Duo left the car well-tempered, so did Trowa (he didn’t really show it). They were standing in the middle of an old castle, somewhere in the center of Germany. The air was clean and clear, and on their left they found a tree, ages old, bird’s singing in it’s crown.
“This is too good to be true....” Duo sighed, moving his arms behind his neck in a valiant attempt to stretch the muscles that had been stuck in the car for hours. “Ouch...” he complained as his bones revealed a cracking noise. “I don’t know whether this is supposed to be relaxing!”
“You didn’t drive,” Trowa said and opened the trunk. Duo nodded smiling, there was no need to bother about cracked bones right now. Not for him at least, he thought pitifully as Quatre climbed out from the passengers seat, jumping on his left foot and holding onto the door.
“Geez, Quatre. I bet you are the reason they brought us here. You really need recovery on this … program,” Duo stated and came back to the tastelessly light green car. “Can I help you?” he asked, offering the wounded a hand.
“Get away!” Quatre snapped grinning, “As far as I know you, you’d rather trip on my foot than help me with it. Besides, it’s not broken.” He carefully lowered the foot onto the ground and let go of the supporting door of the car. His look changed to something unpleasant as he put weight on his right foot. “I suggest, you guys take the luggage and I’ll check with the office... limping myself up there.” Quatre pointed at the stairs which lead to the main entry, and made his painful way uphill the cobblestones. One should think, they had set this very unhealthy path up only to annoy him, but Quatre made it to the banister with little pain and carefully dragged himself upstairs, step by step. He wasn’t completely helpless after all.
Trowa watched with one eye while he was setting his, Quatre’s and Duo’s bags onto the floor next to the car. He would have loved to help Quatre get up there, but the boy seemed determined to get to the office on his own, and if it helped his self-confidence, Trowa would let him. Quatre would even have carried his own bag if he had only slightly been capable of doing it. He was wounded too much, though, and Trowa and Duo took the two bags with joy.
“Why don’t you get inside and I’ll take the car down to the lot?” Duo interrupted Trowa’s thinking, just as Quatre vanished thought the door.
“Oh... ye- no! Duo!”
“You don’t have a license.”
“I can even steer a Gundam, a car is nothing compared to Deathscythe!”
“No way. And you forget: No talking about battle around here. That’s the order for our recovery program.”
“Bakana.” Duo succumbed and shouldered his rucksack, grabbing the smaller one of Quatre’s bags, just to annoy Trowa. He followed Quatre upstairs and found himself in a small hall. There was a tower with a spiral staircase to his right and Quatre just came out of the office on his left. Came? He limped.
“We’ve got the rooms ‘Prag’, ‘Warschau’ and ‘Brüssel’, they said. It’s upstairs,” Quatre pointed at the spiral staircase, not really content with the thought of having his room on the third floor. He would need hours to get up there in his physical unattractive position. Duo unknowingly shared that thought.
“What if you take the stuff upstairs and I’ll wait for Trowa to tell him where to go, alright? I’ll follow you two upstairs later.”
Duo nodded, snapping the bag from the floor, and started his way upstairs the spiral staircase.
“One, two, three, four, five,...” he counted the steps, since he had nothing else to do, and it would partly entertain the waiting Quatre, who by now, sat on a large box, throwing an uninterested glare at the newspaper.
“...forty-seven, forty-eight,...” Duo’s voice came from far away, gasping.
“You up yet?” Quatre called, already getting horrified by fifty stairs to climb up.
“Nope, sixty-five, sixty-seven, sixty-eight, sixty-nine, … seventy! I found it,” Duo gasped, pushing a door open which lead to the third and fourth floor. Poor Quatre, would that week really mean recovery for him?
At that moment, Trowa entered the hall, spotting Quatre on the box.
“Daijobu desu ka?” he asked concernedly.
“Daijobu,” Quatre nodded, “I just waited here to give you the key. You room is ‘Prag’, on the opposite of mine, ‘Brüssel’. It’s on the third floor... seventy steps upstairs that way.” Quatre once again pointed at the stony, spiral path to the top and sighed heartily.
“Can’t we get anything closer to the bottom?” Trowa asked concernedly as he took the key from Quatre.
“They are almost overbooked, they said. They think it shouldn’t be a problem, since we’ll spent most of our time downstairs anyway. I’ll just go up there in the evening and back down in the morning,” Quatre smiled confidently, adding “And once I’m up there, I’ll have a wonderful view over these beautiful hills. I wouldn’t want to miss it.”
Trowa nodded and grabbed for the bags. “Alright, then.”
“Go ahead. I’ll follow slowly. Sorry, I can’t take my bags...”
“I told you, it’s no problem, Quatre-kun.”
Trowa smiled as he turned around, Quatre’s constant need to excuse was just too sweet to him. Seventy stairs, oh well. At least he was not handicapped and the bags weren’t too heavy. He started to climb upstairs looking back occasionally until he could not see Quatre anymore.
“Well, well... Seventy,” Quatre sighed and pulled himself upstairs with clenched teeth. The foot hurt more than he admitted to the others. Well, he’d just take all the time he could get to go up there, step by step. He would get used to that, anyway. Clenching the banister, he set his left foot onto the next step and pulled the right one up next to the other. This way, his weight only shortly rested on the painful foot, still it hurt.
“Itai...” he moaned.
“Quatre?” Trowa’s voice called from upstairs.
“It’s alright. I just ... slipped.” He hated lying, but he didn’t want to upset Trowa.
In a slow, really slow pace, Quatre moved himself up twenty steps and already he started sweating. The pain was not unbearable but by climbing the stairs, it was just constant, and that was really annoying. Trowa was long gone, Quatre was all alone in the tower. He gasped for air as he reached the thirtieth step. He didn’t know how this was supposed to go on the next week.
Trowa and Duo had brought the different bags to the different rooms, including a flute- and a violin-case. Trowa had carefully placed the violin onto the table in Quatre’s room and the bag next to the closet. There were two beds in the room, just like in his and Duo’s room, too. Yet, the pilots were all granted separate rooms - also, because of the recovery program. Usually, they were either all bunking together or split to two rooms. It would be strange, though, to fall asleep without knowing Quatre was occupying the bed on the other end of the room. The soft and silent breathing would not soothe Trowa into sleep the following nights. Maybe, Quatre could need some time on his own, though. Being sick and all, he would be better off sleeping tightly, not hearing Trowa shift around in his bed or snort, or whatever he did while he was sleeping, Trowa assumed.
By the way, where was that Arabian anyway?
”Is Quatre coming?” Duo asked, leaning against the doorframe.
“He said he would,” Trowa mumbled and left the room. He turned to the stairs, through a small hall with a window, chairs and a table, signing Duo that he’d have a look.
“Quatre-kun?” he called.
“I am here,” came a voice from deep down below, carrying a slight wave of exhaustion to it, “on stair... thirty-something.”
Trowa shook his head. He shouldn’t have let Quatre try to get up there on his own in the first place, he shouldn’t even have let the Arabian walk up to the office on his own. He lightly climbed down the stairs, meeting Quatre a few steps above the first floor. He was gasping, holding his hands on his knees and leaning on them to catch breath.
“You’ll never make it up there like this,” Trowa whispered. Quatre straightened his back and displayed that never-ending smile of confidence. “Ah, nah. I’ll just take it slowly.”
Trowa slid a hand around Quatre’s back and one under his knees, gently lifting the light pilot into the air. Quatre smiled at him as he guessed Trowa’s intentions and laid his arms around Trowa’s neck, to help support his weight.
“Guess you’re right,...” he explained, still gasping some and still smiling blue eyes at Trowa. Trowa could feel the look he knew so well on his face but looked straight ahead, trying to avoid smashing Quatre’s wounded limb on the walls. Holding Quatre was quite sensational to his body, he had to admit. And he knew perfectly well, what he felt for the beautiful youngster. His gaze fell upon the bandaged ankle.
I remember. I think it’s hardly a week ago now... this pain-filled face. We were pretty good at fighting this battle and we were all having a great advantage... except for Sandrock. It suddenly sprung into my eye: A Mobile Suit, aiming Sandrock from the side, and Quatre did not seem to be able to react – being busy with a whole unit of Mobile Dolls in front of him. I remember crying his name, but it was way too late. From the shocked expressions of my teammates on the screen I could tell they had caught sight of the awful display in front of us, too. What could any of us do, though?
A hard shot in Sandrock’s back sent the Gundam shaking, simultaneously Quatre’s pain-filled cry was transmitted through the speakers, echoing in my mind. For a moment, there was no sound but that of Heavyarm’s endless fighting. How I was even able to pull the trigger, I don’t know. It seemed hours, though it were approximately two or three seconds before Quatre’s pale and sweaty face re-appeared on the screen. He was breathing heavily, his eyes focused on the battlefield. I think, Duo was the first one to speak.
“Quatre, are you alright, buddy?”
Quatre’s eyes switched to the screen for a second, he forced his patent, mild smile, but the pain was still there. “I’m alright. I slammed my foot against the control,” he explained – smiling. Right after that he clenched his teeth, his brows narrowing as he tried to ignore the pain.
“Alright, Winner!” Heero said, proceeding in the fighting. We followed his example. I was worried, though. Sandrock did not leave it’s position anymore. He fought long-distance, not proceeding the slightest. More sweat now sparkled on Quatre’s forehead, wetting his strands, due to the pain. No doubt, his right foot, usually used to steer the Gundam and turn on the fire to move the heavy suit, was out of work.
“Quatre-kun!” I said, forcing the words out of me.
“Nani?” he moaned, still pretending to be alright.
“You are injured. Can you go home?”
“I am okay!”
Wufei turned on his screen, “You are not moving!” he interrupted, having made the same observations on Sandrock and Quatre, as I had.
“I’m coming!” Poor Quatre clenched his jaws and slammed down the pedal, jerking Sandrock ahead, pressing it back towards the battlefield. He could not prevent a slight groan.
“Winner!” Heero interrupted, cold and firm. “Go home.”
Eventually, Quatre nodded and succumbed to Heero’s demanding advice. He slowly turned Sandrock around, while I guarded his back. His face turned pale as he had to use the pedal again.
“Stop!” I yelled. He was definitely not in shape to move, neither with, nor without Sandrock. Pain exhausted eyes gazed at me through the screen, as if there was mist all over the place.
“Trowa is right, Quatre. We’re almost finished, we’ll take you home,” Duo explained. I sighed with silent relief as Quatre – definitely not pleased – relaxed in his seat, waiting for us, fighting with the pain. As Duo had predicted, we finished soon. Only five minutes later, Wing Zero sent out the last shot, our mission was complete. Me and Duo grabbed Sandrock, letting it hang in between us and leading it home. I realized how vulnerable we all were. Quatre on his own would probably not have made it home without help, he would not even have survived. Only because his concentration had been completely caught by the unit of Mobile Dolls he was fighting. Not even Heero would have been able to react to the attacking Mobile Suit in time.
Still tensed with a slowly easing fear for Quatre’s health, I lowered Heavyarms into the base. Gravity! Finally. I jumped down my Gundam, meeting Duo, Wufei and Heero on the ground in front of the machines’ feet.
Sandrock was opened, but Quatre did not appear. Duo threw me a scared look and hurried inside the Arabian’s Gundam. We waited in anticipation for him to return. He reappeared with Quatre laying in his arms. I realized, with relief, that he was conscious.
Duo carried him to a room, lowering him sitting on the bed, so just his feet dangled over the edge. Quatre’s face was peaceful, he didn’t seem to feel any pain right now. Duo had set him against the wall to support his back, and the peaceful and silent Quatre, sitting there, spread a wave of innocent carelessness. I shivered unnoticeably.
I lowered myself kneeling in front of the bed, intending to grab his shoe, and help setting the injured foot free to have a look at it. As soon as my hands touched the shoe, Quatre gasped in a painful moan.
“I have to get it off, Quatre-kun...” I said softly.
“I know,” he replied bravely, his fingers digging into the sheets. “Go ahead.” He waited for me to pull.
“I really don’t want to hurt you, Quatre, but I don’t have a choice here...” I stuttered. He nodded, awaiting the pain, waiting for this procedure to be over, as it seemed. I carefully slipped the shoe off his heel, not able to prevent pulling at his foot as well. Quatre cried out in pain, clenching the sheets tightly as not preventable tears of pain shot out of his eyes. He didn’t move the tiniest bit, except that he opened his mouth to release that cry.
Duo had jumped to his side by then, giving Quatre a hand to hold on to. There still were socks, though. I carefully rolled them down his legs and over the ankle. The blue-eyed Arabian whimpered, holding Duo tightly. No way I wanted to hurt him, and I tried to be as gentle as possible, though I really needed to get that stuff off of him.
To be honest, I was glad I could help Quatre, but I would have loved it even more to be in Duo’s position. I wiped such thoughts away, it was the perfectly wrong time for such distracting brain work. I looked at the naked foot. The ankle was perfectly swollen, it looked rather bad. It didn’t seem broken, though, as I told the others.
Quatre opened his eyes, which he had held close ever since that painful cry as I pulled on his shoe. Heero stalked inside.
“I called a doctor,” he said in his usual tone. Then, he turned to Quatre: “Itai?” he asked.
“Hai. But it’s ... bearable. Arigatou, Trowa.”
I nodded, somewhat happy to hear this from the one I love. “I’ll ask for painkillers as soon as the doctor is here,” I promised.
As I had predicted, the bones were not broken but the injury he had was of a very painful kind. We knew Quatre would be out for several months. Fortunately, there were no severe missions ahead of us. Quatre was the one most annoyed by his inability to fight for a long time, as he told us. We explained that we would prevent any further action of Sandrock on the battlefield, as long as Quatre was not completely cured. He thanked us, appreciating the depth of our concern. He couldn’t have any idea how much concerned I really was. The drugs made him drowsy. I just caught him in time as he keeled over into sleep. I carefully tucked him in his sheets and covered the bandaged foot. He was sleeping on his pillow, breathing deeply and relaxing. That little bit of face color he had usually was slowly returning… He looked like an angel...
I realized, I did not only have a crush on him... I realized I love Quatre.
Trowa sat Quatre down for a moment at the table in the room with the window. He sat down across from him, his hands playing with the blue tablecloth hanging over the edge of the table.
“Arigatou, Trowa-kun,” Quatre said smiling and let his eyes wander through the room to the window. His eyes lightened as he scanned the overview over the country. There were yellow fields and trees on the hills, and all looked so small from up here. Uphill the fields ended and gave space to a beautiful forest. On the left and right there were green, brown and red fields, some of them even holding grapes, which were of course not useful at this time of the year. Not a single human could be seen from up here, as if the world was peacefully empty. Quatre imagined the mist being caught down there in the mornings and the sun go up over the hills in the east.
“It’s beautiful,...” he exclaimed. Trowa had observed the happiness in Quatre’s face, it was more than a reward for bringing him up here. He’d carry him upstairs as often as he wanted to! Quatre got up from his chair and hopped to the window on one leg.
“Be careful...” Trowa said calmly, but the Arabian was already caught by the beautiful environment, his eyes big sparkling like those of a child being in the zoo for the first time, staring at the giraffes or something similar astonishing. Trowa felt hazy at that beautiful sight of Quatre leaning against the window, he couldn’t even get up and walk next to him.
“Such a pity I can’t take a walk out there in the forest...” Quatre said regretfully and disengaged himself from the window. “Oh well, they have a beautiful garden, they said.” Once again the blond displayed that unique, confidently mild smile of his, as he turned around to face Trowa. He limped past the table and towards the corridor with rooms on it’s left and right. Trowa go up as well, intending to help Quatre towards his room, but letting go of these intentions. He knew Quatre wanted to make it there on his own.
“Your room is the first one on the left, mine’s on the right and Duo’s is at the back of the corridor,” Trowa explained, when the door behind him squeaked and opened.
“Hn,” came the voice.
“Heero!” Quatre said cheerfully without turning around. That hn was so typical, he knew who that had to be.
“Heero’s here?” came a voice from the other end of the corridor. Duo dashed out from the back of the hallway, brushed past Quatre and fell around his koibito’s neck. Wufei, who was standing right behind Heero, stalked back a few steps, the swinging braid just missed to whip him. Heero let his bag drop down onto the floor, smirking slightly at the cheerful shinigami around his neck.
“Duo...” he just said and slid his arms around the other’s back. Duo disengaged himself and planted a light kiss on Heero’s nose. Heero hid a slight blush behind his bangs.
“Man, I thought you’d never arrive!!!” Duo said, grabbing Heero’s heavy bag with the delightful strength of a tiger. “Guess what, they gave us all separate rooms. No more bunkin’ together, just ask the stupid scientists. My room is Warschau and it’s okay, and Quatre’s even has two beds. They insisted on giving us separate rooms anyway,...” Duo chatted and babbled until Heero caught up with him and kissed him on the cheek violently. “Shut up, baka.”
Duo stopped in surprise and then started laughing lightly. The monotone pilot was too cute, to make Duo feel offended by this. Heero opened the door to his room, ‘Den Haag’, to find a small, comfortable room with two beds, a table and a bathroom attached. The sun shone through the window and a closet occupied the entrance to the room. Duo let the bag sink down.
“Nice room,” he said, smiling at the two beds.
“No, Duo, you have your own room,” Heero growled. Duo pouted at this and turned around to his own place, leaving Heero alone with his bag.
“It doesn’t mean you can’t come over now and then...” Heero mumbled and let himself fall onto the bed. He wondered what this recovery program was all about, and what he had to expect. Trowa meanwhile helped Wufei with his bags and the katana, he carried over to his room ‘Moskau’ in between Quatre and Heero’s.
“How was your journey?” Trowa asked.
“Hn. So was ours.”
“In pain, I guess. He doesn’t admit, though.”
“He tries to be strong. That’s quite okay.”
Trowa nodded, even though he didn’t think there was a need to be strong now and here. Wufei’s room held three beds, a closet, but no table. Wufei took the bed under the window to sit on. Trowa left silently to have a look at Quatre. Wufei sat silent for a while, wondering whether this recovery program would really, as intended, relieve them from inner tension, and make them stop thinking about the stuff that worried them. Oh no... it would never. There was too much in his mind, nobody knew. Meiran was floating there somewhere, making him weak every time he thought about her. Not to mention Treize...
A light knock on the doorframe of the opened entry made Quatre look up. “Trowa-kun.”
“Daijobou desu ka?”
“Yes, sure,” Quatre replied, packing more shirts into the closet. “I’m almost finished, want to come in?”
Trowa walked past Quatre and sat down on one of the beds, staring at the violin-case and Quatre in terms. Quatre filled his closet in awkward silence. Trowa couldn’t think of anything to say, though he knew Quatre was uncomfortable in absolute silence. The blond bent down producing two books out of his bag and placing them into the closet.
“What books are these?” Trowa asked to break the silence.
“Uh...er...” Quatre started uncomfortably, “One of them holds photos of my family, especially of my father and Ilea,” he explained, “and the other... the other’s my diary.”
Trowa gulped inaudibly. Maybe it would have been better not to ask; this seemed very private. He could not really imagine what it must be like to see one’s sister and father drop dead in front of one’s eyes, but judging on Quatre’s sadness and how he’d gone crazy that day, it must be a very intense pain. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”
Quatre turned around looking at Trowa. It seemed a tear was glistening in the corner of his eyes. “It’s okay. You couldn’t know. It is nothing bad to ask, and I know you would have understood if I had not wanted to tell you. It’s no big deal, people can guess I am carrying such stuff around with me.”
Trowa nodded at Quatre. It was incredible how much honesty Quatre had just spoken; so lightly and trustfully. The Arabian was amazing. Quatre put the violin-case onto the bed Trowa was not sitting on, and produced cups and tea-leaves out of his bag, including a water-boiler. He set all that on the table, plopping down on the chair afterwards, and pulling the injured foot up onto the bed to rest.
“Now I feel home,” he explained smiling. Trowa gave a slight smile back, without realizing it. Quatre took note of it and was happy to see something so unusual on Trowa’s face. Trowa glared at his watch. “Hn. We’re supposed to meet in half an hour. I need to unpack.”
Quatre nodded. “Can I help you, then?”
“Maybe you should rest rather than walk around,” he pointed at Quatre’s leg, “And you need a new bandage.”
“Don’t say that. I am not that sick,” Quatre replied earnestly, “I don’t want to be treated like a raw egg, and I don’t want to be spoiled. It’s just sprained.” And after that incident of serious complaining, his amazing face turned back to that smile, as if nothing had happened. “What if I help you and you bandage my foot after that?” he suggested.
Trowa nodded, not wanting to upset Quatre any further. Wisely, he let Quatre go first, to observe how hurt the Arabian really was. But Quatre took the ‘jump-on-one-leg’ method to get over to Trowa’s room, so Trowa couldn’t make any observations.
Trowa had not taken much stuff with him, so the bag was unpacked quickly. Quatre neatly set a picture of Trowa’s circus troop on the bedside table, and wondered whether Trowa missed Catherine. Trowa watched Quatre carefully place the picture from the corner of his eye, hoping instantly, that Quatre didn’t have any wrong ideas about it. The circus people were all the family he’d ever had and he would never want to loose them. The picture was reminding him of them, when he was lonely, and that seemed to be quite often.
Trowa pulled out a bandage from his bag and shoveled the rest of his stuff under the bed. He sat down next to Quatre, and signed him to put his foot onto the bed. Quatre did as he was told, handing Trowa some ointment the doctor had given to him. Trowa laid his tools onto the bed and started unwrapping Quatre’s foot.
“Itai...” Quatre gasped.
Trowa carefully let the non-bandaged and vulnerable foot sink onto the bed, throwing a look at Quatre’s pain-filled face. “Can you move your toes?” he asked
Quatre tried to move anything on his foot, and his toes did work, but any movement was in company of a whole load of pain, visible on his face.
“I’m sorry for you, Quatre,” Trowa said and carefully put some cool ointment onto the ankle. He massaged it in with a careful hand, trying not to hurt Quatre. The small foot in his hand was without movement and still swollen, yet it was beautiful. Trowa couldn’t keep such thoughts away. He didn’t really want to, anyway. There was no denying Quatre was beautiful.
Quatre himself couldn’t help watching Trowa so profoundly engaged in caressing his foot. He had never seen such care in Trowa... lately it seemed, the stoic pilot was finding something, maybe something inside himself. It seemed that hidden, veiled character peeked out of him sometimes. On the other hand, Trowa didn’t really seem to note that – but Quatre saw it. And Quatre wanted to discover more of it, he was just incapable of finding out how.
A stinging pain pulled him out of his thoughts and he yelped out a painful cry.
“Quatre! Are you okay?” Trowa asked concernedly. He must have caused some serious pain as he had lifted the leg. How could he have been so careless not to at least warn Quatre about what he had to do?
“Daijobou... it was just unexpected.” He groaned again as Trowa proceeded in bandaging his foot. “I know you’re trying your best – ow! – what else can I – itai! – ask for?”
Trowa nodded and finished, causing Quatre to wince every now and then.
“Arigatou, Trowa,” Quatre said, sliding his foot down from the bed.
“No problem. Anytime again, Quatre-kun.”
“We have to go downstairs.”
Before Quatre could protest, Trowa had picked him up from the bed and carried him outside, closing his and Quatre’s door after him. Heero and Duo, as well as Wufei, just appeared on the corridor as they stepped out.
“Now I’m excited,” Duo cheered, anticipating what the recovery-program would be like. Heero and Wufei seemed rather uncomfortable with the idea of such a program, and their faces surely told that. Duo jumped to the door for the staircase first, followed closely by Heero. Trowa with Quatre on his arm was next, and Wufei, not really eager to go down there, followed last.
“Well, you seem quite comfortable there, Quatre,” Duo joked, causing the Arabian to blush.
“It’s just because of the ankle...” he answered timidly.
“Oh, still so bad?”
“You should have seen Trowa bandage me. It’s hard to admit, but even though he was quite careful, it hurt like hell!”
“Geez, I am sorry for you. Maybe we should assign a carry-Quatre-service on the foot of the stairs, so you don’t ever try to walk up there again. Don’t ya do that, kay? We’re all healthy - only physically if you believe the scientists – and we ain’t got not problem carrying you up there. Got it?”
“Yepp,” Quatre smiled, “You four leave me no choice anyway, do you?”
“No,” Trowa replied (instead of Duo to everyone’s surprise).