Title: Imperfect Balance
Author: Keithan
Disclaimers: Gundam Wing and its characters belong to their respective owners.
Rating: PG
Words: 2,070
Series: One-shot
Pairings/Characters: Quatre/Duo, Heero, Trowa, Wufei
Summary: Quatre doesn't ask, 'Do you mean it?' because Duo is Duo, and Duo never lies, and he always means what he says, even if people sometimes need to know him to understand that.
Notes: A quick drabble exercise to get back into fic-writing somehow churned out more than the required 100 words. First time I've handled the pairing, sooo...

Imperfect Balance
by Keithan

Quatre thinks Duo says I love you one day as he stops to look at the children making snow angels and snow balls in a public park on the way to Wufei's apartment. He is sure it's not exactly what Duo said, but it is what he hears all the same, and he can't remember now exactly how Duo said it.

Quatre stops a few steps ahead and looks back at him, sees the late afternoon light over Duo's smiling face, and he wonders if he heard it right. It's Christmas, and he thinks maybe the holiday season has given him too much hope.

After all, every time Quatre opens his mouth to bring such issues up, Duo goes off on a tangent and Quatre smiles a little less and thinks maybe the easy friendship is better, less complicated, and that maybe Duo didn't really mean anything by that one kiss he gave Quatre, saying, Don't you fucking die on me, Winner! He knows too well how life and death situations can make people do weird things, and trying to grant a dying man's wish whatever the cost may be counted among them. Quatre thinks Duo panicked, because Quatre was nearly unconscious in a gurney at the time after receiving two gunshot wounds not meant for him, and there was blood everywhere, even on Duo's face.

Duo knows Quatre would do it for anyone, but Quatre knows he's never felt as much fear as he did when he saw the gun pointed at Duo—which is silly, because he has seen guns pointed everywhere and he has been using guns since before he even went to Earth, and he thinks he has feared all there is to fear about them. Quatre can't say exactly when Duo became an exception—he never did figure that one out.

After that incident, Quatre knows Duo knows. But whenever Quatre thinks he needs to clear it up, to say that it's okay, that he understands, Duo talks about inane things and Quatre gets caught up with it that afterwards, he thinks it is better this way, and nothing really needs to be said—and that maybe Duo would rather not have it out in the open, where it can potentially tip the balance of their friendship. Quatre doesn't want that to happen, so he lets it be.

"You're kidding, right?" Quatre asks, tilting his head a little, smiling and giving Duo a chance to joke about it, to take it back, and even if he'll smile a little less if Duo does that, he'll be okay—it's nothing different from the past jokes and smiles and laughs he has shared with Duo. He thinks he sees Duo's smile freeze up for a moment, like the cold white snow glittering under the sun on the park lawn that used to be green. Quatre straightens his head again, thinking the difference of angles makes him see things.

Duo turns to him, smiling—and Quatre sees it's not the same—and says, "Let's go, they're waiting."

Quatre thinks something just happened, but he's not quite sure what.

They continue their way to Wufei's place in relative silence, and Quatre suddenly feels awkward, and he hates it because he never feels awkward, especially not with Duo—never with Duo—and now he no longer wonders why Duo never brings it up, never says anything about it.

"We should have brought our stuff and just crash in Wufei's apartment," Duo says, and Quatre almost sighs in relief, because Duo's tone is light and normal and not at all as awkward-sounding as he thinks his own voice may be.

"I'm sure Heero has a rental car we could use to go back. That way, he and Trowa can actually make use of the hotel reservations the Preventers have arranged," Quatre answers, and Duo laughs. Quatre feels himself relaxing again. He tucks his scarf tighter around his neck—it's getting colder as night nears.

"Yeah, makes going to the party tomorrow easier as well."

"Speak for yourself," Quatre says, teasing. "I have a chauffeur, and maybe a limo, no—definitely a limo." Tomorrow night's party is the annual Eve Ball, a commemoration for the Eve Wars of 195 and 196, and Quatre feels as if it's a lifetime ago, and taking a glance at Duo, he thinks maybe it is. It's funny how war and peace can do that, can make six short years the difference of one lifetime to the next.

He'll attend tomorrow's party as L4's leading proponent of peace, Heero, Trowa and Duo will attend as undercover agents, and Wufei will attend as a Preventer. They have received many threats this year, after all the noise one politician is making against the Preventers that had spurred on a number of protesters against them; Une thought it best to have them all there.

Duo reaches out and swats at his head, saying, "You ass!" while laughing and Quatre catches his hand, laughing as well. It takes a moment after they've stopped for Quatre to realize he hasn't let go. Duo looks at him strangely, and Quatre immediately drops Duo's hand and pushes his own hands to his coat pockets.

"You'll just be a more glorified undercover agent than us," Duo says, and Quatre hears some glitch in his voice that he thinks may or may not be hesitation.

"I still have a limo," Quatre answers, and he laughs a little, hoping it doesn't sound too forced. "We're late," he continues, and he hurries his pace. Duo matches his stride easily. Quatre doesn't look at him, and watches the cloud of white his breath makes in front of his face instead. "Do you think they'll leave food for us?"

"Yeah," Duo's voice is quiet, and Quatre looks up, worried. But Duo seems to shake himself, and he says, "They better do, or else."

Quatre would have believed Duo's lightness of tone, and the ever-present smile on his face, except that he has never known Duo to finish threats with an or else. When Quatre tries to smile, it feels tight and unreal, so he bites his lips instead, and they turn a corner to Wufei's building.

This time, Quatre is sure something has happened, and something between them has changed yet again, and he is not quite sure if that is a good thing. Things between them have been constantly changing, too slowly and too little that he doesn't notice it until one day, even before the shooting, as he watched Duo laugh across the room then wave him over, he realizes that somehow, everything has changed.

Quatre clenches his hands tightly in his pockets as Duo holds the glass door open for him, and they come up to Wufei's apartment without saying anything more.

If the other guys notice anything wrong, they don't comment on it. Quatre knows it is impossible not to notice with the uncharacteristic lack of banter between them. When they sit down for dinner, he is sitting on one side of the table and Duo takes a seat on another side.

Heero takes one look at them, sitting diagonally from each other, and decides to take the place in front of Duo. As Heero passes Quatre, Quatre feels Heero's hand rest on his shoulder briefly, and he offers a slight nod in gratitude.

Quatre almost thinks Trowa will do the same to Duo, except that Wufei got to him first and hits him in the back of the head with one hand, the other one holding the tray of lasagna, and Wufei says, "Try to help out a little, Maxwell. You've kept us waiting long enough as it is."

"Hey!" Duo says, standing up. He points to me, "I was with Quatre! He's late too!"

And Trowa laughs and Duo looks at Quatre, and Quatre looks at Duo, and they both shake their heads and laugh with him. Later, Quatre offers Wufei a smile over the table, and he squeezes Trowa's wrist briefly when Trowa sits down near him.

It takes him until after dinner to ask, and when he does, it is between clearing up the table and passing Heero the dirty dishes. He doesn't ask, Do you mean it? Because Duo is Duo, and Duo never lies, and he always means what he says, even if people sometimes need to know him to understand that. Quatre says instead, "Really?" and if Duo ignores him, he can always say he's just commenting on whatever Trowa is saying—never mind that Trowa is actually talking to Wufei.

He is not sure what he's expecting. He is not even sure of what exactly it is he's asking. In one word, he is asking, are you sure, and he is saying that, it's okay, if you're not, and maybe even, you don't have to, if you're not ready.

Quatre doesn't know anymore how long this—thing—has been hanging between them. The shooting incident almost two months ago is a turning point, but he is sure that it was never the start, and the beginning, he thinks, can never be really pointed out—and he is fine with that. Quatre thinks he is fine with not being able to point out the end as well—if it has to come to that.

Duo looks up, and Quatre thinks the others do too, and he's suddenly nervous and he grips the two glasses he holds in his hands. Heero is looking at him, Trowa is looking at him, and Wufei is looking at Duo, before they all switch and Heero and Trowa are now looking at Duo, and Wufei is now looking at him.

Duo snorts, and gathers the chips and soda in his arms before heading to the living room. "Yeah, Quat, really," he throws back over his shoulder, and Quatre can see that his shoulders are tensed and he's not really as nonchalant as he tries to be. He stops and looks back at Quatre, raising a challenging brow. "You have a problem with that?"

Quatre smiles—he wonders if it's as wide as he feels it to be. "No, Duo. I really don't." And Duo smiles too, and Quatre thinks it's the best smile he's ever seen on Duo's face, and he has seen a lot.

"Good," Duo says it as though it's a verbal period and the discussion ends there.

Quatre ignores the looks the others give him when he smiles wider, because, as cliché as it may sound, Quatre knows it's only the beginning, and he thinks he is fine with being able to point that out now.

When Duo turns his back to him and to the others, Quatre catches the softening of Duo's face that he tries to hide behind the fall of his hair, and when Heero, Trowa, and Wufei look at him as if asking him what happened, he just smiles, hands Trowa the two glasses in his hands, and leaves them to finish clearing up in the kitchen to follow Duo in the living room. Quatre knows none of them would really mind, especially when he stands behind the couch Duo has sat on and lays a hand on top of Duo's head, because then, they don't really need him to answer their unspoken questions. And if they have any more left unanswered, Duo leaning his head back to Quatre's stomach, as if it's the most normal thing, clears all of it away, just as it clears any doubts left in Quatre's mind.

"I'm glad," Quatre says to Duo and doesn't say anything anymore. He doesn't ask whether or not Duo's sure, or if he's really ready, because, even if Duo has ignored the matter for what seems like so long, now that he's faced it, Duo is still Duo, and he knows Duo never does things halfway.

"Yeah?" Duo asks, without looking up at him.

"Yeah," Quatre says. He tries not to smile too much, tries not to make too much of a big deal out of it. The balance of their friendship has already been tipped, and he doesn't wish to upset it any more than needed, so Quatre doesn't ask if everything between them has changed irrevocably. He knows it did and it doesn't really matter—especially not when Duo's trying to hide his smile too, because Quatre's sure neither of them are quite successful.

.end
07.04.10