Heero looked up from his book as Jade left the bathroom, the bells chiming softly. The longhaired man was wearing one of Trowa's gray sweaters, and a pair of black sweatpants. Heero could see the collar of a black turtleneck under the sweater. He raised his eyebrows at the sudden change to a monochromatic wardrobe, but schooled his face into impassivity when Jade glanced his way before heading up the stairs, dirty clothes in his arms. A few minutes later Jade returned, coming to stand by the sofa, shifting awkwardly in place. When Heero looked up but didn't say anything, Jade bent over and dragged his pillow closer to the fireplace. Sitting cross-legged, Jade positioned himself with his side to the fire, but he wasn't facing Heero directly.
It took a minute for Heero to register that Jade was facing the door. The Japanese man glanced down at the book in his hands, and back at the still figure.
"Did you want to read, Jade?" Heero nodded at the shelves. "There are plenty of books."
"I don't want to read any of your stupid books," Jade grumbled, but his last words were interrupted by a yawn. He leaned his cheek on one fist and continued staring at the door.
Heero shrugged and went back to reading. A few minutes later, Jade spoke up, his voice tentative. "When the phone rang... "
"It was Trowa," Heero replied, scowling internally. He'd almost said *Master*. "You were in the tub. I didn't think you'd want to be interrupted to speak with him."
Jade frowned, dropping his chin for several seconds, then lifted it again with a lazy smile on his face. The line was between his brows again, though, giving him a worried look as he shrugged casually. "That bastard? Like I care."
"Right," Heero replied blandly, and went back to reading.
In his peripheral vision, he could see Jade studying him for several long minutes, before going back to staring at the door, and Heero nearly gave away the game by smiling. After a day of working on the barn, and two punishments for Jade's impulsive rebellions, Heero had been relieved to find Jade pliable at the notion that taking dinner alone without protest, and seeing to his bedtime ritual without supervision, would result in no ankle restraints. Heero turned another page, glancing up as Jade raised a hand to run it through his hair, and was surprised to see that Jade was still wearing the wrist restraints. That gave him pause, but a quick note of Jade' s tense shoulders made Heero decide to let it go. He sighed, and went back to reading.
When the clock struck eleven, Heero sat up with a start. He hadn't realized it was that late, and he marked his place before gently closing the book. Jade's eyes were closed, his cheek still propped up by one fist, and the longhaired man was swaying a little in place as sleep tried to overtake his body.
"Bed time," Heero said, setting the book down on the table.
"No," Jade retorted, his eyes snapping open. He glared at Heero for a second, and sat up, rubbing at his eyes with the heel of his hand. Shooting Heero another nasty look, Jade situated himself and began staring at the door.
Heero rolled his eyes and stood up. "Bed time," he said more firmly.
"Go on without me," Jade retorted, but didn't look at Heero as he yawned. "I don't want to go to bed."
"You're falling asleep, Jade." Heero moved to stand between Jade and the door, with his arms crossed. He was intrigued by the fact that Jade shifted a little to see around him, but kept his expression neutral. Jade yawned again, and glared at him. Heero snorted. "Like I said, falling asleep. Bed. Now."
"Don't tell me what to do. You're not Master." Jade moved to rest his cheek on his other fist, the exposed cheek an angry red from the earlier pressure. His eyes shuttered closed for a few seconds, then jerked open again as Heero took a step closer.
"You just keep telling yourself that," Heero said, feeling a yawn fight its way to the surface. Gritting his teeth, he bent over to take Jade by the elbow. "Bed. Don't make me repeat myself."
"Fuck you," Jade said, jerking his elbow out of Heero's hand. "I'm not going to bed just because you are."
"No, you're going to bed because I don't want you falling asleep and cracking your head wide open." Heero pointed at the nearby table for emphasis, and leaned over again, taking Jade's elbow more firmly. "Do you really want to be restrained while you sleep?"
"I've not done anything wrong!" Jade tried to yank his arm back, his other hand flailing for something to grab onto. "Asshole! Let go of me! I'm staying up!"
"Fine," Heero snapped, dropping Jade suddenly. "We'll see just how long you can stay up. But the second I see those eyes close, you're going to bed." He stomped back to his chair and sat down, his eyes fixed on Jade. See how long this lasts, he told himself, and beginning the mental steps that he'd used during the war. They'd keep him awake, he knew, at least long enough to disprove Jade's insistence.
Heero was surprised, and a little amused, to find that it only took to the count of twenty, and Jade's head was already nodding, his eyes sliding shut despite the man's valiant attempts to keep them open. It wasn't easy, but he was starting to catch the rapid-fire shifts in Jade's body language. Patiently he sorted through Jade's behavior, comparing it to Jade's words, and his question upon coming to sit by the fire. Heero reached his conclusion and pondered how he could use the information to his advantage, if his theory was correct. When he spoke, keeping his voice at conversation level, he nearly laughed at the guilty jump from Jade.
"You're waiting for Trowa," Heero announced. "He's not coming back tonight."
Jade flushed, his hands splaying against the pillow. Just as rapidly, however, he was shrugging, shifting his weight backwards to rest it on his wrists as he gave Heero a lopsided grin. "That's bullshit. I could care less what that bastard does."
"No," Heero said, shaking his head slowly. "You care a great deal. As a matter of fact, I think you'd stay up all night in the hopes of seeing that door open."
Jade shot to his feet in a single graceful leap, his fists clenched and raised, his chin jutting angrily. "Fuck you!" Jade's eyes went wide, and he glanced at the door again before the scowl returned. "You just don't want to go to bed because *you* don't want to sleep alone!"
"Jade." Heero sighed in annoyance and stood up.
The longhaired man flinched, stepping back a half-pace, but his fists remained up. His eyes were narrowed, and he smiled suddenly. "You just can't stand the idea that Master might realize *you're* not worth the trouble," he spat. "Stay up if you want to. I'm going to bed!" And with that, Jade spun, stomping towards the stairs and up them, making as much noise as he could manage.
Heero remained where he was, a little bemused. That was almost too easy, he thought, and smiled to himself before checking the fire, blowing out one lamp, and lifting the other to carry it to the bedroom.
The room was dark, and the moon was behind clouds. Heero blinked, trying to place the strange sound that he'd finally realized wasn't part of the already-fading dream. It was an irregular thumping, accompanied by what sounded like rustling cotton, and panting. Heero sat up, blinking at the room, and rubbed his eyes, then blinked a few more times as they adjusted. The noise continued, and he frowned, getting out of bed, following the sound to its source.
Jade was twisted in his sheets, his blanket thrown halfway off as he'd shifted until his head was against the wooden floor. His face was contorted in pain, his eyes squeezed shut, and his mouth open as he panted with ragged breaths. Every few seconds he'd lift up his head, and bring it down with a solid thud. Jade whimpered softly, struggled a few more times, and one leg kicked under the sheets. Heero grimaced and knelt by Jade, getting his hands under Jade's shoulders and moving him back to lay straight on the mattress. Jade didn't wake, but recoiled from the touch, rolling farther off the mattress and away from Heero's grasp.
"Jade, wake up," Heero whispered, chagrined.
The longhaired man only kicked more frantically at the sheets and whimpered. His head came up again, and slammed down on the wooden floor even harder as he jerked against the tangled sheets. Heero winced and grabbed for Jade, lifting him up by the shoulders and yanking the sheets off the sleeping man. A keening sound started in Jade's throat, which built to a yowl as he flipped over, shaking violently, burying his head in Heero's lap. The dark-haired man could feel Jade's body shuddering against his thighs, as Jade hands scrambled for purchase against the sheets.
"Shh," Heero murmured, sighing in exasperation as he hauled Jade bodily into his lap. It wasn't an easy maneuver, between their equal heights and the fact that Jade was shaking too badly to be much help. Bringing the man's face up, Heero could see Jade's eyes were still squeezed shut, and Heero's next move was completely on gut instinct.
"Jade," he said, pulling Jade between his legs, guiding Jade's head towards his chest. Heero deepened his voice a little, trying to mimic Trowa's medium-tenor, with its honey quality, and the peculiar inflection of Trowa's speech. "Jade," Heero repeated, as Jade's shuddering stilled momentarily. "It's okay, I'm here."
The yowling returned, hitting a high pitch. It was muffled against Heero's chest, and staggered by the harsh breathing as Jade wriggled closer, as though trying to burrow into Heero's chest. Heero could only stare in shock, and wrap his arms around Jade the way he'd seen Trowa respond. Gradually Heero became aware that the keening sound was breaking off into mumbled words, and he bent his head over Jade, listening intently.
"Mas... ter, Mas... ter," Jade moaned, huge shuddering breaths wracking his frame. "Don't leave me... "
"Shh," Heero soothed, hesitating to make sure he had Trowa's cadence before trying for more. "I won't, I'm right here... everything is okay. You're safe. I'm here."
"Don't leave... " Jade cried again. His arms were hanging down limply along Heero's sides. Jade's palms beat against the mattress a few times, on either side of Heero's thighs. "Don't... "
Jade's voice faded off, and the panting eased. A few more shivers ran through Jade's body, but Heero continued to rock them both, murmuring a continuous series of soothing noises as he stroked Jade's back. After several minutes had passed by Heero's guess, he halted, moving his arm to see Jade's face better. It was wiped of its desperation, and he was sound asleep, and wearing a contented smile. Heero sighed, cupping Jade's chin in his hand, and ran his thumb back and forth across Jade's lower lip.
"I know that smile," Heero whispered. "I didn't realize I'd miss it."
Cautiously he bent over, pressing his lips against Jade's forehead. Pulling back, he smiled in return as Jade gave a deep sigh and relaxed further into his hold. Heero remained there for a minute, his arms wrapped around Jade, whose face and upper body were awkwardly captured against him. A yawn caught Heero by surprise, and he smiled down at the sleeping man one more time before carefully maneuvering Jade back onto the small bed. Tucking the pillow under Jade's head, Heero pulled the sheets up and straightened the blanket.
Heero stood, but remained for a few more minutes, watching the quiet form. Jade's little snores of deep sleep sounded like a purr. Sighing, Heero returned to bed, rolled over, and was asleep immediately.
A creaking floorboard announced the dawn. Heero was instantly awake, listening as the anklet chimed softly in time with quick footsteps padding down the stairs. With the peculiar sense that comes from knowing a house intimately, Heero could feel Jade move quickly from room to room, and then navigate the house a second time, even faster. The study door whined on its hinges, and the footsteps came padding back up the stairs. Heero kept his eyes closed, feigning sleep, hearing the faint sound of sniffling as Jade approached the bed. It was only his soldier's sense that told him to open his eyes and bring up his hand.
The movement trapped a fist, proving Heero's instinct correct.
"Not the way to wake me up," Heero growled, and tightened his clasp around Jade's fist, poised above his chest.
"Fucker! What did you do with him?" Jade grimaced and tried to yank his fist back. "Where---"
He made a frustrated sound and brought his other fist up, which Heero easily deflected and caught.
"Thought you didn't care," Heero added, and sat up, swinging his legs over the bed without releasing Jade's hands.
"Let go of me," Jade replied hotly, trying to pull his fists back. "You sadistic fuck!"
"You think *this* is sadistic?" Heero stood up, shoving Jade backwards but retaining his hold. He could see a flash of fear in Jade's red-rimmed eyes, but the longhaired man quickly covered it with a taunting smile, and Heero frowned. "I might remind you that you attempted to punch *me*." Heero increased the pressure on Jade's hands, ignoring the sudden whimper. "Twice," Heero snarled.
"I woulda bit you but you'd probably enjoy it, you sick bastard!"
Jade dropped to his knees and twisted his wrists. Heero grunted, not letting go, and brought Jade's arms up and around too fast for the longhaired man to react. Silently Heero thanked Jade's inability to use Duo's speed, ignoring Jade's yelp as he planted a foot in Jade's back and forced the man's upper body to the floor. Bending over Jade, Heero pushed up the sleeves on Jade's shirt and quickly locked the wrist restraints together. Once again he puzzled momentarily over the fact that Jade had kept wearing the restraints, but filed the thought away until later as he released Jade. Heero stepped back with his hands out, ready for any reaction.
The longhaired man came up on his knees, and spun to glare at Heero while yanking at the restraints. "Get these off me!" His blue eyes were narrow with anger, and his shoulders were hunched as he struggled.
Heero sat back on the bed, a little heavily, and ran a hand over his brow. It struck him as odd that Jade didn't attempt to get up, but remained kneeling, even as he continued to pull at the restraints. Jade twisted around in place, as though trying to see over his shoulder.
"Stop that," Heero ordered, a bit wearily. Jade ignored him, and Heero gritted his teeth in exasperation. Reluctant to grab Jade physically again, he settled for snapping his fingers twice, hopping that would get Jade's attention. It did, but the response made Heero gape.
Jade instantly spread his knees wide, his shoulders dropping into a relaxed stance, his chest out and his belly in. He dropped his chin to his chest and held it, his entire body quivering. Heero blinked, and waited a few seconds. When Jade didn't move, Heero stood up, walking around Jade. Sighing, he sat on the edge of the bed again, and leaned over to place a forefinger under Jade's chin.
"Jade," he whispered gently, pushing upwards with his chin. "Look at me." A flash of pain crossed Jade's face, and he hesitated before raising his eyes to regard Heero. "Behave, or you'll have two hours by yourself in the barn. Stop fighting me. I am *not* here to hurt you."
Jade's wary expression melted into confusion, and his eyes darted back and forth as he studied Heero. The moment was short-lived, and Jade scowled, crawling backwards out of Heero's reach. "Naw," he drawled. "You're here to hurt *Master*. I bet you said mean things to Master and made him go away again," Jade hissed, petulantly, then he smiled, as though he'd scored somehow. "So of course you've got to blame *me* for it. Told you I was just the entertainment!"
Heero sighed and stood up. "You're back on the chain," he said, moving to stand behind Jade. Taking the other man by the elbows, he lifted Jade up to his feet and guided him down the stairs. "If you can't behave, that's what happens."
Grabbing the chain from the table by the door, Heero slipped on his coat and then wrapped Jade in a coat as well. The longhaired man was sullen, but quiet, obediently slipping his feet into his boots and shuffling next to Heero along the short path to the barn. Once inside, Heero attached the chain to Jade's anklet, and connected it to the bolt in the middle of the barn floor. It was long enough to get within a few feet of the walls, the stove, and the door, but no further. Starting up the wood stove, Heero went back to the house, returning with an orange, a bagel, and a blanket. He set the blanket near Jade, who still refused to speak or look at him.
"There's your breakfast, and the stove should be good for at least an hour. I'll be back to check on you once." Heero pointed at the food before unhooking the wrist restraints. Jade's only response was to cross his arms, and Heero stood up, shaking his head in exasperation. "Eat your breakfast."
"And if I don't?" Jade didn't turn around, staring off into the darkness of the barn, lit only by the red glow from the stove.
"You'll go hungry, obviously," Heero barked, and closed the barn door behind him. Leaning against it, he shivered at the cold, and wondered how soon Trowa would return.
Heero set the dishes to dry on the rack, and poured himself a second cup of coffee. Glancing up at the clock, he noted Ifrit crying at the door to go out, and absently opened the door for the cat. After a second he realized snow was blowing in, and he looked down to see Ifrit nowhere around. Scowling, he shut the door and wandered into the living room, only to find Ifrit stretched out on Jade's pillow.
"Damn pest," Heero said, brushing the snowflakes out of his hair.
Setting the mug down on the table, Heero busied himself for several minutes building the fire up to a decent level. Sitting back on his haunches, he checked the clock again. Fifteen more minutes before he'd need to go stoke the wood stove in the barn. Heero sighed and sat down in the wingback chair, watching Ifrit roll over so the golden tabby's other side was exposed to the heat. Iffy's tail twitched a few times, and was still. Heero listened to the clock's pendulum tick, and the crackling fire, and stared at his cup of coffee, still sitting on the low table.
I wonder if Trowa will call before he leaves, Heero thought. He sighed and stared out the glass-paned door, watching the snow swirl on the back porch, lining the old chair with a thin blanket of new snow.
I think I broke my training, Heero contemplated. I am not an emotionless tool for killing. I am no longer only a weapon. But did I break it, or just learn to adapt it to a new life, and a new purpose?
He leaned back in the chair, his eyes trailing up past the walls to stare at the ceiling, and the way the fire's reddish light tinted the creamy butter to an orange shade. The clock hung on the wall between the glass door and the archway to the kitchen, and the bathroom door, study door, and closet door were all a golden shade of pine, matching the railings and spindles on the stairs. The floors and steps glowed, polished and waxed. Heero glared momentarily at the blue-and-white checked sofa, certain that it wasn't his style, but somehow it fit.
And besides, he reminded himself, it's quite comfortable.
Heero glanced at the clock again, and sighed, closing his eyes.
I am not one for introspection, he thought. I much prefer knowing the way things work, gathering all pertinent information, forming a conclusion, and acting on it. I always have a plan, Heero teased himself, although at the same time he had to admit, somewhat wryly, that the plan often changed at the last minute, if his instincts led him in a different direction.
He had no idea what his plan might be, now, for dealing with Jade. He sat up, resting his chin on his fist as he watched Ifrit wake up, blink at him, and begin to bathe. Self-contained, he decided; that's the word for cats. Fits Trowa, too, he thought, smiling as the cat got up and stalked into the kitchen without a glance in his direction. Heero combed his hair with his fingers and checked the clock again.
Jade wants his Master to return, but he's not willing to admit it, Heero thought. Jade's protecting himself, now. He loves Trowa, and fears that he's not valued in return, so he's going to be the one to reject, first. Heero sighed and leaned forward until his head was resting in both hands. That's the theory, he told himself, but Jade's done everything he can to contradict it.
That's not the way Duo worked. Heero chewed thoughtfully on his lower lip as he considered that contrast. Duo, he knew, would stick by a person and continue to be their friend, because it was Duo's decision, and not the other person's. That's what he did to me, Heero recalled, and chuckled softly in the quiet room. Damn idiot came and got me in the hospital, then stuck with me, and even roomed with me undercover. Made me play basketball, dragged me to a few dances...
Heero grinned, suddenly, remembering the first time he'd found his roommate and fellow terrorist in the bushes outside the school dance. He'd been shocked when Duo had popped up from behind the bush, seen him, laughed, and disappeared again. An hour later Duo had returned to the room, his shirt misbuttoned and leaves in his tangled braid. It was years later that Heero discovered Duo had never done more than kiss a girl, albeit for long sessions, but at the time, his naïve mind had been in turmoil over Duo's apparent willingness to draw attention. And, Heero admitted ruefully, he'd been seething with jealousy. With the exception of Relena, no one noticed him like that. And, Heero recalled, he'd been dying of curiosity, too, but he probably would've cut off his left arm sooner than admit it.
If Duo had aware of Heero's feelings - which, Heero thought ruefully, knowing Duo, he probably was - Duo never said anything. When Heero accused Duo of drawing attention, Duo only laughed and shook his head. Nothing Heero did or said could make Duo not like him, short of outright rudeness, and Heero hadn't been willing to go that far. The truth was that he'd liked Duo, even if he didn't understand him and thus often saw him as an impediment rather than an equal.
I changed my mind about that soon enough, Heero thought, smiling a little. But is that how Duo became my friend? Because he decided it, and I eventually gave up and let him? Trying to change Duo's mind, once it was made up, was about as productive as smacking a Gundam with a ping-pong paddle. The image made Heero smile, knowing it was something Duo had once said, although he'd probably made the crack about the wasted effort of getting Wufei to dance.
Maybe, Heero thought, that's what I have to do. Breaking the training would take time, but more importantly, Heero reflected, it would have to be Jade's decision to do so, if Heero's experience was any yardstick. And judging by Jade's nightmare, there was little chance that Jade was truly ready to be separated from Trowa. Jade might be *saying* he wanted separation, but his words and actions really only indicated a deep conflict over the question. Repeating the training, with a different goal, risked shaping Jade into a Duo-like person that wasn't Duo, Heero acknowledged sadly. And even then, how can you train someone to be independent, unpredictable, and basically a cocky self-confident bastard?
Heero stood up as the clock struck nine. Pulling his coat on, he glanced around the cabin one more time, a plan forming in his mind.
Mission: be Jade's friend. Heero grinned tightly, suddenly amused by the notion. Duo spent the war, and years after it, foisting a friendship on me despite my protests. Yeah, Heero told himself, echoing another of Duo's common phrases: Payback's a bitch.
The barn was nicely warm when Heero slid the door opening, latching it behind him. He could see Jade's huddled shape at the far end, as close to the stove as the leash would allow him. Heero sighed and knelt down to unhook the chain, reeling it in his hands he came up to Jade. The orange peels were piled neatly by the blanket, and Heero scooped them up. Tossing the peels into the woodstove, he added several more pieces of wood before shutting the door and turning to regard Jade.
"Hey, Jade," he called softly. The longhaired man didn't acknowledge his presence, and Heero raised his eyebrows. He was considering the suggestion that they finish the barn's interior, but something in Jade's face made him pause. Cautiously he moved to sit beside Jade, facing the woodstove. "I owe you an apology," Heero said softly, not even thinking as the words spilled from his lips. "When I removed the anklet, I was very cruel. I also said a lot of things that I've decided were wrong."
Jade leaned away from Heero, twisting sideways to give Heero a suspicious look.
"It's true that we're not friends... not then, we weren't," Heero said, slowing down to pick his words more carefully. "But I think I'd like you to be my friend. Now."
"Why?" The question was whispered, with a note of hope, but when Heero glanced at Jade, the young man looked skeptical. His lips were curled, and his eyebrows raised.
"It's something someone taught me once," Heero said.
"And now I'm the lucky recipient," Jade retorted sullenly. "I feel so blessed. If this the way you treat friends, don't do me any frickin' favors."
Heero smirked and leaned over to grab Jade's ankle. Pushing the jeans up a little, he undid the chain, and coiling it up and tossing it away. Jade watched, his eyes wide, before his brows came down. Reaching out with a hand, he fingered the anklet, making the bells rattle, before pushing his jeans back down. Slowly he dragged his gaze up to meet Heero's. The unspoken question in his eyes was obvious.
"I trust you. No more chain." And with that, Heero stood up, heading towards the pile of supplies along the barn wall. "Let's get to work. You can do your hour alone later, if you spackle the hammer-marks now. Do them neatly, and we might call the second hour even." He turned to see Jade staring at him, but the longhaired man's surprised and hopeful expression quickly shifted to a recalcitrant scowl.
"Yeah, now or later, all the same to me," Jade muttered, and picked up the spackling knife.
Trowa called at noon, during lunch, to let Heero know he was heading back. Heero warned Trowa about the snowfall that hadn't let up since dawn, and Trowa promised to be safe. Heero said his goodbyes, and hung up.
"Trowa should be back in an hour or two," he said.
Jade made a disgusted noise and finished his lunch. "May I be excused?" Jade asked, his expression still unhappy but his voice was polite enough.
Heero nodded, and Jade dashed away from the table, grabbing his coat and taking off before Heero could manage a shout. Setting the plates back down on the table, Heero grabbed his own coat and tore out the front door, only to nearly fall over Jade, perched on the edge of the porch.
"Jade," Heero choked out, "what the hell are you doing? You'll freeze out here. Get back inside!"
"Fuck you!" Jade hunched his shoulders and stayed put.
Heero sighed, and stared over Jade's head at the drifts of snow that marked the embankment by the gravel drive. Everything was a pristine layer of deep white, and he shrugged. "Fine, you want to wait for Trowa, it'll be a long, cold wait."
"Who said I was waiting for him?" Jade leaned back to give Heero an imperious look. "I *like* sitting on the front porch."
"Have it your way," Heero snapped, and went back inside.
Throwing his coat over the back of the sofa, he grabbed his book and settled himself by the fireplace. He was just starting a second chapter when the front door blew open in a swirl of snow. Jade's chattering teeth echoed in the room as the longhaired man came to stand by the fire, his eyes wide and his brow furrowed.
"He's not coming," Jade whispered, looking completely lost.
"It's been fifteen minutes, and he's not due for an hour," Heero replied, looking at the clock. "Take off your coat and boots, and spread them before the fire to dry. Warm up."
Jade nodded slowly, his eyes darting to the front door a few times as he undressed, his fingers too frozen to get the buttons to work properly. Finally divested of his coat and boots, he picked Ifrit off the sofa and settled on his pillow, the cat on his lap. Another fifteen minutes passed, broken only by the clock's ticking and the crackling of the fire as logs shifted, burning down to coals. There was a crash outside, which Heero vaguely placed as a layer of snow sliding off a tree branch and hitting the ground. Jade, however, shot to his feet, grabbing his coat and shoving his feet into the boots and tearing outside in a matter of seconds.
Heero leaned his head against the back of the chair and sighed, before shaking his head and going back to reading. Gritting his teeth as the minutes passed, he forced himself to concentrate on the book, rather than on the fact that Jade was turning into a human popsicle on the front porch. The clock said quarter to one, as Jade came back into the house, sniffling a little as he wiped his eyes with the back of one cold-looking hand.
"Jade," Heero called. "Come warm up again. It's not even been an hour. With the snow in the mountains, I wouldn't expect Trowa to be back for at least another half-hour. Maybe more."
"He's changed his mind," Jade moaned softly, then jutted his jaw. "This is *your* fault."
The longhaired man pulled the coat off, letting it drop to a heap on the floor in front of the fire. Heero watched out of the corner of his eye as Jade settled on the edge of the pillow, hissing quietly as the snow on his boots fell off onto his fingers as he tried to get the laces undone. Finally he set the boots by the fire, along with his socks. Heero marked his place and closed his book.
"Take off your jeans, too," Heero said.
"Pervert," Jade retorted, but the insult was ruined as his teeth chattered a little.
Heero rolled his eyes as he headed to the bedroom for another blanket. Returning, he held it out in one hand, holding his other hand out as well. "Give me your wet clothes. Your jeans, and your sweater and shirt, too."
"No," Jade curled up in a ball, his knees under his chin. "You just want to see me naked."
"I've *seen* you naked," Heero snapped. "What I don't want is to see you turning blue from hypothermia!" Aggravated, he let his voice go up to a shout. "Clothes off, NOW!"
Jade looked shocked, ducking his head quickly before raising it again to scowl at Heero. Deliberately turning his back on Heero, he wriggled in place as he pulled his jeans off and tossed them over to land on top of the coat. Pulling his sweater and shirt off, he tossed them aside as well, before curling up with his arms wrapped around his shins, only his white boxers on. He looked over his shoulder at Heero.
Heero nodded and draped the blanket over Jade. "Take a nap, Jade," he said, as he registered the time and the certainty that he wouldn't be able to handle another hour of Jade's internal warfare over Trowa's return. Heero laid the clothes out across the hearth to dry, hanging the socks and shirt off the nails in the mantel. Meanwhile, Jade laid down, curling into a ball, with the blanket over him, as Heero settled back into his chait and picked up his book. The bundle was still for a long while before it shifted again, turning before the fireplace a few more times. Heero glanced up at the clock, and decided to give Jade fifteen more minutes. When the clock said one-fifteen, Heero closed his book and set it aside.
"Jade," he called, leaning forward.
"Go away," the bundle replied.
"You can sleep, but there's something I have to do," Heero said, dropping his voice to mimic the secretive tone he remembered Duo using on him. It was a way of speaking that implied the work in question was of utmost importance. "Just thought I'd let you know."
The blanket shifted a bit. Heero grinned to himself and stood up, calmly collecting his coat, and buttoning it up. From there, he headed into the kitchen. Opening the icebox, Heero dug around for several minutes, making a point of banging several of the drawers rather loudly, and rearranging a few of the items for good measure. When he closed the door, Jade was standing there, his hands tugging the blanket close around him as he scowled. His eyes, however, were fixed on Heero's hand as the dark-haired man deftly tucked something into his pocket. Heero kept his face straight, but he knew by Jade's lowered brows that Jade hadn't been able to get a good enough look.
"You're leaving," Jade accused. Heero turned to see Jade giving a distrust look to the coats still hanging on the back of the front door. The longhaired man shifted his weight from one barefoot to the other, and scowled. "You're just a lot of noise, but now you're worried that Master---"
Heero simply smiled, secretly pleased to see the expression caught Jade completely by surprise. The deep blue eyes went wide, and the eyebrows shot up, before Jade narrowed his eyes, stepping back a little.
Without saying another word, Heero headed to the front door, pulling his gloves from his coat pockets. He pulled them on, ignoring Jade completely as Heero pulled the glove-ends over his coat sleeves. He could hear rustling behind him, but he didn't turn around. He'd just grabbed a hat when Jade spoke behind him.
"You're worried Master will find out how mean you were," he said, but he didn't sound quite as sure. He paused, looking at the hat in Heero's hands. "What is that for?"
"None of your business," Heero replied, almost enjoying the sensation of echoing a conversation he'd had eight years before. "You're not interested, anyway, right?" He glanced down at Jade's feet. "This task requires warm socks. And a fully-dressed body." He stepped forward, dropping the blue wool hat onto Jade's head and pulling it down until it covered Jade's eyes. "And manual dexterity and stamina. All of which I have, so I'll be off now."
Jade's lower lip jutted out, and he pushed the edge of the wool cap up until one eye was revealed. "What are you going to do?"
Heero shrugged. "Something important." He took one of the scarves from the hooks, wrapping it around his neck before he tucked the ends into his coat.
"You're just making all this up." Jade pushed his lower lip out further, narrowing his eyes. He paused, and rolled his shoulders in a lazy shrug. "You're not... "
"Up to you," Heero conceded, in the best nonchalant tone he could manage. "Don't worry about it. It'll probably be too difficult for you." He darted a glance Jade's way as he delivered his next line. "You'd probably just botch it."
"Would not!" Jade's cry was an indignant shout as he threw the blanket off, tossing it to the side. "I'll show you!" Storming over to the fireplace, he grabbed his dry socks and sat heavily on the pillow, yanking his socks on, then grabbing his shirt off the mantel. Heero pulled the door open, barely able to keep a straight face as Jade gave him a frightened look and squawked. "I'm coming! Hold on!"
Heero hid a grin and shut the front door behind him, cutting off Jade's indignant cry. Stretching on the porch, he swung his arms to warm up before stepping off the porch and heading out into the field. I give him three minutes, Heero bet himself, and wondered if, eight years ago, Duo had thought the same thing.
End Part 20
On to Chapter twenty-one
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