Church services let out into a light rain and the cool air of a wet spring moving toward a mild summer. People milled about the interior of the little chapel and its porch, and some of them even stood bravely in the rain, chatting and catching up after a week of hard work. And one of the most animated groups was that surrounding a very attractive blonde man in slightly nicer clothing than most of his neighbors, though still with the short sleeves and tucked trouser hems of a laborer. His conversational companions at the moment were predominantly female, only a few of them related to him; the rest were either of marriageable age or the mothers of same, hoping to catch the eye (and rank and fortune) of the future Lord Winner while it still appeared to be available.
Not that any of them probably felt much hope on this score, when said future Lord Winner had been back in town for an entire year without seeming to have his eye caught by any local beauty. If he hadn’t been so thoroughly good-natured, generous, and hard-working, they might have suspected him of considering himself above his company.
Trowa knew all of this, and couldn’t help being amused by it. He waited quietly nearby, as he did every week, for Quatre to finish his socializing, and, as he did every week, told himself firmly and repeatedly that he wasn’t jealous. This was always made easier by the little smiles Quatre threw him from time to time, but he still would have preferred everyone to know that he and Quatre were unavailable so those girls could stop wasting their time.
That might also have made it easier to avoid the attentions that were given to him. Evidently being such a close friend to Lord Winner’s attractive son rendered Trowa the next-best thing to Lord Winner’s attractive son. Heero and Duo got their share of charming pretty looks and flirtatious behavior from the Beaulea young ladies, but Trowa was still clearly second place. This didn’t really bother him too terribly, as they were easy enough to get rid of… except when it was Quatre’s sister.
“And the farmer said, ‘Well, didn’t I tell you he didn’t look so good?'”
Politely, Trowa attempted to laugh at this punchline of a joke he hadn’t actually been listening to. The attempt didn’t work well, but evidently it was enough to satisfy Amarante and even make her blush slightly (like brother, like sister, apparently).
Observing that Trowa was again cornered, the smiles the brother in question periodically gave him transformed to rather evil-looking grins. Realizing he was in love with Trowa had actually only rendered Quatre more tickled by the fact that his sister liked him. Trowa endured his continued teasing with equanimity, in large part because Quatre occasionally felt the need to demonstrate at home in a very pointed manner that he wasn’t about to give him up to anyone.
“Mara, come on, we’re leaving.” This was Olivie, and the look she gave Trowa as she approached told him just how aware she was that she was rescuing him. Her eyes twinkled with amusement, and the situation was all the more ironic because Trowa might end up her husband.
They’d discussed semi-seriously on a couple of occasions the possibility of Trowa marrying Quatre’s sister Olivie and Quatre marrying Olivie’s lover Masette and bringing them under their roof. This would serve both to give the women a greater amount of privacy than they could ever hope to enjoy in Lord Winner’s full house, and stop the gossip about at least two of the four mysteriously unmarried men in Quatre’s.
The revelation that Olivie and Masette were lovers had come only after the revelation that Lord Winner and Roldeen were. It had required approximately one half-moment’s observation, that happy day of the wanderers’ return, for Quatre’s father to see the change that had taken place between his son and Trowa. Actually it had been almost worrisomely obvious to Lord Winner, and only a following year’s worth of complete obliviousness on the part of the townsfolk had soothed Trowa’s agitation on the subject.
But Lord Winner had taken them aside and explained about himself and Roldeen, and added that Olivie — “your sister Olivie,” he’d said, much to Trowa’s delight — was of the same type of inclination and, like Quatre and Trowa, had her father’s full support. And Quatre had been nearly stupefied.
Trowa knew all too well that Quatre hadn’t stopped considering himself foolish and blind for never having realized the true nature of Trowa’s feelings for him (not to mention his feelings for Trowa); the news that his own father was in a similar relationship, that his younger sister had recognized her attachment to a member of her own sex before Quatre had been able to hadn’t made him feel any more perceptive.
For a while Trowa had attempted to reassure him with the reminder that he’d been making his absolute best effort to hide how he felt, that undoubtedly Lord Winner and Olivie had been doing much the same, but Quatre wasn’t having it. The result of this, however, rather than any sort of long-term melancholy on Quatre’s part, was that, over the last year, he’d worked hard to pay closer attention to the people around him, to make sure he never missed anything important like that again.
Additionally, Quatre had never been able to forget that he’d once played a crucial part in the near-death of two beloved friends. He didn’t let it eat at him, but he would probably never forget, and this also had changed him. He wanted to avoid ever again hesitating to say something that needed to be said, putting his own comfort above that of his friends, or underestimating the needs of others.
And in attempting to avoid all these faults he thought he perceived in himself, he’d somehow managed to become more generous, more conscientious, more responsible, more loving even than he’d been before; and Trowa adored him not only for these qualities in themselves but for Quatre’s drive to improve them. He hadn’t thought he could love Quatre more, but hadn’t been unhappy to be proven wrong.
“Trowa, are you listening? It’s like trying to talk to a fox outside a chicken yard!” Amarante was tugging at his arm.
“I’m sorry.” Trowa hastily withdrew his gaze from where Quatre was still being bright and friendly in that group of doomed hopefuls over there. Rather than turning toward Mara, however, he glanced at Olivie, whose statement was what he believed he’d accidentally ignored.
She knew exactly what he’d been fixated on and why, and gave him that secretive smile of hers as she reiterated her question. “Are you all coming to supper at the house tonight?”
“Yes,” Trowa replied. “At least, Quatre and I are.” He couldn’t speak for Heero and Duo, who sometimes seemed to be living in a separate world and often kept entirely unexpected counsel.
Olivie nodded, and Mara said, “Oh, good!”
“We’ll see you there, then.” This statement from Olivie and her firm hand on Mara’s arm prevented any further attempts at flirtation from the younger sister, and after not too long Trowa was alone watching his beloved in peace.
There wasn’t much watching left to do, however. When Olivie drew away those of the crowd surrounding Quatre that lived in her house and were, at the moment, her responsibility to conduct home from church, it seemed to remind the remainder of that group of various duties or appointments they needed to get to, and there was a general breaking up. Marveling as always at the sincerity and warmth with which Quatre bade good day to people that rather annoyed and inconvenienced Trowa, the latter moved to join him as the others dispersed.
“Ready?” Quatre smiled.
Unsurprised at how easily a returning smile came to his own face, Trowa nodded.
Heero never took part in the post-sermon Sunday gossip session, and in fact took pains to avoid it. It wasn’t because he was disinterested in interaction with the townsfolk besides those with whom he cohabitated (though he was) or because he disliked the often calculating attentions given him by the young ladies (though he did), but rather because he wanted so very much to get home to Duo. Duo’s disinclination for standard religion was so strong that standard religion actually made Heero think more of him than of anything else, and yearn for him increasingly throughout the service. He wondered how the preacher would have felt about that.
The rain had covered his head and shoulders in hazy moisture by the time he reached home, but he didn’t go immediately inside. Instead he made his way down the little alley between this house and the next to where these residences, as well as two others that faced the next street over, shared a large yard. And his expectations were not disappointed; Duo was there, his hood drawn up over his head but otherwise seeming perfectly indifferent to the rain.
Duo paid to have a hood attached to every tunic he acquired, similar to the priestly hoods his mother had always used to make him wear. Unfortunately (and clearly quite frustratingly to Duo), priests had long since ceased to wear hoods as a symbol of office, so Duo’s ironic statement regarding his unorthodox views on (if not downright disbelief in) God, which now had the added significance of being in remembrance of his mother, was never recognized as such. That didn’t stop him from insisting on them, however, and presumably in this kind of weather they were also convenient in a practical sense.
The rain wasn’t too terribly noisy, but its soft sounds and Duo’s state of engrossment in what he was doing were enough to mask Heero’s approach. He stopped just behind Duo and laid a hand on the hooded head, at first so gently that he was conscious of the feeling of the stiff, wet cloth against his palm for a couple of seconds before Duo noticed. But eventually Duo started slightly and looked up at him. From this angle most of his face was hidden, but Heero could see his lips part into a toothy grin as, by way of greeting, he commanded, “Hand me that trowel.” Heero obeyed, and Duo continued whatever it was he was doing in the dirt that was becoming rather muddy.
Duo had, after all, taken to gardening. Heero hadn’t expected it of him, had thought his remark to the purpose when they’d left the palace entirely facetious, but it turned out that Duo not only enjoyed it but was quite good at it. Where he’d even obtained the seeds for the surprising variety of flowers he’d coaxed out of three of the four previously-weed-filled square plots in the yard, Heero had no idea. The vegetables he grew just as successfully in the fourth had certainly been gifts from some of his many, many friends in town, and, logically, the flower seeds must have come from the same source — but Heero couldn’t recall seeing any such flowers elsewhere around Beaulea.
So skilled had Duo proven at this that he’d begun to consider how he might turn a profit from it. Heero knew he’d always felt awkward at being supported by his friends, regardless of how clear the others — particularly Quatre — had made it that they did not at all care. Duo therefore did everything he could around the house, sometimes with an amusing and almost aggressive level of insistence, trying to make up for this perceived deficiency. Unfortunately, his apparent magic touch with flora did not apply in all areas; he could not for the life of him cook a decent dish with anything he grew (or anything else), and it took the combined efforts of the other three to keep him from trying. And Heero loved him for that as much as for everything else.
For love him he did. Whether because they were destined to love each other, because they were uniquely compatible and love was the logical result, or simply because of the force of their mutual determination, their love had grown again like one of Duo’s flowers. And though Heero had good occasion to know how easily love could be torn down, he didn’t believe it was easily uprooted. At least, not the twice-solidified love of men whose regard for each other had been tempered in the fires of two hundred years of suffering.
They’d made a pact never to allow themselves to feel what they’d felt before; whenever loneliness or forlornness threatened, they would do whatever was necessary to avoid it or fight it off. Which was why, feeling the cool rain on his skin and thinking back on what they’d been through, Heero quietly voiced his incongruous “I love you” here and now without hesitation.
Again Duo glanced up at him, his smile this time softer and reflective of a deeper feeling than before. In place of anything less accessible, he put a hand around Heero’s calf just above the top of his shoe. The hand was quite dirty from Duo’s present activities, but, then, Heero had just walked home in the rain, so it didn’t make much of a difference to the cleanliness of his trouser leg. “I love you too,” Duo said. He gave a little squeeze, and then went back to playing in the mud.
Content to watch him work, Heero stood still for some time, looking down. Finally, though, in a more conversational tone than before, he asked, “Have you heard the latest gossip?” Duo generally heard the latest gossip long, long before Heero did, but this particular item was one Heero had never come across before he’d overheard it earlier at church. “They’re saying we’re brothers now.”
Duo threw up his hands, an action which resulted in mud this time spattering onto Heero’s tunic, and protested in apostrophe, “Oh, come on, people! You can do better than that! A couple of weeks ago I heard someone speculating that I was a holy hermit and you three were my disciples!” He snorted in disgusted disappointment. “Brothers…”
“That we were your what?” wondered Heero, startled.
“I guess someone around here knows the significance of the hood after all. And supposedly the flowers are part of some holy penance or something.”
“But a hermit? You’re the most sociable– almost the entire town comes to the parties you and Quatre give!”
“I never said it made sense. Just that it was way more interesting.”
In quiet amusement Heero replied, “Not as interesting as the truth.”
“That would make even less sense,” Duo grinned.
Eventually, after quite a lot of discussion, they had decided not to share their real story with their general acquaintance, beyond those that already knew, for a variety of reasons (most of which had to do with the impression their general acquaintance had of them and their sanity). But it was a pretty constant source of entertainment to them to discuss how things might go, what the reaction might be, if they ever did tell. Despite the bitterness associated with the story itself, that feeling of ‘if they only knew’ was endlessly amusing.
“Let me get this last bulb in,” Duo said. In an anticipatory tone — indeed, an almost predatory tone — he added, “And you tell me all about today’s sermon.”
Heero gave a fond and somewhat defeated little smile; actually he’d been expecting that request a good deal earlier. “All right,” he agreed.
Evidently today’s sermon had been about choosing associates with care, and had involved a reminder that someone with sin in one aspect of his life was unlikely to be free of it in others. It had contained the requisite amounts of fire and brimstone and the other usual threats to keep the flock terrified and paying their tithes to the poor, needy church, and Duo alternated between hearty laughter and angry denouncement as he usually did. It was quite a refreshing interval, as these Sunday afternoon discussions always were, and left Duo contemplating not God, but his friends and lover and life.
Ironically, he thought he of the four of them gave the most consistent thought to God and religion. The others went to church on a weekly basis, it was true, but didn’t often mention God (and usually in an interjectory sense when they did) and, to his knowledge, rarely if ever prayed — whereas the matter was on Duo’s mind not infrequently on a day-to-day basis. He was constantly wondering what existed and what didn’t, what was true and what wasn’t… whereas the rest of them, as far as he could tell, were content to accept what they heard at church. It didn’t bother Duo, but it did amuse him.
Well, he didn’t know if Heero entirely accepted what he heard at church these days. His faith in God, always a fairly static emotion, appeared to have been severely shaken by the long years of unmerited suffering, but when asked what he thought was going on up there, he was never able to produce a coherent answer — and since it obviously made him a little uncomfortable to talk about it even with Duo, Duo tried not to press him on the subject.
He was always interested in hearing Heero’s take on the weekly sermons, however, and, since Heero didn’t seem to mind Duo’s scoffing, Duo didn’t attempt to restrain it. This probably did very little for Heero’s clarity of thought on the subject, but what else could you do to help someone adjust to the fact that you lived in a world where innocent men could be enslaved and made miserable for far longer than their designated lifespan by the arbitrary whims of the powerful and insane?
Oddly, though, this didn’t mean Heero had no faith in anything; instead, rather than in a higher power that very evidently didn’t do much to look out for its worshipers, Heero now appeared to put his belief in and draw his strength from friendship and love — the connection of good men and what they could and would do for each other, the power that had pulled him and Duo from their long suffering.
This Duo found somewhat surprising. He supposed that to have faith in something — whether it be an apocryphal God or something a little closer to home — was natural and quite possibly even healthsome to the human spirit, so it wasn’t as if it bothered him, precisely… and after the trials their love had gone through, it wasn’t any particular wonder that its renewed strength had become a source of inspiration to his sweetheart… but Heero had not previously been much the type for friendship.
Duo was touched and pleased at Heero’s continued attachment to Quatre and Trowa. Of course at the palace, as the Beast, it had been natural to latch onto any possible contact with other intelligent beings, but Duo had rather expected Heero to resume his aggressively reclusive ways in Beaulea. Well, when he lived in the same house as one hundred per cent of his friends, that probably didn’t count as breaking his reclusion — but Duo had expected Heero to return to being a one-friend man as he’d been before. And when he didn’t, Duo was, as previously mentioned, touched and pleased.
For one thing, Duo passionately loved Quatre and Trowa, and couldn’t imagine life without them. For another, he thought they were very good for Heero to have around. In Quatre, Heero had found a partner in crime — that is, a partner in pitying those in need and going out of his way to help them, not infrequently without their knowledge. In Trowa, he’d found an avid reading companion with whom he could have long and often very boring conversations about books and politics and things. And in their two friends as a couple — something greater than the sum of its parts — he’d found support and understanding and easy companionship such as Duo didn’t think he’d ever had in any previous friendship.
And despite how much they loved the others, how good the situation was for Heero and how pleased Duo was with their life now, he also couldn’t help being selfishly satisfied that a part of Heero was still reserved exclusively for him. It wasn’t just that they had a shared history of pain and sorrow that only the two of them could understand — though that was certainly a part of it — but that they also still connected so well on a level even the deepest friendship could never touch.
They’d made it their policy to get out of the house and go somewhere whenever either one of them felt shut in or trapped. Sometimes this just meant they slept outside under the stars, but sometimes they wandered further than that. Once, rather on a whim, they’d gone all the way to Silbreaker so Duo could see the sea and Heero could observe for himself just how much the capital had changed since his time. Duo had thought Heero might want to stay, but Heero hadn’t even seemed remotely tempted, so they’d gone back to Beaulea.
And here in Beaulea Duo thought he could happily grow as old in body as he already was in spirit — or at least a third as old, since he didn’t really anticipate living another two hundred years. He had big plans for his garden and for the sale of produce, though. And at the moment, these had gotten as much attention as they needed. Setting down his hand-rake and glancing around for the bucket in which he kept his gardening tools when not using them, he declared, “Well, I’m done out here for now!”
“About time,” Heero murmured. And though the rain that had begun to fall in earnest, so that they would both very soon be soaked to the skin, bore out this point, Duo didn’t think getting out of the weather was really what Heero was impatient for. Standing abruptly, he grinned from under his hood at Heero’s impassive face. In lieu of any pointed gesture he might have made that would have been unwise in this relatively public place, “Let’s go get me cleaned up,” he said in a very suggestive tone.
Heero smiled. “Yes, let’s,” he said. Of course he insisted on helping Duo put away his gardening implements and straightening up in general before they went inside, but Duo of all people knew that delay made the anticipated treat all the sweeter in the end.
Heero and Duo had developed an odd little Sunday tradition: Heero would report to Duo on the sermon, Duo would spend a happy hour or so deriding the doctrines as presented, and it usually somehow ended with the two of them disappearing into their room for the rest of the afternoon. Quatre didn’t feel he was really one to judge, since often just a heavy rain was all it took to cause a prolonged absence of himself and Trowa from anyone else’s company, and he thought they were all the healthier for it.
By the time they arrived home from church, their friends were already thus closeted, and Quatre knew better than to disturb them. So he and Trowa had a quiet lunch together, after which he did his Sunday chores and wrote a few letters. As afternoon began to wear away, however, Quatre did eventually go knock on the door to the room Heero and Duo shared. “Are you two coming to the family house for supper?” he asked in a loud enough tone to be heard inside.
There was muffled speech within, probably a hasty conference as to how to answer. Quatre waited patiently, tracing with absent fingers the carvings on and around the doorframe that had been slowly growing more elaborate and attractive over the last year.
Heero had successfully reintroduced himself into the world of carpentry, which hadn’t changed nearly as much as he’d feared in the last two centuries. There were better tools and updated techniques, but evidently the understanding of wood and how to deal with it had not altered to any extent that would render him unskilled in the trade.
He was assistant or partner (the distinction was never quite clear) to Beaulea’s primary professional carpenter, and, as he had back in his forest home, did a lot of carving and beautifying of furniture and other goods. The carpenter with or for whom he worked handled the business end of things, not without giving Heero due credit, so Heero didn’t have to deal directly with the buyers except when he went out on personal commission, such as to repair some fixture or add a pretty touch to someone else’s doorframe or the like.
This latter activity was what he’d quickly become best known for: a personalized decoration process on doors and trim and sometimes even whole walls (depending on whether or not they were plastered) for which Heero never had the heart to charge overmuch. He practiced it on their house, and could sometimes be found staring fixedly at a blank wall as if he could see something there nobody else could… at least not until a few weeks later, when it would have taken on some scene, subtle but wonderful, rendered in low relief by Heero’s skilled hands. Quatre, who had once lived in a palace made of sparkling stone often carved in detail, thought no home could be more uniquely beautiful and wonderful than theirs was now.
Finally, still a good deal muffled by something more than a door and distance and probably better not guessed at, Duo’s voice issued from the room in a relatively-comprehensible affirmative to Quatre’s question.
Quatre grinned. “We’re going to head over there in about an hour,” he informed them. Then he returned to the parlor to sit contentedly with (well, practically on top of) Trowa for that length of time.
One of the many things whispered about in Beaulea regarding Quatre and his three companions was their refusal to hire any servants. As one of the better-to-do homes in the community — containing, no less, the future Lord Winner — it seemed that, in the eyes of the townsfolk, the acquisition of household staff was not so much a logical step as one necessary to satisfy the demands of decency. They were constantly turning away — and often assisting to situations elsewhere — applicants for the nonexistent positions.
There were several reasons for this, not least of which was that cuddling up on a parlor divan against Trowa with the latter’s arm around him and reading simultaneously with him the newsprint just in from Silbreaker while pressed right up comfortably against him would have been impossible if a servant might have walked in on them at any moment. Quatre didn’t know what the general reaction would be to gossip about the type of relationships that existed in this house, but he doubted it could be pleasant.
Beyond that, despite the fact that the hereditary (and by now entirely meaningless) title of Lord Winner would one day devolve upon him, Quatre found he rather liked doing things for himself. Perhaps it was just simple prudence and frugality, perhaps it was in response to another year at another place where everything he wanted had been done for him almost without his having to think about it, but it seemed right and even optimal to do the cooking and cleaning, mending and repair, and general maintenance of his life here with his own hands. And he knew the others felt the same; indeed, it was more often than not a contest of sorts to see who could snatch the most of that sort of work out of his roommates’ hands.
Another reason not to bring anyone else into their household, at least in the initial months, was that it hadn’t seemed entirely safe to do so. Actually Quatre had been a bit panicked at first, remembering what that faery had done to all the people in the vicinity of Heero and Duo when she’d set up the palace for them… for a while he’d feared even living in the same community as his family — or anyone, really — lest their presence bring disaster on more than just themselves.
It had been an acute, almost painful awareness back then, something that haunted him on more than a daily basis. It wasn’t just that every morning when he awoke, he awoke with the propitious but tense knowledge that the faery had delayed her reappearance another day; for a long while, every time he was reminded of the happiness of his situation, every step he and his friends took together toward the new life they had planned — the selling of trinkets, the scouting and purchase and assumption of a new home — he was reminded as if by a blow to his gut that at any time it might all be stripped from him, that he might lose everything through no fault of his own.
Trowa, with a quiet surety Quatre was happy to cling to, maintained that she would not come after them, and Quatre’s own theories about the woman and her motives supported this idea… but eventually it had been the passage of time more than anything else that had really reassured him. His worried awareness of the possibility of the faery’s reappearance faded gradually as the event did not take place, until it was only every other day that he awoke remembering her, then every third day, and finally she became just an occasional memory now more puzzling and sad than frightening.
It did not precisely taint his happiness, but even now, a year later, he carried with him, buried deep but not, perhaps, as deep as he would like, the awareness that there never had been a satisfactory end to that affair, never a conclusive answer. Occasionally, futile as the exercise was, he discussed it with Trowa; these instances were infrequent, though, since Trowa felt a little guilty about his unwilling sympathy with the faery’s apparent condition and motives.
In addition to this, Trowa, Quatre knew, still blamed himself in part for the events of the previous year. Despite everything the others could say, he still felt he had contributed to the near-death of Heero and Duo, and that wasn’t something a person could easily forget. Quatre thought it had, to a certain extent, contributed to Trowa’s existing belief that he somehow wasn’t worthy of Quatre’s love… but rather than letting that worry him, allowing it to weaken his attachment to Quatre or the relationship they’d built, he used it instead to make himself a better person.
Admittedly, his dedication to complete openness on all topics in his confidence with Quatre — wanting never again to allow anyone to suffer because he was hiding something — was sometimes startling or even a little silly, but Quatre loved him all the more for it. Trowa was also more willing, these days, to take charge in various aspects of their new life. He didn’t defer quite so readily, was much more willing to voice his opinion, was even, on occasion, ready for an argument (which interactions had a greater piquancy to them than Quatre could have anticipated).
Emotional change was not the only alteration Trowa had taken from the palace experience. Even the year that had passed since their return had not served fully to erase the lingering effects of the illness he’d suffered in that magical place. Every time (not alarmingly frequent, but still dismaying) Trowa had a sleepless night and a weary, achey day thereafter in the same pattern as that unknown malady, Quatre would make a fresh attempt to discover what it might have been and how to deal with these little relapses, but to no avail.
Whether his resources simply weren’t good enough, or whether the illness had been of a magical nature and therefore necessarily unknown to the physicians he consulted — and the latter explanation, he thought, would at least account for its tenacity so long after the fact — there was no way of telling. But since the holdovers were, to all appearances, only
bothersome, not dangerous, Quatre tried not to fret, and even partially succeeded.
He did regret every moment Trowa spent even the least bit uncomfortable, though, and wished it were in his power to erase every small inconvenience from his lover’s life. He wished this — could not help but wish this — and yet also could not help admitting that, though their happiness was in some ways uncertain, it was a deep and satisfying happiness on the whole. His life was so far from what he’d imagined his future might be for all his formative years that in some respects it was almost the complete opposite… and yet he did not regret the way things had turned out.
Eventually, when Quatre was half-asleep against Trowa’s shoulder contemplating the bitter along with the sweet, the others emerged from their room. They were clean and unrumpled enough that they’d obviously washed up and donned fresh clothing for the evening’s visit. Yawning, Quatre went to fetch shoes for himself and Trowa in place of the house slippers they’d been wearing, and then the four set off in the fading light of a clearing, rain-washed sky for the Winner house.
As they walked through town, two of them greeting, one of them nodding politely to, and one completely ignoring other townsfolk they encountered, Heero remarked to Duo in a tone low but audible to all four friends, “I hope you’re going to leave Merci alone tonight.”
“Say what?” Duo seemed genuinely surprised. “Why?”
“You spend so much time with her. It’s odd. It’s a little suspicious.”
“But I’m learning how to cook!”
“No, you’re not. You’re shamelessly flirting.”
“And I’m also learning how to cook.”
“Heero,” Quatre put in, highly entertained, “you’re not jealous of an eleven-year-old, are you?”
“I just wish she wouldn’t encourage him to try to cook.” Heero’s grumble sounded mostly facetious.
Duo had to protest the serious fraction of his lover’s tone. “That is low and unfair!” And as revenge for the implications, or perhaps the aspersion against his culinary abilities, or perhaps both, he attacked Heero practically off the road with arms half tugging and half embracing. They’d left most of the town proper behind them by now, and there was no visible traffic on the road at this point, so if Duo’s behavior was a little more flirtatious or even suggestive than that typically publicly displayed from one man to another, it wasn’t a great source of worry to any of them. Indeed, Quatre could only smile fondly as he watched.
“You’re right, of course…” Eventually Duo had either triumphed in his attacks on his lover or decided that he’d triumphed in spite of any evidence to the contrary, for he had resumed his normal walking pace with hands behind his head and a slight swagger to his step. “I am, in fact, trying to steal all of Trowa’s admirers for myself.”
“All of them?” wondered Quatre, grinning.
“Well, all the ones that are related to you,” Duo amended, with a quick glance at Trowa. “I’m trying to replace the Trowa phase with a Duo phase.”
“You are a terrible person,” Heero declared.
“But I’m doing Trowa a favor! How is that terrible?”
“You’re baiting little girls.”
Duo winced. “Well, when you put it that way, it does sound pretty terrible.”
“And sin,” Heero remarked in the direly solemn tone only Heero could quite produce, “is never so innocuous or self-contained that it can flourish in one quarter without significantly corrupting every other.”
With a laugh, Duo shoved slightly at Heero’s arm as if feeling inspired to (but too lazy to conduct) another proper attack. “Hellfire for me it is, then!” he declared.
“And we other quarters will have to share it with you,” Trowa murmured.
“Damned right!” Duo grinned.
“You can have mine,” said Heero generously.
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to take all your Hellfire… I’ll just eat half.”
“You’ll get sick if you eat that much Hellfire at once.”
As the discussion of the apportioning of Hellfire continued, the line from today’s sermon that Heero had quoted rearranged itself in Quatre’s head into something more accurately applicable to him and his friends: Love — real, healthy love such as he knew he shared with Trowa, and with Heero and Duo — was never so ungenerous or self-contained that it could flourish in one quarter without significantly improving every other. Perhaps it was not a universal truth, but among the four of them it was good enough to be a motto. Love was what had led them to where they were now; love was what bound them to each other; love, Quatre hoped and believed, would keep them strong forever.
And so, to the sound of Duo’s laughter and with a smile on every face, they walked on into the growing dusk.
Crazy color contrast! Roses in the sky! What a weird picture to end on XD
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An ebook version of this story can be found here.