* * * * * *
A few days later, around 7 P.M., Duo came back to his room to rest for a few minutes before the evening meal. The atmosphere with the other three had become a little less sad those last days, thanks to his renewed efforts to enhance the mood of their little group, but it was not an easy task for him, and he forced himself to stay in private to discharge his own frustration, so that he would not spoil all of his work.
Sighing, totally spent, he let himself fall flat on his back on his bed… and sat back up with a yelp when he felt something hard dig into his back.
"AOUCH! What the fuck is that?" he grunted, searching for the culprit in the folds of the sheets.
Usually, as prone to making messes as he was, he NEVER put anything on his bed, due to his habit of letting himself fall like a sack of potatoes on it. So what the hell was that thing doing there?!
His fingers met a satiny ribbon, and he frowned faintly, lifting the bit of pale mauve cloth. There was a plastic thingy dangling at the other end.
His eyes narrowed as he tried to understand what it was, then widened with surprise when he remembered, and he burst out laughing, falling back on the bed with his arms around his aching ribs.
On one side, there was a… thing, in blue and purple plastic, representing the head of an animal of unknown parentage, flattened and round like a badge, with behind it a clip-on to put it on clothes, and the ribbon sewn on it. On the other side of the ribbon dangled a pacifier.
"Trowa…" he snorted, trying to sound reproachful.
He had already forgotten, but apparently the taller teenager hadn't forgotten the end of their conversation with Wufei in the hangar. The one during which Duo couldn't stop dropping his screwdriver. It got to the point where Trowa had told him that he would buy him something to attach it to, so that the boy would not have to get it back for him each time.
Suddenly in form again, he jumped to his feet and went searching for Trowa, to tell him that he had appreciated the joke.
* * *
Quatre was working on Sandrock when Duo erupted into the hangar. Yet he had just left them a few minutes ago to go and see, quote, "how Heero fared in the kitchen"… Quatre was ready to wave to the boy when he saw that the braided teenager wasn't headed for him or to his own Gundam, but to Heavyarms where Trowa was replacing a damaged plate.
‘What does he want with Trowa?’
He observed them for a few seconds, trying to decide if he should rejoin them or not. Duo probably only needed some technical information. For an important thing, he would have called for them both, and to chat, he would have gone to Quatre, not to Trowa.
But Duo gave a friendly punch to his comrade's shoulder and burst out laughing, and Trowa answered with a little smile that squeezed Quatre's heart.
/i want him to smile like that for ME/
Curious, he approached in silence and pricked up his ears.
* * *
"Thanks for having thought of me!" guffawed Duo, letting the pacifier-hanging-thing dangle from his fingers.
Trowa gave him an ironical small salute and wiped up the dirt on his hands with a grimy towel.
"Did you like your present?" he asked, caustic.
He could see how his comrade was mentally exhausting himself trying to keep their mood to a bearable level. How he took it upon himself to make them laugh with his inventions and his over-developed sense of humor. Trowa didn't know if Heero and Quatre, used to such behavior from him, fully realized the effort it took from him, especially since Duo too was very depressed by Wufei's disappearance. And he had wondered, ‘who made the joker laugh?’ and had begun to search for a way to show him that his efforts were recognized and appreciated, by at least one of them.
"Yes, thank you very much," answered Duo with good humor. "But I didn't even remember that, how did you think of it?"
"Oh, I was at the supermarket yesterday and I saw a young mother buy one for her son to prevent him from screaming that he didn't want to go to the hairdresser. I don't know why, but he reminded me of you."
"I see," he answered, examining the sort of badge. "Err, whazzit s'posed to be?"
"A duck," deadpanned Trowa.
"Mauve," said Maxwell.
"Mauve," confirmed Barton.
"Ok… So it's a beak then? I thought it was probably a beard or something. And, err, how do I use it exactly?"
Trowa stepped nearer and took the ribbon from his hand before clipping the badge on his collar.
"I thought it was for my screwdriver." Duo said innocently while poking at the pacifier, fighting hard to not laugh aloud, in what had become an impassivity contest.
Trowa turned around to fetch a screwdriver from the toolbox. Then, nearly solemn, he untied the pacifier and tied the ribbon around the tool.
"Will it hold?" inquired Duo.
"I bought you the special reinforced type, for children with a very big security blanket," Trowa shot back without changing his expression.
"Oh," coughed Duo, biting his cheeks. "And the pacifier?"
Still as impassive as ever, Trowa pushed it into his mouth.
"It should keep your tongue occupied. One stone, two birds."
Unable to hold back any longer, Duo burst out laughing, spitting out the pacifier, and sprawled on Heavyarms' foot, struggling to breathe. He snorted and snickered for at least ten minutes before being able to stop.
"Thank you, Trowa," he said finally, once he had calmed down. "I needed that," he admitted in a more serious voice, wiping the tears of laughter on his face.
"Think nothing of it," answered the ex-mercenary, giving him a shy little smile. "I didn't want to have to pick up your tools every time you dropped them," he added, voluntarily interpreting the sentence in the wrong way.
Duo still understood, and before he lost his nerve in front of his stoic comrade, caught him in a fast hug.
"Thanks, Trowa, thanks lots," he whispered before letting him go and stepping back, smiling. "I owe you one."
Trowa refused the proposition with a carefree gesture of his hand.
"Ah, what is a little pacifier-hanging-thingy between friends?"
Duo nearly strangled himself, he was laughing so hard, and he hoped it didn't show that his eyes were tearing up. 'friends… he said it… he said it!' He was always so afraid to only be seen by the others as a weight, a bother, or worse, someone invisible, whose presence didn't make much of a difference. But Trowa, the most silent one, the hardest to read between them all, had called him friend… Even if it had been as a joke, it was still worth much that he had said it. Because Trowa didn't laugh with anyone. Just the fact that he had opened up enough to joke around nearly made the word unnecessary.
Slightly embarrassed and not knowing what to do, Trowa decided to "follow his feelings" and briefly hugged back.
"Now let me work in peace," he added, winking discretely.
Maxwell grinned at him and turned to leave, playing with the ribbon.
"You forget your pacifier," Trowa said in an atone voice, flinging the thing at him.
Duo caught it and walked out of the hangar, laughing loudly. He wondered how Heero would react if the Japanese boy saw him enter the kitchen with that thing in his mouth… then decided that the best way to know was to try it.
* * *
Quatre blinked furiously to clear his eyes and wiped at his face, annoyed.
That Trowa would laugh with Duo, when he only rarely smiled to Quatre, who was his best friend, it was already hard to swallow, but that he hugged him! And gave him presents!
He told himself that he was being unjust. He knew that it was easy to laugh with Duo, and the present was more of a joke than anything. But he couldn't forget the hug that Trowa had not refused, and even less the one he had given back by himself. Whereas Quatre had had to work for months before having the right to put one hand on his shoulder!
What was Duo trying to do? Steal his place at Trowa's side?
'no. I know he wasn't. he was just being himself.'
So, was it Trowa who would prefer the American's friendship to his own?
/is it that he doesn't want me anymore? /
He shook his head.
'Why am I so possessive? Trowa has a right to search for new friends; it will NOT make him abandon me. And he does not belong to me… as strongly as I may want it.’
/YES HE DOES!! He's MY Trowa!! I don't want him to leave me! I DON'T!!/
Sobbing, he fell to the ground and hugged his knees, torn between his logic and his feelings.
* * *
Trowa finished putting his tools back in place and got ready to leave the hangar. But as he was walking past Sandrock, a suspicious sound made him start and he decided to investigate.
Hidden in a corner, curled up, Quatre was sobbing. Trowa started as violently as if he had been hit. He had never seen the young Arab in such a state! He ran to him, worried. Had he finally broken under the pressure?
"Quatre? Quatre, what's wrong? Talk to me!"
The little blond jerked and looked up, his eyes red and puffy.
'You see, he's here, he's worrying…'
/but maybe it doesn't mean anything /
"What's the matter?" asked the acrobat, cutting through his internal argument.
Quatre began to sob uncontrollably again, hiding his head in his folded arms.
"I don't know… Everything… Nothing! Too many things are happening and I… I can't control it anymore…"
"How is that? Like what for example?" asked the tall young man, crouching to put an arm around his friend's shoulders.
"My emotions… I can't…"
"Can't what?" Trowa encouraged him.
"I don't know!! Things happen, anything, and I know that I wouldn't usually react like that, but I can't stop it… Even if I know that I shouldn't, I can't stop! I get pissed at everything and nothing and I cry for the littlest things, and I have mood shifts worse than any of my sisters ever had… And there are these thoughts in my head, and they don't sound like me, I don't want them to sound like me, but I still feel that they are mine, those so strange views are mine… I can't even agree with myself anymore…"
Barton tried to put back in order his comrade's confused speech, but he didn't really understand what the boy was talking about. But the description still evoked something very precise for him.
"It's probably because of the Were awakening inside of you… Do you remember Heero's mood shifts? He didn't stop either… And with Wufei's disappearance on top of that, it isn't surprising that the stress would hit you so hard… Don't worry, and don't feel guilty for your thoughts. You're not responsible, ok?"
"You really think so? They're so…"
"It's only your Were influencing you. When you're used to it, you'll be able to see if the personality changes are really as great as you thought… I mean, if it's really what you think deep down, or if it's only the hormonal imbalance. But for the moment it's not serious. It's only the reaction to the animal pushing to get out in the open. It will cam down faster than you think, I promise… all will be ok, I swear…"
He didn't know what to say, and wasn't used to talking so much. He ran a hand through Quatre's baby fine hair. Hiccuping, the young pilot suddenly clung to him, and Trowa let himself be hugged, not knowing what else he could do. He found himself with his back against the wall with the boy's head hidden in his neck, an arm around his shoulders and the other hand clenched in the folds of his pullover. Remembering how Cathy had treated a little girl lost at the circus one day, he slid an arm under the Arabian boy's knees and dragged him onto his lap before beginning to rock him. It was strange how the rhythm came easily to him, as if it had been engraved on his subconscious. Had his own mother rocked him like this?
He felt a prickle of pain as the old question resurfaced again. How had he been separated from his parents? How had he ended up with the mercenaries? Had he been abandoned? Had they stopped wanting him? He so wanted to know, but he knew that it would probably always be a mystery.
Quatre felt Trowa's sudden pain through his own messed up feelings, and instantly, his little worries seemed put back in place. He didn't know what he had done, but because of his little self-pity crisis, Trowa felt bad, and it was his fault!
"Trowa? What's wrong?" he asked, straightening up and putting a hand against the other boy's cheek.
And suddenly, Quatre started violently, and his eyes widened enough to show white all around, as a feeble and sad, oh so sad voice, made itself heard in-between his own tormented thoughts, a voice like a whisper of wind through the branches of a willow.
/nobody wants me, not even my mother, nobody, nobody, I'm not worth anything for anyone, may as well die, why was I abandoned, why am I alone, mom, mommy, where are you, dead? or just indifferent? has nobody ever loved me? has nobody ever rocked me?/
"Oh, Trowa!!" exclaimed Quatre, clinging to the ex-mercenary's neck, hot tears welling up in his eyes. "T-Trowa, don't think like that! You're not alone! You're not alone, I'm here, Duo's here, Heero's here! And Wufei, and …Cathy, she loves you like her brother, and the people at the circus, they love you too, and you're not alone, don't cry, don't cry, please!"
But Trowa wasn't even crying, too used to those sorts of thoughts to still react to them with such intensity. Quatre was crying instead of him.
The little blond was the one to begin again the rocking, faster, nearly frantic, and, stupefied by what he had said, Trowa followed the movement. How had he known…? Had he… Was he…?
Quatre blinked, suddenly realizing what had happened. The link broke brutally, and he stopped crying, his surprise distracting him from the memory of the overwhelming sadness.
"I don't know… It’s as if I had heard… But… you didn't talk, did you?
They stared at each other, eyes open wide.
"How is it possible…?"
"I don't know…Maybe… I'm in such a sad emotional state and you are too, so our usual barriers…"
Barton cut him with a hand gesture that was slightly more brusque than what he had intended.
"Quatre, I am always in this state. Those thoughts are absolutely nothing abnormal for me. It wasn't me who changed this time. And it wasn't empathy, it wasn't feelings. It's to my words that you answered.
"You think that… That I'm becoming a… T-t-telepath?"
Trowa let his body rest against the wall, thinking as fast as he could. Quatre was staring in silence, too shell-shocked to know what to think. Finally, the ex-mercenary began to formulate an idea.
"Maybe it's the Were… I mean, it frees repressed, unconscious things, right? Intimate desires, instincts, that kind of thing. If you were repressing a part of your gift from childhood, maybe because it was too much for you, without even realizing you were blocking a part of what you could receive… Could it be possible that the Were-side is making those blocks disappear with the rest, do you think?"
"It's… Possible, I guess. Anyway, it isn't functioning anymore."
"The shock probably," commented the taller teen.
"But it was only when I was so moved I couldn't think straight… I hope it will never become something more… I don't like prying into people's feelings in normal times, but thoughts! Feelings can be useful to better understand people, ok, but thoughts… It's too private, it's nearly rape! I don't want that gift! It's not…"
"It is, more likely than not, controllable Quatre. You wouldn't have it if you couldn't control it. If you can't for the moment, it's because most of your gift is still buried in your subconscious mind. If it's coming to the surface again, there is a chance that you can learn how to use it or not, at will. I strongly doubt that it works in permanence. It surely will be like your empathy, only when it's very important…"
"I hope… I don't particularly care for staying tuned into your internal monologues all day and night, I'd go mad… And you wouldn't want me as a friend anymore if I could do that," added the boy, lowering his head.
Trowa hooked a hand behind his skull to force him to look at him.
"Don't panic… It only worked once and when you were in an absolutely deplorable mood. And those words were tied to strong emotions too. And with someone you're close to… Well, someone you know rather well."
"Rather well? You're my best friend, Trowa! You're the one I'm connected the deepest to…"
Quatre stuttered and closed his mouth, blushing. Trowa blinked. His best friend? Truly? He had always been sure that the title was reserved for Duo… It felt surprisingly good to hear that.
But… Didn't he have family, other people with whom he shared a tighter bond than the ones he had with him? Surely he was connected deeper to his father and sisters than to a fellow fighter. Or was it prolonged proximity that reinforced those bonds? Or maybe Quatre had a range…
"Well you see," said Trowa, chasing the problem from his mind. "You need to be connected to the person to receive anything from them. And maybe you can only hear surface thoughts. So it wouldn't be like rape. Most people say it out loud anyway, so…"
"Yeah…" muttered Quatre, not totally convinced.
He gave him a smile, still shaky from the last consequences of his mood… and realized that he was still on Trowa's lap. Blushing, he jumped up, his knees shaking from the things that had just happened between them. Would Trowa resent him, for one reason or another? Allah be his witness, there were ample reasons to… Acting with a horrible weakness in front of him, reading his intimate thoughts … and sitting on his lap, bawling on his shoulder like a…
/little fag? after all I am one, so…/
‘But Trowa doesn't know, and I don't want him to. Not everyone reacts as well as Duo to this kind of announcement. I can't risk losing him. I've probably already begun, with that pitiful behavior'
But as he was going to turn away, he saw Trowa giving him his hand casually to ask for help getting up.
The acrobat briefly squeezed his hand before dragging him outside, and only let it go to slide a friendly arm around his shoulders.