When We Were Young 1

Spring, 206

Trowa made sure the newspaper was folded so the headline faced out, and he sat waiting, facing the door of the condo. A half-hour passed while he studied the business articles, brainstormed on his recent cases, and watched the clock. At eight, Quatre came through the door, kicking it shut with a weary expression as he dropped his briefcase. His first action, as always, was to come give Trowa a quick kiss before stripping off his tie and dropping it on the sofa, then turning to sit on the back as he pulled off his shoes, leaving them where they lay.

"Are you going to put those away?" Trowa turned the page in the newspaper, and began reading about the latest developments in the hydroelectric dam outside Sanq's capital city.

Quatre didn't move for a second, then he bent over, picking up his shoes and his tie with a disgruntled expression. He disappeared down the hallway; Trowa entertained his daily fantasy of dirty clothes going into the hamper. He wasn't holding his breath.

A few minutes later Quatre reappeared in old blue jeans and a gray sweatshirt with grease stains from one of Duo's mechanical projects. He collapsed onto the sofa, then craned his neck to give Trowa a tired smile. "Did you eat already?"

"Mm-hmm." Trowa glanced at him sideways, and pointedly returned his attention to the paper. "Heero and I grabbed something when our shift ended."

"You missed lunch again," Quatre guessed.

Trowa shrugged.

"Okay." Quatre sighed deeply, and put a hand on his forehead. "What is it now?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You have that look."

Trowa considered that carefully. "I do not."

"Yes, you do." Quatre covered his eyes, then pinched the bridge of his nose. "Just say it, and then I can go reheat leftovers with some peace of mind."

"Fine." Trowa held up the newspaper, turned to show the headline: WEI LAYS OFF SIXTY THOUSAND. "What's this about?"

"Oh." Quatre shrugged. "We've got to close two mining satellites."

"And that's the most you can say?" Trowa frowned when Quatre shrugged again, looking away. "That's not just sixty thousand people. That's them, and their families, and all the businesses that exist to support them. A single satellite might exist for your family's business but the population on them is easily in the two hundred thousands--"

"It's a done deal." Quatre came to his feet, waving Trowa's words away. "I'm starving."

"And you're going to be forcing a lot of families into starving, as well." Trowa folded the newspaper back with a snap, and set it on the side table. He could feel Quatre halting in the doorway to the kitchen, but he didn't turn around.

"Trowa," Quatre replied, evenly. "This is business. Yes, I regret that the mining satellite has passed its peak. But the economics of the situation are too simple to ignore, and I'm not a charity."

"You always say it's a family business. Aren't these people your family? They've been working for the Winners for three generations--"

"What do you want from me?" Quatre laughed, softly, but bitterly. "I've been over this with the board a dozen times. Times change. Sacrifices must be made--"

"By them, never by you." Trowa didn't care if he had begun to sound petulant; he'd researched the situation carefully. WEI was cutting its losses well before it had even risked a long glance at the red. Quatre's family had gotten to where it was by taking risks, and now it wouldn't take so much as a single step across the street without thinking fifteen times, twenty studies, and downsizing first.

"You'd better not be suggesting I take a cut in pay," Quatre retorted, a churlish tone in his voice. "I work eighty hour weeks for this company. I deserve every penny."

"I didn't say that. I just think--"

"I don't think you do. Seems to me you always have a lot to say about how I run my business, and I really don't get why you have to backseat drive me on it. When we met, you knew I was a businessman--"

"No, no, I did not." Trowa came to his feet, angry, but still quiet-voiced. "I knew you were a pilot who was willing to move heaven and earth to help those who had no voice."

Quatre opened his mouth, eyes wide, then closed his mouth, looking away. "I'm not fifteen any more. And I'm not just piloting some hulking machine, I'm running a multi-billion-dollar business. You and the rest of the bleeding hearts would want me to--"

"Now I'm a bleeding heart?" Trowa shook his head. "You've met with the board a dozen times? Meet another dozen times. You could build ZERO from scratch with no engineering expertise, why can't you find a way that doesn't involve throwing nearly a quarter of a million people out into the cold?"

"It doesn't work that way," Quatre replied, through gritted teeth. "Stop acting like I'm the bad guy, here. Not every one goes home happy at the end of the day, and I'd think you understand that, Commander."

"I don't make a habit of throwing the good guys in prison," Trowa snapped. "There's no comparison."

"You uphold laws that are archaic and convoluted, changing daily based on some political--"

"This isn't about me, damn it," Trowa burst out. "This is about the fact that you're not willing to take a risk and try something--"

"Me? Not take risks?" Quatre's tone became flat, and displeased. "You forget who you're talking to."

"No, I know exactly who I'm talking to," Trowa shot back. "Some washed-up businessman who doesn't mind that his reputation has Gundam Pilot stuck at the end, but who is more interested in clinging to his family's money than trying to find a new solution to old rules. The pilot I fell in love with would never accept that sacrifices must be made for the sake of a pile of cash--"

"The pilot you fell in love with could never have provided the life you've had, not on your government salary!"

"Fuck you and your goddamn money," Trowa shouted, not caring when Quatre flinched. "I didn't fall in love with you when you were rich, but when you had nothing, and if that's all you'd ever had, I would've been--"

"And you call me an idealist?" Quatre asked, incredulously. "What do you think pays the bills? How do you think we afforded--"

"We could do all this with a lot less money. We don't need this money, or this condo, or this view, or this leather sofa or the marble in the foyer or the three extra bedrooms or the--"

"What's the point?" Quatre turned away. "I'm getting something to eat. I'm not having this argument on an empty stomach."

Trowa snorted, and in three strides was across the room, taking his coat from the closet. "We won't have it at all, then, but I'm not going to have my name attached to someone who can toss away so many lives without even trying to come up with--"

"How little faith do you have in me? How can you possibly see them as so valuable, and not see that I've tried my best?"

"Because they don't have a voice, Quatre." Trowa pulled on his jacket with stiff, angry movements. "You have money to buy a city if you want, people will listen to you. Those folks you want to fire, and everyone who counts on them--they don't get a say in your board meetings. Once you stood for people like that." He slammed the closet door shut and picked up his keys. "Now you just screw them over."

"Trowa--"

"I'll be at Wufei's. Don't wait up." Trowa slammed the front door behind him, and took a second to exhale through his nose. Only once he stood at the elevator did he look down at the keys in his hand, and wanted to laugh. He'd picked up the spare keys to Duo's garage and not the keys to his motorcycle.

Didn't it just figure, but then, maybe the ten-block walk to Wufei's would do him some good.