Trowa wrestled the steering wheel as the Jeep slid sideways in the deep snow, and gunned the motor again. Gritting his teeth, he shifted down and felt the wheels catch. He gave the vehicle a bit more gas, and nearly sighed in relief as it surged forward, cresting the small hill to come out of the trees and around the bend. The momentum carried him down the slight incline, and out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of three figures by the porch.
Liddie must have stopped by, he thought, too focused on plowing through the deep snow until he came to a rest by the barn. Pulling up the emergency brake, he grabbed his gloves and opened the Jeep's door, finally looking over towards the house. Trowa frowned, taking in the scene. Heero was patting snow on a snowman as tall as Trowa, while Jade was crouched by the snowman's base, studying something. Trowa raised his eyebrows, and got out, shutting the car door behind him. Heero was already walking towards him, brushing the snow off his gloves as he strode through the deep snow.
"Snowman," Trowa observed, one eyebrow raised.
Heero nodded, and didn't stop moving until he was pressed up against Trowa. Placing his hands on Trowa's shoulders, he pulled the taller man down for a kiss that immediately became something fiercer. Trowa vaguely registered the sound of another set of boots in the snow, but he ignored it, preferring to close his eyes and lose himself for a few seconds in Heero's welcoming kiss. They broke apart a minute later, and Trowa realized he was panting a little. Heero smiled tentatively, and Trowa returned the expression.
"Nice kiss," he said. "Maybe I should leave more often," he added, his lips curling up at the edges.
There was a shuffling sound, and Trowa looked up, frowning slightly as he noticed Jade a few feet away. The man's head was down, a blue wool cap on his head and a bright red scarf around his neck. He was sniffling quietly. Jade raised a hand to wipe his eyes with the back of his glove, and hiccupped.
"Jade." Heero stepped away from Trowa, and extended a hand. "Do you want to say hello? I know you've---"
"You don't know anything!" Jade spat the accusation at Heero, raising one foot and twisting his upper body as though he were about to turn and dash into the house. To Trowa's surprise, however, Jade only straightened and stomped the foot down.
Trowa's eyes narrowed, taking in the scarf around the snowman, the mittens on the branches, and the lopsided pieces of charcoal carefully stuck in the snowman's face. Jade's head was down, and he continued to shift his weight back and forth like he wasn't sure whether to leap forward or run away. Trowa tucked his hands in his jacket pockets. Moving to come alongside Jade, he stopped when they were shoulder-to-shoulder, as though studying the snowman.
"That's a carrot," Trowa announced. He gave Jade an amused look out of the corner of his eye. "There's a vegetable in the snowman's face."
Beside him, Jade giggled, quickly schooling his face into a serious expression as he wiped his nose again. "That's what you're supposed to use, Master," he said scornfully. "It's not a good snowman without one," he mumbled under his breath. "Guess you thought I'd screw it up or something."
Trowa turned to stare down at the shorter man, startled by the amount of hurt and longing in Jade's downcast face. "Jade," he said softly, as he slowly removed one glove. Lifting his hand, and making no quick movements, he took Jade by the chin, tilting the man's face up towards him. "I missed you," he whispered.
"Liar!" Jade shouted, and his hands came up, knocking Trowa's hand away. Jade lunged forward, his hands out as if to shove Trowa backwards.
Heero tensed, but Trowa held up a hand, signaling the other man to stand down. Heero froze, as he realized the same thing Trowa had: Jade was clinging to Trowa's jacket with tight fingers, and it was Jade who was shaking back and forth. Trowa put his hands up, to cover Jade's fists.
"Not a lie," Trowa replied, running his hands back and forth across Jade's hands, and then down Jade's forearms to his shoulders. Cautiously he started to pull Jade towards him, even as Jade leaned forwards and back again, his hands digging into Trowa's jacket. "Shh," Trowa whispered. "I missed both of you."
"No, you didn't," Jade choked. He stopped shaking, and hiccupped. "You like *him* better."
"I like him... " Trowa considered his words carefully. "Differently, Jade. You're both important to me, in different ways."
"But I don't *want* to be different!" Jade shoved Trowa backwards and spun, heading for the house. His sobs echoed in the quiet hearing, and his boots thumped on the wooden porch. He swung the door open and slammed it shut behind him.
"Trowa---" Heero started to say, but he was interrupted as the front door opened, and slammed a second time. Heero raised his eyebrows, looking towards the house, and then back at Trowa. "That was my fault."
"Your fault?" Trowa shook his head. "I don't---"
"He's been waiting," Heero replied calmly, but his fists were clenched. "Jade tried to stay up last night, and I think if I'd not tricked him into sleeping, he would've camped out in front of the door. And after you called, he did his best to take up roots on the porch, waiting. Yes, even with the snow and ice."
Trowa was stunned. "But just now, he... " The auburn-haired man sighed, and shook his head. "Let's get this stuff out of the car, and then we can figure it out. I just drove an hour and a half of mountain roads. I'd like to relax before I start dealing with the mystery that's Jade."
Heero nodded, and made a face. "Just how many books are there, anyway?"
"Ah... " Trowa grinned, abashed. "Sixty-four, according to Quatre."
"We need more shelves," Heero said.
It took a half-hour to bring in all the books, as well as a backseat full of additional items that Trowa and Quatre had purchased after their dinner together. There was another set of sweaters, and Trowa could only shrug when Heero gave the sweaters a bemused look.
"I told him we're not freezing to death," Trowa said, dropping the gifts on the bed.
"Quatre spent too many years in the desert," Heero observed. "I bet he bundles his daughters up when the temperature gets below seventy Fahrenheit." The dark-haired man shrugged, and moved to brush his knuckles against the back of Trowa's hand. "Anything else in those bags downstairs?"
"A few things," Trowa replied, his expression purposefully cagey. He could hear the sound of ripping paper, and he paused, then spun, tearing down the stairs at top speed. "Jade!"
Jade was perched on his pillow, a box in his hands. At Trowa's shout, the longhaired man yelped and tossed the box away, scrambling backwards to curl in a ball against the shelves. He lowered his hands long enough to shout back, as Trowa came to a stop by the sofa. "It had my name on it!" Jade made a face and promptly put his hands over his head again.
"What is---" Heero was right behind Trowa, and came around to pick up the box. He flipped it over, listening to the sound of things inside moving and clattering. "A jigsaw puzzle?"
Trowa nodded, still on the edge of yelling at Jade. Seeing Heero's irritated expression, Trowa shrugged and stepped back. "He's right; his name was on the box."
The longhaired man made a pleased sound and uncoiled instantly. He snatched the box from Heero and scooted backwards, clutching it against his chest.
"Jade," Heero barked. He reached out, and Jade smacked his hand away.
"That's no reason to be rude!"
Jade wrapped his arms tighter around the box and narrowed his eyes at Heero.
"You can keep the box," Heero said, standing up straight as he crossed his arms. "But first, you have to thank Trowa for bringing it."
Trowa watched, one eyebrow raised. Jade stared at Heero for several seconds, his expression sulky.
"Thanks, Master," Jade mumbled. Carefully he pulled the box away from his chest, studying the cover, displaying the completed jigsaw puzzle's peaceful alpine landscape. Jade ran his fingers across the surface, a thin line between his brows. His lips were pursed, and he glanced quickly at Heero before fixing his intense stare on Trowa. "You got me this?"
"No, Quatre did," Trowa said. "He's... an old friend of ours."
Jade was silent for several seconds, ducking his head to regard the box carefully. He chewed on his lower lip, then, and Trowa was stunned to see Jade's face momentarily twist up as though in pain. Then Jade's expression firmed into recalcitrance, and Trowa involuntarily tensed. A second later his instincts were proven accurate. The jigsaw box went flying across the living room to hit the wall before dropping to the floor. Heero's jaw dropped, and he turned on Jade with an angry look.
"What the hell---"
"I don't want the stupid thing!" Jade was on his feet, his fists clenched, and his face red from fury. Heero stepped forward and Jade gracefully sidestepped, coming around behind the sofa to stand between Heero and Trowa. Jade's lower lip jutted, and he glared at Trowa intently, his voice low and angry. "You *fucked* him, didn't you!"
"And now he's giving me gifts to make up for it," Jade spat. He shook his head, his hair flying out of the loose braid to whip around his face. "Well, you can tell him he's a bastard! I'm not gonna be bribed! Fuck him... *and* you! I hate you both! You and... whatever his name is!"
Trowa opened his mouth, but no sound came out. What the hell do I do, he thought, unable to fight past the shock to react.
"That's enough!" Heero shouted, stepping forward to grab Jade by the elbow. "You are way out of line, Jade." He yanked Jade's elbow, spinning him around and shoving him towards the door. "You get a time-out. In the barn. Go."
"No," Jade cried, twisting around as he tried to get free of Heero's grip. "No," he repeated, starting to panic. "Master!"
One hand flew out, catching Trowa's arm and clinging tightly, even as Heero pulled on Jade's other arm. Trowa's first thought was to rip his arm out of Jade's hold. In that split second, though, he remembered Quatre's words, and halted before he finished the gesture. Instead, he shot Heero a quick look at the same time he reached out and pulled Jade into his arms. The longhaired man balked, but Trowa didn't let go, moving one hand to push Jade's head down until his nose was against Trowa's neck.
"Jade," Trowa whispered, unable to hide his irritation and confusion completely. "I brought gifts for you as well. But," and his lips tightened as he pushed Jade away far enough to look in the shorter man's eyes, "I did *not* have sex with my friend. I simply visited with him. We went shopping, had lunch and dinner, and talked. That's all."
There was silence, as Jade frowned, his deep blue eyes wide. He stared at Trowa, his brows furrowed. "I bet he wanted to have sex with you."
"I doubt it," Trowa replied calmly. Inside, however, he was reeling. Why would Jade give a damn? What was Jade trying to tell him? "There's only one person---"
"Yeah, yeah, I've heard it all before," Jade said, turning to stare across the room, pointedly not meeting Trowa in the eyes. He wriggled in Trowa's arms until they were far enough apart that Jade could cross his arms. "You don't want to pay attention to anyone but him." Jade jerked his head in Heero's direction and scowled.
Trowa's lips twisted, and he glanced past Jade to see Heero glaring outright at the longhaired man. Suddenly angry, Trowa shoved Jade backwards. "That's right, Jade," Trowa snapped. "You have a problem with that?"
"No!" Jade glowered. "I wouldn't want you to touch me anyway! You' re... " Jade's face twisted up. "Ugly! Who'd want you anyway, all... fucked-up in the head and... ugly!" Jade opened his mouth again, only to find Heero's hand clamped over it.
"Barn, now," Heero announced, and pushed Jade towards the door. "Get your feet in your boots. Two hours."
"But I don't want---" Jade squeaked as Heero's hand came down over his mouth again, and he hurriedly shoved his feet in his boots. Heero grabbed their coats, and opened the door. Jade took advantage of the movement to turn, his eyes cast towards Trowa with a desperate look. "But then Master's going to leave again and he only just---"
"If he leaves, this time it's your fault," Heero retorted, and pushed Jade out the door, shutting it firmly behind them.
Trowa was left alone in the living room. Blindly he stared at the front door for several seconds, listening to the crunching sound of the men's footsteps in the deep snow. Slowly he came back to himself, long enough to look around the living room again. In a daze, he walked over and picked up the jigsaw puzzle, turning it over in his hands before setting it on the low table. Trowa remained there, for a minute, then absently poked at the fire, placing another log on the grate. He hung the poker by the fire, and straightened back up, seeing the two gifts he'd selected for Jade still sitting by the wingback chair.
I wonder why he opened Quatre's gift first, Trowa thought, but couldn't come up with a reason. None of it made any sense. Exhausted suddenly, he pulled his sweater off and dropped it over the back of the sofa before striding into the bathroom. He leaned over the tub, watching as hot water pooled in the bottom.
Maybe a bath, and dinner, and eventually something will make sense, he told himself. Dully, he registered that it probably wouldn't, but he saw no point in considering it further.
Trowa lay back in the tub, his knees just cresting the surface of the water. He closed his eyes, letting the hot water work its magic on his muscles, tense from the stressful driving and tightened into iron cords by the welcome home from Jade.
Or lack thereof, Trowa thought, and sighed. He could hear a tread in the living room, and recognized Heero's footsteps. When the bathroom door opened, he didn't move, but sank down a little farther in the water. The footsteps came closer, and Trowa opened his eyes to see Heero's face, upside-down, peering at him. Trowa sat up, pushing his hair back with his hand as he registered Heero already had his shirt off and was pulling off his jeans as well.
"Heero," Trowa said wearily, "I'm not up for any more surprises."
"Not a surprise," Heero said, nudging Trowa forward and slipping into the water behind him. The dark-haired man was silent, reaching over for the washcloth and wetting it thoroughly before he began to scrub at Trowa's shoulders and back. "It's hardly a surprise if you know exactly what I'm about to do."
Trowa mumbled something inaudible and rested his elbows on his bent knees. Slowly his eyes closed under Heero's patient ministrations, and he rested his head on his forearms as Heero scrubbed down his back, under the water, and up his sides. Eventually Heero wrung out the cloth, draping it over the side of the tub, and pulled Trowa backwards into his embrace. Trowa sighed and leaned his head back on the other man's shoulders, enjoying the feel of his lover's body against his, and the gentle strength in Heero's arms as he held Trowa closely. Heero's hand dripped as he reached up to smooth Trowa's hair out of his face, and Heero turned a little to press his lips against Trowa's temple.
"Not the homecoming I expected," Trowa murmured. He splashed idly at the water.
Heero grunted. "Agreed. He had finally calmed down, only a half-hour or so before you arrived."
"Has he been like this the whole time?" He couldn't hide the incredulity.
"Yes, and no." Heero sighed. "The first hour or two after you left... Jade was pretty pissed-off, and upset. He calmed down, and we were fine until it was time for bed. And then... " He shrugged, a rolling movement that made the water slosh. "He had a nightmare last night, and I... I pretended to be you. He begged me... you... not to leave him."
Trowa was quiet.
Heero told him about the morning's events, and Jade's behavior leading up to making the snowman. Trowa remained silent, his eyes fixed on a patch of tile above the tub's faucet. Several minutes passed, and Heero shifted.
"Tro... I think Jade's just emotionally wiped out," Heero whispered. "It's like he has no balance."
"Quatre told me about his daughters," Trowa said abruptly. "He said it sounded like Jade is being a two-year old. So I went back to the bookstore and picked up some books about dealing with toddlers." He could feel Heero's muscles tense, as his lover processed the words. Trowa sighed. "And just so we're clear, I didn't have sex with Quatre."
"The idea didn't even occur to me." Heero's rumbling voice sounded amused.
Trowa shrugged, and splashed at the surface of the water a few more times, idly watching the droplets cling to the tub's lip. "I don't know what to do," he finally said.
"First, you need to help me get it through Jade's head that you're not his master anymore," Heero said quietly. "I don't know if he'll play along, but I think we should try. It'll take the heat off you, at least."
"But put it on your shoulders---"
"I can handle it," Heero replied. "It's my turn."
He shifted, and Trowa sat up, giving Heero room to move. The water was cooling, and Trowa shivered as the air hit his damp flesh. Behind him, Heero stood, getting out of the tub and grabbing a towel from the rack. He handed one to Trowa, and grabbed another for himself. Before Trowa could step out of the water, Heero had pulled Trowa's face down for a long kiss. When they broke apart, Heero had a sly look.
"We've got about an hour," he said, his smile growing wicked. "Want some undivided attention?"
Trowa raised an eyebrow, and stepped from the tub. Returning the smile, he tugged at Heero's towel, pulling it out of the way so he could press himself against his lover's body. "We haven't done it in the bathroom in a while," he suggested, bending down to take Heero's earlobe in his teeth, nibbling lightly. He was rewarded with a soft moan, and he smiled as he ran his tongue up the outside of Heero's ear. "That a yes?"
"That's a 'move your ass'," Heero growled. "One set of bruised knees from tile floors is enough for my lifetime."
Trowa collapsed back on the bed. He decided absently that he could care less if his sated expression made him look like an idiot. Heero, next to him, rolled over on his side and propped himself up on his elbow. The dark-haired man's lips curled up at the edges, and Trowa smirked.
"I need more undivided attention."
"Yeah, well," Heero said, craning his neck to see the little clock on the bedside table. "I think Jade's time out should be over shortly. I'll go get him, and we can figure out what to do for dinner."
"Right." Trowa closed his eyes, unable to stop the reluctant grimace from showing. "Any way to refuse to let him come back if he's going to insist on being difficult?"
"He doesn't know what he wants," Heero replied, laying one hand on Trowa's chest, over his heart. "And what he does want, he can't admit."
"He wants to make me miserable," Trowa hissed. Sitting up, he swung around until his back was to Heero, his feet planted on the loft's wooden floor. "I don't want to leave, but I have to tell you... " His voice dropped to a hesitant whisper. "Maybe it'd be better... for Jade... if I weren't around. From what you've said, it sounds like you'd---"
"You're wrong," Heero interrupted, but his voice was calm. "Jade freaked when I put him in the barn. He was terrified that you'd leave again, and not come back. He ended up begging me on his knees to make you promise not to go away again."
Trowa twisted to look down at Heero. "He said he hated me. And... oh, fuck it." He shook his head. "I could handle one. I could handle the other. I just wish he'd make up his mind." Unwillingly, Quatre's words came back to haunt him again, and he groaned, leaning forward to cover his face with his hands as he rested his elbows on his knees.
"Trowa?" Heero moved on the bed until he was sitting next to Trowa. The heat of their bodies, side-by-side, was a minor warmth in the loft's chilly air. "Jade won't be able to make up his mind, for awhile. I don't know how I know that, but I just... think it's going to take some time."
"Not that," Trowa said, dropping his hands. He let his head hang down, and closed his eyes against Heero's puzzled expression. "Quatre said he thinks Jade loves me, but is scared---"
"---That you'll reject him, so he'll reject you first," Heero finished. When Trowa looked up, surprised, Heero shrugged. "I had a lot of time to study him, over the past twenty-four hours," he said.
Trowa chuckled softly. "So, we both ended up with the same conclusion. You figured it out, and I needed Quatre to tell me." He reached for his jeans on the bedpost and began pulling then on. Standing up, he buttoned them up and grabbed his shirt. "Jade doesn't want to be touched, yet the idea of me touching anyone else seems to make him furious."
"Don't touch him," Heero replied. He stood up as well, oblivious to his nudity as he studied Trowa with cool eyes. "I'll be the one to deal with him. If Jade's going to be indecisive, then... " He frowned, and his voice trailed off as he gave Trowa an unexpectedly vulnerable, despairing look. "I don't know how to explain it."
The auburn-haired man smiled, understanding perfectly. He gave Heero a quick kiss. "I'll start dinner," he said. "You get Jade."
Trowa had a headache by the time dinner was over, mostly from trying to keep his expression impassive while watching Jade hover. He frowned, shaking his head at Heero's offer of help to wash the dishes, and stared down into the soapy water. Hovered, he decided, was the only word that fit. It was as though Jade would take a step towards him, lean in his direction, and then pull back the instant Trowa moved or even looked in Jade's direction. The entire time he'd cooked dinner, Jade had remained in the kitchen, nearby but not too close, and Trowa had been ready to break several pieces of crockery if he'd thought it would get those big blue eyes to look at something else for at least a five-minute break.
He sighed and rinsed the last of the plates, setting them neatly in the rack. Heero and Jade were in the living room, and Heero was tuning the guitar. Trowa had already set Jade's gifts on the top shelf, with no explanation, but he'd made certain to do it while Jade was watching. Both wrapped presents had Jade's name on them, with Trowa's name beneath. Some part of Trowa's brain was mildly curious to see whether Jade would ask for the gifts, or forget them completely.
Wiping his hands on a dishrag, Trowa straightened up the last of the kitchen and made his way into the living room. Picking up one of his new books, he settled down to read, his legs stretched out on the sofa. Jade was curled up on his pillow, staring into the fire, and Heero ran through a series of chords before beginning an old European ballad. It was one of Trowa's favorites, and was soon followed by another. The music became a gentle background element to the story in Trowa's hands, and the evening passed in relative peace.
Trowa blinked, and rubbed his eyes wearily. He pulled the blanket higher over his shoulder and squinted at the shape by the bed. Slowly his eyes adjusted, until he could see Jade, eyes large in his pale face.
"Jade, go back to bed," Trowa ordered, his voice thick with sleep.
"I'm cold, Master," Jade whispered. One hand crept up to tug at the blanket. "Please?"
"You have three blankets on your bed," Trowa replied crossly. Jade didn't say anything, and Trowa sighed, closing his eyes and drifting back into sleep. He was awakened by another insistent tug on the blanket.
The growl made Jade flinch, but he took a breath and came up on his knees to peer down at Trowa. "It's dark," he whined softly.
"That's how it works. It's night time." Trowa pulled the blanket up tighter and shifted his legs until he was pressed up against Heero, behind him. "Go back to bed. Go *on*," he repeated, when he realized Jade hadn't moved.
"I want to sleep with you, Master," Jade said. He tugged at the blanket again. "Please? I was good after dinner... I won't make you angry with me and I'll be quiet, and please, can I?"
"I thought you preferred your own bed," Trowa replied, grumpily.
"But I have bad dreams." The tug came on the blanket again, but weaker. Jade sank back down, until his face was visible only from his eyes up, over the edge of the bed. "Master, make them go away."
That's what you want to do to me, in the daytime, Trowa thought. He sighed and closed his eyes. "Make them go away on your own, Jade," he replied. "You're pretty good at making everything else go away, too. And stop calling me Master. I'm not your Master anymore."
There was a hissed intake of breath, and Trowa opened one eye, didn't see Jade, and opened both eyes, lifting his head. Jade was curled up on the wooden floor by the bed, completely naked, his skin glowing in the moonlight. His hands were clasped behind the small of his back, and his shoulders were shaking. Trowa sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Twisting in the bed, he prodded Heero until the other man grunted.
"Heero," Trowa whispered urgently. "You need to put Jade back into bed."
"I need to do what?" Heero frowned, opening his eyes to give Trowa a baffled look. "Not funny, Barton. I'm sleeping."
"He's out of bed. You're his master; you deal with it."
"He's what?" Heero sat up, shooting Trowa a glare, and shook his head as he threw back the covers. Padding around the bed, he knelt down by Jade, lifting the crying man up with a surprisingly gentle touch. "Come on, Jade, get up," he ordered.
Trowa pulled the blankets over his head and tried to ignore the way his heart wrenched, listening to Heero quietly guide Jade back to bed.
End Part 21
On to Chapter twenty-two
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