Part 1 - Accomplice
Quatre had checked in at a small hotel for the night, and done his best not to get noticed. Having a face that was merely slightly famous could be troublesome, having one that was far more famous than that tended to make it impossible to walk in public. Fortunately, Quatre had become adept at avoiding the inquisitive-looking people, and above all the far-from-serious reporters or photographers that occasionally tried to track him down and catch him in any situation they could abuse for their gossip columns and glaring, colorful 'shock' front-pages. The woman behind the counter had recognized him, but had smiled and without being prompted for it handed him a 'do not disturb' cardboard sign for the door along with the keys, giving him a quick wink. With a brief 'thank you', Quatre accepted, and found his own way to the room. The eve passed slowly before the small TV set there, despite a few breaks from the cathode ray brainwash including a few calls to his sisters and Rashid, and once deciding to sleep, it hadn't taken long before he was far gone, and albeit a faint smile was on his lips, his slumber was dreamless, without expectations - but no longer a nightmare.
The early morning was as uneventful as the night. The hotel had very few guests, and but one or two others had found their way down to the breakfast table. Quatre was in no rush. He had been given no exact time for when to return, but did not want to appear too eager. Hence, he brooded over the meager meal for nearly two hours, sifting through a newspaper or two, gazing out the window at the weather-less cityscape of the colony or sneaking a peek at the other guests. In the end, impatience got the better of him, and he left the dining room and returned to his room for a quick shower and change of clothes, before packing what little he had brought in the first place back in the small bag and ever so slowly gaining the determination to return to the circus, checking out from the hotel on the way.
The big top was but a skeleton now, the vast canvas divided and rolled up, and the rigging about to follow. Most of the animal cages were stacked on transport trucks, and nearly all the residence trailers were ready to roll too. Nearly everyone was busy with the travel preparations, and Quatre was at a loss where to go - until, as the day before, Catherine spotted him. He was too busy watching the plastic, wood and metal framework of the great tent come down to notice her sneaking up on him, and jumped a bit has she placed a hand on his shoulder. She laughed.
"Hi, Quatre - too busy admiring the laborers to notice me?"
He gave a brief, passing frown. "I was just watching it all come down - I'm always amazed at what people can do if they work together, and coordinate their efforts."
Catherine snickered. "Well, I wouldn't call that a coordinated effort - it's more like 'let's not mess up, or we'll get fired' kinda hodgepodge work. The manager is probably on the other side trying to organize it, but some of those workers are stubborn individualists, no matter how much at risk their job is." She paused. "Oh, and don't go too close - either you'll get in the way, or you'll get a language course unlike any you've ever heard. Some of those guys know more swears and dirty jokes than all of L2 put together.
Minutely sending one eyebrow low and another high, Quatre let it pass. "Catherine, I should probably seek out the manager - he was on the other side of the tent?"
She nodded. "Yeah, but you don't have to go there. You got the job, Quatre."
Quatre couldn't help but smile even wider than normal. "I did? Really?"
Catherine grinned. "You sure did - you begin whenever you're ready. You'll be kinda an all-rounder here, though. I'm sure you'll spend most of the time in the ticket or food booths, or helping out with other things. Doubt the manager will let you help with the rigging work, though. No offense, Quatre, but you don't look like a brutish muscle man."
Mock offense. "Hey - Looks can be deceitful, Catherine."
She laughed. "Yeah, sure. Anyway, welcome to the family, Quatre."
Sunbeam. "Thanks." He hesitated, not sure if- "Where's Trowa?"
"He's tending to the animals, as always. Fang wasn't too happy when they made his cage ready for transport, so Trowa went to calm him down."
She nodded. "The lion. He can be a bit grumpy, but that's just fine. When he's in the ring, he's supposed to look really dangerous and out-of-control. To the manager and Trowa, he's just an oversized kitten - most of the time. I'm still waiting for Fang to prove either of them wrong. He isn't as complacent as they think."
Quatre gave her and odd look.
She smiled. "No, I'm not saying I wish they'd get hurt - I'm just saying they should respect Fang's authority - he's the king of animals, after all. While he's probably content watching all his subjects come visit him at his throne inside the cage, you shouldn't anger a king that still operates after the feudal system, and wouldn't hesitate punishing a serf."
Slight chuckle, if for nothing else, then at the thought of Trowa in appropriate medieval rags, complete with pitchfork and torch. "Maybe so. I'll go tell Trowa, then."
"If you mean about you working here, he already knows."
"Yeah - he's in the 'high council' of this circus, you know - can't make a decision on something like this without a quick vote. Besides, the manager wanted Trowa's opinion on you - don't worry, he could only think of good things to say."
"Was he surprised?"
"Well, it's hard to tell with Trowa - I swear I saw his jaw drop, just barely. Still, for him, that's a lot."
Immediately worrying, a severe case of cold feet struck Quatre, as well as a sensation of already being exposed.
"Quatre, look - If you really want to know what he thinks about you working here, you should just ask him."
He nodded. "I'll do that. Thanks, Catherine."
"No prob - hey, leave your backpack here and come meet me here afterwards. We have some arrangements to make, like getting you a work schedule, housing and such - I'll be somewhere around here. Have to get my trailer ready for the road."
Again, Quatre nodded, left the bag next to Catherine's trailer and headed towards the animal cages.
He found Trowa within the empty elephant pen. The cover tent had already been removed, as had some of the fences, leaving the bottom plastic canvas, a thick layer of sawdust and... the occasional other left-behind trade mark. Trowa was busy removing the latter; big gray shovel, sturdy work boots and rolled-up short shirt sleeves his main tools for the job. Quatre hesitated, not wanting to interrupt, and ended up standing by the fence until Trowa had filled up another wheelbarrow of unmentionable substances and noticed him. Quatre lit up.
Trowa gave nary a smile in reply, placing the shovel along the fence so it wouldn't fall over when left alone. "Quatre."
"Anything I can help you with?"
Trowa chuckled. "I don't think you're dressed for this, Quatre." He paused, grabbed a hold of the wheelbarrow and pushed it out of the pen towards a low dumpster with a makeshift on-ramp, proceeding to empty the contents of the wheelbarrow into said metal container, not-so resonant splats indicating the dumpster wasn't entirely empty as it was. Remarkably enough, there was little smell to attest for contents, though.
Quatre estimated the size of the dumpster. "The animals can't possibly produce that much of-"
Vague grin. "They don't - this dumpster is for all organic waste, including trash and human waste. The residence trailers need to be emptied too. There's one for general junk and one for recyclable material on the other side of the grounds. The local authorities usually give us something like this to clean up after us. Less of a mess for them." He shrugged. "For us too, really."
"Yeah... Look, I-"
"I heard you were going to work here?"
"Yeah - if that's okay with you. I don't want to make you uncomfortable by-"
Trowa gave another light chuckle. "Don't worry, I don't mind. Catherine told me all about your latest idea. I just hope you find what you're looking for here, Quatre. Not sure this is the place to learn about business."
Quatre smiled, albeit it was a tad sinister. "I think I'll find just what I seek here, Trowa."
Shrug. "Whatever you say." Trowa rolled the wheelbarrow back to the pen. "I'm done here for now - the sawdust is the last thing we dump. Covers the smell better. Want to help me feed the animals?"
Having made a quick stop by a spring to wash off his hands as well as spray his boots clean of the worst mess, Trowa guided Quatre through the cages with a food trolley, giving brief orders now and then on what to feed which animal. Before long, they were by Fang's cage. The lion was resting now, lazily dozing on his side, back against the bars. Without hesitation, Trowa put his hand between the metal rods, scratching a point between Fang's shoulder blades. The beast gave no sign of disliking it, but as Trowa used his free hand to grab a slab of meat off the trolley, the sound was enough to get the lion to its feet. The second the meat was within the cage, Fang snapped it out of Trowa's hands, ripping the offering into proper mouthfuls. Again, the gentle caressing hand returned, this time to scratch the beast behind one ear.
"I can't believe how you do that, Trowa - I mean, he could bite your hand off if he wanted to."
Trowa shook his head. "There's no need to worry about that, Quatre. If Fang wanted to do that, he'd tell me so, long before doing it."
"Yes - unlike humans, animals are true to their feelings. If they feel a certain way, they'll show it, making it very clear. Humans usually feel one way, but act another, never revealing their true intentions. Animals are almost always truthful."
Quatre felt a slight stab in his chest; the comment struck much too close to home.
"I'm more at ease with animals than most humans for that reason. Beasts only show their fangs to those they consider an enemy. There's never any doubt. I can never really know what some people are thinking, or feeling. I can't see when a human is about to attack, or feels angry, or afraid, or cornered. Humans don't want to show that kind of weakness - or honesty. Animals do it by nature."
Quatre was a bit puzzled. "Trowa, you shouldn't give up on humans just because they're too afraid to be honest all the time. It just wouldn't work for humans."
Weary smile. "Maybe you're right, Quatre. It's still a nice thought, though. Imagine if everyone always spoke the truth, and didn't hold any of it back. It'd be messy in the beginning, but if we all got used to it, I think it'd make a better world. People keep too many secrets, and it hurts no one but themselves."
Quatre clenched his teeth, though didn't answer.
Trowa got to his feet, gave his hands a quick rub to remove at least some of the lion scent, and proceeded to the next cage, Quatre and food cart in tow.
They finished tending to the animals, barely a word exchanged after they left Fang. Trowa excused himself to return to the empty elephant pen to remove the sawdust and wash the plastic canvas hidden below.
Which left Quatre heading back towards Catherine's trailer. He found her busy with the jack supports, preparing the trailer for transport. The wheel screens were already removed, and most of the cables and tubes that previously stuck out from below it were disconnected and rolled up. As she finished off the last support, she noticed his presence. She wiped her forehead with the back of one gloved hand, crank in a firm grip in the other, and smiled at him.
"Hi, Quatre. Everything went well with Trowa?"
He nodded. "I think so..." Taking a moment of hesitation to gently chew on his lower lip, Quatre opted to forego caution for answers. "Catherine - Trowa seemed even more reclusive than I remember him. Is something wrong?"
She kneeled down to put the crank along with a few of the tubes and cables inside a side compartment of the trailer, gloves following last. "Well, he's always been reserved, you know that - but I think it's gotten a bit worse over the last year. He's always reluctant to run errands into crowded stores or walk down packed streets. Doesn't like to attend the food stands or ticket office either. Trowa never has a problem when it's his time to enter the ring, though." She shrugged, sighing. "Quatre, he really has to learn to interact with people - get out more, you know? I know it's hard to do something like that when you have a new address every week or so, but he should learn to mingle more with people outside the family here at the circus."
Quatre looked back towards the animal cages. A forklift was busy loading one of the cages onto a truck. "Do you think it's serious?"
She closed the side compartment, locking it shut. "I honestly don't know - I don't know why he's retreating from everyone. Could be just a phase, I don't know. Problem with Trowa is that you can't really push him, for if you do, he'll snap. I don't want to make things bad between us if he just wants a bit of privacy."
"Still... If he can't manage to go outside the circus perimeter, then-"
Catherine got up again. "Look - I didn't say it was that bad - Trowa just doesn't want to wade through crowds. Makes him uncomfortable, I think. Can't say I'm too fond of crowds myself. Besides, Trowa still does the jobs he's given, you just see him cringe at them, just a little."
Her eyes hardened, slight frown coming upon her. "Quatre, why are you suddenly so concerned about Trowa? I know you have this uncanny empathy thing about you, Trowa has told me about it - but that isn't all there is, is it? I saw the two of you when you were feeding Fang, and I saw your eyes, Quatre."
"My eyes? What does that-"
"You had this really hungry look, not that angelic expression you generally wear, like you really wanted something. Frankly, I had a hard time seeing on which side of the bars the predator was - and I also saw who the prey was. You're not here just for job experience, are you? What do you want from Trowa?"
With a tired smile, Quatre sighed. "Catherine, I... You're right, I'm not here just for the job."
She folded her arms, leaning back against her trailer, waiting. "Well?"
Knowing his cover was already blown, there was little to do but run away in retreat or admit what he came here for. Fortunately, the voices from before remained quiet, and his feet felt cemented to the ground. Admission it was. If nothing else, it'd alleviate his conscience a bit from omitting parts of the truth. "I'm here because I wanted to see Trowa - be with Trowa. The company took up all my time, and there was never a free moment for me to really think if that's what I wanted to do - run the company, I mean. I just - I just snapped, I couldn't take it anymore. I realized I wanted something different."
"A more quiet life - a life with people I care about."
Catherine raised a brow. "And you think this is the place for that?"
He smirked. "Kinda - At least, I hope so."
"Just what are you getting at, Quatre?"
Momentarily gritting his teeth, he determined there was no time like the present. "I love Trowa, Catherine - and I don't mean just as a friend. I really love him."
Though a slight gasp could be heard, and her jaw dropped just a bit, she didn't respond. After all, this was pretty much what she'd already suspected - wasn't it? Of course, it didn't matter; the word was out.
"That's what I really came here for - I wanted to tell Trowa how I really felt. I don't know how he'd react to something like that, though - and now I can't help thinking it could push him deeper into this reclusive behavior you say he's developing. I wouldn't do anything to hurt Trowa, you know that."
Her jaw worked up and down a few times before the gift of speech returned. "Look, Quatre - this is just-" One brow flared. "You love him?"
He nodded. "If that offends you, I'm-"
"No - No, it's not that. I just want to know if it's truly love, or just lust. Quatre, you've taken Trowa away from me twice before - first time you were crazed by that infernal machine, and the second time it was for finishing the war. I can't shake the feeling you're just toying with Trowa's life - and now this?"
Staring into the ground, he chuckled, upon which she frowned. "Sorry, it's just - Catherine, I really love him. I'm sure of that." He looked up towards the colony ceiling. "It feels so good to finally admit that..."
Again, an eyebrow flagged. "You mean you just figured out how you felt, and now you want to-"
Quatre shook his head. "No. I don't think I want to push this question on Trowa, not if he's having problems. For now, I'm happy being around him, even if he's oblivious to how I really feel. A friend is better than nothing."
She sighed. "Now, that I agree with. Look, Trowa isn't exactly open when it comes to feelings - I haven't got a clue if he's even... well, 'compatible'. Don't think I've ever seen him socializing with anyone, other than colleagues here, or you Gundam pilots. He doesn't have any friends outside those two circles, as far as I know. Quatre, if you tell him how you really feel, I have no idea what might happen - but I'd never allow you to hurt Trowa, and I think that's exactly what you'd do if you told him."
His turn to sigh. "You're probably right. That's why I don't want to tell him, not yet." Quatre resumed eye contact. "Catherine, I love your brother, and I'd never do anything to hurt him - but if you let me, I'd really like to stay here for a while - as a friend, at least. If Trowa has problems, I'd like to help him."
A minute passed by in silence. Then two. Catherine pushed away from the trailer wall with one foot, walked over to Quatre and placed one hand on each of his shoulders. "Very well. Promise me you won't tell Trowa until we've worked out if he has problems, and until we get an idea of how he'd react to your little confession."
Sunbeam returning. "Really? You don't have a problem with-"
She laughed. "Quatre, I don't have a problem with you loving my brother - I'd have no problem with him loving you back, either - but I honestly don't know if he's even predisposed for that, much less how he feels about you - and until we figure that out, I have no problem with you being his friend. Trowa needs friends, and you're his best friend." Her eyes sparkled, if briefly. "Though you're apparently going for even more."
Vague sigh within smile. "I can only hope, Catherine."
She chuckled. "We'll see, Quatre - one more promise, though - if we find out that Trowa's answer is guaranteed to be negative, you won't ask it, ever. I don't want you to be hurt, either - and I don't think it's worth losing a friendship over."
He bit his lower lip again. "Okay - but how will we find that out?"
She shrugged. "I guess we'll just wait and see. Maybe Trowa will open up a bit more, if you're around."
This time, it was Quatre who raised a brow.
Catherine gave a short snicker. "Hey, I only know you're the pilot he talks about the most. I figured you were his best friend from back then, and the few conversations Trowa and I have had, always painted you like some confidante for the other pilots."
His face opened, and his right hand found its way to his left bicep to scratch a sudden itch there. "Oh. Well, I guess that's true. Maybe I'm more sensitive to uneasiness and discomfort of mind than the others, I don't know."
The sound of a truck horn broke their conversation. Catherine grabbed Quatre's wrist. "Sounds like the first truck is about to leave. We'd better get you a place to live before we hit the road."
Quatre nodded, and his free hand reached for his backpack.