Under the Small Top
As she tread over the dirt path from the trailer to the large tent (not the Big Top, but the much smaller one connected to the Big Top, housing costumes, curtained dressing areas, and equipment in pre-staging), Cathy cast another curious look at the stretch limousine idling in front of the Big Top. Garishly pink, her nose crinkled in distaste. But, with a mocking smile, she glanced down at her own sparkling outfit, and turned to enter the small tent.
"Trowa?" she called out in the dimly lit space. Her eyes were quickly adjusting, but where there were shadows, light did not show.
"Here," came the quiet reply from one such corner, and Cathy could barely make out a kneeling shape.
Releasing a silent sigh, she made her way through boxes and chests and racks of costumes. In the far corner of the tent, before the dressing partitions, she found her brother crouched low to the ground, his hand scratching on the belly of the latest lion cub. She paused for a moment to watch, smiling fondly, and wondered for the thousandth time how he came to have such empathy for the felines.
"Did you know that the Foreign Vice-Minister will be at tonight's performance?" The excitement she had dampened earlier bubbled up, and her eyes suddenly rivaled her outfit in sparkle and shine.
"No, I didn't know." Trowa stilled his hand, holding it to the cub's chest to settle its play. His head tilted to the side, his hair shifted, showing her his face unhindered.
Cathy's breath caught for the moment. Shaking off the wonder of his beauty, she squatted down by his side, resting her hand on his bare shoulder. "A limo just pulled up out front. I think she's here already."
With grace that rivaled the cats he adored, Trowa rose swiftly, scooping the cub up in one arm, and bringing her up with him. "Did you see anyone?" He was already moving through the tent to one of its openings.
"No," Cathy drew the word out, following along behind. "Just the limo." She scrunched her nose up slightly. "It's pink."
Trowa laughed softly, its sound almost lost in the dim tent. Cathy smiled at his back, pleased to hear his amusement.
"I know," he told her, glancing back over his shoulder. "I've seen it before."
"Oh." She'd forgotten - had wanted him to forget - the time he'd spent during the war, after the war, and those he'd spent that time with. If he didn't remember them, he wouldn't leave her again, wouldn't put himself into dangerous situations again. But, as they exited the tent, she didn't mention his friends, or the time he was gone; she let it lie, and hoped it would go away.
One of vehicle's front doors had opened, and a uniformed man stepped out. Cathy watched in fascination as the old man with great formality and pomp, closed the driver's side door, moved to the rear door, opened it, and held it open as a dark-haired young man exited. He straightened, his head turned to take in the immediate area, his glance touched upon her and Trowa, then slid away. She gasped in surprise.
"Heero," Trowa murmured in a low voice. "So, she talked him into that job after all." Cathy shot him a look at the hint of amusement in his tone. The cub Trowa still held gave a protesting mew, and clamped its jaws on the hand holding it in a firm grip.
"Your hand!" Cathy cried, reaching for the animal.
"It's nothing," Trowa said, absently, knuckling the cat on top of its head, and extracting his hand from its maw. "I should take him back. He's getting restless."
"Let me take..." A flash of color in the corner of her eye had her turning her head. "Oh," she said in exhale. "She's pretty." The blonde girl stepped out of the vehicle, her hand in the driver's. Even from the distance where she stood, Cathy could see the fond smile the girl gave the older man. "She's so young," she whispered.
"Older than you'd think," a new voice added from behind her.
"Duo," Trowa was acknowledging, even as Cathy turned to verify the figure she remembered belonging to that voice.
Her eyes narrowed, and her mouth thinned. One of those friends. "Where did you come from?" she demanded.
The boy, though Cathy had to amend that thought to almost a man, scratched the back of his neck with a lazy smile. "Well, I suppose from my momma's belly, but it could have just been a test tube."
"No! I mean-" Cathy started in flustered, made even more so by Trowa's aborted laugh.
"He knows what you mean. Just ignore him, Cath." He smiled for her, and managed to wrangle the cub into a sedate hold. "Why are you here?" he asked of the boy dressed all in black.
A mischievous grin wavered on the boy's face before he toned down his humor. "Him," he said with a nod toward the two making their way over the trampled grass. "Heero asked me to meet him here, and I thought I'd take in the show."
"Trowa's not going anywhere," Cathy declared promptly, eyes flashing as deadly as her knives.
Duo's hands were held out wide. "Hey! I don't plan to take off with him."
"Who's going where?" Heero asked, joining the small group.
"How cute!" Relena exclaimed, her eyes lighting up, seeing the cub in Trowa's arms.
"I think he's spoken for," Duo muttered, his eyes cutting in Trowa's direction.
"Duo," Trowa warned, and gave Relena a small nod in permission when her hand reached out in a tentative motion. "Watch his mouth. He likes to bite."
Heero eyed the cub, and repeated, "Who's going where?"
"No where, babe. Ain't going nowhere."
Cathy took a step back, her glance shooting from each of the four beside her, wondering how it'd gotten suddenly so chaotic. Settling on Heero, her smile a weaker version of its normal vibrancy, she said in a polite tone, "It's good to see you again, Heero."
"Hey!" Duo protested. "How come he gets the royal treatment, and I get the bum's rush?"
"Is he an orphan?" Relena asked Trowa quietly, scratching delicately behind the cub's ears, smiling delightedly at the loud purr.
"Because you bring that out in a person," Trowa said in an aside with a crooked smile, only to answer Relena's question a moment later, "No. His birth was hard on the mother, and she's still in recovery."
"It's good to see you again, too," Heero answered quietly, his mouth twitched as his eyes flicked in Duo's direction and back. "Will you be performing this evening?"
She attempted to not feel guilty for her actions, but she couldn't help blushing from them. "Yes, in two acts," she responded to Heero's question, her eyes also flicking to the side to take in the boy there. "With Trowa for our knife act and I've been working with the trapeze group."
Relena's head turned from watching the cub, and her expression gleamed. "It must be so exciting, working and living in a circus!"
"Yeah, cleaning up after the elephants is my idea of a great time," Duo said in a droll tone and a lift of the eyebrows.
"I'll make sure you have it then," Trowa told him.
Ignoring the brief exchange, Cathy held out her hand. "I'm Cathy Bloom, Miss Peacecraft, and yes, it is very exciting working in a circus."
Changing positions with Heero, Relena accepted the proffered hand. "It's a pleasure, Miss Bloom. I am so looking forward to tonight's show." She laughed lightly, and with a quick glance at their companions, she leaned closer to confess, "I haven't been to a circus since I was a little girl, and I've always wanted to dress in costumes such as these." Her hand indicated the sequined bodice and frilled tulle skirt Cathy was currently wearing.
Uncertain on how to respond, Cathy shot a look to her brother, but he had turned to his friends, and they appeared to be holding a near silent conversation. "I can show you some of the costumes..." she offered hesitantly, "if you'd like. We might even find one for you to try on." She smiled at the unexpected smile of delight the most important person on planet or colony directed her way.
"Oh, please, could we?"
Her hands were clasped in a warm and eager manner, and Cathy nodded her head, turning toward the small tent once again. "There are several racks of clothes, and if we don't find something hanging, we can search through the trunks." Her steps returned to her graceful and confident stride. She was on her own turf, and began to vision what the girl whose hand she now held would look best in, would like the most.
Behind her, Heero broke off his conversation and began to follow immediately. His hand shot out and closed around Duo's heavy black shirt with a "you're coming with me," and didn't stop, even when Duo half stumbled into steps beside him.
"Hey!" Duo protested, but Cathy saw he followed, and she waited at the tent's entrance. "Guess we're going to go play dress up, Tro," Duo half twisted about, with Heero's hand still clutching his shirt.
"Not me," her brother answered, hefting the cub. "Need to put this guy to bed."
Cathy held the entrance flap open for her guests to pass, and gave Trowa a smile. He nodded back and turned to leave. She watched him for a moment, while behind her, Relena was already exclaiming in animated fashion at the glittery outfits.
"Let's go check on mama, little one," Trowa murmured to his charge. It had been a surprise to see his friends again, had been some time since he'd last seen them both. But, he'd heard the rumors, had been told what may or may not be happening between the two former pilots - one turned bodyguard, one part-time shuttle pilot and part-time scrap man. There would be time later to find out the truth behind the speculation.
Instead of making his way back to the cathouse right away, he stopped by the limousine's driver, and offered him a comfortable place to sit and wait for his employer. At the decline, Trowa let the old man know he'd send someone over with refreshments and an offer for a tour before the show began. And smiled slightly at the polite acceptance.
Minutes later found him in front of his trailer, the cub safely reunited with his mother, and his duties discharged for at least an hour. He cast a glance back toward the Big Top, barely making out the high point of the smaller tent next to it, and knowing Cathy would be engaged in entertaining her guest for several minutes more. He knocked softly in a prearranged pattern, and opened the door.
He had his own guest - also unexpected, but very much welcomed - to entertain.