Broken Jade

Part Twenty-Three: The Withered Grass

Trowa waited until the door had shut behind Heero and Jade, and picked up the phone. Dialing a long series of numbers, he put the phone to his ear as he leaned against the countertop. It rang five times before a woman's voice answered.

"Identification, please."

"Agent Barton. Four-four-seven, oh-nine. Headquarters, I.R.M. Division."

"Please hold." The line was silent for several seconds. "Secure or general?"

"Secure. Redirect to seventeen-fifty-six, Alpha-four-fifty-two, Charlie-three-thirty-nine."


Trowa sighed and rubbed his forehead as the phone clicked several times, then began ringing. It was picked up on the third ring.


"Barton," Trowa said. "I've got news."

Wufei's voice was instantly worried. "Is everything okay?"

"Fine, mostly," Trowa replied. "Nothing requiring a doctor's attention." Although perhaps it should have, from the beginning, he thought darkly. "Heero had a rather---"

"Is this secured?"

Trowa was tempted to roll his eyes. "Yes."

"Good," Wufei said. "Continue."

"Jade was trained for a specific Master, and we suspect it may be the one who purchased him. According to some of Jade's comments, he appears to have been specifically... groomed for someone the organization already had lined up."

"Really," Wufei replied, his voice thoughtful, yet annoyed at the same time. "And here that jackass has been saying he went into the auction not knowing what he was getting into."

"You didn't investigate that?"

Wufei snorted. "How? He's had immunity so far, thanks to that harpy. His mother makes Une look like an amateur."

"They haven't been having tea together a lot, have they?"

"Yeah," Wufei grumbled. "Why?"

"Nothing much. Just don't make a point of insulting their gender around them."

"Thanks, Barton," Wufei said dryly. "I'll try to keep that in mind."


Trowa shut down the laptop when he heard Heero calling him for dinner. He leaned back in the chair, stretching his arms over his head and listening to his joints pop, before getting up. It had been four days since the exchange of blows, but Jade's behavior hadn't wavered. He had continued to study Trowa closely, but refrained from getting too close. It was almost, Trowa thought, as though Jade were studying him under a microscope. There had been no further discussion about Maxwell, and Jade had become cranky and withdrawn the one time Heero tried to press for more information about Jade's Trainer. Trowa was almost positive that Jade had figured out that neither of them were his intended Master, but it wasn't clear what Jade planned to do with that information.

It's strange, Trowa pondered. The tension moving through him at times reminded him of the war, more than anything else he'd gone through yet, in the house. But it wasn't war in the sense of battle, he thought, trying to clarify the sensation. It was the waiting game they'd played, between missions, or on the Libra, wondering when White Fang or Oz would strike. There was no question that battle would come. It was only a matter of when, and it meant living in a constant state of near-readiness.

What am I getting ready for? Trowa pushed the thought out of his head and stood, pushing the chair under the desk before he left the study.

"Lasagna," Heero said as Trowa walked into the kitchen. "We have leftovers."

"That's fine." Trowa grabbed a drink from the fridge, and turned around to see Jade sitting at the table. Those great blue eyes were fixed on him, the man's expression solemn and distant. "Have you finished the jigsaw puzzle?"

"Just did," Heero replied, and slid the leftovers into the oven. "Maybe we should go back and get a few more."

"We could do that." Trowa gritted his teeth and decided to go for the frontal attack. "Jade, why do you keep staring at me?"

Jade ducked his head, and stared at the tablecloth for several seconds before shrugging a little. Heero set a hurricane lamp down on the table and began refilling it, and the room was silent for several minutes, until Heero left to put the lamp back in the living room. Ifrit meowed at Trowa's feet, and he bent down, letting the cat leap onto his shoulders. Trowa automatically checked the food bowl, and raised an eyebrow at the cat.

"You have plenty of food," he told Ifrit, and began scratching the cat behind its ears. "Pest," he added affectionately.

Heero cleared his throat, and Trowa raised both eyebrows, wondering what was up.

"I think we should change the schedule," Heero said. His gaze darted to Jade, still staring at the table, and back to Trowa. "Four hour blocks, in pairs. Starting with you and I in the morning, then you and Jade over mid-day, then Jade and I in the afternoon."

Trowa nodded. "Jade?"

"Whatever," Jade mumbled.

"Good enough," Trowa said.


The next day, Trowa returned from town with clean laundry, to find Heero gathering firewood from the stack by the barn. Trowa waved and pushed the front door open, startled to find Jade standing on the low table, his hand on the top shelf. The longhaired man spun at the sound of the door, and nearly fell from the table, startled. He managed to leap down from the table, making a strangled sound in his throat as he wobbled and caught himself on the mantle.

"Hey," Trowa said. "Are you okay?"

Jade shrugged and lifted one foot, shaking his ankle. The anklet's bells chimed for a bit, and Jade managed a lopsided smile. "I'm fine, Master," he said.

Trowa nodded, taking the laundry upstairs, unsurprised to find Jade had followed him. Jade hovered at the top of the steps, shifting his weight from foot to foot as he watched Trowa put the clothes away. Downstairs, Heero had returned, and was stoking the fire. Trowa could hear the footsteps as Heero entered the study and shut the door behind him.

"So you're curious about your other gifts," Trowa said, trying to find a good place to start the conversation.

Jade nodded, a shy smile flashing across his face. "Are they still mine?"

"Yes. Do you want to open them now?"

A huge grin was Trowa's only answer, and Jade spun, heading down the stairs at top speed. By the time Trowa put the last of the clothes away and came down the steps, Jade was perched on the sofa with both gifts in his hands, and was carefully unwrapping one of them. Sliding the box from the paper, he studied the object for several seconds before raising puzzled eyes to Trowa.

"What is it?" Jade shook the box, his head cocked as he listened. "It doesn't do anything. And it's not a book."

"It's a game," Trowa explained. "For you to play on the computer." He took the box, snapping it open. "One of us can help you set it up, and then... " He looked down to see Jade already opening the second present, to discover a similar box. Trowa smiled. "Another game. That one is an adventure game, and this one is the latest in piloting games."

"Piloting," Jade repeated, bewildered. "What does it do?"

"Not as much as it could," Trowa admitted. "I didn't get the console, so you'll have to use the keyboard, but it's a game where you're piloting a Gundam against... other mobile suits."

Jade frowned, flipping the box over to look at the pictures before raising his eyes to Trowa. "What's a Gundam?"

"It's... " Trowa closed his mouth, and shrugged. "It's just part of the game, Jade. Heero's on the computer now, though, so you'll have to wait until after dinner. We can set it up then, and you can play with it in the morning. Did you want to do something else, now?"

"Upstairs?" Jade dropped the boxes on the sofa, leaving the half-folded used wrapping paper. He took Trowa by the hand, and tugged him towards the stairs. Reluctantly, and puzzled, Trowa let himself be led. "This way, Master," Jade whispered, smiling, although his eyes looked worried.

Once in the loft, Trowa disengaged his hand. "It's warmer near the fire, Jade," he said.

"No, up here is better," Jade whispered, stepping closer. He ducked his head, staring up at Trowa through his chestnut-red bangs, and smiled as he placed his hands on Trowa's chest. Taking another step, he pressed himself up against Trowa, and his hands slid around Trowa's chest to embrace the taller man around the waist. Jade laid his head on Trowa's shoulder, and sighed.

"Jade," Trowa replied, feeling Jade relax against him. He pondered for a moment, then smiled to himself, and put his arms around Jade, hugging the longhaired man tightly. "I missed this," he said. Immediately Jade tensed, and Trowa frowned. "What is it?"

"Did you?" Jade turned to stare up at Trowa. "I thought... "

Trowa immediately knew he didn't want to go there. "Shh. It's okay, it's not important now," Trowa murmured, bending his head to place his forehead against Jade's shoulder and hugging the shorter man close to him.

"Master... " Jade wriggled a little, and pulled away with a smile. "I want to give you a backrub."

"Me?" Trowa raised his eyebrows. "But... "

"You spent the morning chopping wood, you 'n Master," Jade pointed out, and tugged Trowa's hand, leading him to the bed. "I know how to do this, and I won't make you get cranky like Master's backrubs." He guided Trowa to sit, and pulled on Trowa's sweater.

"Heero's backrubs aren't---" Trowa's voice was muffled as the sweater and shirt came off in one smooth move. He laid down on the bed, on his stomach, and sighed. "They're not that bad," he continued, but without too much conviction. I wouldn't mind some attention, he thought, and moved to center himself on the bed as Jade crawled up next to him.

"Hush, Master," Jade teased, and patted him on the shoulder. "You just enjoy. This is my job."

Your job, Trowa thought, and sighed as he heard the snap of Quatre's gift, a bottle of massage oil, being opened. A second later two slick hands landed on his back and Jade straddled Trowa's thighs as the deft fingers began at Trowa's waist. Trowa groaned as the knots in his lower back were carefully prodded. Eventually the rhythmic motion became relaxing, and he closed his eyes, drifting into a light sleep as Jade continued to work on his muscles.


Trowa watched as Heero and Jade had a snowball fight in the front yard, and sighed as he moved away from the window to put his book away. Three more days had passed, and Jade seemed to be moving into a calmer version of himself, yet more talkative than before. It had taken Trowa a day or two to realize what was bothering him, and he wasn't surprised that Heero brushed off Trowa's worries when the topic was finally raised. Jade had been downstairs, playing his new video game, and Trowa had mentioned that Jade's conversation was very Maxwellian - a great deal of chatter, with little substance. Heero had simply shrugged and rolled over on top of Trowa, effectively distracting the taller man from any further discussion.

But it didn't make it go away, Trowa thought. There was something... not right, but he couldn't figure it out. His time alone, he'd spent reading, or working in the barn on one-person projects. The day before, he'd chopped wood for an hour, and was given another long and slow massage that lasted nearly two hours. It had ended with Trowa lacking all his clothes, but Jade had not said or done anything beyond an almost professional demeanor. Trowa hadn't fallen asleep, but drowsed while Jade carefully and thoroughly worked over the tired muscles in his body, down to his fingertips and toes. At the end, Jade had laid down beside him, his head on Heero's pillow, and one hand on Trowa's shoulder.

He didn't talk, though, Trowa recalled. Jade really only chattered when Heero was around, and even then it was about inconsequential things. Like the laptop, and the video game, or the books they'd read, or the guitar. Heero didn't broach the topic of Maxwell or Jade's past, and Jade didn't bring up anything of his training. It was like dancing around a large object in the living room that no one would admit to seeing, Trowa thought, and shook his head. Perhaps it was only that Jade was becoming acclimated to their different styles. Heero was used to chatter, having had years of a friendship with Maxwell; Trowa preferred silence unless there was something worth saying.

That must be it. Jade's recognized that we're different people, and that we're not the Master for whom he was intended, but he's accepted that. The idea pleased Trowa, and he straightened, stretching a little before heading in to check the laptop. The auction was in three days, and Wufei had promised to send any last minute details before the sting operation.

An hour later Trowa sat back from the laptop, his gut churning at the news from Quatre. Ifrit shifted in his lap, claws digging into Trowa's thighs in protest, and Trowa sighed, scratching the cat behind the ears as he printed out the information. Reviewing it quickly, he set it aside. Jade was doing well, and Trowa didn't want to raise the issue until he'd had a chance to discuss it with Heero. Thinking of Heero made him frown, and he leaned forward, resting his cheek on his fist as he idly began playing solitaire. Heero still hadn't said what prompted him to punch Jade, and Trowa had dropped the subject, but he still wondered. Jade was slowly becoming more affectionate with both of them, as though returning to his original patterns, but now including Heero.

Trowa checked the time on the laptop and began several quick web searches for information. Twenty minutes later he shut down the laptop, deciding to start dinner rather than make decision based on inadequate information. It'll just have to wait until after dinner, he told himself, and whatever brought on the matched set of bruises will just have to remain a mystery until Heero is ready to talk. But first, he thought, it's time to call Wufei again. The email hinted, and he needed more than hints.


Heero set the papers down, and raised his hands to cover his face. After several minutes of being very still, he pushed his hands up until they were running through his hair, and then down to the back of his neck, where he massaged his own shoulders for several seconds before dropping his hands with a sigh.

They were sitting on the edge of the bed, reviewing the papers Trowa had printed out. Downstairs, Trowa could hear the game's theme song replaying. Jade had probably moved onto the next level, and he took a moment to consider the fact that Jade's piloting skills, even on a laptop, were obviously still top-notch. There had been a frustrated first hour a few days before, trying to learn the game, but once Jade got into the graphics, it was as though his fingers reacted without Jade even being fully aware of the decisions he was making. The young man clearly enjoyed the game, given the way he'd leapt at the chance to have an hour to play after dinner. Trowa returned his attention to Heero as the dark-haired man picked the papers up again.

"Tranxene therapy, combined with hypnotic and neurolinguistic programming," Heero read in a dull monotone. He flipped through the pages. "These are their top three candidates?"

"No, just three whose existence, history, and training are known. They're also the ones that fit the profile Wufei entered, of his ideal slave." Trowa leaned back on the bed, resting his weight on his hands. "Une thinks Jade should pick which one."

"Jade should pick?" Heero's blue eyes were wide. "That bitch," he growled, the papers crumpling in his hands. "Isn't it enough that she's willing to use experimental drug therapy?"

"Who else might have the right to choose, but someone who's been through it as well?" Trowa shook his head. "I'm not saying we'll tell him of Une's request. But perhaps... showing him the information, we might find something out. You said he mentioned others... "

Heero nodded. "It didn't make sense to me. Wouldn't he have been isolated for the entire training?"

"Not necessarily," Trowa replied. "Sometimes being around others of similar backgrounds can reinforce the indoctrination."

"How do you know?" Heero's eyes were suspicious.

"Because that's the way it works with all groups," Trowa told him, a little wearily. "Why do you think rookies are always paired with experienced officers? We did the same thing in the circus. New hires were expected to move in and live with the rest of us, and by doing so, they learned the traditions and patterns of the circus."

Heero was silent, and then nodded, his gaze falling back onto the paper. "I don't like it," he said.

"I don't either." Trowa sat forward, taking the top sheet from Heero and reading over it again, even though he had it nearly memorized. "It just seems like... they're trying to fix what was done, by doing the same thing again."

"Do they even know that Tranxene was used in the first place?"

Trowa shrugged. "Quatre said the doctors are certain that drug was the one most likely to result in memory loss. Although... " He frowned. "I did some research on it, after getting the email, and from what I can tell, it doesn't remove the memory completely. It just makes the subject disoriented, and open to suggestion."

"Right." Heero didn't look Trowa in the eyes.

"Which means that if Jade can't remember his past, there's something else going on," Trowa finished softly. "According to what I read, he should have some kind of shadowy memories, or a set of fully formed, artificially-shaped memories that are completely false. Instead... "

"I don't know," Heero said, and he clearly wasn't talking about the drug's viability, or Jade's memory. "But I don't want Une sticking him full of drugs."

"It's Jade's choice," Trowa pointed out.

"Is he really capable of making a choice? Even now, would he?" Heero dropped the papers on the bed and stood up, his eyes unfocused. "I get the strange feeling these candidates won't get much of a choice, either. They'll imprint the people on a Preventer, and have the Preventer consent."

"But if it works... "

"They don't know that," Heero snarled. His shoulders were tense, and his head down. "The fact that it's been used to remove memory doesn't mean it'll put memory back. It's not like downloading and uploading---"

"There's something else." Trowa stood up, moving to stand behind Heero. He placed a hand on Heero's shoulder, and squeezed gently. "We need to decide, because if we don't... they'll use Jade."

Heero's head came up, and he spun, his mouth open. No sound came out; he simply stared.

"I'm sorry. Wufei told me on the phone... " Trowa dropped his eyes. "The injuries were incurred while Maxwell was in the line of duty, and since he lacks blood relatives, Preventers has ultimate decision on any treatment methods. Their claim overrides the power of attorney he granted you after the war."

"They've never invoked that rule before." Heero crossed his arms, dropping his head to stare up at Trowa through his tousled bangs. "Don't see why---"

"Une has been standing between us and the Oversight Committee for two months now. According to the pre-auction information sent to Wufei, there are nearly sixty people going up for auction on Thursday. He's been assured there are another eighty waiting their turn, if anyone at the auction can't find... something that pleases them. As far as Une's bosses are concerned, if she'd turned Jade over to the doctors immediately, the Preventers could be going in with a cure already on hand."

"Over a hundred... " Heero shook his head. "But Jade---"

"The committee wants this resolved quickly. The Preventers need as much good P.R. as possible, especially with the budget reviews coming up with the UESN next month." Trowa's smile was bitter. "On top of that, the doctors are aware Maxwell was a Gundam pilot. Several of them have already given presentations over Une's protests, arguing that Maxwell's history makes him a better test subject, rather than a worse one."

Heero's head came up, his nostrils flaring dangerously, but he said nothing.

"The scientists shot us all full of stuff," Trowa said, staring off across the room, and out the window. The moon was caught in winter branches, a thin crescent against a dark blue sky. It made Trowa think of Duo's eyes. "And while we're not all as indestructible as you, we're damn near close."

"So he could handle the reaction, if it went---" Heero's voice choked. "Absolutely not," he ground out. "Enough has been done to him."

"It's one of them, or Jade," Trowa said, and his voice dropped to a whisper. All the self-control he'd had, cooking dinner, eating, and washing the dishes afterwards, and it was suddenly fleeing him without a backwards glance. Trowa felt nauseous. "Fucking bastards... Heero, what are we going to do?" Trowa raised his eyes to meet Heero's, and his eyes were wide and bright. He could feel the tears threatening to fall, and he inhaled quickly, shuddering as he tried to get himself under control. "What are we going to tell him? What are---"

"Shh," Heero said, stepping forward to wrap his arms around Trowa's waist, pulling the taller man's head down onto Heero's shoulder. "There's still a few more days. We'll think of something. And if we have to, we'll pick for Jade."


Three days later, Wufei sent a brief report.

*Forty-eight arrests. One hundred seventeen people taken into Preventers care. Five more locations investigated. Une trying for forty-eight hour delay with Committee. Send word soon.*

Trowa automatically saved the email for Heero to read, and clicked on a browser. Idly running the pointer over the icons, he wondered which site he'd visited had information on the drug therapy. He clicked on history, and nearly swore out loud. Over three hundred sites had been accessed in the past two days alone.

Trowa skimmed backwards, and realized nothing had been accessed until after Jade had started playing the video games. Puzzled, and yet hopeful, he clicked randomly on several links.

Archival news reports: Gundam terrorists attack Victoria base.

Encyclopedia of war: the development of mobile suit technology.

Preventers main site: Heero Yuy transfers from Sanq royal service to Preventers.

Celebrity biographies: Duo Maxwell.

Trowa let out a breath, and looked down to see his hands were shaking on the keyboard. Just as quickly, though, it dawned on him: why hadn't Jade said anything?


"He has a right to know," Trowa said, trying to keep his voice as low as possible. Jade was in the bath, and Heero was building the fire while Trowa crouched beside him. "We can't keep dancing around the topic. He knows something is up... we've got to tell him who he was."

Heero's hands paused, then dropped the last log on the fire. "We will... but not yet."

"Are you sure?" Trowa pulled away, his eyes narrowed as he studied Heero's face. "Or do you like him better as he is now? Now that he can communicate, but knows nothing of his past. He's not nearly as malleable as Jade, but he might as well be... "

"I'm not saying we won't tell him," Heero said. "But first I think we should find out what Jade's---"

"What about me?" Jade's voice came from behind them.

Trowa barely managed to keep himself from spinning around. It would have been a guilty reaction, he knew, and he forced himself to breathe evenly as he stood up and turned. Jade was wearing his black pajamas, and wringing his hair out with a towel. The silver pendant around his neck gleamed dully in the firelight.

"We found out the searches you've been doing," Trowa said, keeping his voice steady.

A strange expression flickered across Jade's face, and he dropped his eyes, shrugging. "Yeah, so? You didn't say I couldn't do other stuff on the computer. And the games are boring." His blue eyes shot a worried look at Trowa. "They're too easy."

"Jade," Heero said, standing as well. "What prompted the searches?"

Jade was quiet, shifting his weight from one foot to another as his gaze darted back and forth between them. Trowa narrowed his eyes, watching Jade calmly, but unexpectedly able to read the reason for Jade's hesitation. The longhaired man wasn't sure which tactic to use - silence, with few words, for Trowa, or chattering for Heero. In a conversation with them both, Jade was off-balance again.

"I wanted to know about this guy you told me about," Jade finally said. He pulled the towel from his hair, but continued to wring it between his hands. He didn't seem to be aware of his actions. "And there's other weird stuff you've said, an' I wanted to know... "

"What did you find out?" Trowa canted his head at Jade, genuinely curious to hear Jade's interpretation of the sites he'd visited.

"There was a war, and you two were guys who came down and killed people. Along with Maxwell, an' two other guys." Jade wrinkled his nose. "You're murderers."

The room was silent, except for the hissing as the fire licked up the edge of a snow-soaked log. Heero's face was inscrutable, but he slowly nodded. "Yes, the five of us killed a number of people in battle."

"An' you had these big monster things, that you used," Jade continued, a thin line between his brows. "But you were like heroes an' stuff, cause you won the war. And there was a second war but it didn't seem to last very long."

"The Mariemaia Incident." Trowa said it before he'd thought better of the words.

Jade shrugged. "An' Duo Maxwell was from a colony in space or something. He was... popular."

"Not really," Heero said, and the shy smile was unexpected in the tense atmosphere. "He... kept to himself, on L2. And not everyone knew him, and as time passed... less did."

"Well, some folks had to know who he was," Jade said. He pulled his hair around and tugged on it. "Y'know, like a role model or something."

"A role model?" Trowa frowned.

"Yeah," Jade said, shrugging. "I mean, it makes sense. Trainer liked my hair," he said, ducking his head as he pulled his hair down to mask his expression. Trowa noted absently Jade's hair was almost down to his elbows. Jade's fingers combed through the damp mass, and finally dropped, to clutch the towel again. "So I guess Trainer must've thought Maxwell was... good, or... " His words trailed off.

"Good?" Heero prompted softly.

"Maybe wanted me to look like him, the whole way," Jade said. "But my hair's not long enough." He regarded his hair with a dubious eye, and shrugged, tossing his head a little to get the hair out his eyes.

Heero opened his mouth to speak, but Trowa splayed his fingers, although he kept his hand down by his waist. Jade didn't see the gesture, but Heero did, and he raised his eyebrows. Trowa took a deep breath, and gently exhaled through his nose, carefully picking his way through what he wanted to say.

"Jade... what's the difference between you and Maxwell?"

"The difference?" Jade looked confused, then grinned wryly. "Master, that's a silly question. There's lots of differences!"

"Tell me."

"Well, for starters, he's way older than me."

Trowa blinked. "Older?"

"Yeah, like twenty-six or something." Jade shrugged. "I'm only two."

Heero hissed, drawing breath through clenched teeth.

"You don't look like you're two," Trowa said, amazed to hear his voice perfectly even.

Jade rolled his eyes. "Well, of course not. That's the other difference."

Trowa waited, and wondered why the room wasn't spinning. His heart was pounding in his chest, and his legs felt shaky, as though he were back in battle again for the first time in a mobile suit, twenty years before. He said nothing, however, and Heero didn't move, either.

"Your friend is... real. I was created just for one purpose... " Jade's voice dropped to a mumble, and he ducked his head, looking sullen. "Trainer called me a test-tube baby. But I found the truth when I was doing all those searches. I'm what they call a clone."


End Part 23

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