From how he’d felt at waking on Friday, the difference in Quatre’s sensations Saturday morning was, he believed, a symbol of his general improvement. Sleep, as it so often did, had settled everything into its proper place and given him not only some perspective on what he felt and what he needed to do, but the rest for both body and mind that would allow him to deal with both.

He was still conscious of guilt in response both to the wrongs he’d perpetrated and to feeling so much better about life after having perpetrated them. He still had a growing mental list of things he needed to say to people, and a looming awareness of the probable difficulty of some of those conversations. But he deemed himself nearly prepared, now, to plunge in. In fact he seemed so energized, so fit and well, that it might have contributed to his guilt if it hadn’t already contributed to his determination and readiness to work on everything he needed to accomplish.

Today Trowa had evidently awakened first, and had probably been patiently waiting for Quatre to wake up and set the tone of the day. And Quatre determined instantly to be extremely careful about that tone, to avoid starting things out wrong and threatening poor Trowa with another day of unpleasantness. This was difficult when a sharp pain of heart stabbed Quatre all over again at the sight of those bruises, but he forced himself to smile at least a little as he sat up and looked over at his boyfriend on the other side of the air mattress.

Trowa returned the smile with apparent relief, and Quatre reflected that the prediction he’d once made — that he would never cease being moved by the sight of a smile on that often emotionless face — was still entirely borne out even months later.

“Good morning,” Trowa said, also shifting into a seated position. And though there was caution in the phrase — he couldn’t know, yet, how Quatre would behave or what his mood might be — the fact that he’d initiated the greeting, the first exchange of the day, spoke of a probing, a testing of circumstances, rather than a tentative response made only by necessity. He really had grown more confident, and, though this was nothing more than the natural progression Quatre had long foreseen, it seemed to have been accelerated somehow over the last few weeks. Shameful as it was to consider, perhaps there had been effects of Quatre’s awful condition that weren’t entirely negative.

“Good morning,” Quatre echoed, reaching out. Trowa reached back with a hand so warm and strong that Quatre’s confidence increased. He was unexpectedly secure in Trowa’s support, and his joy at seeing that Trowa had come so far as to offer rather than require support was something over which he was determined not to experience any guilt.

“How are you feeling?” Trowa asked, just as he had yesterday.

“Guilty, dirty, and hungry,” Quatre replied, “in that order. And like I have a lot to do. And…” The desire to be honest with Trowa, and to reassure him if he could, compelled him to confess, “And I’m extremely happy not to be so angry.”

Trowa’s relief, not to mention his smile, remained in evidence. “I’m happy to hear you’re happy about anything,” he said. “As for hunger, Heero promised yesterday — declared, really — that he’s coming over to make breakfast this morning. And as for guilty and dirty…” He evidently wasn’t sure what to say about guilty and dirty. “Why dirty?”

“I mean actually — physically dirty.” Quatre pushed the blanket down his naked body, seeing no visible grime but feeling no less grimy. “I don’t know how many days it’s been since I had a real wash.”

“Oh. That can be helped.” Trowa let go and rose in a motion whose near-complete lack of abashment even more than its revelation of his lean, pale body, bare but for his briefs, could only raise admiration in the man that subsequently sank further into the air mattress as he became the primary weight thereon.

In a prediction similar to that about the smile, Quatre doubted that he’d ever cease being attracted to Trowa. He might even be in the mood this very day for some physical reassurance, some proof that Trowa still considered him someone worth being attracted to in return — later, when his own body wasn’t quite so nasty after the many imperfect sponge baths in a muggy New Orleans basement, and when he’d at least made a start on the reparations for his own behavior of recent days that were nagging at him.

Rising as well, he followed Trowa into the master bathroom that, though he’d seen it abstractly a few times while making use of its toilet as needed during the previous day and nights, he had not yet examined properly. Now he found it to be spacious, nicely equipped, and painted in decent blues that went fairly well with its grey appliances; and, fond as he wasn’t of carpet in a bathroom, he could get over that.

After his first glance around, his eyes were drawn, thanks to Trowa’s gesture, to a step leading up into a huge corner bathtub walled such that it could be curtained off and used as a shower as well, though the curtain Trowa had once expressed uncertainty about his reason for owning was absent. Perhaps it had been destroyed in the fire.

Quatre gave a vocal sigh of happiness and surprise when he recognized some of his own personal care products lined up along the edge of this bathtub, and he moved swiftly forward to seize the closest of them. “These survived? I can’t believe it.”

“If they hadn’t,” said Trowa, “I could easily go pick up new ones for you. But, yes, they did.”

It struck Quatre anew, much less miserably but no less forcibly than it had in New Orleans, just how much of life he’d missed out on over the last few weeks. This was Trowa’s new house, wasn’t it? How much had he paid for it? How had he managed to move in so quickly? How big was it? Where, in fact, was it? Quatre had visited only a few rooms and stared unseeingly into what he assumed was the back yard, and none of that in a frame of mind conducive to any real analysis. And he had no idea how many of Trowa’s possessions had made the transition from one home to another, how many essential items Trowa might be lacking now.

Answering only a fraction of this question, “The shower curtain survived too,” Trowa went on, “if you’d prefer a shower to a bath. I’ve had it up in the hall bathroom so Hajime could use it, but I can bring it in here.”

Perplexed, Quatre looked up from the shampoo bottle in his hand and asked, “How long has Hajime been here?” It made some sense that the two exorcists had spent the last couple of nights here after the effort required for the three-stage absorption process — though what they were sleeping on and under Quatre could not guess — but it seemed, from Trowa’s words, as if at least Hajime had been here longer.

“About a week.”


Only reluctantly did Trowa answer, undoubtedly uncomfortable at providing information he knew would make Quatre unhappy. “The police wanted to question him when you disappeared, and he wanted to avoid that.”

And indeed Quatre’s heart sank. He had more to apologize for even than he’d realized, and Hajime was just one entry on a list, ever-growing like that of people Quatre needed to talk to in the first place, of those that might not accept his apology. At least he could substantiate that apology with money, since his relationship with the exorcist was solely professional in the first place. With many others he would not have that luxury.

He took a deep breath. “Well, don’t worry about the shower curtain; a bath sounds amazing. We can talk while I scrub my skin off.”

Trowa pushed forward to turn on the tap, murmuring something impossible to catch over the sudden roar of water into the big echoing tub; but when the latter noise vanished entirely, Quatre realized what (in purport, at least) Trowa must have said. It was fascinating to watch the water pour down in complete silence as if it were a muted video rather than reality, and it was delightful, as always, to observe Trowa working magic.

“Thank you,” Quatre smiled, stepping into the pooling water. It was cold yet, but he sat down anyway, pushing a swiveling plug to seal the drain and then turning to take stock of exactly which bathing products he had access to here.

“You’re welcome,” replied Trowa. “Leave some of your skin, though. You may want it later.”

Quatre threw a grin toward where his boyfriend now leaned against the counter beside the sink, and saw that Trowa was eyeing him covetously. The fact that this grin was the happiest expression Quatre had worn for some time, coupled with that shiver-inducing gaze from someone that obviously still loved him and desired him in spite of everything, seemed to set his heart on fire, which made the water around him feel even colder by contrast.

“You’ve changed,” he said. “I like it.”

Trowa blushed, which was very sweet, and admitted, “I did have a bit of a breakdown at one point while you were gone, but I also made up my mind to… to be what you — to be what we both needed.”

The first tears not prompted by wretchedness in quite a few days sprang into Quatre’s eyes, and his heart burned hotter than ever. “You’re amazing. You’ve certainly done better than I have lately.” He fumbled the bottle of body wash he’d just picked up, and it fell with a soundless splash into the deepening, warming water. “You even managed to move into a new house insanely soon after your old one burned. I’m sorry, by the way, for what I said about that. You obviously didn’t need your hand held.”

“You don’t need to apologize for every individual thing,” Trowa said a little awkwardly. “I probably could have used some hand-holding… buying the house when I did might not have been the best idea.”

Quatre, lathering up with body wash he’d recovered from its brief floating evasion of his hand, let go the issue of apology and only asked, “Why?”

“As I said the other day, I have almost nothing left in my bank account… I need to sit down at someone’s computer and manage some of my investments before any of my new monthly bills come due… and besides…” Blush deepening, Trowa turned abruptly and stared at his own face in the mirror above the counter. A flick of eyes would have allowed him to look at the reflection of Quatre, but he kept them locked with their counterparts in the glass. “I want you to move in with me.” The perfect steadiness of his words was perhaps facilitated by that self-encouraging gaze. “And I should have waited for your input. Buying a new house made me feel more proactive, and better about everything, but–”

He got no farther with his explanation, since just then he was pinned against the counter in an enveloping hug from behind by a Quatre whose rise from the bath had been completely unheralded, thanks to Trowa’s silencing spell, by any splashing sounds that might otherwise have given his movements away. As Quatre crushed him with the unexpected, intense embrace, the only further sound Trowa could make was one of breathless surprise.

From where he’d laid his face against Trowa’s shoulder, Quatre whispered his lover’s name, then continued, “It is completely inappropriate of you to be rewarding me at this point.”

Squirming around — an effort made easier, most probably, by the soapy substance all over Quatre’s skin — Trowa wondered in a facetious murmur, still somewhat breathless, as he put his own arms around Quatre’s wet back, “So you don’t want to move in with me?”

Of course I want to move in with you. But thinking about all the trouble I’ve caused lately makes me feel like the worst person in the world for accepting something that makes me so happy.”

“I don’t want you to feel like the worst person in the world when I consider you the best,” said Trowa gravely, “so I’ll propose a compromise: move in with me after you’ve talked to everyone, when you’ve put things right.”

“Putting things right may involve more than just talking to everyone…” Looking into Trowa’s serious eyes, Quatre didn’t know if he could handle this much swelling emotion. “But that’s an excellent compromise. If I get discouraged, I’ll have moving in with you as an extra incentive.” Again he laid his face on Trowa’s shoulder and clasped him tightly. “And I would kiss you very thoroughly right now if I had brushed my teeth yet.”

“Keep hold of that thought while you finish your bath. Then you can brush your teeth, kiss me very thoroughly, and go downstairs for whatever Heero’s making for us for breakfast. And take a tour of your future home, if you want.”

“I do want.” Reluctantly Quatre pulled away from Trowa and returned to what was by now a nicely hot and nearly half-full bath — it really was a big tub. “And then I can call my parents and have a more coherent conversation than the other day and figure out how much trouble I’m in for keeping them in the dark for six months — oh, and make sure they talk to the police and clear all that up — and then I can arrange to give those exorcists some huge amount of money, after I apologize for my rudeness. I have no real problem with Jos Banks.”

“As always, working from a well organized list.” Trowa was again leaning on the counter, bare skin gleaming where Quatre had pressed against him.

“These are preliminary items,” Quatre sighed, “that I have to get done before I can even start on the list.”

“Let me know if I can help in any way. With anything.” Trowa still seemed a little awkward making such a blatant offer of assistance and support, and Quatre, far from being put off by the impression, more or less adored it.

“Just keep reminding me that you love me even after everything.”

“I love you even after everything.”

Quatre sealed his smiling mouth, and washed the tears from his eyes by completely submerging his head in the water.

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Between this part and the epilogue is That Remarkable Optimism.