Broken Jade

Part Twenty-Four: A Weathered Skeleton

Heero could feel the fire's heat behind him, but something had sunk into his bones, cold and distant, like the fine tendrils of ice on the windowpanes. The wind rattled the tin roof, but no one stirred. Jade's eyes were solemn and mournful, and his shoulders were slumped. Trowa had not moved or spoken. Another gust of wind battered the roofline.

Once I was Wing, Heero thought, standing at the window of the school office, my first time on earth. I remember seeing a gentle breeze play with the girls' hair as they dashed across the courtyard. Heero let his thoughts wander into recollection, as he tried to marshal his response to Duo, but instead the only thing that came to mind was the conception of updrafts and currents in the upper atmosphere. From earth, the sky seems transparent and peaceful, but as a pilot, the farther into the heights, the more turbulent it becomes.

Not at all like the ocean, Heero reflected, as a log cracked in the fire, sending up a burst of sparks behind him. He had landed in the ocean, willing to relinquish Wing as destroyed, and amazed to find himself on the shore. And then to return to the ocean's cold grasp, to destroy Wing despite Duo's attempt to salvage the beast. Heero recalled the rolling waves and sparse whitecaps on the calm day. He had been shocked to find that below the surface he was nearly ripped limb from limb by the undercurrents, pulling him inexorably towards a fate only the ocean could understand.

He'd experienced it again, after plunging into the ocean from the battle with Wufei. Rising up to the surface, Wing Zero had been hammered by the undertow, and swept along until Zero had pushed past, to break clear. I am still rising with Zero, Heero told himself, and it was then that he knew what he needed to do.

Heero laughed.


It wasn't the maniacal laughter of battle, or the sly chuckle accompanied by a smirk, but the sweet laughter he'd expressed only as his friendship with Duo had strengthened, years before. It was a delighted laugh, and Heero could hear the echo of a child long gone, joyful at the completion of his first mission.

Beside him, Trowa had started at the sound, and Jade's eyes grew even wider, then narrowed. Heero's laugh relaxed into a smile, as he came around the sofa. Jade turned in place, his hands still twisting the towel before him, but his gaze never left Heero. His expression became suspicious, and he backed up a step as Heero neared.

"A clone," Heero said. "I see."

He reached out and took the towel from Jade, tugging gently until Jade released it. Heero set the towel on the back of the sofa and stepped forward again, placing his hands at the hem of Jade's sweatshirt, and pulling upwards. Startled, Jade raised his arms obediently, letting Heero strip the shirt away. Heero dropped that, too, over the back of the sofa. Heero studied Jade's chest and stomach, and raised one hand, holding it over a scar above Jade's left nipple.

"This is from the space battle over L2," Heero whispered. "The ECM system short-circuited from a direct hit by a Taurus. When the panel exploded, its cover became a projectile, slicing through your airlock suit." He raised his finger to point at the bridge of Jade's nose. "And there's a scar, too small now to see unless you know where to look... that's from the battle at Singapore, while you were trying to get into space, with Quatre. Deathscythe took a direct hit, and you slammed your head against the forward visual panel."

Jade glanced over at Trowa, his eyebrows raised, but Trowa's face was inscrutable. Jade scowled a little and leaned backwards, away from Heero's outstretched finger.

"That scar is from the detention on the lunar base," Heero said, ignoring Jade's movement, but shifting to hold his fingers over a white streak across the upper part of Jade's left forearm. "Wufei said you worried at the shackles too much."

There was a shuffling sound, and Jade moved back a half-step. His eyes were shining, and he started to shake his head, his eyes narrowed as he gave Heero an expression somewhere between bewildered and argumentative.

"This one, on your arm," Heero told him. "I remember that." He stepped around Jade, raising his hand to trace the scar, ghosting his fingers over the faint marking of an elongated stripe. "This is from when you went headfirst through the window at the Federation Hospital. Thirty-eight floors above the ground." Heero smirked and moved around to Jade's back, raising his palm to hold it over Jade's shoulder blade. The longhaired man flinched, but Heero didn't touch the puckered skin of several broad scars angling across Jade's upper back. "These are from when OZ captured you... the first time." Heero dropped his hand and stepped back to stand before Jade, one eyebrow arched as he crossed his arms. "Still convinced Trainer was right?"

Jade nodded, quickly, then frowned, pursing his lips. His shoulders slumped, and he dropped his chin, staring up at Heero from under his bangs. "Trainer said the scars are part of cloning," Jade whispered. "So... no, Master. That doesn't make me your friend."

Heero shook his head. "You're still my friend, no matter who you are. But you're Maxwell."

"How do you know?" Jade threw his head back to get the hair out of his eyes, and fixed Heero with a steely look. "Just because I'm the exact duplicate doesn't---"

"I *know*," Heero replied, and left it at that. He knew there was nothing more he could say, and Jade's mouth snapped shut as the longhaired man gave Heero a puzzled look. Heero shrugged. "You'll just have to take my word for it. There's something else we need to discuss with you," he added over his shoulder as he headed up to the loft to get the papers from the bedside table. Jade's voice drifted up the stairs behind him.

"Oh, well, excuse me," Jade said, a melodramatic tone in his voice. "Didn't realize I was keeping you from something important."

Heero came back down the stairs to see Jade put his hands on his hips. Trowa had sat down on the sofa, facing the fireplace.

"You're important, too," Heero told him. "But this has a deadline. Come sit down. You need to look at these." He waved them at Jade, who crossed his arms and pouted. Heero did his best to keep his expression neutral. "Well, you're probably not up to dealing with it." He sat at the other end of the sofa, and handed two of the sheets to Trowa, who shot Heero an amused look.

The two men were silent, and soon Jade's anklet chimed as he came around the sofa to perch between them, staring intently at the fireplace. Heero flipped one of the sheets, and Jade jumped, but made no move otherwise, his gaze fixed straight ahead. Heero grinned to himself and set the papers on the low table, directly in front of Jade. A second later, Trowa did the same, laying his over Heero's. Heero leaned back, his arms crossed, and waited. Jade was still, then one hand snuck out, and he grabbed the papers quickly, pulling his knees up under his chin as he hunched forward, reading the papers quickly. His lips moved a little as he read, but he didn't make a sound. Jade scanned each page, returning to the top one, his brows furrowed.

"What are these... " He paused, and made a choking sound. "You're... replacing me?"

"Replacing... " Trowa sat bolt upright, his expression anxious. "*No*, Jade."

"You're getting a second pet," Jade accused, but his voice was broken, and his hands were shaking. "I'm not enough," he murmured, his head down. He crumpled the papers, holding them against his shins. "You're just gonna throw me away... "

"Jade," Trowa said, opening his arms.

Heero watched as Trowa pulled Jade into an embrace, shifting the longhaired man until his legs were bent over Trowa's lap, and his head was on Trowa's shoulder. Jade's deep blue eyes were unfocused, and Heero watched as Jade bit his lower lip, his entire body shaking. Trowa's hands stroked Jade's arm and shoulder, pulling the man close as Trowa whispered something inaudible in Jade's ear. Eventually Jade relaxed, although the papers were still crushed against his chest. Trowa glanced over at Heero, his meaning clear.

"That's not what those are for, at all," Heero said. "These are three candidates... three people, one of whom will undergo a test procedure to free them... from their training."

"Free them?" Jade frowned, and buried his nose in Trowa's neck, his voice muffled. "That's not possible."

"There are some doctors who think it is," Trowa said gently, his hand never stopping its motion along Jade's arm. "But before they do that, they wanted to know if you know any of the three." He dropped his voice to a mere whisper, his lips against Jade's forehead. "Do you?"

Jade was quiet for a moment, then nodded, hesitant, as he peeled the papers from his chest and carefully thumbed through them. "Amber... she's nice. Not very smart... her Trainer had to tell her things three, four times." Jade shrugged, raising one shoulder and dropping it in a dismissive gesture. "Trainer said she might not be able to hear very well."

Trowa took the sheet and handed it to Heero, who glanced over the information, only momentarily stopping on the picture of a young girl, probably in her early adolescence. Jade studied the next sheet for a minute, and sighed.

"That's Tiger. He only took orders from his Trainer," Jade said, scowling. "He was all uppity." He dropped the paper on the sofa as though it burned his fingers. "He talked too much, too, in the rooms. He frightened some of the other pets. They made him go away after awhile, but I don't know what happened after that. I think he was just really scared, though. I heard him crying in his sleep a few times... "

Heero raised his eyebrows, wondering what Wufei had said he'd like in a slave, if such a wide variance had been suggested.

"This is Pearl." A sweet smile flashed across Jade's face. "She was brand new when I left... but she seemed so... " He waved one hand, his brow furrowed, and shook his head. "Lost. She had this line just above her nose, like she was thinking of something. At night she would whisper in her sleep." Jade rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Some of the other pets said she'd never be sold. She couldn't read," Jade explained, his eyes sad. "And she daydreamed... always... " He shook his head and dropped the last papers, wrapping his arms around Trowa's neck and burying his face against Trowa's shoulder.

"Jade," Heero said, clearing his throat a little. "Which do you think is the strongest? Physically?"

Trowa hugged Jade closely, then patted Jade's bare shoulder. Gradually Jade unwound his arms enough to stare at Heero, a challenge in his eyes.

"Tiger talks a lot, but he was scared," Jade said. His body tensed defensively. "And Amber and Pearl meant no one any harm." He was silent for a moment. "None of them are strong... not really. This... procedure... is it going to be hard? Will it hurt them?"

"Possibly," Trowa admitted. His arms tightened around Jade.

"I don't want them to be hurt," Jade replied, pushing a little at Trowa's arms. "They're just kids, and they hadn't even been through the---"

"Through what," Heero pressed. Jade squirmed in Trowa's arms, and glowered under his brows at Heero. "What hadn't they been through?"

"The last of the training," Jade whispered. "To prepare them for... " He made a face. "Well, they probably have, by now."

Heero glanced at Trowa, who cut his eyes at the sheets, and Heero nodded.

"Jade," Trowa said, smoothing down Jade's hair with a gentle touch. "Which one do you think would be... " He paused, frowning slightly. "Were any of them... did any of them seem like someone who could handle challenges?"

"New things frightened Amber," Jade said, his tone low and thoughtful. "Tiger would do anything his Trainer said, without hesitation. His Trainer... " A tremor ran through Jade's body. "His Trainer was cruel, I heard. And Pearl... she would cry, and hide, if she did something wrong." He shook his head and pushed away from Trowa, clambering off to grab the papers.

Before Heero could react, Jade had crawled over the low table, knocking several books to the floor, and had thrust the papers into the fire. Heero immediately came to his feet, Trowa beside him. Jade turned to face them.

"I'll do these stupid tests," Jade announced. "There's no way I'm letting any more sadistic asswipes hurt the other pets."

"NO!" Trowa's shout was instantaneous.

Jade recoiled, then brought himself upright again, glaring at Trowa with narrowed eyes. "You want someone to test something on, use me. It's no worse than anything else! Not like it's anything new!"

"Jade," Heero barked, stepping forward. "You are not going to be the test subject."

"Why not?"

"It's not acceptable. You're staying here, where you're safe---"

"So you'll throw one of those kids into it? Someone's going to poke them and prod them, when all they want is a good Master who'll love them?" Jade shook his head. "You're saying they'll be free, at the end. I'm not going to do that to them, abandon them with no Master to take care of them. Fuck you!"

"If you're not going to pick one, then we will," Trowa snapped. "But if you knew them---"

"Admit it!" Jade's face was red with fury, and his fists were clenched. "You just want one more person to love and cast aside! I'll do the tests, cause if someone's going to be abandoned, I'd rather it be me!"

"Jade," Trowa breathed, his eyes wide.

"Not like it's anything that hasn't already happened," Jade cried. "Trainer left me with promises of my Master, and y'know what? You aren't the real one!"

Heero raised his hand, but dropped it as Jade stepped backwards, his eyes fixed on Trowa.

"You're not, you're just someone who stole me," Jade spat, his voice dropping to a low baritone that vibrated with barely-suppressed anger and hurt. "And then when you couldn't take it any more, you just *pawned me off*."

"No!" Trowa's face was creased in pain.

"It's true! You don't want me. You've just been waiting for the right moment to get yourself something you could love. It's all a joke. It's not a test, is it? It's not anything that will fix anyone, is it?" Jade's eyes were wild and unfocused, and his entire body was shaking. "It's just your sick way of making me help you replace me. You lied! You *lied* to me! You don't love me!"

"Jade!" Heero stepped forwards, unable to listen any longer.

"It's true! I know it's true! If you loved me, you'd show it, and you'd let *me* love *you*, too!" Tears began pouring down Jade's face, hanging in glittering drops off his chin. "But you've only let me show you just that once, and won't---"

"Jade," Trowa said, his voice cracking, and before Heero knew it, Trowa was around the table and enfolding Jade in his arms. The longhaired man froze, starting to pull back. Trowa didn't release him, and with a sob, Jade wrapped his arms around Trowa's waist, clinging tightly.

Heero was too stunned to react. All he could see were the tears caught in Trowa's eyelashes as the auburn-haired man bent over Jade. After a minute, Heero sighed, swiftly leaving the room on silent feet, heading into the study. Une was expecting an answer, and if Jade wouldn't provide one, Heero would have to, instead.


The information was quickly decrypted, and Heero reviewed the files carefully before selecting Pearl as the best candidate. Her tendency to daydream indicated that there might be gaps in the memory revision process. At least, Heero hoped that's what it meant, as opposed to permanent brain damage from the drug therapy and psychological manipulation. Frankly, he told himself, none of the three seemed like a suitable candidate for a risky procedure. And if he were considering it objectively, a history as a Gundam pilot indicated a definite mental resilience that few other victims might have. Heero pushed the thought away, angry for even remotely thinking of perpetrating yet another travesty upon his best friend. He hit send, and watched the email upload.

Leaning back, he clicked the laptop off and shut the lid down. Instead of getting up right away, he remained where he was, staring into the dark corners of the room, where the bolts were still attached to the walls. Heero twisted to see more clearly, and leaned over, clicking off the lamp. The room settled into darkness, the thin streaks of moonlight unhampered by curtains. The metal rings glimmered in the corner. The image of Trowa embracing Jade came back to him, and he swore under his breath. For a moment there, he'd wanted to push Trowa out of the way...

It had been two weeks since that day he'd punched Jade in fury, and Heero still hadn't explained the circumstances to Trowa. Several times, he'd opened his mouth, but different words came out, and nothing he'd meant to say. Heero leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he buried his face in his hands.

I wanted it, he thought, cringing mentally at the bald-faced statement. I wanted my best friend... to touch me, and I wanted to touch him back. I wanted it.

Heero raised his head, leaving his fingers pressed against his mouth as he studied the moonlit room.

I told Trowa I could handle it. I told him, and I told myself, that I was acting in Jade's best interest. But that, Heero thought bitterly, was before Jade began speaking. When Jade was vulnerable, so desperately wanting, needing... . Heero closed his eyes. Jade still desperately wants, but Heero knew he couldn't tell anymore what it was Jade truly desired. Jade was going to speak of Heero's weakness that day, Heero knew, but Trowa's abrupt announcement left Jade so stunned, the words never came. Heero had been certain Jade was about to drive the wedge of Heero's guilt right into Trowa's heart.

Perhaps if Jade had said something, Heero thought, and his breath hitched. Or if I had... at least then it would have been out in the open, but now... it's been so many days, how can I bring it up now? But how can I continue to pretend it's not there?

The last two weeks, Jade had chattered and smiled around Heero, being nothing more than friendly. At times, Heero could almost believe it was Duo again, but then Jade's eyes would go momentarily cold. Heero would be left unable to breathe, knowing all too well that the man in front of him was not truly and completely Maxwell, but a shadow.

Jade is Maxwell, Heero thought, somewhere inside. There are too many things, and not just the scars. Perhaps if there were a technology - and Heero doubted it strongly - that could clone an adult from another adult, then scars might be part of the appearance. Scars, after all, were a mutation in genetic code where the healing skin's DNA was altered into a new shape, and new growing skin would ever after carry the remains of the wound. But Jade had shown an aptitude with mechanical systems in ways that it was unlikely a household slave would have been taught. And he'd excelled at and mastered the two videogames with an ease that spoke of access to Maxwell's talents. The braid, too, was most likely Maxwell's, and used on Maxwell as part of the torture that probably was what broke him in the end.

Heero sighed and dropped his hands, letting his head hang down. Jade is broken, he thought, his mind dull. And I can't fix him, and each time I think I could, I find I can only think of wrapping my arms around him, and kissing him. Running my hands down his body, feeling his lips on my skin, one more time, as though touching him would be enough to bring him back. As though if I could just touch him *deeply* enough, inside his soul, he would be my friend again. Heero stood up, shoving the chair away from him, and began to pace the small room.

Forbidden fruit, he snarled. He stopped to stare out the window, watching the shadows of the tree branches dance across the pristine snow by the barn. Maxwell always said I had a curiosity to rival his, if I'd just admit to it, but I never expected to see it come out like this. But, Heero knew, tasting the forbidden fruit does not make the hunger lessen. He'd learned that one well enough, having tasted the chance to make his own decisions in the wake of his self-destruction. It was Trowa who had pointed out that he was free, believed dead, and had the option to walk away. He hadn't, he couldn't, but he retained that feeling of freedom. He hadn't expected to survive the war, unlike Maxwell, but Heero had clung to the hope, secretly nourished, that one day that freedom would be his, permanently. He'd had a month of following his own instincts and emotions, around Europe, with Trowa. Having been there, he couldn't go back to ignorance.

He sighed and turned to lean against the wall, crossing his arms as he dropped his chin to his chest. I should tell Trowa, he thought. I should tell them both. I won't touch Jade. Jade is a friend. I won't take advantage of him; I did it twice already. But, some wicked part of Heero's brain replied: when you touched him, he could not defend himself. Now that he can, you have second thoughts and pull away? What kind of a friend is that? He wanted you, and you rejected him.

What kind of a friend would hide such attraction? Maxwell was honest with me, years ago, and I can't do the same for him. Heero frowned at himself, and kicked out one foot, sliding his bare foot along the wooden floor. What kind of a friend would nurture such attraction?

I will be a better friend, he promised himself. I will be a better lover, he added. Trowa matters too much, and Heero knew in every fiber of his being that he didn't want to lose his lover. But, he pleaded with himself, how do I know what to do? What did it mean, that Jade tried to touch me, asked me to touch him in return? Is Jade acting purely out of a belief that he should be attracted to me, sexually involved with me, if I am his Master? Is it only an obligation? Or is there something more?

Heero groaned softly, knowing his thoughts were muddled. He was too tired and worn-down, and too frustrated at the knowledge that there was little he could actually do. He shook his head and bent down by one of the hooks, grunting as it reluctantly twisted in his fingers. If there was just something I could do, he complained silently, setting the first hook down by his side and starting on a second one. I could let Jade have what he wants, and make him happy. He's still my friend, somewhere inside him, and *his* happiness has always been more important to me than my own. Heero wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and set down the second bolt, his brow wrinkling with the effort of getting the third one to begin turning. But now, Trowa's happiness is also more important than my own, and I can't have both.

I can't make them both happy, Heero realized, and his fingers fell from the bolt, lax, as the realization swept over him. If one is content, the other will be hurt.

He leaned forward, his hands flat on the wooden floor, and hung his head. For the first time, he dared to think of the future.

When Maxwell returns... not if, when, he insisted belligerently, we will return to our lives. I will find another small apartment that holds only the bare minimum needed, and Trowa will find another artist's studio where the ceilings are high and the windows are large. And Maxwell... Duo, he corrected himself, will go back to his life split between the Sweepers and irregular Preventer missions, spending most of his hours off-planet in the cockpit of a transport shuttle. Heero sighed, closing his eyes.

I'll miss this, and the thought made him smile sadly. I'll miss waking up every morning to Trowa's face... and I'll miss tripping over Jade's out-flung arm as I head downstairs. I'll miss seeing them both at every meal. I'll miss Jade's caustic remarks and teasing, and I'll miss Trowa's contented smiles when we finish another project. I'll miss Trowa's body against mine, in the night, and Jade's hand in mine as we hike.

It dawned on Heero that he could no longer figure out where his relationship with Trowa ended, and his friendship with Duo began. Somehow, the three were now one entity, even if they acted and moved through the day as sets of two, with one separate. It wasn't a bad separation, Heero decided. It was a peaceful thing, many times. There was no guilt in knowing Trowa was with Jade, because Trowa loved Jade, too, and Heero could be separate as he needed, without abandoning Trowa.

I cannot let myself feel this way, Heero thought, slowly pushing himself up from the floor. The balance is fragile. I told Trowa I was willing to touch Jade, to bring him to climax, because it was Jade's need driving me, and not my own inclinations. If I admit now that Jade's touch... no, he whispered silently. That would break everything in a single heartbeat. No. I am not attracted to my friend. Not then, not now.

He stood up, stretching for a second before leaving the study to find the living room dark. If I speak the wrong word, Trowa will lose his balance, too. He sought strength in me to help Jade; I can't betray him now by letting him think my actions were for any reason other than Jade's pleasure. It wasn't for mine. I have to keep the balance. Wanting Jade... wanting Maxwell, he corrected, is not acceptable. If I truly want both in my life, that's just the way it has to be.

Sighing, he headed into the living room, turning the flames down on the hurricane lamps and heading upstairs in darkness. Passing Jade's bed, he frowned to see it was empty. Heero crept closer to his own bed, his eyes adjusting to the loft's midnight gloom. Trowa was on his side, one arm thrown over a second shape, curled up against Trowa's chest. Heero sighed and stared down at the two people he loved the most, reluctantly stripping off his clothes and crawling into a pair of sweatpants before getting under the covers. After a second, Trowa shifted in his sleep, flipping to his back and draping his hand over Heero's hip. Heero lay on his side, staring into the room's darkness, too aware of the warmth against his body, and the sounds of three people breathing.


Two days passed, and there was no word from Wufei or Quatre. Heero continued to practice his forms in the completed barn, and Trowa suggested a punching bag. They made plans on to order one from the sporting goods store in town. The second afternoon, all three gathered in the barn while Trowa exercised, doing handstands and flips that made Jade laugh and clap his hands. Heero smiled and nodded as Trowa showed off, but most of his mind was occupied with the sensation of Jade pressing up against him, and the sly sideways looks Jade would throw his way. He did his best to ignore everything but Trowa's movements.


Tomorrow will be one week from the auction, Heero told himself, tossing laundry into the basket without sorting. No word from Wufei, and no word from Quatre. Trowa had emailed Quatre on Friday, and still not gotten a response. Heero could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand up from just thinking about the silence. It wasn't like the other pilots to not keep in touch, even in the midst of a high-pressure case.

Especially in the midst of a high-pressure case, Heero thought.

There was a tread on the steps behind him, which Heero recognized as Trowa. He didn't pause in his work, stuffing the last of the clothes into the bag before beginning to strip the sheets. Trowa moved around the bed to slip the pillows from the pillowcases, and tossed them onto the pile of sheets.

"He still wants to be the one to do the tests," Trowa said.

Heero froze in the act of shoving the sheets into a second laundry bag. He shook his head, pushing the last of the laundry in and pulling the drawstring tight.

"I think he believes he'll prove there's nothing to be fixed."

"What?" Heero looked up at that, frowning. "It's out of the question."

"I told him that."

Trowa picked up one of the bags and followed Heero down the stairs. Jade was sitting on the sofa, curled up with one of the books, and didn't look up as they left the house. Outside, they threw the bags in the trunk and Heero shut it. Trowa pushed his hands into his pockets and stared down at his feet for several seconds, and Heero waited. After a minute, Trowa exhaled noisily upwards, making his bangs fly out of his face, and shrugged. Heero crossed his arms, leaning against the Jeep, and ignoring the fact that he hadn't grabbed a coat before walking outside.

"Talk to me, Trowa," he said.

"I... " Trowa pursed his lips, his eyes studying the tree line. He gave Heero a rueful glance and shook his head. "Never mind."

"Never---" Heero's tone was incredulous. "You insisted I talk to you. Now it's your turn."

"Jade... " Trowa was silent, an intent look on his face that said: I am choosing my words carefully. "There's something going on. He's planning something."


Trowa shrugged.

"There's got to be something to make you think that."

"It's the way he watches you." Trowa ducked his head, the sheaf of auburn hair falling his face. "I think... it's time we talk to him, about before." His lips twisted, a little, and Heero nodded, understanding the implication immediately. "I think... he's attracted to you."

Heero managed to keep his eyes from widening only by sheer willpower, and inhaled slowly through his nose, the cold cutting the back of his throat. He studied Trowa's forest-green eyes, and the reflection those eyes held of the glittering white world around them.

"No," Heero finally said, his voice steady. "No."

"We... " Trowa whispered, his fixed on Heero. "I allowed him to touch me, and never reciprocated. You touched him, and never allowed him to reciprocate. I think he's feeling the unfairness of that."

"That was---"

"But we still need to discuss it with him."

Heero nodded, a little begrudgingly, and glanced at the sky. Mid-day, and it would be dark by the time he got back, he estimated. "I need to do that. We can sit down and talk about it when I get back, all three of us."

Trowa made a pleased noise in the back of his throat, a smile flitting across his face. "If you can come up with some way to convince him he's Maxwell, too... " He shrugged, and stepped back, kicking at the snow with one boot.

"If I can... " Heero's eyes narrowed, and he pushed away from the Jeep. "I should've done this before," he muttered, catching sight of Trowa's surprised expression before he threw the door open with a bang.

Jade looked up from the sofa with a guilty expression and jumped up, dropping the book on the floor. "Masters?" The question came out as a squeak, and Jade backed up as Heero came around the sofa, a manic grin on his face. "Master," Jade repeated, his eyes wide. "Is---"

"You're Duo Maxwell."

Jade winced, and stumbled backwards. The surprised expression became a glare. "You don't know that for---"

"Duo Maxwell," Heero repeated.

"Stop that," Jade muttered, his legs almost giving out. He caught himself, and pulled upright with a hiss. "Bastard."

"Duo Maxwell."

"Fuck," Jade cried. He was beginning to shake, and he backed up until his lower back was against the table by the wall. Jade cast a desperate look at Trowa, and then back to Heero. "You fuckin' asshole."

Heero shrugged. "You're Duo Maxwell."

"Stop that!" Jade shook his head, clutching his sides as he slowly crumpled to the ground. "Don't, please, please---"

"Then tell me one thing," Heero said, canting his head at the form huddled against the wall. He stepped forward, bending down on one knee to whisper in Jade's ear. "Why would a clone be trained to recoil at the sound of someone else's name?"

"Obviously so I'd always remember that I'm not the real one," Jade spat, his eyes flashing. Tears were caught in his lashes, and he backed up until he was nearly hidden under the table. "Damn you, fuckin' sadistic mindscrews. Trainer, you, other Master, everyone! Just fuckin' with me... cause I'll never be important like him. I'll *always* be second-best."

Heero watched as Jade crawled further under the small table, and stood up, bowing his head for several seconds. Finally he took a deep breath, and managed a smile, if a small, somewhat bitter one. There was nothing he could say; his own decision several days before meant Jade was right, even if not in the way Jade intended. Heero turned and strode past Trowa without looking up. He grabbed his coat, took a deep breath, and left the house.


End Part 24

On to Chapter twenty-five

Back to chapter twenty-three

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