AN: *humbly hangs her head in a bow* Oh my beloved readers. I will never be able to express how loved I feel, and how much I appreciate all of the comments I received after the last update. Even more than the outpouring of affection I have received over the years, your concern for me is honestly very touching. If I could hug each and every one of you, I certainly would. Thank you.

By Isis cw
Chapter 69

Dorothy sat on the floor next to the coffee table, and waited for Catherine. She'd escaped the interest of her odd little friend for the moment, but it wouldn't be a long reprieve. Soon she would have to face the inevitable conversation that she had basically come here for.

In a way, she decided it was progress. She was now willing to be chided and laughed at for this situation. That had to have some sort of deep meaning behind it.

Picking up the discarded pillow, she wedged it between her back and the couch behind her. Finding a magazine on the table, she flipped through it and nibbled at the popcorn she'd gotten for the night's show.

"Evening, Dorothy."

"Good evening, Mr. Barton," she returned, finishing a paragraph in her article before looking up. Trowa didn't seem to care as he carried in a collection of items and, finding Catherine's door closed, dropped them pointedly right in front of it. "Did she forget to help clean up again?" she snickered at him.

"Yes," he stated pointedly. He left the door and, to her surprise, stepped a few feet closer to her.

For some reason, her nerves always quivered whenever he looked at her. His expression was never anything but calm and deliberate, but his one visible eye always seemed to scrutinize her in a way that unnerved her.

"Duo was proud of his freighter becoming IRIS 2."

Dorothy couldn't help but roll her eyes. "Did he take out an ad, or did he just call everyone he knew?"

"There isn't much he doesn't talk about," he admitted.

"I'm sure," she groused.

"He also said they had a bacteria discovery."

She shook her head with a sigh. "Remind me never to trust him with something confidential," she muttered. "Yes, they found some curious little bug up there and now everyone wants a piece of it."

"Research rights are going to hold it to the surface labs?"

"Yes," she nodded. "For now. But if the stuff spread any, there will be more sites that could be commissioned to different organizations. It's still a race to see if there is any more of it."

He nodded thoughtfully. What his interest in it was, she couldn't say. Perhaps this was simply the man's version of small talk.

"Will it hinder the terraforming plans?" he asked, mulling the situation over.

"We're not sure yet. For now it poses no threat to the geothermal vent drilling in the area. If it's determined to be dangerous, then they will have to decide how to remove it from any materials used in the habitation domes. Personally I think they should just bleach it," she sniffed and pretended to return to the magazine. "But it's proving interesting."

She didn't know if Quatre had mentioned her little scheme to him yet or not. Surely it would just be a matter of time though. Nothing seemed to stay private between this group for long. But if he had said something, maybe she could gain a little insight into her partner's hesitation.

"What are your thoughts on Mars?" she asked slowly, raising her eyes to meet his.

He paused as though analyzing the question. "I think it may have a better chance than the Colonies originally did."

Dorothy let the magazine fall away to her lap and sat watching him tensely. "How so?" she prodded when he didn't go on.

Trowa stepped over and sat down in the chair opposite the couch. "When the technology behind space colonies advanced to the point where possible became real, people assumed that meant that humanity was unstoppable. It gave us a sense of immortality. Yet, it was plagued with problems, like the first of anything. But expectations were set."

Two hundred years of history through the eyes of a Colonist. It was interesting.

"The Colonies were too close. Always within reach. It was too easy to step in when something failed. And everyone knew if it did."

"Earth meddled too much," she paraphrased.

He nodded. "They became overanalyzed and controlled and the people who had worked the hardest resented it. Mars has more privacy. They will fail or succeed by themselves. Good or bad, they won't have anyone else to blame."

Blame. There was a nasty catalyst she hadn't thought of much. How much they could meddle. That was the balancing act that Miss Relena was focused on. Right now it was nearly moot. The government was the only entity out there, and the only way that people were getting there to start with. But that would turn as workers began working for themselves.

"Encouraging growth from the start seems intuitive."

Dorothy stopped and looked over at him. So, Quatre was talking to someone. "He doesn't like my idea, does he?" she bit.

"He didn't say," Trowa mildly brushed it off. "But the engine array needed is going to make it difficult."

She narrowed her eyes at the man and smirked. "Well, at least he's still thinking." If he was calling up for engineering advice, he was still exploring all the options.

"Do you think it's safe?"

The question caught her off guard, especially coming from this particular soldier.

"Ow! Trowa!"

"I didn't want you to lose it, so I put it where you could find it."

"Like you don't know where it goes!" Catherine screeched, collecting the pile of items she had tripped over in her doorway and carrying them off with a mutter.

Dorothy watch her maneuver the items into various areas of the trailer, and went back to nibbling her popcorn. "I think it's a good investment," she answered honestly. "I also think it's a good vantage point to watch from."

Trowa nodded from his chair.

She looked over at him from the corner of her eye as he listened to Catherine chew him out with every item she put away. "Do you?" she asked cautiously.

It was slow in coming but as Catherine tapered out and moved into the kitchen area to stow something, he turned back to meet her eyes. "Mars will need good roots."

The expression buried in his eye stilled her. He really believed that this idea of hers could do just that. Give the planet good roots. Was this really his vote of support?

She wasn't sure what she was expecting, but this was far more encouraging than she would have thought. She remembered to blinked and then nodded her thanks.

He'd always had this effect. Like he could see her futures and wanted to plant the seed of the one she should choose.

There was the sound of cupboards being closed and dishes rattling in the kitchen. It pulled her from her reverie just enough to slowly slide her magazine away to the floor beside her. It gave her something else to look at as she formed words she'd practiced but was never sure she'd feel the opportunity to use.

"I've never said a proper thank you," she began softly.

He didn't ask for what, or even seem confused as to why or how her thoughts had turned. "There's no need."

"There is," she refuted. "You found Quatre and I like that on Libra and instead of taking revenge for your colleague, you were kind to me. You spared my life, and actually encouraged me to keep living. The two of you are the only reason I did."

"That happens in battles. Enemy is a title. A person is a person."

She had to smile, and close her eyes on the truth. Why was it that only the people who had seen the worst of humanity could find the best of it buried in the rubble?

Dorothy raised her face to look at him as he watched her, studying something. Whatever Catherine was up to in the kitchen, the noise seemed rather oblivious to them and it somehow made her feel more confident about this conversation. "Now I can understand why you were so compelled to come home again."

"She would have cried," he slowly admitted.

Dorothy raised an eyebrow at him and would have smirked at the schoolboy notion, but didn't feel it was appropriate. "Tears aren't what I'd worry about from her," she teased.

"She has a good right hook too."

That got her attention. "Oh really?" she purred.

The corner of his mouth creased into what passed for his smile and Dorothy giggled at it. "I disappointed her once, a long time ago, and had to deal with her fist and her tears."

Trowa Barton. Who knew he was a sap too. No wonder he and Quatre got along so well. "Disappointed, hum?" she prodded.

His face tilted towards the sound of her rummaging in the kitchen as he deliberated. "It was the first time I knew someone valued me as an individual."

It was such a soft divulgence that it stilled her. What a beautiful tragedy this man was. An innocent girl's tears had changed his view of his fate for him. Maybe that was why he'd found it so sad that she couldn't cry.

She stared at him a moment, torn between shock and suspicion. The honesty he had just displayed in front of her was something she wasn't sure she felt worthy of.

Individual value. Amazing that this group was still bestowing that.

"Thank you," she stated evenly, finding this much easier than her choppy conversations with Quatre in the beginning. That was probably more about her than him though.

He turned to watch her evenly, and didn't bother protesting. "I don't know what happened, but he was determined to save you. I said what I did more for his sake than yours. Ultimately, it was up to you."

She nodded, understanding, and appreciating that. Not only had they both said what they believed she needed to hear, they had left her with their belief that she was strong enough to heed it. How either had known that she would need that final prodding, she wasn't sure.

They had both allowed her to live, and expected her to continue living. It had been enough to bring her to tears and then haul her to her feet.

Had he done the same thing when Quatre was the one who needed talked back from the edge? Well, obviously, he had.

"You've made a habit of talking people out of horrible mental states. I appreciate that talent," she smiled to herself.

"Have I?"

She realized a little late that maybe she didn't have the right to bring up Quatre's confession in front of someone else. Even if it was Trowa. Looking up at him again, she wondered if she could test that level of honesty. "He told me what happened after his father's death," she stated quietly and left it at that.

Trowa's eye looked away and she felt more than saw his expression change. But she waited, wanting to know if he would fill in the gaps that Quatre had left. "You didn't know?" he asked.


Slowly he seemed to come to a resolution. "He wasn't himself."

Apparently that was going to be her answer. Well, she shouldn't have expected more. "I understand that." Pushing the distasteful thoughts away, she picked up her magazine again in conclusion.

"I believe you do."

It was soft, and thoughtful sounding, as though he'd just come to that conclusion. Dorothy slowly looked up at him again, unsure what that meant exactly. His expression was kind, almost happy looking.

"Knowing that," he continued, "it doesn't bother you, does it?"

Dorothy shook her head, replaying the emotion that passed through her that night. It certainly had a profound effect on her, but his actions in those days didn't bother her. The effect it still had on him was her only concern. "Of course not." With a little sniff, she looked away in memory. "You know that. I know that. But I don't think Quatre was all that certain."

He hadn't wanted to tell her. Perhaps it was always there in the back of his mind that he would someday need to. Hopefully it was a relief now that it was out between them. For someone like him, hiding that for the rest of his life wasn't something he could handle. At least… not from someone he loved.

Not from her.

Suddenly the reasons for why he told her, and when he did, shifted a little in her mind. It was important to him that she know. Perhaps it was even important to him that she know that before she knew his feelings for her. He wouldn't have felt right about it the other way around.

Perhaps that was one of the reasons why he hadn't expressed his feelings to her earlier.

"Obviously, he is now."

The knowing comment interrupted her thoughts, and the sound of the smile in his voice probably would have been annoying if it had come from someone else. Instead she glanced at him meekly before quickly waving it off. "He always worries too much."

Pointedly, she picked up the magazine and pretended to go back to reading. She didn't even remember what article she was on.

Reaching for some other topic to distract herself she wondered, "Perhaps I should tell Catherine thank you too. I see now it was her good influence on you, after all," she teased.

"Please don't," he stated seriously.

Dorothy froze in surprise. Were there things that Trowa didn't want her to know about yet? How much had he confided to her over the years?

"It'll set a precedent," he explained.

A cackle of evil humor escaped her before she could control it.

"Wait! What did I miss?" called a voice from the kitchen.

Trowa gave a silent sigh of resignation, and Dorothy covered her mouth. "Nothing!" she called back.

"Don't give me that," Catherine groused, entering with a collection of bowels. "He only makes a joke once every three months. It's like waiting for Christmas," she snorted.

"I didn't make a joke," he refuted, taking the bowl she shoved under his nose.

"No," Dorothy agreed merrily, "he was just saying what a nice right hook you have."

"A nice… huh?" she looked confused a moment. "Oh! Yeah, he'd know," she laughed. "Some people you just have to show who knows best." She handed Dorothy a bowl too, and gave her a wink.

She nodded, agreeing adamantly. "Men have a silly way of being sentimental."

Trowa smirked at them, apparently unprepared to defend his gender, and merely shrugged.

The couch was soft, and squishy, and in stark contrast to the nasty cots aboard the IRIS satellite, but Dorothy still couldn't drift off comfortably. It wasn't the furniture that was preventing her sleep. It was her mind that wouldn't shut off. Trowa had rearranged her thoughts again. The bloody man had a talent for that. She remembered back to her first trip here, and how he'd guided her hand, allowing her to pet their star lion. He was always so perfectly comfortable making her uncomfortable.

He'd condoned of her plan for Mars. As far as approvals went, she had to admit that she'd never exactly expected that. And she had no idea how much bolstering his approval would instill in her.

But he'd given her more than one approval tonight. When she'd brought up what happened to Quatre in ZERO, he hadn't betrayed anything that happened to either of them. Why, she wasn't sure, but she had a feeling that Trowa didn't really want to talk about it any more than Quatre did. Still, he had pointedly commented on her ability to understand, and he'd approved her handling of it.

In that odd big brother fashion Trowa still seemed to be guarding something in his friend. He'd asked if she thought her idea was safe. Now, she figured in Trowa-speak that didn't just mean safe for Mars.

He was entrusting her with Quatre. It had a weird feeling to it. Like there was a passing of the torch. She was sure Quatre probably wouldn't appreciate her thinking of it like that, but it was just the way it seemed. It was probably more likely that Trowa was simply happy that Quatre had found the courage to tell someone else about his past. He obviously knew better than she did how that traumatic event had affected him.

Courage. That wasn't an exaggeration. She was still concerned for his safety with feelings like these. She mothered him to a fault, but what nagged at her was that his very nature was so open and unguarded. Even though he'd managed to hide this incident from her, and his emotions for her, he was still an open book.

That openness had nearly destroyed him. He just wasn't built with any defense. He felt every single emotion that passed near him. Whether it was his own, or those of someone close to him, it didn't matter. He took everything personally. What happened to a soul like that when something went wrong?

Now she knew exactly what happened to him after a violently broken heart, didn't she?

Dorothy scrunched herself into a ball, huddling the blanket against her chest. She'd made him vulnerable again. She'd opened him to the possibility of that same torturous heartbreak. What if one of her little ploys went array? What if she was mowed down in some petty clash of egos? What would happen to him?

Slowly she closed her eyes against the dark and squeezed them shut. Lack of decent sleep was making her overreact. They were both reluctant survivors. Quatre had been through that before. He knew the death that comes for the survivor as well as the victim. He wouldn't let that overtake him again. He was too strong a person to fall like that twice.

Moving purposefully, she stretched out flat on her back and repositioned her pillow and blanket, as if smoothing away the wrinkles of her thoughts. If he had the audacity to love her, if he managed to reopen himself like that, then he had already made peace with the knowledge that he could lose her.

No wonder he was a bit overprotective though. It made perfect sense why he'd had such a problem with her actions on the satellite. Knowing this now, she realized she'd scared him. It had reared its head as anger, but the truth was he was just worried for her. Dorothy should have recognized that sort of emotion. She was used to that feeling of protectiveness. Obviously she just didn't realize it when it was directed at her.

Typical, she supposed.

No, she wouldn't let thoughts like these worry her. She wouldn't allow them to make her think less of him. Her sweet noble knew what he was doing. Even his decision to love her, and more importantly to admit to it, had to be sound.

Maybe the lack of that kind of peace was what held her back from him. She didn't know if she was as capable of the resignation to have her heart murdered in her chest again. Staring up at the dim ceiling, she admitted to herself again that he was simply stronger than her.

Not only was he strong enough to feel this way, he had the nerve to have those feelings for someone like her. With a soft snort she shook her head. His sort of love demanded a better woman than she was. A woman who would be careful with him. Grateful to him.

She was walking trouble. He couldn't have made it harder on himself if he'd tried.

Dorothy forced her eyes closed and again tried to find enough peace to sleep. It was Quatre. When did he ever take the easy way out? The way his heart worked had never made any sense to her. Why be surprised?

He saw things in her that she didn't. He had to. And by now, she was starting to realize that he had a much better view of who she was than she did. She had to start thinking of herself the way he saw her. She'd become a better person, she was sure. In several ways, she realized she already had.

Would she be enough for him? As her eyes stayed closed on their own, she wondered. His passions, his soldier's instincts, even the dark, burnt edges of his heart, those were hers. Those were the pieces that she could relate to, could desensitize him from, could sooth by shared absolution from her own experiences. But she didn't know how to match his unwaveringly open, unshielded emotions.

Maybe she would never be the sweet, infectious charmer that he was, but with one solitary person, that impervious guard that she prided herself on slipped away. Maybe that was enough. Maybe he could work with that, if she'd let him.

How did she let him?

"Morning, Sunshine!"

"Go away."

"You know Quatre's a morning person too."

"I'm well aware."

"How are you going to deal with him for the next sixty years if you won't get up for me?" she chided as she dropped an extra couch pillow against the back of her head.

"Maybe he'll be quieter."

Catherine laughed at her openly, as she bounced onto the edge of the couch beside her. "Are you going to tell me why you're actually crashing on my couch?"

Dorothy mumbled something incoherent into her pillow.

"What was that?"

"I don't want to live with a bloody morning person for the next sixty years," she whined into the blanket she was trying to shield her eyes with.

"A little late for that startling revelation, isn't it?" This woman was so backwards some times.


Catherine laughed at the straightforward answer. "Well, at least you're admitting to—Wait!" she cried, and ripped the blanket off the blonde's head. "Did he propose?!"

"What?" Dorothy groggily glared up at her. "No."

She groaned loudly and put the cover back over her friend's face. These two were just no fun! It wasn't fair.

"He's just in love with me," came a very sour sounding declaration.

"Well, duh," she rolled her eyes.

"Well, I didn't know!" she snipped defensively and bunched away from her against the back cushions.

Catherine gave the lump in the blankets a dumb look for a second. "Didn't one of your prettiest, smartest friends tell you that, like, months ago?" she rubbed it in.

"…So," grumbled the couch.

Wait just a minute. "So… he finally said something?" she breathily asked, afraid she'd deny it again like usual.


Catherine literally squealed as she threw her arms up in triumph. Finally! She knew Quatre had it in him! Well, no, actually, she'd been convinced he didn't and she'd have to drag in mercilessly out of one of them. But he'd done it! She was so proud of him. "So why are you here?" she asked happily, attempting to get back to why her friend wasn't sharing in her enthusiasm.

For her part, Dorothy kicked the blankets rather viciously until they untangled from her legs. "Apparently to listen to you say you were right. Everyone was right. It's so irritating!"

Catherine watched the blond fuse like a toddler, and shook her head. "I'm so confused how you didn't see this coming."

"I don't know!" she complained. "I thought he was smarter than that."

"Ah come on. He just knows what's good for him," she prodded helpfully. What Dorothy had against herself, she didn't know. It wasn't the first time the lucky heiress seemed to think there was something wrong with her. Catherine certainly didn't get it.

But Dorothy still lay, glaring at her critically.

"You on the other hand…" she sighed.

The other woman gave up and seemed to come to the decision not to fight it. Reaching down again, she grabbed the abused blanket and covered herself back up. "No. I was wrong. Not ready to deal with this yet," she mumbled.

Catherine shrugged and looked up at the clock. "Will you be ready in half an hour? I can make breakfast."

"You could do a lot worse."

"I know."

"You're actually rather lucky."

"I know."

"Granted, he has a few irritating quirks, but he's a really nice guy."

"I know."

"Hmm, not very defensive, are you?"

"Oh, he's the king of irritating quirks. Bloody politeness poster child."

Catherine laughed as they stepped into a home decor store. "But that fits you!" she declared, trying to cheer her moody friend. She may have kept the woman up too late last night.

Dorothy sighed and meandered through the aisles, not really looking at a thing. "I know. We're a perfect pair. Why didn't I see it before?" she grumbled sarcastically.

"You're just bitter, aren't you?" she observed thoughtfully.

The blond turned to look at her, mouth open and ready to protest. But she stopped and nodded instead. "I guess I am."

"There's nothing wrong with being oblivious." Catherine shrugged and tried to come up with a more cheerful outlook. "It makes throwing you surprise parties easier."

"I hate surprises," she hissed.

"Ah!" Doctor Bloom finally had the root of the problem. "You just didn't want him to fall first."

Dorothy's pace through the store slowed and then stopped as they approached the door. "First," she whispered. Catherine moved around her and stood facing the frozen woman. Dorothy's gaze was steady, but she wasn't looking at her. "What do I do now?"

She blinked at her comically, and then leaned in to look at her closer. "What did you tell him?"

A mortified expression crossed the other's face for a moment before she looked away and stepped around her and out the door into the shopping center's hallway.

Catherine followed directly on her heels, panic flooding through her. "Well?" she demanded. "What happened? What did you say?" She gasped, stopping herself as her hands covered her mouth. "You came here because you had a fight, didn't you?"


Her mind swam with the unimaginable. "Then what did you do? Oh, poor Quatre!" she bemoaned him, trailing after Dorothy like a wailing party. "He managed to pour out all of his pent up emotions and you did what?"

Fed up with the loud melodrama, Dorothy glared at her over her shoulder. "I didn't do anything," she snapped.

"What do you mean you didn't do anything?" she threw her hands out, only growing louder and gaining a few weird sideways looks from the other shoppers. "You just left him there, heart bleeding all over the place?"


"Well then what? What did you say?"

"I said…" With a defeated sigh, Dorothy's pace finally slowed until Catherine caught up with her again. "I said 'no you're not,'" she muttered bitterly.

"Not what?" she urged.

"I tried to talk him out of it, alright?" she snapped.

Catherine's thoughts completely faltered to a stop, and her arms slowly slumped back to her sides. For a minute the two walked along side by side in silence, and Dorothy ran a hand down her hair, as though smoothing ruffled feathers.

She really didn't get it. Like, completely and totally didn't get it. No wonder she was bitter. "Wow," she mumbled to herself.

"I know," Dorothy quietly groaned.

"You really don't like surprises," Catherine agreed mostly to herself.

"That's what he said."

"So… you didn't… um, return it?" she cautiously asked.

"Return what?"

Catherine just about reached over and strangled the woman, but managed to control herself at the last minute. "You didn't tell him you loved him too?" she practically shrieked.

Dorothy's expression calmed as she thoughtfully looked back at her. After the outburst, it wasn't the expression she was expecting. Quietly, the blond asked, "Do I?"

What the…? Was she serious?

Standing dumbfounded before her, Catherine realized that her friend was actually asking. The poor thing. She was honestly just completely confused.

With a deep, cleansing sigh, Catherine looped her arm through Dorothy's and led her along. "Come on, spa's this way. I think you need it."

"Spa?" she snorted. "Who goes to a spa in a mall?" the heiress got her haughty airs back.

"Normal people," she reminded her.

"I'm not normal."

"Oh, I know," she overemphasized, patting her arm.

The massage oil was too greasy for her taste, but the generic lavender scent didn't prevent Dorothy from almost falling asleep on the table. If it weren't for the moaning and groaning that came along with Catherine's request for a deep tissue massage, she would have been out like a light.

Still, she was groggy as they moved her from the lounge to a pedicure chair. Settling in for some quiet snoozing, she leaned back and closed her eyes. Catherine shuffled in a few minutes later and took the chair next to her. "Ow," she whimpered. "That lady really worked me over."

"If you don't like deep tissue, why did you get one?"

"I thought it sounded fun. How would I know? It's not like a come to places like this without you," she mildly grumbled.


"Normal people, Dorothy."

She really did need to take Catherine out more. But with a shrug, she didn't worry about it.

"So, speaking of normal."

Here it came. Dorothy emotionally fortified herself for the onslaught.

"A normal woman wouldn't be so gloomy about the Colonies' most eligible bachelor falling for them. And she certainly wouldn't be trying to talk him out of it."

She had to snicker at the description. Sometimes she did forget just whose affections she had dangling on the line. To anyone else, especially a colonist, this was the Quatre Raberba Winner. Corporate president, millionaire, philanthropist, and to the general public, pacifist humanitarian with connections to the Princess of Peace herself. To her, one of history's most notorious outlaw heroes, a Gundam pilot.

As far as her previous, worldly expectations for her future husband went, she'd completely outdone herself.

"So tell me already. Exactly how do you listen to a man make a deep, dark confession of his heart and then tell him to take it back?"

Dorothy opened her eyes enough to look over at her. "What did Trowa tell you?"

"Huh?" she gave her a weird look. "When does Trowa tell me anything? Wait. Why? What does he know?" she asked, taken aback by the comment.

Shaking it off, she realized she was still stuck in defensive mode. "No, no. I thought you were talking about something else."

"Like what? What's more important than 'I love you!'"

There was a whole list of things more important than that. Thinking of it like that, Dorothy had to chuckle. Their relationship wasn't anything compared to the events they dabbled in.

Right now they were deliberating an idea to meddle in the livelihood of hundreds of people in order to influence the lives of thousands. If this ploy did everything she hoped it would, the affects would trickle through millions of people for generations. Decisions of that magnitude were completely foreign to the quaint idea of a simple emotional biding of two tiny little people.

Although, the emotional binding of two people was exactly where those generations came from. The entire Winner line came down to a single male heir who was bent on the sole survivor of a Romafeller family. With their lineages it should require a grand jury verdict for them to marry!

Oh, Wayridge had planted a ravenous little weed of an idea in her, hadn't he?

"Would you snap out of it and spit it out!" Catherine hissed at her. "Speak now or I'll show you that right hook."

The threat made her laugh as she closed her eyes again. "What did Trowa actually do to deserve that?" she asked instead.

"He tried to blow himself up," she snapped a quick answer. "Stop changing the subject."

"He what?" she started.

"He was really stupid back then. I blame Heero. Bad influence. I still don't like that guy. He's all sulky and creepy," Catherine made a stoic, grumpy looking face in mimic and then rolled her eyes.

Dorothy laughed out loud, disturbing the staff's conversations around them.

"Apparently since he tried it, Trowa thought it was just a brilliant idea to blow—um," she caught herself and glanced around. "You know, to get rid of it. With him in it," she added derisively.

He self-destructed his gundam? How much about these guys did she not know? "But he didn't do it?" she caught herself.

"No. I slugged him," she answered as though that was a perfectly normal reaction.

"Oh." And that was the first time he knew someone valued him? Poor Trowa. She suddenly felt incredibly sorry for the man.

So, Heavyarms had survived its trial with the detonation switch. Why anyone would put a self-destruct button into such magnificent pieces of weaponry, she certainly didn't understand. But then, she wasn't the kamikaze type that these men had been called to be.

"It really is amazing they lived," she muttered to herself mostly.

"From what I've heard, you fall into that category too," Catherine prodded knowingly.

Dorothy turned to look at her suspiciously. "Didn't you just say that Trowa doesn't tell you anything?"

"Eh, I'm pushy," she shrugged in his defense. "So, back on point. Quatre went through all of that for you just to get his heart squished by your stilettos?"

"I did not squish him." Catherine tried her best motherly perturbed look, and Dorothy silently wondered if this was what Quatre felt like around her. "I just… didn't take it as well as most women probably would. We talked about it, I called him an idiot, and we left it at that. Basically."

"Poor guy."

"Yeah," she quietly agreed after having put that into words.

"So why didn't you say it back?"

The question struck her again. "I don't have any right to," she answered. Truthfully, it had never occurred to her that that was the appropriate response until later. And just because it would have been the naturally expected reaction, it wasn't true.

Catherine rolled her eyes and shook her head.

Not the reaction she really wanted right now. "What?" she grumped.

"You don't actually know if you love him or not?"

Dorothy didn't care much for the condescending tone. "It's not that easy."

"Do you make anything easy? I mean, seriously. You didn't know his feelings for you. Don't you think maybe you just don't see your own either?"

That was a little harsh. It was a completely valid point, but it didn't sting any less. Was she really just emotionally useless? These things had always been up to Quatre. She didn't know what to do.

Quatre knew how to use emotions. Knew what they felt like. He could sense them in her, even when she didn't, or couldn't, name them. She needed him to take charge of them for her. He had more experience. He was better at this sort of thing. She trusted him.

Opening her eyes, Dorothy realized again that he'd left her without any direction and that she was floundering piteously. Even this trip was nothing more than her desire to have someone just tell her what to do. Catherine was doing her best, but she was a poor substitute.

She actually wanted, not to mention needed, someone else to just take charge and force her in the right direction.

How completely absurd. Why was this the one area where she was completely backwards from the rest of her life?

Now she was more irritated than before. How dare he turn her into someone so needy! Was that really what she was turning into?

"You're scowling," Catherine noted.

"I'm completely pathetic."

"Oh." Catherine reached over and patted her shoulder. "Not completely."

"Who asked you?" she glared.

"Uh, you did," she reminded her.

Dorothy glared at her. "Fine. What do I do?"

"Suck it up," she shrugged. "Go tell him how to you feel."

"Irritated, annoyed, moody, and right now, rather miffed at him?"

Catherine sat and seemed to measure just how serious she might be. "OK. Scratch that."

"I don't do mushy," she stated and went back to trying to look relaxed.

"How the hell do you get a guy before me?" she grumbled.

It was enough of conversation switch that Dorothy couldn't help but laugh at her. "You take him then."

"Oh, yeah right. We'd be out on a perfectly nice date and you'd suddenly come to your senses and come rampaging in and beat the tar out of me."

"Sounds like fun to me."

"You don't want to be one of those girls. 'I never knew what I had until I lost him,'" she mimicked dramatically.

No. She certainly did not want to be that sort of girl.

"Maybe you just need a little time together to sort it out."

She was right. When they were together, everything always just sort of worked. And she'd already learned that she tended to miss him when they were away from each other too long. "I have been avoiding him," she acknowledged, partially just to herself.

"Probably not the best move."

"I've been trying to figure this out on my own," she noted. She didn't like confronting him without a resolution, or at least a game plan.

"Love isn't a solo act," Catherine sagely advised.

"Oh, what would I do without you?"

"You're completely overthinking this," she brushed it off.

Great, now she was the one overanalyzing and making everything too hard. When had she become Quatre? Maybe this relationship wasn't so good on her after all. "There are just too many problems with this. It's unreasonable," she hissed to herself.

"What's that got to do with it?" Dorothy blinked her eyes open again to glance over at her. "Either you love him or you don't. Lots of people fall in love with someone that's not good for them. That's a different issue." Catherine looked at her pointedly, "Although I think you'd better grab hold of him and never let go. No one else is going go through this much work for you."

Laying her head back on the rest, she closed her eyes and cursed her luck. Catherine Bloom actually had a hell of a point.

It was a first step. And as her friend turned back to wave one more time as their taxi pulled away, Dorothy decided it was a good step. Catherine was worried about her, and she didn't blame the woman. Truthfully, the idea of someone being worried about her in all of this was sort of comforting.

She'd always been concerned about what would happen to Quatre if things turned in just this direction. What she should have worried about was what would happen to her.

She was the survivor, the one who had always escaped unharmed from the blows dealt around her. But Quatre had been the one to refute that idea. He was the one who knew how plagued she was by what unfolded around her. She had never truly just walked away from anything the way she told herself she did.

There was no walking away from this either. All she was really arguing were the terms of surrender. Whether she admitted it to herself or not, she was going to keep fighting until crushed into a gooy pile of submission. Quatre had to know that.

But he wasn't the type to take the final blow. He wouldn't take a trophy, or force humiliation. There was no retribution to be demanded. What was she still expecting from him?

He loved her. For no good reason, perhaps, but he did. If she trusted him with emotions, she would have to trust him with his own. Quatre did not make mistakes when it came to hearts.

A beep interrupted her thoughts and she rummaged through her purse for her phone. Pulling the thing open, she found she'd missed a message from Director Hubberts.

Alstead has finalized the Mars team. I sent you the transfer notices, in case you need them. They're packed and on their way. I contacted the replacements on the list you left. They all agreed to start Monday. IRIS 02 is back and did fine. The new crew seems to be working out well. I got bids from the two shipping lines for the dirt hauling. Attached that too. Why do we need dirt? Thank you, Director Phineas Hubberts.

Well now, look who had stepped up to the challenge. Dorothy was going to have to congratulate the man if he kept this up.

So then, there was still a future to decide. And if Dorothy Catalonia couldn't figure out what to do with her own, she ought to at least meddle in everyone else's.

Trowa stood at the door, holding it open for Catherine, but his eyes followed the lights of the cab as it turned down the street.

"Hey, I'm home," she greeted, sounding oddly defeated.

He turned back to gage her and waited for her typical non-stop explanation of events he normally had no interest in. But she passed through the offered door with only a tired sounding sigh.

Were things that bad?

From inside the trailer now, he heard her mumble back, "That girl is so messed up."

New development then, he decided. Stepping in, he let the door close, glancing down the street one last time. "She'll be alright," he reasoned knowingly.

"Yeah. Girl's got the devil's luck."

He glanced over his shoulder one last time as he ducked through the hatchway. It was just a second, but he tried to commit it to memory. Memory was really the only thing you could always carry with you, so he tried his best to make sure this would stand out.

"Stow yourself, son," Captain Nustrous stated as she slipped by him and headed for the forward deck.

"Yes, Ma'am," he snapped and hurried to find a spot to tie up the three duffle bags that contained his life to this point. Neal latched them into a single spare hold down strap near the living section and plopped down in a jump seat to belt in.

This was it, destination Mars. Colony M001. New home.

He was used to moving around by now. He'd never known a permanent home after all. And it wasn't like he was going alone. Around him, his teammates were also fastening in for take off. These were good guys. They'd do a good job out there. Whip that unloading crew into shape and mend this old freighter here and there along its travels too.

He gave the bulkhead beside him a little pat of reassurance. And in exchange they would have the best seats in the house to watch a new world being born. How cool was that? Not bad for little, lost, nameless Deal.

Not bad at all.

The engines began to power up, and the whine of the core charge reverberated through the deck plates for a couple seconds before it fell into rhythm.

Still, this was further out than he had ever been before. Further out then most people had ever been.

But Queen Relena had been there. And if Alstead was right, Lady Dorothy had too. Neal wasn't sure if he was actually nervous or just excited. Maybe both. Through a whole life of wandering and running, in a couple days he would be in the one spot from which there was absolutely nowhere else to go.

He'd finally reached the end of the line. Looking around, he casually smiled at the other four men picked for this team. It was the perfect place for a guy like him. This was where he was needed. Like, really honestly needed. This was the ultimate destination.

This was going to be awesome!

"I'm sorry to tell you like this, but I didn't want our visit next week to be a surprise. I would appreciate it if you don't say anything to the general staff until we make the announcement though."

The man's imagine on the screen sat with his hands folded and held thoughtfully against his lips. For a moment he didn't seem to register than Quatre had stopped talking, but slowly looked up and let this arms drop to the desk in front of him. "I understand. I appreciate the time to… be able to come up with what to say."

"I think we both have that problem," he quietly admitted. "This is not something I wanted to do, and I wish I didn't have to."

The man nodded thoughtfully, looking away again. "We've known it was coming. We're probably lucky we managed to operate this long."

The trailing resource station's numbers were no secret. The division manager of course knew that it couldn't continue on the path it was on. Still, it's not easy to hear that your job and home were being taken away from you.

"We just don't have any other viable options," Quatre reasoned again, but he wasn't sure which one of them he was trying to convince. He hated this call. He'd dreaded making it for more than a week now. But it was only preparation. This was one man. Soon he'd have to stand in front of the whole station and… inform them of the corporate decision.

It was just so cold and callus.

"If you think of anything that can be said that would make this a little easier, please let me know. I'm having a hard time finding anything that doesn't sound trite," he admitted.

The other looked up from his end. "Are you planning to be here for it?"

Quatre blinked. "Of course." Rethinking that, he asked, "Unless you think that would make things worse."

"No," he hesitated. "I just wasn't expecting this to be handled by someone so high up," he answered candidly.

"Ultimately, it's my fault," Quatre stated evenly, reminding himself of that. "I don't intend to leave this to someone else. But I do understand if you think it would be easier coming from you or your management team." Wondering how the workers would feel wasn't anything new to him in this debate, but their manager knew them all significantly better than he did. "I'd still like to be there."

"I understand," he answered and leaned back in his seat from the video camera. "I'll do my best to have a plan in place before you arrive."

"Thank you," he returned sincerely. With a few generic goodbyes he signed off the call, and sunk down in his chair with a miserable sounding sigh. That could have gone a lot worse, but it didn't make him feel better.

He had to try to separate himself more. This was work, it was business, it was not a personal attack against any of them. They would move forward. It wasn't life and death. He didn't like it, but he didn't have to. He would do his best to make it easier, and that was all he could do.

Standing, he walked over and opened his door again, before turning back and taking a sort of slow lap around his office. His desk was scattered with papers and his box was piled over again. He'd spent too much time on this and it was impacting the rest of his workload.

But he couldn't bring himself to sit down and dive back into something new yet. Instead, he walked back to the window and stood looking out at the afternoon outside. He hated feeling that things weren't right. It just ate at him like nothing else.

It didn't help that the idea kept scratching the back of his mind, wanting to be let in again. Opening the door, he allowed it in for another moment. This station didn't have to die. It could be re-commissioned. And in Martian territory, it could possibly even be expanded, restructured the way it couldn't be here.

If things really managed to work out perfectly, it could be a huge windfall for the company. Asteroid mining was a lot easier if you didn't have to travel twice the distance to get them. Mars' orbit gave the same protection to the stations that Earth did, and with refinement onsite, they could produce market ready product before they ever incurred freighting costs.

This little station could just be the start. Mars could prove to be a new industrial revolution.

But the question was would it produce more industry or just revolution. Tools were inert objects, there was nothing good or bad inherent in them. It was the people who chose how to use them.

Choice. The constant dilemma of all souls. Without it, they weren't human. With it… they very much were.

Could he trust Mars with a tool like this?

"I'm going to put blinds on those windows if you keep staring out of them."

The cheery little teasing shook him out of his thoughts with a smirk. He turned to watch Miss Emalia add a collection of letters to his stack and then scan his desk. Riffling under the ones she just added, she pulled out a set and put them back on top. "And they're going to be leopard print if you don't sign these today." She tapped a finger nail on them very pointedly.

Recognizing the paperwork from the last time she threatened him about it, he grimaced and nodded. "Yes, Ma'am," he mumbled, returning to his desk and picking them up.

She moved away and he pulled out a pen, skimming through the insurance change articles that needed to be approved for the coming year. HR had their fingerprints all over this already, he wasn't sure he needed to spend any time on it. "You know, Mrs. Shannell is starting to worry about you."

Quatre flipped the page and continued. "For what this time?" he asked, knowing the young assistant kept a nurse's watch over the office pulse.

"You've been sulky lately," she explained.

He glanced over at her and she batted her eyelashes expectantly. "Girl troubles?" she whispered loudly.

"No!" he defended himself with a laugh. Partially embarrassed, he looked away but carefully admitted, "Right now, that's the only thing I've got going for me."

"Aww," Emelia cooed before turning for the door again. "Don't make me call her," she finished with another deadpan warning.

Quatre specifically sat down with the papers and resumed reading. "I bet other presidents don't get sassed like this," he muttered.

"I will come back in there!"

He chuckled but kept his mouth shut this time. He could hear at least one of the other ladies chiming in her consent and a round of laughs from the next room. Some days he completely understood why his forefathers had soundproofed this office. Of course, that only worked when the door was closed.

Still not really reading the pages in front of him, he looked up at the painting hung on the opposite wall. The afternoon lights shown in, making the sandy colors dance on the canvas. The outcropping of lined and weather rock in the sea of rolling sand was perfectly positioned in this hand-me-down room.

Sometimes it was the rock he noticed. Sometimes it was the sand. Tossing a glance at the open doorway, he moved back to focus on the papers that needed his attention.

The people he surrounded himself with were no accident, and at times like these he dearly appreciated them.

Quatre closed the door behind him and sucked in a deep breath. He wasn't sure he'd ever been happy to be home before. He walked through the back hall, and into the kitchen, taking his jacket off as he went. He didn't disturb the silence he found as he draped it over his arm. The thing felt weighted down with more than its simple fabric could ever hold.

Opening the refrigerator, he pulled out the milk and poured himself a glass. He didn't bother to turn on the light. The dimly lit familiarity was easier on his mind right now.

Padding through the hall, he wound towards the front rooms and paused at the entryway hutch to gather his mail. No hate letters yet. That was nice.

The chandelier over the main staircase was left on and dimmed for the evening. His housekeeper would have gone home already, and his butler would be keeping to his own quarters as usual. Quatre didn't see any messages from them, so he let the man be.

Bringing the envelopes with him, he turned to the stairs. Taking a drink from the glass, he rose to the first floor and turned down the hall to the next flight. He noted the rectangle of light shining into the hallway from the door of the sitting room, but he didn't think much of it. Random lights did get left on sometimes in this place. He'd mused before that perhaps the ghosts got lonely now and then. He stepped past the doorway, deciding his hands were full, and he didn't care if a lamp or two wasted energy for a night.

However his steps trailed to a deliberate stop, and then pedaled backwards. Quatre blinked, deciding that the ghosts were keeping company after all.

Over the wing of the front sofa, a curtain of pale blond hung like a discarded throw. The black headband peeked over the back, looking almost shy.

Disbelievingly, he stepped into the room, his feet moving mostly on their own. Step by step, she came into view, and the story played out. The pair of jeans most likely meant she'd been off with Catherine again. The simple blue sweater meant she hadn't packed for her position on the Mars satellite. Her feet were bare, and the book in her hands was three quarters of the way finished, meaning she'd been here a while.

The tea tray on the coffee table also told him that his housekeeper had let her in much earlier in the day.

Moving around the edge of the couch, he stood for a moment as she lazily turned from her page to look up at him. "Hello, love. How was your day?"

The mischievous little glint in her eyes told him that she was enjoying the befuddled smile stuck on his face.

Yes, he was happy to be home.

"Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to." - John Ed Pearce

AN: Another year gone, dear readers, but I bring you my wishes for a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year for you all. And, as always, my heartfelt and warmest appreciation for your patience with me. Thank you, so very, very much.