by Trixie

It was a painful morning. More so than usual, although it was really a matter of perspective. Trowa had gotten drunk with Duo the night before, just because he had been bored watching Duo drink. All morning, he'd been staring at the monitor of his computer, his head aching and throbbing, his stomach queasy.

He hated drinking.

The worst part was that Duo got up before him, and was even *chipper*. It should be criminal to be chipper in the morning after drinking all night.

Each time the computer beeped to alert him of new mail, he jumped in his chair, but he ignored his inbox entirely. He figured if he could make it 'til lunch, he was owed a blowjob, and then after that, everything would be fine.

It took him twenty minutes to decide whether or not he *really* wanted to get up and get something to drink. Eventually, his vision swimming before his eyes made up his mind for him, and he got up to stave off the possibility of falling asleep at his desk.

The break room was full of most of his coworkers, as usual, but they seemed to be centered around one of the tables, so Trowa was able to slip in and get to the drink machine without being noticed.

He slid his credit card through the reader, and then pondered his choices. He could get something with caffeine, although rather than keep him awake, caffeine tended to just make him sleepy and anxious. He could get a carbonated beverage, or water. He really only wanted water, but he hated to spend two credits on water when he could just get it out of the tap, if the tap water didn't smell. And he swore that the tap water in his building had a *odor*. Water most definitely should not ever have an odor, he was sure.

He got the lemon-lime drink, and gulped it down quickly so that the burn of the carbonation on his tongue would be less noticeable.

Having made his momentous decision, he turned around, and actually heard what his coworkers were babbling on about.

"...with automatic everything, basically. I'm really giving this away."

"It's such a shame, really, you only just got the car."

"That's true, but ya know, it's just the way of things."

"Well, like I said, my cousin is shopping for a new car, but I think he wanted a convertible."

"Tell him about it anyway. I mean, I'm practically giving the car away at 3,000 creds."

"Why are you selling it so cheaply?" Everyone fell silent at Trowa's words, a small gasp from one of the secretaries signaling everyone else to back off slightly.

George. The man selling the car was George. George Something, although Trowa did not know nor care what his last name was. George worked in accounting, and he had worked for Oz, too. He had once overheard George saying something vaguely anti-colony when he was in the bathroom one day. When Trowa had come out of the stall, George was still talking, his dick hanging out his pants.

George's penis was perhaps the width of a pencil.

Right now, George's face looked exactly the same as it had that afternoon in the bathroom. After swallowing several times, he was able to speak. "Er, I need to sell it fast. My wife and I are having a baby, and she wants live with closer to her mom. I got a job in Anaheim, but I need to start next week, and..."

Trowa honestly believed that he had not asked for the man's life story. "Let me take a look at it."

George blinked and stuttered, his face white and his big, stupid eyes blinking rapidly. Casey, the woman who worked in the cube next to Trowa, stood up and smiled nervously at George. "Well, I got to get back to work. Hope things work out..."

Within thirty seconds, the break room was empty save Trowa and George.

George stared up at Trowa, and Trowa had to resist the urge to sneer at him. Downing the last of his drink quickly, he tossed the can into the recycling bin, and indicated that George should follow him with a nod of his head.

Trowa was halfway to the elevator before George caught up with him. "We can't... It's the middle of the morning!"

Trowa rolled his eyes surreptitiously at George's childish fear of authority. "We'll only be a minute. I want to look at your car."

George definitely didn't want to get into the elevator with Trowa, but he also didn't want to make the other man mad. They traveled down to the garage, with George's inane car chatter competing with the tinny music in the elevator for the Most Annoying Thing that Trowa Had to Endure at the Moment.

The man didn't even talk about anything pertinent. He mentioned the color of the car three times.

Trowa was forced to follow George to the car. He kept his hands in his pockets to hide the fists he couldn't help forming. He didn't care if George liked him or not, there was such a thing as being a professional. If he were in charge of the Preventors, jackasses like George wouldn't even get to clean the bathrooms. It was galling that a man like George was technically a superior to Trowa or Duo, in any sense of the word. The long stream of nonsense and blather flowing out of his mouth was disgusting. If he were an enemy in Trowa's hands, he would be spilling everything he knew about the Preventors in five minutes flat.

No wonder they beat Oz.

The car itself was utterly ordinary. Four door sedan, sunroof, somewhat sporty lines but still a sedan, with a 2.4 L four cylinder engine, two wheel drive, automatic, 155 horsepower, 156 torque, with leather seats, decent but not great cd player, power windows, seats, and mirrors, cruise control and alloy wheels.

Not bad for 3,000 creds.

Trowa didn't like tan interiors, though. And he preferred four wheel drive, really. He could knock a couple hundred cred off the price.

"Let me see the engine."

George shuffled the contents of his pockets around, making Trowa slightly sick, thinking the man was just trying to get a cheap thrill. Finally, George produced the keys, amid chatter about how new and nice the car was, and how he just had the interior cleaned.

Trowa poked around under the hood for a minute or two, ignoring George's nervous chatter about how he didn't know a spark plug from a fan belt.

And this man worked for Oz. They should have beaten those guys in a month.

Trowa shocked George by lying down on the ground and sliding under the car, using a flashlight to check the undercarriage quickly. He would normally have liked to do a more thorough once-over, but he was pretty sure George wasn't trying to trick him.

At least, he was pretty sure that George would answer a direct question. "So. Is there anything wrong with the car?"

George shivered a little, though he tried to hide it.

Trowa had no respect for a man that could be so easily intimidated, and he made no effort to hide his reaction.

George cleared his throat. "No, no, there's nothing... It's a great car. It's just... I bought it for my wife as a birthday present, but we can't afford a second car now that the baby is coming..."

Trowa crossed his arms over his chest, and looked away so that George would not be inflicted with another scathing look. "I'll pay you 2,750 credits right now for it."

George blinked stupidly for a minute, stammering and stuttering. Trowa could barely reign in his disgust; the man couldn't even close the deal with dignity. "Sure, sure, that'll... I mean, I was hoping for a little more, but... Well, we need the money, anyway, so..."

Trowa shook his head and turned around abruptly, heading back to the elevator. After a moment, George followed him, but Trowa was still ready to leave him behind as he waited in the elevator.

Duo was waiting for Trowa outside of Trowa's building at lunch. He hadn't bothered to change out of his jumpsuit. He was leaning on the side of the building, smoking. Duo was holding the cigarette at his waist, watching the people leave the building with something similar to disdain.

Trowa bit the inside of his lip to keep from smirking.

"So, how was your morning?" Duo smirked lazily at Trowa as he fell in step beside him.

Trowa shrugged. They were heading to the deli three blocks down the street. It was now too cold to eat outside, but they still managed to get some private time together, as the deli only had a couple of tables.

"I got a car today."

Duo said nothing.

Trowa put his hands in his pockets as he waited for the light to change.

"You bought a car? At work?"


The light changed, but Duo didn't move, so Trowa waited for him.

"You own a car now."



Trowa shrugged. "It was a good deal."

Duo nodded, and took a long drag of his cigarette. "Ok. Wanna take the rest of the day off, go for a drive, and have sex in the car?"

"Yes." Trowa had been afraid that Duo wouldn't ask.

It was raining again. A winter rain, cold and messy, that made the streets dirty and difficult to navigate.

Duo was sleeping on the bed, his back bare since Trowa had left the sheets pulled down when he had gotten out of bed. It had long been his habit to watch the alley from the window in his bedroom, but tonight, he found himself watching Duo.

Trowa's back was pressed against the glass, and he could feel the cold of the rain pouring into him. Duo slept curled up, his knees pulled up and his hands tucked under his chin. From this angle, Trowa could see the long arc of Duo's back, with the bold tattoo, and the back of Duo's head. His braid was pulled forward, and was protected, cradled next to his body.

Sometimes, Trowa felt inexplicably romantic about sex. He disliked thinking about sexual matters in romantic terms, as it led to assigning feelings to something that had no true link to emotion, but he did find that there was symbolism to the act that could be strangely potent at times.

Duo would open his body to Trowa, open his legs, and let Trowa enter him. Trowa would do the same for Duo. Physically, there wasn't much they didn't know about each other at this point. But it might have been too soon for them to be living together. Ironic, that they could share each other's bodies, but they had difficulty sharing a bathroom or a refrigerator. It was only human nature, really. There was pleasure in the act of sex, but there was no pleasure to be had from having to fight for sink space in the morning, or from pulling yard-long hairs out of the drain to get it to unclogged.

Trowa wanted to touch Duo, to hold him, and to sleep wrapped in an embrace, but he felt cold and distinct. It was late, and he was feeling too philosophical for his own good. He should, and could, just get back into bed and be with Duo, but he felt distant.

There had been the argument over soap. The *discussion* of Duo's drinking. And Trowa was certain that Duo had purposefully deleted the message from Catherine.

Trowa knew what was going on. He would have to be slow not to see it. Duo wasn't in control of himself anymore, and it worried Trowa.

Duo went out two nights ago straight from work, and he hadn't gotten in until nearly 4 am, at which point he was so sick from drinking and from ecstasy, he had slept until Trowa had gotten home from work. Duo was missing a lot of work lately, and he was drinking more, and taking risks with drugs.

Trowa had been afraid that Duo had gone to be with Heero when he went out that night, but then Heero had called. Trowa listened to the message that Heero had left, and then deleted it, and the caller id record of the call.

Heero had been condescending and cruel, as was his wont, but Trowa could hear the desperation as well. For whatever reason, Heero wanted Duo back, and he was willing to do or say whatever was necessary to get him back.

It worried Trowa, because Duo was obviously trying to provoke him. When they were in bed tonight, Duo kept trying to get Trowa to go faster, harder. He had even suggested beforehand that they didn't need lube. And when they were done, Duo had made snide comments about Trowa's performance, suggesting that there was more to sex than just the same thing all the time.

Trowa knew that Duo didn't mean it. He could barely speak, he was so short of breath. And in his eyes, Duo could hide nothing.

Trowa knew that there was something that he couldn't give Duo, but he thought that the idea would be for Duo to learn not to need it anymore.

He couldn't hurt Duo. He wasn't opposed to games or kinks; he was not entirely innocent in that arena. And, he knew how to wield a whip, from working with the lions. But, with Duo... Trowa knew he could never get his heart into it.

Duo was vibrant, and alive. He knew how to keep going, even through the pain of life. Trowa admired Duo's perseverance. He didn't want to play any games with Duo.

Perhaps Trowa did feel something... romantic for Duo. Perhaps there was a reason that he felt like there was more than sex in their actions. Perhaps there was a reason why Trowa was so determined to be gentle, even when his lover was begging him to be rough.

Trowa closed his eyes, and leaned back so that his forehead was against the pane of glass.

In the kitchen earlier, he hadn't meant to explode at Duo. Such displays of emotion and temper were... rare for him. But Duo had kept at him, getting into Trowa's face over everything.

The words seemed to echo in the silent, dark apartment. They had echoed all through the night, when Trowa was rocking his hips, pushing in and out of Duo's pliant body. They had echoed as Duo fell asleep, insisting that he would clean up in the morning.

Duo had said that Trowa must be very lonely before, to be willing to put up with all of this just to get laid.

Trowa had taken Duo by the elbows and shaken him.

Do I look like Heero to you, Duo? Do I? Then stop treating me like him! I'm not the one who enjoys hurting you!

Trowa sighed, and opened his eyes.

The words kept echoing. He knew that Duo could hear them, too. That night, they had been as passionate as when they had first gotten together. After Trowa had shaken him, Duo was irascible. Trowa knew that Duo had heard what he had said, but actions were more impressive.

Trowa wanted to go into the bed and run his fingers down the line of Duo's spine, wanted to trace the pattern of Duo's tattoo.

Wanted forgiveness for his roughness, though he knew that Duo had enjoyed it.

"Tro? Are you gonna sleep in the window?"

Duo's voice shook Trowa, but Trowa stayed perfectly still. "I woke up."

"Come back to bed." Duo did not uncurl, but he looked at Trowa over his shoulder.

"I'm fine."

"I'm cold."

"Pull the blanket up, then."

Duo sighed. "Do you not like the view?"

"If you are cold..."

"I'm cold if I'm in bed alone. The blankets can't warm me."

"You are being childish."

"I just want to be warm again."


Duo turned his face away. "I... don't enjoy arguing with you, Tro."

"Then don't."

"Yeah, I guess it's that easy... But you can sure be stubborn."

Trowa smirked.

"Come back to bed."

"Didn't you sleep alone when you were with Heero?" Trowa hoped that he had said that as quietly as he thought he did. He had wanted to only think it.

"You aren't Heero. Are you?" Duo's words were like thoughts, they were so quiet.

Trowa considered, and then stretched his legs out in front of him. He stepped quietly to the bed, and sat down on the edge. He reached out, letting his fingertips touch Duo's skin.

Duo shuddered, sighing.

"Go to sleep, Duo." Trowa spoke mostly to himself, but he knew in the dead quiet of the apartment at night, Duo would hear him.

"Come to bed, Tro."

"I'm in bed. Now sleep."

Duo sighed, and pushed himself back, so that he was closer to Trowa.

Trowa kept his hand on Duo's back until the alarm went off. Because of the rain, the sun wasn't visible, but they got ready in tandem, making it to the bus stop without any words being exchanged.

Duo's feet were on the chair next to him, his big boots filling up the seat easily. Duo was sitting directly across from him, so Trowa's legroom was severely limited, but he didn't mind. Duo stretched out over his chair, smoking cigarette after cigarette as they waited for the food to come to them.

It was one of those chain restaurants that were the same all over the world, and even in the colonies. The wait staff was dressed in colorful, cheerful outfits and were forced to smile their entire shifts. The food was good, and plentiful, and relatively cheap, but none of that mattered.

Duo took a sip of his gigantic margarita, licking the salt off the rim right before he swallowed.

"This is getting intolerable."

Trowa nodded and he swirled his drink around using his straw. Therapy today had been less than fun.

"Fucker actually came. I can't believe that."

Trowa closed his eyes and shuddered involuntarily.

"What kind of mental health professional has an orgasm right in front of his patients?"

Trowa bent his head down, and sighed quietly.

"It's amazing how something that can be so sexy when it is one person can be so *repugnant* from someone else." Duo's lips were curled in disgust as he spoke, his fingers moving erratically, making strange patterns in the air with the smoke. "I mean, I could watch you come all day long, but that... that was the worst thing I've ever been forced to endure."

Trowa was certain that Duo was not exaggerating in the least bit.

"We could so get his license revoked."

Trowa nodded absently, his eyes drifting to stare unfocusedly over Duo's shoulder.

"I feel unclean."

Trowa smiled at the tone of Duo's voice.

Duo sighed, and stamped out his cigarette. "Sometimes I think it might be easier to just talk to him, and then I think, fucker actually came in front of us, and then I just stop caring." He took a long drink of his margarita.

Trowa picked up his drink, just an iced tea, but still soothing. "It's not going to last forever."

Duo's expression darkened. "Yeah? I'm not so sure. No matter what we do, it's never enough. You might be able to convince them you aren't lusting for your razor blades anymore, but they'll never believe that I'm clean. And even if they did, how fucking long will it be before they let us get our licenses again?" Duo snorted derisively. "They'll keep me grounded forever, stinking bastards. And if you don't have a license to fly, you can't really *live* in the colonies. And if I have to spend the rest of my fucking life toeing the line on this god forsaken rock, I'm gonna need some fucking *good* drugs, let me tell ya."

Duo's eyes were narrowed as he stared out the window. Trowa wanted to laugh, but he supposed that it wasn't really funny, at least not in the sort of way that you actually laughed at.

Their food came, but since neither young man was looking at the hapless waitress in her cute little polo shirt, she didn't bother trying to flirt with them.

They walked home side by side, Duo smoking like a chimney, Trowa keeping his hands in his pockets to keep them warm. It was dark by the time they left the restaurant, and the streets were filled with people trying to get where they were going quickly. Even though they were walking side by side down the busy sidewalk, they didn't bump into anyone.

It was actually a pleasant walk home, although Trowa wasn't sure if Duo was enjoying it.

Duo went straight up to the apartment, but Trowa stopped to pick up the mail. He spent the entire elevator ride up puzzling over the matching formal envelopes that were addressed to both Duo and himself.

The cream paper was thick and smooth to the touch, like silk in paper form. The engraved lettering was gold, with all the curls and embellishments one could fit into a few lines of address. On the front of the envelopes, there was no return address stamp, but Trowa noted the accuracy of the address, which included the most complete form of the postal code. On the back, the return address was engraved, and it was with a sinking heart that Trowa recognized the official seal of the Sanc Royalty.

Duo had left the apartment door ajar, and was already in the bedroom stripping. Trowa hated to miss that; Duo was able to make taking his clothes off sexy no matter what the situation was. Trowa took the time to close and lock the door, and check the vidphone for messages and calls. He scrolled through the days calls slowly, the envelopes in his hand.

Duo came into the living room in his boxers. Trowa kept his head down as he watched Duo move across the room, his narrow body precise and graceful in its near-nudity. Duo's braid swung back and forth, brushing up against his ass enticingly.

Trowa held out Duo's envelope resignedly.

"What's this?" Duo was already perusing his acquisition, taking away from Trowa the need to respond.

With no regard for the expense of the envelope, Duo ripped it open to get what was inside out. Tossing the torn envelope onto the coffee table carelessly, Duo began to read aloud.

"Her Royal Highness, the Queen of Sanc cordially requests the pleasure of your company for a celebration of peace and brotherhood at the Palace of the Sanc People, on the 24th of December, 206 A.C. Her Royal Highness will be delighted to host Her guests for the duration of their holiday. May the Joy of the Season breath in your heart as we commemorate the dedication and sacrifice of All the People of the United Earth Sphere, which has made the peace and prosperity we now enjoy possible!


That was Trowa's sentiments exactly. His invitation was exactly the same. He hated parties. He hated the crowds of people and the forced social pleasantness of it all. He hated formal parties more than anything. And a formal party dedicated to celebrating his contribution to the war hosted by a contingent of pacifists sounded precisely like hell to Trowa.

"Should have known this was coming. Ten years and all. But damn, this kinda shit just makes me feel old." It was clear from Duo's tone and expression that his age was not the foremost concern on his mind, his eyes flicking over the invitation over and over again, agitated.

"We don't have to go." It was a perfectly reasonable solution to Trowa. Neither of them wanted to go, plus, Heero and Quatre would be there. He didn't want to see either. He wasn't too thrilled with the idea of seeing Relena, and possibly Zechs, either. And if the Catalonia bitch was going to be there...

Duo sighed. "There's gonna be tons of press there. Relena's probably been planning this for years, even. Hell, it's probably been in the frickin' news a billion times, and we just haven't cared. We have to go; we'll make her look stupid if we don't."

Trowa arched an eyebrow. "I don't think *we'll* be making her look stupid."

Duo grinned at him. "C'mon, Relena's not too bad... I mean, get her drunk, and she's just another girl who digs guy-on-guy action." Duo winked, smiling broadly. "But..."

"We really don't have to go." Trowa spoke quietly but firmly, looking down at the expensive paper. "I don't know what other plans we might have had for Christmas, but we could go to the colonies. We could meet up with the circus, and Catherine, and maybe see Hilde or Howard while we are there."

A pained expression crossed Duo's features. "I kinda sorta promised myself that I would fly myself back to the colonies. Well, anyway, you don't have to go if it really makes you uncomfortable. You can just say that you have prior plans with your sister, and I can go alone."

Trowa moved to stand next to Duo, dropping his invitation on the coffee table. He placed his hand on the back of Duo's neck, rubbing his thumb into the tightly corded muscles at the join of Duo's neck and shoulders. Duo leaned back into the touch. "Do you want to go alone?"

Duo's eyes were brilliantly conflicted. "Well, I mean, I don't want to stand in your way..."

Trowa leaned down, nipping gently at Duo's lips, parting them patiently. Duo sighed, and Trowa's tongue slipped into Duo's mouth, and they tasted each other until they were gasping for air. "Do you want to go alone?" Trowa's voice was now more ragged, and he noticed that he had his hands on Duo's skin.

Duo had his eyes closed. "I... I don't want..."

Trowa moved his hands down to Duo's waist, and pulled the other man up so that their bodies were flush against each other. Trowa put his mouth on Duo's skin, right above his collar bone, and he slipped his hands below the waistband of Duo's boxers, laying his hands flat on Duo's ass. Duo moaned as Trowa's lips moved up his neck. Whispering just below Duo's ear, "Do you want to go alone?"

"I... I..." Duo pushed his hands down Trowa's back, and clutched at the fabric of Trowa's shirt. "I kinda wanted... to get a tree, ya know? I just... I wanted..."

Trowa slid down to his knees, slipping Duo's boxers down as he did. He kissed Duo's hipbone reverently.

Duo's voice was little more than a murmur. "I want to spend Christmas with you."

Trowa smiled, and licked Duo's cock from the base to the tip, sucking gently as he got to the very tip. "Where?"

Duo moaned a little, and fell to his knees. He threw his arms around Trowa's neck and kissed Trowa wildly. "We should go to the stupid fucking thing. Hell, maybe we can fuck in the throne room; I'm sure it wouldn't be the first time."

Trowa laughed silently, pulling Duo's body close as he sucked on Duo's neck. "Fine. But I reserve the right to be put out by the whole thing."

Duo laughed out loud, and Trowa pushed him down so that he could finish the blowjob he had barely begun.

Duo's body arched sinuously on the ground, and Trowa wished he had taken the time to undress. He used his hands and his mouth on Duo, and a ravenous hunger fueled him, and Duo was accommodatingly quick to sustain him. Duo stayed on the floor, curling his body up, making satisfied noises of pleasure. Trowa got up and stripped on his way to the bedroom. He stood in front of the dresser, his clothes in his hands, and he forgot what he had intended to do once he got there.

Tired, with a small bubble of contentment clouding his thoughts, he dropped his clothes and landed on the bed. It wasn't fifteen minutes later than Duo climbed into bed with him, and not twenty minutes later than Duo was pushing into him.

Thirty minutes later, Trowa got up and took a quick shower, and when he got back into bed, Duo was in the window with a cup of tea.

Trowa did not go to sleep, but he did get into bed, and he watched Duo watch the alley, and smiled, thinking about spending their first Christmas together fucking in a palace bed.

There was the faint tapping sound of a bare foot nervously keeping a staccato rhythm coming from the dressing room next to him. The lights were bright, reflecting off the three mirrors obnoxiously. Trowa tugged at the collar of the jacket, his face contorted into an expression of absolute distaste.

He did not like dress clothes. Not many men did, really, but Trowa hated them with a passion that he would never be able to find the words to express. There were too many layers and buttons and useless articles like cuff links that served no purpose other than to add to the torment of being dressed up.

Also, his shoes were uncomfortable, but they were the only ones he didn't hate a lot, so he got them. He hadn't wanted to spend too much time at the shoe store.

This had been Duo's idea, but Duo had abandoned him in the men's section so he could ferret out something for his own ensemble.

Trowa didn't like the way Duo had said 'ensemble.' It had sounded too natural.

This whole Christmas party at the palace thing was sounding more and more like a bad idea with each detail Duo remembered that they had to cover. Making travel reservations was bad enough, but having to check with Relena's 'people' at each and every step to make sure their plans would fit in with Her Highness' expectations was enough to drive Trowa insane. More insane.

Duo was constantly jittery and on the move. And he was drinking more and more, going out at night and staying out until the morning, and he had been written up at work every day for the last two weeks.

Sighing, Trowa started to strip. He had no idea if the suit was good or not, but it fit well enough for him to justify not caring.

Trowa waited for ten minutes before a salesclerk came by to help him. The young man was so bored, he barely took a moment to look Trowa over. He smiled a little at Trowa, but Trowa was even more bored than the clerk, so that didn't really go anywhere.

Trowa hated spending so much money at once, but he also hated spending any time at all in a clothes store, so he was willing to take the lesser of the two evils, and get the hell out of there.

Duo had neglected to tell Trowa where he was going, so Trowa was left just waiting on the fringe of the men's clothes, his arms folded over his chest, his new clothes bundled on a hanger with a plastic bag over them, the end of the bag tied on the top of the hanger. The hanger was heavy, and it dug into his fingers as he held it, but he didn't fidget or try to make himself comfortable.

He hoped that Duo would be back soon.

People milled past him, almost oblivious to his presence. He was just another man, left in a store against his will. Trowa hated all of them casually, to pass the time.

Duo finally showed up about ten minutes later, carrying three large shopping bags. He looked tired, and cheerfully ready to slaughter the masses.

Trowa smirked.

"Get your stuff?"

Trowa held out the hanger wordlessly.

Duo grinned. "Good. Let's get the hell outta here, huh?"

They traversed the labyrinth of the department store, wound their way through the cars and the people in the parking lot, shoved their packages in the trunk, and got in the car.

Side by side, they just sat for a moment, not even moving to buckle up.



"I like your new car."

"Yeah. It's ok."

"You hungry?"

"...I guess."

"Let's..." Duo's squirmed, and sighed quietly. "Let's go out of town. Picnic in nature, or something. Ya know?"

Trowa looked over at Duo for a moment. It was cold out. It was likely to rain, or even snow.

It meant that Duo wanted to spend the night with him, instead of going out.

He resisted the urge to sigh in relief, and nodded as he buckled up. Duo smiled back at him, and for a moment, Trowa felt warm.

They stopped in a grocery store before they hit the highway, and took off. Neither one knew where they were going, but they took the road that seemed to be closest, and the sound of the car over the asphalt lulled them into a sense of peace. The sun set quickly, and soon they were speeding down the highway in the dark.

Eventually, Trowa recognized an exit, and they pulled off the expressway. Fifteen minutes drive through the dark, suburban area, and they were at the entrance to a nature preserve.

It took only a minute to park the car, and Trowa weighed the pros and cons of leaving the engine running for all of thirty-six seconds before switching the car off. They sat in the dark for a several heartbeats, each staring off into the night.

"I like the dark." Duo spoke quietly, as if he feared being overheard.

Trowa nodded, though he wasn't sure that Duo could see him.

"I never lived anyplace with working lights until I hooked up with the Sweepers, when I was twelve. I always feel like the dark is... comforting." Duo's voice was hypnotically reminiscent, and Trowa felt like he could see the small buildings that Duo and his friends would squat in at nights. "I mean, colonies are never really *dark*, dark, but still... Neither is the Earth. There're always stars, and other buildings, and street lights..."

Trowa unabashedly watched Duo as the other man leaned forward to look up at the stars.

"The moon is pretty, isn't it?"

Trowa spared a glance at the moon, and smiled. "It looks dead when you are in space. Just another rock."

Duo smiled at Trowa, and Trowa wished that he could see it better. "Yeah. Exactly. Why are people afraid of the dark?"

Trowa shrugged. "Most people fear what they don't know, I guess."

Duo nodded slowly. "Do you?"

"Fear the unknown?"

Duo shrugged with one shoulder. "I suppose suicidal people kinda embrace the unknown, huh?"

Trowa turned away at the sound of Duo's voice. It was hard, and he found himself wanting Duo to cut him, break his skin. "I don't know."

"Do you want to die, Tro?"

From the sound of it, Duo must have been facing the window, and he probably didn't think that Trowa could hear him, but it wasn't that large of a car, and there was no other noise at all. "I... don't really want to live that much."

Duo swallowed loudly enough for Trowa to hear. "You deserve better."

Trowa pulled the grocery bag forward, and handed Duo his drink. Duo didn't take it right away, but as soon as he did, he opened it and downed half of the carbonated drink. Trowa set each of their victuals on the dashboard. He considered flicking on the interior lights, but if Duo was enjoying the view of the stars and the moon, he didn't want to disturb it.

They started to eat, Duo's eyes still on the night sky, and Trowa's eyes peripherally on Duo. Halfway through his bag of pretzels, Duo leaned over, and put his head on Trowa's shoulder.

Trowa moved his arm so that he could hold Duo's shoulders, Duo's bangs tucked under his chin.

"This Christmas party is gonna be a disaster."

Trowa couldn't agree more, but he said nothing. He rubbed his chin over Duo's head, smelling Duo's hair as he did.

He was definitely a night person.

"Please be careful when opening the overhead bins, as contents may have shifted during the flight. Thank you for choosing Air Sanc for your travel needs. Please enjoy your stay!"

Duo groaned as he stood up, stretching his arms up to the low ceiling of the plane. "Man! Flying's the *worst* when you hafta let someone else manage the stick!"

Trowa curled up one corner of his lips, his eyebrow lifting sarcastically. Duo just winked at him in response.

It had been a long flight, but Trowa was wishing it had lasted a little longer. Relena's 'people' had arranged for a car, so they would be going directly from the airport to the palace. Trowa had initially hoped that he and Duo would just get a hotel room for their stay, and thus would be able to control how much time they spent in the palace, with Relena, and Heero, and Quatre... But that plan was deemed to be impossible by the ever-vigilant people who managed Relena's affairs. They insisted that Her Royal Highness would be deeply offended if they did not accept Her Royal hospitality.

They shuffled off the plane slowly, in the middle of an anxious parade to the exit. Once they got off the plane, Trowa moved in long, lingering strides, his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground. Duo kept pace next to him, whistling softly to the annoyance of the people in front of him. They went straight to a specially designated VIP room where they could change into more formal attire. They went to separate rooms to change, as there wasn't a great deal of space anyway.

Trowa spent a good six minutes tying, adjusting, and retying his tie. He was dissatisfied with his appearance. People born to privilege and excess were going to be there to judge him. Duo could pass in a crowd; it was what he did. But Trowa would undoubtedly stand out as a fraud.

His suit was clearly flawed in ways his uncultured eyes could not tell. Quatre would probably say he looked 'quaint' or 'provincial,' which Trowa knew meant that he looked poor. Trowa stared at his reflection until he could only see the many varied ways in which he was flawed. Sighing, he combed his bangs down a bit lower over his eyes with his fingers, and then picked up his luggage.

Duo was waiting for him, changed into a stylish black silk suit, with a black shirt and vest. Trowa smirked. He knew that Duo would find a way to assert himself even in the confines of social grace.

They wove through the crowds shoulder to shoulder, making their way to the luggage carousel with grim determination. By the time they got there, most of the crowd had dispersed, and it wasn't difficult for them to pick up their one piece of checked baggage.

The car waiting for them outside was an extravagant limousine, whose dignified driver was waiting patiently by the car holding a sign that read 'Maxwell Barton Party' over his chest. The driver kept calling them 'sirs' and he purposefully never looked in their eyes, which both men found disconcerting. It was probably intended to be a gesture of respect, but Trowa and Duo had grown up in worlds that distrusted people who appeared to be hiding something.

Duo decided that the drive to the palace would be more comfortable if they both had a quick drink from the bar, and then they used the rest of the time for making out. Trowa could not disagree with the plan as it certainly did make the miles fly by, and all too soon, the car was turning up the long drive to the main entrance of the palace.

The Palace of the Sanc People was a painstakingly detailed recreation of the ancestral home of the Peacecrafts, which had been destroyed in the war. Relena had employed only the best, using her own personal money, and funds from benefactors, to complete the work. She refused to allow the people of Sanc to spend their money rebuilding her home, as they all had their own homes and businesses to rebuild, but she gratefully accepted any time or skills the people had to offer, which was why she renamed the building after the people of Sanc.

It had been quite the news item during its construction. Trowa had never had a desire to see it in person. Buildings, in general, bored him.

Duo pulled away from Trowa reluctantly before they reached the gate of the palace. His hands moved erratically over his pant legs, his eyes darting to and fro out the window. Sanc was an equatorial country that, even in winter, was quite warm, especially compared to where they had been, so there was no snow anywhere visible, but the sky was grey and hung low over them, giving the impression of claustrophobia in an open space.

Trowa brushed his hand over Duo's. "What are you most nervous about?" Trowa spoke conspiratorially, just in case the driver was listening to them.

Duo grunted in amusement. "I'm supposed to pick? Damn. I just hope it's not a crime to fuck up at an event like this, cuz it's pretty much a given that I will. I never had the chance to go to finishing school when I was young."

Trowa snorted lightly, and traced a random arc that circled back over itself on the skin of Duo's hand.

His head turned to look out the window, Duo smiled.

The car pulled up to the front door, and when the driver came around to open the door for them, he was flustered to find that Trowa and Duo were already out of the car. A porter hurriedly walked out to meet them, his arms not moving as his legs pumped furiously beneath him. For a moment there was the confusion related to the luggage being taken away, but then another, more dignified servant, probably a butler, showed up to escort them to the front door.

Trowa could tell that Duo was uncomfortable with his things being taken away in the opposite direction, but the streetrat was clearly fighting a losing battle with the responsible adult. Discreetly, Trowa walked a bit closer to Duo, taking some small comfort in the feel of Duo's silk suit brushing against the side of his hand.

He hadn't seen Quatre since just before his first suicide attempt.

The main door to the palace was nearly three full stories tall, and made mostly of stained glass. The doors were standing open, better to greet the guests of Her Highness. The light of the afternoon sun was drifting over the marbled floor of the gigantic foyer of the palace. It was lovely to people who weren't nervous or planning possible escape routes.

Trowa and Duo walked together through the doors, but the butler stayed at the threshold, and with pompous authority, announced them to the milling knots of people who had already arrived.

Taking a deep breath, Trowa balled his hands into fists and went into the fray.

Quatre was cheerfully chatting with a small group of middle-aged to older businessmen, but at the sound of Trowa and Duo's names, he detached from them and went to greet his old compatriots.

Duo smiled at Trowa briefly before they were accosted by the small blonde tycoon.

"Trowa! It's so good to see you again!" Trowa found himself holding onto a clinging Quatre. He sighed, and closed his eyes, trying not to smell or feel the other man. "Wow, you look great! It's been too long since we've seen each other. You should come visit me on L4 sometime, Trowa."

Trowa had to gape. Quatre had actually sounded offended.

"Hi, Quatre. Nice to see you again, too." Duo slyly leaned closer to Trowa, and grinned a bit widely at Quatre.

Quatre turned visibly, and smiled politely at Duo. "Hello, Duo. Nice suit. A bit... monochromatic, isn't it?"

"It's the absence of color, really." Duo tilted his head in boredom. "Black is a chromatic void."

"Interesting." Quatre did not sound interested.

"Barton. Maxwell." Wu Fei approached, his eyes darting surreptitiously around to assess the room.

"Fei!" Duo smiled, looking genuinely surprised. "How're you doing?"

Wu Fei sighed. "This party is a nuisance. But it is agreeable to be reunited with you all again."

Trowa nodded briefly, acknowledging Wu Fei's compliment. Duo sighed, rolling his eyes dramatically.

Quatre's face pinched. "I think this is a great party. It's important, I think, to take time to celebrate our accomplishments."

"It isn't our accomplishments that are important," Wu Fei corrected with the precision of a professor. "It is the strides humanity has made that are admirable. After all, as individuals, we all make mistakes."

Quatre's eyes narrowed in annoyance. It was clear that the other man was unaccustomed to being corrected. But Trowa was already nodding, and Duo started to talk, so Quatre had no time to protest.

"Well, we can't dwell on our mistakes, either. It's good to take time to relax and be happy... Otherwise, what was the point? But, it would be easier to be happy without the damn tie. Hey, can I convert to Chinese? You actually look pretty comfortable." Duo eyed Wu Fei's traditional robes appraisingly, and Trowa took a moment to imagine Duo draped in the flowing, dark silks of a traditional Mandarin gown.

Wu Fei actually smiled. His eyes softened, and his shoulders relaxed.

Trowa felt the old stab of jealousy; it was all so easy for Duo. He wasn't even trying.

"I'm not sure you could pass the initiation, Maxwell. You seem very... American to me." Wu Fei joined his hands behind his back, obviously enjoying his little jab.

Duo hit his forehead with the back of his hand, raising his eyes to the lofty ceiling with all the requisite drama. "I'm wounded, mortally wounded!"

"For the love of god," a gravelly voice interjected, "try to contain yourself. This isn't a damn circus, you know."

Trowa narrowed his eyes at Heero, sighing disgustedly.

"Hey, Heero," Duo greeted him without enthusiasm. "Well, look, the gang's all here."

"Heero, how nice to see you again!" Quatre smiled affectionately. "I was greatly disappointed that you weren't able to join Relena on her last visit to L4. I need to find some way to lure all of you out to visit me; it's a shame that we waited ten years to catch up with each other."

Duo grinned wolfishly. "Gee, I dunno, Q, do you have an open bar policy for your guests?"

Trowa repressed a laugh poorly, earning him a betrayed look from Quatre, but Heero growled with dissatisfaction.

Taking Duo's arm roughly, but unobtrusively, Heero hissed, "You damn well better not make a fool of yourself while you are here. This is an important occasion that shouldn't be spoiled by excess trash lying about."

Wu Fei took a half a step forward, his eyes darting in confusion from Heero to Duo. "Yuy!"

"Her Royal Highness, Queen Relena Peacecraft Darlian!"

There was no trumpet blare to accompany the announcement, but it hardly required it. Relena was delicately making her way down the steps of the grand staircase, her cheeks pinked with embarrassment to have halted all the conversation in the room. Clearing her throat, she quickly began what was obviously an impromptu speech.

"Greetings to all our guests! Thank you so much for joining me in commemorating this most remarkable event. Please make yourselves home in my home, and let one of my staff know if there is anything we can do to make you more comfortable. Thank you."

A small spattering of applause followed, and Relena continued down the staircase with regal grace.

She maintained her demeanor until she caught sight of the group of former Gundam pilots, at which point she let out something that would be called a squeal from anyone but the Queen, and she rushed to join them.

"Duo!" She cried out as soon as she was close enough to do so without being too tactless. "You're here!"

If there was anyone in the group of five who was prepared for Relena to throw her arms around Duo's neck and drag him down into a warm hug, it wasn't evident. Heero glared in the direction of the decorative plants, and Quatre and Wu Fei openly gaped. Trowa watched with amazement, evidenced by his moderately uplifted brows.

Duo was barely keeping himself on his feet. "Your... your highness..."

"Oh, Duo, don't call me that," she scolded him playfully. "I'm just Relena. And you've been a bad boy!" She swatted him on the arm with all the force of a teddy bear. "You were supposed to join me for dinner in October, but you ran away. I presume you found something better to do." She grinned with lofty cheek at Duo and Trowa.

Duo sputtered, and Trowa became fascinated with the scrollwork of the ceiling.

Relena grabbed Duo's arm, and tugged him to follow her. "Well, anyway, it's about time you came to visit me! Let me take you on a private tour of the house. I can show you all the best parts. Let's go!"

The four remaining pilots stared openly at the young queen dragging the reluctant man. "But... Relena... Shouldn't you greet your other guests...? I don't want to keep you from your duty..."

"Pish! My duty will be there when we get back!" She turned and winked at the other men in the group. "Sorry to greet and run, boys, but I'm taking my chance to get this one alone while I can!"

Trowa considered shutting Quatre's mouth for him as they watched Relena disappear through a door with Duo.

"Well," Trowa drawled, "I guess Relena is fond of Duo."

Heero glared more forcefully, now in the direction of the floor before his toes, but Quatre and Wu Fei were oblivious.

"Yes," Wu Fei agreed, still staring at the door in wonder. "I thought she was always trailing after you, Yuy."

Heero grunted, crossing his arms over his chest.

"I guess her tastes have... matured," Trowa suggested off-handedly.

However Heero may have reacted to that, no one would know, because Quatre interrupted him before he could get a chance to do or say anything. "I hope Relena's security is with her at all times. I can't believe she went off alone with Duo like that."

"Quatre!" Wu Fei objected immediately, sternly looking down his nose at the source of his shock.

"Don't worry," Heero reassured ominously, "I made sure her guards were the best."

"So, Chang," Trowa said, turning to Wu Fei, ignoring the other two, "are there any other Preventors we would know? Sally? Noin? ...Zechs?"

Wu Fei snorted, still annoyed with Quatre, his eyes lingering in disapproval before they turned to meet Trowa's. "Zechs is still delusional enough to think that the population at large thinks that he is dead. I keep telling him they don't think of him at all, but he doesn't listen to anyone but ghosts. Noin and Po are here, however. I *believe* Po found a billiards room."

Trowa nodded, interested. "That sounds good."

"Oh, Trowa," Quatre placed a hand on Trowa's arm, trying to dissuade him. "I was hoping to introduce you to some people. A little networking can really help your career."

Trowa shook Quatre's hand off, his face contorted in distaste at Quatre's helpfulness. "I'd rather see old friends."

Heero sighed in frustrated disgust. "Let's go then. All these people are making me nervous. They keep staring at us."

Trowa choose not to actively agree with Heero, although he could not help it entirely. Heero started off in what must have been the direction of the billiards room, with Wu Fei and Trowa following closely. Quatre almost protested; then sighed, giving in.

"Fine!" He threw his hands up uselessly. "Let's go find the girls."

Trowa cracked the knuckles of his thumbs in irritation at the idea of Noin and Sally being called 'girls.'

The couch was too plushy. It was the sort that one sank into as one sat down, which meant that once one was fully seated, one's knees were practically bumping one's chin.

Trowa didn't have the energy at the moment to hate the couch. He would hate it tomorrow, with a furious passion. Tonight, he would just loathe it passively as he tried to keep his knees from breaking his jaw.

Quatre was talking. Quatre had been talking a lot. Trowa decided it was more fun to pay attention for only a minute at a time, and fill in the gaps himself. Quatre's mouth curled into something like a pinwheel as he spoke. Trowa didn't remember it doing that before.

Quatre's mouth was small and pinkish. It was... oddly disturbing. Men should not have pinkish lips. Duo's lips weren't pinkish. Trowa was certain that he would remember a key detail like that.

In fact, he was pretty sure that he knew Duo's mouth perfectly. Duo's mouth was wide and wet. Duo's mouth was always wet. And hot. Trowa was certain that he knew Duo's mouth perfectly.

He readjusted his knees as his eyes flickered around the room anxiously. Duo and Relena had been gone for too long. He wanted his lover back.

Duo had a way of drawing attention away from the painful, torturous parts of life. Very often with sex, but sometimes with humor and darkness. Duo was an essential part of Trowa's social life.

Trowa didn't mind that anymore, either. He had accepted it. He and Duo had become a team; they fended off the weak attempts of psychoanalysis from Dr. Clarkson, Duo fended off boredom for Trowa, and Trowa fended off Heero for Duo.

They made a good team, Trowa thought.

"Trowa?" Quatre was standing very close to him now, leaning down so he could peer into Trowa's eyes.

Trowa turned his head away. He missed the person Quatre had been as a child. "Yes?"

"I asked you a question." Quatre's bottom lip protruded slightly as he expressed his annoyance.

Trowa shrugged. "I wasn't paying attention."

Wu Fei smiled, swirling his water around his glass. "It's hard to believe it it's really been ten years. It doesn't seem that long ago that we were all running wild over the earth and in space." Wu Fei seemingly spoke to his glass, his eyes warmer and more affectionate than Trowa ever remembered seeing.

It gave Trowa pause. Whenever he thought about the past, even in the time of the war in which he wasn't alone, it was always with a clinical detachment. He felt the same way about his own past as he did about human interest stories in the news. He just never could care that much about it. What happened, happened.

He didn't expect Quatre, or even Duo to feel the same way. And he was always of the impression that Heero internalized much more than he would ever show. But he had thought of Wu Fei as a soldier.

Perhaps he had been wrong. Wu Fei might call himself a 'warrior.' Perhaps that term was apt; warriors might look back on their battles with satisfaction.

"Sometimes, I feel very old." Quatre laughed, reseating himself across from Trowa. "I look at my family, my house, my work... and I feel very, very old." It seemed that Quatre expected everyone else to get the joke, too.

Heero grunted. "Some things never change."

Trowa eyed Heero. If he looked at him in a certain light, squinting his eyes just a bit, he could still see the boy - becoming - man that he had admired and idolized so much. But if he looked at Heero too long, he could only see the man who hurt Duo for pleasure.

It was a good reason never to have heroes.

"Balance can only be maintained by a system in constant flux; it may seem as if nothing changes, but the river is always flowing forward, is it not?" Wu Fei was apparently in a philosophically romantic mood tonight. "Isn't that the point of this gathering? To 'commemorate.' Not to celebrate, but to remember. Because we, as a population, are still in constant motion, so in order to maintain the peace, the balance, we must remember, we must always gravitate around the truth; we were once barbarous beasts, and we could become so again."

A silence settled over the four men, and Wu Fei smiled as he took a drink.

Trowa revised his opinion. Wu Fei was no warrior, try though he did to mold himself into one. Wu Fei was a scholar.

Trowa felt an odd sensation in his chest as he realized how Wu Fei had changed in the past ten years. Now, Wu Fei was closer to being the person he was born to be than he had ever been before.

Trowa's heart beat a little faster, and his head felt a little light. He narrowed his eyes, and evaluated the sensation. Was that hope? Did he still think there was someone he had been born to be?

He would have laughed if it could have been in any way appropriate. He wanted Duo with him; he was never prone to pontification when Duo was there to distract him.

Quatre was speaking again, but Trowa had already unconsciously missed the beginning of what he had said, so he didn't bother to start listening.

It was when Duo called out that Trowa started to pay attention again.

"Hey, here you are," Duo said, exhausted, walking quickly across the drawing room to where they were sitting. "And hey! There's the bar!" Duo walked right past the couches, and started to pour himself a drink.

A very large drink.

"Duo!" Quatre chastised primly. "I don't think you should have so much to drink. It isn't polite to take advantage of our gentle hostess."

"Gentle hostess...?" Duo made a face, bewildered. "I didn't think anyone actually talked like that..." Duo took a long sip of cognac from his tumbler, sighing. "Anyway, Q, if I'm gonna get through this without going postal, I need a drink. Several of them, intravenously, if possibly." Duo refilled his glass, and then sat on the arm of the couch next to Trowa. "I've been paraded through every damn hall of this, that, *and* the other thing, seen every knick knack and trinket and gift from the amazing, wonderful, generous, hard-working people of Sanc, reviewed every article of clothing that Relena owns... I earned this, damn it."

Trowa smiled, and put his arm around Duo's back. Duo smiled down at him, and it was enough to make Trowa smile as well.

Quatre snorted with refined derision.

"Dinner should be served shortly," Wu Fei reminded with amusement, earning him a smirk from Duo, who was drinking pretty steadily.

Heero grunted with derision. "You are trash."

Duo grinned, and toasted Heero for his next sip. "Hey, I fought for all the regular people, so they could eat, drink, and be merry. Speaking of which... Q, where's the little woman?"

Quatre picked at his fingernails properly. "My wife is with the ladies, in the ladies' room."

Duo stared at him.

Quatre glared back.

"Ladies room? You mean, like, a bathroom?"

Trowa smirked, hiding his face behind Duo a little to conceal his mirth.

Quatre noticed. "No, Duo. A ladies' drawing room. It isn't necessarily considered proper for ladies and gentlemen to commingle in social gathering of this sort."

Duo's brow wrinkled in confusion as he took his next sip. "I don't understand. Why not?"

"Well," Quatre explained, a little ruffled at the imposition, "it is a question of place. It isn't a lady's place to participate in the affairs of men. Matters of business or politics simply aren't the concern of ladies of leisure."

Duo burst out laughing, and nearly spilled his cognac all over Relena's expensive antique Persian rug. "Oh, man, Q, I would pay *dearly* to see you explain that to Sally! Or even Relena!!"

Quatre's eyes darted to Trowa, flummoxed. "Well, *obviously*, women like *that* are not ladies of leisure! But my wife knows her role."

Duo sobered instantly, his eyes suddenly sharp as he examined Quatre's expression. Quatre turned away from Duo's gaze in annoyance and embarrassment. "I see. And since you brought it up, are your children here? How many little Q's are there? Do we get to meet them?"

If Quatre was horrified at the idea of Duo meeting his children, he was subtle enough to be discreet about it. Unfortunately, he was surrounded by people who knew him as well as he could be known. "Ah, no, my eleven children are still in L3, with their governesses."

Three expressions of shock and fear faced him. Quatre looked from Wu Fei to Heero to Duo in confusion. Trowa gently slipped Duo's drink out of his hand and took a sip. He had never had cognac before, but the smell alone was enough to tell him that he wasn't likely to have it again, either.

"How... how is that even possible?" Duo stuttered, still shell-shocked.

Quatre blushed bright red. "Well, most of our children were artificially conceived and gestated. Like I was."

"But," Duo took back his drink from Trowa's slack grip, "I thought you resented your father for being born like that."

Quatre blinked twice, then dismissed it with a shake of his head. "It's important to me, culturally, to have a large family. Arab customs dictate that the leader of a strong house has a large family. I'm simply doing what must be done to maintain the Winner name."

"Aren't those customs outdated?" Duo took another drink, his voice only marginally accusatory. "I mean, how can you give your children the love and attention they deserve when there are so many?"

"Oh, we have wonderful governesses," Quatre beamed. "Each child is getting the best possible care. Even better than if I or my wife were caring for them!" Quatre smiled, turning to each of his friends to share the joke.

Duo smiled. "Of that, I have little doubt." He finished off his glass, and got up to get another.

Quatre watched him with a dark, uncertain expression.

"I was surprised to hear that you two have been... cohabitating." Wu Fei leaned back in his chair, decisively changing the subject as he looked from Trowa to Duo. "That is certainly unexpected. I don't remember you two ever exchanging five words during the war. I suppose none of us have taken the path that was expected of us when we were fifteen."

Heero grunted, and Quatre sighed. "I certainly never expected it."

Duo downed half a glass of cognac, and grinned a little broadly. "That's life for ya. Always ready to throw ya the curveball."

Wu Fei smiled abruptly in appreciation. "That is most certainly true. I was... startled to hear some of the things that have happened since last we met. We should... keep in better contact. After all, there is no one in all of the United Earth Sphere that I trust as much as I trust the four of you. You challenged me and guided me through some of the worst days of my life; I hope you know that I would return the favor." Wu Fei kept looking from Duo to Trowa, his eyes stormy with passion.

Trowa felt his skin crawling. He felt cold, as if the bathroom tiles were pressing against his skin. He wanted Duo to say something. Duo was certain to say something. Trowa didn't like this silence; Duo needed to speak.

"Hey, Wu, don't think of it. Really." Duo grinned, loafing over to Wu Fei to put a hand on his shoulder. "We all go a little crazy sometimes, it's not the end of the world." Duo's voice was light and quick, and his hand left Wu Fei's shoulder almost as soon as he touched it. He flopped over to fall on the couch next to Trowa. "Anyway, we should just relax and enjoy the party while we can. Right? After all, pretty soon, they're gonna want us to march into the dining room and be perfect little gentlemen." Duo propped his chin up on Trowa's shoulder, grinning madly. "So we gotta have fun while we can."

Trowa felt an odd desire to kiss Duo right there, in front of Quatre, and Heero, and even Wu Fei, but he couldn't ascertain his own intentions, so he kept himself to himself.

Heero eyed Duo dangerously. "You're already pissed. Disgusting. You can't act like a reasonable human being for ten minutes straight, can you?"

"Straight?" Duo asked with a laugh. "I didn't think you'd like me straight, Heero." Duo winked at him, and Trowa was afraid that Heero planned to do something with his balled fists, but then a porter came to stand subserviently at Heero's arm.

"Excuse me, Mr. Yuy? Her Highness requires your presence for the procession to dinner."

Heero's back was stiff, and he turned to the porter with menace. "Thank you, Smith."

Smith bowed to Heero, and then turned his eyes to the other men present. "Sirs, if you would please make your way to the dining room, we would be much obliged."

Heero left the room purposefully, without preamble. The remaining four went off more slowly, taking a moment to adjust their jackets and ties. Quatre went ahead to collect his wife, so Wu Fei, Trowa, and Duo went together to the dining room.

They had been placed at the main table, with Duo right at Relena's side. It took a long while for all of Relena's guests to file in; politicians from around the world, representatives of every major political party or movement, religious leaders, scholars, military and scientific representatives, journalists, artists, and citizens of Sanc lucky enough to get invitations filled the tables sumptuously laid out for a grand feast.

Two days before Christmas, and the eve of the end of all wars, and everyone in the world seemed to be gathered into one great hall, festooned with reams of shimmering fabric, candles, and ice sculptures. The tables were decorated in silver, the pale white china rimmed in silver, and the cut crystal catching the light in a million different ways.

The chatter and music died as Relena and her fiancé were introduced to the room. Relena wore a gown of silver, a mature design that hung straight down to her feet, with a long slit up the right leg. Her hair was pulled back, and her makeup was perfectly designed to highlight her cheekbones and the color of her eyes. She was radiant, in the center of her world.

Heero walked stiffly next to her, staring straight ahead. He had been changed, so that his waistcoat and tie matched Relena's dress. He was dressed perfectly, and he looked completely out of place.

The dinner began right after Relena said a few words of welcome, and as the dinner began, the wine began to flow. Duo's glass was never empty, but it certainly wasn't from a lack of his trying. The food came out on glass dishes, each course being swept away just as the last fork was placed down, quickly to be replaced by the next course.

Duo and Trowa ate less than a quarter of one meal between them, but no one seemed to notice. Duo kept up lively conversation, more than once eliciting loud laughter from Her Majesty. There were bound to be rumors before the night was out, and Trowa would have been very surprised if the tabloids didn't suggest that Duo and Relena were going to run away to have a love child by the next morning.

He didn't mind. He was seated between Duo and Wu Fei, and he had very little to do but push the food around on his plate and keep Duo upright. Duo was vibrant, in the way that Trowa remembered from the war; only on this night, he was able to enjoy Duo's tireless cheer.

Even though he knew that it was little more than a mask, it was as appropriate as anyone else's façade.

During the dessert, there were speeches. Important person after important person got up and spoke over the murmur of conversation in the room. Even Quatre got up and spoke, 'representing the Gundam Five,' and talking about the colonies' pursuit of self-determination.

It was all exceptionally boring, but Duo would make a face or just look at Trowa from time to time, and Trowa knew exactly what Duo was thinking at all times.

Trowa and Duo left as soon as the speeches were over. Duo could barely walk, so Trowa kept his arm around Duo's waist as they left, supporting him. He heard the word 'colony' from a few people as they passed, and since Duo stuck his tongue out, he assumed that he was right and they weren't talking about politics.

He had to be directed to their room, as neither had been there yet. They got lost in the maze of halls that lead to the guest housing, but there was always a cheerful but demure servant at the ready. Duo was half asleep as Trowa dragged him into their bedroom.

Their suitcases had already been unpacked for them, which Trowa felt was an intrusion, but he shook it off quickly. Duo flopped on his back on the bed, and Trowa undressed him affectionately.

He didn't mind that Duo had gotten drunk and passed out. He almost liked it, really. He couldn't tell why.

It felt defiant.

He had spent too much time with Quatre, and his casually judgmental preconceptions. It was... liberating, to have chosen to be with the one person Quatre disapproved of the most.

Trowa got a wet washcloth, and washed Duo down a little, to alleviate some of the smell. It occurred to Trowa that he was completely over Quatre, now, but he didn't dwell on it.

As usual when Duo was drunk, he slept noisily. Trowa didn't mind. He slipped into the bed, naked. Duo woke up, groggy, as Trowa tried to arrange them. Grinning up at Trowa, Duo tried to be seductive. "Heeeey, Tro."

"Hey, Duo."

"Wanna do it?" Duo threw his arms clumsily around Trowa, obstructing his efforts at getting them both under the covers.

"You won't be able to," Trowa reminded kindly.

"Ah, thas ok. Just do what Heero'd do - flip me over and do whatever. I won't mind. You always use plenta lube. Heh. Trowa." Duo grinned up at Trowa, unable to maintain his grip on Trowa's neck.

It was almost endearingly cute.

Trowa kissed Duo's forehead, his cheek, and his neck. "We should both be grateful that I'm not Heero. Let's go to sleep."

Duo was out almost immediately, and Trowa pulled Duo's body on top of his own. He petted Duo's hair, and once again he thought that maybe he could unwind the braid now, when Duo wasn't awake and wouldn't be awake for hours. He could run his fingers through Duo's long, long hair, and feel it filling the space between his fingers, feel the texture of it as he rubbed it between his forefinger and thumb.

The fantasy of Duo's hair lulled him to sleep.

Duo hid beneath the covers in the morning, and Trowa sighed. He agreed to 'fetch' breakfast for the two of them, promising that Duo's share would be a vat of coffee.

Trowa felt self-consciously underdressed as he wandered the halls of the palace in his slacks and shirt. It had been ten years ago today that he had found evidence of Dekim Barton on the colony the circus had been performing in.

He decided that he would find a 'phone and call Catherine. She deserved to hear from him today.

Before he could find where breakfast was being served, he ran into a servant of Relena's who directed him to a private dining room she was *sure* Her Highness wanted the 'Gundam Five' to eat in. Trowa felt forced to follow her directions, as she recommended he go in a direction almost completely opposite to that in which he had been headed. Trowa wasn't sure if he wanted to go to a private dining room with Quatre and Relena and Heero, but as he had little choice, he merely submitted to it.

Arriving, however, things were not as bad as he had suspected. The room appeared empty, so Trowa quickly started to fill a plate to take back to their room.

Fate was not with him, however. Just as he was pouring out the coffee, Relena entered.

"Trowa! Oh, I'm so glad that you're here! And, we have the room to ourselves!" Relena bounced over to Trowa, her happiness glowing off of her. "Where's Duo?"

Trowa repressed a sigh, and hoped that Relena was still fixating on Duo. "He was not quite ready to face the day."

Relena smiled, and she reminded Trowa of Catherine. "I'm not surprised. I think he drank half the wine in Europe last night."

Trowa raised an eyebrow. "Only half? He'll be disappointed."

Relena grinned, and took Trowa's arm. "He'll have plenty of time to make up for it; now sit with me. We need to talk.

"There are things I want to know about Duo. And things I can tell you that you may not know about him."

two quick notes. first off, just fyi, Relena's full name in this fic is Relena Peacecraft Darlian. why am i mentioning this? just so that, if when reading further on here, you encounter this name, you won't think, hey! that's not her name! you'll know already, in this fic, it is. why? well, remember that this is 10 years post-EW. in endless waltz, Relena was referred to as Relena Darlian - which made sense given that her mother was still alive and kicking. also, as far as i know, the Sanc kingdom had been destroyed. however, in the ten years post-EW, Sanc has been rebuilt (in some fashion), and Relena has taken on the role as Queen of Sanc. Therefore, to honor her birth parents, and to maintain the line of succession in Sanc, she is using her birth name as her middle name, but she retains her last name to honor her adoptive parents, and because she used that name in her political career. so, there ya go. ^_^

On to part eight. Back to part six.