Trowa’s the last thing Quatre sees before he’s pulled under—
—and the first thing he sees when he wakes.
Quatre wants to say. But he takes a breath to start and pain lights up his side.
“Hold on,” Trowa says. As though, tied down with tubes and meds that he is, Quatre’s going anywhere. “Rashid wanted to be here when you woke up.”
And then he’s out the door and gone before Quatre can lift a finger to stop him.
He’s back before long, keeping vigil at Quatre’s bedside.
Or, more precisely, from the chair in the corner by the door of the small private room they set Quatre up in.
As Quatre slips in and out of sleep, sometimes he sees Trowa there. Sometimes he doesn’t, and he wakes wondering if, this time . . .
But Trowa’s never far away.
“What are you still doing here?” Quatre asks when it doesn’t hurt quite so much to speak. Time means nothing in this room. For all he knows, one day or several might have passed since the war ended. At least, Quatre hopes it's ended.
“You should be back with your people. Catherine will be worried sick about you.”
“She knows I’m okay,” Trowa says. And that’s all there is to that.
Dorothy comes to see him one day, a narrow, beaten-down rendering of herself that doesn't suit her at all. She comes with an apology she must have practiced a hundred times before this, but it all falls apart when Quatre tells her there’s nothing to forgive.
Trowa stands just outside the room, watching them through the window. It’s clear on his face he doesn’t want to leave them alone together, but he won’t go against Quatre’s wishes.
Afterwards, it’s Quatre who watches Trowa and Dorothy from the other side of the glass, wishing he could read lips. Theirs is a cutting exchange between two equally matched wits, polite smiles on both their faces though the words being traded must be sharp as sword points. Partway through it, Quatre realizes with a pang of regret that they’re beautiful together. He wishes he never told Trowa to forget about him and look after Dorothy.
“You two would be good friends if you got to know her,” Quatre says when Trowa comes back, every word another needle in his side, stealing his breath away. “You have more in common than you might think.”
“She tried to kill you,” Trowa says.
“ ‘Tried’ being the keyword.”
Trowa smiles, thinking perhaps that was Quatre making a joke. “Nevertheless. I think she and I might have irreconcilable differences.”
After a few days, Quatre is desperate for real food. He's able to sit up in bed with minimal assistance and feed himself.
But a few spoonfuls of runny soup and he can't go on.
“Your stomach's shrunk,” Trowa says from his corner chair like he would know. “You shouldn't push it. Don't want to make yourself sick.”
“I hate wasting food, though.”
The soup isn't bad. Just bland, like hospital food is supposed to be. Quatre tips his spoon and watches the soup drip back into the bowl, queasy at the thought of one more bite. Guilty that he told Trowa he was starving.
“I never see you eat,” Quatre says. Not meaning anything by it but observation.
“I eat in the cafeteria.”
“I'm sure cafeteria food seasoned for invalids can't hold a candle to what you're used to in the circus.”
Trowa shrugs, and Quatre thinks, Why did I say that? It was just conversation. Please don't think I'm trying to tell you to leave.
But he needn't have worried.
The next time Trowa brings him soup, he brings enough for them both.
Somewhere on the satellite, he finds a deck of playing cards to help them pass the time. The edges are worn with use, and it isn't long before they've both memorized each dog-ear and tear and stain in the deck.
Quatre doesn't point it out, but the joker bears an uncanny resemblance to Trowa.
When Quatre’s well enough for it, Abdul and Auda take him for walks around the hospital. Though “walk” is a generous word. They walk; Quatre rides.
Other than his fellow wounded, there’s not much to see on MO-II. The closest Quatre comes to a breath of fresh air and real sunlight is a turn through the small atrium. But there are no birds calling or insects buzzing in the potted tree ferns, no scent of rain pressing heavy and wet on his lungs.
“I bet you can’t wait to be back on Earth, eh, Master Quatre?” says Abdul.
It's true, he can't. But Quatre says before he can stop himself, “I’m not sure I’m going back.
“I mean, I hope to eventually,” he amends at the surprised looks on their faces. “It’s just—with the armistice—and the matter of the gundams—I’m not sure what's going to happen to me when the doctors decide I'm well enough to be discharged. I don't even know if Earth’s biome would be good for my recovery or if I'd just be putting myself at greater risk of infection.”
Then it’s Quatre’s turn to be surprised, when Auda laughs.
“Would it help make up your mind if I told ya the circus was returning to Earth?”
For a moment, Quatre can only blink up at him from his wheelchair.
Then he cracks a smile he can’t soon wipe away again, because the Maguanacs know him far too well.
Quatre's stitches pull as he eases his arm through his shirt sleeve, but he winces more out of habit than pain. Now that he can dress himself, and walk on his own two feet, there's no reason to stay. His doctors say he's clear to travel, his bag is packed, and no one from the new government has appeared to take him away in handcuffs. It seems saving the Earth from White Fang's plans is enough to earn even a gundam pilot a pardon.
“You're sure you guys are okay with me going to Earth by myself?” Quatre asks Rashid one last time. Not that he really wants Rashid to change his answer, but hearing the same one over again would go a long way to assuaging Quatre's guilty conscience.
“Well. You won't really be going alone. Will you?”
Over by the window, Abdul and Auda exchange a knowing grin.
Before he can stop himself, Quatre turns to look at the chair in the corner. It's empty now, but he thinks often of what Rashid told him a few days ago. That Trowa never let Quatre out of his sight until Quatre regained consciousness, unless one of the Maguanacs was there to take Trowa's place. And sometimes not even then.
“He'll be fine,” Abdul says.
“I pity anyone stupid enough to pick a fight with Master Quatre,” Auda says with a nod toward the chair, “when that young man is with 'im.”
It’s a welcome change of pace, being the one no one recognizes. Though perhaps, Quatre realizes in hindsight, everyone's just too polite to say otherwise.
As they make their way through the circus’s camp, everyone they meet greets Trowa warmly, glad to see him back. Not asking too many questions (maybe they already know the answers), waiting for Trowa to be the one to introduce his friend (Trowa never does).
Inevitably they find themselves by the lions’ cage, and no one stops Trowa when he lets himself in.
He greets the cats with soft tones, no baby talk. Just a simple “Hey there. I’m back.”
And the lions return it by rubbing themselves against Trowa's legs, butting him with their massive heads when he kneels down. Ears back and eyes squeezed closed, they shove themselves up under Trowa's arms and chin, or hook their muscular arms around his shoulders, licking and nipping at his hair and ears.
“Are you sure you're okay being in there?” Quatre says, catching the white flash of teeth behind a curled lip. He’s not used to animals, having never had pets of any sort, let alone cats the size of ponies. Trowa doesn’t seem concerned about being mauled, even though, to Quatre, “They don’t look happy to see you.”
“This is how they welcome back friends they haven’t seen in a while,” Trowa says, matter-of-fact as you please, as he butts his own head into the big male’s shoulder, buries his hands in the mane. “They’re making sure to put their scent back on me.”
Claiming you as theirs, Quatre thinks, and now he’s jealous of the lions as well as uneasy.
Trowa unfolds himself back to his feet.
He walks to the bars of the cage, a wild thing reaching through them to Quatre. “Don’t be afraid," he says. "They won’t hurt you.”
Still, Quatre hesitates. “Can’t animals sense fear?” Never mind when someone is injured and vulnerable?
“They also sense kindness. That's more powerful than fear. Besides.” Trowa scratches the big male behind his ear with his other hand. “I vouch for you.”
This is a bad idea, Quatre thinks.
But he puts his hand in Trowa’s anyway. The big male rubs his muzzle and cheek against the bars, the steel pulling lips away from canines as long as Quatre's fingers, and it doesn’t matter how much Quatre tells himself the lion is only trying to catch a whiff of his scent. It's not a tame dog. Quatre's hand would be a quick snack for the lion.
And yet, he can't help but trust Trowa. It's as natural as breathing.
For just a second, Quatre imagines Trowa pulling his hand into the cage, Trowa's teeth sinking into the heel of his palm, just hard enough to leave indents in the skin. For just a second, it's as though Quatre's lung hasn't quite healed.
Quatre snaps his hand back at the sound of that voice. He steps away, his heart racing.
But if Catherine sees Quatre there—and how can she not?—she doesn’t acknowledge him. She runs over to the cage door, barely letting Trowa latch it behind himself before throwing her arms around his neck.
What she mumbles next is for Trowa's ears only.
But Quatre hears him say back, “It's alright now, Cathy. I'm back to stay. If Manager says I'm still welcome.”
“Of course you're still welcome! You silly boy. . . .” Catherine pinches Trowa's arm as she pulls away. Playful, but also not. “Don't you know everyone here loves you?”
There are tears in the corners of her eyes, but she doesn't wipe them away.
Rather they sit there, defiant and proud, proof of the depth of her connection as she turns to Quatre. “Trowa told me you plan to stay with us for a few days.”
“If it's not too much trouble. You can put me to work. I'd feel much better knowing I paid my way.”
“You're still recovering,” Trowa reminds him, but neither Quatre nor Catherine acknowledge that he's spoken.
“I should hate you for taking him away from me, you know,” Catherine says, and her eyes could be daggers for all they stab into Quatre, sharp and ice-cold.
“But,” she relents, “you did bring him back in one piece.”
So she can’t hate him forever.
“Is there soup on?” Trowa changes the subject.
And Catherine puts her hands on her hips. The nerve of Trowa, her pose says, to ask about soup when she's just gotten him back after all this time.
But under Trowa's patient stare, she softens like butter. “I’ll go warm it up. But I don't deliver.”
“Are you sure you want to stay the night? It’s going to be tight,” Trowa says for the fourth time that day, like Quatre might still prefer a suite at one of the luxury hotels nearby.
Like Quatre didn’t slip into his bed on Peacemillion and hold Trowa's hands over his ears, just to hear another heartbeat besides his own. Hoping, like a ship's steady engine, the roar of Trowa's blood in his veins might drown out the silence of space and let Quatre get some sleep.
And like Trowa didn’t let him, without once asking why. Pretending he didn’t notice Quatre was scared to think of what was coming, and whether they'd all survive the final battle.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Quatre says. “Besides, it's only for a few days.” And he wants to make the most of them.
Because he's not sure when he's going to get another chance like this. How many months, how many years, he might have to wait.
Quatre's glad his stomach is back to normal, because Catherine's soup is easily the best thing he's tasted in months. The coffee afterwards, even more so.
Quatre eats in quietness, letting Catherine and Trowa have this time to catch up. He's a stranger here, every part of his surroundings reminds him, an intruder, so he can't blame Catherine if she still can't forgive him.
I didn't bring him back, Quatre wants to tell her. He came back all on his own.
This is Trowa's home, Quatre wants to tell her. He even said so himself. I was there, I heard him say it.
So she needn't be jealous of Quatre. Catherine has Trowa's heart in a way that Quatre never will. It doesn't matter if they're not really brother and sister. They're close enough. Closer than Quatre's ever been with any of his real sisters.
But that isn't something Quatre envies of Catherine and Trowa. He's glad for them, for what they've found against all odds. He doesn't want the burden of being Trowa's place to belong.
—is what Quatre's been telling himself since their shuttle left MO-II.
Eventually Catherine leaves them to each other's company. And when darkness falls and dishes are done and cups run dry, and Quatre can no longer stifle his yawns, Trowa helps him change his bandages. Even though at this point Quatre can handle the front one on his own, Trowa won't let him.
Trowa's face is a cage as his fingers move clinically over Quatre's skin.
It's only when he climbs into bed beside Quatre that he opens the latch and lets his feelings out.
Trowa was right. A bed barely made for one is a tight fit for them both. And the bedroom tucked into the back end of the trailer is cramped compared to Quatre's private hospital room on MO-II. Smaller even than Trowa's cabin on Peacemillion.
But Quatre prefers it that way. Maybe it's selfish of him. Caught between the wall and Trowa, Quatre isn't going anywhere.
Trowa curls into Quatre's side like a cat. Like the child he never got to be. Their legs weave together, and Trowa's head is on Quatre's chest. Ear over his heart. So Trowa can listen to it beating through the night, assure himself that there are no skips or abnormalities in the rhythm.
His hair tickles Quatre's nose, so Quatre presses his face into Trowa's crown. Wishing he could kiss Trowa's eyes, his cheeks, his beautiful face. Quatre wants to say aloud what his heartbeat alone can't—what it means to him to be here now, and how grateful he is that Trowa never left him. How glad he is that that was one wish Trowa ignored.
But not tonight.
They've made it this far. They both survived; they're alive. For now, this breathing in and out against Trowa, committing his scent, his warmth to memory, is enough.
Trowa is the last thing Quatre sees before exhaustion drags him under.
With any luck, he’ll be the first thing Quatre sees when he wakes.