Disclaimer: I do not own

This is a sequel to 'Slipping into Tired
Pairings: Quatre/Trowa (a little)
Warnings: a bit of angst and a touch of sap
Wordcount: 1,368

Pane to Pain
by Merith

Hitting him mid-chest, the water's fine spray splashed up on his face, over his shoulders. He watched it run in rivulets from his feet, and give a little swirl at the drain before disappearing. The steady flow held his focus, only to be broken by the soft knock at the door.

"Everything okay in there?"

The foreign voice jolted him. Recognition flared and the rapid beat slowed. Trowa. He was nodding at the closed door. Running a hand over his face, he said out loud, "Fine, Trowa. I'm fine."

Turning back to the water, he held up a hand, diverting the flow higher, and closed his eyes. Steam rose in cloud-like formations, its moisture almost as warm as the spray he stood under. Comforting, cradling, he wanted to slip to the bottom of the tub and wrap himself in the wet heat. But...

Trowa was waiting for him.

His eyes opened, blinking against the splashing water and he dropped his hand. For several long moments, he stared at the soap. Disjointed, he reached for it, fumbling it in his grip. He clutched it to his chest and as the water mixed with the bar, its pungent, shower-time freshness rose. A flash of memory accompanied the smell, and he could see with sudden clarity as they all had been.

Communal shower aboard the Peacemillion. Water in stinging spray from a narrow facet head. Wufei standing separate but close enough to be pulled into their play. Wet towels, outraged howls and laughter. For a brief moment, they could be as typical boys. For a brief moment, they could forget they'd just fought a battle, had taken lives.

The nap of the washcloth felt rough against his skin, the soapy lather soothing its path. He couldn't remember the last time he'd showered. That the soap had held long, dried cracks told him it'd been awhile. Pinked into red, his skin warmed and his toes wiggled in the water's overflow, tickling as it swirled. He released an audible breath, and tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling. Condensation was thick as the steam landed against the paint. Like fog, it rolled to either side, dissipating in the cooler air.

What happened, Trowa had asked minutes before. He didn't know. In the office as normal one day, the next, home in bed with covers drawn tight.

His hair smelled like wet dog on a hot summer's day. He washed it three times and didn't bother with the conditioner. Next time, if he felt like it. He ran a hand over his chest, down his abdomen. Something was missing, something he'd forgotten. His shower was done, but he loathed to leave. But...

Trowa waited for him.

The towel, soft and rough at once, drank the last of the water still clinging to skin. He used the same one to scrub at his hair, pulling out the excess. Folding the towel in half, he set it over the top of the hamper. Trowa had brought in some clothes, maneuvering him along. Sweats and a tee shirt, a thick pair of socks and briefs.

He was dressed and staring at his reflection, wondering if he should bother brushing his teeth; even through the closed door he could smell the food Trowa cooked. Not finding a comb or brush, he fingered his hair, smoothed it down. For a flashing moment, it surprised him on how long it'd gotten. His barber was Benjamin. He didn't like to be called Ben, and had two kids. His little shop was inside the Winner Building on the second floor. Quatre had a standing appointment every three weeks. He'd missed a couple.

At the threshold to the livingroom, he hesitated. It was his home and yet...not. From the kitchen, he could hear a pan rattle, soft, melodic music - flutes and a thin stringed instrument, Trowa humming an undercurrent harmony, and the kitchen facet running. Where once there was quiet, common noises of life were making themselves known. The hand he pressed to his belly didn't ease its dance.

In a handful of steps, he was to the couch and could see Trowa's shadow on the wall. The lighting was soft, almost muted, but welcoming and he drew nearer. When he was close enough to watch without being in Trowa's peripherals, he saw the man flipping an omelet in a pan. He hadn't been aware he even had eggs let alone cheese. Toast popped up, and Trowa moved down the counter.

The back of Trowa's shirt was an interstellar map of wrinkles. And the tails were untucked. Quatre frowned. Trowa had said he would be there for him. And he was. He must have made a sound, for Trowa turned suddenly.

"Dinner will be done soon."

Quatre nodded, and looked down. His feet looked odd in socks, but his toes were warm and he wondered why he'd stopped wearing them. He held his arms across his body, and rocked on his feet. Feeling like he should be helping, he took a step forward and halted. He raised his gaze to meet Trowa's.

"Have a seat. I'm almost finished here." The tenderness in Trowa's voice made his eyes sting and he turned away to wait at the table.

Toying with a triangle of toast, Quatre stared at his plate. His fork had shredded part of the omelet, and little bits of egg were scattered over his plate. He'd eaten a half slice of toast, drank the water and part of the milk Trowa poured for him, and now he waited for his stomach to rebel. Trowa's announcement only added to roil.

"She won't come." He sat both the toast and fork down and rubbed his fingers on the napkin in his lap. "We've had a bit of a falling out."

"Her shuttle will land before noon." Trowa sat back.

He felt Trowa's eyes on him but refused to look up. Instead, he scooted his chair back and stood. "I'm tired. I'm going to bed now."

His room appeared in twilight when he woke. Trowa was in his bed, lying on top of the covers, and watching him with unblinking eyes. He looked so sad; the hook twisted deep. Quatre shuddered and closed his eyes.

"Are you cold?" Trowa's question a mere whisper between them.

Quatre shook his head, leaving his eyes closed. He was under blanket and duvet, still in his sweats. Opening his eyes, he touched Trowa's fingers with his own. "Thank you," he said simply.

The hand was gentle, brushing the long strands of hair from his face. "You need a haircut," Trowa commented, tugging on a lock.

Green eyes met his and Trowa's movement stilled. Quatre raised his hand to cover Trowa's, flattening it against his cheek. Trowa moved closer and rested his forehead against his. "I should have come sooner," he whispered, his words brushing his lips.

Closing his eyes, Quatre pressed the hand to his face. "You're here now."

Trowa's thumb smoothed his brow; long fingers caressed along his hairline. "For as long as you need me."

Quatre nodded, making a pleased noise in his throat. Trowa's stillness mirrored his own, their breathing in sync. His lids fluttered open, his look confused. "Did we ever have sex?"

As Trowa shook his head, he pulled his hand away. "No, we never got that far."

"Oh." Quatre dropped his gaze to stare at the third button on Trowa's shirt. His fingers entwined themselves in Trowa's and brought his leg forward to touch Trowa's through the blanket. "Can we now?"

"No," Trowa told him softly. His hand was back, fingers gliding down his jaw line. Quatre lifted his head, catching Trowa's look. "When things are... different, then maybe we can."

He felt the smile, his lips rusty in the movement. He squeezed Trowa's fingers in his. "Okay." He rolled on his back and scooted into the circle of Trowa's arms. "I can wait until then." Trowa laughed softly into his hair.

Slipping back into the dozy state before sleep, he felt the weight of Trowa's hand settle on his chest. It hadn't been something missing he'd felt in the shower, it'd been something returned, something remembered. Trowa belonged there.


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