Driving the route to the airport for the very first time; taking note of which lot they’d parked in so as to be able to find the car again whenever they came back; the desire, repressed only with difficulty, to have luggage to check rather than just a carry-on; the necessity of shoe removal and a search of pockets for metal objects at the security check; another barely repressed desire, this one that the TSA folks would find some reason to scan him with that wand thing; the moving sidewalks that went faster than you expected; the sights and sounds of planes taking off and landing outside the huge, convenient window; the feel of the tunnel thing leading to the airplane; the hum of the latter, its compactness and unique smell — with an ongoing effort of gladiatorial proportions, Duo had restrained a comment or even a lengthy rave on each of these aspects of this his very first flight as a human.

Heero, of course, had heard it all, and had on more than one occasion repressed a smile. Duo was aware that his feelings must be evident to his boyfriend, but, as in at least one previous instance, thought it would be a poor gesture to show his excitement and thereby perhaps seem to make light of the reason they were taking this flight at all. He was worried about Quatre too, naturally, and determined to help him, and didn’t want to appear to be disregarding the worry and determination of his companions. Heero respected this attitude, and, though he personally wouldn’t have objected to overt expressions of the happier side of Duo’s frame of mind, had merely appreciated that happier side in silence.

Now, however, actually seated in the airplane, Heero wished he had said something.

His friends were across the aisle from each other three rows behind him, and Duo’s increasing anticipation was by far the most easily discernible thought in the sea of thoughts close-packed around Heero. Duo’s desire to share with someone his excitement about the impending takeoff was growing with every moment, and not only did Heero wish he could indulge that desire, he thought it would cheer Trowa to do so as well.

One thing he’d already learned about his communication powers as they thus stood was that trying to piece together the conversation of two people he could not physically hear, only one of whom could he get anything from mentally, was difficult and generally not very successful. The comprehension the first person had of what the second said usually took place on a mental level just below the one that was all Heero could currently access, and the surface thoughts he could read didn’t always entirely relate to the conversation.

Nevertheless, what he was vaguely picking up from Duo’s head at the moment, through the mental noise of many other passengers and Duo’s own mixed frame of mind, was the idea that Trowa was talking somewhat disjointedly and at random, seeming distracted but probably in reality seeking distraction. He might appreciate having a pleasant and engrossing topic introduced, but it didn’t seem to have occurred to Duo that it might not be inappropriate to introduce it.

Heero was, therefore, about to take this upon himself from afar. True, it was embarrassing to think that he and Trowa might not be the only people on the plane with communication magic and that, in his unpracticed inability to send ideas precisely to one person, he might alert more than just Trowa of the fact that this was Duo’s first flight as a human, but he thought it would still be worth it. He was busy trying to package the thought as concisely as possible in preparation for sending it out when he was abruptly checked.

Surprise and pain replaced Duo’s excitement and joy so swiftly and completely that the shift came like an electric shock out of nowhere to Heero, which prevented him for a few moments from determining its cause. But as he subsequently filtered clumsily through the maelstrom of thoughts that was Duo’s reaction to whatever had just happened, he began to realize what it had been.

What had prompted Trowa to say it could not be discerned — something about Quatre and secrets — but he had revealed that, back when he’d been looking forward to the breaking of the curse, there had also been some concern that he might die when that otherwise desirable event took place. And that this, several months later, was the first Duo had heard of that concern, unmerited as events had proven it, fully explained Duo’s sudden alteration of mood.

Heero himself was very surprised at the news, though not necessarily at the fact that Trowa had concealed it for so long, but more than that he was aching, all at once, with echoes of Duo’s shock and betrayal. Reeling with the suddenness and unpleasantness of this revelation, Duo was all the more unhappy because it seriously threatened his hopes of getting any enjoyment out of this flight. And Heero, separated from him by a vast gulf of three rows, was unable to offer any comfort.

Impetuously, though, he decided to do more than just curse the seating arrangement. While they were still taxiing, at least, he had options, delinquent though they might be. Before he could talk himself out of it, he snapped his seat belt open, silently grateful that he too was beside the aisle and didn’t have to climb over anyone, and stood. He moved so quickly that he’d actually reached his friends and fixed his eyes on the place next to Duo before anyone could say anything. Then he ignored the call from further down the plane of, “Sir, please go back to your seat!” as well as a subsequent announcement over the speaker reiterating that the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign was turned on and the plane about to take off, in favor of addressing the startled woman beside his boyfriend:

Please will you trade seats with me.” He gestured in the direction he’d come.

Whether his low tone was serious enough to convince thoroughly, whether she’d observed Duo’s sudden agitation and recognized that Heero was here to help, or whether she simply didn’t want to start a debate that would lengthen an awkward scene, Heero didn’t know — he wasn’t reading anything from her head — but it didn’t matter much. As she immediately undid her own seat belt, rose, and squeezed past Heero in the direction he’d indicated, he murmured a thanks as intense as his request. Then he took her place, buckled in, and looked at Duo for the first time since they’d separated.

As usual, Duo’s demeanor was a fairly good mirror of his mental state. He was astonished at what he’d discovered, appalled that an event for which he’d so long yearned might have killed his best friend, angry and pained that Trowa had left him ignorant of such an important consideration… and it was all as evident in his face as in the thoughts Heero could read. But the fact that that face was turned down toward where his hands shook in his lap showed that his instinct not to hurt Trowa was as strong as ever, reflected his struggle not to shout out that this was something that never should have been concealed from him.

A flight attendant appeared just in time to see the hand Heero had reached out clasped tightly, irately in both of Duo’s, and Heero picked up from her a sudden belief that the seat-changing had only taken place in order to offer support in the face of pretty severe anxiety on Duo’s part. She didn’t think it worth offering a reprimand, and therefore, after confirming that Heero’s seat belt was properly fastened, made her way back to her own place for takeoff.

Duo still hadn’t said anything, which would have been disconcerting if Heero had been unable to see the effort that was going on in his head: he was trying to calm his whirling thoughts, trying not to lash out at Trowa, and trying hardest of all to push everything away for now in order to grasp at the last scraps of gratification available to him today. There were a couple of very good reasons not to dwell on what he’d just learned and how it had made him feel, and he tried to behave in accordance with them.

In late July, Heero and Duo had driven up to the state fair and spent the day on thrill rides, and with those roller coasters for contrast, the physical sensations of taking off could be nothing particularly spectacular even to someone that had never felt them before… but it was the principle of the thing: this experience was something to be interested in and concentrated on at every minute point, and if sorrow and wrath overwhelmed his other feelings, it couldn’t be properly checked off the list of experiences he needed to have.

Heero felt Duo’s grip on his hand loosen somewhat. Duo took a deep, shoulder-lifting breath and looked over at him with a determined expression, at which Heero nodded his understanding and encouragement. Duo had always been good at gleaning satisfaction from a collection of negative feelings; he should be able to do it again now.

Unfortunately, Trowa could not know how the situation progressed. Undoubtedly he still hadn’t realized this was Duo’s first flight as a human, nor that Duo, in order to enjoy that flight and avoid suffering unduly for the rest of the day, was attempting not to think about what had just come to light. All Trowa could be aware of right now was that he’d misstepped and hurt his friend, and that he needed to do what he could to put it right.

“I’m sorry, Duo,” he said, leaning into the aisle with dismayingly bad timing as the plane began to pick up speed. “I probably should have told you then instead of now, but I didn’t want–”

Instead of starting to mend things as had surely been intended, these words only served to drag Duo back down into the thoughts and emotions he was trying to avoid at the moment. He interrupted, loudly and far more harshly than Trowa had spoken and without turning his eyes toward him: “Can we talk about it later?”

The wretched Trowa looked like a person overloaded, who has had added to his burden another awkwardly shaped item that, far from settling into and balancing with the rest, has actually tumbled off and now needs to be chased and retrieved with hands that already aren’t free. Heero didn’t know why Trowa had told Duo what he had in the first place or what he’d thought the result would be, but guessed that Trowa hadn’t anticipated such a strong reaction and that now, not relishing a source of additional turmoil as they headed into an already emotional and potentially dangerous situation, he very much wanted to get this dealt with.

Continuing to press the issue, however — as it looked a bit like Trowa planned to do — was not, Heero deemed, the most desirable course of action. Not only did Duo want to put off thinking about it, there was also the matter of their neighbors to consider: more than one of the people in the seats around them had, thanks to Heero’s precipitous move, had their attention drawn to the discussion and were now watching surreptitiously but curiously to see how this drama they so little understood would play out. The conversation would be better held in private another time when there were fewer conflicting desires and fewer eavesdroppers.

To this end, Heero leaned forward past Duo and said firmly, “Later, Trowa. Really.” Then, out of pity for his friend’s evident misery and hoping an expression of empathy would help Trowa feel better enough about the situation to drop it for now, he added, “I understand why you didn’t tell him, but you can explain it to him later.”

Even before this statement was finished, Heero realized he’d committed the same blunder Trowa had: failed to consider fully the probable effect of his words before saying them. As Duo’s hands withdrew abruptly from his and a rerun of the sudden shock and betrayal from earlier played in Duo’s head, he saw he’d only managed to make things worse.

Duo turned an unhappy look toward him, about to demand how Heero could possibly claim understanding with the hurtful thing Trowa had done, then shook his head and straightened instead to stare fiercely at the seatback in front of him. Similarly, Heero opened his own mouth to explain, to contradict the notions that were already springing up in Duo’s mind… and then, with an effort of will, shut it in an attempt to follow his own advice.

The problem with following that advice was that he and Trowa had managed, between them, to make a huge mess of the upcoming five hours, if not far beyond that, rendering the time between now and the later Heero had urged a painful prospect indeed.

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