Broken Jade

Part Fifteen: At Verandah's Edge

The afternoon was warmer than Trowa expected, and Heero wasn't due back for another hour. Watching Jade try to straighten up the kitchen after their lunch, he smiled and picked up Ifrit, depositing the cat on the longhaired man's shoulder, startling him.

"Come sit on the porch with me," Trowa whispered in Jade's ear. "I'll play, if you like."

Jade nodded and dashed from the kitchen, his bells chiming merrily, and he was back in a flash, holding the flute case. Trowa laughed and took it from Jade, opening the front door. Settling himself on the top edge of the porch, he was surprised when Jade promptly sat on the bottom step, his shoulders between Trowa's knees. Jade bent his head, his attention focused on settling Ifrit in his lap, as Trowa flipped the case open and assembled the flute.


Trowa guessed it was at least a half-hour later when he set the flute down, resting it across the case. Swallowing hard, he coughed a little, surprised at how dry his throat had become. Jade's head came up, and the silent man started to move. Trowa grinned and put his hands on Jade's shoulders, pushing him gently back down to the step.

"I'm fine," Trowa said, guessing that Jade intended to get him a drink. "I'll live," he added. Hesitating momentarily, he took a deep breath and guided Jade to come up a step, to rest comfortably between his legs. Idly he played with Jade's braid, as the other man continued to pet the cat in his lap. "Jade... you haven't talked since that night. Is everything okay?"

Jade nodded several times.

"Was it too much, to talk?"

Jade stiffened, then shrugged with one shoulder, a little shyly.

"Say something to me now, Jade," Trowa coaxed. "Like... look at that cloud." He pointed up into the afternoon sky. "What shape is it?"

The braid slithered across Jade's shoulder as he tilted his head back, glancing up quickly and then away again. Trowa swore silently, hoping he'd be able to get a glimpse of Jade's eyes, but the longhaired man was too quick. Jade bent his head back down to the cat.

"Tell me what you think," Trowa said, keeping his voice low and calm. "I think it looks like... an elephant." He was startled to see a shy smile appear on Jade's face as the longhaired man nervously shook his head. "It's okay to disagree. We're just looking at clouds," Trowa assured him. "Ah, see, now the cloud has changed. Now it looks like... an eggbeater."

Jade giggled and glanced up, then shook his head again, a little more firmly this time.

"Then what? What do you think it looks like?"

"Rabbit, Master," Jade whispered, his shoulders hunching, his head down. He seemed a little shocked at his own voice, his hands covering his mouth immediately.

"Rabbit," Trowa repeated, trying to ignore the title as he gently pulled Jade's hands away from his mouth. Trowa tilted his head back, moving his hands to Jade's shoulders, massaging lightly. "It's got a horn in the middle of its head. That's a strange rabbit."

There was no response for several seconds, then Jade shifted, moving closer to Trowa as he ducked his head again. "Rhinoceros," he whispered.

"Could be." Trowa leaned forward, bringing his arms down to embrace Jade as he rested his cheek against Jade's. "Are you frightened of me?"

Jade's fingers paused, and Ifrit mewed in annoyance, quieting as Jade began scratching the cat again. Trowa didn't move, but waited, and after a few seconds more, Jade shook his head, just a little.

"Are you frightened of Heero?"

The body in Trowa's arms stiffened, and Trowa could hear Jade hiss softly through his teeth. Just as quickly, though, the longhaired man made a face and twisted his body, bringing one shoulder up in a strangely shy movement, as though apologizing.

"It's okay to be frightened of him. Sometimes I am, too," Trowa confessed. "Heero can be very... " He shrugged, nonchalantly. "What do you think? What's the word?"

"Intimidating," came the response, so soft Trowa barely caught it.

Trowa nodded, smiling as Jade brought his hands up to hold Trowa's forearms against his chest. Ifrit stood, yawning widely, and jumped down from Jade's lap. The golden tabby's tail stood up straight as he stalked off, stiff-legged, to investigate the grassy area by the porch. Trowa worked one hand free and ran it across Jade's forehead, pushing the long strands of chestnut hair out of Jade's face.

"Do other things frighten you?"

Jade was silent for several minutes, his eyes downcast. Trowa continued to wait, keeping his breathing steady. He was surprised to find himself hoping that Heero didn't come walking up the gravel road, not quite yet. Heero had an overwhelming spirit. It was one of the things that had made him so attractive to Trowa when they'd first met, and still did, but it was becoming a stumbling block in dealing with Jade. Trowa knew it, just as he knew his own compassion was an equally large obstacle. Jade would retreat emotionally when Heero was around, rather than impose himself in a room already filled with Heero's presence.

And I retreat emotionally, Trowa told himself sadly, when Jade appears.

"Being forgotten, Master," Jade whispered, bringing Trowa back to the present. The longhaired man squirmed in Trowa's arms for a bit, then fell still, his fingers playing with the cuff of Trowa's shirt. "Not being good enough," he added.

Trowa ran his hand across Jade's head and down to the braid, pulling it around to the front and giving it a slight tug before wrapping his other arm around Jade, pulling the quiet man close. "You're utterly unforgettable," he replied gently. "And don't you ever forget that." Surprising even himself, he turned his head sideways long enough to kiss Jade on the cheek, holding the caress for a few heartbeats. "And you're good enough... you're *more* than good enough."

Jade wriggled in his arms, and Trowa lifted his head to see more of Jade's face.

"Jade... you're blushing," he teased.

The longhaired man ducked his head, raising his hands to cover his face, and Trowa laughed.

"Never cover your face," Trowa told him, taking Jade by the wrists and bringing his hands back down. Wrapping his arms around Jade again, he held him tightly as he whispered in the other man's ear. "You have so much to be proud of... you've done so much. Survived so much. And you always did it... you always do it with a grace that I envy. Never be embarrassed. Keep your chin up. Be proud."

Jade shuddered, turning suddenly on the step to bury his head under Trowa's chin as he embraced the taller man. His fingers clutched at Trowa, digging into the shirt. Trowa was startled for a second, then smiled sadly as he curled over Jade, holding him just as tightly.

"Master," Jade whispered, his voice muffled in Trowa's shirt. "I just... I want... "

Trowa sighed and turned his head to rest his cheek on Jade's forehead. He ran his fingers up and down Jade's back, hoping that waiting for Jade to speak was the right thing to do.

"I want to make you happy, Master," Jade murmured against Trowa's chest.

The auburn-haired man started to say something, but bit back the words. If it was important enough for Jade to say it, there was probably a reason, but he wasn't sure how he could be so certain Jade had more to say. Not the time to frighten him by insisting he speak if he's not ready, Trowa reminded himself. Just wait. It's just like dealing with the big cats. Sometimes they have to move at their own pace, however frustrating it may be.

Several more minutes passed, and Trowa continued to stroke Jade's back with gentle, repetitive movements of his fingertips.

"I'm not good enough," Jade whispered, and there was a world of heartbreak in his voice. "You are so sad sometimes... "

Trowa could feel his chest aching, and words rushed through his head. What can I say, he asked himself, what should I do to reassure him? Sighing, he leaned back, pushing Jade away enough to see Jade's lowered face and furrowed brow.

"I'm sad because I used to know you, and you're different now," Trowa told him. It was a struggle to keep his voice calm, as though they were discussing the weather. "Do you remember... do remember before you were Jade?"

Jade was quiet, tilting his head to the side, his eyes closed. He shook a little, and his fingers tightened against Trowa's shirt. He started to nod, then stopped, and slowly shook his head.

"I'm sorry, Master," Jade whimpered, burying his head under Trowa's chin again. "I wish I did, if it would make you happy." He burrowed into the embracing warmth of Trowa's arms and legs, lifting his head enough to plant a quick kiss against the base of Trowa's throat. His next words were choked, nearly a soft sob. "But I can't lie... "

Trowa wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry, and he settled for hugging Jade tightly. He could feel Jade's surprise in the tense muscles, which quickly relaxed into obvious relief.

"Oh, Jade, Jade," Trowa murmured, burying his nose in the other man's hair. "Oh, Jade... " Laughing despite the tears threatening to slip from his eyelashes, Trowa hugged the quiet man tightly, unable to do more than smile as Jade's hands crept around his chest to embrace him just as tightly. He knew Jade wasn't sure what he'd done, but Trowa didn't care.

He won't lie, Trowa repeated silently. Please, let it mean what I want it to mean.


Heero came strolling up the driveway not long afterwards, his eyebrows raised at the sight of Trowa and Jade wrapped around each other on the front porch. Trowa raised his hand, waving briefly, and grinned to see Ifrit's tail in the grass as the cat rushed towards Heero, dropping down onto his belly as the man walked past, unaware. A second later Heero yelped, jumping in place. Trowa nearly fell backwards on the porch, laughing as Ifrit dashed off into the grass, tail pointed straight up like a fuzzy golden banner of war.

Trowa was whispering to Jade what he'd witnessed, as Heero came up to the front porch, looking disgruntled.

"Laugh it up," the dark-haired man muttered. "Very funny. Stupid cat."

Jade giggled, his arms still around Trowa's chest, but he released his hold as Trowa patted his arms. The auburn-haired man stood up, regarding the bags over Heero's shoulder. "I presume Quatre is to blame for the care packages?"

Heero shrugged, dropping two of the bags on the edge of the porch. Jade scooped them both up, and disappeared into the house, his head down. They could barely hear him giggling over the chiming bells as the door shut gently behind him. Trowa bent down, picking up his flute and disassembling it while Heero talked.

"And Sally, and Relena," Heero replied. "But Wufei's to blame for this one," he said, his tone softening as he brought out a red box that had been tucked under his arm. "I don't know what it is. He said to open it after dinner."

Trowa put the flute away, and took the box from Heero, turning it over in his hands. Ignoring Heero's smirk, he shook it a little, puzzled at the unidentifiable sounds produced. The box was nearly a foot long, several inches deep, and about a hand's width wide, and wrapped in bright red paper. "Strange. Wufei's not usually one for gifts."

"Who knows," Heero said, his tone a bit reluctant. "I... I think that's the longest we've talked... since the war."

"Ah." Trowa was silent for a moment, studying the last bag, still in Heero's hand. "And that?"

"Files. I don't think we should discuss them while Jade is around."

"I see. Are you hungry? We could have him start dinner. I'll suggest dessert, and making that should keep him occupied. An hour going to be long enough?"

"Two months wouldn't be long enough," Heero sighed, letting his mask fall away to reveal sheer exhaustion. His voice dropped to a whisper. "The things they've found... " His blue eyes searched Trowa's face, and he raised his shoulders in a tired shrug. "Go tell him. I'll wait out here."

"It's going to get cold. Sun should be down in an hour or so."

"It'll be enough time." Heero turned to stare out across the field, dismissing Trowa, and the taller man sighed as he headed inside.


Trowa returned with coffee for each of them, and settled next to Heero on the front step. Their thighs and hips were touching, just enough for Trowa to sense the tension in Heero's muscles. He sipped his coffee, and waited as Heero dug out a brown accordion folder from the last bag.

"These are records from several other cases," Heero said. He set the folder aside, and took a deep breath before telling Trowa about Colston and her interview with Wufei. "She knew of two people who had worked for the organization, and the L2 police raided their residences, and found these files. Wufei suspects they may have kept the records as protection or potential blackmail."

"Holy shit," Trowa said, his eyes unfocused as he imagined the scene. "But why didn't Maxwell get out? If he---"

"She was the fifth person he met," Heero replied, his expression devoid of emotion. "Once he was gone, she hit the silent alarm. When he got to the front door, there were thirty men waiting for him. Colston said she'd heard it took twelve of them to subdue him, and... " He shrugged.

"They didn't kill him." The auburn-haired man frowned at his coffee. "That doesn't make any sense."

"Colston said the rumors were that several of the men killed were important to the higher-ups. They didn't want a dead body; they wanted Maxwell to suffer. To pay," Heero muttered, anger starting to seep into his voice. "The only other thing she knew was that he had a mouth on him, and that's why they... trained him to be silent. Wufei told me that Quatre reasons they may have figured Jade's selling price would defray the cost of covering the deaths, and training new people."

Trowa nodded. It made sense, especially the part about Duo's loud mouth. He imagined Duo gave them hell for as long as he could. It made him smile, just a little, but when Heero caught his eye, Trowa could only shake his head. "Lucky break they found her."

Heero shrugged. "Possibly not. Wufei said she's a ticking time bomb. The organization fired her a few days after the incident. Colston refused to go near the area where Maxwell was being held. They moved their location not long after that, too." The Japanese man looked annoyed. "She broke down during the interview and begged Wufei to not tell Maxwell where she is, or how to find her. She's convinced he'll come after her," he added in a dry tone. His expression indicated he wouldn't mind doing it himself.

"What do the case files say?"

Heero blinked at the rapid topic change, and he fingered the edge of the accordion folder before handing it to Trowa. "Do you want to read, or do you want me to tell you? It's... graphic." His face was pale, suddenly.

"I think... tell me. And then I'll read, if I need more information."

"Fine. The first stage consists of deprivation of food, light, and sleep, while constantly restrained. This period lasts for roughly one to four weeks as needed. The subject is also implanted with electrical devices in several locations on the body." Heero paused, and stared off into the distance for several heartbeats, but his expression never wavered. "Certain training sessions," and he nearly snarled the word, then regained his composure, "consist of repeated shocks in conjunction with the use of specific words or phrases. The first word used is the subject's name."

Trowa realized how hard he was gripping the folder, and took a breath, forcing himself to relax.

"Bodily control is introduced next, regulating the subject's trips to the bathroom. There are beatings for any infraction, including unwillingness or inability to use the facilities. Throughout this period, the subjects are kept on a constant level of low-dosage anxiety relaxants. The subject is also rarely left alone, especially during times or events during which one's privacy would be considered... sacrosanct to most people."

"And then?" Trowa was amazed he could find his voice.

"The second stage begins, in which overt and covert behavioralist techniques are used to alter the subject's psychological reflexes and defense mechanisms. The anxiety relaxants are phased out, and chemical euphorics are introduced. Changes in the subject's behavior and mindset are rewarded with food, light, and sleep, along with verbal and... physical feedback." Heero stopped, and shook his head. "The stages are intensified in respect to the resilience of the subject. The more the subject fights, the more... " His voice broke. "Read the information. I don't... "

"I understand."

Heero nodded, pausing long enough to brush his knuckles across the back of Trowa's hand, and stood up, taking the flute case and red box with him. Trowa waited until the front door closed behind the other man, and slid the papers out of the folder. Setting down the coffee cup, he bent his head to study the case histories.


The light was gone by the time Jade opened the front door. He hovered on the threshold for several seconds before creeping forward, only the chiming of his anklets announcing his presence. Gracefully he folded himself to kneel on the porch next to Trowa, his head down, his hands behind his back as he waited to be acknowledged. Trowa sighed, glancing down at the folder, just barely visible in the dark. Looking up, he stared for a long time into Jade's downcast face. Reaching out, he laid his hand along Jade's face, stroking Jade's cheek with his thumb. The longhaired man smiled a little, tilting his head into the caress, humming softly as he enjoyed the touch.

"Dinner's ready?" Trowa smiled at Jade nodded, but made no move to stand up. Trowa turned on the porch, his hand still on Jade, to see Heero standing in the doorway to the kitchen, a dishcloth over his shoulder. Trowa lowered his hand and patted Jade on the knee. "Come on, then, let's see what smells so good."


Trowa suspected that Heero needed a distraction, or that Heero sensed Trowa was struggling for one. Throughout dinner, Heero entertained them both with the latest news and gossip from Wufei, mostly small stories and inane bits about Sally, Une, Relena, and Quatre. Trowa nodded at appropriate points, asking leading questions when Heero fell silent, and silently wondered at the fact that the chicken had looked and smelled delicious, but tasted like ashes and blood.

" ...Sally has finally taught Une poker, and she's managed to clean out the homicide division... "

They beat Duo every time he reacted to his name, Trowa thought. His face was impassive, and he wondered if Heero could tell the thoughts swarming in his head. Hours of being trapped in a small dark room, bound hand and foot, hyped up on drugs, with a recording playing his name, over and over, and every sound accompanied by a mind-searing level of electrical shock.

" ...Quatre's middle daughter has talked Wufei into teaching her Chinese... "

Starved until he'd eat rotten food, sleep deprived until he hallucinated, beaten until his body was a mass of bruises, Trowa thought. He glanced at Jade. The longhaired man's head was down, a pleased smile on his face as he picked meat carefully off the chicken bones and scooped delicate fingerfuls of mashed potatoes into his mouth. No privacy, no name... stripped of everything, including pride.

" ...Wufei bought a new bike, an RT-890, with after-market pipes so loud they set off every alarm at Preventers... "

His new name bestowed by unseen faces, whispered a thousand times over endless hours as drugs coursed through his system and the pleasure sensors in his brain were stroked, Trowa thought. Dulling his memory and his mind until the past was a blank slate, with only the present moment existing as real, and only his commands to assure him of his existence. Trowa stared down at his plate, wondering how he'd managed to finish nearly everything.

" ...Relena's dumped her fiancé... "

Trowa looked up, then, startled. "What? You mean, that asshole's brother?"

Heero smirked. "Thought that might get your attention. Yeah, Wufei said she had no qualms telling the public she was single again, but hasn't given a reason for it." He shrugged and helped himself to the last piece of chicken. "I suspect someone may have alerted her to her future brother-in-law's unsavory interests."

"And who would do that?" Trowa narrowed his eyes, speculating. He thought of it at the same point Heero said it.

"Quatre, Wufei suspects. I can't see Quatre letting Relena walk into that, and risk her reputation."

"You wouldn't, either."

"I'm hardly an unbiased party, in Relena's opinion," Heero pointed out in a reasonable tone. "Regardless, the asshole has been cooperating, and the auction house has accepted Wufei's application for attendance." The Japanese man's eyes flicked to Jade, and back to Trowa. "They've been notified the next auction is in two months."

"Good." Trowa swallowed some water, setting down the glass with a satisfied air. "That was excellent, Jade," he said, gritting his teeth at the fact that he still felt vaguely queasy. At least, he figured, given Heero's appetite, his statement was probably true. It was just his own thoughts keeping him from enjoying the meal. Sighing, he stood up and began clearing the table.

With Heero and Jade's help, it only took ten minutes, and soon Jade was wiping down the table as Heero studied the chaos in the room. "The countertops will be delivered on Monday," he said. "Should we flip for who waits for them?"

"We can worry about that later," Trowa said, shrugging as he wiped his hands. "First, didn't you say Wufei's gift is to be opened after dinner?"

Heero nodded. "There's a letter, too. Let me get it." He headed into the living room, digging in his coat pockets before returning. "He didn't want me to read it right away. Do you want... " He left the question hanging.

"Sure," Trowa said, a little nervous. He took the envelope, flipping it over and pulling the paper out. Unfolding it, he had to smile at Wufei's graceful hand. He'd rarely had a chance to see anyone's actual handwriting, as most of the Preventer correspondence was electronic, but it didn't surprise him that Wufei would have a classic scholarly style. Down to the phrasing, he thought, as he skimmed the letter.

My friends:

We have known each other for many years, and in all that time I have never truly feared that I would lose one of you. It saddens me to realize that I may have taken any of you for granted. I know we have not been close, but this does not mean you have not mattered to me. In fact, if there is any family of mine left in this world, you are a part of it, irrevocably. Although I know my role in this mission is important, I feel bereft at not being able to be there in person to help, in whatever small way I can. I have given this much thought, and I hope my gift is not presumptuous.

When I was a child, we celebrated the New Year's with parades and feasts, and a certain entertainment that stretches back over three thousand years. I was never a best friend with Maxwell, but I always admired him, and his unswerving belief that playing is something the best - if not the only - way to relieve stress. His good humor and his laughter have kept me company in the worst times, even if I never admitted this to him. At this point, with Maxwell so far away, I think it is time I repay his innumerable kindnesses with a gift that I hope will appeal to the Maxwell we once knew. It is part of my first family's tradition, and in a strange way, part of my second family's, too.

I keep you each in my heart,


Heero picked the envelope up from the table, turning it over as something slid out into his hand with a rustle of paper. He held it up, a puzzled look on his face that melted into amusement as he exchanged it with Trowa for the letter.

"Matches," Trowa said, bewildered. "I'll get the box." A minute later Trowa returned, holding out the gift. "Jade, this is from someone... who cares about you," he said, not sure whether to continue prodding Jade for memories. "Would you like to open it?"

Jade took the box, his fingers shaking as he turned the box over in his hand. Seating himself at the kitchen table, he carefully unwrapped the box, slicing the tape with a fingernail before removing the paper and folding it neatly. Trowa looked over to see Heero's face white with shock.

"That's... " Heero shook his head, as though trying to wake himself. "Such a Maxwell thing," he whispered.

A day for it, Trowa thought, pleased.

Jade was staring at the revealed items, which turned out to be several boxes covered with Chinese lettering. Trowa leaned over the table, cocking his head at them, uncertain. "Jade," he said, unable to hide the excitement. "Open one. See what's in them."

The quiet man nodded, prying back the lid on one end. Several long sticks poured out, and Trowa laughed unexpectedly.

Tucking the matches in Heero's back jeans pocket, Trowa grabbed Jade's wrist with one hand, and Heero's with the other. "Get one of those boxes, Jade, we've got to go outside for this."

"For this?" Heero looked startled, dragged along behind, the letter still in one hand. He stretched out as they passed through the living room, dropping the letter on the sofa as Trowa grabbed their coats. "What are we doing?"

"We're going to *play*," Trowa announced, tossing Heero his coat as he helped Jade into a coat and shrugged into his own. When they were properly bundled, he threw the front door open and dragged them down off the porch into the grass.

Jade clutched the box in one hand, and Trowa took it, pulling out a single stick for each. Dropping the box on the edge of the porch, he dug in Heero's pocket for the matches, grinning as Heero snorted at the extra groping motion. Quickly Trowa lit a match, holding it to the end of Jade's stick. The stick flared into sudden life, hissing furiously as it started to spark, and Jade took a step backwards, nearly dropping the stick. Trowa laughed, lighting Heero's stick next, and the Japanese man surprised him by laughing as well.

"Wufei knows him better than all of us," Heero said, but his voice held no rancor. "Playing, *and* explosives, at the same time."

Trowa nodded, lighting his sparkler last. It flared into sudden glorious light, an arc of green as he swirled it in the air. "You can write things with them," he told the other two men, demonstrating as he drew his name. "Or draw pictures... like rabbits." Quickly he swirled the stick, grinning as the smoky image hung in the air, the brightness burned into their retinas for several seconds.

"That's the craziest looking rabbit I've ever seen," Heero said, swirling his own stick a bit more awkwardly. "Jade, this is your name," he said, drawing the kanji for Jade with a series of large arm movements, flicking his wrist to finish the final arc.

Jade watched, his mouth open, then smiled happily as he began to wave his own sparkler around. Too soon, though, the bright red had faded, and Jade frowned, giving the box a longing look. Trowa handed Jade the matches, and watched as the longhaired man carefully lit a second sparkler, all three grinning merrily as Jade's second sparkler flared into life with a burst of blue.

The three remained outside under the stars, laughing and drawing with light, until the box was empty.


End Part 15


On to Chapter sixteen

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