Disclaimer: I don't own them, I just love them.

Notes: This was inspired by Trowa koh's fics, I hope she approves. In the ZERO manga Trowa-chan wears the gold cross, not Duo-chan, so don't let it throw you off.

Pairings: 3+1/1+3, 4+3

Footprint

by Spencer

I've always known he didn't love me; I could feel it in his heart, even as I feel his pain and his joy. Ever since we played our first duet, his lyric flute dancing above my violin, we've been linked. His heart calls and mine responds, soothing, cheering, bolstering, or simply sharing his powerful emotions. I assume it was my love that made it so, for that duet was the moment I fell for him, the tall mysterious warrior hiding behind personal walls as thick as his spiky bangs. My empathy had always let me feel others' emotions, but from that point on Trowa's were strongest, drowning all others in their urgency to be heard. I listened.

Trowa was not happy. He never had been, and didn't truly know the emotion. He hid his darker emotions beneath a mask, much like Duo, but with Trowa, once the darkness was locked away, there was nothing else to remain on the surface. In the years I'd known him, rare moments of compassion and joy would shine through, but never remain for long . . . unless he was with Heero. The Perfect Soldier drew my Trowa from his battle-hardened shell in a way I could only dream about, and it was with him that the taller boy finally began to feel again, not just the temporary flashes of life, but real emotion that remained long after its catalyst had disappeared on his great gundanium wings.

I knew when Trowa began to fall. I knew it a million miles away, and my heart broke even as it began to soar. I'd been hiding in the desert with Duo, simply enjoying the company of another pilot in the brief pause from battle. We were on patrol atop one of the city's outer buildings when my heart was suddenly doused in a current of emotion, wonder and fear and admiration and respect and relief and joy all swirled around and through me, but the feeling that caught in my throat was a timid hope. It was the same thrill of excitement I'd experienced when I'd met the stoic pilot of the 'enemy' Gundam, and the one I'd always searched and prayed for, but never sensed in his own heart. I'd always wanted him to love, to experience the joy and bittersweet sorrow, and suddenly I felt it thrumming through the deepest recesses of his soul.

For the briefest instant I dared to believe that spark of love was meant for me, that my beautiful green-eyed friend had suddenly realized previously unexplored feelings . . . but I've never been good at lying . . . even to myself. My true love had found his, and it wasn't the neat reciprocation I would have wished. In that one moment, which I eventually deduced was the moment Heero had finally woken from his coma-like sleep and opened dazzling cobalt eyes to the world and the lanky boy waiting patiently at his bedside, my entire world changed forever. I knew it . . . and even as I was thrilled to know that Trowa would finally be gifted with all the beauty and joy I had cherished only weeks before, my heart bled as if it had been shattered into a million pieces.

Something of this must have shown through my expression, because Duo was suddenly close in my face, staring into my eyes with an intensity and levity uncharacteristic of the braided boy. I knew I couldn't erase whatever I had already unwittingly revealed, but neither was I willing to share my pain or concoct a lie to explain my actions away.

I like to think my incompetence at lying stems from lack of practice.

Duo remained silent for a long moment, just staring into my eyes as I gazed calmly back, feeling the hot wind mess my hair and tug sporadically at his. Finally he seemed satisfied. He placed one slender hand on my shoulder and squeezed gently before turning back to the desert, continuing our patrol.

Once we were back at the base I immediately took a cloak and backpack and went out into the desert. I've always been calmed by the vast expanses of drifting sand. They seem so immutable, as though any catastrophe is as easily forgotten as a footprint. The desert is eternal, and I desperately needed that sense of proportion. In the past few weeks my world had been focusing more and more around my growing affection. I'd noticed the change much earlier with amusement and even a sense of satisfaction, but now that had to end.

My life and love seemed so small and insignificant when compared with the harshly beautiful landscape, and that was a comfort. My crying heart was no great concern, not in a place such as this, and not in a war for the future of humankind.

That night I slept under the stars. I didn't worry about Duo or the Maguanacs. This desert was under constant surveillance for miles in every direction. Rashid would have at least an approximate knowledge of my location, and I had brought a small radio in case an emergency arose. Rashid had known me long enough to understand, or at least accept, these nights among the sand. In a war one needs the occasional cleansing of the soul, or the blood and anger simply become too much. He wouldn't call unless it was absolutely necessary, and wouldn't worry as long as I returned within 48 hours.

That night I cried beneath the infinite half-dome of stars. Trowa had only felt the beginnings of his love, but I knew with perfect certainty where those timid emotions would eventually lead, and had made my decisions.

Trowa had always loved me as a friend, and that is what I would stay. I would be at his side in an instant if he called, but would disappear just as quickly if he asked. I would remain forever silent about my feelings, and would never stand in the way of his relationship with Heero, the love that my heart told me would sprout in battle and blossom in the peace we would eventually achieve.

I cried my loss to the unending star-field and let the pain within my wounded soul dissipate into the speckled blackness.

In the morning I woke, still sore. My heart ached with the future lost. I was not healed . . . but I was healing. I would survive, and I possessed the strength to follow the path I had chosen.

When I returned to the base Duo was sitting in the doorway, braid pulled over one shoulder. His fingers worked unconsciously, braiding and unbraiding the last six inches, but his eyes were on me, violet gaze questioning as I crossed the sands. I didn't speak when I reached him, but offered a weary smile. It seemed to reassure him - as I had meant - and he stood and accompanied me inside.

Ever since then I have considered the pilot of Shinigami my best friend. That term never suited Trowa in my mind, he would always be my beloved even if I wasn't his, but Duo was so much simpler. We were exactly what friends were supposed to be, always there for each other, through the good times and the bad. Nearly a year later, when I lay in the hospital with a sword wound all the way through me, it was Duo's purple gaze that met me when I woke.

After the final battle when we'd landed our Gundams back on Peacemillion, I hadn't even made it out of the cockpit, passing out from shock and blood loss as soon as the adrenaline of battle waned. I learned later that Trowa had leapt from his cockpit and up to mine, calling for a medical team while pulling me gently from Sandrock's flight harness and carrying me half way to the infirmary himself, but I didn't wake up for four days; it was Duo who refused to leave my side. He slept in a chair at my bedside three whole nights, and even when I'd woken and ordered him to sleep in a real bed he returned every day until Sally dismissed me.

Friendship like that is invaluable, especially when surrounded by the horrors of war, and I know my resolve regarding Trowa would have crumbled completely without Duo's constant support. I never actually told him of my feelings, but he's always been observant, and could read me like a book. I'll just say that when the war was finally over and Trowa left with Heero to join the Preventers Duo placed that familiar comforting hand on my shoulder . . . and the compassion in his eyes was more than I could ever have hoped for.

I always tried to be a friend like that for Trowa. I truly hope I did as well for Duo. He deserves nothing less. I know Hilde makes him happy, but friendship and love are not the same, and the spirit requires both. Of all people, this is one fact I should know.

Though Wufei had joined the Preventers after the first war, the Meriameia incident sharply reminded the rest of us that peace was still a battle. Duo and I volunteered the day after Meriameia's final stand, and Trowa and Heero joined us soon after. It was natural, for all of us to be fighting together again, and for a while I was as happy as I'd ever been.

It still occasionally stung to see the quiet moments Heero and Trowa shared, but the hurt had long ago ceased to be truly burdensome, and now seemed only a reminder of Trowa's happiness. I had finally learned to accept my fate, and was gradually finding my own joy. I knew I would never find another true love, but life held its own beauties.

One of my only regrets is that I didn't learn to appreciate them sooner.

Heero and I had nearly accomplished our last mission when things all went to hell. We somehow managed to trip an alarm system in the terrorists' compound, and within moments were dodging a hail of bullets. We'd escaped out onto the shuttle runway, discouraging any visible shooters, and for a moment I'd dared to hope that we'd escaped the gaping maw of death yet again. Then I glanced behind me.

"Heero, look out!"

Heero spun and shot the last sniper, hitting the mark as always, but it was too late, the other man had already fired, and even at this distance the chances that he would miss weren't good. In a fraction of a second the Perfect Soldier, Heero Yuy, would be dead.

I'm not sure why I moved, whether it was Trowa's heart guiding me, or my own refusal to let his true love die and leave him in mourning. I would like to think the latter, but can't quite ascribe myself such nobility. I've been a lot of things in my life, but I've never considered noble to be one of them. I'm simply not brave enough for nobility.

Still, whatever the reason, I suddenly found myself sinking to the ground, my head spinning as a bright crimson stain spread over my stomach and hands. I knew Heero was holding me, speaking to me, requesting something, maybe something important, but I couldn't make out his words as my senses grew blurred. I could feel myself sinking into darkness, accepting it. What else was there to do? I sighed, leaving the pain, a fire all through my chest now, gratefully behind and letting my eyelids slowly flutter, when something seized my heart, holding me, keeping me, and Heero's searing blue eyes filled what remained of my vision. One word reached my ears as he struggled to keep me alive long enough to reach a doctor, 'Trowa'.

*Trowa.*

With a stinging jolt I realized I hadn't said goodbye. I would never get to say goodbye . . .

Tears formed in my eyes, first of regret, then anger. No! Why was I giving up?! I'd taken a bullet for Heero, but I'd survived worse injuries before! We all had. If I could fight in Sandrock after being stabbed by Dorothy there was no way a measly bullet was going to kill me. I would fight. I would *not* die like this. I would live to see my love another day!

But even as I thought this, something in the pit of my stomach, the seat of intuition as well as the bullet's resting place, told me otherwise. I was slipping, would have been gone already if not for a persistent tug, holding my soul here, pumping my failing heart of its own will.

*Oh, Trowa, I'm sorry. I don't want to leave you, especially not without farewell. Will you miss me? Will you remember me? Please don't forget. I loved you so much . . .*

But even as I knew I should be leaving, could feel my soul lightening to drift away, I felt something holding me, calling me, keeping me here. What was it? What wouldn't let me die?

I fought to remain conscious, no longer for Heero's increasingly frantic accusations that I'd survived through two wars already, there was no reason for me to die now, but simply to satisfy my curiosity. I wanted to know what was keeping me here, it certainly wasn't my own power.

It took all the effort I could muster to ignore the terrible pain lapping though my entire body and focus on my emotions. I felt as though a strong hand had gently taken my heart, and was holding me up, refusing to let me slip into the darkness. I could feel a strong determination, and love . . . and fear. I could see the hand clearly, slender callused fingers with a musician's grace, long and tapering to delicate tips. I struggled back up, past the sinewy wrist and followed the arm, taught muscles etched perfectly in olive skin, past the elbow to the strong flexible shoulder. I knew where I was being led, had always known, but most of my reasoning had remained back with Heero, attempting to keep my failing body alive, if only just a few more moments; the part of me that searched through the glittering darkness of space struggled vainly to grasp the truth that was just beyond its reach. I continued to climb - though I could feel myself tire as my blood drained through the tangle of impotent fingers, both mine and Heero's - across a smoothly rippled chest, finding a tiny gold cross held securely against the ephemeral skin, up along a regal neck to the angular face I had memorized years ago in my dreams. Smoky emerald eyes, two of them, gazed from beneath a fall of chocolate bangs as thin well- defined lips moved without sound.

He . . . knew?

For the tiniest instant I considered that I was hallucinating, that my mind was showing me my fantasy to make this transition easier, but it was only an instant. The emotions I could feel were real. Trowa could feel my spirit, knew I was dying, and was fighting desperately to keep me here. Allah, how I loved him. Tears began to pour down my cheeks in bittersweet rivers.

My weary eyes locked with Trowa's, floating in a sea of stars, and my tears caught in my throat. Oh Allah, I couldn't leave this. How could I? He was too beautiful to abandon, whether he loved me or not, how could I leave?

His skin glowed softly with a golden light, though we floated in the darkness of space, and I watched the mesmerizing dance of his supple lips each against the other. The beauty of the motion nearly obscured the meaning of their message, and I didn't understand what he was saying until a whispered echo reached my ears.

*Quatre.*

Fresh tears sprung to my eyes and flowed down quickly paling cheeks at the tiny tremble of cherished voice. I would never hear those perfect lips speak my name again . . . ever.

The realization of loss was torturous, I'd never felt such intense pain in my life. It dwarfed the fire in my body as a star to a firefly. I was never to see him again, never to hear him laugh, see him smile, glimpse the way the sunset would glint in his lovely jungle eyes, eyes that held all the mysteries and dangers and rewards of the world, eyes that had captured me at first glance.

*Don't leave me, Quatre, it's too soon.*

I agreed. I didn't want to leave. I couldn't bear the loss of his skin, his voice, his touch, not even as a lover, but as a friend, his impossibly flexible body that could turn in the air like a cat with only a thought. He could land on a clothes line after leaping from a speeding motorcycle. He could leap from four story windows in time to land safely and catch a potted flower Duo had knocked from the ledge. He could survive battling Wing Zero, floating alone in space for hours, loosing his memory, and still forgive me.

*We need you.*

No, I must have heard wrong. No one needed me, *I* needed *him*. I needed forty or sixty more years of friendship, sharing good times and bad, jokes and tears. I needed his touch to bring me to life. I needed his strength to keep me alive. If Heero was the heart of outer space, Trowa was its strength. He could accomplish anything if he set his heart to it, how else could he have turned the 'perfect soldier' into a sweet and compassionate lover?

*I need you.*

What? Trowa? Oh Allah, I'm sorry. I don't mean to leave, Trowa. I didn't mean to get myself killed on this mission. I wanted to come back to you more than anything. I just couldn't let Heero die. I would have saved him anyway, but to know the pain it would have caused you to lose him . . . I couldn't let that happen. You've lost so much in your life, I had to save your love, whatever the cost. I'm just sorry it had to be my life.

I felt myself begin to fall, and the grip on my heart tightened, but I couldn't keep myself from slipping though his perfect musician's fingers. A single star rolled down one tan cheek to join the hundreds of others glittering in the blackness.

*Quatre . . . please . . .*

Don't cry, Trowa. I'm sorry, I never wanted to make you cry. I loved you more than life itself . . . but you knew that, didn't you? I knew it hurt you not to feel the same toward me as I did toward you, but don't ever regret. You couldn't help where your heart led you, and Heero always needed you more than I did. You were just too beautiful for your own good.

It wasn't a choice, Trowa; I didn't get to choose who would survive for you. I did what had to be done. Don't ever think you could have stopped it, and don't let Heero blame himself; he couldn't have changed the situation any more than you or Lady Une.

*Please . . .*

The vision of my beloved began to fade as I fell away, back from his face, far too beautiful in it's endless field of stars to be real, always too beautiful to be real.

I love you, Trowa. Please don't be angry with me. I know you will be for a while, but I followed my heart, as always, a lifetime decided in an instant of emotion, and I don't think I was wrong. I acted out of love. You have your beloved, don't ever forget how precious he is. Just remember me. I love you, and maybe, somewhere, I'll be waiting . . .

* * *

Trowa stood beneath the smothering blanket of stars wondering if he was out there somewhere, waiting as he had said.

Quatre had always loved the stars. He'd stared at them as Duo did the moon, wondering at their infinite number and brilliance. Trowa wasn't quite sure what he believed about an afterlife, but if the blond was anywhere in the universe, it was among those glittering gems, watching over his friends and family as he had in life.

A cool breath of night wind batted his bangs and caressed his skin through the thin fabric of his turtleneck. He shivered, but the chill was immediately replaced by warm arms as Heero came up behind him, resting his chin on one powerful shoulder. The 'perfect soldier' didn't speak, but simply held his lover in a strong comforting embrace. Heero *had* blamed himself for Quatre's death, but Trowa was doing all he could to counter those impulses, and Heero knew the risks of becoming a Preventer as well as anyone else, including Quatre. In time he would recover, as would Trowa himself, as long as they had each other.

They stood, silently, gazing at the stars, and remembering the angel who had given them their love through his own.

* * * Owari * * * The End.