Comfort (The Next Best Thing)




I hate funerals.


Mostly I think I just hate admitting that somebody close to me is gone.  Maybe I felt a bit like a failure, too, since I promised Trowa I'd protect him.  That I wouldn't let him get near a battle again.  I hadn't managed to do either one. 


I'd already done my crying; by the time I was one of the last two people hovering in the cemetery near his freshly-filled grave, I wanted to scream.  My target?  The only other living human left there with me, the small blonde boy huddled on the grass at the foot of the gravestone.  It was all his fault, after all.  He's the one who came and found Trowa, who convinced him to go back to fighting, when he wasn't whole or healthy enough to do so and survive.  And then he claims to love my little brother, after getting him killed?  Bastard.


I really intended to say all of that to him.  I got as far as stalking up behind him and tapping him irritably on the shoulder.  I even got my mouth open.  But one look at his face, and I couldn't do it.  He looked broken, like something had snuffed the light right out of his hollow blue eyes.  There was more sorrow in that smooth face than I'd known anyone was capable of feeling.


I couldn't make him hurt any more than he already did.  


"Come on," I said, offering him my hand, and I was surprised how gentle my voice sounded.  "We should get going."


He sniffled, and wiped his eyes on his sleeve, then took my hand and pulled himself up.  "I--Catherine--can I stay for a while--with you?"  He lowered his gaze to the dirt under his feet, where his tears were gradually watering the grass that would eventually grow there.  "I'm not ready to--"


I nodded, and squeezed his hand.  "Sure," I told him.  "It's all right.  I'm not really ready to be alone yet either."  I spent lots of time at the circus without Trowa, but this time it was different.  This time, he wasn't coming back.


We walked back to the circus together.  Quatre spent most of the rest of the day wandering through the tents, glassy-eyed, looking like he was searching for something.  He always looked like he was at least on the verge of tears.  But then, I suppose I was too.


It was almost midnight by the time I found him sitting on the ground next to the lion cages, carrying on a heartbroken, one-sided conversation with them in some language I didn't understand.  Arabic, I imagine, from what Trowa had told me about him.  I touched his shoulder and he jumped.  "Quatre, it's should get some sleep."  Yup, that's me.  Trying to mother the whole damn world.  I used to nag Trowa the same way; usually he'd just give me this wry, tolerant look that said 'I'm a Gundam pilot, Cathy, I can actually feed and dress myself too,' then go do whatever it was I told him to.  Quatre didn't give me the look, he just nodded meekly and stood up, brushing himself off.


I took him back to the trailer and got him set up in the extra bunk.  He scuffed his shoes off and curled up on it, folding the edge of the worn patchwork quilt in his fingers.  "Catherine--is this where--?"  With the exception of talking to the lions, I don't think he'd managed an entire sentence all day.


Not that it made any difference.  I understood the fragments he sniffled out just as well as if he'd been making a speech.  "Yeah," I told him.  "He used to sleep here too, when he was with me."  I saw the shine in his eyes start dripping wet trails down his cheeks, and I wrapped my arms around him.  "I'm right through that door," I told him.  "Come wake me if you need anything, all right?"  He nodded into my shoulder, and I kissed his forehead.  "Good night, Quatre."


He broke down completely after I left.  I could hear his heartbroken sobbing through the thin panel that passed for a door--trailers aren't much on privacy, they just give you the illusion of it.  So even though I felt a bit like I was eavesdropping, I had no real choice, and what I heard dug out a little hole in my heart.  He must have apologised to Trowa sixty times for getting him killed...he hadn't forgiven himself, even though I knew in my more rational moments that it wasn't really Quatre's fault.  Even though I'd wanted to blame it on him, at first. I knew Trowa would have gone back anyway.  Add to that a lot of begging and pleading him to come back, a few why-did-you-leave-me's, and at least a dozen I-can't-live-without-you's before his gut-wrenching sobs finally subsided into sniffles, and at last into an uneasy sleep.


For me, morning was a long time in coming.


The next day went much the same.  I had work to do, and while I might have been able to get out of it, I really didn't want to.  It was something I could throw myself into and keep my mind busy with things that didn't threaten to make me burst into tears every time I turned around.  I didn't trust my aim enough in this state to practice throwing my knives at a live target, but there's something almost meditative about juggling them.  The motion itself is soothing, and the idea that one mis-move can cost you a finger or worse is dangerously fascinating.  That's right, let the depressed girl play with sharp objects.  Part of why I like the circus, I guess.


Quatre was mostly moping and trying to stay out of my way.  He felt he was being a nuisance.  I would've done almost anything to get him to smile, even once.  But not even a professional like me had a chance of doing that...not yet, anyway.  He was like something broken, and since I wasn't in that great of shape myself, I didn't know how to put him back together.


He was already asleep by the time I made it back to the trailer.  I poked my head in to check on him before I went to bed myself.   He looked truly pitiful.  He was curled up on the bunk, the quilt thrown off and tangled around his legs.  All that fine, silky blonde hair was mussed and sticking out from his head, his face was flushed and there were raw red spots under his eyes.  He was clutching one of Trowa's old shirts, hugging it against him, as if only by breathing in the scent of his lover on the fabric could he manage to fall asleep.


"Good night," I whispered to his sleeping form, then padded back to my side of the trailer and slid closed the door.


Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke up.  I'm a light sleeper, always have been, and even in my sleep I could feel the weight of someone watching me.  I had only one logical guess who, even before I saw him, as I sat up rubbing at my eyes.  "What's the matter, Quatre...?"


He was standing next to my bed in his pajama bottoms, looking lost.  "I'm sorry, Catherine...I didn't want to wake you up...I just wondered...."


I shook my head, as much to clear the cobwebs out of it as to reassure him.  "No, it's all right, I told you to wake me if you needed anything.  What's wrong?"


He looked down at his feet.  "Can I sleep in here with you?"


I just nodded, pushed back the blankets and scooted over to one side of my rather-too-narrow bed.  "Yeah, you can.  C'mon in."  He climbed into the bed and curled up next to me, hugging himself.  "Better?"


He nodded.  "Thank you...I just didn't want to be alone...."


"Yeah, I know," I said, brushing my fingers across his cheek.  "It's all right.  Good night now."


"Good night," he said, and I snuggled into my pillow again.


I'd almost gotten back to sleep when I felt soft fingers brushing across my cheek, toying gently with my hair.  In my half-conscious daze, it really felt wonderful, and I think I made some incoherent noise to that effect, and lifted my hand to caress the fingers cupping my face.  Then there were lips touching mine, soft and hungry and salty-tasting, like tears--


Which reminded me abruptly and forcefully whose lips they were.  I opened my eyes, and pulled away.  "Quatre..." I whispered, and his face reddened.  He started to stammer something, but I lay my finger against his lips to silence him.  "Quatre," I said again, "I'm not Trowa."


The blush of his cheeks deepened, embarrassed that I'd understood so quickly that he was substituting me for my brother.  "I know," he said shamefully.  "I'm sorry--I shouldn't have--just so lonely...." He stumbled to a lame halt, huddled on the edge of my bed, looking--no, I can't describe the look, I don't have the words.  It was like he was so empty I should have been able to see through him.  Aw, what the hell, I thought.  I'd had worse than Quatre, and besides, there's something about being needed, even if it's only for a night, or only to reaffirm to someone that they're still alive.


"It's all right," I said, brushing away a tear that clung to the tip of his nose.  "I just want to make sure you understand that.  I...I can see what he saw in you," I finished, and leaned close to kiss him.


He pulled me against him with the desperation of someone who isn't sure they're alive.  His lips left mine, and spread salty kisses down my neck as his hands explored my body--hesitantly at first, then with a forlorn urgency that brought tears springing to my eyes as sure as it set me on fire.  I explored him, too, coaxing that beautiful body to a place where it could forget its sorrow, if only for a while.  He made love like a man who is starving, clinging to life and to himself by the weakest of fraying threads, holding onto me as if I were the only thing reminding him of his own humanity.  And finally, when the grey light of false dawn was already painting my windowshades, he lay exhausted against me, his arms wrapped tight around me, holding me to his chest.


"I'm afraid," he whispered into my hair, "that if I let go of you, you'll be gone too."


"I'm not going anywhere," I promised, nestling my head into the hollow of his shoulder.  "It's all right.  Sleep now, little one."


He looked startled, and pain flashed across his face--God, I was an idiot.  I forgot Trowa called him that.  I sighed.  "I'm sorry."  I kissed him gently, and let my eyes close yet again.  "I'm also tired.  We can talk in the morning, all right?"


"All right," he agreed tentatively, but he yawned too.  This time, it was morning all too soon.


Our long, often sleepless nights weren't over.  I let Quatre into my bed quite a few more times after that--sometimes just to curl up next to me and sleep, sometimes more.  Eventually, he felt like he could go off and fight again.  He still looks hollow, at least to me, and I can still see the sorrow shadowing everything he does, so don't go thinking this is a miracle story.  It isn't.  I'm not in love with him, and even on the rare occasions he stays with me now, it's only because he needs somebody who understands how much he misses Trowa and won't judge him for it.  My brother is the one he really wants...I'm just the next best thing.