Face the Music
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Trowa didn't pack much. A single carry-on that he sent through the conveyor belt with his leather jacket and picked up on the other side of the walk-though scanner. He draped the jacket over his arm and shouldered his pack, listened to nearby passengers mumble and gripe about the security. It was getting worse every year they said, shuffling though the queue like ill-tempered livestock. So invasive. So bothersome. It slowed everything down. Remember when all you had to do was walk through a metal detector? Sure, it's been downhill ever since Meteor. Lots of crazies out there. Oh, didn't you hear, they're calling it the Earth Sphere Conflict now. Politicians . . .

Trowa left the voices behind and made his way to the waiting area for Shuttle Flight 220 to L4. He spent some time standing before the tall glass window, watching the proceedings on the apron below. Tractors trundled between terminals, towing trailers of luggage. Workers in coveralls and orange vests jogged back and forth across the concrete, their collars raised against the morning's light rain. Trowa looked up at the heavy masses of gray clouds, knowing that behind them lay a clear blue sky and sunshine. And beyond that, the quiet black of outer space, sharp white rays, the winking eyes of stars and planets. And beyond that, the rest of Everything.

Cathy had seen him as far as the first security checkpoint, her face long and tired. A line had formed between her eyebrows recently, making her appear older than her twenty-six years. She gave Trowa a hug and kissed his cheek—she had to step up on her toes to do it now, he had gotten so tall—and wished him the best. He would call, wouldn't he?

"Of course," said Trowa, smiling gently. "Tell Emilio not to set the camper on fire while I'm gone."

Cathy laughed, said she would keep an eye on the Flammable Mister E, and the Bloom siblings concluded their goodbyes.

Roughly an hour later Trowa was stowing his pack in the overhead compartment and sitting down. He always seemed to get stuck beside the window whenever he flew, probably just the way the seating assignments fell. He would have preferred the aisle. He crossed his arms and leaned his head back, wondering about odds and statistics and letting the numbers roll through his mind. Heero was right—it was pretty relaxing.


Three weeks had passed since their meeting in Munich. Three weeks since Trowa told Heero the secret that had been eating his guts for the last six years. The same secret he'd told Cathy a few days ago.

She had been horrified, just as Trowa predicted. She had wept tears of anger and helplessness and apologized for everything that had happened, her voice scratching a familiar waltz of should have, would have, could have. It wasn't her fault, obviously. It wasn't her brother's fault. If anyone was to blame it was the son of Dekim Barton, a man with a penchant for mysterious loners like the nameless young soldier he'd met in 194. But that man was dead now, and it was time to release his toxic ghost to the ether.

Just one more person to tell, then Trowa Bloom could start living again.

He looked out the window and saw his own flat expression reflected thinly back at him: a calm sea hiding the teeming tangle of monsters that lived in the deep.

He released a long, measured breath.

Why was it that the most difficult things always came last?

A.C. 195

The trip from Corsica to Isola Razzoli was short, but hard on Heavyarms's thrusters. The Gundam was built to stand and defend, not for uninterrupted flight. Trowa monitored his propulsions for signs of overheating and obediently followed the gold and gray mobile suit. An armed escort of twelve desert-class MS flanked him, ready to pitch in and destroy him if he gave the slightest indication of resistance. These men were very protective of their young leader. Trowa wondered if they were part of an authentic military corps. They were too organized to be guerrillas, too loyal to be mercenaries.

A modified C-5 Galaxy was waiting at the tiny Sardinian airstrip carved out of Razzoli's rocky terrain. A second aircraft was taxiing from the runway to the loading area, having apparently just been called in.

Trowa's two-way radio clicked, and the voice of the other pilot came on. "My men will load your mobile suit first. You can join the others on the passenger deck or stay in your cockpit, whatever you prefer, over."

"Where are we going?" Trowa asked, not bothering to use correct voice procedure.

"Someplace safe. That's all I can tell you, over."

"Why should I trust you?"

There was a pause. "I can't give you a single reason right now. You just have to believe me. Over."

Trowa rolled his lips, thinking. There were several possible outcomes to this, most of them bad. At the worst he could be killed and his Gundam turned over to the Alliance. The latter concerned him more than the former, naturally; however, this new pilot seemed opposed to the Alliance as well, and the similarities between their suits and combat abilities led Trowa to believe that this might possibly be a second Gundam. If that were the case, it would be in his best interest to cooperate.

Trowa pressed the button on his communicator. "Copy, wilco. Remaining in cockpit. Standing by until further instruction. Over and out."

He hated being in a position of relying on hope. But right now it was all that he could do.

From Sardinia the two enormous aircraft thundered across the sky and touched down in Algiers ninety minutes later. They refueled quickly and took off at a heading of roughly 195 degrees, south-southwest. Trowa pinged their location through an encrypted satellite, watching the green dot of his Gundam moving slowly across his viewscreen. When he felt the landing gear come down an hour later, he was puzzled. From the satellite images, they appeared to be in the northwest corner of the Sahara Desert. There was absolutely nothing out here.

Nothing except a hydraulic runway that rose from the sand to meet the incoming aircraft, and a massive subterranean military base. Trowa was soundly impressed. Whoever the pilot was, he either had an extensive logistics network or more money than God. Maybe both.

He stepped off the C-5's front gangway and met the other pilot on the hangar floor. Behind them a team of workers began calling out debarkation instructions for "Master Quatre's Gundam". Trowa narrowed his eyes at the bright, friendly face before him. So it was true. There was another. This was quite—

"Well, this is certainly a surprise," said the pilot cheerfully. "I never thought there'd be more than one Gundam. I wonder which of us is the backup." He chuckled. With his large blue eyes and round cheeks he appeared many years younger than he probably was. Only his voice betrayed his age, a cordial, educated baritone.

Trowa didn't waste time with niceties. "Where are we?"

"Algeria. This is one of our desert bases."


A modest shrug. "We have three across the Middle East; this one, another in Egypt, and another in Oman. My family has an ancestral home near Najran in Saudi Arabia. It's more comfortable there, but not quite as secure."

Trowa watched the workers roll Heavyarms out of the aircraft. "You're very trusting," he said.

"Only with people I know I can trust."

"For all you know I could be a spy."

"Maybe. Or you could be just like me."

Trowa returned his gaze to the pilot, who extended his hand.

"My name is Quatre Raberba Winner."

Trowa stood still. "I have no name."

An awkward expression crossed Quatre's face. His fingers curled and his hand began to retreat.

"But if you must call me something, call me Trowa." He reached out and grasped the small hand firmly. "Trowa Barton."

Quatre grinned. It was like the sun breaking from behind the clouds. "Trowa Barton. It's a pleasure."

The shuttle emerged from the dense clouds of the troposphere and soared into the light, blue skies on every side. Trowa inhaled and exhaled deeply. No turning back now. Five minutes into a 12-hour flight. Plenty of time to think. Maybe too much time. He could try to sleep; he could certainly use it, having gotten so little over the last few days.

Trowa reclined his seat a few clicks and closed his eyes, threading his fingers together over his stomach. He needed to recharge, bolster his mind and his heart. He didn't want Quatre to pick up on his high-strung emotional state within the first five seconds of their meeting. He wanted to be cool and calm, like how he used to be during the War. This was going to be tough. Trowa was a master of deception, but Quatre was the only person who could see right through him every time, no matter how convincing his disguise. It was a valuable talent to have, however unintentionally invasive it seemed to others. Trowa always felt naked in Quatre's presence, fearful he might look too deeply into his heart and see the ugliness he was trying to hide.

Green eyes opened and stared at the cabin ceiling above, seeing and yet not seeing.

So that was it. That was why he yearned for Quatre's presence and yet couldn't stand to be around him. It was fear. Not fear of the dark, but the fear of sight. Irrational, stupid fear that Quatre would see the damage and throw him away, horrified and revolted, all his love replaced with pity and shame. That was why. That was why.

Trowa felt his pulse quicken in his wrists, his ears, his chest. His fingers dug into the backs of his hands.

He was on his way to share those secrets now. He was going to pull the shroud off his scarred, mutilated past like a magician, hand extended, showing the world once and for all who and what he really was. A son. A brother. A survivor.

And a lover. That was what he wanted, what he wanted to be. Something in addition to a friend and companion. Once he revealed the wholeness of himself to Quatre, everything that was and is and ever shall be, the chains of the past would fall away and he would finally be free. He would be a new man, able to express his love without the fear of those hideous days encroaching on him like a pack of wolves, waiting to devour his joy . He would be invulnerable, unbreakable. He would be bulletproof.

The shuttle entered the lower stratosphere, leaving the clouds behind.

"You must be tired after your ordeal," said Quatre helpfully. "We have showers and plenty of beds, and an infirmary if you need it. Please, make yourself at home."

Trowa kept his eye on the technicians examining Heavyarms. "I don't plan on staying."

Quatre's eyebrows went up. "Don't you want your Gundam repaired? It shouldn't take more than twenty-four hours. We could reequip you, too. My crew are more than willing t—"

"I don't require any more of your assistance," said Trowa sharply. "Unless you plan on imprisoning me here, I'll be leaving shortly."

If Quatre was offended, he didn't show it. "You're free to go whenever you like," he said, "though I don't think you'll last long out there on your own. This base is surrounded by over four hundred thousand square kilometers of barren, scorching desert. The kamasin are active this time of year and sandstorms are as frequent as they are unpredictable. If you try to leave in your damaged mobile suit and encounter one of these storms, you'll be buried alive in less than an hour. You'll leave no trace. No one will ever find you, no one will know where to search for you, and if your CO2 filtration system isn't destroyed by the sand, the sun will heat the air in the cockpit until it's too hot to breathe. If you don't suffocate, you'll be forced to abandon your Gundam, providing you are able to dig yourself out from under several feet of sand. And if you survive that, then what? You'll wander the desert for a day or two until the sun finally kills you. My friend"—Quatre stepped close, his face grave—"you won't stand a chance if you leave this base tonight."

There was a brief but profound silence.

Trowa folded his arms against his chest. "So," he murmured, "essentially I've become your prisoner."

"Whether you're my prisoner or my guest is entirely up to you." Quatre broke the tension with a smile. "In fact, I'd like it if you joined us for dinner this evening. Nothing fancy, of course, just the standard fare. Your company would be appreciated." His expression was hopeful.

Trowa waited to see if he would plead. It didn't happen. The boy had some degree of self-respect, at least.

"Alright," he said finally.

Quatre appeared satisfied. "Excellent. Dinner's at 18:30, so you'll have plenty of time to get situated. I'll have Hamal there show you to your room. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. We're all friends here." He inclined his head and excused himself.

Trowa watched him stride across the hangar floor, his posture erect and his movements graceful, despite the playful little bounce in his step. Quatre Raberba Winner. An elegant child, a humble prince. What an antithetic blend of characteristics.

Hamal approached Trowa and interrupted his gazing. "Right this way, zayir."

As Trowa fell into step behind the man, he found it difficult not to look over his shoulder.

Such is the case when we find something that attracts us.

The mess hall was spotless, its walls and pillars painted livid and ivory instead of the ghastly putty that was typical of most institutions. The lights shined off the polished concrete floor, creating a cheery brightness. Large pieces of framed artwork, reproductions of a watercolor series featuring oases and dunes, filled the void that windows would have occupied. Classical music played quietly over the intercom. It felt more like a resort dining room than the grubby army cafeterias Trowa was accustomed to. The tasteful surroundings seemed to have a soothing effect on the men. There was much laughter and easy conversation, no foul language, no crude jokes.

Quatre sat with his team—the Maganacs, he called them—as if he were one of them, though they addressed him as "Master Quatre" and spoke with the utmost deference. Trowa had never seen such an unusual dynamic among soldiers. At least the food was familiar. Some type of chicken served over yellow rice. Tomatoes and cucumbers. Dried dates and apricots. It wasn't anything to rave about, but it was certainly better than MREs. Trowa had no problem clearing his tray.

Toward the end of the meal, Quatre stood and raised his plastic cup. The hall went quiet, only Haydn's Emperor's Hymn murmuring from the ceiling.

"I'd like to take a moment and thank everyone for their efforts at Corsica Airbase today," he declared over the slow strings of the quartet. "This victory belongs to you. Technicians, soldiers, volunteers. We were successful because of your dedication and support, without which we would have failed from the moment this Operation began. I thank each and every one of you, and hope that years from now you'll look back fondly on these days, and never forget the bonds of camaraderie that helped us accomplish so much."

Quatre's tone became more solemn. "Let us neither forget those who lost their lives today, the soldiers we would have called brother in better days than these. I raise a glass to their memory, and to a hopefully brief war—may peace not be far behind it."

There was a peal of soft applause, followed by echoes toasting to resolution and peace. Quatre nodded to his comrades, then resumed his seat.

Trowa was quietly astounded. "You speak very well."

"Thank you," said Quatre, his cheeks glowing.

"It was an eloquent sentiment. Naďve, but eloquent."

Quatre just smiled. "Well, I'm too young to know everything just yet. I haven't the wisdom of your advanced years. Perhaps that's something we can rectify in our future conversations?"

The words were bold, but the blue eyes twinkling and mischievous over the rim of his cup. Trowa had to fight the urge to grin.

"Perhaps," he agreed.

Trowa ended up staying six days in the Middle East. The technicians repaired Heavyarms and refitted the beam gatling, but there wasn't much they could do about the hard-state ammunition other than the homing missiles. Both Sandrock and Heavyarms took the same caliber shells, further supporting the theory that these Gundams shared a common designer.

While the engineers familiarized themselves with Heavyarms, Quatre familiarized himself with his guest. Or he tried. Trowa spoke very little, answered no questions about his mission or anything related to him personally, but Quatre nonetheless found pleasure in his company. Trowa's reticence, which would have put off any normal person, was politely accepted and accommodated, and had no impact on Quatre's graciousness toward him. He showed Trowa around the base, gave him a change of clothing to wear—a kurta top and sirwal trousers, very different but quite comfortable—while Trowa's own garments were laundered. And he brought Trowa to his home near Najran.

He introduced Trowa to the household staff as if he were an old friend of the family, gave him his own room, and allowed him to explore the palatial premises at his leisure, unattended.

Trowa couldn't understand it. Quatre was cultured, sophisticated, and highly intelligent, knowledgeable in matters of business and politics, possessing a shrewd and practical sensibility. Hardly the sort of person who would fraternize with a person of dubious allegiance. Yet he seemed to understand that Trowa meant him no harm, that Trowa wasn't rude or unappreciative simply because he was quiet. If anything, Quatre seemed to like him and expressed an unspoken desire to be his friend.

That was something else Trowa couldn't understand. He'd never seen anything in himself that others might value or be attracted to. What did he have to offer? He was gangly, ugly, badly-dressed, his voice was too weak, he had no resources except what he could steal, he wasn't nearly as educated as Quatre, there was absolutely nothing they had in common. Or so Trowa thought, until that last afternoon at the Winner Estate.

The sound of a violin caught Trowa's ear from out in the central courtyard. He closed the book he'd been reading and stood from his seat on the edge of the fountain. The musician was just beginning to warm up, creamy scales and arpeggios rolling through the air, a short pause every now and then to tune a string. Trowa set his book on a nearby table and went to find the source.

In a room overlooking the courtyard, Quatre stood before his leggio and played the second movement of Winter from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, one of his favorite pieces, a good song with which to warm up.

Trowa appeared in the doorway, took a few cautious steps inside. The sound of the violin was exquisite. When he closed his eyes he saw the icicles dangling from pine needles like diamond earrings, sparkling in the pale winter light. He felt the sharp bite of frost, smelled the freshness of the trees. Snowflakes drifting through the air, rolling like curtains in the wind. Delicate crystal formations, branches upon branches of ice, beauty unseen by the naked eye.

The vision ended with the sustained E flat, and Trowa opened his eyes. Quatre was gazing at him over the shining amber body of his violin, still tucked under his chin.

Trowa wet his lips. "There's a song I heard long ago," he said slowly, "when I was a child. I don't know the name. But it goes like . . ." He began to hum. Clear, warm notes of a tune that rose and descended along a double harmonic scale like a mountain range in some distant land.

Quatre's eyes lit up with recognition and he put his bow to the strings, picking up the melody mid-phrase. Their notes were a perfect match.

Trowa stopped humming and listened, watching the song envelop Quatre. The violin sang with beautiful clarity, high and sweet, the slurs like satin ribbons joining the notes together. Quatre closed his eyes and swayed with the music, fingers dancing on the fretboard while his arm drew the bow smoothly back and forth across the strings.

This was a song that lived on the dark edges of Trowa's memory, evoking images of a campfire and deep voices, strong arms that held him. It filled his heart with a deluge of raw emotion, reminded him of things he imagined had once been his—family, laughter, love.

He crossed the room silently and stood before Quatre, who drew out the final note as if savoring the last drop of a rare wine. Quatre opened his eyes, lowered his arms. He was breathing heavily. Trowa stared down at him, his soul stripped naked in the wake of the haunting tune.

"That was Béla Bartók," Quatre whispered as the distance between them closed. "Song of the Mountain Horn."

Trowa's hands tightened into fists as his eyes explored the handsome contours of Quatre's face. He had never wanted to touch something so badly in his life. "I never knew its name," he heard himself say.

Quatre let out a trembling breath and shut his eyes—an invitation. He could feel the heat of Trowa's face as it came near. "You have perfect pitch," he said, struggling. "I've never met anyone . . . who . . ."

Trowa raised his hand to touch Quatre's cheek, tilting his head as he came down, their breath on each other's lips.

Footsteps sounded in the hall outside. The moment cracked, then shattered as eyes flew open, panic and guilt thrusting them away from one another.

The majordomo appeared, a thin, sedate-looking old fellow. "Pardon my intrusion, Master Quatre," he said, "but Mister Rashid will be arriving shortly with Master Trowa's, er, vehicle."

Quatre forced a smile. "Thank"—his voice cracked—"thank you, Mikail. Please make arrangements for my return to base this evening. I'll be flying back with Rashid."

"Of course, sir. Would that be before or after dinner?"

"Before. I'd like to get back with my men and discuss our next course of action."

"Very well, sir. I'll have your things waiting for you in the foyer."

"Thank you."

Mikail disappeared.

Quatre slowly raised his eyes to Trowa's. In spite of his vast vocabulary, he could find no words to say.

Trowa lowered his gaze, turned, and began to walk away.

"I know we'll meet again," Quatre blurted to his back, "so I won't say goodbye . . . Safe travels, my friend."

The last two words rang in Trowa's head like cries on a mountaintop, their echoes settling into the bottom of his heart. My friend. He set his teeth on edge and hurried from the room.

Before he let his guard down a second time.

Trowa's eyes opened and he was awake. He clicked his seat into its upright position again and looked out the window. Black, a few tiny twinkles. The artificial gravity was on now, the computers steadily adjusting the newtons as the shuttle increased its distance from Earth's orbit. It felt to Trowa like they had just entered the LEO Zone. He must have only drifted off for about 30 minutes.

He glanced at the passenger beside him, a petite older woman with a well-developed fashion sense. She seemed to be alright. A little peaked in the face, but not a complete stranger to gravitational fluctuations. Some newcomers to space, older adults in particular, experienced Space Adaptation Syndrome—motion sickness attributed to changes in gravity. Children were usually more resilient. Trowa remembered only his amazement the first time he left Earth's orbit. He halfway wanted to say something to the woman to take her mind off of her discomfort, but he was afraid it would open the door to a 12-hour marathon of chitchat and awkward silences. Better to just mind his own business.

Trowa leaned his head against the seat and stared out the window. A satellite passed by, little more than a bright dot against the backdrop of the universe. He sighed. Moments like these were a perfect illustration of the ponderous weight of time, and how swiftly it moves toward the things we dread.

Quatre couldn't help looking at his watch. He did it as covertly as possible, not wanting to seem rude to Mr Forray, the young, red-haired executive director of Winner Construction who was giving an enthusiastic quarterly report at today's board meeting. Quatre liked Greg Forray, but he could never hear his name and not think of French composer Gabriel Fauré, and subsequently get the first few bars of Pavane stuck in his head for the rest of the day. It was a pleasant enough tune, a little melancholy, still better than most earworms.

The meeting wrapped up just after 12:30. Quatre shook hands with all the directors of Winner Corp's subsidiaries, thanked them for coming and for the good work they were doing, and was obligated to join a small contingent for lunch. Quatre would rather have gone back to his apartment and wrapped up some of his tasks ahead of the weekend, but such is the life of a corporate executive. He truly loved what he did and was excited about the new projects—such as the Willawin Scholarship Program and the White Poppy Foundation, an organization established to help those colonists disabled, widowed or orphaned by war—but sometimes he wished there were three more of him on which he could spread some of the burden. This idea was usually superseded by a reminder of the twenty-nine IVF daughters Zayid Winner had fabricated in a desperate 20-year bid for a son, and Quatre ended up rescinding his thoughtless wish every time. Life was precious, he believed, and not to be idly conceived. That was why he decided years ago that children were never going to be a part of his future—at least biologically speaking. He would continue to help the ones that were already here, work to build a peaceful future for them. Quatre felt it was more than just his duty. It was the purpose of his existence. Do good, love one another, fight the good fight, help those in need.

He was worn out but in a good mood by the time he finally got back to the office around 14:00. His assistant Patricia had gathered all the paperwork and files he would need over the weekend, and arranged them neatly on his desk. All Quatre had to do was shovel them into his briefcase and make his escape. The phone rang on his way out, and Patricia picked it up. Quatre froze in the doorway and sent her a desperate look.

"I'm sorry, but you just missed him," she said, waving goodbye to her very grateful boss. "Could I take a message?"

Quatre caught a taxi back to his second-floor apartment in Chelsea Gardens, unburdened himself at the door, and sank into the overstuffed sofa with a grateful sigh. He slipped off his shoes and stretched his legs out on the coffee table—very plebeian of him, but what the hell, this was his place, said a voice that sounded very much like Duo's. He could really go for a glass of citron pressé and some Ludovico Einaudi right now, but he didn't feel like moving. He'd have to move eventually—Trowa's shuttle would be coming in around 19:00 this evening, and Quatre said he'd meet him at the spaceport.

He grinned and grabbed a nearby throw pillow, hugging it to his chest. Trowa would be here soon. He felt positively giddy. It had been so long since they'd last spent any time together. There had been the circus in Buenos Aires last year—what an unforgettable experience, such a beautiful city—then the daytrip to the big aquarium at L1, and the few brief appearances Trowa made during Cathy's kidney issues in the late spring. Other than that, communication was restricted to emails, phone calls, and the occasional vidchat when the satellites feeds were good and strong. July was the last time they'd seen each other in person. It was already mid-September.

Quatre suddenly ached for Trowa's presence. He allowed the pining, promising feelings to consume him and he toppled over onto his side with a wistful laugh, squeezing the pillow until the seams squeaked. He was aware of how ridiculous he must look, but he tried not to care. Surely love made a lot of intelligent people look silly.

He closed his eyes and retreated into his mind, finding the door that led to a dusky room overlooking a courtyard, where a titillating little fantasy of his had been living for years. There he was, playing a fervent, arabesque tune on his violin, and here came Trowa, quietly walking in to listen. Sometimes he wore the whitewashed jeans and green sweater of his youth, sometimes dark trousers and a white shirt with the collar open to his chest. Sometimes he wore no shirt at all. Today he was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, setting down his bag and removing the leather jacket that smelled faintly of cigarettes and musky deodorant.

Quatre snuggled down into the couch and let the scene play out. It was a little different every time, but it always ended the same way: the violin disappearing but the song continuing, the two of them coming together in an embrace, Trowa's desire pressing hard against him as arms and clothes and body heat formed a loving, inseparable knot. The tender, husky whisper of Trowa's voice in his ear, speaking the words he had been waiting to hear since 195. The kiss that followed, the nervous and oft-bitten lips now confident and earnest, hands sliding down Quatre's hips and squeezing his buttocks, reinforcing the words that echoed in the music's seamless loop . . .

The story played on in Quatre's head, lulling him to sleep as it had for many, many nights.

Trowa awoke suddenly, his lips parted and his breath coming fast. Had he said something just now? His throat was tingling with the familiar sensation of having broken a long period of silence. He studied his fellow passenger peripherally. The woman was reading a magazine. No indication that she had heard anything. Trowa settled back into his seat and clamped his lower lip between his teeth, as if this would annul anything he might have carelessly spoken.

When had he fallen asleep? Had he been dreaming? Trowa was not a dreamer. His sleep was consistently dark and any somnolent imagery quickly forgotten. But he felt, certainly and inexplicably, that someone had called to him and he had answered.

Trowa stood up and pardoned himself as he squeezed past the woman, who politely tucked her legs beneath her seat to accommodate him. He went to the lavatory and availed himself of its facilities, washing his hands in the stainless steel basin afterward. He patted wet hands on his face and met his own eyes in the mirror. His pupils were large, his cheeks unusually hot. He hoped he wasn't coming down with something. The last thing he needed was to give Quatre a col—


That sunny, lovely face loomed to the forefront of Trowa's thoughts. A memory? No, it couldn't be. Trowa had never seen Quatre like that, his eyes half closed and his neck bare, soft blond hair falling away from his forehead, his lips smiling and forming the two syllables of Trowa's name.

It came upon him suddenly, a warm wave of arousal that poured into him and made his legs quiver. Trowa braced himself against the walls as the image (was it in the mirror or his mind?) changed, now Quatre's eyes were closed and he was throwing his head back, the white column of his throat arching as he cried out in ecstasy.

Trowa's legs nearly buckled. "Oh God," he uttered, catching himself on the side of the sink. Where was this coming from? Surely not his own brain. His imagination was limited to the realistic, the pragmatic. Fantasies and daydreams were alien landscapes, nonsensical and useless to him. But apparently very stimulating.

The vision of Quatre writhed beneath him in shades of cream and rose.

I want you.

I know, Trowa thought, struggling for control. I want you too.



I can't wait.

Trowa clenched his teeth. You're going to have to. Right now I can't . . . it's too . . .

The vision darkened. Shadows fell across Quatre's face, suddenly much younger, wide-eyed, scared. Trowa heard his own voice, hard and ugly, and the horrifically familiar words. Soak it up, sweetheart. Don't I feel good?

Oh God, no, not this.

It hurts, Trowa.

Shh, relax, baby. Just hang on. It'll get better, you'll see.

God, please, no.

Come for me, gorgeous. That's it, baby, just like

"No!" Trowa cried, and tumbled out of the lavatory and onto the carpet.

The shadows vanished. The voices went silent.

Trowa lifted his head to see half the shuttle's occupants staring at him. He pulled himself to his feet, head spinning, grunted something about a spider in the sink. He numbly found his way back to his seat, sank down and put his hand over his face. He felt like throwing up.

"Young man."

Trowa uncovered his face. The woman beside him was offering a wet towel that the steward had apparently dropped off at her request.

"Thanks, but I—"

"It is cold," said the woman, her accent flowery and French. "Put it on te back of your neck, darling. You will feel better."

"Thank you," Trowa said softly, and did what she advised. The nausea he'd been feeling began to fade. "Thank you," he repeated, meaning it this time.

She smiled and picked up her magazine again.

"Did I say anything earlier?" Trowa asked after a few moments had passed. "When I was asleep."

The woman hesitated a beat. "Yes."

Trowa closed his eyes. Imagination; why was it that his seemed to conjure only the absolute worst scenarios?

"What did I say?" he asked finally.

"Just two words. I cannot be sure," she said, "but it sounded like 'my friend'."

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