The tailor hesitated, uncertain, as if he was still itching to tweak Quatre’s tux, but he seemed to sense the blond’s slightly agitated state and wisely decided to back off. “Yes, Sir. If you are happy with it -”

“Happy is a strong word,” Quatre muttered and left the fitting room without elaborating to change back into his street clothes. Stephen would be happy with it and he supposed that would have to be enough.

Trowa was the reason he was in this whole mess to begin with. Actually, that wasn’t fair. Quatre made his own choices, but he couldn’t pretend that those choices weren’t rooted in the festering soil of unrequited love.

It was Trowa he loved, Trowa he wanted, but he could not have him so he’d settled for the next best thing.

Several next best things, if he were honest. It was embarrassing now when he looked back at the last ten years, his decade-long history of flighty romances. He couldn’t help but flush with mortification when he wondered what Trowa thought about all this. Especially after his fourth attempt with yet another brown-haired, green-eyed doppleganger, one who went by the name Darius. The jilted former fling immediately ran to the press armed with an Oscar-worthy performance complete with stolen, private photos of the two of them and a bucket of crocodile tears. In the wake of that disaster, the media had finally sniffed out Quatre’s “type” and with that revelation, the speculation about who he was pining over began to spread like wildfire.

He had no idea if Trowa kept up with the news, or the latest gossip, but prayed he didn’t. If Trowa didn’t think he was a complete flake already, he’d surely keep an entire earth’s hemisphere away from him if he’d ever managed to catch sight of a damning headline, or Allah forbid, dared to venture into an op-ed.

Quatre vaguely remembered him bitching about Cathy’s celeb gossip shows and held out hope that if she still watched them, she did so when he was not around, though he knew that he was probably deluding himself. Trowa wasn’t stupid, or blind, nor did he exist in an isolated vacuum out in the middle of nowhere, sans technology. He knew, as surely as Quatre knew he knew. His admittedly disturbing obsession with Trowa was laid out for all the world to see. In essence, he’d dug his own metaphorical grave.

Not that he didn’t have one foot in it already. Trowa’s rejection was proof enough of that so what did he really have to lose? At least, that was what he told himself in the quiet hours of endless sleepless nights. Trowa didn’t care, so why should he?

The problem was, these men that he’d been with, though they shared similar physical traits with Trowa, well, they still weren't Trowa. Not even close and Quatre couldn't find the will to move past that. It wasn’t always obvious things either. The differences were significant all the way down to the smallest details. Idiosyncrasies, mannerisms, gestures, even their body language and facial expressions were all wrong.

There was no substitute for the real thing and that left Quatre with no other option than to settle for second best.

And really, Stephen was a good guy. Probably the one man he’d dated that looked the least like Trowa and maybe that was a good thing. Now that he was actually getting married, he had to start doubling his efforts to forget about Trowa. Commitment inevitably changed the game, though he was finding it exceedingly difficult to get his heart to listen to his brain.

He slipped his shirt on and leaned forward, thumping his forehead against the mirror with a groan. “What the hell am I doing?”

He wasn’t even aware he’d told Stephen yes until after the fact. It just slipped out and Stephen looked so damned happy, he just didn’t have the heart to take it back.

“Fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into, Quat. Real fine mess.”

“Sir?”

He jerked his head up and quickly rubbed the smudge his forehead left behind on the mirror with his sleeve. “What?” The tailor paused at the hasty bark and then cleared his throat. “I just wanted to let you know I have your tux bagged and it’s at the front whenever you’re ready. No rush.”

“Okay, thank you.”

He listened to the soft shuffle and jingle of keys fade as the man walked away and sat down on the small bench with a heavy sigh, sliding his feet back into his booties and lacing them up. From here, it was lunch with Iria and then home to get some work done. Stephen was staying late at the office to finish up some last minute things before they left for their honeymoon Saturday evening which was just as well. He needed some time alone.

And a drink, or five.

 

***

 

“Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?” Iria asked him after the waiter brought their ice water and took their orders. “I mean, you’re getting married the day after tomorrow. Aren’t you supposed to be over the moon? With your head in the clouds? The ecstatic, blushing bride?”

Quatre yanked the wrapper off his straw, shoved it between the ice cubes floating in his water glass, and glared at his sister. “You ever call me a “bride” again, I’ll write you out of my will.”

Iria dipped her fingers into her own water and then flicked them at her glowering brother. “Not much of a threat, alhabiba. As one of L4’s top surgeons, I’m not exactly hurting for money. Besides, you’re the one in white, are you not?”

He pouted and toyed with his lemon wedge. “It’s the principle of the thing.” He paused, glancing over the iron railing and down towards the bustling plaza below. “The white was Stephen’s idea. He’s wearing black.” Stephen’s chivalrous suggestion that Quatre wear white on their wedding day was kind of flattering, albeit rather sexist. Stephen was traditional, old school as Duo would say, and Quatre didn’t quite know how he felt about that yet.

“If we’re talking principles, now might be a good time to question yours.”

He glanced up sharply, not sure if he heard her right. “What?”

Iria leaned back and folded her arms across her chest. “I can’t help but notice you seem less than thrilled about your upcoming nuptials.”

“How perceptive of you,” he muttered.

She chose to ignore the sarcasm, at least for the time being which he was grateful for. “You getting cold feet?”

“Doesn’t cold feet apply to last minute jitters?”

“So that’s not what this is?”

Quatre didn’t answer, but he looked like someone had just accused him of kicking a puppy. A light bulb flickered on over Iria’s head. “Oh, Quat…”

“Iria, please don’t. Not -”

“It’s him, isn’t it?”

He paused and looked away, feeling the heat burn his cheeks. “Him who?”

“Don’t play dumb with me, al’akh al’asghar. I’m a Winner, too. I know that look.”

“What look?”

“That faux guileless expression our family has mastered down to an art form. Winners can fool anyone except other Winners.” Her blue eyes, dark like the ocean, twinkled over the rim of her glass. “It’s that kid, isn’t it? Trevor?”

Damn. He should have known better. Iria was sharper than a rusty tack as were all thirty of the Winner children, contrary to their late father who was quite obtuse at times. He supposed that old saying, ‘talent skips a generation’ had some merit. He was fairly certain their name meant 'bullshitter' in their native tongue. “Trowa,” he admitted. “And he’s hardly a “kid”. He’s twenty six.”

“I’m forty two, alhabiba. Trust me, you two are kids.” She leaned forward and reached for his hands which he placed into hers. “You can’t spend your life wasting away, waiting for a man that will never come.”

“Why the hell do you think I accepted Stephen’s marriage proposal?”

“Yes, but you’re still thinking of Trevor -”

“Trowa.”

“Trowa,” she corrected. “You’ve got to let him go, alhabiba.”

“I’m trying!” Now he was getting defensive and he pressed his lips together when his shrill proclamation drew a few curious stares.

“Do you love Stephen?”

Allah, why did she have to ask him that? Granted, it was a valid question and he knew it was coming. He’d sensed the impending doom and tried to prepare himself when it was inevitably voiced. Now, it hung in the air between them like a volatile thundercloud and Quatre had no idea how to answer it.

“I - I think - I don’t know,” he admitted and rubbed his hands over his face in aggravation. He supposed he did, in his own way, and he hoped he would grow to love Stephen as time went on, actually love him. He was a good man. Kind, attentive, sexy, hard-working, dedicated. He was damn good in bed. And he loved Quatre.

“He adores you,” Iria echoed his thoughts. “Worships the ground you walk on. I can see it in his eyes every time he looks at you. If you marry him without reciprocating that love, you are doing a wonderful man a terrible disservice. He deserves someone who will love him in return.”

Quatre winced and sucked the lemon juice off his fingers, needing something to do and something to ease the guilt rising like a cresting river. The bitterness was a welcome distraction and he used the reprieve to organize the chaos in his mind.

“I...don’t want to break his heart, Iria. You didn’t see him the night he proposed. His face...he was so happy. I couldn’t take it back. I just couldn’t. It would have crushed him and I - I know what that feels like.” He couldn’t stomach making Stephen feel the way Trowa had made him feel. It felt almost barbaric to do so.

“Alhabiba…” Iria’s voice was solemn, sympathetic as she took his hand in hers. “I can understand that. But don’t you think you’d be doing more harm than good in the long run? He may hurt now, but at least he’ll have a chance to get over it, over you, and find meaningful love.”

“You mean like I did?” Quatre asked, more bitter than he had a right to be. He was being selfish, he knew that. And Iria was right.

“I didn’t mean it like that, easal. You know that, don’t you?” She waited for his reluctant nod and continued, “And just because Stephen’s not The One doesn’t mean you won’t find him someday.”

“I just don’t understand why I can’t love him. He’s wonderful! The perfect man and here I am still stuck on my childhood crush who ran out on me as soon as I told him I loved him. What’s wrong with me?”

“Love makes us do funny things, Quat. Matters of the heart aren’t something that’s easily understandable. You have to try to let him go, though. For your own good as well as Stephen’s.”

“I’m trying to. I just...don’t know why I can’t. It’s not as if he cares about me, but I’m still holding onto this little flicker of hope that he’ll come back -”

“And whisk you away like they do in those cheesy romance films? Yeah, I get it, believe me, but life doesn't work like that.”

“Well, it should,” he grumbled petulantly, leaning back to give the waiter room to put his salad down. He picked up his fork and pushed around the colorful green foliage. His appetite seemed to have hitched a ride to a better place.

Iria chuckled and speared a cherry tomato. “It would be nice, wouldn’t it? Listen, alhabiba. I would like nothing more than to see your dreams come true, but sometimes things just don’t happen the way we plan.”

He suddenly felt like crying, chest tightening and eyes stinging. Damn, but why did he always feel like he was five steps behind everyone else? Like he was being offered chances at happiness, but kept missing them because he was perpetually nodding off in the proverbial pilot’s seat of life. He took a long sip of frigid water to soothe the burning lump in his throat and forced himself to ask the million dollar question. “How do I get out of this?”

Iria shrugged and popped the tomato into her mouth. “You have to tell him the truth and let him decide what he wants to do. You have to give him a choice. There is no other way.”

He felt a rising rush of anxiety twisting his belly and gave up the pretense of eating altogether. He set his fork down and folded his hands in front of his mouth, his voice muffled when he said, “I hope you have a good return policy on your dress then.”

Chapter Text

“Yo, Tro! What up, buddy pal, my man? You’re not going to spend the day with your dick in your hand, are you?”

More than used to Duo’s vulgar ways, Trowa propped his chin on his fist and glowered at the grinning man. “When have I ever spent my day with my dick in my hand?”

“Psssh. Every dude does that at least once.”

“What do you want, Duo?”

“It’s the big day!" Duo's expression was one of transparently false enthusiasm which gave him an eerie, almost mannequin-esque look. “Last chance to do your thang before blondie takes the plunge. You’re not actually going to let him go through with this charade, are you?”

“He’s a grown man, Duo. I don’t own him. He makes his own decisions. If he didn’t want to do this, he wouldn’t be doing it.”

Duo’s face drooped and Trowa bristled at the pity in his friend's eyes. “You are one dense fucker, you know that?”

He shifted in discomfort. Ironically enough, that was exactly what Heero had said the other night. “You been talking to Yuy?”

“'Yuy'? What are you, Wufei?”

“We’re...not exactly on a first name basis at the moment.” He doubted they were even on a last name basis either. Heero wasn’t exactly cordial when they’d spoken, though Trowa couldn’t really blame him. Heero had taken his rejection of Quatre quite personally. Not surprising with how close the two were. When it came to Quatre, Heero was as protective as a mother grizzly defending her cub.

“Yeah, I know. He’s pretty ticked at ya,” Duo quipped with a wink.

“Thank you, Captain Obvious.”

“So what’d he tell you?”

Trowa leaned back in his chair and worried his lip between his teeth. It wasn’t something he was eager to share. Heero’s biting words still stung and they probably would for some time. Trowa had taken most of it in subdued silence, knowing he’d brought it on himself. He'd expected as much when he called and Heero certainly didn't disappoint.

“I’m sure you can imagine, can’t you?”

“Naw, I wanna hear it. S’not very often our Hee-chan tears someone a new asshole these days. I’m feeling nostalgic.”

“You’re a dick,” he muttered when Duo flashed him a toothy grin. “Well, let’s see...he called me just about every name in the book, cussed me out -”

“English, or Japanese?”

“Both.”

Dayum. That’s quite an honor. He doesn’t do that very often. You done pissed that boy off.”

Trowa glared at him. “Could you possibly not act so goddamned pleased about all this?”

Duo shrugged. “Okay, sorry.” Though he looked and sounded anything but. “What did you say?”

“I wasn’t able to get much in edgewise, at least in the beginning. And I knew I didn’t really have any ground to stand on. I didn’t argue with him.”

“Because you know he’s right.”

“I...I don’t -”

“Tro,” Duo interrupted, adopting his best mock-stern voice, the kind he liked to use when he was dishing out what he thought was fatherly advice. Trowa looked up to see the other man’s brows furrowed as he stared him down and knew he was in for another lecture. “You know he’s right. I know you know. You know you know. He knows you know. The only one who doesn’t know is Quatre.”

“How could I even - Duo, I can’t do this! I can’t just barge in on his wedding and tell him I was wrong and then demand he dump his boyfriend to be with me. I’ve had two years to change this and I didn’t and he’s moved on. It’s too late. I’m not going to fuck up his life all over again.”

“You won’t, Tro! This is what he wants, man. He wants you. He loves you!”

“So why doesn’t he tell me that?”

“He did, remember?”

Trowa stopped short, his mouth snapping shut. Damn. He did, didn’t he? But...wasn’t it too late now? How could he live with himself if he disrupted Quatre’s wedding ceremony like some love-sick Neanderthal and made some corny sounding speech about how he'd realized the error of his ways? How could he live with himself if he ruined Quatre's relationship with his soon-to-be-husband just because he was too afraid to tell the blond what he should have said two years ago?

Then again...how could he live with himself if he didn’t?

“Tro, you are one of the most ballsy guys I’ve ever met, man. I’ve watched you throw yourself into the thick of battle and defy Death hundreds of times without batting an eye. But when it comes to Quat, I swear to Shinigami, you are the biggest pussy.”

Trowa couldn’t even find it in himself to be annoyed by that. Duo was right. He really was a pussy when it came to Quatre. He was terrified. Breaking his neck in a fall? Oh, well. Shit happens. Death? Pffft, whatever. Lifetime commitment with the man he’d loved since he was sixteen? Suddenly he wanted to curl into a fetal position and bawl like a baby. What the hell was wrong with him?

“Look, buddy. I get it, okay? When Hilde suggested we move in together, I nearly pissed myself. I kept thinking, what the fuck am I doing? I don’t know how to do this. I’m going to fuck everything up so bad. But you know what?”

“What?”

“I didn’t. Sure, we have problems. It’s no picnic trying to get used to living with someone’s weird habits day in and day out. We fight about money and we fight about mixing colors with the whites and we fight about stupid fucking shit, but at the end of the day, we still love each other. We make it work because we want this. So...you have to ask yourself, do you want that with Quat? Do you want to spend the next twenty, or thirty, or however many years wondering, what if? Or are you going to finally grow a pair and go fucking take what you want?”

Trowa pressed his lips together and thought back to his conversation with Heero. Beneath the swearing and the berating, there had been an air of desperate encouragement in Heero’s voice. A kind of subtle goading, a brotherly push down the right path, disguised as a swift kick in the ass.

He didn’t realize it at the time, but Heero had given him a good, old-fashioned dose of Tough Love.

 

***

 

“If you let him go...if you break his heart like this, I will never forgive you. I did not sign up to spend the rest of my life mailing out Christmas cards to Mr. and Mrs. Stephen fucking Woodrow every year.”

Despite the somber mood, Trowa's mouth curled up at the corners. “I don’t know which is funnier. The fact that you referred to Quatre as ‘Mrs.’ or the mental image of you sending out Christmas cards.”

Heero gave him a pointed look. “Any hypothetical Christmas cards I send will be addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Trowa Barton.”

He sobered quickly and studiously ignored the surge of giddiness that twisted his belly from the thought of Quatre becoming his ‘wife’. “Provided Quatre would even want to marry me, of course.”

“Trowa, don’t be stupid. You know damned well if you ordered him to put on a wedding gown and meet you at the nearest chapel, he’d be there with bells on.”

“I don’t think he’d appreciate the whole gown, bride, 'wife' thing.”

“Be that as it may. You know what I mean.”

“Heero, I just - what could I possibly have to offer him? I have nothing. I share a beat-down trailer with my sister for Christ’s sake.”

“If you honestly think Quatre gives a shit about any of that, then perhaps you don’t know him as well as I thought.”

He looked down at his lap as his cheeks flushed with shame. “I’m not good enough for him. He deserves better.”

“You’re the only one who thinks that. No one else thinks so, but I might be inclined to if you actually let him marry that asshole.”

“What do you have against this guy anyway?”

“He’s not you,” Heero answered in his typical blunt, no-nonsense way. “And Quatre will never be happy with him.”

“You don’t know that.”

“You are the most dense fucker I’ve ever met in my life and that’s saying something considering I work with Chang and Merquise everyday.”

Insulted, he folded his arms across his chest and snapped, “So what are you suggesting I do?”

“Whatever it takes.”

“Why do you care so much?”

“Because I care about Quatre. And I do care about you, contrary to popular belief. He’s miserable. He tries to hide it, but I can see it. He doesn’t want this. He’s only doing it because he believes this is his only chance to have a meaningful relationship.”

“And what if you’re wrong?”

Heero leaned forward until his nose was close enough to touch the screen. It would have been comical if not for the intensity of his dark blue eyes. “You should know well enough by now that I am never wrong.”

 

***

 

“Hellooo! Hey, Tro! You spacin’ out on me again, dude?”

“Hmm?” He snapped back to the present and stared dumbly at the screen as Duo waved his hand in front of it. “Sorry, what?”

“You havin’ war flashbacks, or somethin’, bud?”

“No. Sorry, I was just...I was thinking about my chat with Heero.”

“Uh-huh.” Duo tapped his index finger against his lip. “Well, at least you referred to him by his given name this time. I’d call that progress.” He waited to see if Trowa would say anything more and when he didn’t, he prompted, “So?”

“So...what?”

Duo rolled his eyes. “Are you gonna man up and rescue blondie from the clutches of the handsome and suave Mr. Woodrow, or are you going to sit there in your trailer with your thumbs up your butt?”

Fuck, this really was the moment of truth, wasn't it? This was it. He was standing at the edge of a crossroad. Either direction he chose could make, or break his future. And he had to make a choice. It was now, or never. He had only - he glanced at the clock - five hours to get his ass to L4 if that was the direction he decided to take. If he was ever going to have a chance to stop this thing, if he was ever going to have a chance with Quatre, he needed to get over his fear and he needed to do it fast. 

He remembered a young soldier, nearly dead in Trowa’s bed for well over a week from a failed suicide attempt. He’d helped Catherine nurse the boy back to health while a steady mantra chased its tail inside his mind. A mantra, playing on an endless loop, reminding him of what he'd planned to do.

When the time comes, you can’t mess it up. When you do this, there can be no chance of survival. You don't want to end up like this kid. It's a one-way ticket, Barton. It's your job to make sure it is.

And that boy knew it once he was finally cognizant again. How he knew, Trowa had no idea, but he knew. He didn’t try to stop Trowa. Didn’t try to talk him out of it. Didn’t try to tell him that yes, there was something to live for and all he had to do was find it. He didn't say anything because he knew it didn't matter. Because he'd been there, too.

They’d formed an odd sort of kinship, built on the understanding that death was an inevitable and just fate for lost souls such as they. Something they’d both accepted with a heavy resignation and the weariness of two young boys who’d seen and killed and lived through more than most adults five times their age. At the time, neither of them believed there was ever any coming back from that.

That boy departed once he was well enough with a short, but genuine expression of gratitude for their hospitality and three simple words of advice, the latter of which was directed at Trowa. Advice that may have seemed trite and shallow to an outsider, but to Trowa, it had meant everything.

Follow your heart.

That advice served him well in the two years since Heero had given it. Those words were what brought him back to Quatre and which ultimately lead to the recovery of his memories. Those three words hadn’t failed him yet. He had no reason to believe they would fail him now.

“Duo?”

“Yeah?”

“I estimate a thirty minute drive to the shuttle port, depending on traffic conditions. From there, it’ll probably take me around four hours to get to L4.” He left the rest unspoken. It didn’t need to be said. Duo got the gist and his eyes lit up in triumph.

“You got it, buddy. Don’t you worry about a thing. I’ll stall the ceremony until you get here. You just get your ass here in one piece.”

“I will. Thanks, Duo.”

“I’m just glad you finally came to your senses. I was beginning to lose hope that you ever would. Talk about pushing the envelope.”

“I just need to pack a few things and then I’ll be off.”

“Just hurry, bro. Ain’t got much time. It won't be long before Quat sniffs me out and gets suspicious. You know how he is.”

He smiled fondly. Quatre's gift of perception was legendary. “I'm leaving in five and I'll be there as soon as I can.”

He snapped his laptop shut and hurried to his closet, pulling a large duffle out. He carelessly stuffed it with a few days’ worth of clothing, tossed in his phone and charger, then left his bedroom to grab a few toiletries from the bathroom.

“Got a hot date, little brother?”

He could hear the smugness in Catherine's voice and turned to see her standing in the doorway with her arms folded across her chest. Her face held nothing back and normally Trowa would have been irked by the obvious, ‘I told you so,’ but at the moment, he was far too apprehensive and distracted to let it bother him.

“Cath, I gotta go to L4 for a few days...maybe more. I don’t know how long yet.”

She grinned wide and stepped out of the way, shooing him off with a flick of her wrist. “Go! Off with you. Don’t come back until you’ve put a ring on it!"

Jesus, is the Beyonce reference really necessary?

He was halfway in the driver’s seat when she threw the trailer door open and called out, “I have dibs on the wedding plans!”

He popped his head up over the top of the truck and gave her a dark look. “Don’t jinx me, Cath. At least wait until you know he didn’t murder me for ruining his wedding day.”

“Oh, you’ll be fine. Go on. Get your scrawny ass out of here and sweep your boy off his feet.”

He slammed the door closed and smoothly slid the key into the ignition, cranking it until the truck’s engine roared to life.

There was no time to think, no time to second guess. If he allowed himself that, he would chicken out, no doubt about it. Call the whole thing off and bury himself under his bed covers for the next three months while he vegged out on soap operas, processed food, and wallowed in self-pity.

When he thought about it that way, it was quite an effective incentive. At least enough to keep his foot on the gas. Anxiety made his belly tight and slightly queasy. This could go one of two ways. Either Quatre would melt at his confession, mumble an offhand apology to his newly ex-fiance, and then launch himself into Trowa’s arms with an exuberant, but noticeably seductive, “What the hell took you so long? Oh, who cares. Make love to me right here on the altar, you stud.”

He winced and shook his head as he gunned the truck through a questionably yellow traffic light. That was wishful thinking, not a potential outcome.

Who was he kidding? Quatre would probably stare up at him with those giant, guileless eyes that somehow managed to conceal the immeasurable intelligent and cunning mind behind them, shock rendering him silent, but not for long. Never for long. Then those delicately tapered brows would knit and lower and those serene turquoise gems, so angelic just a moment before, would darken like the gathering clouds of a storm.

There would be a pregnant pause, a stillness so quiet you could hear a pin drop, and then all hell would break loose. Duo would probably shout something along the lines of, “Oh, shit, here it comes. Take cover! He’s gonna blow!” And then a heart beat later, his premonition would come to fruition as the rarely witnessed, but formidable wrath of a pissed off Winner rained fire and brimstone upon the mass of hapless spectators.

And God help those who lived to tell about it.

“I’m either the craziest son of a bitch alive, or the stupidest,” he muttered as he steered his truck into the first driveway of the shuttle port and headed towards the large parking structure. He took his ticket and pulled into a spot, cutting the engine with a heavy sigh. “And I’m sure Quatre will be more than happy to let me know which before he breaks my nose.”

Chapter Text

“I still think you should let the three of us walk you down the aisle. The bride always gets walked down the aisle. How can you call this a wedding if you’re not gonna let us give you away?”

“Duo, for the last time, I am not a bride. I’m a groom.”

“Oh, don’t be so touchy...and quit squirming, will ya? I’m tryin’ to fix your tie.”

Quatre slapped his best man’s fussing hands away. “My tie is fine, you obnoxious ass. You’re the one wrinkling it because you won’t stop messing with it.”

“Duo, leave him alone,” Heero ordered, not even bothering to look up from his phone where his thumbs flitted across the screen so fast, they weren't even visible anymore.

“You better not be working, pal.”

“I’m just letting my colleague know about the last minute changes before the new security program gets approved Monday morning.” Heero’s eyes darted up for a second before returning to his phone. “It’s important, Duo.”

Duo shook his head and fiddled with Quatre’s hair. “That’s what he told me when he stood me up on our first date.”

“We never had a first date.”

“Exactly.”

Quatre spun around and stared at Heero with wounded eyes. “You asked him on a date and you didn't even tell me? When did this happen?”

“Never,” he snapped, giving Duo the evil eye. “He’s lying through his teeth.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Duo whispered in Quatre’s ear. “He’s just being shy.”

Heero set his phone down on the small round table beside his chair and crossed one leg over the other. It made him look like an old money patriarch posing for a portrait. “Remind me to tell Hilde that you’re lapsing into another one of your delusions.”

“Where is Hilde anyway?” Quatre asked, turning to look at Duo who manhandled his head back in the other direction with a stern click of his tongue.

“She wanted to come, but her sister went into labor late last night. Since she’s the birthing partner, she has to be there.”

Quatre’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. “Oh, that’s so exciting! What did she have?”

“It’s a boy, but she hasn’t technically had him yet. Hilde texted me an hour ago and said she’s only at seven centimeters. Shouldn’t be too long now though.”

The blond swooned dreamily. “I love babies. Such sweet little bundles of joy.”

“Sure they are, but don’t let Stevie knock you up until after the honeymoon,” Duo warned and doubled over with a cough when Quatre elbowed his sternum.

Heero was the only one who saw the blond’s crestfallen look before it retreated behind the carefully constructed expression of indifference he’d adopted since the wedding announcement went public. He was well aware of Quatre’s misgivings about his upcoming nuptials, but he simply didn’t know how to help put him at ease. It definitely wasn’t his place to tell his friend how to live his life. Not that it mattered. He wouldn't have known the right words to say even if they'd punched him in the face.

Despite Duo’s near-constant demands for him to ‘do something’, he felt the only thing he could do was support Quatre’s choices whether he agreed with them, or not. Wasn’t that what friends were supposed to do?

Looking back, he was just glad he’d refrained from telling Duo about his little chat with Trowa. The American was unnervingly loose-lipped for an ex Gundam pilot, even when completely sober. And though Trowa’s change of heart had seemed genuine, Heero didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up in the event he turned tail and ran back home.

He wasn’t sure what to expect, or how Quatre would react if he did show up. Drama would be a given and it was a good bet that one of the blond’s prospective suitors would walk away with a broken heart before the night was over. Possibly both if the situation took a turn for the worse.

“Earth to Heero! Come in, Heero!”

“Huh?” He looked up and saw Duo holding a sprig of Baby’s Breath peppered with tiny blue flowers over the top of Quatre's, visibly pissed off, head. 

“Yay, or nay?”

“I already said ‘nay’, you bossy prick.”

“And I said ‘yay’ so Heero’s our tie-breaker. Come on, what’cha think? He’s gotta have some flowers in his hair. Nothing flashy, but just a nice little touch, like this...” Duo gently weaved the sprig into the neatly styled curls an inch, or two above the blond’s left ear and pulled a bobby pin out of his own hair to secure it in place. “See?”

Wufei cleared his throat, annoyed at being overlooked. “You didn’t ask for my opinion.”

“Yours doesn’t matter.”

The Chinese man huffed and pointed his nose in the air. “Whatever. Like I care anyway.”

Heero shifted in his chair, uncomfortable about being put in such a position. He knew full well that he was two seconds away from being added to Quatre’s rapidly growing shit list, but he had to concede that the flowers did look very nice. The Baby’s Breath was the same creamy shade as their tuxes and the bluish-purple of the cornflowers brought out the accents in their vests and ties. He smiled, hoping it would soften the blow, and shrugged helplessly. “I’m sorry, but I have to agree with Duo. It really completes the look and makes you stand out as the br - er, groom.”

Quatre narrowed his eyes. “Nice save.”

“The flowers stay then,” Duo announced triumphantly and spun the grumbling blond around to face him. “Oh, quit sulking, you big baby. You’ll get premature wrinkles.” Without warning, he gripped Quatre’s cheeks between his thumbs and forefingers and squeezed them, hard.

Quatre howled and jumped backwards, hands instantly flying up to ward off any further pinching. “What the hell are you doing, you fucking psycho?!”

“Making your cheeks rosy. Oh -” Duo reached into his pocket, pulled out a black tube and a small round tin and held them up in front of Quatre’s horrified face. “Almost forgot these.”

“What is that?”

“Mascara and lip gloss.”

Quatre shook his head definitively and made a grab for the items. Unfortunately, he was too slow. “Duo, no. Absolutely not. There is no way in hell I’m letting you put makeup on me.”

Duo bobbed and weaved like a professional basketball player when the blond made another attempt to snatch the cosmetics out of his hands. “No one’s going to be able to tell you’re wearing it, Q!”

“Then why bother?”

“I’m saying it won’t look like you’re wearing makeup. It’ll just make your eyes look brighter and bring out the natural color of your lips,” Duo promised, holding the objects of contention high above his head where Quatre couldn’t reach. “Please, Q?”

“No.”

“Pretty please?”

“No!”

He glanced over at Heero with a pleading look on his face. “Little help here?”

Heero sighed and got up to assist. He’d learned a long time ago that arguing with Duo was about as effective as knocking down a brick wall with a toothpick. Thankfully Quatre’s distraction made it easy to sneak up behind him and maneuver him into an unbreakable basket hold.

Unable to do anything more than spit threats and curses at them, the blond proceeded to demonstrate his superior verbal skills by unleashing a torrent of insults that would have made the Devil’s toes curl like cheap wallpaper on a humid day. Even Duo, who could out-cuss a sailor in a whorehouse, was blushing to the tips of his ears.

“Come on, Quatre. Please just hold still and let him do it. You don’t want him to get shitfaced at the reception and dance naked to the Hokey Pokey like he did at Fei’s wedding, do you?”

Quatre immediately ceased his struggles and slumped in Heero’s arms, though his eyes were colder than a glacier as he watched Duo twist the cap off the mascara tube. “If you weren’t my best friend, I would kick you in the balls.”

Duo grinned and held the wand up. “Good thing I’m your best friend then, yeah?”

“Kick him in the balls, Winner,” Wufei encouraged from his place near the window. “Do it for both of us.”

“Shut the fuck up, Chang!”

You shut the fuck up!”

“Both of you shut the fuck up,” Heero barked, fed up with the constant bickering. “So help me, if you two do not stop acting like children, I will duct tape you to the ceiling and leave you here until after the wedding!”

Quatre cackled like a loon, breaking the shocked silence in the wake of Heero’s outburst. “Which cardinal sin did I commit to make the gods hate me this much? It was that time I jerked off under the dinner table during Aunt Mathilda’s ninetieth birthday party, wasn’t it? Damn it, my father told me there would be hell to pay. I hate it when he’s right.”

Duo rolled his eyes and grabbed the blond’s chin to hold his head steady. “Christ, you are such a drama queen. I promise you it’s not that bad so quit wiggling around like you got ants in your pants. I don’t wanna stab you in the eye with this thing.”

Quatre muttered to himself, but dutifully kept still as Duo brushed the mascara up the sweeping length of his lashes. Heero was able to watch the process in the mirror in front of him and was impressed by how much of a difference it made. The mascara didn’t look fake at all. Instead, it deepened the contrast and volume of Quatre’s lashes, made his eyes appear bigger and brighter, and enhanced the vibrant tropical color of his irises.

“Wow!”

“Told ya.” Duo grinned, sliding the wand back into the tube and setting it aside. He picked up the small tin and pried the top off, tilting it so Quatre could see inside. “I know it looks super duper pink in the container, but when I dab it on, all it will do is bring out the rosy color of your lips and give a slight - emphasis on 'slight' - shimmer.”

“How do you know so much about makeup anyway?”

“I’ll admit, I don’t know much. Hilde gave these to me before I left and showed me how to apply them.”

Wufei quirked a brow. “By putting it on you?”

Duo made a sound between a sigh and a laugh. “No. She made me practice on myself.”

Quatre snickered. “I wish I’d been there to see that.”

“Yeah, yeah. Okay now, don’t pucker up. Just relax your lips. I’m just going to dab a little bit on. We don’t want it to be obvious.”

Quatre was more cooperative this time and allowed Duo to apply the waxy substance on his lips without Heero having to restrain him. Finally, Duo stood back and checked his work with a pleased smile. “Perfect!”

The blond pushed past him to get a closer look in the mirror and Heero was touched to see genuine approval. “Not bad.”

“You look beautiful, Quat. I mean that sincerely.”

“Thank you, Heero.”

“Yeah, maybe I should give up scrappin’ and get a job as a makeup artist,” Duo boasted, brushing his fingernails against the lapel of his jacket as if he were buffing them. “Poor Stevie’s gonna be trippin’ over his tongue all night. What’cha think, Fei? Good, yeah?”

“Oh, now you care about my opinion?”

Heero tensed, alarmed as Quatre’s pallor suddenly turned a sickly shade of green. “Oh, shit…” He reached for his friend when he doubled over and began to retch. “Duo, quick! Grab that waste basket!”

“Got it. Hang on, Q! Don’t puke all over your tux.”

Heero grabbed it from Duo’s hands and held it under Quatre’s face just in time to catch the faintly yellow string of stomach acid and bile. “It’s okay,” he soothed, gently blotting the sweat from the blond’s forehead with his handkerchief. “It’ll pass in a minute. Just take some deep breaths, okay?”

Quatre dry-heaved a few more times before his stomach finally seemed to settle and nodded shakily when Duo asked if he needed a glass of water. Heero helped him into a chair and held onto his shoulders to make sure he didn’t topple over and kiss the floor.

“I’m alright, Heero.”

“You’re still pale and clammy,” Heero told him, pressing the handkerchief against his damp brow. “When was the last time you ate?”

“I don’t know. Tuesday?”

Quatre.”

Duo handed him the water and let out a low whistle. “Jesus, no wonder your tux is practically falling off. That’s not good, buddy.”

“Yes, I know that,” Quatre quipped, rubbing his forehead. “I know I should have been eating, but I just haven’t had the stomach for it.”

Heero hesitated, wondering if what he was about to ask was appropriate. If Quatre couldn’t even bring himself to eat, how good of an idea was this wedding in the first place? “Are you sure about this?”

“Yes, Heero. It’s not like I haven’t been trying.”

“I’m talking about the wedding.”

The blond gave him a suspicious look. “Why?”

Why? Because you haven’t eaten in nearly five days!”

“Yeah, Q. That’s a pretty big sign that something ain’t right, y’know?”

“It’s just pre-wedding jitters, that’s all.”

Heero leaned over and rested a hand on Quatre’s knee. “Everyone gets nervous about their wedding day, but most do not go almost a full week without food. Tell us the truth, Quatre. Do you really want to marry this guy?”

Quatre stuttered a little, uncertain if he should take the easy way out, or risk everything by finally coming clean. “It doesn’t matter. What’s done is done and there’s no going back.”

“Isn’t there?”

He stared at Duo as if he’d sprouted horns. “Are you nuts? I made a commitment. Stephen asked me to marry him and I told him yes. The entire world is expecting me to go out there and say ‘I do’. I can’t back out now!” His voice cracked as he leaned forward and buried his face in his hands. “It’s too late for me. I can’t let everyone down, especially not Stephen who’s been nothing but a perfect gentleman to me. Fucking hell, he doesn’t deserve this. He deserves better than this...better than me.”

“Are you saying he deserves someone who truly loves him?”

“I - yes.“ Quatre released a heavy sigh and nodded in defeat. “Yes, that’s what I’m saying.”

“Then you can’t marry him, Q.”

“God, I’m so stupid! So fucking stupid! This is all my fault.”

“It’s not, Quat.”

“It is,” he shouted, looking up at them with tears in his eyes. “It is my fault. My stupid heart is still clinging to something that was never meant to be and I foolishly believed settling down with another man would fill this - this...emptiness inside me that Trowa left behind. God damn it! God damn him! Why can’t I just get over him and be happy with someone who actually loves me?”

“Uh, Q...about Tro -”

“Duo, shut up!”

Stunned, Quatre’s head swiveled towards Heero. “What? What's wrong? Why are you yelling at Duo to shut up?”

Heero glared at the culprit who was looking anywhere but at them. “Nothing.”

Knowing bullshit when he heard it, Quatre narrowed his eyes and Heero cursed their blabbermouth friend to the pit of Hades. This was it. Game over. The jig was up. The fat lady had sung. They were finished. Done. Kaput. Ancient hist -

“Duo…” The blond’s voice was syrupy sweet which was never a good sign. “What’s he talking about?”

“Hmm?” The American blinked wide, guileless eyes and shook his head as if he’d just joined the conversation and had no idea what was going on. “Who, Heero? I have no idea.”

“Then why do you look like you’re about to shit your pants?”

Duo pointed a finger at his own chest. “Do I? No, that’s not - I was just practicing...y’know, practicing - uh, doing some facial exerci - hyak!”

Quatre’s hand was clamped like a vice around Duo’s throat before Heero’s brain even had time to process what was happening. He flinched as he heard the high-pitched whistle of air just barely passing through his friend’s constricted windpipe and quickly moved to intervene, hoping this day wouldn’t end with a trip to the emergency room.

Behind him, Wufei was laughing hysterically, but Heero opted to ignore it and preemptively pressed his body flush against Quatre's back to prevent any retaliation. Leaning forward, he tightly gripped the blond's forearm and strategically positioned his fingers over the pressure points beneath the skin. “Let go, Quatre.”

“Or what?”

He dug his fingertips deeper into the flesh, enough to let Quatre know he meant business. It wouldn’t take much. Just a moderate amount of pressure in the right places would trigger the other man's reflexes and force him to release his hold. It didn’t cause any permanent damage, but it definitely hurt like a bitch. “Or I will make you let go.”

Duo’s lips were beginning to turn blue, but Quatre still hadn’t backed off. “Tell me what’s going on and I’ll let him go.”

“He - we’ve spoken to Trowa. I’ve...spoken to Trowa.”

Quatre immediately pulled his hand away and Duo lurched forward, desperately sucking in huge lungfuls of air to make up for the temporary oxygen deprivation. Heero’s heart sunk when he saw the hurt in the blond’s eyes and wondered how Trowa had the stomach to walk away after witnessing the pain he’d caused.

Quatre was aware of Duo’s occasional correspondence with Trowa, but as far as he knew, neither Heero, or Wufei had spoken to him in two years.

It was no secret that Heero had been livid when he’d heard about Trowa’s rejection. He’d gotten a call from L4 two days later and was surprised to see Duo’s somber face when he answered. Once he found out what had happened, he was torn between the need to comfort Quatre and the desire to avenge him. In the end, he was forced to respect his friend’s wishes after Quatre made it clear that there would be no altercations.

Thankfully Wufei had provided an outlet for his anger by instigating a few hours of intense sparring. When he went home that night, he was still pissed, but the thirst for violence had abated. As a compromise, he decided that severing all ties with the former Heavyarms pilot was best for everyone, especially Quatre who’d been inconsolable at the time.

And the blond knew that which was probably why he was staring at Heero as though he'd just taken a dump on his mother’s grave.

To put it delicately, he had some ‘splaining to do.

“You’ve been talking to him? Why? Since when? For how long?”

“Just once, Quatre. That’s all. He contacted me.”

“When?”

“Two days ago.”

Quatre dropped back down into his chair, looking so small and lost. After several minutes of silence, he finally found his voice. “Why?”

“He loves you, Q,” Duo answered, intuitive enough to know Heero would have had struggled with that question. “He always has.”

The blond’s face contorted with fury and the sudden shift in demeanor made the room feel icy cold. “What kind of fucked up joke is this? Do you think this is funny?”

“It’s not a joke, Quatre. It’s the truth.”

For a second, it seemed as if all the air had been sucked out of the building. Even the faint white noise of the guests conversing in the chapel faded into a void more formiddable than the vacuum of deep space. Quatre was so quiet, so still that Heero was beginning to wonder if time had stopped altogether.

He turned slowly towards the door, afraid that if he moved too fast, he would upset the fragile balance that kept reality from slipping away. He half-expected the new arrival to be just a figment of his imagination. Perhaps a hallucination. But when Trowa didn’t vanish in a puff of smoke, he knew this was the moment they'd been anticipating, and dreading, for the last two years.

Speculating about their friends’ inevitable confrontation was a common theme between Duo, Wufei, and himself. They each had their own theories and predictions, shared amongst each other with brooding reverence as if they were ancient monks prophesying some cataclysmic day of reckoning.

Granted, it was a tad melodramatic, but male bonding on dark stormy nights with five, or six tokkuris of saké had a way of embellishing otherwise banal topics into vividly tall tales. Where the mundane narration of being stuck in rush hour traffic suddenly became an epic saga of vengeful gods and valiant heroes in billowing capes whose preferred mode of transportation was soaring high above the clouds on the backs of majestic fire-breathing dragons.

And now...finally, it was time for the long-awaited conclusion to this tragic love story. One which featured a noble, but disgraced warrior who'd returned to atone for his sins and challenge his rival to fight to the death in the hopes that he would regain his honor and win back the heart of his beloved prince.

The question was, would he be forgiven, or would he be sent to the gallows as punishment for his treachery? 

“What the fuck are you doing here?!”

Okay, so maybe the real act wouldn’t be quite as Shakespearean as the one Heero’s mind had conjured up, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.

“Quat -”

“Don’t ‘Quat’ me, you son of a bitch. Why are you here? Did Duo put you up to this? You have got some nerve showing up today of all days. Pfffft, I'll bet you don't even know what today is, do you?”

Trowa eyed the other three men in the room, trying to glean some insight. With Quatre, there was always a 'right answer' and a 'wrong answer'. There was no in between. “Your...wedding day?”

“It’s June twenty fourth, you oblivious asshole!”

Heero glanced at Trowa and saw the lack of comprehension on his face, clear as a cloudless sky. He had no idea what the significance of June twenty fourth was.

Quatre threw his hands up. “Jesus Christ, your memory’s for shit, you know that?”

“I know and I know you hate me, but I’m -”

“Okay, you know what? If you really need me to spell it out for you, fine. I’ll be happy to.” The blond took a few steps closer and pointed an accusing finger at Trowa. “Listen closely because I am not going to repeat myself. Two years ago, on June twenty fourth, you made a decision that destroyed my life. You remember that, don’t you?”

“I - yes. Yes, I remember and I’m so -”

“Two years ago today, I gave you my heart and you - you just...took it. You took my heart, you chewed it up, and you spit it out...and then you walked away. You destroyed me and then you left me there alone. I watched you leave, did you know that? With every step you took, I felt another piece of me die, but there was nothing I could do about it. I kept waiting for you to turn back, to at least look at me, but you never did. You never looked back, Trowa. Not even once.”

Already out of steam, Quatre slumped back into his chair and hung his head. The humiliation was too much to bear. Heero stared at Trowa and felt a spark of vindication when he saw the shame in the other man’s eyes. He should have known. Quatre lived and breathed symbolism. There was always a rhyme to his reason, a grand design behind everything he did. Every decision he made could be traced back to the significant moments in his life that had been imprinted on his psyche.

And it was never without a sense of irony. Quatre’s wedding date had come as no surprise to Heero. It was so unapologetically Quatre, the kind of tragically poetic sardonicism that could only come from someone who felt things on a much deeper level than most, but was also brilliant and cunning enough to use it to his advantage.

“You three, out,” Quatre ordered. His tone was cold, commanding, and though he was addressing Heero, Duo, and Wufei, his equally frosty eyes remained locked on Trowa.

“You sure, Q?”

“Did I stutter?”

Duo nodded his acquiesce, though he deliberately lagged behind and puttered about the room under the guise of searching for his cuff links. It was obvious he wanted to stay, but Wufei was having none of it. He grabbed the back of Duo’s jacket and dragged him out into the hall. “You heard the man. Let’s give them some privacy.”

Heero was also reluctant, but the blond’s razor-sharp glare provided enough incentive to follow the other two out the door. He brushed shoulders with Trowa as he passed and whispered to him, too quiet for anyone else to hear. “For the love of god, please do not fuck this up.”

He didn’t expect an answer and he didn’t get one, but he sincerely hoped Trowa understood the gravity of the situation. Quatre’s forgiveness may have been offered freely, but his trust had to be earned and that would be no easy task.

Once he’d closed the door behind him, Duo gave him a questioning look. “So now what?”

“Well, obviously the ceremony is going to be delayed so we need to come up with a distraction and we need to come up with it now.”

“Stephen’s gonna know something’s up. He’ll wanna see Quat and make sure he’s alright.”

“Then we’ll just have to reassure him he’s fine and doesn’t want to be disturbed,” Wufei said. “Winner needs this and he’s not going to appreciate anyone - especially his husband-to-be - barging in and making things worse.”

“Or better, depending on how you look at it.”

“Regardless. He finally has a chance to confront Barton and if that’s what it will take to help him get on with his life, then we need to make sure he has the time and space to do that.”

Although Wufei was right, Heero’s protective instincts were a little harder to convince. “I’m worried about him.”

“He knows how to take care of himself, Yuy. He doesn’t need us to hold his hand.”

“If you say so.”

“I do. Right now, our job is to keep everyone occupied without rousing suspicion, especially Winner's fiancé and sisters. Any bright ideas?”

“I could pull the fire alarm.”

“I said bright ideas, Maxwell.”

“We’ll just tell them Quatre’s not feeling well,” Heero suggested.

“Yeah, and then we’ll have his fiancé and small country of sisters busting the dressing room door down. Do either of you know what constitutes a bright idea?”

Duo scowled and folded his arms. “Well, fine. Since you’re the genius here, what’s your plan?”

“Does anyone besides us know he's here?”

Heero glanced over at Duo who shook his head. “I...don’t think so, no. We’re the only ones who’ve seen him since he arrived.”

“Perfect. We'll just say he's stuck in traffic.”

“Or that the car broke down. That might work better. We’ll tell them Quatre used the last of his phone battery to let Duo know he was going to be late. If the guests get antsy, we can crack open a bottle, or two of champagne from the reception area. There’s like five hundred of them so I don’t think anyone will notice.”

Wufei nodded his approval like a school teacher who’d just been given the correct answer to a problem. “That works. I’ll go talk to Winner's family. Maxwell, go do what you’re best at.”

“What’s that?”

“Entertain. Be social. Do whatever you have to to keep the masses calm. That’s your job. I’ll do my best to keep the sisters and fiancé from getting too nosy. Yuy, you stick close to the dressing room and make sure things don’t get out of hand. Winner will end up blowing his own cover if his temper gets away from him.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“Good. Let’s get to work, shall we?”

Duo still looked dubious. “What if the situation does blow up, though?”

“That’s beyond our control,” Heero told him. “We can only do so much. If it’s going to go sour, then that’s how it was meant to be. All we can do is give Quatre the time he needs and try to minimize the fallout if at all possible.”

“What if he kills Tro?”

“He’s not going to kill Trowa. He couldn’t even if he wanted to and I doubt he wants to. Whatever happens between them, I think it’s just important to him that Trowa knows how badly he hurt him. He needs closure. Trowa owes him that much.”

“Yeah, but Tro loves him. I mean, that’s why he’s here, right?”

“True, but it may not make much difference at this point,” Wufei pointed out. “It’s possible that too much time has passed and too much damage has been done. Either way, it’s up to Winner. Even if he does begin a relationship with Barton, I doubt it would happen any time soon.”

Heero nodded and turned to Duo. “He’s right. What we want is irrelevant. Quatre has spent the last two years trying to find a replacement for Trowa. Instead of dealing with his feelings, he’s been avoiding them. He can’t heal until he faces them head-on. Ultimately it’s his life and his future. We have to respect his decision, even if we don’t like it.”

Duo blew out a long breath that vibrated his lips and made a loud motorboat sound. “Yeah, well. We sure ain’t helping anybody standing here pullin' on our tallywackers, so...” He took a step back and made a sweeping gesture with his arm. “After you, gentlemen.”

Heero snorted and leaned closer to Wufei as they headed towards the chapel. “If all else fails, Duo can still set off the fire alarm.”

“I’m starting to think that’s not such a bad idea after all.”

“I can do one better than that,” Duo piped up behind them. “I think I have a few leftover flash grenades in my trunk.”

Wufei sputtered and twisted his head around. “Left over from what?!”

“I’m afraid that’s classified, my anal-retentive friend.”

Chapter Text

Quatre’s heart skipped and then thumped painfully against his rib cage. The erratic rhythm made it difficult to breathe, though he couldn’t tell if it was a result of his rage, or some traitorous reaction to the way Trowa’s custom-tailored suit wrapped around him like an expensive and highly fashionable second skin.

He ignored the stir of interest from his groin which cast its vote in favor of the latter and stubbornly lifted his chin. “You should consider yourself lucky that I’m feeling generous enough to humor you instead of throwing you out on your ass like you deserve.”

Trowa was leaning back against the door with his hands in his pockets. To the untrained eye, it would appear to be a casual stance, but Quatre knew him better than that. Even after two years he could still read the other man’s body language, as fluent and natural to him as his native Amazigh.

Trowa had mastered the art of appearing nonplussed, especially when he was feeling anything but. His relaxed slouch might have been able to fool the random onlooker, but Quatre’s intuition easily spotted the slightly hiked up shoulders and the tense line of his jaw. Trowa wasn’t just uneasy. He was petrified. Of what, Quatre didn’t know yet and he wasn’t going to let Trowa leave without telling him.

“I know.”

He cocked his head. “You know what?”

“I know I don’t deserve your time, but...I am grateful that you’re giving it to me.”

“I highly recommend that you use it wisely because this is the only chance you get.”

Trowa briefly closed his eyes in a resigned gesture of acceptance. “I just...I’m not sure where to start. There’s so much I need to say.”

“You can start by telling me why you suddenly showed up at my wedding looking like you just stepped off a Prada runway.”

Trowa glanced down at himself and brushed invisible lint off the front of his suit jacket. “It’s a wedding. Am I not expected to dress up for the occasion?”

“Awful bold of you to assume you’re invited.”

“I know I’m not and trust me when I say that I have no intention of watching you get married.”

That stung a little, but Quatre adamantly refused to dwell on it. “Well, that makes two of us then. Guess you’ll just have to make sure you’ve hit the road before I get to the altar, but I doubt that’ll be difficult for you. You’re pretty good at running away.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Then you’ll have to speak more clearly, won’t you?”

“Quatre, I came because I want you to know how I feel about you...how I’ve always felt about you.”

“You came here to stop my wedding.”

“When I said I had no intention of watching you marry that guy, what I meant was, I’m not going to let you marry him.”

Quatre’s laughter was shrill even to his own ears. “You’ve got some nerve, you know that? Waltzing in here acting like you have some kind of authority over me? I don’t think so, buster. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a pathetic teenager with a crush anymore. I’m an adult who finally learned that following you around like a lost puppy wasn’t going to accomplish anything. I don’t have to follow anyone around. Men flock to me now. They seek my attention.”

God, how many times had he practiced that last part in his head? How many times had he fantasized about saying that very thing right to Trowa's face just to have the satisfaction of watching him crumble? Too many to count. During that first year, it had been his preferred method of soothing himself to sleep. The crushing sense of loss was always worse at night when he was left alone with his thoughts.

He’d reached his breaking point on a warm summer evening in Tulsa, Oklahoma after a few beers with Duo led to the other man tipsily spilling the beans about a double date he and Hilde went on with Trowa and some girl whose name Quatre had been too devastated to remember.

He managed to hold himself together long enough to get through the rest of his vacation, but only just barely. Once he returned to his empty condo on L4, the silence and isolation felt desolate, but also strangely comforting. It was an acheronian reminder that he was unworthy of Trowa’s love, yet at the same time allowed him the dignity to fall apart without any witnesses.

He spent the next eight days locked inside his bedroom, disconnected from the world outside his window. He found solace in the darkness, cocooned beneath several layers of blankets with his blinds drawn tight to block out the daylight. For over a week, he alternated between sleeping, crying, and watching television, only emerging long enough to curtly snatch his takeout order from whichever poor sap was delegated to deliver it that day.

Finally on day nine, his tangled, greasy hair and the smell of his own funk lit a motivating fire beneath his ass. After a long hot shower, he began to feel a little more human which gave him the incentive to wash his dirty clothes and bedding. Each task he completed fueled his drive to complete another and by the end of the week, he was for the most part, back to normal.

Tired of wallowing in self pity, he threw his his hat into the dating ring. Looking back, he realized it probably would have been better to take it at a slower pace, but at the time, he’d been desperate to get Trowa out of his head.

What really shocked him was his instant popularity within the lively community of single gay men. He never expected such an immense influx of gorgeous guys competing for his attention, nor did he expect the dozens of propositions - as well as the occasional marriage proposal - he received on a daily basis. ‘Overwhelming’ didn’t even begin to describe it.

Looking at Trowa now, he realized that he was the one holding the all the chips. For the first time in two years, he had the upper hand and though his guilty conscience was railing at him for what he was about to do, the vindictive urge to lash out at the one who’d hurt him so badly was difficult to tame.

“I spent an entire year hating myself, did you know that? An entire year lamenting the fact that I just wasn’t good enough and would never be good enough. But eventually I got over myself and I returned to face the world, not as the boy who loved someone he wasn’t worthy of, but as the man who was ready to love and be loved by someone who was worthy of him.”

He hoisted himself up onto the dressing table and leaned back on his hands. “And here’s the real kicker, one that never even occurred to me at the time. Men love me. They adore me. I’m all the rage, Trowa. Within a week, I went from lonely and unlovable to admired and coveted and it had fuck-all to do with my money. You know how I know that?”

“No.” Though Trowa was trying to appear neutral, Quatre could see how his words were affecting him. From the quick rise and fall of his shoulders as his breathing grew heavier, to the emotion on his face that was becoming harder to hide, Trowa was on the verge of cracking like an egg in an anti-drug public service announcement.

Quatre knew he would probably regret it later, but right in that moment, ‘later’ seemed meaningless; an eternity away. Two years ago, Trowa had the power to destroy his spirit and he’d done so without hesitation, or remorse. Now the tables had turned and though it went against everything he was and believed in, Quatre couldn’t resist returning the favor.

“I know that because of the way they touched me. The way they kissed me and made love to me. Like they thought I would vanish if they didn’t hold me tight enough. Do you know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that much unrestrained passion when you’re an empath? I nearly fainted the first few times, it was that powerful. I’d never felt anything like that before. I guess my sisters were right when they said I was just a late bloomer.”

He paused and studied Trowa closely as an unpleasant thought occurred to him. “Which really begs the question of why you’re here. You claim to love me, but why? Why now and not then? Does it have something to do with my being a late bloomer? Is it because I’m no longer that scrawny, awkward, annoying kid you couldn’t wait to ditch as soon as you got the chance?”

He swung his legs up and stared at the polished tips of his shoes. “I mean, I do get it. You guys had changed a lot by the time we turned eighteen. You looked like men, sounded like men, and there I was still being mistaken for a child. I was convinced that I was doomed to stay that way forever.”

“And god help me, I was so jealous. So jealous of you guys and how easily the adult world welcomed you with open arms while I was shooed away like a pest.” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “When we’d all go out together, people always thought I was Duo’s kid brother who was just tagging along. I used to watch you guys dance and was always amazed at how people looked at you. Like they wanted to see you naked. Like you were grown up, sexy...someone they wanted to do adult things with. And I saw the way you guys looked back at them. Like you felt the same way.”

“No one ever looked at me like that. No one ever asked me to dance. The only time anyone said a word to me was to find out how I’d gotten into a place that was ‘obviously’ meant for adults. I started wondering why you guys even bothered to invite me to those places since you pretty much forgot I existed once we got there. When I figured out that you only did it because you felt obligated to, I finally gave up and decided to stay home.”

“Quatre, I didn’t - it wasn’t out of obligation, I swear!”

“Yes, it was,” Quatre dismissed with a wave of his hand. “I’m not stupid, Trowa. I suppose I should be grateful that you at least thought to invite me even though it must have been embarrassing having to drag along a short, skinny, baby-faced kid dressed in clothes that would have gotten my ass kicked if I’d still been in school. I knew I was a total loser who was holding the rest of you back and I didn’t want that. It hurt. It hurt like hell, but the thought of you hating me for being a hindrance hurt far worse so I chose the lesser of the two evils.”

Trowa’s face was grief-stricken and this time, he made no attempt to smother his feelings. Quatre felt the guilt and remorse rolling off the other man like waves of heat, making his own body respond to the sorrow as if it were his own. Eyes stinging with tears, he rubbed his chest directly over the spot where his heart was clenching painfully and concentrated on reinforcing his empathetic defenses against the flood of emotions.

“Quat, why didn’t you ever say anything?”

He stared wide-eyed at Trowa and let out an incredulous laugh. “What was I going to say, Trowa? ‘Oh, you need to stop having fun with the guys and going on dates because I feel left out’? Give me a break. I may not have looked like it at the time, but I was an adult the same as you. I wasn’t going to punish you for my insecurities, much less allow you to sacrifice your time and social life to babysit me.”

Confused, Trowa shook his head. “But I never even - I mean, normally I can sense what you’re feeling - not to the degree that you can sense people, but...I’ve always been able to feel you and I never felt anything like that from you.”

“Trowa, I don’t think you understand the scope of my abilities. I’m not just a receiver, I’m also a projector. You felt me because I let you. Because I opened a two-way connection that allowed our emotions to flow freely between us. You didn’t sense those feelings because I blocked them from you, the reasons for which I’ve already stated. It was my problem, not yours, Duo’s, Heero’s, or Wufei’s. And it turned out to be the right thing to do because, as badly as I wanted to bring you to your knees when you told me you didn’t love me, I still couldn’t do that to you. Even now, I can’t. Less than an hour ago, I had every intention of striking you down with the full force of my anger and grief. I thought I could do it, but I can’t.”

Trowa’s eyes were brimming with tears. “Quat…”

Quatre raised his hand to stop him. “Don’t, okay? You don’t need to say it. I know I’m weak. I’ve always known -”

“You’re not weak.”

“Yes, I am.”

“No, you’re not!”

Stunned into silence by the thundering cacophony of Trowa’s outburst, Quatre could do nothing but stare blankly at the fast-approaching man, too shocked and numb to even think of raising his hands in self defense. A mere heartbeat later, he was boxed in between Trowa and the wall behind him, so close he could feel Trowa’s body heat and the moist puffs of breath across his face.

There was nowhere to go. Trowa’s arms bracketed his body between them, preventing any attempts to escape by sliding to one side, or the other. His heart raced like a mouse cornered by a hungry cat. His unprepared mind was powerless against the dizzying flood of Trowa’s emotions, each one striking like bolts of lightning in rapid succession until they blurred together in a chaotic loop of regret, anger, jealousy, desire, guilt, anguish, and hope.

But there was another one that encompassed them all. The one that provided the necessary foundation for the rest to grow and thrive. The only one that could make all the others possible.

Love.

In that moment, Quatre felt everything. Trowa’s fears and conflictions, his insecurities and loneliness. Seven years worth of pent-up emotion slammed into him with the force of a tidal wave and knocked him back against the wall.

“Do you feel that?” Trowa hissed in his face. “Can you feel the torture I’ve been living with since the day I met you?”

Tears rolled down his cheeks, but he was too dazed to offer anything more than an imperceptible shake of his head.

“I know what you’re thinking and you’re wrong, Quatre. I’m not here because you finally blossomed into the beautiful man you are now. I’m not here because of petty jealousy either. I’m here to tell you that I love you. That I have always loved you. And no matter what happens after this - even if you still decide to marry this guy, I just need you to know that I always will.”

Quatre squeezed his eyes shut, trying to hold back years worth of suppressed pain. He sniffled and opened his eyes again when the tsunami abated enough for him to speak. “Then why? Why did you do it? Why did you say such horrible things to me? Why did you make me feel so worthless?”

Trowa blew out a long breath and leaned forward until his forehead was resting against Quatre’s chin. “You already know why. You felt it. I think you know me better than I know myself.”

“So it wasn’t me who wasn’t good enough. It was you who wasn’t good enough. At least in your mind.” Jesus, all the suffering that could have been prevented had Trowa simply talked to him about how he felt. “You bastard.”

“It killed me to say the things I said to you,” Trowa moaned, burying his face in Quatre’s neck. “The way you looked at me when I said all those cruel things...it destroyed me, Quat. Walking away from you was like leaving my heart behind and I’ve been dead ever since. I’m so sorry.”

“You thought it was the only way to save me,” Quatre mused. “You thought you were protecting me, from you. You thought I would be better off in the long run.”

“I did.”

“You’re an idiot. Has it ever once occurred to you that maybe I don’t need to be protected? Did you really think I wouldn’t be able to handle your mood swings, or your snoring, or your occasional bouts of moroseness?”

Trowa lifted his head and squinted at him. “I don’t snore.”

“I spent several nights with you during the war. Trust me, you snore.”

Trowa stared so intensely at him, it was discomfiting. “Please don’t marry him.”

“Trowa -”

Please, Quat.”

“Oh, damn it, Trowa! This is just like you to pop up at the last minute and drop a bomb like this on me. You had two fucking years to do this and you wait till now? You do realize that all twenty nine of my sisters are in this building and that not a single one of them is pleased with you, don’t you?" He paused and gave Trowa a suspicious look. "How did you even get past them anyway?”

“I came in through the back.”

“Isn’t it locked?”

“It was. I think I broke the lock though.”

“Oh my god, why are you like this?”

“Because I needed to see you before - I had to see you and tell you how I feel about you. I know I fucked things up and I know I hurt you. If I could take it all back, I would. I was scared. I was afraid I would drag you down with me and you deserved better than that. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life and it nearly killed me, Quat. I’m so sorry for what I did.”

“What do you want from me?”

Trowa pressed their foreheads together and lifted his hand to shakily cup Quatre’s cheek. “You. I want you. I need you. I want another chance to make it right, to do this the right way. I want to earn back your love and trust. I want to be worthy of you, but I’ll never have that chance if you marry someone else. Please...I’m begging you. If I mess up again, then you can be with and marry whoever you want, but please don’t do this without giving me one more chance first.”

“What the hell is going on here?”

Quatre startled and nearly pissed himself when he heard Stephen’s voice, loud and accusatory. He shoved Trowa away from him and jumped down from the dressing table, praying to all that was holy that his flushed face wasn’t too obvious. “Stephen!”

Heero appeared in the doorway, out of breath, and bent down with his hands braced on his knees. “I’m sorry, Quatre. I tried to keep him occupied, but he dodged right past me and I couldn’t stop him.”

“It’s fine, Heero. Don’t worry about it,” Quatre reassured him before turning to his fiancé who was staring at him expectantly.

“You want to tell me what’s going on?”

“Yes, I’m sorry, Stephen. This is my friend, Trowa. Trowa, this is Stephen, my fiancé.”

Trowa stuck his hand out. “Pleasure to meet you.”

Stephen looked at the offered hand like it was riddled with plague and Trowa quickly retracted it, clasping them both behind his back.

“Are you always this physically close with your friends?”

“No! No, I mean I -” Quatre closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m not even this physically close with Trowa. You know it’s been years since I’ve seen him, much less talked to him.”

“So, what? You were just making up for lost time?”

“No. Stephen, it’s not like that at all. He just showed up here and said he wanted to talk to me. I didn’t even know he was coming.”

“By ‘talking’, you mean trying to convince you not to marry me.”

Quatre’s mouth snapped shut. He was hoping Stephen hadn’t heard that, but no such luck.

“Did it work?”

“Did what work?”

“Did he convince you, or not?"

Quatre hesitated and chewed on his lip. He honestly didn’t know. He’d already been having doubts before Trowa arrived and spun everything onto its head. “No, I - I don’t...know. I’m just really confused right now.”

Stephen squared his shoulders and lifted his chin which made him appear arrogant and disdainful. “So the guy who broke your heart comes crawling back on your wedding day and tells you what you want to hear and suddenly you don’t know what to do anymore? I think the answer is pretty obvious, dear.”

“It’s not that simple, Stephen.”

“Of course it is! Kick that motherfucker out of here and get your ass to the altar just like we’ve been planning for the last two months.”

Quatre could feel the spike of anger coming from Trowa and stepped a little to the right, subtly placing himself between the two men. “Stephen, look. I know how this must seem to you, but I think maybe we should talk about -”

“There is nothing to talk about, Quatre. This is our wedding day and I’ll be damned if some circus freak thinks he can just show up and ruin everything.”

“Don’t call him that,” Quatre snapped. “He hasn’t done anything to you. You have no right to insult him like that.”

“I can’t believe you’re actually defending this asshole! After everything he’s done to you? Who are you all of a sudden? I don’t even know anymore!”

“I’m the same person I’ve always been.”

“What else did he tell you, hmm? What sweet nothings did he whisper into your ear to make you forget the life we've created together? All the plans we’ve made? What happened to those?” Stephen pointed a finger at Trowa though he was still glowering at Quatre. “Is our relationship so meaningless to you that you can just change your mind the moment another guy starts humping your leg?”

Fury began to heat Quatre’s blood, bringing it to a slow simmer. “It’s not like that, Stephen. You know none of that is true. I understand that you’re angry and I am sorry. I’m not saying we can’t get married. I just think we need to cool down first. I chose you, remember?”

Stephen leaned down until his face was an inch from Quatre’s. “That’s right, you did. Because I’m the one who saved you. I’m the one who showed you love when everyone else wanted to take your money and use you for sex. I gave you the life you’ve always wanted so as far as I’m concerned, there’s no need to question any of this.”

Quatre opened his mouth, but closed it again a second later and nodded. Why was he questioning this? This was ridiculous. How could he possibly throw away the only man who had ever given a shit just because his first love arrived at the eleventh hour hoping to sweep him off his feet?

You’re an adult now, Quatre. You’re too old to be entertaining some silly fairy tale notion of true loves and happily ever afters. Welcome to real life. Don’t fuck up the best thing you’ve ever had for someone who has only ever torn you down. You want to risk everything for a man who, for all you know, will end up hurting you again? Think before you do something you’ll regret for the rest of your life.

He looked up at Stephen and took his hand. “You’re right. I’m sorry,” he said, bracing himself against the wave of anguish behind him that threatened to shatter his heart.

He had to do what was best for himself now. If Trowa couldn’t respect that, then perhaps his motives really were selfish.

“Good,” Stephen said, pulling his fiancé into his arms. “I’m going to go back out there and let our guests know we’re ready to start. I expect you to be by my side at the altar in precisely ten minutes, understood?”

Quatre smiled nervously and nodded his consent. He was just going to have to tell Trowa that that chapter of his life was over and he was moving forward. Perhaps they could be friends, but it would have to end there.

He yelped in surprise as Stephen tipped him backwards and kissed him with so much fervent passion that it was obvious his fiancé was rubbing his victory in Trowa’s face. The kiss was a clear show of ownership as was the possessive way he gripped Quatre’s waist and the back of his head. He was telling Trowa, in no uncertain terms, ’Mine. You lost, I won, and now he’s mine.’

Blood rushed into Quatre’s head from the downward angle and made him feel woozy and disoriented. His ears were ringing so loudly that he barely heard the sudden commotion until Stephen pulled him back up. The room spun a little and his legs were unsteady so he held Stephen’s arm tightly to keep himself grounded while he waited for his head to clear.

His three oldest sisters were now in the room. Each one as blond as he and wearing identical bridesmaid gowns in blue satin and ivory lace. On the other hand, their expressions were a contrary mixture of annoyed, gobsmacked, and extremely pissed off. When he looked towards the door, he could see several more of them congregated just outside in the hall, squeezing themselves together so they could all watch the drama unfold.

Aieeeeeeeeeeeee! You ladies aren’t supposed to be - ah, shit.” Duo appeared behind the cluster of women and gave Quatre a helpless look. “Sorry, Q! We tried!”

“Wonderful,” he muttered.

Iria threw her hands up, though she was holding her bouquet in one and her shell pink and blue beaded clutch in the other. “Quatre, what is going on? We’ve been waiting out there forever! What have you been do - “ Her eyes bugged out and then narrowed as Quatre stepped to the side, revealing the culprit standing behind him. “Oh, it’s you. I should have known.”

Quatre folded his arms and glowered at the spectators. “Is it possible for me to handle my own affairs for once in my life, or are you all just going to mother hen me to death?”

Iria ignored the question and pointed at Trowa. “What’s he doing here?”

“It’s a long story and I’m really not in the mood to explain it again, okay?”

However, Stephen was more than happy to do it for him. “Oh, he just showed up on the fly and tried to convince Quatre not to marry me.”

Helena, Quatre’s second oldest sister, gasped and clutched her pearls. “Quatre! You’re not going to cancel the wedding, are you?”

“Oh my god, would you give me a little credit please? Look, Trowa just wanted to talk to me. It’s not a big deal.”

“How did he get in here?”

“Through the back, but that’s not important right now.”

“But the back doors are locked!”

Quatre clenched his teeth and dragged his fingers through his hair, accidentally pulling the sprig of flowers with them. “Do the words ‘Gundam pilot’ mean anything to you? You really think a measly piece of metal is going to prevent Trowa from breaking and entering?”

“That’s right,” Quatre’s third sister Corrinna exclaimed, jabbing her finger in the air. “Breaking and entering is a crime. Iria, quick! Call the police.”

“Good idea,” Iria agreed, popping open her clutch to dig her phone out.

Quatre quickly snatched the phone from his sister’s hand. “No, not a good idea. Christ, will you guys just stop? This is ridiculous!”

“Yes, it is ridiculous,” Stephen told him, pulling his own phone out of his pocket. “And I won’t stand for this shitshow on my wedding day.”

“Stephen, don’t. Please.”

“I’m done playing games, Quatre. I want him out of here, now.” Stephen turned to glare at Heero, Duo, and Wufei who were gathered in the doorway trying to act as a barrier to keep the rest of Quatre’s sisters from piling into the room. “Them, too.”

“What? No, you can’t do that! They’re my groomsmen!”

“They were in on this little charade,” Stephen pointed out, frustration making his voice go up a few octaves. “They all tried to sabotage our day. How can you trust any of them?”

“They weren’t trying to sabotage anything, Stephen! They were trying to help -”

“Help?! Help who? The guy who hurt you? No. They’re out of here, too. I’ll have them all arrested if they don’t leave.”

Indignant, Quatre felt the fine hairs on the back of his neck begin to rise. “You can’t do that!”

“Watch me,” Stephen retorted, flipping his phone open. “Enough is enough, Quatre. I’ve sat back and allowed this dog and pony show to continue against my better judgment. Your friends either leave peacefully, or I’ll have the cops haul them out. From now on, you will have no contact with them whatsoever.”

“What?!”

“You heard me. I’m doing this for your own good.”

“The hell you are! What is wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with me is that we were planning on getting married today and those social rejects over there you call ‘friends’ have been doing everything in their power to keep it from happening.”

Quatre stared at the man he’d been prepared to spend the rest of his life with and suddenly felt like he was looking at a stranger. “Okay, you know what? Forget it. The wedding’s off.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. I’m not marrying you. Not today. Maybe not ever.”

Stephen approached him and stood so close, Quatre was forced to crane his neck in order to see his face. Is it me, or did he just grow three feet taller? He knew Stephen was trying to intimidate him with his size. He’d done it before, but this time Quatre stubbornly refused to back down.

Stephen grabbed his chin and held it bruisingly tight. “Oh, yes you will. If I have to drag you kicking and screaming to that altar, I will gladly do it. From now on, I’m putting my foot down and you will obey my every word. Are we clear?”

Quatre could feel Trowa’s aura shifting from moderately angry to homicidal, but he was unable to call him off because the words had gotten caught in his throat.

“Let him go. Now.”

Stephen sneered at Trowa over the top of Quatre’s head. “Or what? You’ll kick my ass?”

Trowa quirked a brow at him. “You’re smarter than you look.”

“Ooh, burn!”

“Shut up, Maxwell.”

Stephen laughed to save face and pulled Quatre into his arms. “The bravado is cute, it really is, but it’s not going to work. He doesn’t love you anymore. He loves me and in the next few minutes, he’s going to be my husband. By the time I whisk him off to our honeymoon, you’ll be singing the blues in a jail cell with your buddies over there.”

“Are you sure about that? You don’t look as confident as you did earlier.”

“You really want to fight me, don’t you?”

“No. I want to pummel your face into ground beef.”

“Is that right? And what do you think that will accomplish? Sure, it’ll make you feel better for a little while, but then you’ll go to jail, and after that, you’ll go back to being a nobody. A pathetic circus clown freak, forced to spend the rest of his life lamenting the loss of his one true love who was driven into the arms of someone he could never compete with. Face it, Trowa. Quatre is out of your league; always has been, always will be. Just man up and accept the fact that you’ll never be good enough for him.”

“Why, you conceited motherfu -” Quatre wrenched himself out of Stephen’s arms and shoved him away. “How dare you talk about my friends like that! Who do you think you are?”

“The man who is about to become your husband, that’s who,” Stephen hissed. “And as such, it is my job to do what’s best for you.”

“You’re not doing what’s best for me. You’re treating me like a child!”

“Perhaps if you stopped acting like one, I wouldn’t have to.”

“You pompous son of a bitch,” Quatre fumed, turning away in disgust. “I can’t believe how close I came to marrying you.”

“Quatre, come here,” Stephen ordered. “Now.”

“Fuck off.”

Enraged, Stephen lunged and made a grab for his fiancé, but was thwarted when Trowa stepped in front of him. “Get out of my way, freak.”

Unperturbed by the insult, Trowa calmly shook his head. “If you want to get to him, you’re going to have to go through me.”

Stephen huffed as if this was all just a terrible inconvenience, but he’d already made his first mistake by underestimating his opponent. Relying on his superior height and weight, he didn’t take skill into account and simply tried to boulder his way through the obstacle. Trowa acted immediately, grabbing the man’s wrist and twisting his arm behind his back until he howled in pain.

Trowa used his advantageous position to grip the back of Stephen’s neck and push his head down where it collided with Trowa’s knee. The crunch of smashing cartilage was loud and when Trowa pulled the other man back up, both his pant leg and Stephen’s face were covered in blood.

Stephen stumbled back with tears streaming from his eyes and his hands clutching his nose. “You broke it, you fucking asshole! You broke my fucking nose!”

“Serves you right,” Iria snapped, swinging her clutch at him. The beaded handbag cuffed his ear and got tangled in his hair which was ripped out when she yanked it back. “Get out of here! If I catch you anywhere near my little brother again, I’ll have you neutered!”

Quatre’s jaw dropped and landed on the floor. So much for bedside manners.

Stephen scowled and flailed his arm to ward off any impending attacks. “You’re all making a huge mistake,” he warned, though with the fingers of his other hand pinching his nostrils shut, his nasally voice was more humorous than threatening.

“Just get out,” Quatre told him. “Stay away from me and stay away from my family and friends.”

“Whatever. Fine. That’s fine. I don’t need you anyway. I should have known getting involved with a raghead was a bad idea.”

Duo’s gasp was deafening in the horrified silence that followed. “Oh, I know he did not just say that.”

“What did you call me?” Quatre’s eyes were narrowed into slits and when he spoke, his voice was eerily quiet. The kind of ominous quiet that made those who knew him best want to run for the hills.

Trowa was already advancing, fists clenched and eager to break something else. “Have fun drinking your meals out of a straw for the next six months, you racist piece of shit.”

“Trowa, stop!”

He halted mid-step, but remained poised like a coiled spring, ready to lunge at the slightest provocation.

Quatre placed his hand over Trowa’s fist which lowered after a gentle push. He kept his gaze locked on Stephen as he approached and then stopped less than a foot in front of him. His now ex-fiancé stared down at him with haughty, fearless eyes, clearly not expecting Quatre to be able to inflict any damage.

And that was his second - and final - mistake.

Quatre reared his arm back, looking like the star pitcher at the World Series, and then he swung. His right hook hit Stephen square between the eyes with enough force to knock the man right out of his shiny Oxford wingtips. For a split second, he was airborne, and then his body collided with the wall, denting the plaster before he slid down to the floor in an unconscious sprawl.

Quatre shook out his hand and examined his swollen and bleeding knuckles. Nothing broken, but it would hurt like a bitch for about a week. “Looks like I’m going to need some ice for this,” he said, turning to Iria to show her his hand. His brow creased in confusion when he noticed everyone was looking at him as if he'd just turned water into wine. “What?”

“Y - you - how…?”

He glanced back at the inert body of his ex and shrugged. “I don't know why you’re all so surprised. I had the same training they did," he pointed out, gesturing towards his former co-pilots. "And when you're living with thirty nine Maguanacs, you learn a thing or two about hand-to-hand combat, especially when you've got the only pudding cup left in the entire village."

Exasperated, he threw his hands up and started weaving his way through the small crowd of people packed like sardines in front of the door. "Jesus, it's like you don't even know me! I've been shot, stabbed, nearly suffocated in space, built the Zero system, vaporized a colony...okay, I'm not particularly proud of that one, but the point is, I did it. None of you batted an eye over that, but as soon as I clock a guy, you're ready to notify the press?"

"Where are you going?" Iria shouted as he disappeared into the hallway.

"To find the nearest table and drink myself under it."

Chapter Text

One year later…

 

Trowa didn’t know when exactly his hands had gone numb, but with Quatre’s beautiful, nude body moving above him, coupled with the rising crescendo of ecstasy crackling like static between them, his failing circulation was kicked all the way down to the bottom of his list of current priorities.

Or perhaps not, he mused. Most of his blood had been redirected to his groin, keeping his erection hard for both Quatre’s and his own pleasure while the rest did the important job of keeping his horny ass alive long enough to reap the benefits.

It was a little hard to breathe with Quatre’s hands braced on his chest, but the way the blond’s thighs were squeezing his hips between them more than made up for that mild inconvenience. His arms twitched sporadically and the clank of metal against metal was an arousing reminder of the way Quatre had shoved him down onto the bed and, with a wicked gleam in his eyes, produced a pair of handcuffs from behind his back.

He’d swung them from a teasing finger and pointed at the wrought iron headboard that was twisted this way and that to resemble an intricate tangle of ivy and morning glories. “Assume the position, my good man.”

They were both coated in sweat and the tepid breeze that blew gently through their open window did little to cool their heated flesh, but they were so close to the zenith now that Trowa imagined he could almost reach up and touch it. One second became two and then they were both pushed headlong into a bliss so powerful, he could have sworn his life passed before his eyes.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like you’re a cat with a canary trapped between its paws. It’s a little creepy.”

“Well, it’s technically true. I mean, I am handcuffed to the bed of the world’s most desirable man with my dick going soft inside him after he rode it like Jesse James chasing a train full of loot. What could be better than that?”

Quatre laughed as he reached for the key on top of the nightstand and leaned down onto Trowa’s chest to unlock the cuffs. “And they say chivalry is dead.”

Trowa shook his arms out to encourage the blood to flow back into them. They were still slightly weak and shaky when he wrapped them around Quatre, stopping the blond’s attempt to roll off him. “No, stay here for a little longer.”

“Trowa, your jizz is starting to glue itself to my ass. I need to wipe it off.”

“Just one more minute. Please?”

Quatre huffed, but allowed his pouting boyfriend to pull him back down until they were chest to chest. He nestled his head into the crook of Trowa’s shoulder and resisted the urge to laugh when the other man purred. “Feel better?”

“Yes, very much. Thank you.”

For several minutes, they lay quiet and relaxed, comfortable enough in their closeness that words were not necessary. The bright afternoon sunlight, the soft swish of the curtains billowing in the breeze, and the melodious trills and chirrups of songbirds perched on the branches of their giant maple was a reflection of the mood just beyond the arched panes of glass a few feet away.

Though, despite the serenity of basking in the afterglow amid the warm, hazy enchantment of early summer, the niggling in the back of Trowa’s mind started elbowing its way to the front once again now that other matters had been taken care of. He shifted slightly beneath Quatre’s weight, nervous, but not wanting to alarm the snoozing blond who seemed to have forgotten about the mess Trowa had made of him.

He swallowed around a suddenly parched throat and tried not to tremble as he was gripped with a paralyzing sense of terror. His tongue felt thick and dry, stuck like petrified wood to the roof of his mouth. A question - the most important one he would ever ask - was struggling to free itself from behind his tightly pressed lips and he squeezed his eyes shut, unsure whether to pray for the courage to ask it, or the self-restraint to shove it back down his esophagus.

“Trowa, what are you doing?”

He opened his eyes to see Quatre staring suspiciously down at him. So much for subtly. “Huh?”

“Why do you look like you’re constipated?”

Trowa let out a shrill laugh that sounded panicky even to his own ears. Well, that blew his chance to play it cool. “I - I’m - I’m…”

“Trowa, just tell me what’s wrong.”

“There’s nothing wrong, baby, I’m just -” he took a deep breath and let it out slowly “- You know I love you, right? More than anything.”

Quatre squinted a cautious eye at him. “Yeah…?”

Fuck it. There was no sense beating around the bush. “Will you marry me?”

“Trowa…” Quatre moaned, exasperated, and rolled off to the other side of the bed where he flopped onto his belly and buried his face in the pillows. “We’ve only been living together for a month,” he said, his words muffled and nearly inaudible.

Trowa turned onto his side and slid his hand down the silky expanse of Quatre’s back. “I know, but…we love each other, don’t we? We both know this is it, right?”

Quatre turned his head to look at him and Trowa was more than a little crushed by the hesitation in his eyes. “Look, I love you, you know that. And I know you love me, but I just - I don’t want to take things too fast. You can understand that, can’t you?”

Trowa scooted closer, needing to fill the space between them that suddenly felt like millions of light years; the vast emptiness of the cosmos that separated a world from its life-giving star. He pulled Quatre into his arms and pressed his face into the tousled blond hair that was damp with sweat, but still smelled like his favorite coconut mango styling mousse.

As much as he hated to admit it, he understood. Quatre needed time and reassurance that his heart wasn’t going to get broken again. For Trowa, it was a sacrifice he was willing to make to earn back Quatre’s trust, even if he himself was ready dive in head-first. “I do, Quat. I’m sorry for jumping the gun and making you uncomfortable. That’s the last thing I ever want to do.”

“I mean, I’m not saying ‘no’ because I don’t want to marry you. I do, so much that it hurts to say it, but I’m just not ready yet. I’m not saying ‘never’, okay? I’m just saying ‘not right now’. I don’t want to fuck up what we have, or null and void all the hurdles we’ve overcome to get to this point.”

Trowa nodded and held his boyfriend tighter. “You’re right. I was acting on my emotions instead thinking things through.”

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Quatre told him with a laugh. “If your emotions hadn’t driven you to crash my wedding, we wouldn’t be here in this house and in this bed that we bought together.”

“That could have gone badly, though,” Trowa pointed out.

“But it didn’t. Jesus, you sound like Wufei.”

Trowa cupped Quatre’s head and gently scratched his nails over the blond’s scalp. “You still have trust issues.”

“People get over them as long as they’re not let down. You had them when I first met you, remember?”

“Not with you. I trusted you from the get-go even though it confused the hell out of me.”

“Well, none of that matters now. I don’t want to dwell on the past, at least not after today.”

“Why dwell on it today?”

“You do know the date, right? Or did you forget again?”

“What, June twenty fourth?”

Quatre propped his chin on Trowa’s chest and grinned at him. “You catch on quick. I'm proud of you."

“Why do you want to dwell on this again?”

“Maybe ‘dwell’ isn’t the right word. A better one would be ‘celebrate’.”

“I thought this day brought back terrible memories.”

“So, let’s make it a good memory day.”

“How?”

“Cake.”

Trowa was lost. “Cake?”

“Yeah, wedding cake.”

Extremely lost. “What wedding cake?”

Quatre rolled his eyes. “The wedding cake from last year for the wedding that never happened?”

“Quat, you served it to the guests so it wouldn’t go to waste.”

“Not all of it. It’s actually a tradition for the wedding couple to save the smallest tier on the top and freeze it until their first anniversary.”

Lord, help me find my way home because I am lost, lost, lost “Okay? But there’s no wedding couple and no first anniversary. You didn’t even save it anyway.”

“Yes, I did. It’s wrapped in an entire roll of foil all the way in the back of the extra freezer in the basement.”

“Why? I mean, why did you save it? You had already called the wedding off.”

“I don’t know. When I first decided to hang onto it, I was planning on opening it today and eating the whole thing in my pajamas while I moped around the house feeling lonely and pathetic, but now I have an even better reason to open it. It may not be our first anniversary, but it is the first anniversary of the day you finally admitted you loved me. It’s kind of symbolic, you know? A way to say goodbye to all the pain of the past and make a fresh start.”

“You sure about this, babe? It’s not exactly meant for that, traditionally.”

“Who cares, it’s cake! Now, get off your butt and fetch a wet rag so you can clean me up because I’m starving.“

“But -”

“Scooch!”

 

 ***

 

Thirty minutes later, Trowa was perched on a kitchen stool in his pale green, terrycloth bathrobe while he fed his boyfriend bites of wedding cake with his fingers. Quatre was sitting on the counter, grinning like a loon with rich buttercream frosting smeared down the slope of his nose and across his forehead where Trowa had attempted to draw a smiley face. Quatre had scowled and retaliated by shoving a massive chunk of cake into Trowa’s laughing mouth.

“We should probably save some of this for later,” Quatre mused.

“Why?”

The blond answered by spreading his knees wider and trailed one sticky hand up the length of his inner thigh towards his groin which was hidden beneath the flap of his own bathrobe.

Trowa instantly got the picture. “Oh, you kinky little minx.”

“You like it.”

“I love it,” he corrected, leaning forward to claim a sugary kiss. “I bet it tastes so much better on you.”

“Only one way to find out.”

“Indeed.” Trowa bent down until his face was just an inch above Quatre’s frosting-smeared thigh and licked a wet swath just below the hem of his robe. “Mmm. Delicious. I can’t wait to find out how good it tastes when applied to…other places.”

“Why wait?”

He laughed dropped his head onto Quatre’s leg. “I don’t know how you do that.”

“What?”

“How you’re just raring to go again right after we just did it. I don’t recover that quickly.”

“Sounds like you’re out of shape.”

Offended, Trowa lifted his head and curled his arms in to show off his defined - and very not out of shape - muscles. "Does this look like I'm out of shape?"

“There’s a difference between brawn and endurance, you silly man. You may be stronger than me, but I can outlast you in just about everything. Remember, you’re talking to the guy who walked thirty miles through the desert with no water and continued to fight even after being run clean-through with a sword.” Quatre looked smug as he leaned back on his hands. “Not even Heero can say that.”

He conceded with a chuckle. “Okay, you got me there, but you still have to wait.” He gave Quatre a stern look when the blond clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Hey, I had to wait five months just to get you to agree to go on a date with me. That was torture, by the way. I still think you were playing hard-to-get.”

“Maybe. Maybe I just wanted to find out how serious you were.”

“And because you got off on being chased,” Trowa added knowingly. “And don’t give me those innocent doe-eyes. They don’t work on me anymore.”

“Fine. So how do you want to spend a Saturday with no prior obligations? Are we supposed to do boring domestic stuff like laundry, or fixing a leaky sink? Oh, I know. You can mow the lawn while I go grocery shopping.”

“Tempting, but I was thinking more along the lines of a picnic, followed by a few lazy hours in the hammock, swaying back and forth in the warm breeze with your head resting on my chest until the late day sun glows in bright hues of red and orange. Then, we order some takeout and cuddle on the couch to watch that movie you’ve been wanting to see.”

“And then?”

“And then, I’ll put the rest of this cake to good use.”

Quatre grinned and scooted closer, wrapping his arms and legs around Trowa as he swiped his tongue across his boyfriend’s lips. “Oh, fuck yeah. I like the way you think, stud.”

Trowa held him close and smiled. “Not too shabby, eh?”

“You’re a genius. I should enter you as a contender for the Nobel Prize.”

“Well, I can’t take all the credit. That part was your idea.”

“True. So, what should we pack for our picnic?”

“Whatever you want. You know I’ll eat anything.”

“Alright, I’ll figure it out. Go take your shower. I should be done by the time you are. I need to wash this frosting off me, too. I’m all sticky.”

“I thought you liked being sticky.”

Quatre gave him a wry look. “Depends on the circumstances. Besides, I’ll be a bug magnet with all this sugar still clinging to my skin.”

“But it’s not the sugar that makes you so sweet,” Trowa told him, running his fingers through the blond’s tousled curls.

Quatre snorted and pushed his hand away. “That was corny.”

He shrugged and stood up. “Can’t expect a home run every time. I’ll be down in a few.”

“Leave me some hot water,” Quatre ordered, slapping his boyfriend on the ass as he turned to head back upstairs.

“Okay, boss man.”

 

***

 

It took Quatre a good fifteen minutes to remember where he’d put the picnic basket after they moved in, but eventually located it in the closet of the guestroom. He prepared a spring mix and spinach salad with grape tomatoes, slices of cucumber and strawberries, red onions, chickpeas, and diced olives. He tossed them in a plastic container and sprinkled feta cheese over the top before sealing it with a lid and placed it in the basket along with a bottle of raspberry vinaigrette.

The sandwiches were turkey and Swiss on pumpernickel bread with lettuce, tomato, onion, and Dijon mustard. He wrestled them into little plastic sandwich bags and sealed them while he absently hummed ‘It’s a Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood’.

For dessert, he packed a box of his favorite strawberry-filled shortbread cookies and a can of Duncan Hines chocolate frosting which he used as a dip for the cookies. The first time he ate them in front of Trowa, the other man had looked at him like he’d just scarfed down a dog turd soaked in varnish. During the subsequent debate over his supposedly less-than-stellar snack choices, he dunked a cookie and shoved it between Trowa’s lips to shut him up.

Now it was Trowa who wheedled him into going to the store when their cookie and frosting supply was running low.

The phone rang just as he was sliding a bottle of white zinfandel into the basket along with two plastic cups, forks, and a stack of napkins. Too preoccupied with securing the gingham ties over the lid to keep the food from falling out, he didn’t bother to check the caller ID before picking up the phone.

“Yeah, hello?”

Static crackled on the other end of the line before he heard a faint, “Quatre?”

“Yes. Who’s this?”

“Don’t hang up, okay? It’s me, Stephen.”

The clatter of the receiver as it slipped from his hand and bounced on the counter caused a flurry of startled sparrows that were loitering just outside the kitchen window to take flight. For a few seconds, he grappled with it, surprise making his fingers clumsy. Once his hand-eye coordination finally kicked back in, he brought it cautiously back up to his ear. “How did you get this number?”

Stephen paused, hesitant, but he must have sensed Quatre’s intention to disconnect the call if his question wasn’t promptly answered. “I have a friend who owed me a favor.”

He set his jaw and stared at the ticking second hand of the clock above the stove. “So you asked him to illegally obtain my personal information.”

“I’m sorry, Quatre, but I -”

“You should be.”

“I know, but I just needed to talk to you.”

“We have nothing to talk about.”

“Well…maybe you don’t have anything to say, but I do.”

“Good for you. I don’t care.”

“Damn it, will you just listen to me? I just wanted to say I’m sorry and that…I don’t blame you for hitting me. I deserved it.”

“Finally, something we agree on.”

“And I, uh…I was wondering if I could maybe talk to you in person.”

“No.”

“I’m not going to start anything, I promise. I just want to be able to apologize face to face. It seems more appropriate that way and -”

“No.”

“Fucking Christ, Quatre! Why do you have to be so stubborn? I’m trying to make amends.”

“No, you’re trying to weasel your way back into my life and it’s not going to work.”

“Quat...I still love you.”

Stephen’s voice turned uncharacteristically meek and that was proverbial smoking gun. In all the time Quatre had known him, he’d never once exhibited even an ounce of docility. Stephen was the antithesis of passivity. He demanded submission from those around him and Quatre was no exception.

It was hard not to look back and see all the red flags that he’d been blind to while they were together. At first, it wasn’t a big deal. It had primarily been confined to the bedroom which was fine with Quatre because he loved men who were sexually aggressive.

Unfortunately, that behavior began to bleed into other areas of their relationship, but it had happened so slowly and gradually, he never noticed it. It was only during the confrontation on their wedding day that he was able to see the disaster he was getting himself into and when Stephen attempted to physically force his compliance, that was final nail in the coffin.

“You don’t love me, Stephen. You love yourself. You love being in control and that’s what I gave you because I did love you. I allowed you to dictate my life because I was vulnerable and you knew it. I was easy to manipulate, easy to intimidate. I learned that the hard way, but the lesson was well worth it because now I know I can do better and I have.”

“You call shacking up with that clown ‘doing better’? If you think I’m scum, then how can you possibly believe he is not?”

“Because unlike you, he became a better person. Unlike you, he truly does love me. He always has.”

“And how do you know I haven’t become a better person?”

Quatre burst out laughing and it took him a few minutes to regain his composure. “You’re joking, right?”

“If he gets a second chance, why can’t I?”

“He earned a second chance and he proved himself worthy of it. You can’t even see past your own nose most of the time. I doubt you’re even capable of grasping what you did wrong. For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always been a schmoozer. You talk a good game, but none of it is genuine. Sorry, but I’m not buying your crap anymore.”

“It’s not crap, Quatre. I’m trying to -”

“Lose my number, Stephen.”

“What?”

Lose my number. Burn it, delete it, erase it from your memory banks. It’s over. I don’t want to see you, or speak to you. You’re not going to change my mind so let it go. Move on with your life and let me move on with mine. If you bother me again, you will regret it.”

It was silent for several moments and Quatre was beginning to think he’d hung up until, “Are you going to marry him?”

He snorted. “Goodbye, Stephen.”

“No, wait -”

He pressed the ‘disconnect’ button and placed the receiver back into the charging port with a sigh. He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t wondered about the possibility of Stephen contacting him and how such a confrontation would play out. He was still a little rattled from the call. He knew it might happen, but the reality was a little unnerving.

The soft sound of Trowa’s bare feet padding across the laminate floor alerted him to his boyfriend’s presence, but to his relief, he didn’t sense any anger. As Trowa’s arms closed around him, he sagged against his sturdy chest, still warm and slightly damp from his shower. The comfort and safety of his lover’s strong embrace drained the tension from his body, lulling him back into his previously relaxed state.

No one had ever been able to soothe him the way Trowa could. The taller man’s aura was like a luxurious blanket of serenity and protection, one that Quatre loved to wrap himself in every chance he got.

“You okay, baby?”

He closed his eyes and shivered as the gentle baritone vibrated against his ear. “Yeah. I think so.” Turning his head slightly, he asked, “You know who that was, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“How much did you hear?”

“I came down just as you were telling him that I’d become a better person and I stuck around for the rest.” Trowa paused and Quatre knew what he was going to ask. “Is that true?”

“Of course it is!” Quatre turned around in the circle of his boyfriend’s arms and stared up into stormy green eyes. “Do you honestly think I would say that if it wasn’t?”

Trowa’s shoulder lifted in a faint gesture of a shrug. “I suppose not. I just worry.”

“About what?”

“That I’m still doing something wrong. Like maybe I’m not doing enough to make you happy.”

Quatre reached up and cupped his beautifully sculpted face. “Trowa, you have gone above and beyond ‘enough’.”

“I’m just - I feel like this is all too good to be true. I’m afraid I’m going to wake up and realize this was all a dream. That I’m still a fuck-up who ruined everythi - ouch!”

He cackled as Trowa jumped back and rubbed his cheek. “Still think it’s a dream?”

“You pinched me, you little shit!”

“More of a love squeeze, really.”

“Love squeeze? I’ll show you a love squeeze!”

Quatre shrieked and bolted for the stairs, though Trowa was hot on his heels in no time at all. “No fair, your legs are longer than mine!”

“Sounds like a you problem.”

“What about the picnic?”

“It can wait.”

They reached the top of the landing and Quatre sprinted down the hall, trying to put enough distance between them so he could successfully barricade himself in the bedroom. “I’m sorry I pinched you, okay?”

“You will be once I get my hands on you.”

“Tro - wah!” There was a loud *thud* as the taller man made a lunge for the blond’s ankles, tackling him like an NFL linebacker preventing the rival team’s quarterback from scoring a touchdown. They both hit the floor hard, though their fall was mercifully cushioned by the piled plush carpeting.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Trowa hissed, grabbing the belt of Quatre’s robe before he could squirm his way out from beneath him. He flipped the smaller man onto his back and pinned Quatre’s slender wrists on either side of his head, grinning wolfishly down at his prey. “Now, where were we?”

“Uh, love squeeze?”

Trowa held both his boyfriend’s wrists in one hand and trailed the backs of his fingers down one of the blond’s soft, porcelain cheeks with a tenderness Quatre didn’t quite trust. “You mean like this?”

He yelped as Trowa’s fingers gripped the flesh of cheek and squeezed hard. “Ow! You jerk! I didn’t pinch you that hard!”

“Did too.”

“I did not!”

“Are you calling me a liar?”

“I’m calling you a liar liar, pants on fire.”

“Oh, really?”

“Your nose is longer than a telephone wire,” the blond continued in a sing-song voice.

“Okay, now you’re skating on thin ice, kitten.”

“Ask me, baby, why I’m sad…”

“Dangerously thin ice.”

“You pinched me, pinched me, baby, ‘cause I’m so bad.”

Trowa halted and gave him a weird look. “Those aren’t the right words.”

“I know, but my version fits better.”

“You’re a goof.”

“Does that mean I’ve been properly disciplined now?”

He stroked his chin, contemplating. “No, I don’t think so. Not yet.” He reached between them and untied the belt of Quatre’s bathrobe, parting the terrycloth to bare his love’s ravishing body. “And I’m afraid I have no other choice but to dole out your punishment until I’m satisfied that you’ve learned your lesson.”

 

End.