[Original disclaimer appeared in O.P. file.]

Hey Kit Kat
(1)
Tea in the Sahara

[My sisters and I
Have this wish before we die.
And it may sound strange
As if our minds are deranged.
Please don't ask us why
Beneath the sheltering sky
We have this strange obsession
You have the means in your possession.

We want our tea in the Sahara with you.
We want our tea in the Sahara with you.
-The Police]

Night permeated the cold, restless air with a dry jet black that stood over the ground and the places where their lights had been with a stillness the wind would not itself heed. Desert evenings were always as uneasy as the patterns traced out in the sand. It seemed to him there was no moon, or that it had already set, leaving the stars of pewter ice to wonder what had become of it.

His pocket knife set, still open, on one of the rugs that served as his floor. He kept thinking he should get out of bed and pick it up before someone stepped on it. Last time he’d glanced at the clock it had said 10:27. No one was coming.

“It’s so quiet.” he mouthed the words but actually said nothing. Only an occasional scuffling sound caught in the breeze. The ropes holding his mattress didn’t even squeak. He was hardly breathing.

Quatre lay splayed on his back, half under the covers, watching the stars creep past from the hole he had cut in his tent. They were so clear out here in the Sahara- only the dry air between him and they, perhaps the nothingness of space. He didn’t know what else to call it.

And he remembered…

Lucrezia looked out over the scorching wastes, slowly turning her gaze to the hot blue sky and the glowing pinnacle hanging there though swiftly she found herself casting her eyes away to the shadows of the camp. Shadows they hardly seemed at all, everything too bright under her momentarily burned sight.

Quatre stepped back into the main tent, just catching her as she turned her face suddenly to the ground. Rashid’s TV flipped into monochrome again and Abdul slapped it a few times, his strikes falling out of sync with the voice of the newscaster.

“It’s been less than twenty-four hours since the coup against the Sanc Kingdom ended in another victory for Oz. Press access is still heavily to the conquered nation, insisting in their press release that they have only neutralized one of the many threats to…”

Quatre shook his head and approached their guest, smiling brightly as he could though she hadn’t even turned to face him. “Ms. Noin? Would you like to have some tea with us?”

“Hmm?” she eased out of whatever thoughts had taken her then, shaking her head and sighing. “Oh… I’d love to.”

The small blond boy glanced over to where a few of his companions were busy with the metal pots on the burners and then to Rashid, meeting his glance and nodding with a bit more seriousness. The TV was turned off. Everyone began to drift towards the table for there was surely no direct manner they could have known to use. Not today anyway. Still smiling, he began setting out the tea service. The first teacup he picked up though made a funny, scratchy sound and peering into it he found a small ring of sand which he shook into the breeze from one of the fans before placing the cup at his own place.

He discovered then with some dismay that all the cups had a little sand in them, “Ms. Noin, I’m really sorry about this.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she assured him, shaking out some of the porcelain herself before sitting down. “We’re on the middle of the desert. There’s not a whole lot you can do to keep sand out of your china.”

“No, I guess not.”

It was almost as if some of them here with him today, Maganacs or former OZ soldiers, had utterly forgotten how to sit down at a table with anyone else, if only for a little drink. They moved as gracelessly as if the scene they were placed in was some echo of a dream world placed foolishly in life. It was too warm and too bright for dreams now. He poured the hot liquid into his favorite teapot and carried it over on a tray with the sugar cubes and honey. It was too hot for cream. The honey had already turned almost to water.

He served them all in the same fashion. Rashid let him because he knew he liked it. “Honey or sugar, Ms. Noin?”

“Sugar please, just one lump.”

He found though he had accidentally given her two. “Oh dear.”

“No, that’s alright.”

“I’m sorry about that.”

“Quatre, you’re a wonderful host. There’s no need to keep apologizing to me.”

“It’s just the way I am.” Somehow, as he looked to his own teacup at last, he found sand though nothing had happened he thought to bring it in again. Nothing he had noticed anyway, and there were a lot of things he hadn’t learned to notice about life on Earth. At last he sat down and they all put away the spoon they had been quietly clanking about as they waited. The tea was hot enough to finish melting whatever was put in to sweeten it; light, fruity, misty almost sparkling on their tongues. Just a little.

“I know I’ve been an inconvenience to you. I thank you for letting me stay.”

“Where else would you go, Ms. Noin? Besides, it’s an honor to have you here with us.”

“Quite,” added Rashid.

“Well, I still think it might be that we should go back to outer space. Part of me is glad though, that you talked me out of it. I would have missed out on your hospitality.”

He let his eyes wander from her after less tangible things, because of her unapproachable poise or secret yet unspoken he would not wonder about today. This was something even colder though that he had caught only on the edges of his thoughts these days: /“And you’re better off alone. Fine. Don’t come back today. See if I care!”/ He smiled as he faced her again. “But just a little longer, in case… he would try to find us.”

But that was… how long was it. A day? A week? A year condensed like water on a cold glass. Yes, it had been raining that last time he saw Heero and the pain of both their words was still wet.

11:08.

Almost six days now. The numbers on the clock glared at him through the evening, coming in too clearly for him so he turned quickly back to the stars.

But there was someone else too, missing for more days than he’d ever remember. Someone losing even now to the degradation of his memories if only that. No one could ever guess how it was, knowing that even his recollections of the other boy were dying. Not even Iria.

“Rashid, could I use your laptop?”

“Of course, Master Quatre. Whatever happened to yours though? Abdul didn’t try to fix it, did he?”

Taking the white notebook in his hands, the boy most honestly found himself searching for the reply. He knew he’d had a laptop. Then he didn’t. “I can’t remember.” His absence of considerations on the matter troubled him only for those moments he walked outside the main tent and into the shade of one of the Maganac’s mobile suits, flickering almost like tarnished copper in the afternoon blaze. He took a moment to adjust the colors of the screen before him to compensate for the brightness around him, trying to set the previous positions of the buttons to memory.

Something about his own laptops spattered all over the floor. How could he tell them what had happened to it then? These last days were running together as if spilled all over him. It was really all a blur.

“Hello, Dorian.” He greeted the dark-haired man who answered on the other end. Well, he had been dark-haired, but he was starting to go grey in small streaks.. “Master Quatre! The mistress has been very worried about you. We saw what happened to you then Oh! You are alright, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I’m quite well.”

“I won’t infringe on your time any longer then. I imagine you must be quite rushed.”

Looking out over the dunes of golden emptiness, he found himself answering, “No… not at the moment.” There a bit of waiting and he thought he should be doing something. His lips turned to a relieved grin when he saw her. She’d said once he almost looked like a lonely Mona Lisa when he chose to have that expression. He wondered if she would say it again. “Hello, Iria.”

“Little brother! Oh my goodness! What a surprise, are you sure it’s alright for you to be calling *now*?”

“It’s a secure channel, so you don’t have to worry about me. Are you doing any better?”

“Yes, a little. The painkillers are making me tired though.”

“You’re still sitting like it hurts.”

“Oh! That’s just because I’m stiff. I get used to sitting all cock-eyed and I’m still not allowed out of bed so that’s not going away just yet.”

He was quiet for a moment then, watching her turn to one of the maids, “Two lumps please,” she asked softly but set the cup and saucer on the nightstand just the same. “I’m sorry to gripe like this every time you call. It’s just nice to hear your voice.”

“Yours too,” A moment of stillness, he felt as if he hadn’t said the words. She looked about to speak like any other sister left behind in a war for the first time, but somehow proved a little wiser. No “When are you coming back?”, no “Has the fighting been hard?”. “I love you, Quatre.”

“I wish you wouldn’t say that like that. You hardly know me.”

“Doesn’t matter at all.”

And he confessed then, like he confessed every time, “I love you too. Please get better soon. I know you can.”

“I’ll do my best. You’ll…” (/Be good? Stay safe? Be who I think you are?/ he wondered.) “You’ll always be my little brother, you know.”

“Alright, Iria. Goodbye now.”

“Goodbye, Quatre.”

11:52.

All those hours ago. He wondered what made her choose just those words. No, nothing she could have said or done really would have bothered him because in some way he expected or stood beyond the true scope of whatever she would have meant. He wondered how her tea had been. He wondered if she’d lied anywhere earlier in the conversation because he couldn’t feel her at all through the computer. There were lots of things he couldn’t feel through computers and a few he almost wished he couldn’t.

Only the stars moved, and he guessed they had done so once again where he was not looking between these half-dreams and waking. Somehow despite all thoughts that troubled him this night, he folded his hands over his heart as if he had died. The voices in the darkness almost said so, and each finger sensed the others were colder than they should have been.

The whole world had fallen out from under him even as he raced towards it.

He was a brother. He was a gracious host. People said those things and people had always been important to him.

Then why had he killed so many?

And why did this one have to matter more than all the others?

“Master Quatre?”

“Hmm?” he turned from the ascedaline lamp and the teapot on the burner beside it as if it was not all that strange he should be the only one near then. Outside, another gale of laughter from the men that easily fell through the tarp walls.

“Are you going to bed? It’s only nine.”

“Yes, I’m quite tired, actually.”

“I was only wondering since you’re usually up until ten or so.” Nodding to the dunes beyond the tent. “They’ve missed you.”

“I think I should rest while I can though. But first,” he held up his cup with a domestic sort of look on his face. “tea,” which he almost poured onto the grains of sand lining the cup he was then obliged to shake out.

“Goodnight then, Master Quatre.”

“Goodnight, Rashid.”

12:27.

And he still wasn’t asleep. He hadn’t thought he would be. It almost would have been easier if he had been trying to rest, but even that he had given up on. This was quiet kind of sadness mostly, but it embraced him as if he had raised it like a child for years.

The other boy clung to the spaces around him, a silent, almost formless presence. He could see him, he could just about see him though, just about make him out of the shadows and the deep, deep blue of paler ones, the cloudy nothingness about him.

/”Trowa?”/

/”Hmm?”/

/“What’s the matter?”/

No answer.

But he made himself squint then, chose to see that strangely stunning distortion of the other boy though it appeared as little more than a shifting uncertainty in the gloom. Nearly it was a night terror; his heart throbbed in his throat, choked him like a long kiss. Surely he felt ephemeral and useless in this bottomless world of his, surely he wished to force himself not to blink- to let the shade evaporate. But he did.

And there was only the tent holding him anywhere in the universe as rest abandoned him for one more night. If he had walked over and opened one of the flaps, he would not have been at all surprised to find stars outside and nothing more as they floated in a blackness brightened only by their own whispers of light.

"What are you doing?"

Quatre hadn't even begun to sense anyone behind him and maybe that was what really frightened him about it. He turned though, trying to look calm while his heart still thumped away. And he smiled, like he always did. "I was just trying not to bother you, but I guess it isn't working, is it?"

There that soft nervousness again, that asking that he couldn't quite make out-it came to him as the other boy stared at him with nothing more than a stare if not a slight question in himself and that at least he answered, forgetting himself once again for the moment. "I was just writing in my journal. It seems silly, I know but I have, ever since I was twelve..." He found himself letting the burgundy covers slide together around his hand.

"It's not silly."

He looked up at his companion who was now gazing out the window at the other side of the room. "Trowa?"

"I won't read it."

"Oh... I didn't think you would. It was just a reflex."

"Hmm..." Just a slight noise. His head seemed to tilt towards the table where his pistol was lying askew beside the lamp, as if by accident while he was thinking a moment of someplace elsewhere. So much said in that, as if the weapon had spoken for him.

Quatre supposed it had sometimes, but somehow nothing possessed him to leave or to be afraid. He was already afraid today, but he was used to it. Besides, there was something so soft about today's diffidence as if he welcomed it, though he didn't know why. Such a quiet force cradling him, maybe it was just being accustomed to the ethereal sensation by now…

"You're still not going."

"Excuse me?"

"You're still not going."

"It's my mission too."

"I can do it alone."

"I'll stay out of your way, I promise."

"Try."

"I don't want to fight about it. I'm sorry, I just don't."

A slight pause as the other boy's eyes flickered over the thin Victorian handwriting on the front of the journal. /Maybe we’re both uneasy then… OK… it’s OK Trowa… I don’t know why I’m imagining that I’m saying this to you./

"I don't want to either."

"Thanks Trowa."

"For what?” No hints of exasperation or annoyance, it was a sincere question. Still nothing else to it, but an honest question.

The dawn began to break against the still scintillating purple horizon of San Francisco and the aura of the room leaned away from that of the lamp and into the morning but Quatre found he could say nothing to it or to Trowa. Whoever he was.

12:59

And that was it: that’s what made this all so dissatisfying that it clung to his soul after all this time. That there was no answer to that one question anymore, no finality. In the shuddering shadows between his heart and the world the answer drowned in rivers of voices and conjecture. And it was raining. And it was growing deeper like a slow puddle of blood under a slit wrist.

Only Trowa had the means to end this, but was Trowa ended himself? If he had slipped away…. If he had slipped away…

Hope was only a wicked glimmer on the wings of the peacock angel, but it was hope still. Distant, aching pouring warmth through him but never dissipating or easing as one morbid thought fluttered after another in spite of… everything really. He was sick with only the clamor of them.

If Trowa had indeed died….

And how was he to live knowing he had killed the very friend who saved him from himself. How?

But he was barely alive as it was. His body seemed to be fading away around him. Half the time he wanted to fall to his knees and mourn until whatever else of him was left without it drifted away too.

Yet this other half made a puppet of him, forced him to walk in the real world. Alone.

The concrete he walked on had been recently tarred and the dusty molasses scent of it kicked up about him as he paced. He was wasting his time, pacing like this. Time was so short. Anything to get away now. He wanted out of more than just here.

“Quatre, really, if there’s anything I could do.”

He saw Lucrezia then as she stood among the feet of the Maganac suits with him. The whirls of regrouping men faded into one noisy blur as he fixed on her. She seemed not to pay attention to anything at the moment. The battle had taken her thoughts.

He just then realized the clipboard he was holding was damp with his sweat and the papers on it rumpled. Still he approached her so they could hear each other above the grinding din. Mobile suits weren’t well suited to long distance travel and they had to go somewhere, anywhere far away. But still on earth… just in case.

“Please leave it to us, Ms. Noin. You’re our guest.”

“I don’t feel like one.”

“Trust me you are. Just come with us. I can take care of everything.”

“But I…”

“There’s nothing to be troubled about, nothing at all.”

“Master Quatre?”

“Hmm?”

And next thing he knew Rashid’s huge, rough hands were strapping him into his heat. He didn’t know why exactly the leader of these men insisted always on buckling his safety belt when they were flying together. Maybe it was some sort of trade for letting the boy pour the any tea they’d have himself.

He knew though that it wasn’t only that. Hadn’t this used to be some gesture of caring, just simple caring?

Then why would he still do it?

/No…/

He felt the floor starting to leave the macadam. All the world shrank away beneath him, slowly melting into grey, green and blue patches he somehow couldn’t take his eyes from even as they lost focus with their weariness, even as everything above or below the clouds hid away, forsaking any chance for sure definition.

/No, no one could feel anything for me now./

1:28

Everything still was to him a blur indeed, of sadness and of truths that could not ever be altered. Children lost their toys, wars raged between grownups, birds threw themselves into the ocean away from the sand. (He was in the desert, wasn’t he?)

They did so though, without him or anything close to the empty chrysalis of his body, drained before it ever really spoke.

If he could go back though, would he?

Shackles were a part of facing time so there was no chance.

/I want to see you Trowa! I want to more than anything and sometimes I do!/

But shades no longer had voices or even need of them; no senses in them could hear as humans did, though humans heard them still even if they were hardly real. There was nothing ever he could have said to make this right. And still he wanted to speak, to see him to sense him and the slight heat around his heart.

/Even though I don’t deserve to face you./

/There’s no way… that you could end that in me at least. I can not be sorry, I can not be forgiven, but how can I still want you? Because I do./

/I do./

The hallway had the sternest amaranthine dark to it yet they found that they could see each other. This place was clanking with their echoes and the power outage lights seemed to waver with the sounds.

It was only sneaking in and deleting a few files, yet the very pit of his stomach felt as if it had dissolved. He was sick and empty, but considering small things between steps though they broke as his foot would hit the floor in the awful stillness.

The other boy waved him on down the next windowless corridor and he followed silently behind. The floor was sounding like chains under them no matter what they did now and all the corners felt like they had snipers lurking behind them. The handle of his own gun was biting into his fingers.

The echoes were changing now, they were longer.

Why did he still feel this way? Why? His companion moved easily as if walking only into a music hall, maybe even one he knew well. His hands were jammed into his pockets and his eyes watched only the darkness ahead. He hardly seemed to have any color and somehow this brought out the dramatic lines of his form as he went along.

Even though Quatre kept missing it, for now and then he would imagine ominous things neither there nor ever existing, he knew Trowa was watching him sometimes with small stealthy glances.

Yes, Trowa was so well concealed he never felt anything from him. Nothing. Not one emotion or impression. He was trying but it was like grasping at smoke and probably better that way. Why trouble them both with his creepy abnormality?

Yeah, sometimes he hated it.

But just this once he wanted to try it, even though it seemed wrong somehow. They were on a mission and he came back to it.

Something scuttled behind them. Something heavy. His whole body throbbed with the presence of his racing blood as he spun. The pistol hardly popped as it went off but it jarred his wrists. Whatever it was sputtered and fell to the ground with a sickening thud.

His own hoarse whisper… “Ohmigod! I’m sorry!” … and then he realized.

He had knocked Trowa against the wall and stood now between him and the pursuer. As the only thing really. And that other boy… he felt him looking, that even stare quivering ever so slightly. “Quatre.”

He couldn’t answer. He felt his knees coming loose.

“Breathe.”

He did then, gasping as if he’d been underwater. A hand took a firm hold of his and tugged him along as if he was a little boy but still there in the violet case of the dimness. It took him a moment to realize it was Trowa, but then he was clam again as if nothing had happened in the two minutes since.

“Don’t worry about it. I know that’s cold, but don’t.”

The walls of the hallway parted, racing away to unseen borders of the gallery they stood in now, surrounded by a ring of flashing panels and diodes of every color while above them the ceiling sparked only with the platinum pin pricks of make-believe stars arranged in wistful patterns by the maker so they bore no resemblance to any sky that was been real or ever would try to be.

2:25

Looking around, he saw nothing had wished him back into the gallery. That was the real sky above him now, wasn’t it? Hanging so much higher, out of reach of his bloody hands.

Gasping all of a sudden he held them up and they showed up a faint grey before the pit of the sky. It was only sweat. How could he be sweating? He had hardly moved and this was night in the desert.

There that gentle nervousness as always, a dubious and half sublime consideration he could not close away. It worked itself into him so easily tonight. It nagged him, it tore at him.

But he had to be gentle… no matter what… another day washing away… but that would be another small price. Another small question in his mind.

Though nothing like the one before.

He tossed on the surface of this surreal nothing, drifted nowhere as he singled out the sensation for which no words could speak.

He’d been standing on a cliff. One of the ridges above the depthless nacre, quiet as the clouds that twisted above it and asked for a mirror. The scarf was only wrapped about his neck since he wasn’t used to this kind of wind; salty and wet. It made him think of something, a recollection he didn’t actually have.

/I wonder…/ And this time he thought so whimsically of it, he smiled. /If I fell in, could I feel everyone and everything in the sea right now?/ Though for now, he let only the breeze and the diluted sunlight have him.

It seemed right that the other boy would sneak up on him- a suspicion, not true insight. A guess for what he couldn’t truly feel.

“You like the sea?”

“I’ve never seen it before in my whole life. It’s amazing… just amazing… no, that’s not quite…”

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll fall in?”

Batting his eyes with a slight frown for what was not expected he faced the profile of the now silent boy beside him who was watching the tiny waves as they tickled the stones below. He didn’t seem to be really seeing them at all. The seabirds cried and the sound caught on the spray as Quatre wondered what to say.

“I was just wondering, what it would be like.”

The green eyes flitted over him but returned to themselves at last. Eyes as green and clear as ice on holly.

“I’m already packed,” he found himself adding, “So don’t worry.”

“What makes you think I would worry?”

“Well, you know, after yesterday… that I froze… for a second like that… the whole thing was my fault… I don’t know where my head was…”

“Why be upset about it. It’s over. You’re alright.”

Quatre found himself starting a bit. Part of him almost wanted to lay hands on Trowa, take them both to the ground. Smack him for holding his hand like that before, for scaring him even though he hadn’t BEEN scared. /But why? That’s just… / All he did in the end was step backwards and feel ashamed.

But his companion faced him just as cool and calm as ever. “You are alright?”

So they both turned away in the end and watched the foam drink off the flanks of the cliffs, even though it probably happened every day. Guilt snatched at Quatre and he held his own fingers to himself now. He confessed, but not what he’d been planning to. “I’m a newtype… well, sorta…”

“Hmm? I thought you had to be… to pilot a gundam.”

“But I have a spaceheart. Kinda… it doesn’t go on and off like it’s supposed to. I can’t control it. I don’t know how else to say it.” He made himself not blush. Blushing was silly and blamed whoever was there. This was his own ridiculous speaking.

With the vaguest intonation of curiosity then. “You’re an empath.”

“Yeah. It upsets some people. I thought you’d want to know.” The wish to face the other boy came to him and they watched each other for a moment then as it turned out, around them the thin, shiny dampness and the ocean white.

And Trowa’s lips crept upwards in the faintest smile. “I don’t have to say it then.” With some slight determination then, he walked off towards the waiting trucks, leaving Quatre standing on the cliff, wondering if he had caught any flicker of sadness passing him in the air like some strain of music only to be remembered when heard for the second time.

And there was no second time.

3:48

For Quatre though… of all things that begged for him, of all the unanswered questions in the world, why this one slight moment no matter what else he tried to think of? Why this one insignificant moment? Why did everything have to begin and end with this? He saw, the sun burned his skin, he imagined, he could keep from hurting, people but this… all of this, everything in his world now.

Lucrezia’s tea. Heero’s vaporization. Rashid’s hands brushing against his chest. Iria’s voice. It was all just background noise.

Even now… after everything he’d done… Why put so much faith and question together in one day above the sea with someone he hardly remembered? Over and over before he drowned in his madness, feeling his heart begin to break all over again.

And always this was the desert, standing where it always had, swallowing up the ruins of Cameroon (1), it’s cool dryness consuming all the remnants of the heat before morning and letting the sand grate against the tent, trying to claim that to.

The stars above had lost all power to comfort him, but then everything had. With a sigh he rolled over at last, cuddling up to his flimsy pillow even as he still saw point of light before his closed eyes. Too many hours, just staring. He was cold from being still and so was the pillow really… he found himself murmuring to it a bit. /I do know why… I have… all this time…/ The wishes, the asking. Everything in his heart that was supposed to matter, he had been unfaithful to, for this.

“I love you Trowa.” He told the pillow.

It seemed like years, but suddenly every conscious or unconscious shred of him knew this daydream. He was nearly laughing to himself even as he tangled the sheets around him to hide from the eyes of the night. He had known all along and he had never known. The darkness seemed a friend long gone, but not one he had so dearly missed. The fall he remembered but he pretended he was flying, that it was OK. His heart finally beat softly for a few moments as he relaxed unwilling to be troubled, if only for a few seconds in which he knew the truth and it bloomed in him like a soft, fluffy cloud blooms over the horizon.

He laughed because it was so silly. Everything was already over.

Before it had ever begun.

And it was all his mistakes. No one else’s.

Not even fate’s if there was such a thing.

/If the universe is falling apart let it come! Let it be over! No one can blame me anymore. I’ve done something so inhuman not even words can tell./ The rush of days tore over his quaking form, or at least he felt them though the early morning, saw nothing. His eyes blurred.

And all he could see was Trowa- his cold, incorporeal shadow of a body warning of something but Quatre was so warmed and so gladdened even though he fought it. He really did.

Just Trowa.

Without looking at the clock, he struck it with his hand and sent it to the ground where it submerged halfway in some exposed sand. Dazed and whimpering he swung to his feet stumbled to the faint cobalt outline of the curtain. His legs hurt. He dabbed at his eyes with the salt water already on his fingers.

Something sliced through the bottom of his foot and he remembered the pocket knife. But he didn’t cry out.

Rashid woke up a few minutes later. At first he thought he must be imagining the slight gasps, but there they were again, just as feeble as the first time. With a disturbed calm he rose and switched on the small flashlight he kept under his matress before silently approaching the flap of his tent. The glaring brightness caught on the disheveled form of Quatre which stood shivering in the cold Sahara night in nothing but his flimsy blue pajamas. The Maganac’s hand jerked with the shock that had him for one second, the illumination catching on the barely visible dark line through the sand behind his companion which showed a dull dark red.

“P-Please, I know it’s early but please let me come in.”

“You’re bleeding!”

“Can’t I come in anyway? I’m so lonely.”

Not sure what else to do at the moment, he scooped the boy into his arms and carried him over to the bed, wrapping the blankets around his shoulders as he checked him over. “It’s just a little cut on your foot. Not very bad but it’s bleeding a lot. Here, scoot back a little further and prop your legs up.” And then he rummaged in his medkit after his bandages. Turning back to his charge at last he found him still. So still he wasn’t even shivering or trying to watch what was being done to him. He knelt and dressed the wound, which he did slowly so he wouldn’t tug or pinch, though once or twice he did and still there were no complaints. At last as he secured the gauze with a little tape. “There, now… but what on earth were you doing when you…?” He cut himself off in the end. Something told him he would get no answer and it didn’t really matter anyway.

At last, Quatre, moon-white in the gentle dimness shuddered softly and held himself, gazing emptily ahead as a child will sometimes do before they weep. The Maganac sought no more wasteful words, but slipped up beside him on the bed and was still himself for awhile, though once in awhile he reached over and rather fondly stoked his soft hair.

“I killed my best friend. What else am I supposed to be but lonely? Y’know, no one cares, and really they shouldn’t, but it’s no one at all.”

“Master Quatre! I care!”

“Then why don’t you hate me?”

“Shh… just try to breath… it’s okay…”

“No it’s not.”

“Shhhhh…”

“Don’t shush me! I’m not a little kid!”

Rashid did his best to keep from shaking his head, his very best. The last thing he wanted was to fight. Not about this, or anything. Not now. Quatre was gagging slightly on his own breath; that was the only sound. And here he was playing with his hair. At a time like this, curling every stray strand behind his ears… “Master Quatre, why didn’t you tell me? I had no idea you were suffering like this. Honestly, I didn’t! If you would have let me know, or even hinted at it… Why do you have to hurt yourself like this? I’m here. I do care.”

“Because I’m so much trouble. You shouldn’t have to worry… not about me… it’s such a waste.”

“But you’re hurting me too.” It almost seemed to Rashid as though through the screen of the evening he beheld a million different Quatres in a handful of seconds, all sliding past one another on the same face-all beautiful in sadness, all tortured in their inability to speak, “Please Master… please, I beg of you. I can’t bear to see you like this… you were never nothing to me Quatre, not to me. Don’t you know that?”

“I can’t change, Rashid.” Came the eerily complacent reply. And he smiled then, the smile’s falsehood somehow only betrayed by it’s misplacement. “Not anymore. I know what I am. You don’t understand.”

“No… you can’t be right about that… you’re too young.”

“I am older than time.”

The Maganac chanced letting his fingers stray over the forehead of his companion, finding it faintly chilly from the early morning. He nearly offered himself some faint relief then- his master wasn’t ill at least, as he had started to fear, but Quatre tilted forward against his fingers as if they were the only thing holding him up. Rashid sighed then, scooping the boy onto his lap and tugging one of the blankets around him. “Please don’t be lonely anymore… I’ll stay.”

“I…”

“Go on. I swear it’s OK… I swear…”

“But I want my Trowa back… But I can’t. It’ll never be the same, no matter what happens. Oh Rashid! I almost wanted him to be dead. I did! I couldn’t face him. I couldn’t. But if he was here I would. And I’d really be the one to die this time. My heart would break, I can feel it breaking now. But I want him back. How can I want anything like this? I’m a monster. I know I am. I only go on because he asked but sometimes I wish he’d asked me anything else ‘cause I don’t want to but I don’t want to die either. I just want him and that’s so wrong!”

“Love is never wrong.”

“But you’re not supposed to…”

“I’ve suspected it for awhile. That’s okay. Really… it’s beautiful even… one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. But you have to understand… everything has it’s reasons, and the sunshine after the night. You will be cleansed- you will… live again, no matter what. And I’ll still be by your side… if only I would have known, if only I would have said something to you, but I just didn’t want to make you sad and yet… here we are. I am the one who should never be forgiven. No one suffers needlessly. Humans are not to be so selfless they bleed at their own hands, yet I see this in you and I shudder to admire it even when it pains me so... and here you have suffered at my hands or the absence of them. I'll do anything for you... anything at all... You're not alone, even if you think you are sometimes. You've come so far with us, and we'll all stand with you. I don't know what you're going through. I wish I did, that I knew what else to say... you know... I never had any children... and I don't think I will by most people's ideas... you've been my son. I need you as if you were my own... no matter what. I'm sorry if I can't be a good father to you. You puzzle me Quatre and I… Quatre?”

*****

A thin misty rain clung to his bare arms as he stood there, staring at the pale, thin veins running through them, almost invisible in the drizzly light. Flowers from different times of the year bloomed around him as if it was every day of spring and summer here, now, standing with him in the grass. He folded his arms around himself then, not because he was cold, only because he could.

Turning to the dark brick building beside his, he watched through the dripping trees around it the steps leading onto the lawn where he was. A few other people passed him, mostly his own age except for the professors who were not much older or at least trying to look it.

He watched them for a long time- slipping past him, joking about schoolwork and their friends. A few started to drop their books but caught them in the end. They knew he was there, some saying hello, seeming to know him from somewhere though he had no idea who any of them were and he didn’t really care at all. His face was a little warm as if he was embarrassed by it. He was so uneased he could do no more than nod to them. No time to feel bad though.

The whispers of sunlight caught on someone at late and he saw Trowa walking down the wet stairs, dressed like one of the other students, books in the crook of his arm.

And he was laughing as he walked past, really laughing.

“Yeah, I’ve got that article to do for the newspaper, some calculus and practice at four, I should really study tonight too.”

As the voice gave up and was lost to the crowd Quatre realized he was still frozen at the sound. His heart throbbed and quaked. /Go after him! Go after him!/

Knowing he had waited only made it harder. Regrets already were snapping at his edges.

“Trowa! Trowa wait! I have to talk to you! Trowa! I forgot, I know, but why won’t you…!”

The rain was clear but it refracted everything into blurs of shadows or light. He tore over the ground crying out. People were staring and saying things. The other boy wasn’t getting any closer though he didn’t seem to be moving at all- just standing there it seemed, with his books and his conversation.. Sapling trees flew past and flung the water from their leaves on his face. They kept hitting him and he didn’t see them. Just Trowa. Standing still.

He didn’t even realize he was headed for the ground. His foot didn’t seem to catch on anything. And he didn’t feel himself fall. He was lying on the ground all of a sudden. That was all. He didn’t even feel wet but in the split second he should have fallen. Trowa had vanished.

Glancing about he called and he called, a spectral emptiness possessing him from the inside out, coming through all his helplessness and long past chances.

Trowa was gone. Nothing else.

He buried his face in his arms and wept for a long time.

“Hey, Quatre.”

The voice came from behind him now and disbelieving he looked up through his foggy eyes. It was him… but so calm… so nearly happy. He’d never heard him so close to happy before. He was even smiling a gentle, cheery smile. A stunned soft gasp coursed through him. This casual tone was just so wrong. he couldn’t answer.

“Hey what’s the matter, Quatre?”

“You left me all alone. What do you think’s the matter.”

“Why would that upset you?”

“You were too busy! You were always too busy and I was a fool! I didn’t notice and I never said… I never asked… you have to tell me now! You just have to!”

“I am busy, Quatre.”

“But why? Why can’t you just say it? Why did you have to leave me here? I miss you.”

“I really have to…”

“It’s because of what I did but can’t you just tell me what you meant when you said…”

“What you said?” And of all things he laughed… he laughed.

“It’s not funny! Don’t do this to me. You always…”

“No, no! It’s just… that’s what’s been bothering you? Oh cheer up Quatre! It’s not your fault.”

“You keep saying that.”

“It’s true.” At last some tenderness as he bent a little further down and shifting his book to his other arm, reached over and let his fingers tarry awhile on the boy’s shoulder. “This is what I chose, Quatre. I’m sorry I had to hurt you. I am. But I wanted you to be there, no matter what. Not here.”

“But I miss you!”

“That’s sweet but… can you get up?”

“I think so.”

“Good. Very good.”

“But Trowa…”

“For now. Go inside and make yourself comfortable, but please don’t argue with me. I’m sorry Quatre. Don’t you ever be sorry. You can take care of yourself now.”

“I can try.”

“Would you? For me?”

This time Trowa really did walk away, the sea of water vapor drawing around him like thousands of thin curtains.

And Quatre still lay sobbing in the grass, watching the spaces where he had been seconds before. A long time seemed to pass but his mind had been playing tricks on him for weeks now. He sighed. He could still feel Trowa’s fingers on his shoulder. Somehow. His heart was still, but not frozen as a strange new peace fell over him. New? Really? Or forgotten… it had been so long he fell into other dreams.

*****

“Quatre, you really don’t have to blame yourself for everything.” Lucrezia began again.

“I was asleep for two and a half days.”

“You couldn’t help it.”

Turning to her, he had every intention of disproving the words but he only smiled instead. “You could have left anyway.”

“Rashid didn’t want to wake you up.”

He finished pouring the tea into his thermos and set it on the tray beside him with the cup and the saucer and the laptop. “I’ll only be a little bit.” Somehow it was all he could explain today.

“Take your time.”

Nodding the boy lifted his things and passed through the tent flaps into the blazing sun. The burns on his face were finally fading, but half-covering his eyes he lifted his face to the sky, feeling so warm.

It seemed like he’d just done this, but again he sneaked outside behind the Maganac suits, imaginary metal giants casting shadows like titans in the afternoon, sun the sand comfortably heated beneath them, glistening white elsewhere in the dry heat.

He started the laptop and made his call.

“Hi, Iria.”

“Quatre! I hadn’t expected to hear from you again so soon! I mean, I’m glad to see you but…”

“It’s okay sister, I understand.”

The fear left her gentle face and a smile came to her lips. She spoke then as if years had left her… so many and at last, after all these weeks of trying to find her in his dreary younger years… he thought he remembered her as she said softly, “You called me sister.”

“Yes but… but not everything’s alright. I’m a little upset. Not about the war actually. I think I’m… I think I’m grieving.”

“W-what happned? What’s the matter?”

“I have this friend… he’s missing and there’s not much hope. If I sounded funny last time or if I was mean about it…”

“No. No, you weren’t! I didn’t even think…”

“No one really did. Please, let me be sorry. He… he won’t.”

“If that’s all you want.” She paused and he thought he knew what she was thinking of saying. “You said he was missing.”

“Yeah. There was… it wasn’t an accident. It was my fault. We were in space. He was trying so hard to help me.” /I feel as if I’m recalling some long-lost love left only in my memories for centuries. That it had ended on amiable terms, though the end of it recalls the end of ages in my life. All gone away. So it works both ways. To know is to be sad and to not know is to be sad./

“If it would make you feel better, I could send out some people to look for him. I couldn’t promise anything.”

Out of his daydreams, he glanced of her as if she had offered him the last of what she had. His eyes felt a little wet, but he knew he didn’t ever have to cry. “You’d do that for me?”

“Of course, you’re my brother.”

There was some smalltalk then, some shades of chuckles. It felt like the first time, and like so many other firsts the exactness of it left him. He tried to remember, he really did. But the very moment her voice slipped away, the moment there came only the rustle of the sand… it was gone. Just gone, and it didn’t hurt.

Quatre looked out over the dunes and saw no one and no phantoms even in the half-deepening afternoon shade as it crept further out over the ground.

The sound of the camp being taken apart. He thought he should go but he didn’t.

This was no fallacy, no myth. There was a space in his heart where the love belonged. He felt the emptiness but it did not chill him. He was still so warm, so alone but not lonesome or watched over.

/Somehow or other, I’ll always love you Trowa. Even if you’re not here. Even if you make me sad. Even if I regret./

/And the regret. Somehow it’s leaving me./

/Nothing is better than freedom./

So he turned to the thermos to pour himself some chai. With a little sigh though, he ended up pouring the sand out of his teacup.

End Tea in the Sahara

(1) Cameroon is a small country currently existing in Africa… Yes, currently. In our time, the citizens currently are doing their best to stave off the advancing Sahara. In Quatre’s time…

Thanks to: Beta readers sea and Figgy (who discovered the mysterious phantom endnote)! Yay! You guys are great! Everyone in the Society Against the Bastardization of ZERO Quatre- because your discussions about how you wanted a story focusing on Quatre reflecting on the incident inspired this, and to whoever it was who pasted the lyrics for “Tea in the Sahara” as a songfic challenge.

Next time: Hey Kit Kat (2) All Three Fates