Trowa’s first thought the next morning was not relief at the fact that he was not a dormouse. Neither did he wonder what the faery was doing and whether or not she might still show up, nor reflect upon the absence of crushing loneliness in the air around him, nor worry about the lack of any dreams but the very typical ones such as he might have had before this all began, nor consider where Heero and Duo might be or how they’d spent the night, nor contemplate the various possibilities of the future given that he was not, in fact, a dormouse. His first thought was, with a leaping throb of the heart, that Quatre was beside him, that Quatre loved him.

They’d shifted into their usual back-to-back position in their sleep, but it felt different now than it had for the last several years. Of course Trowa had always wanted more than this, and last night he’d finally achieved it. Now he found that, after going to sleep with Quatre in his arms in such excellent snugness it was as if they’d been specifically modeled to fit together, this lesser contact of the morning, although nothing beyond what he’d had all along, had also become more intimate, more satisfying, than it had ever been before. Especially with Quatre’s I love you still echoing in his ears.

Trowa had awakened because Quatre had; the latter was now twisting over, mangling the sheet atop them somewhat, and sliding an arm around Trowa’s chest. Sleepily, contentedly, Trowa murmured his name as he lifted a hand to clasp Quatre’s arm.

And then he reflected on the relief of not being a dormouse.

Against Trowa’s shoulder, almost as if he had read Trowa’s thought, “We made it to morning,” Quatre said.


Then they were silent for quite some time. Trowa might almost have thought Quatre had gone back to sleep, but for the continued tightness of that arm around him. And he had no desire either to move or to go back to sleep. Lying here together in the faint dimness of whatever daylit time it was out beyond the curtains, as if nothing unpleasant could ever happen to them again, warm and comfortable and secure in their feelings for each other, was more wonderful than just about anything Trowa could imagine.

Eventually, though, Quatre shifted, yawning a little, and spoke again more purposefully. “So what do you think?”

Trowa did not have to ask what he meant. Whether or not their future plans had leapt immediately to mind upon awakening, they couldn’t be far from the surface of his thoughts. “Whatever we do, we take them with us.”

“Yes,” Quatre agreed. “Yes. No question about that.”

“To Beaulea?”

“That’s what I was thinking. If Heero and Duo don’t mind, we can take some more of those valuable things with us, and maybe use them to get set up in a house of our own.”

While the suggestion was not unexpected — it was, after all, the most logical one under the circumstances — those last five words, ‘a house of our own,’ seemed to bury themselves in Trowa’s consciousness like sharp-edged darts, slicing their way down into his heart with beautiful precision. The idea of sharing a home with Quatre where no one else would be present except those that knew and perfectly approved their situation… Trowa doubted anything in the world could make him happier. It seemed almost too impossibly wonderful to be believed. It was all he could do to speak calmly as he responded with, “And I’m sure your father would gladly let us stay with him in the meantime.”

Evidently he’d managed to speak more calmly than he’d realized — certainly more calmly than Quatre approved of. “What do you think about living with me?” Quatre demanded, with an interesting mixture of slyness and frustration to his tone. “With nobody around who might interfere with us?”

“It sounds like Heaven.” Trowa’s voice was low and serious, and his hand tightened on Quatre’s against his chest.

“Yes, it does.” Quatre shivered — Trowa could feel it all up and down his own body, and it nearly induced in him a similar reaction — and returned the squeeze. “So that’s settled; we’ll have to see what Duo and Heero think. And right now I need the washroom.”

Trowa let go of Quatre’s hand with reluctance, and shifted into a sitting position as Quatre got up and tied the bed-curtains. When Quatre looked back at him, Trowa had to smile. He was so exquisitely happy; he couldn’t quite process his good fortune, and something in the back of his head was still waiting for him to wake up from this amazing dream. Quatre was looking at him as if severely tempted to return to him and just spend the rest of the day (or forever?) in the bed with him curtained off from the world.

That of course would not do, however, much as Trowa would have liked it. He was yawning now, and when he’d finished he said, “I think I’ll find a washroom too. It will be interesting to see how functional they still are.”

“Oh, good point,” Quatre agreed. “I’ll meet you back here in a while, then.”

His prediction turned out to be quite accurate: now that the magic had gone, the washroom he located wasn’t nearly as convenient as it had previously been. Trowa didn’t object, since they wouldn’t be here much longer, and water appearing at his whim in any temperature he wanted had always been a little too good to be true in any case. But he did what he could to prepare for the day, and then returned to the bedroom to get dressed.

Out of curiosity, before he dug into his backpack, he opened the wardrobe. He didn’t know what he would see inside, and therefore felt neither surprised nor vindicated when he found himself looking at the blank back of the interior; it was empty. It had probably always been empty when it was closed, he reflected (fully aware that he was far from an expert on the subject); the clothing had probably only appeared while the door was being opened, and now, without the magic, that process could not take place.

Fortunately, the garments he’d carried with him to the Winners’ home and back still existed, and all of them seemed to have gone through the same magical washing process he’d noticed in his nightclothes yesterday, so he was able to dress himself without any problem. They wouldn’t be taking any additional clothing back to Beaulea with them, though.

While busy with this, he’d been hearing sounds from the next room over, the parlor where he and Quatre had always eaten breakfast, so once he was dressed he went through that door. And he was not surprised to find Heero and Duo waiting there, Duo wandering around examining things and Heero sitting at the table. The latter, at Heero’s elbow, was heaped with all sorts of fruit.

“Good morning,” Heero greeted Trowa in that placid, almost solemn tone Trowa had come to know as belonging to the daytime Beast. Duo also offered the greeting in a manner Trowa was familiar with, though he wasn’t used to hearing those particular words in that intensely energetic tone since he’d never actually seen Duo in the morning before. Heero went on, “There’s no food in the kitchen, but the orchard is still there.”

“And no more thorns on the fruit,” Trowa observed in satisfaction as he began looking over the gathered offerings.

Heero nodded. “If I remember right, eating a lot of fruit without anything else isn’t healthy for humans like us.” A smile took one corner of his lips, tiny but genuinely happy, at referring to himself as human again. “But it’s better than nothing.”

“And not like we have much of a choice,” Duo put in cheerfully.

Trowa fully agreed, and, taking a seat at the table opposite Heero, selected a plum, an orange, and a few cherries to get started on.

Neither Heero nor Duo was eating. Though they didn’t appear tired, they had obviously been up for a while. As a matter of fact, Trowa couldn’t even be certain they’d gone to bed at all. There was a certain gravity and simultaneous energy to both of them, one unusual to each, as if they’d shared their dominant characteristics with each other during the night, and a sort of dark determination to their eyes. It led Trowa to believe they had spent much if not all of the last several hours thinking about past and future rather than sleeping. He supposed it made sense, after so long apart, but it might also make the day a little difficult for them.

Heero was watching Duo with a pensive, tenacious gaze, and didn’t seem to notice Trowa studying them both. No more did Duo — and he, at least, would probably have said something if he had. He was quite obviously enjoying running his non-paws over the room’s furnishings and decor, but seemed to be drawn back fairly consistently to the window; it occurred to Trowa that, if Heero hadn’t seen the stars in two hundred years, it would be the same for Duo and the sun. What a life of darkness that must have been. Trowa doubted he yet understood even a tiny part of what these two had suffered all this time.

He also noticed that they were both still wearing the same clothes — torn, bloodstained, and by now quite wrinkled — in which they, or at least their human bodies, had spent the last two hundred years sleeping in all kinds of weather. Evidently Trowa’s wardrobe wasn’t the only empty one in the palace. Examining them both further, he decided that his clothes would be unlikely to fit the shorter, stockier Heero, but that Duo was near enough to his shape that it was worth a try.

Duo thanked him for the offer, turning from the window and giving him a sardonic smile. “But I’m not going to voluntarily put something on that came out of this place. I’ll wait ’til I can get something somewhere else.”

“You may have to wait a while for that,” Heero warned him, fondness and amusement only thinly covering the matching darkness and agreement in his tone.

Duo shrugged. “I can wash this stuff if I have to.”

“But then you’d have to put it back on,” Heero pointed out. “Wouldn’t that count as voluntarily wearing something that came from this place?”

“So maybe I’ll wash myself in the clothes.”

“I’m not sharing a bed with you if you do.”

At this moment Quatre entered the room. He looked a little surprised at the scene, but definitely pleased at the sight of all of them and the unexpected breakfast. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “Did I keep you guys waiting?”

Duo’s smile was brighter this time. “You know you’re still pretty high-class sometimes, Quatre?”

“I am not,” Quatre replied proudly. “I have a father in a farming town, sisters who work at a dairy, and a sweetheart who was born in Fishmarket Street in Silbreaker.” That he’d come so far since yesterday as to be able to make such a statement in front of the others was remarkable; that he blushed as he said it was charming. He didn’t seem terribly pleased by the blush, but met Trowa’s eyes anyway; Trowa found himself smiling again.

“Silbreaker,” Heero said interestedly, testing the word as he turned to Trowa. “I was born there too. What is it like these days?”

Erasing the smile that was only for Quatre, Trowa gave his attention to Heero and began to humor him by describing various parts of Silbreaker and how he guessed they had altered in the last two centuries. And as they talked, Quatre retrieved an orange from the table and moved to join Duo at the window. Trowa kept one ear open to their conversation, which started out with inquiries and subsequent thanks regarding the gathered fruit and moved on to the view they were surveying.

As yet there had been no occasion for Trowa to look out a window today, and last night things had been simultaneously too dark and too engrossing for him to notice, but apparently the roses everywhere across the grounds had gone, as Duo put it, ‘all natural-looking.’ And Duo couldn’t help confessing that, though he certainly would not regret the palace and its environs, he might just a little miss having a multitude of wildly-colored flowers around all the time.

Eventually both discussions came to an end, and in the silence that followed, as Quatre wandered back to the table in search of further breakfast, Trowa thought he saw their future: companionable contentment, going about their business in pleasant company, none of them asking anything of the others but everyone willing to assist his friends at a moment’s notice. It was a happy vision.

“We need to make plans,” said Heero at last, proving that the future was on more minds than just Trowa’s.

“Trowa and I were talking about that,” Quatre said, “and we’ve got an idea.”

“You were talking about that?” Duo sounded disappointed.

“Among other things,” said Quatre, and it looked as if his attempts at restraining his own blushes were starting to pay off, for his face only colored a little this time. “We were thinking that, if you don’t mind us pillaging your palace a little more–”

Duo snorted. Beside Trowa, Heero let out a little breath that was almost a disdainful laugh. Hearing one or both of these reactions, Quatre smiled as he went on.

“We won’t be able to carry as much as before, but we should be able to bring back enough to at least get us started… we can rent or buy a house in or near Beaulea, and make all the neighbors wonder why none of us ever get married.”

Duo’s face had taken on an ecstatic smile wide enough to be a grin. Heero’s expression was one of cautious pleasure, and the caution was the more evident in his voice as he said, “Duo and I don’t really have what you could call modern trade skills. I was a carpenter before, but I’m afraid the trade has changed in the last two centuries. And it seems like everyone can read and write these days. We wouldn’t be able–”

“That doesn’t matter,” Quatre interrupted. “Even if we can’t set ourselves up for life with whatever we can scrounge up from around here, we’re all capable of basic labor… we can make things work.” He paused with a slight frown. Trowa guessed he’d realized he was being somewhat dictatorial about what was supposed to be a proposal seeking general consensus, for he added hastily, “I mean, if you want to live with us. If you’d rather–”

This time it was Duo that interrupted. “I definitely don’t want to leave you guys.”

“What we want to be sure of,” Heero said, “is that you two don’t inconvenience yourselves for us. You shouldn’t have to do anything you don’t already want to to try to take care of us.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Quatre impatiently. Actually he looked just a little affronted. “Why wouldn’t we want to get a house together? And what if taking care of you is what we already want to do? Besides, it’s not as if you can’t do any kind of work. I didn’t have any marketable skills either when I moved to Beaulea, and I learned quickly enough.”

This rather haphazard list of points seemed to convince Heero, and Trowa thought Duo had been ready to accept all along. A quick look between the two appeared to confirm it, and Heero said gravely, “All right. I guess that’s settled.”

Quatre beamed. The room actually seemed a little brighter in the light of it.

“So, then,” Duo said, “if we’ve decided on that, what are we still doing in here? Let’s figure out what we’re taking and get going!”

They moved through the palace in a pack, unwilling to separate. Trowa found this a good deal more enjoyable than he’d expected; they reminisced about their experiences in the various rooms, both during his and Quatre’s time here and before that, and shared their opinions on the faery’s decorating sense (and her apparent incomprehension of the ins and outs of day-to-day human life) more frankly than they’d ever done. This was obviously bittersweet for Heero and Duo, but Trowa thought it was healthy for them to revel in contrast, to say goodbye, and even to admit that not all the memories were bad ones.

They never did find anything they could use to light their way through the dark inner rooms, but they made the best of it. There were also no backpacks besides those that Trowa and Quatre had been using, nor anything similar, anywhere in the building; but, determined to take as much as they could with them, they made their first-ever use of the sewing supplies on the sixth floor to modify some bedding into makeshift packs. It was a very clumsy process, since not a single one of them was any kind of adept at sewing, but there was quite a bit of laughter involved, and they hoped the results of their labors would last the day.

Then they had to decide what, exactly, to take with them. The clothing Quatre and Trowa already had were obvious choices, as were several of the remaining valuables in the room of trinkets, but beyond this was a subject of debate. Duo wanted to bring The Spoils of War, claiming it was a symbol of eternal friendship he couldn’t live without; Heero had eyed the library shelves in eloquent silence as they’d passed through that room on their way up to the sixth floor; Quatre thought the art in the upstairs gallery a sad shame to abandon entirely; and Trowa knew that some of the wine from the cellar would fetch a good price back in civilization.

Nobody suggested attempting to come back, perhaps with a wagon, for another load of expensive goods. Aside from the fact that they could probably spend a lifetime doing this and still not be done with all that could be removed from the palace, even the two of them with fewer unpleasant memories associated with the place were not eager to see it ever again.

Eventually they decided that Duo should be allowed to take his painting (mostly because none of them had the heart to tell him he shouldn’t), and that they would each choose one book from the library (though Trowa was fairly certain Heero sneaked at least one extra). The paintings in the gallery and the bottles in the cellar had to be reluctantly left behind, however, as the rest of the space they had was filled with smaller valuables.

Heero and Duo had a quiet debate, down in the cellar room that had been the Beast’s personal dining chamber and lounge, as to whether they should rub out or leave untouched the last message in the dirt floor. Trowa would have liked to ask the specific meaning of those words — he thought he could guess, of course, but would have liked to know for sure — but felt as if that would be too much of an intrusion at this point. Maybe some other time he would ask; for now he just waited for their decision, pretending he was not listening in, and was amused when the conclusion they came to was that it would be more entertaining to leave the words for the confusion of any travelers that might happen upon this place in the future.

Back upstairs, they found that there were a few instruments in the music room that were compact enough to justify bringing, and some of them so finely-made almost to demand it. Quatre insisted that Trowa take a flute with him, not with the intent of selling it but as his own, with a look that would not have allowed Trowa to argue even if he’d really been inclined to do so. It caused more than a slight burning in his heart to know that Quatre valued his musical abilities so highly as to make this requisition; if Quatre had demanded he take a set of drums with him and given him that look, Trowa would have been perfectly satisfied to stagger along with them strapped to his back.

Meanwhile, Duo gleefully hammered away at the unknown instrument he liked so much without coming up with a sound considerably better than he’d been able to get out of it as the Beast. With practice he might have been able to do so, but the thing was the size of a small table. Trowa regretted having to leave it behind, as it was so unusual and Duo was so fond of it, but there was no choice. Although, if Quatre had given that look again…

Of course most of the objects they took were from the room of trinkets, and this time — having limited space at last — they gave more thought than they ever had to which of the remaining pieces were the most valuable. And as they worked at collecting things, Quatre told Heero and Duo all about the month at home and all the news of his family. They (or at least Duo) teased Trowa about Amarante and ‘the Trowa phase,’ as Quatre had undoubtedly intended; and they both expressed forgiveness (again) and understanding about Roldeen and the delay in setting out, as Quatre had undoubtedly hoped.

The palace had changed. Trowa felt that he was of the four of them the least attuned to the place, which was probably why he seemed to be the last to notice. It wasn’t what he would have called an important change — he’d always thought there were too many utterly pointless rooms here anyway — but it was one that he should have expected. Without the magic to contain all of those extraneous chambers, the latter had simply disappeared, and left the building holding only as many as it actually had space for. As the newly-absent rooms were those that had been least used, it was no surprise that Trowa took a while to notice the absence.

The aviary gave them some trouble, of conscience at least, for the birds were still there. The birdseed in the room wouldn’t last forever, but the creatures probably didn’t have the expertise to survive in the forest even if they could handle the climate. The forest was where they must eventually go, when the food ran out, but surely leaving a door or window open to allow them to escape would, by consistently letting in the cooler air from outside the greenhouse, hasten the dissolution of the warm atmosphere and the lush foreign plants within, which must in turn hasten the flight of the birds from their home to an unfamiliar forest full of predators.

Unfortunately, there was simply no way of taking the creatures with them (and Trowa couldn’t imagine what they would have done with them in Beaulea anyway), so their only option was to scatter what birdseed remained throughout the aviary and greenhouse, leave the door to the balcony propped open enough to allow the passage of birds, and hope for the best. Still they left the aviary in rather grim spirits, and Duo was muttering something about inhumanely thoughtless faeries as they went.

By the time they’d finished their scavenging efforts, it was early afternoon, and all of them were ready for something to eat. In fact they were all probably ready for something else to eat besides what they had, but contented themselves with the remainder of the fruit Heero and Duo had gathered that morning. Back in the parlor on the third floor, they ate and talked, and eventually Duo wandered to the window again.

“It hasn’t really changed all that much,” he remarked presently.

“To look at, maybe,” said Quatre.

Duo nodded. “The colors of the roses is the biggest thing… there aren’t roses in crazy places anymore, like in the trees… and you notice the fountain out front stopped?”

“She probably didn’t know how fountains work,” Quatre speculated, “so it was just powered by magic.”

With a frown Duo said, “I don’t know how fountains work.”

“I… don’t either.”

Trowa and Heero both had to admit that they shared this lack of knowledge.

“Too late to try to look it up in the library,” Quatre said with a sigh that was half amused and half regretful. “Or… is it? Are we leaving today? It seems a little late for setting out for Beaulea.”

Duo shook his head. “I doubt I can stand another night here, now that we’re all ready to go. How far off is Beaulea, anyway?” It didn’t seem as if the answer to this question would at all affect his opinion on what their plans should be; he was merely curious.

Trowa and Quatre glanced at each other a little helplessly, and then Quatre said, “I have no idea. I think magic was involved every single time we traveled to or from here, and I’m not even sure where ‘here’ is.”

“I guess we’ll find out how far it is when we walk it,” said Duo cheerfully.

Thoughtfully Heero lifted the core of the apple he’d just finished. “We won’t have any more food tomorrow than we have now. And it will all be fruit again. It’s better to set off while we can.”

This was a point there really was no arguing, even if Quatre or Trowa had had the heart to insist that their friends stay another night in their two-hundred-year prison. Trowa nodded his agreement and Quatre shrugged with a slight smile. And eventually, when it was obvious they’d finished eating (primarily evinced by the fact that there was no food left), they all began double-checking their travel preparations and the goods on which they’d settled.

In addition to the rather absurd-looking makeshift packs they’d cobbled together, Heero and Duo had also cut some lengths of cloth and attached cord to them to use as cloaks in case of chill or rain along the way. Heero had chosen a very sensible dark blue, but Duo’s was a flamboyant chartreuse that seemed to please him a great deal and made everyone else laugh. “It’s nice not to be all brown anymore,” he commented in some triumph as he donned this would-be garment.

“Brown is the standard in Beaulea,” Trowa warned.

“I think maybe I’ll grow flowers,” said Duo thoughtfully.

Quatre, who had disappeared into the bedrooms and now returned holding something, put in, “That’s a good idea. Not roses, though, I assume?”

“Damned right.”

While Heero was quietly teasing Duo about why his bright green cloak didn’t seem to count as the wearing of something that came out of this place that he’d sworn off earlier, Trowa looked curiously at Quatre — more specifically, at his hand and what he’d fetched from the other room. In somewhat sheepish response Quatre held it up: a little porcelain dog, touched with gold, very nicely-rendered, friendly and alert-looking. “I couldn’t leave it behind,” he confessed. “I’ve always liked it so much.”

Trowa smiled; actually it was more of a grin. He remembered once, a year ago, wishing he could give Quatre everything here. He doubted he could deny him indulgences even far bigger than a trinket that fit into one hand.

“Let’s go!” said Duo impatiently; either he’d resolved the cloak issue to his satisfaction or was trying to evade it. And at his bidding, Trowa and Quatre said goodbye to the rooms in which they’d slept and breakfasted for a not-entirely-unpleasant year, and they all headed down toward the entrance hall. There, without verbal consensus, they paused to take one last look at the huge marble statues that had so long interested and puzzled at least two of them.

The man appeared every bit the king Trowa now knew him to have been, but not, perhaps, anyone Trowa would be pleased to meet in person. Even through the expression of longing on his stone face — and given what Trowa now knew, he had to wonder whether such an expression had ever been present there in life — there was a touch almost of smugness. It was perhaps a little too tranquil quite to merit that description, but certainly had some superciliousness to it. That didn’t seem out of place in a king, but also didn’t seem terribly personable.

The face of the woman that had loved him, now that Trowa was able to understand and see past the hopeless desire in it, gave a hint as to what the faery must have looked like when she’d been whole and healthy. He was struck not so much by her beauty as by her forcefulness; she must have been a very effective person before she’d had her heart — and, subsequently, her mind — broken. He wondered what kind of friendship she’d had with the king, whether the king had really valued her, what had transpired between them so long ago.

Wanting something more than friendship so desperately as to be willing to do just about anything to attain it — or, perhaps, just about anything in response to being told it wasn’t possible — did not seem so infeasible to him. He couldn’t help thinking, secretly, deep in the darkest shadows of his heart, that he might also be the type of person to react that way, and that some of the behaviors the woman had exhibited might not be quite so insane as they’d all been assuming.

If Quatre had given him a different answer… if he hadn’t responded favorably to Trowa’s confession… Trowa could imagine feeling himself break, compartmentalizing his own consciousness to try to push away the part of himself that couldn’t handle the rejection; he could imagine lashing out, though never at Quatre, in his pain; he could imagine a lot of things, and many of them weren’t pleasant.

Fortunately, not only did he possess no magic and therefore potential to set up dreadfully elaborate punishments for unrelated innocents, he also didn’t have to worry about this possibility because of the way things had gone. Still, he felt he understood the faery perhaps better even than those that had known her a little more completely.

Despite this, he found that the whole setup in front of him — these two figures staring at each other in twenty-foot-high desperate adoration — did not really resonate with him. It was more than just an expression of the faery’s longing for the king; it was a sort of monument to the union of male and female. Erected in unignorable marble in the forefront of this little world she’d created, it was a daily reminder of what she believed was right to those that were living another way. To Trowa, who had never in his life been romantically interested in a woman, it simply seemed alien. Not wrong or disturbing, particularly, but apart from him entirely. Not applicable.

As all of them looked at the image of someone that could still, Trowa supposed, show up and do whatever she wanted to them, nobody spoke. Trowa thought there wasn’t really much more to be said. Actually, as his eyes moved from the statue to Quatre (where they were often drawn), he got the feeling that Quatre might have something to say about the faery after all but was refraining at the moment for whatever reason. Trowa would have to see if he couldn’t find out what it was the next time they were in private. And finally, one by one, they turned away from the statues and straggled toward the door.

Outside, Duo immediately started walking backward so he could look up at the palace they were leaving, and Heero immediately started watching his movements and his path so he could catch him if he stumbled. Despite Heero’s best efforts, Duo somehow managed to run into the fountain twice, and was making for the hedge as if specifically seeking a collision with that too. Before that minor disaster could occur, however, he raised both arms in an amusing two-handed wave and called out, “Goodbye! Goodbye!” before turning to walk normally with a more significant spring to his step.

They passed the grove of trees in the center of the looped lane, they passed the neat lawns with their little paths leading off to gardens and courtyards, they passed hedges covered in naturally-colored roses, and Trowa silently echoed Duo’s goodbyes. There was a certain melancholy, after all, in leaving places where he’d spend so many happy hours with Quatre; but at least he would never forget, and he could reflect with happiness that they had grown closer to each other and gained some invaluable friends during that time.

“It’s too bad we don’t have any more space,” Quatre remarked, shifting his backpack on his shoulders. “It would be nice to gather up some more fruit and take it back to my sisters.”

“They would love that,” Trowa agreed. Some of the fruit in the orchard was of a variety he had only ever read about before he’d come here, and would make a wonderful gift for the girls in Beaulea to whom even certain more common types were still a treat.

No further comment was made on this topic, since they were distracted at that moment by Duo breaking into a run. They were nearing the hedge-wall with its great arch, the final gateway through the pale of roses out of this world and away forever from what had passed here. Duo’s pounding, crunching footsteps rendered incoherent whatever he’d started yelling, but it might well have been incoherent to begin with.

At the gate arch, he flung himself through and out, stopping only when he was very distinctly, entirely free of the palace grounds, on the dirt road, in the forest. “Look, I’m outside!” he shouted. “Hurry up, Heero, come outside with me!”

As Quatre laughed and Heero did actually hasten his steps to obey, something caught Trowa’s attention in a cool little trickle of deja vu. He noticed that Quatre had drawn to a halt and turned for one last look at their year-long home — and really the last look this time — so he was able to busy himself about what he’d seen.

Over in the direction of the stables he thought he’d noticed, as they walked, one hedge covered in pink roses, and he had a hunch that there must be yellow ones somewhere, but most of the flowers were now red: no more incredible colors, and certainly never again one that would precisely match Quatre’s eyes. But they were still incredible. The magic had been gone less than a full day, so the vagaries of nature had yet to take their toll, and the roses dotting the hedges were still the same perfect, enormous shapes they had been before. And Trowa thought one of them, at least, worth preserving.

This time, when he had stripped the thorns from his blood-red offering and held it out toward his master, Quatre did understand the gesture. He caught his breath and colored beautifully, but his hands paused in the act of rising to accept the gift. Instead, his eyes, sparkling like the palace walls, rose to meet Trowa’s. “Shouldn’t you be kneeling down?” he asked facetiously.

Trowa dropped immediately to one knee. It was not at all comfortable in the gravel, but worth it for the expression on Quatre’s face.

Quatre reached out again, but this time not for the rose. He took fisted handfuls of Trowa’s tunic and pulled, forcing Trowa to stand again. Then, unexpectedly, fantastically, he wrapped his arms around Trowa’s neck and kissed him.

Shamefully or otherwise, Trowa was aware of every romantic kiss Quatre had ever had. The number, oddly enough, was not great; for as affectionate as Quatre had always been, he’d never done much seeking out of romantic encounters. On the one hand, this could easily be interpreted as his respect for women leading him to refrain from engaging them in idle, meaningless interactions… but on the other hand, Trowa might have taken some hope from it if he’d ever allowed himself to feel that emotion.

At any rate, Quatre had kissed two girls a couple of times each, and been kissed once by a third. The distinction was important, or at least one Trowa liked to maintain, because as long as he did so it meant that he had never kissed anyone (though he had once been kissed by a fellow servant; she’d bribed him into letting her do it, rendering her claim that it was for his benefit a little difficult to believe).

With such an average level of experience between them, Trowa would not have expected their first kiss to be quite… this… astonishing…

He’d known that having Quatre against him like this would feel like fire; he’d known that he must taste divine. But he hadn’t expected… well, up until yesterday evening, he had never expected to kiss Quatre at all. He had imagined — God, had he imagined — but he could never have properly anticipated the soft, sweet feeling of Quatre’s lips against his; nor the lightning that seemed to scatter from them throughout his body each time they moved; nor the intoxicating scent of Quatre that filled his entire world, stronger now than it had ever been even when they shared a bed; nor the way his frame seemed to be melting, boiling, turning to steam in response to Quatre’s mouth against his, leaving him dizzy and weak and ecstatic and a bit uncertain where he was.

Of the latter he was eventually reminded, however, when a gleeful shouting cheer and pounding footsteps seemed to pry open the little space to which Trowa’s universe had narrowed and remind him that there was, in fact, a world outside Quatre’s arms, however dubious he might be about its relative attractions. Reluctantly they pulled apart. Quatre was flushed from neck to hairline, but grinning in a charming, unusual combination of shyness and triumph that made Trowa feel like he was flying.

And then Duo was shaking both of them, still exulting on their behalf rather incoherently; the fact that he’d actually come back through the gate-arch onto the palace grounds in order to congratulate them on a first kiss successfully managed (though he couldn’t be sure it was their first) was touching and amusing. He hugged them both, laughing, making Quatre laugh as well and Trowa at least smile. “You guys are just perfect!” he declared. “Well done!”

“Thank you,” said Quatre, still grinning. “I thought it went pretty well myself.” And, glancing at Trowa, he blushed again. However Quatre felt about blushing so frequently, Trowa didn’t think he would be tired of it any time soon.

“So now there’s been a goodbye kiss,” Duo said, “let’s get the Hell out of here!”

Trowa nodded. It was still with a great deal of reluctance that he pulled his arms from where they’d been so comfortable around Quatre’s body, but even as he did so Quatre seized one of his hands. Then, following Duo’s energetic steps, they headed toward where Heero still stood outside the gate-arch with a smile of affection and approval. They had a long walk ahead of them, but at the end of it was family, home, happiness, and a new life.

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Ehh, I guess it’s an OK kiss.

(In the picture, I mean; I’m very pleased with the one in the narration :D)