Heero stepped up to the cabin's front door, taking a deep breath before pushing the door open on silent hinges. He could hear rattling, accompanied by the faint chime of bells, and grimaced. Stepping to the kitchen doorway, he took the room in with one sweeping glance. The table was cleared and clean, the countertops sparkling, the dishes dried and put away. And in the midst of it, by the table, stood Jade, a piece of toast in his mouth. Heero raised an eyebrow and slowly crossed his arms, letting his body language do the speaking for him. He didn't trust his own voice, too angry with the longhaired man directly contradicting Heero's earlier order.
Jade looked up, his blue eyes wide, and he froze for a half-second. Then he shoved the toast the rest of the way into his mouth, his jaw working furiously. Swallowing hard, he hit the floor, his hands behind his back and his forehead pressed to the floor.
The Japanese man remained where he was, blinking at the combination of the old Jade's reaction, and the new Jade's minor rebellion. Heero suddenly realized his hands had become fists, and he stared for several long minutes at the figure kneeling only a few feet away. Heero had a strange vision of dragging Jade into the bathroom and forcing him to vomit the stolen toast, and shook his head.
That's what was done to me, he thought, and he felt sick, as a shudder swept over his body. Staggering a little, he made it to the kitchen table, pulling out a chair and sinking down heavily, his eyes still on Jade's lowered form. Sitting forward until his elbows were on his knees, Heero covered his face with his hands and forced himself to take long, deep breaths.
I know what they did to him, he told himself. Am I really any better? If I can beat him into being Duo again, is that really the answer? Or am I just adding another wrong on top of the first one? Which is important? The end, or the means? Heero dropped his hands, nearly snorting in bitter laughter at his questions. There's no guarantee that the end will be what I want. There's no certainty that Duo will ever come back.
It hit him, unexpectedly, with a visceral sense that nothing else had managed. Not the braid, not Trowa's words, not Jade's behavior.
*He may never come back.*
Heero leaned back in the chair, laying one arm across the kitchen table as he stared blindly around the kitchen. We've worked for three months to make this a home, he thought absently. And there's no guarantee that we will achieve anything but sore muscles, splinters, and a few blisters. So the end isn't worth the cost of the means.
He sighed and stood up, frowning as he stepped around Jade's kneeling form. Ignoring the longhaired man's shiver, Heero headed back to the barn, leaving without a word.
Trowa looked up in surprise as Heero stepped into the barn.
"Jade?" He glanced past Heero, and then back to Heero again, his green eyes suspicious.
"In the kitchen," Heero said. He paused for a moment to consider the right way to put his suggestion, and gave up. "Trowa... if you could do anything, at this point, what would you do?" Heero was pretty sure he knew the answer. At least he knew what Trowa would have said, three months before.
Trowa was quiet, his fingers tapping on the hammer in his hand. He shrugged, finally, raising his eyebrows.
"No, tell me," Heero insisted. "Whatever you want, whatever you need... after all you've done. What would you like to do, now?"
"We need to put up the---"
Heero shook his head. "That can wait. We don't have a deadline. There's no mission report that has to be filed in twenty-four hours," and Heero vaguely registered that he was repeating words Duo had said to him, years before. "Ignore that. Ignore me. Ignore Jade. What do *you* want?"
The auburn-haired man dropped his eyes, his head turning a little to the side until his hair covered most of his face. "Time alone, I suppose." His fingers continued their rhythm along the hammer's handle. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be." Heero tugged the Jeep's keys out of his pocket, and tossed them swiftly at Trowa. The taller man caught them instinctively, his expression puzzled as he stared at them before shifting his gaze to meet Heero's. The dark-haired man managed a shy smile. "Last time I was in town, I found out about an excellent used bookstore two towns over. It's about an hour's drive, but it's open until eight, and it has a coffee shop. There's a restaurant downstairs, and a bed and breakfast next door."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because you need a vacation. And I can't be there with you, but I can make it possible for you." Heero straightened his shoulders and pushed away the persistent fear clutching his chest. "I know bookstores are your favorite medicine... "
Trowa laughed softly, and shook his head. "Sometimes you really surprise me."
"Is that a bad thing?" Heero managed another crooked smile.
The auburn-haired man tossed the keys up, caught them, and pocketed them. Stepping forward, he stared into Heero's eyes for several seconds before dipping his head to kiss Heero passionately. The kiss lasted for several seconds, interrupted by a thump as Trowa dropped the hammer to put both arms around Heero. It was several more seconds before they pulled apart, and Heero had to breathe deeply to get his body under control. Trowa smiled, and gave Heero a last quick kiss.
"So... I'm free for a day and a night," he whispered.
Heero nodded, his fingers digging into Trowa's sweater. "You'd better go," he rasped, feeling the heat of Trowa's body, the hard muscular planes of Trowa's legs pressed against his own. "If you don't, I'll keep you here... "
"Jade," Trowa said, and bowed his head, uncertain.
"I'll deal with it," Heero said, then winced. "I'll deal with *him*. We can keep ourselves busy... but you need the break more than I need your supervision. Just... come back."
"I will," Trowa assured him, and with another quick kiss, he extracted himself from Heero's grip and was gone.
Heero remained with his back to the house, hearing Trowa's steady footsteps crunching the snow. The front door opened and closed, and five minutes later it opened and closed again. Heero only turned around once he'd heard the Jeep pulling away. He sighed, ran a hand through his hair, and went back to the house to deal with Jade.
Heero walked into the kitchen in time to see Jade scrambling back into a crouch. For a second, Heero was tempted to frown, and remembered Duo's incessant curiosity. He doubted Trowa would have said anything to Jade in parting, and wondered if the chain reached far enough for Jade to have been able to see around the corner as Trowa left.
Walking past Jade without a word, he bent the chain's final link until he could unhook it from the iron handle. Hefting the chain in one hand, he let it rattle a bit before clearing his throat. "Get up, Jade, we're moving to the living room."
The longhaired man paused, then raised his head to look over his shoulder at Heero, a thin line between his delicate brows. Twisting his face up like he was going to say something, Jade opened his mouth, and then closed it. Coming up on all fours, he crawled into the living room as Heero trailed behind, watching as Jade came to rest on the floor by the fireplace. Heero studied the fireplace for several seconds, before noting the hooks embedded in the bricks. It took Heero a minute to remove the fireplace's glass doors, revealing the hooks. Jade watched intently, his eyes fixed on Heero's every move, as Heero hooked the chain around one of the iron loops, tested it, and got up with a nod. Heero left, then, returning from the study with Jade's pillow. He dropped it on the floor next to the fireplace and simply pointed at it before leaving the cabin.
Returning a few minutes later with an armful of wood, Heero was pleased to see Jade had settled down on the pillow. The longhaired man was kneeling in his usual position, his knees shoulder-width apart, but his chin was up. Jade jutted his lower lip a bit when he realized Heero was studying him just as intently, and Heero feigned a shrug as he loaded more wood onto the fire. Poking it with the fireplace irons, he set the tool on the other side of the fireplace, away from Jade, and surveyed the room.
Ifrit was lying in the wingback chair, his forepaws stretched out over the edge. Heero ran a hand down the cat's fur, then picked the cat up and put it on the top of the chair's back. Ifrit's tail twitched, and the cat stretched before settling into a sphinx position, his slanted eyes blinking sleepily. Heero rolled his eyes and sat down. Toeing off his boots, he crossed his feet on the ottoman and watched Jade.
By the time several minutes had passed, Jade's eyes had dropped, and he twitched a few times under Heero's continuous scrutiny. Meanwhile, Heero was contemplating how to begin. Finally he took a deep breath, exhaling as he forced his body to relax.
"Trowa has left to have some time to himself," he announced.
Jade reacted immediately, his chin coming up and his eyes darting around the room. His hands came out from behind his back to cross over his chest, and his eyes were wide and frightened. Finally he seemed to settle back down on his haunches, his expression downcast.
"Are you really going to miss him?" Heero kept his voice level.
Jade nodded emphatically twice, frowned, and shrugged one shoulder. His hands came down, slowly moving back to the small of his back.
"You'd prefer I beat you," Heero prompted, moving to a different topic. He wasn't sure what he'd ask a minute before he asked, but figured his strength had always been in following his emotions. Trowa's ability to logic and analyze wasn't going to serve him well enough, he told himself with a mental sigh.
"Whatever," Jade drawled, his voice loud in the room. "I mean, it's how you get your jollies an' all." He didn't look up, seemingly fascinated with the pattern in the fireplace rug.
"What do you want?"
The question startled Jade, judging by the way his gaze came up immediately, his blue eyes wide. Jade blinked a few times, his brow furrowed. "Well, there's the standard answer..." His tone was soft, and hesitant.
"Start with that."
Jade shrugged, one hand coming out to pluck at the seams of his jeans. "I want... Master to love me an' cherish me," he said softly, his expression open and forlorn. "And I want to be good enough to make Master happy... " Jade scowled. "You know, the usual crap."
"Doesn't sound like crap to me," Heero replied reasonably. "Sounds like something worth wanting."
"Head games," Jade suddenly hissed, his eyes narrow. "I knew it!"
Heero raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah, fucking asshole, you're just like the rest of 'em," Jade spat, his shoulders hunched. "I thought you were different but you're saying one thing and doing another. You're just like Master," he added, his tone accusing. "I know you think it's crap, cause you've got Master to love you an' cherish you an' all that stuff, and you treat him like *shit*."
Heero froze, and almost instantly Jade's eyes went wide. The longhaired man shrank back, but he didn't lower his eyes. They were wide again, the blue darkening as Jade held his breath. His tongue came out to lick his lips, before he closed his eyes, as though braced.
"Maybe I do," Heero replied carefully, keeping his tone neutral only through considerable effort. "But it's not your place to say anything." He gritted his teeth as he heard his own voice, knowing the statement would be taken a way different from his meaning.
"Yeah, I'm just here for the entertainment value," Jade muttered, dropping his head. "Just do whatever and go chat amongst yourselves. Hell, go do that. Call up Master and---"
"Master," Heero interrupted coldly, "has a name. Use it. Trowa."
Jade stopped, startled, his eyes flashing to Heero's before dropping away. Heero was surprised to see Jade was blushing. "I couldn't," Jade mumbled. "That's... " He shook himself. "He's Master. Even if he's... " Jade scowled at the fire.
"Two-faced bastard," Jade cried angrily, his eyes flashing as he came up on his knees, his hands in fists. "He is!"
Heero sat up, his eyebrows raised. He had no idea where he was going with it, but Jade's insistence had him intrigued. This isn't Maxwell, he thought, then stopped. Why not? What if it is, and he simply has no memory? Is it still Maxwell, then, with amnesia? Or is it Jade? How do I tell the difference? How would Maxwell act if he didn't remember anything?
"Duo," Heero said flatly.
Jade's eyes went wide and he whimpered, a shudder running through his body.
"No, please," Jade moaned, his body beginning to shake as he sank down, his forehead to the pillow.
Jade didn't respond, but the shaking gradually subsided. He remained in the bent-over position, and Heero could see the longhaired man's fingers clenching against each other, clasped at the small of Jade's back. Heero sighed, bringing his feet off the footstool and leaning forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
Was I like this ten years ago? Was I that distrustful of Duo's friendship? Heero contemplated that for several seconds. His mind jumped erratically to another topic, his emotions churning under the surface of his mind like the roiling ocean. Do I really treat Trowa like shit? I have, this past month, he could acknowledge, a bit reluctantly, but knowing it was true. His mind raced back to the first question, and he followed it stubbornly. I had no attachments when I came to Earth in Wing, and I didn't want any, he reflected. Attachments were dangerous, especially in war. But after the wars, Duo taught me about friendship...
There was no logic, only a gut sense, as it hit Heero with the force of a lightening strike. Jade, Trowa had reported, is terrified of being forgotten. And yet this Jade is determined to deny all attachments, Heero thought, and sucked in his breath through his teeth. He still wants us to love him, Heero realized; he's just scared that Trowa doesn't love him as much as he loves Trowa. Heero shoved away the immediate question of whether Jade was capable of loving the Master, or whether it was purely the training that said he had to.
"Jade, raise your head and look me in the eyes."
The longhaired man didn't respond, then uncurled enough to raise only his head, his eyes narrowed, his posture defensive.
"Do you fear me?"
Jade nodded, once, his eyes never leaving Heero's.
"Do you hate me?"
Jade frowned, considering that, and shrugged almost imperceptibly.
"Do you hate Trowa?"
The braid slid across Jade's shoulder to thump against his collarbone as he shrank back, his hands moving to clench against the end of the pillow. Slowly, deliberately, he nodded once.
Jade's lower lip jutted, and he narrowed his eyes further. A flash of pain crossed his face, and he tightened his hold on the pillow. Heero got up, ignoring Jade's fearful reaction as he covered the ten feet quickly. He knelt in front of Jade and clasped the other man's face by the chin, jerking Jade's face up.
"Why?" Heero gave Jade's chin a little shake. "What has he done to you?"
"He... " Jade's eyes closed, and Heero shook his chin once more. Jade whimpered, and Heero could see tears trapped in Jade's eyelashes. "Master can't stand me," he choked, and tried to pull away from Heero's grasp. Heero's fingers dug in tighter, and Jade yelped, his hands beating against the edge of the pillow as he struggled against the fingers clutching his face. "Master only tolerates me because you tell him to," Jade said, his voice sounding like it was close to cracking.
Heero released Jade's chin with a sharp movement, throwing the longhaired man back a little from the force. The Japanese man crouched in front of the pillow, his hands open and ready for any action. "That's not true any longer, and you know it. I thought you believed in honesty, Duo," he snarled.
Jade's eyes went wide and he shuddered, scooting backwards on the pillow until his back hit the glass door that led to the back porch. The chains rattled with his movement, and he pulled his knees up under his chin, curling his arms defensively around his shins.
"You're lying to yourself, but I won't tolerate you lying to *me*," Heero hissed, fury rising up, pushing away all the words he'd planned on saying. He stood up, his muscles screaming from the tension. "God damn it, I want to shake you until your brains rattle, to make you realize who you really are!"
There was a low uncomfortable laugh from the figure, and Jade shrugged, a lazy smile on his face. "I'm a slave," he said cheerfully, but Heero thought he could detect an edge of despondency. "I'm supposed to be whatever will please Master," he added quietly.
Heero felt like he'd been hit, recalling Duo's words to him, years ago, after the wars. Duo had asked if he'd always been an assassin, or if he was something more. Blindly, Heero groped for the memories, echoing them as best he could. "Have you always been a slave?"
"Have I... " Jade frowned, giving Heero a baffled look. "I guess so."
"What happens when I call that name... " Heero narrowed his eyes, saying in a bland tone, "Duo."
Jade flinched, and dropped his eyes. "Nothing," he muttered.
"Doesn't look like nothing to me." Heero had to grit his teeth to keep from stalking across the room and putting Jade's head through the wall. It was an outright lie, and he knew it, and he knew Jade knew it, too. "You're lying."
"What's it to you?" Jade shot back, but curled up tighter at the same time. His chin was down, and his blue eyes stared at Heero over his knees.
"You told Trowa you couldn't lie to him," Heero retorted angrily.
Jade's expression suddenly became calculating. "You're jealous," he taunted, and raised his chin so Heero could see him smirking. "A'course I can say whatever I want to you. *You're* not Master."
Heero raised one eyebrow, and let his voice go completely cold. "Are you sure about that?"
"Am I... " Jade's eyes went wide, and he sat bolt upright, his eyes darting around the room before returning to Heero in a panic. "Are... " The sound trailed off, but his mouth continued to move.
"Maybe Trowa's left," Heero said blandly. "And perhaps he's left me in charge. I'd expect you to think this is a good thing, seeing how much you hate him."
"But... " Jade gaped again, then narrowed his eyes, the smirk returning. "You're playing head games again. Well, fuck you. And whatever stupid animal you rode in on."
Heero shrugged. He turned, taking advantage of his back turned to Jade to close his eyes and steady himself, before looking up at the shelves of books. Picking a title at random, he flipped it open; perusing the contents before deciding it would be acceptable. Settling himself down on the wing back seat again, he propped up his feet and opened the book.
He was halfway through the first chapter before he heard the rattle of chains. Heero glanced up to see Jade fiddling with the anklet.
"Good luck getting it loose," Heero told him calmly. "Play with it again, and I'll tie your hands behind your back."
Jade yanked his hand away from his ankle and scowled, crossing his arms over his shins again. Heero stared at Jade for a few second, until the longhaired man dropped his eyes. Heero smiled to himself, and went back to reading.
Another ten minutes passed, before Heero heard a scuffling sound. He looked up to see Jade cautiously scooting forward to settle onto the pillow. Jade looked like he was thinking hard about something, and his head was down, the thin line between his brows. Heero put his finger on the page to mark his place, and closed the book.
"Go ahead," Heero said calmly. "Whatever it is, say it."
Jade shrugged, and lifted his head to stare at the shelves of books, as though ignoring Heero completely. The dark-haired man raised an eyebrow and went back to reading. He'd read another two pages before Jade rattled the chain while shifting from one spot to another.
"Sit still, Jade." Heero shot Jade a pointed look. "You never used to fidget like this."
"You can't tell me what to do," Jade shot back, and his face came up, but Heero noticed Jade's lower lip was quivering. "You're not Master."
"Ah, but I am, now."
"No," Jade said, the word drawn out until it was nearly a moan. He looked around the cabin again, his eyes lighting up as they saw something across the room. "Master left his scarf and hat." Jade gave Heero a smug look. "Master's coming back."
"What do you care? You hate him anyway," Heero replied.
"Yeah, but... " Jade glared at Heero for a second, and shrugged. "Yeah," he repeated, drawling the word out, and Heero's gut wrenched to hear the inflection Duo used so often. Jade's glare deepened. "I don't care. He can rot, for all I care. You, too."
Heero nodded dispassionately and opened the book again. This time, he'd just turned the page when he heard the clinking of metal. He glanced up, to see Jade tugging at the chain surreptitiously. The longhaired man was still staring up at the shelves, but his hand was on his ankle, his fingers poking at the link bent around the shackle. Heero slammed the book shut and brought his feet down on the floor with a solid thud.
Jade made a choking sound and scrambled backwards, then caught himself and grinned widely. "Hah, you thought I was messing with it, didn't you?" He laughed, but the combination of the furrowed brow and the smile made him look more worried than teasing. "I was scratching my foot." Jade huffed and tossed his braid over his shoulder. "Don't have to get so uptight."
The dark-haired man ignored him, and stalked past to study the restraints still sitting on the side table. Grabbing the two smallest, he turned with them in hand, using his speed and strength to be on Jade before the longhaired man could even react.
"Hey! What're you---"
Jade's protest was suddenly cut off as Heero pressed him forward, pushing Jade's face into the edge of the pillow, Heero's right knee across Jade's thighs. Heero grabbed one wrist, buckling the wrist cuff before pinning Jade's hand under his other knee. Then he tightened the second, shaking his head as Jade flailed under him, yells muffled by the pillow. Heero brought both wrists up, investigating the rings. Jade continued to wriggle against him, his shouts growing quieter as his struggles grew more frantic. Heero rolled his eyes at the waste of energy, and bent open one of the metal rings, hooking it on the other wrist's loop before bending it closed again.
He backed off Jade, grabbing the longhaired man by the scruff of the neck and pulling him upright. Jade's face was red, and he glared at Heero as he tugged on the restraints.
"Bastard," Jade spat, jerking on his arms. "You can't do this," he announced defiantly, "when Master finds out---"
"He won't," Heero said, standing up with a nonchalant shrug. He crouched by the fire and laid a few more logs on it, watching it for a second before returning to his chair. Heero sat down, doing his best to appear pleased and casual. "First, you're assuming he's coming back. Second, you're assuming he gives a damn. Third, you're forgetting I'm Master now."
"He---" There was a clattering sound, and Jade's shoulders jerked. He hissed, halting his motions and slumping forward a little as he scowled. "He's coming back," Jade stated, a little plaintively.
"Do you care?"
"No!" Jade turned his face away, and studied the books.
Heero sighed and opened his book again, attempting to find the line where he'd left off. He turned several pages, looking for his place, before giving up and starting to read in the middle of the book. Didn't matter anyway, he thought ruefully. I don't think I've registered a full paragraph yet.
The log cracked in the fireplace, breaking in two as the wood became coals. The heat was soothing, and Heero found his head nodding, even as his stomach growled. We usually eat an hour ago, he thought as he eyed the clock on the wall. How the hell am I going to get him to eat, with his hands behind his back? Heero nearly groaned at the image of hand-feeding Jade. He'd done that with Trowa, once, and found it incredibly sexy. He didn't want to pervert that memory with the recalcitrant creature in front of him.
He put down the book, rubbing his forehead before looking over at Jade. The longhaired man had turned to look out the glass door, across the porch. Birds were settling on the snow, a random scattering of dark shapes alighting and taking off with no discernable pattern. Heero brought his feet down, and got up, moving to the couch end nearest Jade. The longhaired man didn't move, and Heero studied the other man's face, the high cheekbones and thin eyebrows. Chestnut hair was falling in Jade's eyes again, a strand caught on his small nose. Heero studied the full lips still strong enough to be masculine, and the firm chin. The Japanese man smiled to himself, wryly, remembering how much Duo would complain about his nose. Lost in memories, it took a bit before Heero realized Jade was staring at him warily.
"What?" Jade scowled. "If I have dirt on my nose, it's your fault."
"No." Heero shook his head. "No dirt."
"Stop looking at me like that."
"Like what?" Heero leaned back on the sofa, and stretched his legs out. Jade eyed Heero's feet and sidled across the pillow, moving as far as he could before the chain began to rattle. "How am I looking at you?"
"Like... like you know me or something," Jade challenged. "Just 'cause you've seen me naked doesn't mean you know me."
"What if I want to know you?" Heero kept his tone amiable, and turned his head to stare at the fire.
Jade was silent for several heartbeats, and shifted again. The man huffed, and Heero watched out of the corner of his eyes as Jade rubbed his nose against his shoulder, made a face, and tried again. Apparently satisfied, Jade sat back on his heels again.
"Answer the question," Heero said.
"I don't think you do." Jade laughed lazily, as though bored.
"How do you know what I think?"
"I know... " Jade shrugged, and dropped his head. " ...you think I'm nothing."
Heero could feel his stomach grow cold, and his chest ached. It felt, he reflected absently, like the time Duo had shot him. Only this pain wasn't in the arm, it was in the heart.
"I'm not, y'know," Jade continued, his voice low and sullen. "I can do lots of things. I know how to fold fitted sheets," he mumbled, his head down. "And I can give a good backrub. I've never made bread but I've read some recipes. I think I could do that. I did a good job on cleaning the bathroom. Master said so... " His voice dropped even farther, a lonesome whisper against the background of the crackling fire. "I could do laundry, too, if I got a chance. And I helped with building the shelves, and I know about how to clean dishes... " His voice trailed off.
Heero was silent. He didn't know what to say. He wasn't sure what to do, or how to react. He smiled sadly, recalling Trowa's explanation about waiting, and letting Jade speak on his own. Now I understand, Heero thought. It's not that Trowa knows what to do. He's just willing to wait until the right moment, rather than rushing in. And all I've done is rush in. It felt peculiar to Heero to realize that, as though it were an epiphany.
"I'm not nothing," Jade whispered, as though to himself. "I could do lots of things... I could, I could... "
"You could," Heero agreed. He kept his eyes towards the fire, but watched Jade in his peripheral vision. Jade's head had jerked up at Heero's interruption, but the longhaired man simply tossed his head and turned his back on Heero, who was tempted to roll his eyes. "That's all stuff you can do. I never said you couldn't *do* anything. But what *are* you?"
"I'm... " Jade's back moved as he shrugged. "I'm Master's." His head dropped, and Heero could barely catch Jade's next words. "No matter *who* Master is, that's what I am."
"Jade," Heero called. He waited, and called again. "Jade. Turn around."
Jade looked over his shoulder at Heero, his eyes narrowed, his expression tense. "What? You going to get all pissy on me again?"
"Would you prefer it?"
"Hell yeah." Jade bristled, turning to press his back up against the shelves, his legs curled up so his chin was on his knees. "You've fucked with me before. What's stopping you now?"
"We should set down some ground rules," Heero told him, tone carefully bland. "I have certain expectations. You live up to them, and you will be left alone."
Jade narrowed his eyes, lowering his chin until his eyes were just barely visible over his knees.
Heero took that as acquiescence, or at least a willingness to hear him out. "I will tell you what I expect. If you can do it, then do it. If you can't, say so. If you can, and you don't, then I will tell you the consequences." Heero was vaguely amused by the notion of telling Maxwell to follow any directions. "You will then have one chance to change your mind. If you choose not to do the task, then you will suffer the consequences."
Jade lifted his chin, and his lips were pursed as he considered that. His eyes flickered around the room again before glancing back to Heero. "Seems fair," he said, a bit begrudgingly. "Or is this another game?"
"No games." Heero shook his head, once, slowly, for emphasis. "Why are you so convinced everything is a trick?"
"Always is," Jade said, and shrugged. His eyes dropped away from Heero's gaze, and he fidgeted momentarily. Raising his chin again, his blue eyes were hard as he stared at Heero. "You're not gonna expect me to be all gooey-eyed over you, are you?"
"Gooey-eyed?" Heero raised his eyebrows.
"Yeah," Jade drawled, dragging the word out, but it wasn't derisive. It struck Heero that Jade used the word to fill the space while he thought of what to say next. "I'm not going to get all soft 'n crap over you. You're just one more guy telling me what to do."
Heero pondered that, doing his best to seem to consider Jade's words seriously. Inside, however, he realized the damage he'd done. Rather than successfully taking the weight off Trowa's shoulders, he'd only managed to convince Jade that the young man was disposable, transferable, and not worth keeping. Shit, Heero groaned internally. I'm just fucking up.
"I'm not one more guy," Heero said, choosing his words carefully. "There's no need for you to like me. But I do require that you trust me."
"Trust?" Jade's face was a picture of astonishment. "Of course---" He shut his mouth and glared, then shrugged easily, a lazy roll of the shoulders. "Like hell. You don't trust *me*."
"You have yet to give me a reason to."
Jade kicked his right foot out, making the chains rattle. "My wrists hurt. And my ankle itches."
"Almost three months, Jade." Heero stood up, stretching, doing his best to ignore Jade's automatic flinch. "We've clothed you, given you a home, and attention and affection." He knelt then, on the edge of the pillow, and reached into Jade's collar to pull out the pendant from under the sweater. "When you see this, it's to remind you that we... *both*... care for you. Why is that so hard for you to accept?"
"Cause you don't," Jade whispered harshly, his smile flashing across his face before it disappeared behind a scowl. "Master looks like he's going to be sick every time he touches me, and you... you never do unless Master's around." His voice became scathing, even as the smile reappeared. "So don't tell me I shouldn't lie to you, when *you're* so busy lying to *me*."
"Damn it," Heero shouted, letting go of the pendant and coming to his feet. "You're not making any fucking sense! You said you don't want to be touched, and here you're upset because we didn't touch you? *Pick one*, damn it!"
Jade scowled and hunched his shoulders, looking away.
The longhaired man whimpered, and bit his lower lip, every line in his face strained.
"Jade," Heero amended, and took a deep breath before unleashing his temper. "I have known you for ten years, and in all that time, you have been an idiot many times, but you have never been *stupid*. Use that fucking brilliant brain of yours and *pick one*. You can align trajectory derivatives on the fly, and yet you want me to believe that you can't understand that you have two contradictory concepts co-existing in that thick skull of yours? Touch, or no touch! *Pick one!*"
Jade's only response was to hunker down into a ball, one foot moving to lay over the other one as he curled up tightly, his head down. Heero stared down at the huddled figure and sighed, rubbing his forehead.
Lunch, he thought. Make something for lunch. We'll eat, and then... to hell with this, he decided. We'll get started on the barn. I have absolutely no qualifications for psychoanalyzing someone. Gritting his teeth, he managed to grind out the schedule for the afternoon, watching as Jade quivered, and finally nodded, his head still tucked between his knees.
Heero shook his head and went into the kitchen, pulling out sandwich fixings and making them both a simple lunch. Ifrit wandered in, meowing loudly, and the dark-haired man raised his eyebrows at the cat before nudging the cat's full bowl with his foot. Ifrit sniffed the food and wandered to the door, waiting. Heero shook his head and let the cat out, returning to the living room with the lunches. He set the sandwiches down on the low table, and undid Jade's wrists, but left the restraints on.
Jade ignored him, but began eating the moment Heero set the plate in front of him. Heero chewed thoughtfully on his own sandwich, watching as Jade nearly inhaled the meal. Just like Duo, he thought, and his head ached. He noticed that Jade had been finished for several minutes and was watching Heero's sandwich with hopeful eyes. Heero finished off the last of his sandwich and picked up the two plates, leaving them in the sink.
He came back to the living room and was pondering the chain when Jade finally spoke again.
"What's... " Jade shifted in place, his brow furrowed. "What are trajectory derivatives?"
"They're... " Heero blinked, and shook his head. "Never mind."
"Are they important?" Jade's voice was soft, and a little sad.
Heero was quiet for a moment, before bending to remove the chain from the fireplace hook. "A long time ago," he said. "A long time ago, they were."
End Part 18
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