Disclaimer: Gundam Wing and all its characters © Sotsu Agency, Sunrise, and TV Asahi. All fics are not for profit.
A/N: I'm so into friendship fics lately! XD I hope you enjoy this one! Inspired by an episode of the Korean TV adaptation of the manga series, 'Hana Yori Dango' aka 'Boys Over Flowers' (smooches and hugs to those who'll be able to see a few references of the koreanovela!).
"Of Bread Crumbs and Flat Daddies"
by Schizoid Sprite
"Why does a lotus flower bloom even in the muddiest of water?"- Boys Over Flowers
Catherine has always considered patience as a largely overrated virtue.
For her, the time wasted while waiting for irresponsible people and their polished disyllabic excuses would have been useful for other more senseful things. Like feeding the lions or perfecting a diabolo juggling performance, or even just pretending to laugh at Trowa's strange jokes at their shows. When she arrived at the meeting place, she thought she entered the wrong bar: they always say that a business icon's every second is important.
"Where's that boy?" she huffed. "If only he's not Quatre Winner, I would've gone back to the circus after the first thirty seconds of his tardiness."
Unfortunately for her, he is Quatre Winner.
Thirty-five minutes and three glasses of Bloody Mary later, footfalls hurried towards her direction and a warm hand settled lightly—almost hesitantly, she noted—on her shoulder. She turned her head, greeting the apologetic face of the blonde with a smirk.
"Sorry I'm late," Quatre panted while he checked his watch.
"Half an hour," she answered. "What kind of gentleman will make a woman wait that long?"
"Sorry," he repeated, slumping on the barstool next to her. "When Trowa informed me that he can't go, I didn't think that someone else will come for him so I have my schedule rearranged. It's too late when I read his message this afternoon."
At least my waiting didn't go worthless, she thought. Her temples were throbbing hard already, but it didn't deter her from observing that he hadn't changed much after their last encounter two years ago. Sure, she had seen him in numerous TV appearances, but it was never like looking at him in person. She could easily tell that he hadn't hit growth spurt yet, towering for not even three inches higher than her head with her sitting there. While his hair grew a bit longer at the back, it didn't add anything to contribute for a mature look; the bangs still haphazardly spilled over his eyes, making him look no different from a random guttersnipe she often notices sneaking through the crowd to take a free peek at the circus.
And like before, he was still a walking fashion disaster—or worse. A pink suit and a khaki shirt? She blinked, the thudding on her head intensifying. It was only when she fixed her stare on his face that she realized he was blushing under her scrutiny. She looked away, feeling a bit dizzy.
"Nothing I can do about that," she muttered, rolling her eyes. "I'm actually about to leave." She rocked the cocktail drink on her hand and took a delicate sip, ice cubes clinking against the glass. Quatre's shoulders sunk downwards.
"I understand that you're in a hurry," he said hastily, "and well, I am too. What does Trowa want to give me?"
"I'm not really. That's too bad."
"I'm not in a hurry," she responded sleepily. "And it's too bad that you are. While it'll take just a second to give you Trowa's present, it'll take a lot more time for mine."
Catherine sniggered. "You should be thankful, you know. It's not everyday that I'm nice to an eyesore like you."
She tilted her head to the side and laughed, reaching out both her hands to touch Quatre's face. Quatre backed away a little, but not fast enough to avoid her hands. She tapped—it was almost like slapped, but with lesser force—his cheeks, making him flinch.
"This," Catherine chuckled, continuing the cymbals-clapping action to his face, "this cutesy camouflage you're donning won't let you escape from the category. You might be a little prince, but you're still one of them."
He caught her wrists and gently laid them on her lap. "I don't know what you're talking about. Presents? I don't recall any occasion today."
"Stupid!" she exclaimed cheerily, jerking his hands away. "How come you don't know? I hate wars, you don't know? I can't understand why a two-digit IQ schnook like you will be chosen as an heir to a large company. Ah, yes! Your genes, that's why! You and your father have the same—"
"Catherine," he said firmly. "You're drunk."
"Drunk?" she feigned shock before swigging again. "Quatre, it's tomato juice."
"That's Bloody Mary and it has vodka."
"Well, that's a unique version of the urban legend," her eyes went half-lidded. "A modern one, kind of unexpected from a dolt like you. I've never heard before that Bloody Mary likes to drink vodka."
He sighed. "How many glasses have you had already?"
"One glass only, dear," she replied, gripping the edge of the bar top for support. "But Mr. Bartender right there kept on refilling my glass after it's emptied. Said it's a bottomless treat, because Mr. Winner will be paying for my bill. I told him not to include any garnishments because I hate celery sticks...and will you drink anything with a giant shrimp poking you in the nose? He even bothered to—hey!"
Quatre snatched the glass from her and downed its remaining content in one swallow. "Look," he said, wiping his mouth with a tissue, "I'm pretty sure that Trowa didn't send you here to get pixilated. Just give me that 'present' or whatever Trowa wants to give me and I'll take you back to the circus."
She sniffed. "Right. You really are an eyesore."
"You heard me right, Quatre. I find you ugly—I hate your blond hair and your big blue eyes."
He sighed. "I'm sorry but I don't have any time for this."
"You want to know why?" she ignored him when he stood up. "Those childless couples who visit the orphanage will never pick me up because I don't have those features! Are my curls that hateful? Do my gray eyes disgust everyone?"
Quatre blinked at her sudden outburst, speechless. He craned his neck around to see if anyone was staring at them before he sat back down. She grinned furtively for a fleeting moment.
"And during that afternoon," she continued, jabbing a finger accusingly at the air between them, "that day when you went to the circus to drag Trowa back to war, you just shot my anger up a notch. Not only you have those things that happy parents want in their child, you're also one of those people who took my family away! What do you think my reaction will be when you're trying to steal my brother to bring him to fight? I so hate wars and the likes of you."
She was nearly hyperventilating when she finished. Quatre asked for a glass of water, brushing off her slurred requests for a Bloody Virgin—the same drink she had, minus the alcohol—or just a can of Dr. Pepper. She took the glass without hesitation anyway, some water spilling to the sides of her mouth while she mumbled something about dating teetotalers.
"It's not my fault that I'm blonde and blue-eyed," he muttered absently. He sipped his own water.
"I know, stupid," Catherine snapped, "it's again because of your genes, those—"
"Please stop talking about that."
"Fine," she sniffed. "But you're still one of them—those guys who kept the war going."
"We fought to stop the war, Cathy," he answered calmly. "Not to prolong it. We believe that we must fight in order to achieve this period of amity between the Earth and the colonies."
"I don't care about your ideals," she retorted. "Or what the ideals of the Alliance or White Fang or Treize Khushrenada were. No matter what you think about the aftermath, everyone's a loser in one way or another… because in the end, the death toll still swelled. That makes those ideals less significant, Quatre. There's nothing more important than the lives of people!"
"I'm aware of that—"
"Can you bring those lives back? Do you know how many homes were destroyed? Do you know how many kids grieved over their flat daddies knowing that the real ones wouldn't be able to come back home? Do you—"
"We stopped all of those by fighting," Quatre cut her off. "It's a big gamble, Catherine. Maybe you're right when you said our beliefs didn't matter in the end, but because of those very ideals, we were able to move forward. We have to lose something in order to gain what we need. I don't like the forged price but we have no choice; that price also includes our own lives. We soldiers stepped into the battlefield with death's hands on our throats and we never knew when those hands would tighten. None of us believed we're going to survive and see the dawning of the age of peace; while we fought, one of our legs was already half-buried in graves. I know that—I can feel that. But here we are…" he beamed and breathed. "Alive and well and enjoying peace. The price we paid… it's not in vain."
Catherine frowned, lazily doodling patterns on the moist surface of her empty glass. Quatre rested his head on the bar top, his eyes following the slow movements of her fingers on the drawings. She smiled again, unconsciously.
"I'm just curious," Quatre spoke amicably, guiltily attempting to break her sudden silence, "I thought I heard you say 'flat daddies'. What are those?"
She raised a brow. "Life-sized photographs of deployed dad soldiers, you haven't heard of that yet? Used to comfort little kids while their dads go off to war. There are flat mommies too."
Quatre nodded and his hand involuntarily flew to his heart. When he went off to war, did his father ever secure a 'flat son'? How does it feel when one fecklessly envelops a photograph in his embrace, knowing that the real soldier was out there in the battlefield, protected not by those arms but by weapons and distant prayers? He groaned and shook his head hard, chiding himself for wondering about such things.
He fumbled for a more Catherine-friendly topic in his head, and when he didn't find any, both of them fell silent for several heartbeats again. He glanced at his watch: 9:45, changing to 9:46 as he stared. I'll just send them a check, he thought, remembering the dinner party tonight at ten, where he was supposed to be the guest speaker. He could have arranged his schedule properly if he decided fast; when he read Trowa's message earlier, it took him quite some time thinking if he would come or not. 'I can't meet you tonight,' the text message said. 'The Ringmaster guaranteed that I'll be out of the once I ditch again. But Cathy will be there, she volunteered to give it to you. Sorry for the trouble.'
A thousand foolproof excuses rushed to his head while he stared at his cell phone screen, but he brushed off all of them, finally making up his decision to go.
He smiled now, glancing at her alcohol-induced unsteadiness. He had heard before that the troupe likes to go on a binge especially after a successful show, and he couldn't help but wonder how Trowa handles a very happy and loquacious swillbowl that is Catherine. For some reason, he was relieved that he arrived late to find her in an intoxicated state. After a couple of years he was still kind of nervous about meeting her sober and sharp-tongued. Their first encounter was a tad traumatic in an unexplainably strange way—and that was two years ago, though in his head he could still hear her shooing him away as if it just happened yesterday. Her stabbingly defiant eyes, her motherly protectiveness and love for her brother—they scared him. Weird, but they really did.
Perhaps it was because those tear-laden eyes stoked up his guilt significantly to the point that he thought his soul was being fried in hell already. Or perhaps because she was awfully hurt—his Space Heart told him that she was more pained than he was—for what happened to Trowa. Unbelievable, but he did feel how her scalding heartache rode roughshod over his. It forced him to think how his father and sisters—and mother, if he were to imagine she was alive—felt when they found him in an emotionally and physically rundown condition. If there was anything that could injure him beyond recovery, it was his loved ones suffering because of him.
He was wounded forever since the very day he ran away.
"Quatre, what do you call a child when his parents die?"
He resurfaced to the present, creasing his brow at her question. What was going on in that drunken head of hers this time? "An orphan," he answered.
She nodded. "What do you call a wife when her husband passes away?"
"Then what do you call a sister who loses her little brother?"
She grinned when his face suddenly flashed a confused but concerned expression. "Don't worry about it. I just wondered what I'm called before I meet Trowa. It crossed my mind when a woman asked me if she could still be called a mother when her son died."
Quatre leaned closer. "What did you tell her?"
"I said I don't know," she shrugged. "But it's sad…I've always known that a parent seeing her child die is like nature turned around. Not that I'm saying that parents should die first, but you know, that's how it goes… Er, anyway, the woman went insane when news reached her that her son was killed. She wandered on the streets, living by rummaging through trash bins and begging. She found an empty soft drink bottle and took it, cradled it as if it were a child, sang lullabies while believing it was falling asleep. She regularly 'fed' it by pushing bread crumbs inside. Once, she—"
She halted in mid-sentence when the bartender put a glass of the red cocktail in front of her.
"You don't have to humor me," she told Quatre, who rubbed the back of his head. "I can tell you as much stories as you want without bribery."
"I'm not bribing you," he replied with a lopsided smile. "And this will be the last glass. Carry on."
"Right." She returned the friendly gesture. "Where am I? Hmm…Once, there was a parade. Or what looked like a parade, she said she wasn't certain; white confetti and saxophones were all that she could recall noticing. She left the bottle on the street while she danced on the sidewalk, happily chanting about colony snow. She was having so much fun that she didn't notice the approaching Leo mobile suits. And then she witnessed it; she screamed helplessly as the giant metals crash the bottle, its shattering reminiscent of a infant's cry."
Catherine took a delicate sip. Quatre gazed straight ahead, feeling her eyes on him.
"She lost her 'baby' again, the same way she lost her son, a soldier, to war."
He swilled his drink. She's right, he thought. Seeing one's child die is exactly like nature spun around. But was it the same in his case? A creature gestated in a test tube, a wet-behind-the-ears space rebel who despised his father for as long as he could remember, a throwaway who when finally rediscovering home loses the very figure he was trying to prove himself to and fighting the war for? The pain wasn't comparable to anything. Not even to nature turned inside out.
"I know how she feels," Catherine continued. "I've felt the sorrow of losing a family, of having everything stripped away from me. And like her, I also experienced the joy of finding a new family, a home."
"She's alive," he said, hand on his chest. It was not a question.
"Alive and at the best of health," she affirmed. "The breaking of the bottle snapped her out of her insanity. Then she applied for the circus."
"Circus? She's with you?"
"Yes, as a stilt walker and a great help at the kitchen. We're home, Quatre. The circus is our home."
Quatre felt the corners of his mouth tug into a full but tired smile. "Trowa said the same thing."
Hearing her brother's name surely has a drastic effect on her, Quatre realized. For a second, he thought that she suddenly jerked into soberness, making him abandon his soul-sick reflections and steel himself for the 'real thing'. She flipped her curls on her shoulder and tilted her head up.
"Of course!" she exclaimed, teetering precariously on her seat. "He's my baby brother, after all. He adjusted pretty fast from the day he joined the circus, and I can tell he's enjoying being with us now than during the war. Visit us backstage sometimes, you'll see what I mean. If you want, you can also bring that Rapunzel priest-pilot with you, or that Jap boy who brainwashed Trowa. But please remember, you're just Trowa's friends and I'm his sister. No one will take him away from me, you hear that?"
"Aye, ma'am," he chuckled at her attitude with a mock salute. Some things never change, really.
A thought stumbled by. "But what if one day he decides that he'd want a wife?"
"He won't," she insisted, though she spent some seconds mulling over it. "He understands that we're always traveling and he dislikes short-lived relationships." He was about to remark about her contagious disease of being an old maid-in-the-making and Trowa acquiring it, but she beat him to it. "Unlike some horny rich teen that delights on adventurous nightlife and weekly watercooler flings."
Quatre balked, wincing at the barb. "You're reading too much tabloid, Catherine. I'm not like that."
"I can't remember mentioning your name."
She cackled when he mouthed something incomprehensible to himself. She poked his side.
"Come on now, don't mope," she teased. "I'm just kidding."
He planned on prolonging his pouting; there was something in that kind of attention she was giving that has a maternal quality to it, and he liked it, but he couldn't help but beam. He rebuked himself inwardly when she stopped nudging his ribs.
"That's better," she chuckled.
Quatre laughed, too. "You know," he said, glancing sideways at Catherine, "they're actually beautiful."
She flashed an innocent look. "What are?"
"Your curls and gray eyes," he said. "I don't know why those parents don't appreciate them. But they're beautiful, in my honest opinion."
When silence succeeded and a blank expression spread on her face, Quatre have to check if there was something offending in what he had just said. They didn't sound sarcastic, right?
Slowly, Catherine ran a finger on her bottom lip. "Have I told you how adorable you look, sweetling?"
"C-Catherine… don't you think it's getting a bit, uh, late? Actually, I even have a meeting in five minutes and..." Building a coherent sentence while her pursed lips were inching towards him was equivalent to submitting himself to the ZERO system and undergoing a brain surgery at the same time. He tried to lean away, only to be pulled back by her fingers on his collar. She detached her body from her seat and slanted against him, eyelashes fluttering dreamily, their faces separated only by a few centimeters, and suddenly she was so, so close that there was nothing Quatre could do but crush his eyes shut…
And then he felt its warmth. Not on his lips, but all over his front.
When he opened his eyes, he was right: Catherine had thrown up all over his suit.
And she was not done yet.
He held her shoulders that shook with the force of her hurls, his head turned the other way, face curled in disgust. Minutes—eternities—passed until she finally finished. Quatre carefully held her away so that she wouldn't fall on the mess she made on his suit, gently guiding her back to her seat. He asked the bartender to look after her as he prepared to go to the washroom. He whirled around, not trusting himself to look down, and almost bumped into another man.
"Trowa," he gasped, uncertain what emotion he should project.
"Quatre," his friend greeted, sporting a cheerful grin at first, the gesture slowly contorting into a grimace. "What the…Catherine?"
The blonde nodded sheepishly, waving towards where the redhead was slouched. "I think she should never have any alcohol again."
He excused himself, Trowa reddening embarrassedly while walking to his sister. That last glass was a downright mistake. He tried his best to dab his garments semi-clean with a wet rag while not trying to imagine what kind of food Catherine had gobbled, aside from the cocktail, some sort of spaghetti, chocolate…
When he returned, Trowa was holding Catherine's limp form steady on the stool.
"I'm very sorry about that, Quatre," Trowa began. "She couldn't even handle beer..."
"It's okay," he giggled, waving the topic aside. "I thought you couldn't come?"
"I thought, too. But I don't want this meeting to become meaningless." Trowa fished out a card from his jacket pocket and held it towards the blond. "I'll deal with the consequences later."
"What do you mean, meaningless?" Quatre asked, accepting the card. "What's this? A backstage pass?"
Trowa nodded. "It's my present for you. It's my fault, really… Cathy hurried when I told her that for a busy man like you, every minute's essential. She forgot it at the trailer together with her vanity case and phone."
"Oh," Quatre ducked his head shyly. "And here's that busy man, late for about half an hour. I'm so sorry."
Trowa let out an exaggeratedly loud sigh. "No need to apologize now. Not especially when I think Cathy somehow enjoyed your company."
They both looked at the unconscious woman. A faint smile was lingering on her lips.
"She's fun," Quatre commented. "She can lift someone's gloom effortlessly, whether she's aware of it or not. I was actually scared at first, considering our… past, but it turned out okay. I hope it does, too, when she's not drunk anymore."
He watched silently as Trowa ran his fingers on her red curls.
"But tell me," Quatre continued, "why give me a present? It's not even my birthday."
"Believe me, I myself don't know why I should give you one."
"It's Cathy," he explained. "When she heard you're Earthside, she cajoled me into giving you something. I can't get a rational enough explanation from her, so I agreed just to humor her." He shrugged. "Maybe she has something important to give you, too. Or maybe she just wants to see you."
Quatre chuckled. "I'm not sure about the latter, but she did give me a present as well. It's one of the best, I might even say."
Trowa eyed him suspiciously.
"So tell me," he fanned himself with the card, "when shall I visit you backstage? And you won't mind if I bring the Maganacs, too, right?"