Heero's eyes flew open. It was several seconds before he registered the ceiling, the creamy butter of the color, the slim line of chalk white that Trowa had missed when painting. The moonlight through the window tinted the sheets a chill blue, fading to gray across the drapes and curves of his and his lover's bodies.
He sat up, taking a deep breath, and wiped the sweat off his forehead. The cool air hit his bare chest, and he shivered involuntarily, staring in fascination at the damp on his fingertips. It was then he realized his hands were shaking, and he swore silently. Slipping from the bed, he gritted his teeth against the cold and grabbed the jeans he'd worn that day. Pulling them on with an abrupt move, he didn't bother to button them all the way, snatching his shirt and sweater from the chair in the corner.
Trowa rolled over on his back, his eyes still closed, and Heero stopped, watching his lover pat at the warm spot he'd left. The auburn-haired man mumbled something, and Heero leaned over the bed, running the back of his fingers across Trowa's knuckles. The other man sighed, then, and was still, and Heero felt a melancholy emptiness creeping into his awareness as he watched the other man's breathing deepen.
Heero took his socks and boots, and made his way downstairs. He wasn't sure what time it was, and didn't care to check the old clock on the wall. Its ticking sound had become a part of the old house's noises, since Trowa and Jade had bought it the previous week, tinkering with it until it ran again. Now he registered the soft chimes every half-hour without counting. It was a strange comfort, to hear the passage of time, he thought.
It had been two weeks since Wufei's visit, and something had changed that night. Heero frowned, his mind going over the same ruts he'd been following since then, deep in the night, when the house was cool and dark. Filling a pot with water for tea, he stood by the stove and watched it boil as he began his nightly ritual.
The kitchen was complete, and while it gave him a sense of satisfaction to know they were one step closer, it also made him uneasy. Glaring at the brightly painted walls, the shelves already half-full with more books, and the pristine wooden cabinets, Heero pulled a chair out and sat down, putting on his socks and boots. After several minutes he checked the pot, and poured the boiling water into a mug. He dropped a tea bag in, and held the mug close, letting the warmth seep into his hands. It didn't reach his heart.
Heero wondered if anything could reach his heart, now.
Sighing, he stared around at the house, analyzing the list of projects they'd completed. They'd begun planning on turning the barn into a habitable space, and were due to pick up a shipment of wood to create a raised floor. Next, he catalogued, they would install a sub-frame for the barn walls, insulate, put up drywall, and paint. A wood-stove would provide heat. They were both hoping to use the barn as a workshop, and perhaps as a sparring space. The days were getting shorter and colder, as November ushered in the first stages of winter.
Sixty-six days, Heero thought, idly, his thumb caressing the ceramic cup as he moved to the front door. Without even noting a destination, he grabbed his coat, zipping it up before taking his mug and stepping onto the front porch. Absent-mindedly he sipped the tea as he stepped down from the porch, letting his feet go where they would, not noting or caring.
My life would be completely different, with one bullet, he thought. There were so many points in his life, he mused, that a single bullet would have made all the difference. A single death to tumble through his history like dominos, one bullet to scatter the playing pieces across the table of his life, to shred the pattern of his fate. Mariemaia... Relena... Duo.
The morning after Wufei's visit, Heero knew, it had all fallen apart, but more than two weeks of mulling it over had brought him no closer to a cause, and no closer to a solution. Wufei's cautious and tentative words after lunch had provided a sense of contentment and closeness with the other man that Heero had never known. Somehow, with minimal words, the two had finally acknowledged their rivalry, their respect, and ultimately, their regrets, what few each had. Heero was stunned and secretly pleased to know he'd been a point against which Wufei had strived, and had laughed softly, knowing Wufei understood the sound for what it was: a recognition that the sentiment worked in both directions.
And then, Heero thought, staring blindly at the barn ahead of him, everything started coming apart at the seams.
There was no rip in the fabric of the house's relationships. Nothing he could point to, but his mind worried at the fray, pulling here, twitching there, watching the threads dissolve, pulling the gap wider even as he struggled every day to hold it together. Sixteen days, and Jade still wouldn't speak to him. Instead, he had to bear listening to Trowa relay the few words Jade would let spill from his lips. Simple words, little phrases. Once he'd returned early, stealthy, coming through the back door and avoiding the creaky boards. Above his head, Trowa and Jade were straightening up the loft. Trowa was laughing; a soft chuckle, a teasing sound, and Jade had uttered a single word, in a shocked but amused tone.
Heero's heart splintered at the single word, and he turned, stumbling blindly from the house, ignoring Trowa's surprised call from the loft. He'd grabbed the keys and driven off, unable to face Trowa, unable to see Jade's downcast face. He didn't return for several hours, buying groceries and more towels to pass the time and give himself something to do. He'd said nothing when he returned, and Trowa had let him be.
Jade won't talk to me, or around me. Heero's thoughts were tinged with bitterness, his exhausted mind balancing somewhere between disappointment and hurt. Under it, though, was the one thread missing that he couldn't seem to replace or mend. He didn't trust Trowa, and he didn't trust Jade, and most importantly, he didn't trust himself. One of the three was going to hurt him.
I hate him, Heero murmured silently, amazed to admit it, even to himself.
In his dreams, he'd be standing at the door to Duo's prison cell, only it was Jade: that vapid, contented smile, the bright red sweater, the blue jeans, the mismatched socks, and the one shoelace that never seemed to stay tied. And Heero would raise the gun, and Jade would lift his chin, prop himself against the wall, and wait.
And in his dream, every night, Heero would pull the trigger.
He sipped the tea out of habit, if only because the mug was in his hand, and grimaced as the bitterness hit his throat. Heero moved past the barn, through its dark midnight shadow to the path behind the cabin. His feet crunched the frozen leaves beneath his feet, the latest strong frost to grip the nights. Snow would be coming soon, he thought, and it would swath his hatred and pain in a layer of fine, deep ice.
Water, he thought. Water is ice, in a different form, but I could melt water. He stared down into his mug, and frowned at the introspection. Water shifts and changes its shape, but is always itself. At the core, it remains uniquely identifiable.
Jade is not Duo, he told himself. There is no water here, nothing that will shift or meld from the warmth of the love we've bestowed. And I'm tired. I'm tired of trying. I'm tired of waiting. I'm tired of hoping. I'm tired of watching Jade move away from me, seeking Trowa.
Afraid of being forgotten, Heero thought, his mind hearing Trowa's voice quietly report Jade's words. Afraid of not being good enough, Heero added, and snorted. Duo was never afraid of that. Duo always knew his own worth, no matter what anyone around him said or did. Duo didn't give a damn who remembered or forgot him; he'd often said what mattered were his own memories, not the history books.
I didn't forget him. Heero finished the last of tea, feeling the dregs from the teabag on his tongue. I didn't forget him. That's not my guilt. And that's not Duo's fear. It's Jade's. Not Duo. Jade. He shoved the silent mantra away in disgust. He'd repeated it enough in the past two weeks.
Vaguely he was aware he was circling back around to the house, inexorably drawn towards the warmth of the bed despite the sense that what he sought wasn't waiting for him. He'd asked Jade, a few day's after Wufei's visit, whether Jade was frightened of him, but received only a small smile and a quick shake of the head that became a slight shrug before Jade scampered off to find Trowa. The longhaired man had avoided him after that, skittishly, until the next day. Heero wondered if it was because Jade was aware that Heero knew it was not the same answer Jade had given Trowa. Perhaps Jade realized the betrayal inherent in the different answer. Or perhaps the longhaired man only sensed the responding anger that rose in Heero, too quickly to squash.
He lied, Heero told himself. Angry suddenly, he brought his hand back, throwing the mug at the nearest tree. It shattered with the report of a gunshot. He dropped his hand, panting at the emotions roiling in his system.
Duo never lied. Heero sighed, letting his head fall back, the moon's light a cold breath across his face as he closed his eyes against the stars. Years of friendship with Duo, and he still didn't completely understand Duo's peculiar motto. He'd scoffed at it, the first time Quatre had repeated it to him, seeing it as a ridiculously overblown statement, just like the rest of the cocky L2 terrorist. But years of war, and years of peace, and he'd never seen Duo run and hide. Not even once. The man planted his feet, braced himself, and was there to the end of every battle, every argument, every conflict. He never ran and hid.
It occurred to Heero that he'd never questioned that motto, placed against Duo's behavior over so many years of friendship. He'd certainly never had reason to suspect before that Duo had ever lied outright.
But truth and fiction, Heero realized with a clarity born of two weeks of sleepless nights, has nothing to do with it.
Duo called himself a coward, but not lying didn't mean he always told the truth, nor did his motto clarify whether he meant lying in general or about only about his cowardice. In fact, Heero reminded himself, Duo had often shifted his words over the course of their friendship, omitting or rephrasing to fit his need or the situation. His diffident motto simply declared him to be a dishonorable person, but at the same time made it clear he wasn't a hypocrite about it. Duo acknowledged his dishonor, perhaps more so than many honorable people who'd willingly accept a level of two-faced self-delusion to get through the days. The entire meaning, Heero realized with a hiss of indrawn breath, could be summed up in the phrase: I know myself. There was no greater meaning, no promise of truth, and no guarantee of reliance. Duo would serve his own purposes as he saw fit, suiting only himself, but he was honest about it.
So that's honor among thieves, Heero thought, smirking faintly, and realized he'd come to a standstill in the cabin's front yard. He looked up to see a light appear in the main room of the house. The light shifted then, moving through the house, disappearing as it moved away from the front windows. He wondered whether Trowa was awake, and planning to come looking for him.
And now, he told himself, there is no Duo, only Jade. Does Jade know himself? Can one know one's true self, if one doesn't know one's history? What makes a person an individual, if not the accumulated experiences, the threads woven into the psyche over the course of years? Heero could feel his thoughts slipping back into the nightly pattern, circling around to the dominos laid out across his mind. With a dull fascination, he tapped one, and could feel them fall. Each was something Jade did, that made Heero's heart leap with hope, and yet things that constantly begged questions - it was exhausting. Setting them up, hoping them to be true, and knocking them down, knowing them to be false.
The way Jade folded the wrapping paper neatly, squirreling it away somewhere as though he'd need it later. The way Jade would carefully save all scraps of food left from a meal, serving it the next time they sat down at the table. The way Jade would borrow Heero's jeans, but only the ones with the button-fly. The way Jade tied his boots with granny knots, and the way one of the laces always seemed to come untied, making Jade walk with a curious lazy shuffle until he propped one ankle across his knee, balanced on one leg, and retied the bootlace.
Heero let his shoulders slump, watching from his place in the middle of the small front yard, as the front door opened. A bundled figure stepped out, but the hurricane lamp's opaque back was to the figure. It cast the figure in darkness, as the light blinded Heero momentarily. He listened intently, waiting for the footsteps to identify Trowa.
The way Jade would scratch the back of his head when Trowa would ask his opinion and Jade wasn't sure how to respond. The way Jade would invariably end up sleeping sprawled across his bed, on his back, his arms spread wide, one foot hanging off the mattress. The way Jade watched and listened and waited for moments to show how much he wanted to please.
A hundred little things that could be Duo, but were Jade: inexorably, undeniably, Jade. The center of Duo's universe was Duo, Heero thought bitterly. The center of Jade's universe was Trowa.
Always Trowa, Heero thought angrily. He shoved the emotion away, watching as the light came closer. It stopped several feet away, and was set down. Heero blinked, as Jade approached, his hands holding out a teapot. Heero scowled and shoved his hands in his pockets, and Jade halted, uncertain. The silent man ducked his head, bringing the teapot back to his chest as he scuttled backwards.
"Don't try to make me happy," Heero whispered harshly, startled as the words flew from his mouth. "You can't."
Jade froze, his chestnut bangs hanging low over his face. Heero thought absently he should remind Trowa it was time to trim Jade's hair, and he shoved the thought away, annoyed. He glared at Jade, a challenge in the tension of his shoulders and legs, and waited for the longhaired man to retreat, even as he pondered the fact that it was Jade who had come to him, and not Trowa. Angry, he stepped forward, bringing his boot down hard on the frozen ground.
"Go back inside," he said, his voice coming up a notch, icy to match the moon's stark shadows around him. "I don't *want* you here."
Jade flinched, clutching the teapot closer, but didn't move.
"Go!" Heero yelled, stepping forward again, perversely pleased by the sight of Jade cowering. It proved the falling dominos, once again. The pattern was broken. "You're not my friend! Go away!"
Jade fell back a step, his hands coming up to cover his face. At the same instant, he dropped the teapot. It hit the ground, breaking in two. The lid rolled away as steaming liquid poured out onto the ground. The Japanese man glowered and raised a hand, his lips pulled back in a snarl.
"Stop that!" Heero took another step and grabbed Jade by the upper arms, ignoring Jade's terrified whimper as he dug his fingers into Jade's arms. "Stop cowering! Stop groveling!" He shook Jade, registering Jade's teeth clattering together as he was thrown back and forth by the violent motion. "You're nothing," Heero shouted, shaking Jade with every word. "You're a mockery of the person I knew. I'd never forget my friend... but I'd forget you, and never miss you! You're *nothing*," he yelled.
Frustrated, furious, he shoved Jade backwards, watching as the longhaired man hit the frozen ground and rolled a few feet, curling immediately into a ball. Heero stalked over to the quivering figure, glaring down at it. Jade's hands were over his head as he crouched at Heero's feet. He moaned softly, and curled up tighter. The move made Jade's jeans ride up, and the anklets chimed softly. Heero growled, disgusted, and dropped to his knees.
"You're *pathetic*," he snarled, grabbing Jade by the ankle, ripping off Jade's boot. "Every time I hear those fucking bells I---" but he couldn't finish the sentence, his fingers finding the metal of their own accord.
The figure whimpered, the leg kicking in Heero's grasp, and Heero's lip curled in loathing as he tightened his hold. Digging his fingers under the anklet, he began to bend the metal, knocking Jade's other leg away as the longhaired man thrashed and cried, trying to get away from him.
"Hold *still*, damn it," Heero growled, twisting the metal in his fingers, impervious to Jade's cries.
He could feel the metal weakening, caught between his grasp and Jade's ankle. Heero pulled it sharply, bending it up. He ignored the pinch on his fingers as the move bound the anklet tight against Jade's skin. The longhaired man screamed and tried to yank his ankle out of Heero's hands, but Heero didn't loosen his hold. Jade twisted, his screams mingling with sobs as he kicked at Heero. The Japanese man caught the flailing leg, twisting it automatically as he knocked it away. Jade cried out, clawing at the ground, wailing as he struggled. Heero grunted from the effort, folding the metal up, then back again in a quick move. He felt the anklet snap beneath his grasp, and reached for Jade's other foot.
The shout was loud and desperate. Heero froze, uncertain. Then Trowa was between them, shoving Heero backwards, his body over Jade's. Heero scowled at Trowa's glare, falling back on his haunches. Trowa's face was lit on one side by the lamp's golden glow, and lit by blue moonlight on the other. His eyes were wide, and blazing.
"Heero," Trowa pleaded. He didn't even look down as Jade crawled into his arms. The wailing faded into a low keening sound, muffled by Trowa's thin shirt. "Heero, what are you *doing*?"
The dark-haired man glowered, unable to mask the anger still coursing through his body. He felt repulsed, seeing Jade clutch helplessly at Trowa. Bile rose in his throat at the way Trowa gathered the longhaired man to him, cradling him closely.
"Stop coddling him," Heero spat. "He's never going to come back if you let him be."
"It takes time," Trowa retorted. Heero could see Trowa's hands moving over Jade's back, reassuring the longhaired man as he sobbed softly against Trowa's neck. "It takes time," Trowa repeated, his eyes never leaving Heero as he carefully stood, bringing Jade with him. Jade kept one leg raised, the bare foot held off the ground. "You're not achieving a damn thing, yelling at him for something he doesn't understand," Trowa added, holding Jade tight to his chest.
"He *does* understand," Heero shouted, coming to his feet. Anger flared in him like a hissing firecracker. "He's not a child. He's a grown man!"
"He's a grown man who was tortured for six fucking months, Heero!" Trowa's voice shot up as well, and he frowned as Jade moaned, sinking back down to a ball. "God damn it, Heero, get out of here. Go back to bed," the auburn-haired man ordered curtly.
Heero hesitated, his fury deflating as he watched Trowa crouch down, his hands plucking at Jade's coat as he urged the sobbing man to stand again. This is not my enemy, he told himself, and the burden of years seemed to settle on his shoulders. He couldn't move, trapped, watching as his lover helped Jade stand. Heero could sense the dominos falling. A single touch, a simple step, and the world became chaos.
"Go on," Trowa whispered, the edge in his voice carrying a threat. Heero's eyes opened a little wider, and he stepped back instinctively. Trowa brought one hand up to point at the house, even as his other hand cradled the back of Jade's neck as the longhaired man sobbed. "Get back in the house, go to bed, and damn well stay out of my way for awhile."
"*Now*," the other man hissed.
Heero sighed, dropping his head. He left the teapot shards where they lay, and blindly made his way inside. Stripping off his coat, he started to head up the stairs, and thought better of it. Something quiet, and still, deep inside, whispered to him, and he let it speak, following its gentle prodding, letting his feet move without conscious thought. Collapsing onto the sofa, he pulled the blanket off the back to cover him, rolling over and stretching out as he stared blindly at the dark fireplace.
Who am I, he wondered, that I could feel this way? Who am I?
Trowa and Jade came inside several minutes later. Heero's acute hearing could pick out their tread; Trowa's steady pace, and the uneven thump as Jade limped, still sobbing quietly. He could hear the creak and shift of the mattress as two bodies sank down on it. He forced himself into sleep, pushing away the sounds of Jade's soft crying, and Trowa's whispered reassurances.
He still heard Jade's cries in his dreams, and once again he shot Jade in the prison cell. But this time, Duo wasn't smiling, nor did he prop himself up, waiting expectantly. He was huddled against the wall, his hands over his head. No attachments, someone said, and Heero raised the gun, took aim, and fired.
Heero woke up abruptly at dawn, and it took several seconds for the room to resolve itself around him. He could hear Trowa's low voice in the loft, nearly inaudible, a soothing tone, and Heero sat up with a groan. Rubbing his forehead, he ran his fingers through his hair and got up, planning to put on clean clothes. He halted, however, when he saw Jade at the top of the stairs. The longhaired man nearly fell backwards, scrambling to get away, and Trowa appeared a second later, his expression closed and suspicious.
The only possible thing to do was back away, to stand by the sofa. Heero waited as Trowa descended the stairs, his expression worried and drawn as Jade cowered behind him. The two moved into the kitchen, and Heero sighed, the words caught in his throat as he watched them pass. Steeling himself, he headed upstairs, got a change of clothes, showered, collected the laundry, and left the house without saying a word.
He returned five hours later, with clean clothes and groceries. Trowa met him at the door, but said nothing. The taller man's cool green eyes dared him to say something, or perhaps he was simply waiting. Heero wasn't sure. His ability to read Trowa's face and meanings seemed to be fading in the distance, and he could only go about his chores silently, doing his best to stay away from Jade.
The silence was broken a day later, when they began laying the boards across the floor joists they'd laid in the barn. Heero asked for the hammer, and Trowa paused before handing it to him. After that, their conversation was limited to short phrases, and only related to the task at hand, but at least, Heero told himself, it was a start.
The only problem was that he wasn't sure what the end would be.
Heero spent three nights on the sofa, unwilling to return without a clear invitation.
Jade continued to avoid him, and Heero did his best to ignore the longhaired man in return. If anything, his sense of alienation had only deepened, aggravated each time he remembered the way Jade had curled in a ball at his feet. Not Duo, he thought, watching Jade from the corner of his eye as the silent man scurried to keep up with Trowa, favoring his hurt ankle. Not Duo, he would tell himself, hearing the chime of Jade's remaining anklet as the silent man made coffee for Trowa. The auburn-haired man spent the next few evenings on the computer, and Jade was his shadow, vigilant in his efforts to keep Trowa as a living barrier against Heero.
The dark-haired man contemplated joining them, but decided against it. He stared at the guitar for a long time, and then set it aside. Picking a book at random, he settled down by the fire. Heero was well into the book when he realized Trowa had shut off the computer and entered the living room. The tall man paused by the sofa, and Jade hovered behind him. Heero could see Jade's head down, pressed against Trowa's shoulder. Heero raised his eyes from the book, letting his gaze fall momentarily on Jade before locking eyes with Trowa.
"The meaning of the semi-precious stone, Jade," Trowa said calmly, "is longevity. Are you coming to bed?"
Heero paused, then nodded, setting the book aside. For the first time in three nights, he shared a bed with Trowa, but they didn't touch, and they didn't speak. Heero stared at the ceiling, his hands curled around the edges of the blanket as Trowa turned on his side, facing away from Heero. It was a long night, but there were no more dreams that Heero could recall. He awoke feeling restless and exhausted, a sour taste in his mouth, but hoping for time with Trowa. He didn't say anything, however, unable to find the words. He could only watch as Trowa got up, dressed, and left to help Jade with breakfast.
The days passed in silence. They continued the barn project, trying to beat the advancing winter. The wood stove was delivered, the studs were raised, and the insulation was installed. Heero spent an hour every morning chopping wood, stacking some on the porch ends, the rest along one side of the barn. He buried himself in everything he did, but there was little he could do about his head, or his heart.
Snow began to fall, and Heero watched as Trowa bundled Jade up for a hike. Trowa glanced at Heero over Jade's shoulder, but Heero turned away. He wanted to go, but he couldn't, at the same time. The snow continued to fall, that night and into the next day. Heero watched the snow cloak the world, and let the cold bury his heart. Days turned into a week, then two weeks, the hours marked by chores and goals, few words, and no laughter. Heero could feel Trowa slipping away, but he could no longer find the warmth to melt the ice between them, anymore than he could entreat the sun to melt the snow frozen on the gravel road.
He was lost. When Heero looked in the mirror, he no longer recognized himself staring out from his eyes.
Eighty-three days, Heero thought, numb. He stretched a little, tempted to stay under the covers rather than get up and face another day of being avoided by Jade, and watched by Trowa. At some point, he told himself, things will break. But until then... he sighed, unable to complete the sentence. He felt trapped and broken, lost in a world with no road map. He could only keep his distance.
Heero opened his eyes, blinked, and opened them wider as he registered the sight in front of him. Trowa was seated on the bedroom chair, leaning back a little, his arms crossed, his head down, and his legs stretched out in front of him. Heero frowned, puzzled, and sat up; reaching for the sweater he'd hung over the bedpost the night before. He was dressed in a nightshirt and flannel pajama bottoms, like he had since the night after he'd broken Jade's anklet. Trowa hadn't touched him since, Heero thought bitterly, but didn't blame his lover.
Watching Trowa out of the corner of his eye, Heero pulled the sweater over his head, and swung his feet over the edge of the bed. Trowa's eyes opened, and they studied him carefully. Heero returned the gaze, and something stabbed in his gut as he registered just how exhausted and worn the other man looked. Trowa's eyes were dull, his lips thin, a fine line between his brows as he regarded Heero evenly.
The Japanese man waited, sensing the point had come. The hand was hovering over the last standing dominos, his mind whispered. From this point forward...
"I think you should leave," Trowa said.
Heero blinked. He'd been braced, somehow. And at the same time, he'd been hoping. He recognized it, in that second, and hated himself for the sudden flare of joy, of agonizing exhilaration: free. At the same time, he couldn't move.
Trowa shifted a little in the chair, unfolding his arms to lay them limply in his lap. "I think... you want to be gone, more than you want to be here. And I... I can't blame you for that." Trowa lifted his head, then, his green eyes piercing. "But I do blame you for not having the decency to be honest about it. I do blame you for making me be the one to say it."
"I don't understand," Heero whispered. His hands clenched the bedclothes, waiting for the world to right itself.
"I've waited two weeks for you to make amends." Trowa's expression was cool, but his eyes were narrowed, falling away from Heero's rather than remaining steady. Heero could see the pain Trowa was working hard to mask, and he felt leaden, unable to muster the words to assuage the other man's hurt. Trowa's voice was hoarse. "I'd say I've been pretty patient."
"I didn't know what to say."
"You could have started with a simple apology." A flash of pain replaced the cool expression for a heartbeat, but Trowa visibly tensed, and the vulnerability was gone.
The dark-haired man nodded, hearing the words, even as he struggled to feel something through the layers of ice around his chest. "I'm---"
Heero looked up, startled.
"You just proved my point," Trowa said flatly, his gaze settled on Heero, his expression inscrutable. "I'm not the one to whom you owe the apology."
"I *don't* want to hear it," the other man snapped. A muscle flickered in Trowa's jaw. "He may not be the person you once knew, but he has feelings. And you scared the living *shit* out of him. You were brutal, and cruel, for no reason other than your own frustration."
The room was silent, and Heero held his breath. Finally he nodded, dropping his eyes to stare down at his hands. Callused, and worn, splinters from setting two-by-fours, blisters from the ax: so much work, he thought, and I destroyed everything through my own rash acts. He sighed, faintly hearing a girl's voice from years ago, echoing in his head.
*You want me to kill you so you can be free of your guilt.*
" ...and take the Jeep," Trowa was saying. Heero looked up sharply, his mind running through memories as he tried to focus on Trowa's words. "Quatre and Emmy are loaning me their second car."
I am not a coward, Heero told himself. I will not seek the easy way out. He set his jaw. "I don't want to leave."
"I think you should," Trowa replied. He glanced off across the loft, towards the stairs. "I... I think perhaps... you being here is not helping."
"There's no option. You can't have me, and not have Jade. It's a package deal, now."
Heero frowned, searching Trowa's face for some sign, some indication. He wasn't sure what he wanted, other than something impossible that wouldn't happen. He could hear that girl's voice, the words spinning through his head, and could feel the gun in his hand. His fingers clenched, as though wrapped around a barrel of metal, cool in his grasp, and he was suddenly angry.
Coming to his feet, Heero ignored Trowa's frown, stepping past the man to slam his bare feet into his boots. Heero vaguely noted Trowa coming to his feet as well, but sudden energy was coursing through Heero's system. "There's one thing I have to do," he said, as he stormed down the stairs. Trowa was calling out to him, bewildered, but Heero didn't stop.
Throwing the front door open, Heero strode out into the snow, down the cleared path to the barn. Yanking the door open, he covered the distance quickly, throwing aside the painting drop cloths and dragging out Jade's trunk. Hefting it onto his shoulders, he returned to the house, stalking past Trowa and Jade without a glance in their direction. He kicked the coffee table out of the way and dropped the chest unceremoniously by the fireplace. He didn't bother with the lid mechanism, but ripped the top from the trunk, breaking it across his knee. Shards of wood exploded in all directions, and Heero tossed the pieces in his hand into the fire.
"Heero, what are you---"
"All of it," Heero snapped. "I'm not leaving this shit here. It doesn't deserve to exist," he said, pulling out the whips, the cane, the cat o' nine tails, and throwing them on the open fire. The leather crackled at the heat, and began to curl as the fire licked along the edges.
Jade whimpered, his arms stretching out as he came around the sofa. Trowa grabbed at the longhaired man, pulling him backwards. Trowa gaped at Heero, too stunned to keep the anger on his face. "You said it was a security---"
"I know what I said. I was wrong! The only way free is to destroy this," Heero retorted, pulling up the first wooden tray. He smashed it against his knee, and threw the pieces in his hands into the fireplace. Shards hit the floor, but Heero ignored them.
"Heero, stop," Trowa insisted, his voice urgent enough to break through Heero's fury. "We'll burn the rest outdoors."
"Fine," Heero said. He threw the restraints on the sofa, close enough for Trowa to grab them. Pulling out the second tray, he smashed that as well, letting his frustration and helplessness ripple through his muscles as he destroyed the wood. Reaching down, he grabbed the first box his hand touched, as Jade moaned in the background, caught in Trowa's arms.
Heero ripped the lid off the box, crushing the black cardboard in one hand as he stared down into the box. It was an electrical device of some sort, but he didn't hesitate. Upturning the box, he watched the equipment hit the rug, then picked up one foot and smashed down on it. Jade howled in the background, and Trowa shouted something, but Heero ignored them. Pulling out the next box, he tore off the lid, not even pausing at the sight of so many phallic-shaped objects. He didn't pause, ripping the rubber and latex items, shredding them and tossing them aside. Then he reached down for the last box, tossing the cardboard lid into the fire.
Then he looked down, and froze.
Anger consumed him suddenly, but it wasn't the white heat of battle, or the bloody fury of the moment before. It was an icy thread, which started as a trickle down his spine, then shot through his nerves to the tips of his fingers. His vision narrowed down to a single point as he reached into the box, and pulled out Duo's braid.
Jade screamed and hit the floor by the sofa, cowering with his hands over his head, his entire body shaking. He pressed himself against the end of the sofa, as though trying to crawl under it to hide, and Heero looked up. Distantly he knew Trowa was saying something, and that Jade was screaming, but he couldn't breathe. Everything distilled down to a single point, as he registered the wooden handle at the top of the braid, and the binding halfway down. He saw, in fine detail, the way the braid was separated, past the binding, into myriad small braids, each one ending with a sharp metal point. For a second he thought of rust, then noticed the way the stiffness of the hair, the coarse beads of color on the metal. Heero had killed enough people in his life to recognize dried blood.
Heero's world exploded.
"No!" Heero screamed, raising the braid as he turned and kicked viciously at the sofa. Trowa sidestepped barely in time as the sofa slid across the floor to slam into the wall, revealing Jade cowering between the two men. "*How*?" Heero's question was to no one and everyone. He raised the braid, his fists white-knuckled, and tore at the weapon.
"How? *How*?" He could no longer track what he was saying, his mouth moving as his mind distantly watched. "You were feared! You were the scourge of OZ. Duo! How? How could this happen? You were---" His voice broke, and he gasped, his breathing ragged. Heero stared at the braid, a tangle of torn hair and blood and metal and wood in his hands. "Duo," he moaned, absently hearing Jade sob at the name. "I don't understand. Why? You... you never gave up, you never gave in. You were *Shinigami*."
The name seemed to suck the air from the room, and Heero halted his words, seeing Trowa freeze. The taller man's eyes were fixed on Jade, who had fallen suddenly silent. Heero grasped the braid in one hand, his entire body shaking. He opened his mouth, and was startled when Trowa spoke first.
"Heero," Trowa said, his voice low, and deadly. "Don't move."
Heero blinked, caught off-guard by the order. His gaze flickered back to Jade, who was slowly uncurling from his position. The longhaired man's arms came down, a languid move, palms flat on the wooden floor as Jade levered his upper body off the floor. His movements were deliberate. Heero drew in breath through his teeth, but remained perfectly still as he watched.
Jade lifted his head, and looked directly at Heero. The longhaired man smiled, and Heero's blood froze.
End Part 16
On to Chapter seventeen
Back to chapter Fifteen