Broken Jade

Part Seventeen: In This Storm

Trowa tensed, but kept his breathing steady as he watched the side of Jade's face. The longhaired man was smiling up at Heero from his crouch on the floor, and Heero was perfectly still. The tableau held for several heartbeats, then Jade's gaze slipped down to stare at the braid. His smile faltered for a moment, and his body tensed.

"Guess you're back for more," Jade said. His baritone voice was pitched normally, and friendly, as though commenting on the weather. "You sick fucks need to find a better hobby."

Heero's eyes flickered to Trowa, just enough time for Trowa to also glance pointedly at the braid, hoping Heero would get the message. In that heartbeat, Jade tensed, his head turning as he took in his surroundings. His attention slammed back to focus squarely on Heero, however, when Heero moved almost imperceptibly. Trowa took advantage of the distraction to step just a bit more to the side, until he could see Jade's profile more clearly. The longhaired man was staring in fascination at the trunk, and the shattered remains of wood, latex, and electrical parts. The braid-whip twitched in Heero's hands, and Jade's chin wavered for a second, then jutted.

Jade sat back on his heels, put his hands behind his head, and ripped his sweater and shirt off in one smooth motion. Throwing them to the side without looking, he bowed over, his forearms in front of his knees. His head was up, and his eyes never left the braid in Heero's hand.

"Well, get it over with," he hissed. His voice twisted into a mockery of amusement. "The sooner you finish, the sooner you can go jack off somewhere in a corner, like a little boy under the covers late at night."

Heero's eyebrows went up, and he bent down at the knees, his eyes still on Jade, and pointedly dropped the braid on the floor. It landed with a whishing and clattering sound from the tangled hair and metal hooks, followed by a thump as the wooden handle hit the floor. Jade flinched, and Trowa could see a frown forming on the man's face. Jade licked his lips nervously, staring at the braid-whip for several seconds, his eyes narrowing, before he glanced quickly around the room one more time.

"This a new game?"

Jade's voice sounded mildly bored, but Trowa thought he detected a note of anxiety. The muscles rippled under Jade's bare skin as he shifted his weight. One foot came up, toes getting a grip on the floor. Trowa braced himself, his hands open, and rocked forward a little onto the balls of his feet. Heero saw the move and did the same.

"Jade," Trowa whispered. He was startled to see Jade relax suddenly, the movement rippling over his body. It was followed closely by a quick shake of the head and Jade laughed, softly, like he was amused. Trowa's frown deepened, nothing for the first time that Jade's eyes didn't seem to be entirely focused. They were deep blue, but flat and dull.

He's not seeing us, he thought. How do we get him to recognize us?

"Oh, so it's head games today?" Jade tilted his head at Heero, and smirked. He looked over his shoulder at Trowa, and his smirk widened. "What's it going to be this time?" Jade shifted again, bringing more weight up on the foot. His smile tightened for a second. "Y'know, playing good cop, bad cop gets rather predictable."

Trowa caught the quick glance, and moved at the same instant as Jade. The longhaired man launched himself at the front door, and Trowa slammed into him, wrapping his arms around Jade. Trowa spun them both, crashing against the door with his back from the momentum. Jade twisted out of his grasp, turning, but Heero was already there, blocking Jade's flying arm with a forearm.

The return punch from Heero knocked Jade backwards momentarily, against the stairs railing. Trowa stepped in the way as Jade leapt upwards again, snarling viciously. He crashed into Trowa, clawing blindly at Trowa's face and neck until the taller man brought his fists up between Jade's arms and forced his forearms outwards, knocking Jade's arms away. Jade responded with a quick shove, and darted for the front door. His hand was on the doorknob as Heero grabbed Jade by the shoulder. Heero yanked, swinging the shorter man around. Jade's braid arced behind him as he spun, and Heero slammed a fist into Jade's diaphragm.

Jade's eyes flickered up to Heero's face, and then Trowa's, as he hung for a second, poised on Heero's fist. A strange expression of confusion and hurt flashed across Jade's face, and his eyes slid shut. Suddenly he sagged in Heero's arms, and the Japanese man groaned slightly as he struggled to keep Jade from falling to the floor. Trowa stepped forward, taking Jade from Heero. Turning to lean against the door, Trowa locked his left arm around Jade's waist, and his right arm across Jade's shoulders, pinning the shorter man in place, his bare back against Trowa's chest.

"Lot more of you than there was ten years ago," Trowa muttered. The longhaired man shuddered, his head down, slumped in Trowa's arms. "Jade," Trowa called gently.

"Master," Jade whispered, and coughed a few times. His voice gained in strength, a taunting note reentering his tone. "Rhymes with bastard. Sounds an awful lot alike, don't they? What's that, a homonym? Or a synonym?"

Jade's head came up sharply as Heero stepped closer. Trowa could see the wary expression on Jade's face as he watched Heero's movement. Heero frowned as he studied Jade. His blue eyes were fixed on Jade, piercing, unrelenting, until Jade's head dropped a little, his eyes sliding away from Heero's stare.

"Fine," Jade muttered. "Let's just get this over with. Whatever you're gonna do, get on with it."

"We're not going to do anything," Heero replied, his voice perfectly level.

Jade wriggled in Trowa's arms, stilling when Trowa didn't release his hold around Jade's chest. "Oh, that's just precious," Jade said, but the chuckle sounded forced. "What's the point of the staring game, then? Maybe you're running out of options."

Running out of sanity is more like it, Trowa thought, and shook his head a bit as though it could clear his thoughts. His brain was stumbling over hearing Duo's voice again, instead of Jade's hesitant whisper.

"We are not out of options in the *least*," Heero answered. He stepped closer. He glanced at Trowa over Jade's head, his eyes narrowing a minute fraction, the message clear.

Trowa nodded and relaxed his hold. He was surprised to feel Jade press back against him, before jerking away with a gasp. Heero stepped out of the way and Jade sank to his knees a few feet away from them, his back to the closet door. Jade's deep blue eyes darted back and forth, taking in his surroundings before returning quickly to measure the two men standing over him.

Give him something, Trowa thought suddenly: something to do. He wasn't sure if it the right option to choose, or if there were any right options still possible. He felt like walking out of the house and not coming back, or crawling into bed and sleeping for two days. The palms of his hands itched, and he felt dizzy, staring down at Jade, curled into a defensive ball, backed up against the closet door.

"Jade," Trowa said, a little uneasy at how calm his voice sounded. "It's time to make breakfast."

The longhaired man's eyes widened, and he chewed his lower lip for a second, glancing around the room one more time. "Maybe I'll poison you both. Ever think about that?"

"You'll suffer the same fate," Trowa replied. "You're eating breakfast with us."

Jade's eyes went impossibly wide, his gaze darting back and forth between the two men. They didn't move, and Jade exhaled slowly, the grin reappearing on his face. "I was right! Head games."

"Breakfast," Trowa ordered, dropping his voice to a flat tone. "*Now*, Jade."

"Master," Jade whimpered, his eyes dropping to the floor. Heero's breath was a hiss in the silent room, and Jade's shoulders hunched as his head came up, but he didn't look at either of them. "Bastard, I meant."

Heero jerked his head at Trowa, who nodded, waiting as Heero led the way into the kitchen. Jade watched Heero leave, and sighed, so quietly that Trowa nearly didn't catch it. Then Jade shocked Trowa by getting up on all fours and crawling after Heero. Trowa frowned.


The longhaired man immediately curled into a ball, his forehead pressed against the wooden floor. Trowa leaned over him, unable to ignore the hurt stabbing his heart as Jade flinched away from the hands landing on his bare shoulder. Trowa took a breath, and tried to modulate his voice to a calmer tone.

"Jade, in this house, we walk."

Jade came up with a violent movement, and twisted in place to smack Trowa's hands away. He glared at Trowa. "Don't touch me like that," he hissed. "Just beat me and get it over with."

Trowa's breath was gone in a rush. He felt like he'd just been punched solidly in the gut. "I'm not going to beat you. Ever."

"So you say," Jade retorted, his bare feet sliding across the floor as he moved away from Trowa to press his shoulders against the door frame. He jerked his head in Heero's direction, over by the kitchen table. "At least that other guy is honest about it. Not a---" He stopped speaking suddenly, shutting his mouth so hard the knock of his teeth was audible as he closed his eyes, lifting his chin with an expectantly angry look.

Trowa blinked, and looked over at Heero. He was startled to see Heero's eyes wide, his mouth open in shock, his face pale. Then suddenly Heero's eyes narrowed, and he gave Jade an appraising look. Trowa noted the abrupt shift, but didn't have time to question it, instead returning his attention to Jade.

"What have I ever done to give you that impression?" Trowa managed to keep his voice steady only through sheer force of will. Moving as slowly as possible, he knelt down to be on eye-level with Jade, but kept his distance.

Jade frowned, a thin furrow appearing between his brows as he watched Trowa's movements cautiously. "Don't mess with me. You're just working your way up to it," he spat, and suddenly he was gone, crawling furiously across the kitchen floor to crouch by Heero's feet. He didn't touch the Japanese man, but remained kneeling, his chest against his knees, his arms folded at his sides, as though ready to spring.

Heero looked down, and Trowa could see him swallow hard. "Jade," Heero finally said, and took a deep breath.

The longhaired man's eyes slid away from Trowa's, to stare at the floor. His fingers dug into the wooden floor. He didn't make a sound, but his entire body was one of expectation.

"Make breakfast," Heero said. "And if you try to poison us, I *will* beat you."

Trowa inhaled sharply, feeling the room spin at his lover's dispassionate voice. He put out a hand to grasp the doorframe, staring at Heero in total shock. Barely he registered Heero's pained expression, and the way Heero dropped his gaze away from Trowa's. Something touched Trowa's calf, and he blinked, looking down to see Ifrit twisting between his legs. Trowa leaned down and picked Ifrit up, cradling the cat in his arms as he studied Jade's downcast face, and the slight downturn of Jade's lips, the tension in the man's bare chest and shoulders.

Touch isn't doing the trick, he told himself sadly. This Jade doesn't want to be touched. This Jade expects only pain, and even seems to prefer it. He wondered about that, and filed the question away for later perusal. Trowa's fingers scratched behind Ifrit's ears, smiling distantly at the vibration in his hands as the cat purred. His fingers caught on Ifrit's collar, and he paused.

Ifrit, he knew, was unusual for a cat. Most cats would prefer to be absent during high emotional scenes, Trowa thought wryly. He blinked, and shifted his gaze to Jade, who still waited near Heero's feet. The silver pendant caught the morning light and glinted, trapped on its black cord around Jade's neck. Trowa considered that for a second, and the unexpected realization that Jade had not attempted to remove the necklace. Trowa glanced at Heero's boots, then back at Jade, and narrowed his eyes as an idea occurred to him. He jerked his head at Heero, who frowned slightly and approached.

"Restraints," Trowa breathed, low enough that Heero had to read his lips. Trowa looked pointedly at Jade, and nodded at Heero's raised eyebrows.

Heero paused for a minute, then nodded curtly. He disappeared into the living room, leaving Trowa to watch Jade. A minute later Heero returned, one of the longer chains in one hand, Jade's sweater and shirt in the other. The rattle alerted Jade, who tensed and started to scoot backwards. Almost immediately Heero had dropped the clothes and was on Jade, pushing him down and grabbing one of his feet at the same time.

"Kinky," Jade taunted.

He rolled over, gasping as Heero tightened his grip. His hands flew out, grabbing on a chair, which slid with him as Heero jerked him back. Jade let go of the chair and flailed his arms, trying to grab onto the edge of the cabinet, a few inches away. Heero growled, yanking on Jade's leg, and then suddenly there was a clinking sound and Heero stood up, the chain in one hand. The other end was securely around Jade's anklet. Trowa watched, saddened by the fact that he could be pleased that Heero was still able to bend metal if needed. The chain wasn't locked around the shackle with something that could be picked, but instead was bent and twisted. The only one of the three of them who'd be able to remove it was Heero.

Trowa shifted the cat in his arms up to his shoulders and waited.

"Jade," Heero said, tugging on the chain. "Put your clothes back on, and start breakfast. We will be in the living room. You will remain here, and you'll let us know when breakfast is ready."

Trowa glanced around, his eyes narrowing as he noticed the metal ring in the side of the old fireplace. Once used for hanging pots, it was a u-shape of iron embedded deeply into the stone. He caught Heero's attention with a quick flick of his fingers, and glanced towards the fireplace. Heero nodded, pulling the length of chain with him around the kitchen table. Jade was tugging at his anklet, groaning quietly as he tried to get the chain undone. The longhaired man froze, watching, as Heero pulled the final link in the chain apart, before hooking it over the iron circle and bending the link shut again. Heero straightened up and gave Jade a stern look.

"And no poison," he added, leaving the room without another word to either of them.

Trowa watched as Jade tugged on his anklet one more time, before banging his foot on the floor twice in obvious frustration. Sighing, Trowa unwrapped the cat from his shoulders and approached, dropping Ifrit on Jade's lap. The longhaired man started, then crossed his arms and looked away, as though ignoring Trowa. The auburn-haired man shrugged, walking away. In the doorway he turned to see if Ifrit's presence would help.

Very slowly, the longhaired man's arm uncurled, reaching out to pet the cat. Jade's head canted towards the cat, as Ifrit butted his head against Jade's knee, and the hesitant hand began to scratch, tentative at first, and then more firmly, behind Ifrit's ears. The cat responded with a strong purr. Jade bent his head over the cat, his short braid moving across his bare shoulders as he petted the animal.

Jade reached out, grabbing the clothes and pulling them over his head before gracefully climbing to his feet. The chain clanked as Jade bent over to hoist Ifrit onto his shoulder, one hand going up to scratch Ifrit as he moved to the fridge and began pulling out eggs and milk. Trowa headed into the living room, where Heero was collecting the ruined remains of the trunk.

Trowa picked up the braid, careful to keep his body between the braid and the kitchen, in case Jade caught sight of it again. "Pandora," he murmured, under his breath.

Heero looked up, one eyebrow raised. "What's that?" His tone was a bit abashed, and he glanced at Trowa and then away again.

"Pandora's box," Trowa explained quietly. "Ancient myth. A box from the gods that held pestilence, disease, famine, and when it was opened, all hell broke loose." He set down the braid, and began collecting the shredded remains of various objects.

"Stupid to open the box," Heero muttered.

Trowa wasn't sure which box Heero meant, but he was willing to allow for double meanings. "But there was one thing in the box to make up for all the rest of the bad things," he said. At Heero's curious look, Trowa managed a weak smile. "At the bottom of the box was hope."


It took fifteen minutes to clear out the last of the trunk and its items, and they piled everything beneath one of the trees at the edge of the front field. It seemed to be an unspoken agreement that they would determine how to destroy and dispose of the items; later, once more important things had been discussed. Back in the living room, Heero laid more wood on the fire while they listened to Jade working in the kitchen. Trowa sat on the low table in front of the sofa, staring into the flames as Heero sat back on his heels.

"I'm sorry," Heero whispered. "I... got lost." He reached out, tentatively, his hand hovering over Trowa's, then dropped it.

The auburn-haired man nodded, a little numb. "Why didn't you say something?" He risked a glance at Heero's down-turned face. Trowa could hear the plaintive note in his own voice, and winced. "Why didn't you talk to me?"

"I don't know," Heero replied sadly. "I just... I felt like I was... " He shrugged, his lips thinning. "Left out."

Trowa could only gape. "You gave me the silent treatment because you felt left out? What kind of logic is that?"

Heero shrugged, looking away.

"Hell," Trowa muttered, placing the heel of his hands against his eyes, digging his fingers into his scalp. After a second he dropped his hands, his eyes focused on the floor. "He had no idea who we were," he whispered, moving easily to a different topic.

"Don't think so," Heero replied. "Then he did, but I don't know what made him... " He frowned, a contemplative look on his face. " ...come back."

"Come back?" Trowa lifted his head to stare at Heero. "That's a joke, right? That's not Jade in there," he hissed, his eyes darting over his shoulder to the kitchen.

"I think," Heero paused, studying Trowa with an inscrutable expression, "that you preferred him as Jade."

Trowa's eyebrows went up, and he was quiet for a long minute as he tried to figure out how to answer. I'm sure I could think straight, he told himself, if that statement weren't on top of everything else. I've spent four days working up the nerve to tell him to get rid of the attitude, and then he flips out, and then Jade flips out... and I want my turn, he thought, knowing the idea was petty but too emotionally wiped to fight it. He settled for mild sarcasm. "If I have the choice between Jade and what we just went through, then... yeah, I'd rather spend my days with Jade."

"Not what I meant," and Heero's look clearly said that he was aware Trowa knew it.

"Fuck you," Trowa sighed, and closed his eyes, opening them again to stare into Heero's sky-blue eyes. "If you didn't get that the first time, *fuck you*." He got up and was across the room in three strides, grabbing his coat from the back of the door.

"Where are you going?" Heero was on his feet, and right behind him, slamming the door before Trowa could open it all the way.

"Anywhere but here," Trowa spat, his voice barely in control. "I spent nearly a month dealing with Jade by myself because *you* wanted space. You really think that means I prefer Jade over Duo? You're a fucking idiot, Yuy." He jerked the door open, and Heero slammed it shut again.

"You've let him be Jade," Heero retorted. "You haven't pushed him to be himself again."

"First, I didn't realize it was solely *my* responsibility." Trowa let go of the doorknob, turning to face Heero squarely. "Second, what would you have me do? Attack him in the front yard? Threaten to beat him? Run hot and cold until he doesn't know whether or not he can trust me? Not my style." He ground his teeth together to stop the words, then gave up with a huff of air. "I've been patient... with *both* of you." He paused, his eyes narrowing as his voice dropped to a low growl. "Ever occur to you I didn't know what else to *do*? I've done what you asked. I learned to love him. I was willing to let him have the time to come back, but *you* had to push it. And now I have no idea what to say or do. And I want some time to *myself*, now. I think I earned it."

Trowa turned away, staring at the door until Heero removed his hand from the door. Trowa ignored the movement and pulled the door open, startled when Heero suddenly slammed it shut again.

"What *now*, Yuy?" Trowa's tone was exasperated.

"Don't go," Heero whispered, his eyes pained. "I just... have this feeling that if I let you walk out, you won't come back. And... I don't want that."

"Give me the truth, then." Trowa could feel his stomach twisting up, as the words pushed their way to his lips. "Why do you want me to stay?"

Heero was silent for several seconds, his blue eyes searching Trowa's face, but the auburn-haired man set his jaw and refused to show any emotion.

I won't give you an opening, Trowa thought stubbornly. You have to figure this one out on your own, he decided. At the same time, he knew he was terrified of what Heero would say. How will I know what is the right reason, and what's the wrong reason? How will I know, when all I know is that he could give me any reason, and I'd want to stay? I don't want to leave, Trowa moaned silently. I don't want to go. But if I don't draw the line somewhere, there'll be nothing left of me.

"I want you to stay," Heero whispered, his hand reaching out to Trowa's hand on the doorknob, but stopping shy of it. "Because even on the worst days, it's better with you around." He paused, his lips moving soundlessly, and he frowned a little, and sighed. "Maybe that's selfish. But it's the truth." He ducked his head, and Trowa was surprised to see Heero's eyelashes glittering in the mid-morning light. "When I married Relena, I did love her. But at our one-year anniversary, I remember thinking... so this is it. This is what life's given me. Well, that's done." He shrugged, and his hand fell away from Trowa's as he looked back at Trowa, his eyes wide and vulnerable. "With you, I feel like... I have so much more to look forward to, that everything in the past will pale in comparison. I can't explain why, or how. I just do."

Trowa didn't move, too stunned to respond. He opened his mouth, couldn't find the words, and closed it again, his mind repeating Heero's words. Finally he swallowed hard and raised his hand from the doorknob to place it against Heero's cheek, rubbing Heero's cheekbone with his thumb. "I don't want to go," he whispered. "But... I feel like I'm losing myself." He started to say more, but couldn't.

Heero's eyebrows went up, his mouth open in the roundness that was his subtle, unique expression for anxiety, sorrow, and apology at the same time. He sighed, and the expression faded as he nodded, his lips quirking a little as he reached up to press his lips against Trowa's in a chaste but long kiss. After a second he pulled away, keeping his forehead against Trowa's. The two men leaned against each other, silently communing. A rattle of chains interrupted the moment, and Trowa turned his head to see Jade kneeling in the doorway.

"He's kneeling again," Trowa said quietly, then raised his voice to normal tones. "We'll be right there, Jade."

The longhaired man nodded, and crawled backwards until he was out of sight around the corner.

"We still have to talk," Trowa told Heero, his voice firmer. "You threatened him. I don't understand why. I don't like it."

"It's... " Heero stopped, and shook his head. "I'll explain after breakfast. I'm not sure yet how to explain it, but I just have a gut instinct about how things have changed."

"Have they?" He let his hand drop from Heero's face, and knew the dark-haired man understood his meaning.

"Absolutely," Heero told him.


Jade didn't speak as he served breakfast and sat at the table, seemingly intent on drowning his waffles in syrup. Trowa cut his waffles, took one bite, and nearly spat out the food. It was bitter, loaded with salt. He managed to chew and swallow, as he considered what he should do. If he said something, Jade's won this round, he thought. Trowa looked up to see Heero's raised eyebrows, and then glanced to the side, realizing Jade's expression was smug. Trowa set his fork down on the plate with a clatter.


Heero's eyes narrowed, and he stood up abruptly, taking Jade's plate out from under the longhaired man's fingers. Leaning over the table, he switched Jade's plate with Trowa's. Jade gaped, sitting bolt upright as he watched his plate being set in front of Trowa.

"Eat it," Heero told Jade, pointing at the plate. "You ruined it. Eat it or go hungry."

The only response was a lowered head, which suddenly jerked up with an angry rattling as Jade's feet stomped on the floor. He followed it by upending his plate onto the floor. The china broke into several pieces, as Jade sat back with his arms crossed and his head down.

"What the hell---" Trowa raised his eyebrows, unable to formulate a response. Unexpectedly angry, and too exhausted to give a damn, Trowa slammed his fist down on the table. Jade jumped, then slouched down further in his chair, avoiding Trowa's eyes. "Jade! Do you remember the past three months?"

There was no answer, except for Jade slouching down further.

"Answer the question," Heero snapped. "We know you can speak."

A thick line appeared between Jade's brows before he nodded once, his lips twisting in a scowl.

"We have done our best to treat you with decency and affection." The words were out of Trowa's mouth before he realized it. "Have I given you *any* reason to hate me?" He nearly bit his tongue, but it was too late. He knew he was too emotionally wipe to be able to handle the answer, whatever it might be. Trowa took a breath, his fingers tightening on his fork.

Jade's face went from irritated to upset in a flash, his eyebrows up, his closed eyes squinted in pain, but then the expression was gone, replaced by the original obstinate set to his chin. He squirmed a bit in his chair, but still didn't answer.

"Answer," Heero said, more loudly. "Or we'll give you a reason to hate us."

Trowa looked at Heero, shocked, and leaned back in the chair, crossing his own arms. His meaning was clear.

"You *touched* me," Jade whispered harshly, but he sounded like the words were being dragged out of him.

"That's easy to fix," Heero replied calmly, continuing to eat as though nothing had happened. "You will get no more affection, of any kind. You will stay on your pillow, away from us, when you are not involved in a chore. Understood?"

Jade's chin shot up, and he stared at Heero, stunned. His face twisted strangely, and he sat upright, his fingers clenching against his upper arms before one unlocked. The hand hovered over the table for a heartbeat, then reached out for Trowa. "Master?" His voice was hesitant, and hurt.

Trowa didn't look at Jade. He felt lost, and adrift, with no idea what Heero would say or do next. At the same time, his fingers felt cold, and his throat was tight. You *touched* me, his mind repeated Jade's accusation. The only logical option is no more touch, Trowa concluded, but it didn't make him feel any better. He realized Jade was waiting for an answer, his hand still stretched anxiously towards Trowa. The body language confused Trowa, seeing the strange mix of the new Jade's eye contact and the old Jade's need for assurance. Trowa sighed. "You heard him."

"Whatever," Jade said, shrugging as he crossed his arms again, and the expression was gone. His gaze darted back and forth between Trowa and Heero. "Don't want your filthy hands on me anyway."

"Clean up the mess you made." Heero stood up, his face neutral.

Jade's lip curled, but he dropped his chin. It was a minute movement, but Trowa thought he could see Jade's nod. Slowly he slid from the chair sideways, the chain rattling as Jade sunk to his knees and began picking up the broken china. Trowa stared down at his half-eaten breakfast, then got up as well, scraping the remains into the trash before rinsing the dish and setting it in the drying rack. He looked out the window at the barn, and then back at Heero, who nodded.


Trowa studied the exposed insulation and the stacks of drywall as Heero loaded wood into the pot-bellied stove. Within a few minutes it was roaring to Heero's satisfaction, and he shut the door with a clang, then backed up and began studying the barn's interior. Before he could say anything, Trowa spoke.

"I'm burnt."

Heero glanced up, frowning, and his eyes darted to the stove then back to Trowa before understanding dawned on his face. "Ah." He looked around the barn, and bent to pick up a hammer, shaking it idly in one hand as he looked over the drywall.

"I don't know what we're dealing with," Trowa continued. "It's like... it's Maxwell's words, coming from Maxwell's mouth... "

"Not really." Heero set the hammer down, and went to stand by the open barn door, staring out at the kitchen. Trowa could see Jade's face in the kitchen window as he busied himself over the sink. Heero turned with a wry smile. "It's Jade. It's just a Maxwellian Jade."

Trowa raised his eyebrows, and smiled tightly. "That is hardly a help. Heero, you told him... " He paused, considering his words carefully before he spoke, and took a deep breath. "You completely changed in there. I haven't seen you react like that in years. Since the war, perhaps."

"Remember what I said about Zero, bringing me up from the bottom of the ocean?"


Heero opened his mouth, frowned, and closed his mouth, shaking his head. "I've been trying to think of a way to explain it. I don't think I can. I don't know what we triggered... what I triggered, but it's a step closer, but a step backwards at the same time."

"He doesn't trust us, all over again," Trowa muttered.


"I'm not up to this. Not right now. I don't have any defenses against Jade's behavior. I've spent too much time being completely open to him." Trowa stalked across the barn to stand by the stove, feeling its heat seep past his jeans and sweater. "Every angry look from him hurts, right down to my heart."

Heero was silent for a moment, then nodded, as though he'd come to a decision. "That's it. Jade's had no defenses. And now he does."

"You mean Shinigami?"

"I've had a number of missions with Maxwell over the past decade, and I've seen it often enough. Shinigami's not a separate personality, not in the way you might be thinking. It's his game face. A defensive maneuver that's often sheer bravado, and little else." Heero shrugged, turning to join Trowa. He stood close, but not touching. "I'll take over as Master."

"I don't know if that's possible." Trowa tried to smile, but he suspected his face just looked pained.

"Maybe not in title, but it's time I took responsibility, too." Heero brushed his knuckles across the back of Trowa's outstretched hand, hovering over the stove. "I'll go get him, and then we'll put up the drywall. I'm going to get one of the hooks from the study, too. Install it here, so we can isolate him, if need be."

Trowa looked around the empty barn, and nodded. "Not much he can use to get into trouble, unless he wants to bash his head against the stove."

Heero snorted. "He keeps up with the attitude, I might do it for him." He grinned, then, an unexpected lightness filling his blue eyes. "Wouldn't be the first time in ten years that I've been tempted."


End Part 17


On to Chapter eighteen

Back to chapter sixteen

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