torch, October - November 2000 (January 2001)
flambeau@strangeplaces.net

Disclaimer: I wouldn't dream of it. Thanks to elynross, who figured it out. Do not archive this story without permission.

Step we gaily

Quatre staggered into the living room, half fell onto the couch, and closed his eyes. His feet ached. He really shouldn't have danced that last waltz with Dorothy — he was sure she'd stepped on his toes deliberately. Without opening his eyes, he waved one hand at the room, gesturing the others inside.

"Sit down," he said, "please. There's stuff in the drink cabinet if you want." He just couldn't get up to serve it to them. He wasn't sure he'd ever get off the couch again; this was such an exceptionally nice couch, deep and warm and enveloping.

The couch dipped under an additional weight next to him, and he heard the creak of someone sinking into the leather armchair, and then the merry clank of glasses from over by the sideboard. Three out of three accounted for, and he thought he could guess.... "Wow, Quatre, this is good whisky."

He'd been right. Quatre thought about drawing his brows together, but decided he didn't have the energy. "Are you sure you should drink any more, Duo?"

"You offered," Duo reminded him. "Anyway, I'm fine, and the night is young, it's only, what, four? Trowa, you want anything? Wufei?"

"No," Trowa said, and a soft snore from the armchair seemed to indicate that Wufei wasn't in need of another glass, either. Of anything. Wufei had spent a large part of the evening snapping at Sally Po as she tried to teach him to waltz. Quatre wondered if her feet felt like his did. She was a brave woman, there was no doubt about that, but he thought he'd never really appreciated quite how brave until this night. The way she had steered Wufei away from the punchbowl and told him he should have left his katana at home rather than fondle it every time he saw Zechs had been nothing short of amazing.

"So he's finally married," Duo said, a note of satisfaction in his voice. "Didn't pass out, either, though I thought for a while I'd have to use this."

There was a rustling sound, and Quatre opened his eyes to see Duo pull a bag out of the pocket of his tux. It looked oddly familiar. In fact, it looked like the kind of bag normally found in the seat pocket of an airplane seat, right next to the safety instructions.

Quatre blinked. "You brought... to Heero's wedding...."

"What's a best man for?" Duo grinned, and sprawled on the carpet at Quatre's and Trowa's feet, glass in hand. His tux was already rumpled, so Quatre supposed it didn't make much of a difference. "I thought about sneaking happy pills into his breakfast cereal to keep him nice and quiet, but I didn't want the princess to wonder why his eyes were suddenly black instead of blue."

"And he would have killed you if he found out," Trowa said dryly.

Duo looked unrepentant. "Well, Relena would have killed me if he'd succumbed to nerves and run away. Or thrown up all over her dress. I'm used to Heero trying to kill me, but the princess can be dangerous." He flopped over on his back, tried to sip at his drink, and coughed. "But it all went well, so here's to the happy couple."

Since Duo was the only one with a drink, Quatre just nodded. He didn't want any more alcohol tonight. Possibly not ever. Champagne and wedding cake now topped the list of foodstuffs he'd be happy never to see again. But it seemed the alcohol had already done its part in breaking down his normal polite inhibitions, because he looked down at the cheerful face at his feet and found himself asking the question that had been on his mind ever since the engagement was announced. "Duo, are you really happy that Heero's married Relena? You don't have to pretend with us. I mean, weren't you and he... you know...."

Duo blinked. "You have to ask? I think we've you know-ed up one side of your house and down the other when we were visiting, and you sure weren't wearing a blindfold when you walked in on us in the— Oh!" He grinned. "I get it. No, no." Duo waved his hand and spilled whisky on the carpet. "I was never in love with Heero. He's good in bed, though."

"Oh." Quatre hoped he wasn't blushing. It had certainly looked as though they'd been enjoying themselves. "So you were just, ah, friends."

"Uh huh." Duo nodded vigorously, which, since he was lying flat on his back, meant that he thumped the back of his head against the carpet over and over. It didn't appear to bother him. "I mean, I love him like a brother and all—" He broke off and chuckled. "Well, maybe not like a brother exactly."

Quatre sank deeper into the couch cushions, hoping he wouldn't fall asleep. There was a wonderful bedroom waiting for him upstairs... always provided that he could make it up the stairs. He didn't understand how Duo could be so energetic at this hour. "I'm glad to hear that," he admitted. "I was a little worried about you."

"You could've just asked," Duo said. "Well, I guess you just did. Heero's been head over heels for the princess since forever, I thought everyone knew that. We were just having a bit of fun."

Quatre stretched his legs out, careful not to kick Duo, and crossed them at the ankles. There was only one lamp lit in the room, a large floor lamp by the armchair, and Duo lay on the edge of its circle of warm light. "You seemed to come along on a lot of their dates."

"Hell, yes. I figured it was my duty to act as an interpreter, or they'd never have managed. The princess is getting better, though. I think she's got deciphering I'm going to kill you down to an art form by now. She's pretty smart, after all."

Smiling a little, Quatre said, "I always thought that it meant that he cares."

"It does. Most of the time. Sometimes, though, it means leave the dirty dishes in the sink one more time and your ass is toast. It's good to be able to pick out the nuances. It would look bad if the world's most famous politician was found strangled with a pair of spandex shorts on her honeymoon."

"I suppose it would," Quatre conceded.

"I didn't want the princess to think she'd stumbled into the golden era of silent movies, so I had to keep Heero's end of the conversation up for a while there, but believe it or not, he got better. Must've been my shining example."

"Duo, I'm not sure you're the first person I'd choose to teach someone how to talk to princesses."

"I have manners," Duo said, sounding incensed. "But she seems to like the whole strong and silent routine. Anyway, after a while they could talk to each other just fine without me. They should be okay." Duo's brow creased in a sudden frown. "I just hope he remembers."

"Remembers what?" Trowa asked. Quatre smiled a little; it seemed that Trowa was really just as curious about this as he was.

"That women are, uh, differently shaped. I tried to give him some pointers for the wedding night, but he just hit me." Duo pointed at his shoulder. "Got a great big bruise right here, just for showing a little friendly concern. I can show you—"

"No, Duo," Quatre said firmly.

"You deserved it," Wufei muttered from the armchair, and Quatre wondered how long he'd been awake; his smooth profile had looked perfectly undisturbed up until the moment when he opened his mouth. "Have you no understanding of the concept of privacy?"

Duo turned his head to look at Wufei. "Hey, I've been plenty private," he said indignantly. "Did we ever fuck in front of you?"

"No." Wufei glared. "Only in the next room."

"Well then." Duo smiled blindingly, and levered himself with some effort into a sitting position. "Heero's got his princess, and everyone is happy. Me, I'm going to see if there's anything good on cable."

Quatre rolled his eyes. He wanted nothing so much as sleep. He wondered if Trowa would mind if Quatre just fell over on his shoulder and stayed there. It seemed as though it would make a pretty good pillow. "I'm glad you're all right, Duo," he said.

"Same as ever." Duo put the empty glass down on the sideboard, and Quatre resigned himself to a ring on the wooden surface. "And you know I never lie. I can't believe you thought I was in love with Heero. Night, guys," and he wandered off, weaving only slightly.

"Well, that's one less thing to...." Quatre trailed off as Wufei got out of the chair and went, staggering only a little, to where Duo had been lying. He bent down and picked something up from the carpet. "What's that?"

Wufei's face was oddly gentle as he held it up, and Quatre looked, and felt his heart clench once more.

It was a single perfect pink rosebud from Relena's wedding bouquet.

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