Chapter 1: Carving Boulders
The Earth turns out to hold more promises for Trowa than he first expected.
Grit and tiny pebbles rolled through his fingers as a dusty stream, tumbling back to Earth in a dull, light brown line that wavered in the occasional searing blasts of wind pretending to be breezes. Even after no more would fall, several granules clung to his skin, held in place by the sweat on his palms. He allowed himself a contented look and dusted his hands together before brushing the last remnants away with the help of a couple quick swipes over the legs of his jeans.
The oasis was calming, a small verdant stripe in the middle of sheer desolation. He thought it particularly appropriate, considering the circumstances.
The stranger had given him free rein to explore the grounds. Normally, he would have been suspicious of that kind of offer, but there was something that drove him to set aside his disbelief. He couldn't help but trust the young man he'd met on the battlefield at Corsica Base - and he wasn't quite sure why. That they piloted similar mobile suits hadn't been enough; it hadn't mattered to him during the initial skirmish. Not until the blond had stepped out of his suit had he felt any real desire to listen.
He swirled a finger through the sand, the rough texture reminding him of working days long past.
It was amazing what a little sand could do, really.
Blown at a high speed, it could be just as deadly as any beam cannon, destroying flora and fauna alike. Under fire, it turned as sharp and fragile as glass. Carried along by water, it could remold even the hardest of rocks over time, smoothing over rough edges and eliminating jagged splinters.
Handled with care and a skilled touch, it could become a work of art.
He'd never had the time - or the freedom - to think about it before. Another of the unusual gifts he'd been received while he was here, perhaps, along with a full repair service to Heavyarms and hours of music.
A quiet voice beckoned him over through the dense foliage, pulling him out of his miniature reverie, whispering... something about an interesting bird, and would he like to look at it?
Trowa nodded and rose to his feet, headed in the direction of his captor/host.
If he was going to lose his life in battle, he could at least say he had visited the desert first.
Chapter 2: Five Minutes Till Chaos
Trowa finds the time to reflect on one of his closest companions. (Written for gw500 prompt: trio.)
Exactly when the little prank comment Duo had made during the Eve War had become a greater truth, he couldn't say. He'd hardly spent any time near Deathscythe's pilot up until then. Hell, the first time they met each other, they got themselves into a pissing contest in their mobile suits while Heero prepared to rocket away and kill a planeload of the wrong people. It hadn't gotten much better from there for some time.
He could still recall when OZ had picked Duo up - during his stint as a loyal soldier to the Organization, that was - and the kind of reaction Maxwell'd had in response to the perceived injustice of being locked in a dark cell with what he would later dub the two least entertaining people in existence. Coupled with being passed over for the ZERO affair and a punch to the stomach, Trowa had been almost certain that they were never going to hit it off as friends. It wasn't the kind of thing most people would just forgive and forget.
(Honestly, he was still half waiting for Duo to serve him 'one bitchin' dose of payback' for what he'd done to the guy's Gundam.)
But suddenly, there he was, rushing backstage to shake a poor, confused clown with a shockingly severe case of complete and total amnesia. Duo had been glad to see him, yes, but had become just as dumbfounded as Trowa when his efforts got him treated like nothing more than a frightening stranger and shooed away from the circus by a bossy redhead.
Trowa suspected that he did owe Duo for being there to save their lives when their useless, mass-produced Taurus suits were about to become permanent additions to the local collection of space debris. He'd wasted all of his ammunition - not to anyone else's surprise, to be sure - and Quatre had tried that reckless, stupid, and completely inadvisable maneuver just to attempt to save his worthless hide...
...That was it, wasn't it?
They'd become fast friends because Duo was initially Quatre's friend, although Trowa hadn't known that until much later. Over the last few months, he'd managed to piece together some of their wilder adventures based on snippets of conversation and vague references; he had no idea where to find the city filled with party-hard Maguanacs, flower-presenting dancing girls, and amazingly old men with silly facial hair, but he wanted to visit it.
At some point, he realized that up until recently, Duo had, in fact, spent more time with Quatre than he ever had.
Not that he was complaining. Much. Knowing that it had saved Quatre's life at least once, in a physical sense - and again in an emotional one - he couldn't begrudge Duo the friendship. Nor would he have wanted to; despite his handful of secret (if extremely brief) moments of addlebrained, teenage jealousy, he knew enough about how much that radiant smile and kind heart meant to him to know the effect it would have on the rest of his comrades as well, if in different ways.
The thought that Duo would be there to help out when he couldn't was oddly comforting, if he could ever be said to feel so relaxed about a situation like that, and having the chance to vent at or celebrate with someone when Quatre wasn't around - or, sometimes, even when he was - turned out to be something he liked, too. Besides, Duo was excellent at getting them both to lighten up.
And, truth be told?
Duo himself wasn't the most stable of people, either. Quatre's optimism and calculating streak often combined with Trowa's calm steadiness and razor-sharp instincts to tether Duo to reality when his grip on it got to be a bit shaky and holding on became more than he could handle.
Ingrained politeness and long experience tempered Duo's more volatile side and brought out the best of his quirky mind, refining the devious plans its fertile grey matter sprouted.
One, two, three. Or, to be more accurate, four, two, three, but the general idea was the same either way. Though Duo's importance to him was not on the same level or of the same nature as Quatre's, he nonetheless tended to think of their little group as an odd sort of family. Duo had almost taken on something resembling brotherhood.
That was fine by him, really. He'd already adopted a sister, and although he was wise enough never to mention it out loud, he held the opinion that Quatre's 29-strong horde of siblings also desperately needed some balancing out, if only so they would stop trying to fuss over Quatre and him all the time.
All of these things were true, but that didn't stop him from figuring that he ought to somehow intervene. After that one baby shower, Duo was never again to be trusted near a salad bar... and Iria was, at present, touting the health benefits of going vegetarian to anyone who would listen.
Quatre would just have to forgive him later.
Chapter 3: Muscle Memory
Force of habit unexpectedly brings Trowa one of the answers he's been looking for in regard to the memories he's lost... and raises ten more questions in the process.
The small spray bottle to his right smelled familiar even though he'd never used anything like it before; something about the pungent liquid pulled at his insides, stroking a gentle finger down over his dead memories and trying to coax some of them back to life. None of them broke free, but he felt them attempt to stir, the weak flutters like the tiniest of butterflies beating their fragile wings against the inside of his skull.
He picked the bottle up and began squirting its contents on various surfaces in the cockpit of the white mobile suit he'd been using over the last few days. Wrapping a coarse red rag over his index and middle finger and crumpling up the rest in his otherwise closed fist, he began to methodically rub the stuff in while a handful of ingredients filtered into his thoughts.
Why did he know them? He hadn't remembered his own name, but his brain had seen fit to regurgitate this information. He could not, for the life of him, understand why an animal-handling, acrobatic clown would need that type of knowledge. The circus already had a mechanic, and it wasn't him.
Trowa proceeded slowly, watching certain areas of the dulled interior take on a bit of a light, clean shine, looking less like a piece of mass-produced junk and more like something he would have been able to take pride in - if he wanted. There was only so much he could do to maintain the suit by himself; what with all the external and systemic damage taken during the recent battles, it had been necessary for other people to handle the main repairs.
People with intact memories.
The thought left a bitter taste in his mouth.
Still, he found this work... soothing, almost, the way some people would view knitting or painting.
There wasn't any need for him to really think about what he was doing, either, which did help. Once he'd taken hold of the rag and the bottle, it was as if his body had begun to control itself without any help from his brain. His hands made their way across the surfaces with sure strokes, deftly working the protectant into the panel coverings. Although he knew they were attached to his wrists, and could see what they were doing, Trowa soon found himself thinking of them as though they belonged to someone else.
He was a stranger in his own skin, caught off-guard by a skill he didn't know he had, and so intently did he watch himself work - filled to the brim with a kind of detached fascination as he did - that he failed to notice Quatre coming into the hangar and observing him for a couple of minutes.
"You used to do that all the time," Quatre called up to him, abruptly breaking the silence and giving him a bit of a start. Trowa detected a note of infinite sadness in the comment. "You were - responsible for suit maintenance, when you were younger."
He frowned, unable to verify the statement with the help of his memory, and listened to the barest of echoes sounding in his head from somewhere deep in the past. Noises like a sky full of thunder and metallic rattling. Flashes of gold interrupted his vision - an object dangling from a thin chain, heavily blurred. It was a delicate-looking pendant of sorts; at least, he thought it was, because he felt that it had been, even though it had no discernible shape when he attempted to clear up his mental picture of it.
There was something Quatre wasn't telling him. He'd heard the subject shift partway through the sentence. With no idea of where to even begin questioning it, however, he chose to stay quiet and continue working.
He would have to find a different cleaner for the display units. This time, remembering which one he needed just as easily as he had recalled the ingredients of the spray bottle didn't faze him. As Quatre said, he'd done a lot of suit maintenance; before the circus, maybe, and likely in order to survive. It was just him and his sister at the circus. Perhaps their parents hadn't been around back then? Back when he'd done this kind of job instead of standing in front of a wooden knife target?
Well. It didn't matter. He'd finished up with the one part, and if Quatre had come looking for him, it meant that there was a topic he wanted to go off and discuss someplace quiet.
Though he rather hoped it wasn't the present one. What he did or did not know was getting to be something of a sore point these days.
He punched the button to release the line and hooked his worn, grey boot into the foothold, listening to the zzzz - zzzz - zzzz of the reel spinning and releasing more and more of the cable as it lowered him to the ground.
"I believe it's called muscle memory," Quatre added, when he'd finally gotten near enough to the ground and jumped free. "Your head doesn't remember, but your body does. If you're in a situation often enough, you can automatically repeat the actions."
Trowa continued to listen as he followed Quatre out, ignoring the cable winding itself back up again behind them; Quatre made a sweeping gesture, marking a fairly wide space, and then made a half-hearted show of pressing invisible keys in mid-air on that same unseen surface before letting his arms fall back to his sides.
"It's like typing without looking at the keyboard."
"Or somersaulting," Trowa offered. When Cathy had discovered him roaming around and taken him back to the circus, he'd been put through a routine to see what he could handle. He'd found it particularly odd that he could perform the most daring flips, spins, and cartwheels with ease. This would explain it. "I was on autopilot."
Quatre let the word dangle there by itself for a minute or two before turning to face him, obviously torn between opening his mouth or keeping his thoughts to himself. It took him a while to find his voice, but when he did, it came out as more of a resigned sigh than anything else.
"You should try doing more stuff, Trowa. You need to find out who you are."
Trowa stared at him for one long moment, sure that the use of 'are' was deliberate. He'd discovered that Quatre did not tend toward carelessness with his words; Quatre generally meant everything he said. If he had actually meant 'were', he would have used it.
Had he become someone different without his memories? Who had he been, before they found him drifting in space? What did Quatre know? For that matter, what did any of the pilots know? They treated him oddly at times, and he had noticed that they couldn't always look directly at him when he spoke.
It wasn't that they were ostracizing him. No, he'd been included in quite a number of group activities, meetings, conversations, normal or otherwise. He would have thought they were hiding something from him, if the very idea hadn't sounded so ridiculous.
But Quatre had used 'are'.
Maybe it wasn't as far-fetched as he'd first thought. Either way, Quatre had implied that he might not always want to regain what had been second nature to him before his memory loss.
He moved to carry on walking down the hallway, but he hadn't even finished taking his first step when Quatre made a soft sound unlike anything he'd ever heard before. It was a half strangled and extremely confused noise, and it very much did not fit with Trowa's internal picture of him.
Glancing back over his shoulder, Trowa could see what had caused it. His nervous system caught up with his eyes shortly afterward, finally registering an odd sensation in his left hand.
He'd grabbed hold of one of Quatre's and pulled.
They were there for quite some time, just... standing. He could not keep from mentally pointing out to himself that Quatre's hand was folded over his own in a very specific fashion, settled comfortably in place instead of with the awkward grip he would have expected. He then remembered where light calluses had begun to form in certain spots on Quatre's palms from his style of mobile suit combat. Battling had also given him a handful of small, thin scars, and although he could not see them, he knew exactly where they were located. Indeed, even without looking he knew these things much the same way he knew the contents of the bottle of spray protectant he'd been using earlier despite an inability to remember time spent as anything other than a circus performer.
It was Trowa who finally ended the silence stretching out between them.
"I've done this before?"
Quatre licked suddenly dry lips. His palm was beginning to sweat; he wriggled his fingers a bit, but did not yet let go.
Trowa rolled the word around in his head, turning it over and over and over until he had examined every side of it - every corner, even. Quatre, for what it was worth, waited with what had to be an impossible amount of patience, up until Trowa finally uncovered a crack in the deceptively simple surface of the answer and attacked it head on.
"Someone else did," he said, meaning the simple statement to also serve as a question.
"Yes," Quatre agreed.
Trowa, thinking back to the earlier explanation, found himself thrown into the middle of a rather large epiphany regarding quite a few aspects of who he'd once been, followed by a smaller one about the actions of his friends - and Quatre in particular.
"...What did you do?" he asked, his throat tightening. It forced his voice to come out in a croak; he hated the way it sounded.
The hangar's wide open space began to seem so much more tight and constricting. The room felt like all the air was being sucked out of it, compressing them, and a cold sweat started to break out on his skin beneath his work coveralls. He took a deep breath, trying to keep hold of his thoughts, not wanting to lose himself in another episode like the ones he'd had at the circus.
That look of sorrow and guilt etched itself deeper into Quatre's face, and he felt Quatre slip his hand free.
Trowa watched Quatre shake his head and walk down the hallway without him, leaving him behind to wonder what they were originally going to talk about. The more distance between the two of them, the easier it was for him to breathe; the hangar exploded back out into a place of work instead of a crushing blackness. He half expected the rush of air filling the area around him to make a loud popping noise.
When it didn't, he rubbed his thumb back and forth over the tips of his fingers, not quite curling his hand into a fist and not really able to let it rest open, either, and - lost in his own head again - turned back toward the suit.