Flight of the Penguin
Summary: Two years after Mareimeia's army has been defeated, Trowa Barton has found a comfortable home with the circus. Lately, however, he's found himself pondering things like life, love, and lions. An unexpected reunion with a former comrade makes him face feelings he's denied himself, and wondering at the logistics of cohabitation for birds and fish.
Spoilers: Events throughout the series and Endless Waltz as well as Trowa's Episode Zero.
Entry in Mephisto Waltz's 2004 "Where a Bird May Love a Fish" Contest.
A young man wearing half a harlequin mask and brightly colored pantaloons stood stock still as a provocatively dressed woman threw knives at his head and torso, sometimes one at a time, sometimes several at once.
Each one came within scant centimeters of nicking his flesh, but he didn't so much as blink. He'd been in this situation before.
Catherine Bloom had excellent aim, and she never missed. She'd come close a few times, but only once during their acquaintance had she ever drawn blood. She'd been horrified at the sight, but more so at his bland acceptance of it.
When he'd met Catherine, he was using a borrowed name. He hadn't had a name in so long, it almost seemed superfluous to have one now, but he'd kept it, partly for lack of anything better, and partly because Quatre had encouraged him to do so.
Duo had told him a name was nothing more than what other people gave you, but he found that rather interesting advice from someone who occasionally referred to himself as the God of Death.
That was behind them, though. At least he assumed so. He hadn't seen Duo or Quatre since they destroyed their Gundams. It had been their last team effort, in a way. A ritual of male bonding that made others pale in comparison.
Of course, he'd assumed he'd left Heavyarms in the past when he'd sent that mobile suit to Quatre nearly a year after they'd managed to prevent disaster on earth.
Heavyarms had taught him that one should never give up, not until the bitter end. It hadn't even been his Gundam initially. He'd watched a man killed in cold blood, and then calmly volunteered to take his place.
What kind of man did that make him, then?
When Heero had aimed his buster rifle at that last piece of Libra, he'd loudly proclaimed that he would make it through to the end. It seemed Heero, too, had no intentions of giving up just yet. Trowa had learned a lot about the intense pilot in their short acquaintance.
He vaguely wondered if that meant he missed the boy known as Heero Yuy, or, for that matter, if he missed any of the others.
After the last knife embedded itself in the board next to his temple, the crowd went wild, as usual, pulling him from his reverie. It should have been anticlimactic for him, but he found solace in the familiarity that the circus provided. He'd lived a nomadic lifestyle for most of his life, so the constant exodus didn't bother him. He didn't really need a sense of permanence when it came to where he lived, because he had that with Catherine.
She was the first woman to hit him, but not the first one to hurt him.
That had happened when he was about ten.
He stroked Medea's nose gently through the iron bars, and the lioness nuzzled his hand and purred. It wasn't a continuous vibration, like a house cat's, because the sound of contentment came only when she exhaled, but purr she did.
Felines were merciful killers, snuffing the life of their prey with a clean severing of the spinal cord. He supposed that toying with one's quarry could be considered heartless, but on the other hand, the prey, if wily enough, had the opportunity of getting away.
He always felt a sense of peace around the circus animals, but the lions were by far his favorite. Even the name feline was a derivative of "happy," and sometimes he felt as though he could almost understand that concept, although he couldn't remember a time when he'd have considered himself possessing of that emotion. There had been feelings of comfort, and of belonging, but as for happiness...that was as foreign as the minds of his former comrades.
Yet human nature wasn't the big mystery to him that it seemed to others. People were, above all, egocentric, placing self above all others. Even when concern for others was displayed, it was usually born from something personal. It could be guilt, or one's personal code of honor, or maybe what some considered love.
He supposed he loved Catherine. His plan to self-destruct had been thwarted by the spirited young woman. She wasn't just good with knives, she packed a mean punch.
It was the first time he'd really given thought that anyone cared for him. Not for Trowa Barton, Gundam pilot, but for whomever he was inside. The nameless soldier who had been told he wasn't human by the man who'd taken him in, back when he was still wandering around, a lost little boy with no ties to anyone.
He had little experience with females, raised by a group of mercenaries. He'd encountered a girl named Midii Une after taking a hit in his mobile suit about eight years ago. That was around the time when there was dissension in their ranks, with some favoring siding with the rebels, and others wanting the financial backing of the Alliance.
Trowa had initially been surprised to find Wufei had joined Mariemeia's army, but not for long. He'd learned that loyalties were mere commodities for some people. He'd been one of them to a certain degree.
He'd calmly assumed Trowa Barton's place in Operation Meteor without a lick of concern for the dead man. Barton had apparently thought more of him than he'd thought of Dekim's son. The man had once bragged about his niece, future ruler of the world, acting for a moment like the two of them were old school chums.
But the real Trowa Barton had made a fatal flaw. He'd broadcasted his intentions to go straight to his father with information he'd overheard.
The only way to survive was to keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself. It was one thing to disagree, but another to proclaim it.
That had been Wufei's style, so very different from his own. Wufei Chang had joined Mariemeia's army because he believed in what it stood for, misguided though he might have been. Trowa had joined because he needed to subvert things from the inside.
Each of them had their own combat style and particular talents. Trowa felt he excelled at infiltration and keeping a cool head in battle. Duo, whose talents he was sure he was underestimating, had a tendency to fight with a manic gleam in his eye. Wufei fought while issuing a stream of vocalization, as did Heero. Their motives were most assuredly quite different, but they both seemed to feel a need to express their battle aura in word as well as deed. Of course, Heero seemed to be engaged in conversation with Zero half the time, and with his opponent the other half, but still, he was far from the quiet young man Trowa saw at other times.
Quatre was different. He used his head, but he fought with his heart. It was an odd combination. Most of the time he spent conversing with the enemy, it was in two stages. First, he'd request that they surrender. Of course they wouldn't, so Quatre would then spend the rest of the time lamenting their lack of sense. It was as though Quatre were still chiding them, even after their deaths, for their failure to throw down their weapons. It seemed as though he were angry and disappointed that they'd left him with no other option than killing them.
At their first meeting, Trowa had been shocked when Quatre opened the hatch of his Gundam to speak to him without hiding in the confines of the gundanium armor.
Trowa had actually held the advantage then, but he'd been so surprised by the stranger's behavior, he'd surrendered. Of course, the other pilot had an army of mobile suits to support him as well, and Trowa had already used up his ammunition, but he could have eliminated Quatre from existence before they would have been able to retaliate. That would not have been a wise move, strategically speaking, however.
Quatre had looked so much like a kid playing at being a soldier, with his goggles pushed up into his hair and his open smile. Yet he had a group of loyal followers, that Trowa later found out were the Maganac Corps, and Trowa very much doubted that they were the type of men that could be convinced to follow anyone who wasn't an effective leader.
He'd taken advantage of the shelter provided at what they called "a base," although a luxury estate would have been putting it mildly, and accepted the hospitality of Quatre Raberba Winner. At the time, he hadn't known the other pilot's name. He found that out as he was leaving.
It was painfully obvious, right away, that Quatre came from money. Where Trowa was used to sleeping in tents and on the ground, Quatre had a "base" with several wings, some at right angles to each other. It was massive. Of course there had been a music room. There was a good portion of the estate he hadn't taken the time to explore, and that right there should have told him that he had put his trust in Quatre from the beginning. That or he knew that he was under constant surveillance, again, due to the undying loyalty of the Maganacs.
When he'd heard the sounds of the violin streaming out a window, he'd gone to investigate. It seemed so out of place, hearing something like that while they were supposedly waiting for new orders, but after seeing the rest of what might be considered a mansion, he had to see for himself.
It wasn't because he'd known it could only be Quatre playing. He found the room and just stood there with his arms crossed, trying to pretend the melody didn't appeal to some inner musician that he barely knew existed.
Then he'd noticed the case containing various musical instruments and couldn't stop himself from walking over towards it. He saw the flute and withdrew it.
He could barely remember exactly when he'd learned to play. It was just one of those things he'd simply figured out. Fixing things required skilled and dexterous fingers. So did playing the flute. Except the flute was less resistant to his efforts than a mangled circuit board. As long as he used the correct fingering for each note, he could predict the sound he'd get. No surprises there.
Machinery was usually just as predictable, except that others, be they mechanics or mobile suit pilots, often left their imprint on the equipment. Custom modifications, or slapped together quick-fixes that only made things worse later on; these things contributed to some of the difficulties he'd encountered as a technician.
It kept his mind sharp, however, because he had to think about what he was doing when he'd encounter yet another hybrid piece of machinery.
The flute, on the other hand, was not like a stringed instrument, where the memory of the previous user lingered. There were just three pieces, and they really could only go together one way. If you didn't properly align them, your fingers would not be able to manipulate the keys to produce the desired sounds. The mouthpiece could be pulled away from the rest of the body to change the pitch somewhat, but otherwise the instrument was entirely dependent on the musician and only the musician, and not on being out of tune. If the flute had been anyone else's, he supposed he could admit to things like missing cork pieces under the keys, or dents that could impact the sounds, but it was obviously well cared for, unlike the flute Trowa had learned on. He knew that only he would influence the notes that came out of the instrument that was now in his hands.
Breathing was an important factor, as well, and that was a technique that was useful in so many situations. If you didn't control your breathing, you risked running short of breath at the worst possible time, or letting your heart rate become erratic. Piloting a mobile suit required control, and sometimes the simplest methods of retaining that sense of calm worked best. There was nothing as easy as taking a deep breath, holding it, and releasing it. Pretty soon it became as natural as, well, as breathing.
Besides, the last thing you needed at the top of a high wire was to hyperventilate.
His fingers danced over the keys as if he'd just played yesterday, and for a moment, he felt like a normal human being, perhaps one who was enrolled in a private school, and was merely practicing for an upcoming recital.
Quatre had been happy to see him pick up the flute and join in, but he hadn't missed a beat. It was his first sign that Quatre could show awareness of his surroundings and yet still be entirely focused on the job at hand.
The piece had become a duel of sorts, with one picking up the melody where the other left off. They started trading off after fewer and fewer notes were played, almost as if they were frantic to hear the other's contribution. It seemed as though they'd been performing together all their lives. It had sounded so perfect, so harmonious, that he'd felt at peace for those few minutes. It was the same way he felt around the lions.
Of all the other Gundam pilots, he supposed Quatre had intrigued him the most, and that was saying something, when you considered acting-on-a-set-of-rules-known-only-to-me Wufei Chang, the amazing setting-a-record-for-number-of-times-captured Duo Maxwell, and mission driven, methodical-to-a-fault Heero Yuy.
He'd spent the most time with Heero, of all of them, but he really couldn't count all of that time, as the other soldier had been unconscious for an entire month before they'd set off so Heero could make peace with his conscience.
Heero was the only other person he recognized as a soldier. All five of them were little more than terrorists, but it was obvious Heero had training that went far beyond the mobile suit piloting and demolition. That wasn't to say that the others were wet-behind-the-ears warriors, although in reality they probably were, but Trowa recognized that Heero had likely spent nearly his entire life focused on The Mission. Trowa, too, had been a soldier practically from the day he was born. He'd enjoyed the time he spent with Heero, and had a remarkable amount of respect for the young man.
At the same time, there were times he thought he had the most in common with Duo. He knew next to nothing about Duo's background, but there were just certain mannerisms that suggested that Duo knew what it was like to go without when times were tough. It was also obvious that he'd worked with a team before, even though he tended to want to bulldoze right ahead into the thick of things. Duo's style seemed to be one of diversionary tactics, in contrast to his Gundam's ability to cloak itself from radar and other detection devices.
He'd originally assumed Heero was more likely to sit back and weigh all the facts rather than blindly rushing in, the way Duo and Wufei seemed to, but then there was the issue with the shuttle of pacifists Heero had destroyed.
Sometimes you didn't have that luxury, the one where you had all the facts first. You had to act, and act fast.
He'd spent a good portion of the time immediately following Heero's miraculous recovery from near death carting Heero's sorry ass all over earth so he could carry out his insane suicidal tendencies by placing his very life in the hands of his unintentional victim's families. He'd tried to point out to Heero that his life was far too valuable for that, but Heero had waved off his concern, telling him that that was what he wanted.
Trowa should have been upset, seeing as he and Catherine had gone to all that trouble to insure he remained among the living, but he understood.
'Can't you look a little sad? You killed your comrades.' Midii had told him once.
She'd also expressed the opinion that he'd shut down his heart, and later, when he didn't kill her, had told him that he was nothing like her, as he'd told her when they got to know each other. She'd practically rubbed his nose in the fact that at least she had ties to her family, while he had nothing but a tearless mask.
That had been true, back then.
Until he'd arrived on earth.
Shortly after his arrival on the planet, he'd found the circus. The circus had always been of interest to him for some reason, and although it was to provide cover for his movements, it felt like home, little by little.
Then he'd encountered Quatre and Sandrock.
He looked at Medea, who was now sleeping peacefully. The lioness was the real hunter of the pride. Females of the species were sometimes the most deadly.
Catherine was like the sister he'd never had. He'd been so afraid of trusting anyone, but at the same time, hadn't wanted to unwittingly serve as a homing device for the circus. The presence of his Gundam posed a constant threat, but on the other hand, it also was easily accessible, and he could easily get to it and return fire should anyone attack them.
She had shown him that he was someone deserving of love and affection.
In fact, his words to Heero, about the value of his life, were faint echoes of what Catherine had told him the day she'd punched him. She'd berated him for treating his life as disposable, and had impressed upon him that he was being selfish, that there would be others who would miss him when he was gone.
He couldn't tell Heero that last part, because he had a feeling there was no one in Heero's life who would miss him, and he doubted that Heero would believe him if he'd said it. The guy tended to have his mind made up and that was that.
It should have hit him at once, that Catherine was expressing how much she loved him, but perhaps he could be excused for it taking a while to sink in, considering how unstable all the various alliances were back then.
He also might have been excused for not seeing it right away, because once, someone did say she loved him, and it hadn't seemed to be anything pleasant.
Catherine's unspoken love encompassed hearth and family, but Midii's declaration of love was more an expression of hatred, of immense disappointment that he wasn't what she'd built him up in her eyes to be.
How anyone could love him for who he was mystified him. He wanted to believe it, but couldn't. Catherine couldn't possibly feel that way for him, because she didn't know enough about him to make that decision. There was no such thing as unconditional love.
At first, she hadn't known he was the pilot of Gundam 03. Once she did, he doubted she understood just what it encompassed. She didn't know that he'd been killing people since he could remember. Catherine hated war, for personal reasons, and Trowa had lived and breathed it all his life.
Heero would understand that, and could relate to that. Soldiers fought, and people died.
They'd eventually parted ways once again, after Heero attempted to resume his duel with Zechs Merquise. During that time, they'd gotten a chance to get to know a woman named Lucrezia Noin. She seemed almost blindly loyal to Zechs.
Once again, Trowa didn't recognize it right away as love. It was hard to classify something you hadn't experienced.
He left Medea and moved to her mate, who was kept in a separate cage most of the time. Helios had been waiting for his turn to receive some attention, and once he'd gotten it, settled down on his side and went to sleep.
Although the lions, with their fierce manes, looked like the more dangerous of the species, Medea would be the one to be most wary around. She'd been fiercely protective of the pair of cubs she'd given birth to two years earlier. He'd been sorry to miss that, but it was a welcome sight when he returned to the circus and Catherine.
It was almost a shame, having Medea raise her cubs in captivity, which was why she and Helios were kept separate most of the time.
He mused on the hunting abilities of the lioness again.
A lion's mane was a status symbol in the animal kingdom, the bigger, the better; but the males really did little to provide for the pride.
It was the smaller, sleeker looking lionesses, working as a team, who brought down their prey.
Quatre was like a lioness.
He was deceptively innocent looking, and not as broad of build as he himself had become. Even Heero, who was rather slender, seemed to have a stockier frame than Quatre.
Yet Quatre led them in battle, and as a team, they were far more effective than when they'd fought alone.
It seemed odd to be thinking so much of the others lately, but not so odd that his thoughts kept returning to Quatre.
So many of his memories seemed tied up with Quatre.
Shortly after their impromptu duet, he'd left without a word in parting. Quatre had called to him from the window. He'd referred to Trowa as his friend, and had insisted that they'd see each other again. Trowa would have snorted in disdain if it were in his nature to do so.
They had seen each other again, just as Quatre predicted, although it really wasn't that surprising. It seemed logical that he'd run into the other Gundam pilot again, and it seemed they had similar, or the same, mission objectives.
He'd tried telling Quatre then that he was working alone, but Quatre insisted that two were better than one. What else could he have expected from someone who led a group of forty men?
Quatre had been right, though. It seemed he was right quite often.
But Quatre was far from perfect. He made mistakes, and when he did, it was a doozy. Which was a rather ridiculous term to use for the complete destruction of a colony. It would be like hearing Zechs Merquise respond to the whole White Fang destroy-the-earth incident with a shrug and an "oops."
He had been bothered, more than he should have been, by the battle being waged between Quatre and Heero, when he and Heero were sent to intercept the unidentified Gundam. Heero he admired for his strength, and Quatre he admired for his heart. He hated seeing the two pitted against each other. He wasn't sure which one would triumph, nor which one should.
After he'd intercepted a blast that had been intended for Heero, he knew he had precious little time to get through to Quatre. He did his best to put his thoughts and feelings into words. He'd reminded Quatre that sometimes perspectives changed, and that alliances were casualties of war.
He'd told him that sometimes the real battle was within their own hearts. Then he'd practically begged Quatre to return to the kind-hearted person he'd known. He'd called him a "nice guy."
He had really not known Quatre all that well, but he felt he knew his heart, and that was what made a person. Catherine had shown him that.
Now that he'd opened the floodgates of his memory, though, he couldn't put thoughts of Quatre aside. It was a welcome feeling, however, because he'd been in the dark while he had amnesia, and it had been a cold place, even with Catherine's presence to ground him.
Duo had shown up at the circus unexpectedly during that time of lost memories, but Trowa hadn't recognized him. Yet when Quatre had arrived some time later, most likely thanks to Duo, he'd recognized him immediately, even though he couldn't tell how he knew the young blond standing there. Tears had welled up in Quatre's eyes, and he'd started to run toward Trowa, when Catherine appeared. She'd sent Trowa off while she gave Quatre an ear-blistering talking-to.
Trowa could only peek out from the tent and wonder where he'd known the other boy from.
Funny thing was, he'd been at Helios' cage when Quatre had shown up.
He'd been feeling a bit more lost, and then had barely been aware of what was going on when a nearby mobile suit battle was raging. Catherine had tackled him to the ground for some reason, which he belatedly realized was to save him from a falling set of lights. It had felt safe in her embrace, and then Quatre was there again.
Quatre and Catherine. Catherine and Quatre. It seemed his life was impossibly twined with both of theirs.
Quatre had merely wanted to ensure that Trowa was safe, and then he'd left. Shortly after that, Trowa knew he had to follow Quatre. He'd sworn that he could actually hear Quatre crying. Besides Midii, the only two people he'd ever seen cry were Catherine and Quatre. Always the two of them! One and the same, yet nothing alike at all!
Trowa had borrowed Heero's Wing Zero because he knew he had to protect Catherine, but he hadn't anticipated the Zero system's hallucinogenic effect.
Quatre had talked him through that. The sound of that familiar voice anchored him, and the visions he saw became memories.
He saw Heero after he'd woken from his coma, then he pictured the day Catherine had punched him. And finally, he'd remembered the first time he met Quatre, when he'd surrendered to the then-unknown Gundam pilot.
Seemed he had surrendered to Quatre once again that day, but it had been a very good thing. He was able to remember that the colony was where Catherine was. The colony was not his enemy.
Quatre was not his enemy. Quatre had considered him a friend from the moment they first met. Here he was, two years later, and he could not get his mind on anything for very long without returning to Quatre Raberba Winner.
Sometimes it wasn't worth the effort to fight a losing battle, despite the fact that Heavyarms had shown him that you couldn't give up, not until the bitter end.
That analogy bothered him. What losing battle was he fighting? There was nothing wrong with thinking about Quatre. It wasn't an unpleasant thing. He'd grown rather fond of the Sandrock pilot, and had wanted to kill Dorothy Catalonia for what she'd done to him that day aboard the Libra.
And although Quatre was bleeding from a deep puncture wound, thanks to that bloodthirsty bitch and the Zero system, he told Trowa to take care of Dorothy and not to worry about him. That was one request Trowa had no intention of granting.
Even then, he hadn't recognized what he felt.
After all his musings, he felt a sense of déjà vu, one that was easily explained by a shadow slowly approaching.
"What can I do for you?" Trowa asked.
Duo Maxwell stopped about ten feet away.
"That was a great show," he said. "Just like last time."
Trowa glanced at Duo, who was standing by himself. "Come by yourself?"
"Ah, no. Hilde dragged me here again. Just like last time."
Except there was no sign of the dark-haired woman who had been with Duo, "just like last time."
"I told her I'd catch up with her later," Duo said, although it seemed as thought the word "later" could mean just about anything.
Trowa nodded, and then gestured to the coffeepot Catherine had brought out half an hour earlier. "May I offer you something?"
"What? Nah. None for me, thanks. Heero drank that stuff all the time. I think it's why he was so damn intense."
Which was patently false, of course, as they both knew that Heero would be just as intense if he drank nothing but warm milk and Valerian tea. However, Duo seemed eager to change the subject when it came to his female companion. Trouble in paradise, perhaps, although that didn't ring true.
He had never really given Duo Maxwell enough credit as a warrior, but Trowa's standards were unusually high. Only Heero had been able to meet them. And Quatre, but in an entirely different way. That wasn't to say that Duo and Wufei were useless, merely that they hadn't fit his picture of the perfect soldier. Then again, neither had Quatre, if he were truly honest with himself.
He'd only seen three people cry in his life, but the one person who was indirectly responsible for the only time he could remember seeing his own tears was standing right there in front of him.
He'd cried when he'd destroyed Deathscythe. There had been no other option other than to follow the order he'd been given by Une, but he'd felt a sense of powerful loss when it exploded. He could only imagine Duo's reaction upon finding out. It wasn't that he could hear or feel Duo's anguish, not the way he could tell when Quatre was "calling" him, but he'd known that Duo would still be considerably upset. He'd have to be, because the act of destroying it made Trowa shed a few tears. They'd looked remarkably pretty in zero-G.
He'd been glad to have some schematics for Duo's replacement Gundam to deliver, when three of the other four pilots were Oz's prisoners. He'd felt it was a small way of making up for what he'd done to Deathscythe. He hadn't pulled his punch when he'd passed on the electronic device. He wasn't about to insult Duo's ability to fight in the war by treating him with kid gloves.
He wondered if he'd have been able to do the same thing if it was Quatre who was in captivity and Sandrock that he'd had to destroy. He told himself that Quatre was too intelligent to get caught, and that Sandrock was only a Gundam, one that Quatre himself had self destructed anyway. He was the only one of them who hadn't ended up in an Oz cell, Trowa was fairly sure.
It struck him for a moment the vagaries of fate. He'd punched Duo as a result of keeping his cover as a soldier under Une, the same reason he'd destroyed Duo's Gundam.
The first girl he'd ever spent any length of time with was Midii Une. The name was an interesting coincidence, but not one that deserved more than a passing thought.
Even if Lady Une had a split personality, and Midii Une had displayed two faces. What was in a name, after all?
He was grateful for the presence of uncomplicated people like Catherine in his life.
"Mind taking a walk?" Duo asked.
Trowa shrugged, and the two of them left the trappings of the traveling circus behind them, keeping to the outskirts of the city.
"Have you...heard from anyone?" he asked Trowa tentatively.
Trowa suspected that by "anyone" Duo meant one person in particular, and based on Duo's reaction at seeing him during the first war, when he was unable to recognize the longhaired boy, he was sure he knew the individual Duo was most interested in. It was the only one of them that Duo had asked Trowa about by name. The only other pilot whose name had been borrowed from someone else. Well, in both their cases, the individuals who originally possessed those names were dead, and therefore couldn't mind very much.
"No," he answered, wondering if Duo thought it odd that he'd not answered right away.
"Yeah, me neither," Duo said, stopping to pick up a stone and tossing it at a nearby garbage can. The sound rang loudly, a harsh, discordant note in the silence that should have made the musician in Trowa wince.
He didn't even flinch. He'd heard worse sounds in his life.
"Although I do know that Wufei joined the Preventers after that whole business was over with," Duo commented. "I guess he just has a thing for uniforms."
Trowa actually laughed at that, recalling the number of times he himself had donned a uniform for infiltration purposes. First as an Oz soldier, then one of Mariemeia's army.
In a way, they'd all had a uniform, of sorts. Duo had his priest's outfit, Wufei had the traditional white garb of his home colony, and Heero had his tank top and shorts, although Trowa had also seen him in other clothes.
Quatre he always pictured dressed exactly as he was the day they'd played the duet together, in his soft khakis, pastel dress shirt, and vest. Trowa had known then that the clothes didn't do him justice, but that wasn't to say he looked bad in them. It had always made Quatre seem to stand apart from the rest of them, the fact that his clothes were business casual, even in the middle of a damn war.
Trowa realized he had missed the companionship of the others, although to varying degrees. Wufei he'd spent a brief time with, hiding out with the circus, and he'd found the Altron pilot to be both educated and well spoken, although he also had a bit of a temper.
He'd had little interaction with Duo, and most of that time was when he had been taken prisoner. Trowa had been a bit skeptical of his abilities, but the guy had taken that punch to the gut and bounced back. He hadn't held back then any more than Heero had held back when he'd done the same thing to Duo before making his escape attempt.
Trowa had originally thought Heero wanted Duo to hit him in order to make it more convincing as he lay on the floor pretending to be unconscious. However, he'd moved so quickly when the other soldiers arrived, Trowa doubted anyone would really have had the opportunity to notice if Heero bore any physical signs of injury. He'd said something about one-for-one, which seemed out of character for a soldier such as Heero.
It seemed rather suggestive to him that Heero had an ulterior motive behind his rationale, but the idea that came to mind seemed so bizarre, he was sure he was wrong. Because he'd still doubted his ability to recognize it.
During the first war, Duo had somehow been captured by Oz, and scheduled for execution, but had escaped. Someone had broken him out of captivity. All Trowa knew was that one minute Duo was a prisoner, and the next, he wasn't, but other than that, there had been little information to go on.
Until he'd discovered that some of the bars to the prison cell had been bent enough to provide enough space for someone to walk through.
Only one person he knew had that kind of strength.
He supposed he was no different than Heero, when it came right down to it. Heero had rescued Duo instead of letting him die there. By all rights, Heero should have died when Wing self destructed, but Trowa had picked up his lifeless body and taken it into hiding with him.
Catherine had helped him, no questions asked. It was no wonder he held her in such high esteem.
Duo's pace slowed, and his attention seemed riveted on a broken, crumbling wall in the distance. A bit of color was visible through the layer of dust, and Duo walked over to it and brushed it with his sleeve.
It was a painting of a bird.
Trowa's curiosity was piqued as well, and he and Duo set to work removing the large portions of wall that concealed the portrait underneath and dusting it off as well.
It was a mural, of sorts. First there was the brightly plumed bird they'd first revealed, sitting on a tree singing, as indicated by several musical notes near its beak. A small nest of straw was in the fork of that branch, close to the trunk.
Above it were the words "A bird..." in a dark, flowing script.
The next scene showed a tropical fish, swimming underwater. Various aquatic plants were growing from the sea floor, and there were other small touches, such as miniscule versions of other marine life, effectively portraying the fish in its natural habitat.
Next to what Trowa assumed was a patch of coral were the words "...may love a fish..."
The next "panel" was a mirror image scene. That same fish in the bird's nest, its eyes and mouth wide open, obviously suffocating. A reflective wall separated the fish from the portrait of the bird, in similar difficulties, drowning among the beauty of the coral.
Duo made a very soft choking noise as they read the last line together.
"...but where would they build a home together?"
It was clear that there was more to the mural than that, but the wall had been damaged beyond repair. Duo actually crouched down and picked up a hand of crumbled rock, letting the gravel and dust sift through his fingers.
He looked as though he'd just discovered his best friend had died.
"A bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?" Duo echoed the sentiment on the wall.
"There's an answer to that somewhere, perhaps," Trowa replied, gesturing to the missing section.
Duo raised his eyes to meet Trowa's. "Yeah, I see that. Think it's a happy ending?"
"I don't know."
Duo sighed. "Me neither." He got to his feet and wiped his hands on his pants. "Maybe we're supposed to figure it out on our own."
They walked a bit more, neither of them saying anything. It was the same sort of companionable silence he'd shared with Heero when the two of them had tracked down all the family members of the peace officers Heero had shot down over New Edwards.
It was nothing like the silence he'd shared with Quatre, after the last notes of their duet had faded into nothing more than a memory.
"You seem to know quite a bit about animals," Duo said as the tents became visible in the distance.
"You just have to understand that animals are very straightforward with their motivations," Trowa said. "People can be much the same way, but it takes a bit more patience to reach a similar understanding."
Duo made a humming sound, and was quiet for a moment.
"Ever seen a flying fish?" he asked Trowa.
"No, but I've heard of them."
Duo sighed. "I saw one shortly after landing on earth. I'd just touched down with Deathscythe, and had a chance to take in what the ocean looked like. It was the largest expanse of water I'd ever seen. Nothing like the sights on the colonies." He cleared his throat, as if embarrassed. "Well, I noticed this thing burst out of the surface of the water and skim across the top. No, not just skim...it actually glided a distance above the water, and then it disappeared beneath the surface again. Didn't know what it was at the time, but it was what they call a flying fish. I wonder how long they've been around."
Trowa knew what Duo was speaking of. The fish used that gliding technique primarily to escape predators. He had a feeling he knew where Duo was going with this.
"Ya think maybe the flying fish is...some kind of cross between a fish and a bird?" Duo asked hopefully.
Trowa knew that his answer wasn't going to make Duo any happier, but he wasn't about to lie, and he doubted Duo would appreciate it if he did. "No."
"Hmmm," Duo seemed lost in thought. "What about penguins?"
"What about penguins?" Trowa echoed.
"It's a bird, right?"
Duo nodded. "But it doesn't fly."
"No, it doesn't."
"Then what good are its wings?"
"Duo, I am sure you know it uses its wings for swimming."
"Wing Zero's wings made Deathscythe's look pathetic," Duo said, his voice faltering for a moment. "Trowa, what if I'm reading too much into things?"
"Heero told me once that the only way to live a good life was to follow your emotions."
Duo mulled this over for a moment. "Heero said that."
They both chewed on that bit of advice.
"Did you think we'd win the war?" Duo asked suddenly.
Trowa gave it some thought, then shook his head. "No."
Duo seemed to get a bit excited. "And...did you ever think you'd see any of us again, after the whole Libra thing?"
"Think a fish and a bird can make a home together somewhere?"
Duo was smiling now, and Trowa shook his head, but he smiled, too. "No."
"I thought I'd never see Heero again, after his save-the-day stunt with his buster rifle, the first time," he said, his smile fading slightly, but not disappearing. "And then one day he just ups and shows up out of nowhere. Drags me with him, tells me he was counting on my skills at maneuvering a shuttle past an almost impenetrable army of mobile suits. For a guy who once said I was calling too much attention to myself, he came right to me when he wanted a more-than-adequate pilot."
They stopped when they were still about quarter of a mile from the circus grounds, but Duo was still thinking out loud.
"I said it was important to have a place to call home. Maybe home isn't a place after all. I think I'm taking the easy way out, working with Hilde at the salvage yard. If I want to make my home with the birds, I need to spread my wings and fly."
It hit Trowa like a ton of bricks. He was doing what Duo was doing. He'd said the same thing, about having a place to go back to, after he'd helped Quatre back to their Gundams. But Duo had used the word home, where Trowa had not. Maybe his subconscious had recognized long ago what he was missing.
The circus was as comfortable and safe for him as salvage work was for Duo, but apparently Duo wasn't really as happy there as he'd thought he'd be. Not that he was miserable, just lacking in that Something More. Maybe that was why he'd sent the girl, Hilde, off somewhere before approaching Trowa.
Trowa wasn't unhappy, either, but he was denying himself something he'd written off as unattainable long ago. Unlike Duo, his biggest obstacle seemed to be himself.
"At least you know where to reach him," Duo said. "I have to wait until someone decides to track me down again. Unless..."
"Unless you try to find him first," Trowa supplied.
"Think I can easily find someone who used to be a professional assassin?"
Trowa was a bit taken aback by that piece of information, but not really surprised. He smiled. "Nothing worth having is easy. You can draw an animal out of hiding, sometimes, by placing food a reasonable distance from them, far enough that they will have to leave their little cocoon of safety, and then moving far enough away that they don't get skittish when they take the bait."
"I think Heero might object to being called skittish," Duo laughed, but his entire face lit up. Trowa knew he was already running several possibilities through his head.
He almost felt sorry for Heero, but he was sure the man didn't need his pity.
"Are you going to call him?" Duo said, suddenly looking very serious, even though the light hadn't faded from his eyes.
"Since when are you so concerned with my love life?" Trowa asked, a teasing tone entering his voice.
"Since I don't have one of my own yet," Duo replied. "But for the first time, I think that might change."
He mulled over what he'd said to Duo. 'My love life,' he mused. It had a very nice sound to it.
It was time for Nessie to stop hiding beneath the depths of the loch. He no longer needed to pretend he was incapable of feeling. Midii Une had been wrong. Hadn't he told Dorothy that he'd spent every battle killing his own heart, a heart that had been void of feeling?
A name may be something that other people gave you, but a heart was nothing until you gave it away to someone else.
He loved Catherine, but it was nothing compared to the feelings he suddenly realized he'd been keeping buried, where they could stay safe and not hurt him. Catherine wasn't Midii Une, and neither was Quatre.
He and Duo parted ways shortly after that, and Trowa sat with Medea for a while, his chin propped in his hand.
He got up and walked to the manager's office. The man was still out walking around the grounds, making sure that everything was properly put away or locked up for the night, and that the animals had been cleaned and fed. He knew that Trowa would never neglect his duties, but it was just part of his normal routine, to check everything.
Almost like a soldier, Trowa thought. Don't assume anything. Check for yourself.
He was disobeying that bit of wisdom, because he was making a very big assumption, but the image of that broad smile on Duo's face gave him the courage to make that phone call. On the other hand, how else to check the validity of what he suspected, unless he were to see for himself?
Quatre's face appeared on the vid screen a few moments later, and Trowa held his breath as recognition dawned.
The young executive's face showed nothing but overwhelming joy and surprise, and Trowa exhaled slowly.
"How have you been, Trowa? I assume you are still with the circus? I've missed you! All of you," he added hastily, but Trowa didn't miss the slight flush to Quatre's cheeks.
"A fish and a bird can live together, but they need to be willing to take a few chances and adapt to an environment foreign to both of them," Trowa said.
"I'm sorry?" Quatre's look of confusion made Trowa want to grab him in a fierce embrace. Or kiss him thoroughly. Or both.
But first he had to get out of his comfort zone, the ocean.
"I'd like to see you, Quatre."
Quatre's smile made the one Duo had worn earlier look wan in comparison. "How soon?"
"Five minutes ago."
"Is everything all right?" he asked anxiously.
Trowa smiled. 'It will be,' he thought, but he merely nodded. "I just want to see you."
Enthusiastic, exuberant Quatre was nothing compared to Quatre with a mission.
"Tell me where you are, and I'll arrange for a flight to meet you."
Apparently the bird had other ideas, and was going to come down from the sky first. It didn't matter. Between the sky and the sea was a common ground known as land.
He thought perhaps he'd like living on land. He couldn't wait to see Quatre to find out what he thought of the idea.
He provided the necessary information, and Quatre managed to make all the arrangements with ease. He'd be there midday tomorrow, Trowa's time, which was perfect, as the circus was leaving later that day.
"Trowa?" he asked, after he'd let Rashid and one of his sisters know he was leaving for the shuttleport within the hour.
Quatre paused, then shook his head. "I'll tell you when I get there." His hand reached for the disconnect button but hesitated. "And Trowa, I," he cleared his throat. "I can't tell you how glad I am that you called me."
"Yes, you can," Trowa said. "But you can add it to the list of things you want to tell me after you've arrived."
"I'd better get going if I want to make my flight on time," Quatre said, although he looked reluctant to hang up. "See you soon."
'Not soon enough,' Trowa thought after Quatre disconnected their call, 'but I think I'll manage.'
He went back to the tent housing the animals, and made himself comfortable in the straw near Medea's cage.
If a man could bed down with the lions, then a fish and bird should have no trouble living together.
He fell asleep with a smile on his face.
~ End ~