Has broken the stem of mallow.
--- Shiki Masaoka
The cell phone rang, and he dug it out of his bag, wet droplets
from his hair scattering across the bed. "Barton," he said, already
digging with the other hand for a clean pair of jeans.
Trowa blinked, surprised. That wasn't the greeting he'd expected.
"Home. Just got in half-hour ago."
There was a pause, and Heero's voice came back, a little softer.
"Safe, but long." Trowa snorted. "Hold on."
Dropping the phone, he pulled a shirt over his head, and picked the phone
back up. "Everything okay?"
"No... " Trowa drew out the response, suspicious.
"Good." Heero's tone was clipped. "Pack some jeans
and shirts, then go by my place and get my Jeep. I'll also need you to grab
my traveling bag from the closet. And bring an extra set of sweatpants and
sweatshirt. They should be in the bottom drawer of my dresser. I'm in the
Elmsford district. Call me when you leave my place and I'll have exact directions.
Bring your hiking boots, too."
"What's going on?"
There was a longer pause, and Trowa checked to make sure they hadn't
been disconnected. Finally Heero sighed, and when he spoke again, his voice
sounded very far away.
"I don't... want to discuss it over the phone. Just get here,
as soon as you can."
Trowa pulled up in front of the imposing old brownstone an hour
later. Sighing, he pushed his still-damp hair out of his eyes. He hadn't packed
that fast in years, and he was still exhausted from the shuttle trip back
from L3. Checking for his Preventers badge and grabbing the small backpack,
he dashed up the steps. The door opened before he even had a chance to knock.
"Agent Barton," Une said. She smiled, but her eyes were
weary. "Thanks for getting here so quickly."
He nodded and stepped into the entryway, a little boggled by the
gilded large mirrors and the massive chandelier overhead. The floor was black
and white marble, and Une's low heels clicked ominously as she led the way
to the front parlor. An older woman sat there, her elegant suit and fine pearls
perfectly in keeping with the ornate interior.
"Agent Barton, this is Marquise Thibaud," Une said, but
the older woman didn't say anything, so Trowa only nodded. Une picked up a
small black leather case. It was the size of a large book, and zipped along
the edges. "Did you bring the clothes with you?"
"Yes, ma'am," Trowa told her, turning so she could see
the small backpack slung over his shoulder.
"This is everything we've found," she told him, handing
him the leather case. He was a little surprised to find it was heavier than
he expected, and he gave Une a puzzled look. She sighed and dropped her eyes.
"That's ... all the paperwork we've located. I've looked through it,
and I think you may need it."
"Need it?" Trowa struggled to find his voice. "May
I ask the situation?"
"Yuy didn't tell you?"
He shook his head, and Une made a face. Reluctantly, she took the
case from him and unzipped it. "This," she said quietly, "is
Trowa watched, confused, as she handed him a piece of paper. Slowly
dragging his eyes from her haunted expression, he glanced down. It appeared
to be a bill of sale, and he stared at it for a second, taking it in. Seller's
address: L2. Buyer's address: Elmsford, Sanq. Item: Jade. Price: 750,000 credits.
Trowa glanced up at Une.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before speaking. "Look
at the attachment."
He realized there were two pages, and flipped the bill of sale back
to look at the sheet attached. It was a list of particulars about the item
sold, but his attention was caught by a three-inch square image at the top
right of the sheet. It was a photograph. Trowa stared, feeling the room shift
around him. He blinked, realizing belatedly that Une had taken the sheet from
his shaking fingers.
"Upstairs," she said quietly. "Second door on the
left." The young man spun on his heel and was gone instantly, his tread
heavy on the stairs as she ran. Sighing, Une stared down at the picture, and
did her best not to cry as she returned the papers to the leather case.
"Are you sure they can do this?" The older woman finally
spoke, her cultured accent foreign to Une's ears.
"If anyone can, they can," Une replied, then laughed bitterly.
"Besides, if I asked anyone else, the rest of them would kill me without
Trowa came to a halt outside the bedroom door, and tentatively pushed
the door open. He was stunned to see the room was ransacked completely, papers
and clothes everywhere. It took several seconds for the chaos to resolve long
enough for him to identify a large four-poster bed in one corner, a large
desk on the opposite wall, and a small seating area in front of a fireplace.
The single room was probably the size of his entire apartment, he thought,
his gaze traveling across the mess before coming to rest on Heero.
"Heero?" Trowa strode over, dropping to his knees next
to the man in the middle of the room, kneeling on the floor. Heero was hunched
over, his hands on his knees, his head hanging down. "Heero," Trowa
The dark-haired Preventer raised his head, and the same haunted
look was in his eyes that Trowa had seen in Une's. Heero opened his mouth,
made no sound, and closed it with an audible snap. Slowly Heero closed his
eyes, letting his head drop. "He's... in there," he whispered.
Trowa dropped the bag, staggering to his feet. There was a door,
a little ajar, opposite Heero. Trowa felt like he was swimming through molten
glass, and every step alternately throbbed and sliced him, until he was close
enough to push the door open. He was staring into a little room, lit by a
small window high up in the wall. Letting his eyes adjust, he could only gape
at what he saw.
A cage, like the shuttles used for transporting large dogs.
The tall Preventer put a hand on the doorframe, instinctively seeking
something to hold him up as his knees sagged.
There was someone in the cage, and it wasn't a dog.
Distant memories came flooding back to Trowa, and he nearly gagged.
Shoving one hand over his mouth, he stumbled forward, falling to his knees
in front of the cage. The damn thing was nearly three feet tall, by three
feet wide, with only enough room for the naked man inside it to be curled
in a fetal position. The naked body was resting on a deep blue pillow, and
it was only once Trowa noticed the chestnut hair streaming across the man's
shoulders that the reality was driven home.
Trowa was on his feet in an instant, and out of the room.
"Bathroom," he managed to gasp, and Heero pointed. Trowa
tore the door open, fell to his knees, and vomited his last meal. Gasping
as he flushed the toilet, he stood on shaky legs, scrabbling at the toothpaste
on the bathroom counter. Scrubbing at his teeth with a finger covered with
toothpaste, he gargled and spit, then drank more water. He stared at his reflection
for several seconds, taking in the way his green eyes looked preternaturally
bright from the shock, the pupils large enough to make the iris thin threads
of green. His auburn hair was hanging in his face, past his nose, and he twitched
his head to get it out of his eyes as he returned to the bedroom.
"Heero," he said, his voice a little more controlled.
"Go get that pack of papers from Une. What we need is probably in there."
He waited until Heero nodded, uncurling himself from his crouch on the floor.
Trowa sighed as the door shut behind Heero, and picked up the bag, returning
to the small room.
When Heero returned, Trowa had managed to undo the cage door's mechanism.
It was an intricate design but not a difficult one, and he puzzled absently
over the fact that Duo normally could slip out of such a cage without breaking
a sweat. In fact, he thought distantly, Duo would laugh himself silly over
the notion of anyone thinking such a lock could hold him. Trowa pushed the
thought away and focused on waking the sleeping man.
"Duo," he called softly, surprised to see the young body
flinch as though it had been hit. "Duo," he called again, testing,
and frowned when he saw the body shiver a second time. "Come out of there,
please," he ordered gently.
Slowly the body uncurled, the hands clenching at the pillow before
the head came up. The eyes were lowered, and Trowa was amazed at the sleepy
grace the naked man showed as he crawled from the cage. The young man yawned
a little, then immediately cringed.
"Shh, it's okay," Trowa told him. "Duo?"
The young man flinched, even worse this time, and began trembling.
Trowa crouched down on his heels, his elbows resting on his knees as he watched
Duo sit upright in a peculiar pose. The young man knelt before Trowa, his
knees shoulder-width apart, his chest pushed out slightly, his hands behind
his back, and his chin down. There was a silver collar around his neck, with
a large thumb pad in the middle, like a pendant. Trowa glanced down to see
a silver band around the base of Duo's cock, and decided to leave that until
"Look at me," Trowa said. The other man's head didn't
move, and Trowa reached out, taking Duo by the chin. As he raised the head,
the eyes remained lowered, and Trowa frowned. There were footsteps behind
him, and Heero returned, thrusting the black leather case at him. "Thanks,"
Trowa said over his shoulder. Quickly he laid the case out on the floor, unzipping
it and sorting through the papers.
"What are you looking for?" Heero's puzzled voice came
from behind him, and Trowa was startled that Heero hadn't retreated again.
"Starting orders," Trowa replied curtly. "They should
be in here somewhere."
"What?" There was a pause, while Heero digested Trowa's
words. "How do you know about this?"
"When I was twelve... " The taller Preventer scanned several
sheets quickly and set them aside for reading later. "We were hired to
break up a slave ring that had kidnapped a number of teenagers. All I remember
was that the ... victims ... had something called starting orders. I'm not
sure what those are, but they're important. The Captain sent me back to camp
once we were done, so I didn't get to see much." Trowa nodded in satisfaction,
picking up a sheet and glancing over it quickly. "Here." Clearing
his throat, he glanced at the unmoving figure in front of him. "When
the moon rises over the low hills, there are too many stars to count."
"Poetic," Heero observed dryly.
"His name is Jade," Trowa said, still reading. There was
a movement in front of him, and he looked up to see Duo quivering. "Jade?"
The young man's expression seemed to grow even more pleased despite
his downcast eyes, and his body was tensed, seeming to arch towards Trowa
without moving. Every muscle strained, giving the appearance of an extreme
attentiveness to the words spoken. Trowa glanced down at the paper, noting
the variety of basic commands. Committing several of the shorter ones to memory,
he shuffled the papers back into the case and zipped it up.
"Take that, and please bring me the backpack," he told
Heero. "Let's get him dressed. Are we taking him to your place? And have
you called the others?"
"No," Heero replied, his voice distant as he retrieved
the backpack. "And no, I didn't want to call anyone. I ... don't know
why, I just don't," he added, his voice forlorn.
Trowa took a second to stand, turning to embrace Heero unexpectedly,
and wasn't surprised when the Japanese man clutched at him tightly. "Shh,"
Trowa murmured into Heero's ear. "We'll take care of this. I'm here,
"Thank you," Heero mumbled, finally releasing Trowa. "I
don't think ... I can do this, alone." He dropped his eyes as he backed
up, and Trowa knew how much it had taken out of his friend to admit that.
"I understand," Trowa replied softly, squeezing Heero's
hand tightly before crouching again in front of Duo. Now that the shock was
over, he was noticing several other details. There were scars, from the war,
littering Duo's body, and he clinically deduced that this had probably bought
the buying price down several notches. Suddenly furious at himself, he pushed
the thought away and focused on the strange metal collar encircling Duo's
neck. He contemplated it for several seconds before remembering the curious
command listed on the sheet. "Unlock, Jade," he said, and waited
to see what would happen.
Slowly Duo's hand came up, and pressed a thumb against the pad.
The collar whirred gently, and unhinged with a quiet snap. Trowa nodded, and
leaned forward, opening the collar wide enough to remove it from around Duo's
neck. Before he could throw it away, Duo's hand caught at it, clutching the
"Duo?" Trowa frowned, both at the young man's reaction,
and the flinch, followed by trembling. It's like he hurts, every time I call
his name, Trowa thought. Sitting back on his heels, he released the collar,
saddened to see Duo retain his hold on the collar, clutching it to his chest
like a security item. "He's Jade, Heero."
"Jade, call him Jade."
"He's not Jade," Heero hissed. "He's Duo... he's
just injured. He's in shock."
"Heero," Trowa snapped. "Stop saying that name. It
hurts him. Call him Jade."
There was no answer, and then Heero sighed deeply, acknowledging
"Jade," Trowa said then, his tone softer. "Put that
down, and put on these clothes." He dug out the sweatpants and sweatshirt,
and the young man's hands hesitated, and then dropped the collar. Tentatively,
Duo unfolded the clothes, never standing as he pulled each item on. There
was a sound of chiming bells, and Trowa realized there were two more metal
shackles, around Duo's ankles, with myriad small bells attached. He caught
Duo's ankle for a second, studying the shackle, and realized the anklets were
solid metal, soldered into one piece. Duo froze as he was touched, and keened
softly under his breath as Trowa released him. "Finish getting dressed,"
A minute later, Duo was dressed and had returned to his original
position. Trowa stood, regarding him silently. Heero waited, in the doorway,
the leather case in his hands, anger and hurt warring on his features as he
watched the longhaired man, his best friend, reach for the collar again, holding
Trowa contemplated the action, and came to a decision. "Heero,
did you see any ribbons, or cord, somewhere in the bedroom?" He glanced
up to meet the other man's blue eyes. "That was your work in the bedroom,
"Yes," Heero said, not quite meeting Trowa's eyes. "I
was ... mad. And no ... I didn't see anything like a cord, or rope."
"I figured you were a bit upset," Trowa replied. "Go
rip up a corner of the sheets, and bring me a strip. About an inch wide, I'd
guess. I think the Marquise can replace a set of sheets."
Heero frowned, puzzled, but nodded. Trowa could hear a ripping sound,
and a second later Heero had brought him a deep blue strip of bed sheet. Kneeling,
Trowa tied it neatly around Duo's neck, sorrow filling him as Duo immediately
relaxed and nuzzled his hands in silent gratitude.
"Stand up, Jade, we're leaving," Trowa told the silent
young man. The tall Preventer glanced around the small room, and his eyes
fell on a trunk sitting against the wall. "What does that say?"
Heero stepped forward, squinting at the characters carved into the
wooden chest's surface. "I think it's the kanji for jade."
"Bring that, too," Trowa said. Bending down, he pulled
the blue pillow from the cage and handed it to Duo, who was standing with
his head down. "Carry this, Jade," he said. Behind Duo, Heero hefted
the trunk with a grunt, and led the way from the bedroom. Trowa grabbed the
leather case and the empty backpack. "Come on, Jade, we're going home."
Duo didn't respond or nod, but stepped forward, waiting. Trowa sighed and
led the way from the little room.
There was shouting in the front parlor as they came down the stairs.
A man was standing in the entryway, glaring at the older woman. His left wrist
was in a cast, and there was a bandage on his forehead, but his dark suit
was neatly pressed. "Mother, how dare you come into my house and steal
from me! Of all the damn nerve!"
Heero set down the trunk on the bottom stairs, moving a little to
the side. Trowa automatically stepped up alongside the shorter man, aware
that they were now blocking Duo from the stranger's view, who Trowa guessed
to be in his late thirties. Behind them, Duo moved forward, shuffling until
he was close to Trowa but still not touching.
"Vincent," the older woman snapped. "Watch your language.
I made you, and I can break you, and I certainly won't allow a child of mine
to participate in trafficking in human souls." She pulled herself up
to her full height, which Trowa noted was probably equal with his own, and
gave Vincent a glare to match Heero's current expression. "If it weren't
for your older brother's engagement, I'd have no problem turning you over
to the authorities without a second thought."
The man barked a laugh. "Of course, always Michael. God damn
it, Mother, I didn't do anything illegal. This was an consensual agreement!"
Trowa heard a click, and the next thing he knew, Heero's gun was
out and aimed directly for Vincent's head. "This," Heero intoned
coldly, "was not consensual. Say it again, and I will kill you."
The man froze, studied Heero, and slowly relaxed, laughing brazenly.
"You wouldn't dare."
Heero flipped off the safety. "I would, and I'd lose no sleep
Une's voice rang out. "Agent Yuy, back down."
Heero didn't move.
"Yuy!" Une stepped into the entryway, her hands on her
With a parting glare at Vincent, Heero lowered the gun and shoved
it back into the holster at the back of his jeans. Hefting the trunk again,
he strode past Vincent without another glance.
"Knew he couldn't do it," Vincent jeered as the front
door shut behind Heero.
"If he had, I would not have stopped him," the Marquise
replied. "I'm halfway tempted to do it myself."
Trowa didn't stick around to hear the rest, but led Duo down the
stairs. Keeping himself between Vincent and the longhaired young man, Trowa
didn't glance back as they left the house.
Neither Heero nor Trowa said anything until they had the trunk and
the blue pillow stowed in the back of the Jeep Cherokee. Trowa gave Heero
the keys, and opened the door for Duo, who obediently climbed into the backseat.
Trowa paused, frowning, and pulled the seatbelt down, buckling Duo in. Then
he climbed into the front passenger's seat, leaning back with an exhausted
"You didn't want to take him to your place?" Trowa rubbed
his forehead and watched the street as Heero pulled away from the curb.
"No," Heero said. "Une's given us both leave for
"Six months?" Trowa nearly barked the response. "I
don't have that much sick leave and vacation time, together!"
"It's paid," Heero replied, his face set in stern lines.
"We'll be on injured status, along with Duo."
"Jade," Trowa automatically corrected, hearing a whimper
from the backseat.
Heero grunted, then glanced at the leather case sitting on the floor
at Trowa's feet. His voice was toneless, and weary. "There should be
directions in there, in the back, for where we're going. Une's family has
a cabin in the mountains, and she's sending us there. She suggested isolation
might be helpful, rather than throwing ... Jade ... into circumstances that
he's not prepared to deal with, right now."
"I see." Trowa flipped through the case, finding Une's
neatly written directions on a sheet at the back. Scanning them, he whistled
under his breath. "This is four hours from here."
Heero nodded. "I'm fine to drive. Go to sleep, and I'll wake
you in two hours. We'll stop for dinner somewhere."
"Jade," Trowa said then, "take a nap."
"What was that for?" Heero glanced over at Trowa before
checking over his shoulder, merging onto the highway.
"It's one of the commands. There's a list in that case."
Trowa twisted in the seat to see Duo curling up, his knees under his chin,
and his head tucked down. The chestnut-brown hair slid across the figure,
and Trowa realized the hair was only just past Duo's shoulders. "His
hair," Trowa breathed. "They cut off his braid ... "
"I should've killed that bastard," Heero hissed. His knuckles
were white on the steering wheel.
"Heero," Trowa said quietly. "What's going on? How
did ... " He let the sentence trail off, too tired to continue. Trowa
leaned his head back, watching his lover stare at the highway, his blue eyes
shifting minutely as he watched the heavy traffic around them. "Heero
... talk to me."
There was a strange sound, almost like a stifled sob, and Heero's
brows came down in an angry frown. "When I got there ... and saw him
... all I could think ... " He clenched the steering wheel tight enough
to warp the metal, and refused to look at Trowa.
Trowa sighed, closing his eyes. Six months ago, he'd been away on
an infiltration mission when a tip had come in that suggested street kids
on L2 were being kidnapped for the black market slave trade. Several businesses
had promised investment money on L2, if the high number of under-aged indigents
could be reduced. Two companies had stepped in, taking the donated funds and
promising to educate the kids and place them in homes. The tip had implied
that one of the companies was actually forcing the street kids into slavery.
Trowa would have taken the job with Heero acting as his contact, but the Farmington
Plant investigation wasn't going to be done for another month, and Une had
wanted someone on the L2 investigation immediately.
Heero had asked Duo, and the longhaired man had agreed on the condition
that he would run his own show, with only Heero as contact. Duo had never
been interested in working for Preventers, except when Heero or Quatre asked
him to for special missions that needed his skills. The longhaired man didn't
like taking orders and following protocol, Trowa recalled.
But a month after heading to L2, Duo had disappeared, and the company
had gone underground. Kids continued to disappear, but all their leads had
disappeared along with Duo. Heero continued to search diligently, digging
through every scrap of evidence, trying to find Duo. A month after that, a
shuttle from L2 to L3 exploded due to engine malfunctions. Seventeen people
had died, and Duo's name was on the roster. There was no other confirmation
that Duo was there, and security tapes of the shuttle bay did not show Duo
among the people boarding. As a result, he had been officially listed as missing
Trowa leaned against the headrest, and turned to watch his lover.
They'd been dating when Duo took the mission, but it wasn't until the news
of Duo's alleged death that Heero broke down and admitted needing Trowa as
more than a casual boyfriend. Trowa sighed, turning his head to stare out
at the trees and fields out the car window. Duo and Heero had been best friends
for years, and it was always Duo at Heero's side, when the man needed a confidant.
Seeing Duo like this, now... Trowa tilted the seat back a little, trying to
stretch out his legs.
"Talk to me, Yuy." Trowa's tone was harsher, turning the
coax into a command.
"Later," Heero replied curtly.
"Not later, now," Trowa snapped. "I just got off
a six-hour shuttle ride after three weeks of holding your ex-wife's hand,
and I find out our friend is still alive and... " He snapped his mouth
shut, unwilling to say more. After a second, he took a deep breath and slowly
exhaled. "Just give me the basic information. Don't leave me in the cold,
"Marquise Thibaud is Vincent and Michael Thibaud's mother,"
Heero replied, and Trowa blinked, realizing where he knew that name.
"Michael... Relena's fiancé?"
"The same." Heero's lip curled in a snarl. "I told
her I thought he wasn't good enough for her."
Trowa rolled his eyes. "Christ, Heero," he barked. "It's
been two years." Heero simply grunted, and Trowa took another deep breath,
trying to focus past his jet lag and empty stomach. "Just tell me what
happened," he finally said.
"Marquise Thibaud came to see Director Une this morning. When
Une recognized ... Jade, she called me into the meeting." Heero leaned
back in the seat, resting his right hand on the gearshift, absently running
the palm of his hand over the knob as he talked. "The Marquise's son
was in some sort of accident yesterday, and the Marquise went to his house
to get something for him at the hospital. She discovered ... Jade ... and
went directly to see Une. She promised to get her son to help the investigation,
in return for silence about her family's involvement."
Trowa snorted. "That asshole didn't look like he'd be willing
to help much, from what I saw."
"You didn't spend an hour listening to her deal with Une."
Heero nearly smiled, but the expression faded quickly. "She can be very
"Let's hope so." Trowa paused, as a new thought occurred
to him. He dug through the papers in the leather case, until he found several
he'd noticed before. Reading them several times, he shook his head as he packed
the case away. "Stop at the next exit. Let's get some food, and get Jade
to a bathroom. He'll need water, too."
"He won't go unless he's given permission," Trowa explained
Heero growled and slammed the palm of his hand against the steering
wheel. "What the hell did they do to him?"
"Everything, I imagine," came the sorrowful reply.
End Part 2
On to Chapter three
Back to Chapter One
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