Quatre Raberba Winner was dying.
It was a slow burn, his slight form shaking with a constant tremor that had seized him since yesterday, since being unsuited after days of drifting space-sick in the heart of the darkness that had swallowed him. Captive, there was no one to notice or remark upon the approaching demise of a Gundam pilot, a mere terrorist. Even the colonies turned a blind eye.
But for one man.
The tall, lean figure lifted a hand to peel away the neck of the stiff OZ uniform. It chafed him. He hadn't been wearing this particular chameleon's garb for long but, he'd decided, already he despised it the most for the constrictions it imposed.
Trowa knelt by the metal bench the golden-haired boy had been dumped on unceremoniously. His brow was damp, plastered with darkened tangles of white-blonde hair, and Trowa reached out to brush them away, still hesitant. Quatre wasn't conscious to flinch back away from him, wasn't free to withdraw, and that more than anything made him pause, uncertain. The boy, who had been muttering in his sleep, quieted and turned into his touch, gravitating like a sun-starved plant into light.
His lips quirked, weighted by the sum of things he didn't understand.
Feeling and emotion had to be set aside -- a myriad of tangled complexities he had shut out, that he thought he'd rid himself of forever. But this boy who smiled against his palm evoked sensation that was more than physical, and to him a source of bottomless confusion. The final line, in his estimate, was that Quatre had given him shelter. It was a debt that had to be repaid by his reckoning.
The impulse he sincerely did not understand was the one to lean forward, by bare degrees, and press his lips to the creased, worried brow or to the flushed, slightly parted lips. He wouldn't even have to move very far. Just one touch...
Trowa inched forward, puzzled. Curious. Just a degree...
Soft lashes, dark against the pale cheek, gave way to shadowed pools of indigo, filmed with fatigue and pain.
"Trowa?" the boy rasped, then turned his head and coughed. The sound was smothered, and the hand that dropped back to his side was beaded with cherry-bright flecks.
This pain. It was simultaneous with Quatre's shudder and he didn't know why. It hurt.
"Yes, I'm here."
"What's wrong with me?"
His low husky tones, roughened by illness, were particularly subdued. The pang that rifled him, he knew, was due this time to the note of resignation -- and knowledge -- that imbued Quatre's voice. As one preparing for death. He knew, because he'd heard it in his own voice before. Felt it in his bones.
"You have space fever," Trowa replied quietly. Reporting this to Lady Une would make little difference. She was just as likely to see it as a convenient, guilt-free way to dispose of an obstacle to peace.
"Ah. I see." The bruised cerulean eyes drifted shut.
For a brief irrational instant Trowa felt like shaking him, forcing some animation back into the sweetly-determined face that had inspired him. The one who had, time and again, inexplicably prevented him from carrying out self-termination -- just the sight of his face had somehow kept him back, hinged on the merest chance of seeing him again. It was a matter of faith for one who'd been deprived of such.
Now it was Quatre giving up.
"Quatre, don't---" He struggled to form the words, knowing he was hardly a candidate for inspirational speaker.
An eyelid parted, the dulled brilliance beneath fixing on him. "Trowa? You're still here?"
"Aa." Hesitantly he groped for the words to express himself properly.
Quatre's vague smile was a ghost of itself but still dazzling to him. The smallest smile from the blond Arabian was better than anyone's widest grins. "I wanted to see you again. I'm so happy."
Now he was truly at a loss for words. Why?
The vestiges of confusion must have registered on his face, seeping past the cultivated non-expression to be caught by Quatre. Only Cathrine had ever been as observant. The boy's blue eyes opened wider, grew more lucid, and he offered a smile still drawn by pain, but genuine. For him.
"Don't you know, Trowa? I can feel your kindness surrounding me. It eases my heart, and I'm not so afraid, anymore. As long as you're here."
The soft lids fell shut, leaving him to puzzle over Quatre's words. Had he actually spoken his question aloud? It didn't matter.
Trowa rose. He'd been here too long already, and his very presence in this cell could be viewed with suspicion. But he couldn't stay away, even as he shouldn't stay at all. It was a dilemma that might eventually force him to the fulcrum of a decision.
"Trowa. I'll see you again, right?"
The softly-uttered words fell into the dim cell but forced their way into his ears with the piercing impetus of a tragedy. Quatre didn't have much time. And he knew it.
It only made his decision harder.
"The Gundam pilot is dying."
The doctor's words were frank and bare, oblivious to the smothered breaths that had wracked the silence of the cell, or the bright flushed spots standing out against pale skin, the damp forehead. Sterile and dissociated from the reality.
Lady Une lifted an eyebrow. "And...?"
"And---and..." the doctor sputtered, blinking furiously. "Your orders, commander?"
Lady Une's smile was a spasmic twist of flesh. "There is no change in orders." She turned from the man's fish-gaping expression, adjusting her glasses crossly.
"B-But...a single injection of antibiotic..."
"I know," she extinguished the words tumbling from his lips with a single icy look. "I think there's no need to waste our supplies on a traitor."
Trowa stepped forward, a bold invasion of her space, to twitch lightly at her cuff and bow his head diffidently as the glass-chip brown eyes fixed on him. "Lady, perhaps the boy could still be of some use to us alive."
Une's short back of laughter rang incredulous in the room, silencing a rowful of technicians. They looked up once, faces reflecting the blue light of their work stations, before dozens of shoulders hunched instantly, heads downturned.
"Of use? Yes. He shall be useful. We already have the other one, a strong, healthy captured pilot of Gundam, and this is wartime. The weak have no place in the scheme of things. Therefore his use, as I have decided, is an example -- a dead Gundam pilot to play foil to our live one." Her sudden smile for him was caressing but etched with venom. "And you, Trowa Barton. You continue to be useful to me. Thus far."
Stiffly he bowed. And kept his eyes lowered, until Lady Une left the room. Her departure released a string of ruefully relieved sighs in the crowded room, and straightened shoulders.
Weak? Quatre was by far stronger than he.
Close. He was too close.
He left the room quickly, while the others were still smarting in the backlash of her passage. Too close. To Une? Or...
Quatre lifted his head at the chink of light that slashed over his face, eyes working blindly in the dazzle of unaccustomed light. The lines of his face relaxed, dissolving into the infinitesimally sweet smile that kindled an ache in his breastbone and Trowa knew he'd been recognized.
"You came back," the cracked whisper drove into his ears.
Trowa was stunned by the changes a mere day's passage had wrought. Quatre's face was pale and waxy, his blue eyes sunken yet still searching Trowa's face. He clenched his teeth. This golden boy's salvation lay a vial away, a whim away, but Trowa could only obtain it by blowing cover.
"You must despise me." He sank to his knees by the cold metal bench that still failed to sop up the feverish heat permeating Quatre's body. His long fingers worked anxiously in a desire to touch and soothe the fevered face. He didn't. He didn't possess the right.
Quatre's eyebrows puckered, creating a strange impression of elfishness. "Trowa, you're doing what you have to. Just do what you feel is right."
The blond boy closed his eyes, breath labored and sweeping through the small cell, filling it with the rasping drag of pulling heavy weight from his lungs. Trowa's fingers moved at last, of their own will to sweep back a jumble of fine platinum bangs then halted, inches away. He bit his lips.
Blue eyes started open, confronting Trowa with unexpected intensity, a crucible of searing purity he had never before experienced but longed for desperately. To drown, so sweetly, this was how it would be. "I am dying, aren't I?"
Trowa's throat was too narrow to encompass the lump. It bobbed convulsively, stuck.
The twin pools were a lotus-jewel, the sacred depths a truthsayer might have cast within. He could not lie. Not with Quatre's eyes boring into him. "Tell me."
"Aa," his head fell forward, a string-cut puppet.
A puppet. Tool of Gundam, tool of Une...
Quatre would die of these machinations.
The whisper startled him out of self-recrimination and he looked up. The face that confronted him was deprived of youth, or the boyhood that surely would have been theirs under different circumstances. He looked heartbreakingly resigned, face schooled into serene lines.
"Will you hold my hand?"
Convulsively his fingers moved, counterpoint to the startled thump in his chest. Anything Quatre wished.
Hesitantly he covered the pale, chill hand with his own, then gently clasped it between his hands, chafing the flesh with care. He was so cold, despite the fever blurring through his body.
"Thank you... Trowa, I'm sorry."
The whisper was dull and tattered with shame. He was startled. Why should Quatre be sorry?
"I'm a coward. But I'm too selfish to die without unburdening myself to you," Quatre husked. He turned his face away and the small hand would have slipped from his if he hadn't tightened his fingers possessively.
"Please understand," the shamed whisper begged. Quatre turned his face to the wall, and the next four words placed blows to his chest that cracked into the very gaping fiber of his marrow, threatening to split him to the core and leave his being exposed. "I love you, Trowa."
It was arctic freezing wind.
No, it was a sudden blast of heat.
Bringing a breath of radiance, a warmth dispelling the cold knot of his guts until they began to unfurl and stir.
Quatre's hand tugged to disengage, as the blond boy sought to withdraw. He seized the hand back -- how any part of this golden angel could declare himself his, he simply couldn't understand. So he wouldn't try. Not yet. All he knew was that once such a gift was given, it couldn't be taken back. He wouldn't let it.
Reverently, a part of him warning nastily that the spell of choking beauty endowed by those words could explode into a million pieces with such a move, he placed his lips to the cool skin of Quatre's hand. He pressed a kiss to his knuckles, then turned it over to brush his mouth over the hollow of his sensitized palm.
Quatre shivered. "Trowa?"
His voice clenched the darkness around him, imploring and desperate, and hastily the brown-haired pilot removed his lips, a certain desecration.
"Trowa, you don't hate me?"
The longing in the husking tones surprised him. Trowa lifted his head, sweeping dark bangs out of his face, fitting the curve of those fingers to his cheek. "I...Quatre, I'm no good with words. But I considerably more than 'don't hate' you."
The laughter that split the darkness was both a lightness, a shining construction of sensation Trowa had tried to deny, and a frightening note that shivered the hopeful construct to pieces. Trowa pressed the limp fingers under his own, but could not coax a response.
"I truly am selfish...ne Trowa? How awful, to find this out only now..." Quatre's reflective voice lapsed into silence. His head lolled over the hard metal. His eyes had fallen shut, again. And the breath, rasping and heady, no longer filled the cell.
"Quatre -- QUATRE!"
He pressed his lips to the hand held against his cheek, hoping to evoke something, any kind of response, then let the hand fall. The familiar emptiness was punctured by Quatre's disorienting admission; its safety could no longer enfold him. He could only stare numbly at Quatre.
His decision was sealed.
Quatre's slight body was in his arms with scarce recollection and he was advancing up the corridor, face set.
One of the uniforms sought to stop him. "What is this?"
Calmly Trowa displayed his double armful. "Dead Gundam pilot."
The man's face eclipsed disgust and Trowa passed uncontested.
He moved emptily through the stark metal corridors without pause, his eyes flat and blank to avoid encompassing the sight of Quatre's pale, still face. And finally, upon reaching his destination, he kicked the door open, mouth grim, and the doctor started up from behind his desk with a bleat of surprise.
"The antibiotic. Where is it?" Trowa demanded quite calmly, from the vantage point of gun sights leveled at the doctor's head.
The doctor's lips shivered in a compressed line, his eyes working over the slender crumpled body in Trowa's arms. "The Gundam pilot?"
A slight nod.
"What is he to you, that you'd throw away being Lady Une's protégé for the small pleasure of saving his life?" the doctor blustered.
The slight tic of muscle almost could have been a blossoming smile -- almost, if it weren't Trowa Barton. "Everything."
The doctor raised his hands, moving slowly from behind his desk. "Put away your gun, Trowa. You don't have to threaten me." Deliberately, he edged towards a rack of gleaming fluids. "I will help you save the boy."
Trowa hesitated, noting carefully the sincerity of the doctor's faded sepia eyes. He clicked the safety on and returned the gun to its holster, still holding Quatre's rag-doll body securely against his own. The boy stirred, slow heavy breaths drawing up thick from deep within his lungs, ruffling over his neck. Still alive.
"What will you tell Lady Une?"
Calmly he put forth the question, not really caring about the answer as he stepped up to the examining table and laid Quatre flat.
The doctor raised an eyebrow, thumbing the plunger to rid the loaded syringe of air bubbles. "Why, the boy died, of course. Cremation was necessary to prevent the spread of sickness, just in case. Already effected, and I have the ashes to display. Space burial, or simple trash disposal?" He smiled, self-satisfied, his expression reflecting a hatred of Une only barely concealed before.
Trowa bent his head to conceal the barest beginnings of a smile, as the doctor pressed on Quatre's arm to expose a vein, bringing the syringe to bear.
"How will you explain the missing shuttle?" Quatre queried worriedly, tilting his head as he looked up into Trowa's angular green eyes.
"Leave that to me," the taller pilot replied, brushing a thumb over the high cheekbones that were still vaguely flushed with the aftereffects of illness. Quatre smiled and turned his head to place a kiss on the heel of the hand.
It was still amazing and not entirely real.
And now, with Quatre's departure, it would be harder to remember soft heat from a quicksilver smile, and the blue eyes that had inexplicably fixed on him from the start. But Quatre would be safe, and alive.
"The shuttle's flight plan should bring you to one of the resource satellites, close to your father's holdings," Trowa told him, rubbing his hand against the parted lips that pressed against his skin. It sparked a shiver.
"All right..." Still Quatre paused, stalling, looking up at him. His chest heaved in a tiny sigh and his eyes were wide and wistful.
"What's wrong, Quatre?" He thought he knew. He didn't want Quatre to leave, any more than he himself had wanted to leave that first time. But he knew that they would see each other again. Surely. This bright angel lived under a star that defied ill winds.
"I...Trowa...I've never been kissed before," Quatre blurted, a flush staining his cheeks to rival the fevered heat that had gripped him only days ago. "I..."
"I see," Trowa murmured, green eyes losing the somber darkness, by degrees.
Quatre looked so embarrassed, he knew it was up to him to make a move. Yet Quatre was still the braver of the two of them. He had had the courage to say it first, those words.
He reached out for him with the other hand, clasping the nape of Quatre's neck with infinitely gentle fingers while he brushed the lower lip with his thumb. Quatre trembled under his hands, but his eyes were wide and waiting.
They drifted shut, silk to cover sapphires, as he bent by inches to take the pliant mouth under his and Quatre's fingers gripped his waist tightly.
He murmured something against his mouth, as Trowa's lips worked softly over his, and then he tasted the upper lip, carefully, slowly, giving the blond boy a chance to pull away but Quatre moved closer instead, both arms sliding all the way around him as he lifted his face into the kiss.
In a rush of breath he captured the bottom lip firmly, sucking with gentle pressure, then released it to slip his tongue just barely between those lips. Quatre froze, eyes closed tightly, examining the sensation. Then he parted his lips wider, drawing Trowa more deeply into his mouth.
He shuddered and clasped the golden face between his hands, cradling him, kissing him intensely and desperately and wishing only for more time, nothing more than a suspended moment where he could keep this boy in his arms, forever safe, plucking him out of the destructive grasp of war.
An answering tremor ran through Quatre's body, and the tip of a tongue brushed against his, hesitant. He drew back a little and Quatre's followed, bolder, twining against him in a slick, warm sway that made them both shudder again, moving more frantically.
They broke, breathless, Quatre's exhalations slightly raspy again. The blond Arabian burrowed into his arms for a long endless moment and he savored the beat that throbbed steadily under his fingers, the pulse of Quatre's life against his skin. Alive.
"Goodbye..." Quatre's fingers brushed fleetingly over Trowa's lips, then he was waving cheerfully from the door of the shuttle, soft smile etching deeply into his mind. It was that expression he wanted to remember, just as he'd savor the feel of that mouth beneath his.
Trowa clutched at the words as the shuttle started up for takeoff, cradling them in a secret place. The words spoken against his mouth, nearly incoherent.
Always. I love you.
He raised his hand, waving Quatre off as the shuttle blasted into space. "We'll see each other again." His bemused, slightly puzzled look stayed with him for hours.
The words, though...now those would stay longer.