Broken Jade

Part Nine: Deepening Purple

Trowa was vaguely relieved to see the silent young man hadn't panicked after Heero had left. He hoped the lack of a reaction meant Jade was slowly learning to trust that when they said they'd return, they would. The tall man watched his lover kneel by Jade's side, and followed Heero's lead, settling down at the head of the single bed as he mentally reviewed the evening's earlier findings. He wasn't sure what precisely he'd need to say or do, but he was certain there was something specific, in his role as Master. Trowa shook his head slightly, to clear his thoughts, and gave Heero a smile when the dark-haired man hesitated, seeing Trowa's action.

Heero nodded, swallowing hard as he drew the sheet back. Jade's eyelids flickered in the light of the single hurricane lamp, and his back twitched when Heero's hand came down gently upon his shoulder.

"Jade," the Japanese man whispered, "roll over so I can do the rest."

Jade hesitated, and then slowly rolled over. His less-than-graceful movements were clear indication his muscles ached from Heero's attentions. Watching the longhaired man settle his head back on the pillow, Trowa frowned at the realization that he was asking Heero to go into this alone. He glanced over at his lover, who was studying the body before him with a mixed expression. Trowa thought he identified a little bit of affection, and a great deal of discomfort.

"Heero... " He called gently, and jerked his head at Jade when Heero looked up. Seeing the other man nod, Trowa crossed his legs and inched forward, lifting Jade's head and shoulders up. "Jade, lift up," he instructed, and moved forward until Jade's head was resting in his lap. The silent man sighed, then, and his body relaxed as the air hissed between his lips.

Unfortunately, the relaxation ended the minute Heero put his oiled hands back on Jade's chest and began working at the muscles. Trowa could see the tension in Jade's jaw, unable to bite back the moans as muscles were persistently hammered into unknotting. Trowa smiled grimly and leaned over, dipping his own hands in the oil, and rubbing his palms together before lowering them. Running the oil smoothly across Jade's face, he studied the face he'd known for ten years, and wondered what Heero was thinking.

A quick glance at Heero's intent expression told him one thing was certain. Heero wasn't seeing anything, too focused on the muscles under his fingertips. Trowa watched Heero's movements, not needing his eyes to guide his fingers across Jade's temples, down to his jawline, around up his neck to massage behind his ears. Soft moans filled the air, punctuated by sharp hisses and whimpers as Heero touched on painful spots and dug in with his fingers. Trowa continued to focus on Jade's neck and the tops of his shoulders as Heero thoroughly worked across the front of Jade's arms, climbing to the other side of the bed and then back again. The dark-haired man returned his attention to Jade's abdomen, working his way past the ticklish spots with a deft touch.

You were fifteen and laughing, Trowa told Jade silently, a face on a screen until we stepped out of our Gundams at the realization we were allies... and that Heero had just killed the only people willing to work for peace. He sighed and glanced down at Jade's body, seeing Duo's energy superimposed on Jade's stillness. The young man's shoulders were narrower than Heero's, and not nearly as muscular. Duo was always the skinniest of us, Trowa thought, recalling the time he'd punched Duo in the lunar base prison. But you were the quickest, too, and he found himself smiling at the knowledge that only Duo would have caught on so quickly as to catch the schematics display unit so gracefully, or cover the exchange so skillfully.

Trowa's gaze moved down the slender arms, to the fingers clenching and unclenching against the towel as Heero worked on Jade's hips and sides. Those fingers seemed short and blunt, but they could fix anything, he mused, and would fly across keyboards and engines with the grace and speed of seagulls diving across water. The idea of water made Trowa pause, and he studied Jade's face, watching the thin line appearing and disappearing between the brows as Jade flinched every time Heero hit a difficult patch on the silent man's thighs.

You're a dolphin, Trowa thought, amused and saddened by the notion. You always were one who welcomed play, but you kept your secrets hidden deep, where no one could reach you.

The auburn-haired man sighed again, his eyes trailing down Jade's thin waist, to the narrow hips where Jade's erection stood proud from a small patch of brown hair only slightly darker than the hair spread out across Trowa's lap. Trowa squinted, uncertain, suspecting that the pubic hair was shaved neatly and cropped, but he let his eyes travel past that, trying to push away the image of Duo at fifteen, at twenty, at twenty-six. The man's legs were lean and muscled, and obviously strong, given Heero's grunts as he bore down on a particularly hard spot above Jade's knee. Heero was frowning intensely, and Trowa tilted his head to get the hair out of his eyes as he watched his lover concentrate on separating discomfort from affection, present from past.

Not much later, Heero sat back on his heels, his hands resting on Jade's ankles, and looked up at Trowa. His eyes were shadowed, but Trowa knew the other man well enough to know that Heero was asking for permission, and for absolution. Solemnly Trowa returned the steady gaze, running mentally through every detail of being a Master to make sure they were working within the rules Jade understood. He blinked, then, realizing what they'd forgotten. Heero saw the look and raised an eyebrow, halting before he'd begun to move forward between Jade's legs.

Trowa took a breath, calming himself, and leaned over, his fingers still working steadily across Jade's face. Watching Jade's body, he could see the slight arch of the back, the tension in the fingers, and knew instinctively that Jade was waiting anxiously for the next move from them, although the line between his brows indicated he wasn't sure what it would be. Trowa smiled gently and leaned over until his mouth was near Jade's ear. Finding his center, Trowa spoke calmly.

"Jade... if you want to please me, let me see you come." He swallowed hard, glancing up at Heero, and bent his head again. "You can come, anytime."

Heero parted Jade's legs, and cautiously crawled forward. Jade's erection had twitched at Trowa's words, and the young man arched even more as the dark-haired man ran his hands up the insides of Jade's thighs. Trowa continued to slowly rub up and down Jade's neck, feeling the cordons of muscles tensing as the young man drew in breath. Heero settled between Jade's thighs, and Trowa could see the Japanese man chewing on his lower lip, flinching slightly as he lowered his hands to Jade's erection.

A heartbeat later, the young man cried out, his body arching dramatically off the bed, bowed almost in half as he came, violently. Trowa could only stare, stunned, and glanced up to see Heero looking nearly as surprised. In the low light from the hurricane lamp, Trowa could just discern Heero mouthing the words, 'I barely touched him.'

Jade continued to gasp for several seconds as the orgasm racked his body, his hands splayed wide against the bed. Finally he collapsed back onto the bed, shaking, a curious sound coming from deep in Jade's throat as his entire body went completely limp. Trowa raised his eyebrows, giving Heero a puzzled look. Heero, meanwhile, had sat back on his heels and was rubbing at his forehead with the back of his hand. Catching Trowa's glance, he shrugged, and gave the taller man a crooked, embarrassed smile.

"The towel," Trowa whispered.

Heero nodded, pulling at a corner of it, and between the two of them, they managed to get it out from under the pliable body. Jade's panting was fading, and he seemed completely unaware of his surroundings. Trowa studied the longhaired man's face, then watched as Heero gritted his teeth and carefully cleaned up Jade's chest. Standing up, Heero backed away, then dropped the towel heedlessly, and stripped off his clothes, heading straight for the bed and collapsing with a deep sigh.

Trowa eased his way out from under Jade. The young man murmured something, and Trowa froze, looking down at the sleepy figure.

"Jade?" Trowa leaned down, trying to hear more clearly. "Did you want to say something to me?"

The longhaired man didn't react at first, then sighed deeply, a smile on his face as he made a humming sound. Trowa raised his eyebrows, waiting, but already Jade was drifting off to sleep. Leaning down, Trowa kissed Jade on the forehead, tasting the oil, and under that, a hint of Jade's skin. He held the kiss for several seconds, unable to think of a better way to express the strange myriad of sensations running through his heart. Sitting back, Trowa shook his head as he turned down the lamp until the flame was gone. Then he stood up, stripping off his own clothes and crawling into bed beside Heero.

Reaching out, tentatively, Trowa slid his hand across the other man's bare stomach. Heero grunted, and Trowa could feel the muscles tightening under his palm, until they relaxed as Heero took a deep breath. Trowa didn't say anything, understanding the silence. The sheets rustled as Heero shifted in place, and took another deep breath. When the man spoke, Trowa had to strain to hear the words.

"He's going to hate me," he said flatly. "When he comes back... "

Trowa couldn't think of anything to say, but kept his hand on Heero's waist, hoping the touch would relay his certainty that his own feelings about Heero, and for Heero, hadn't changed. There was another long silence, and Trowa could feel Heero's skin rising and falling with each breath.

"I feel... ill," Heero continued, "and... dirty." He paused for another long minute, and Trowa could hear him swallow hard. "I would never touch a friend like that without his consent. And he can't give it... "

"Jade gave his consent," Trowa replied evenly.

"Jade isn't capable of giving consent," Heero retorted, pain filling his voice and giving it an edge. "You consented for him."

Trowa could only sigh, leaving his hand where it was. Heero moved against him, rolling over on his side and backing up until they were spooned together. It wasn't their usual sleeping arrangements, but Trowa understood the need. He grasped Heero loosely around the waist, and kissed the Japanese man on the shoulder.

Tomorrow, Trowa decided, we'll talk about this again, when we're not so exhausted. And then, at some point, we need to stop stalling and find out what's in that chest.


Trowa came awake when he realized he was alone in the bed. Sitting up, he ran a hand through his hair and looked around the loft, startled to see clothes being held up. Curious, he reached for them, and realized Jade was kneeling by the bed. The silent man was wearing his new black shorts, and one of the black short-sleeved t-shirts that Heero had bought, and his sandals were on his feet. Trowa was puzzled, but dressed quickly.

Stretching a little, he smiled as Jade came to stand behind him, the bells chiming merrily. Trowa gave Jade a light pat on the shoulder and led the way downstairs. Heero was already eating breakfast, and Trowa barely kept from gaping as Jade slid quickly into a chair at the table, a happy smile on his lips as he set out a plate of eggs and bacon for Trowa. The tall man could only watch, his eyebrows halfway up his forehead, as Jade proceeded to eat breakfast with delicate fingers, the contented smile still on his face.

"Heero?" Trowa sat down, puzzled when the dark-haired man didn't look up from his breakfast. "What did I miss?"

"I told him he could get up." Heero shrugged. "He had breakfast mostly fixed by the time I got out of the shower."

Trowa nodded, noting Heero's almost-sullen tone. "I think after breakfast Jade can prime the railing before we replace the spindles."

Jade nodded enthusiastically as he bit off a piece of bacon.

"And then," Trowa continued, "you and I can talk."

That got Heero's attention, and he looked up, his blue eyes flashing. "About?"

Trowa returned the expression with an impassive look, and Heero scowled a little. He glanced sideways at Jade, and the worried frown deepened. The auburn-haired man watched, saddened, and bent his head to eat his own breakfast.

The plates were almost cleared before Trowa decided to broach the first topic.

"Jade," he said, in a conversational tone. "What's in the trunk?"

The reaction was startling. Jade went from smiling as he finished his bacon, to shrinking down in his seat, his expression anxious. His fingers skittered across the tabletop to disappear in his lap.

"I want you to show me what's in the trunk---"

Trowa's words were interrupted by the sound of a large vehicle pulling up on the gravel drive by the house. The crunching sound was distinctly heavier than Timothy's small truck, and Heero raised his head, surprised. Getting up from the table, the Japanese man wiped his mouth and dropped his napkin next to his plate.

"I'll go see," he said quietly.

"Jade, go upstairs," Trowa said. "Wait there until we tell you to come down. I'll take care of the dishes."

The longhaired man nodded, and dashed upstairs just as Heero opened the front door. Trowa could hear the bells chattering and fading as Jade disappeared into the loft, and he quietly put the plates away, rinsing all signs of their breakfast. Wiping his hands on a dishcloth, he stepped into the living room to see Heero opening the door wide for Lady Une. Her hair was pulled back in a low ponytail, and she was wearing jeans, a tank top, and hiking boots. It was a radical transformation from the formal suits he was used to seeing on her.

"Une," Trowa said, struggling to keep the surprise from his voice.

"Mr. Barton," she replied crisply. "Mr. Yuy, I've brought the items you requested."

Heero raised both eyebrows, and Trowa stepped up next to him, looking out to see a medium-sized moving truck sitting by the house. The taller man turned, seeing Une's appraising eyes taking in the house's interior. She glanced up, and smiled.

"You did something about the ceiling already," she said. "This place was freezing in winter with no insulation."

"And the windows," Trowa said, then frowned slightly. "Director Une, why did you... you're the Director. Any reason for the personal call?"

Une shrugged, giving him a sad smile. "I needed the break. Drove up yesterday, and spent the night with Aunt Liddie. I'm going to walk back down, now. I spoke with Mr. Winner and Mr. Chang, and they told me they had everything packed. Rather than encourage them to take the time to bring it, I figured... " She made a hesitant motion with her fingers, shrugging a little. "The fewer people who know, the better."

"Jade," Heero called. "Come downstairs."

Trowa raised his eyebrows at Heero, who shook his head slightly. The bells chimed as Jade came to the top of the stairs, his footsteps sure, but his posture hesitant. At the bottom of the steps, Jade moved swiftly to stand beside Trowa, his head still down.

"This is Lady Une," Trowa said. "Do you recognize her?"

Jade didn't raise his eyes, but Trowa could tell the silent man was looking as much as he was willing to. Before he could bend down to catch a glimpse of dark blue, however, Jade had lowered his eyes again. Trowa snorted mentally and turned to Une with a shrug.

"I have three more things for you," Une said then. "This isn't entirely an excuse for my vacation. The first is about the investigation. To make a long story short, Mr. Chang is going in to the next auction as an associate of Mr. Thibaud's, and Quatre is running contact. Mr. Chang has received information about the auction that you may find helpful."

Trowa nodded, tilting his head at Une. "That raises one issue that's been bothering me. Maxwell is twenty-six. I was under the impression that he was... kidnapped, for lack of a better word."

"He wasn't infiltration, if that's what you're asking," Une replied calmly. "He was the best because he knew... knows L2 like nobody's business. And he can get anyone to talk to him, including suspicious street kids. And from what I know of Mr. Maxwell, I know the average kid is much savvier about their environment than adults give them credit."

"But," Heero interrupted, "at twenty-six, he's hardly a street kid himself. Is there any chance he was taken because he was a Preventer?"

Une shook her head, sadly. "No sign of it, so far, but we're looking into that." She paused, her blue eyes flitting between the two young men. "You're both blind. Look at your friend. Don't see your friend. Just *look*."

Trowa frowned, but obediently turned to study Jade's downcast eyes, his relaxed stance as he waited by Trowa's elbow. Heero turned as well, puzzled, and Jade shifted nervously, feeling their eyes upon him. Trowa set his hand on Jade's waist, steadying him, and turned to Une, his eyes questioning.

She sighed. "He could pass for 18, and he knows... knew it. That's part of what he told me when he agreed to take the mission. It's a matter, he told me, of relaxing the face, smiling in a different manner." Une snorted, giving Trowa a skeptical look. "I'd think you'd know that."

"I do, but still... " Trowa shook his head.

"And he's also gorgeous," Une added. "If you can't see that, you're truly blind, or just wearing friendship's blinders. Enough of that, though. I have one more reason for coming, and it's a happier one." She smiled, a warmer expression that suddenly lit up her face. "I'll be right back."

The two men glanced at each other, baffled, and Jade shifted his weight between them, anxious. Trowa instinctively put a hand on Jade's shoulder, quieting him, and they waited. Only a few minutes passed, and Une returned, a small carrying cage in her hands. She set it down on the floor, just as Trowa realized the muscles stiffening under his hand. Jade's moan went from soft to a shriek instantaneously, and he reeled backwards, twisting around as he screamed.

Trowa grabbed Jade, ignoring Une's shocked expression.

"Get rid of that," Heero snarled, grabbing the carrying case from the floor before Une could protest. He was out the door in a flash. Trowa watched, holding Jade's wriggling form against his chest, pressing Jade's nose against his collarbones as he murmured reassuring sounds under his breath.

Une's face dissolved into understanding, and she came to her feet in a swift move. "Jade," she whispered, stepping forward until she was within arm's reach of the longhaired man. "That wasn't something for you. I mean... not something for you to be put in. It's not something you have to be frightened about... your... " Her blue eyes flickered up to Trowa's, then dropped to study Jade again. "Your Master is a good man. He wouldn't do that to you." She paused, then reached out, running her hand tentatively down Jade's hair, pulling back when he flinched. "Being put in a box was scary, wasn't it."

Jade nodded against Trowa's body, then froze as a strange wailing became evident from outside. Heero appeared in the doorway, a small golden tabby clinging to his neck and mewling piteously. Its green eyes were wide, and its ears back, and the dark-haired man winced as he tried to pry the creature off him.

"Tro, I hate your damn cat," he muttered.

Trowa could only grin wryly, about to set Jade aside to take the cat. Thinking better of it, he peeled Jade off him and turned the silent man around. "Jade," he whispered. "That's Ifrit. Go on... go get him."

Une raised her eyebrows, stepping out of the way as Jade slowly shuffled over to Heero. The young man's eyes stayed down, but he slowly raised his hands, gently taking the frightened kitten from around Heero's neck. The kitten balked at first, then leapt, landing on Jade's neck, its claws digging into his hair. Jade made a yipping sound, stumbling backwards, then stopped. The room was silent, the observers holding their collective breath as Jade slowly began to pet the cat, making a humming sound under his breath as he pried the cat off him and moved it to his chest. The humming sound was joined a second later by the cat's purrs, and Jade's early morning smile returned in full force.

"Quatre didn't tell me what the name meant," Une said to Trowa, as she watched Jade converse quietly with the kitten.

"Demon," Heero growled.

Trowa rolled his eyes. "It's a type of Arabian Jinn," he explained. "They're not really bad. Just troublemakers, with their own sense of right and wrong."

"In that case, Ifrit has probably found a kindred spirit," she replied, one eyebrow quirking. "Ah, that's the other thing. Quatre told me to tell you he's going to be in the doghouse, proverbially speaking, for the next month for returning the cat. His elder daughters are on strike."

"They like the pest," Heero admitted. "Not sure why, though." He smirked at Trowa's expression.

The three fell silent, watching the kitten claw at Jade's hair, as Jade twisted in place, trying to pry the squeaking kitten off his shoulder. When Jade succeeded, Trowa was surprised to hear a subdued giggle from Jade as the kitten batted at his nose.

"I think that went well, considering," Une said in the silence. "Well, gentlemen. If Jade is occupied with getting acquainted, I'm certainly able to help you unload, if you want the help."

There was a pause, and Trowa was startled to see a crooked smile appearing on Heero's lips as he watched Jade nuzzle the cat, nose-to-nose. The dark-haired man's gaze moved to Une, measuring her up before he smiled again and nodded.


By silent agreement, Trowa and Une followed Heero into the study and began piling boxes against the wall. Jade was upstairs during the first few trips, and the one time Trowa checked in on him, Jade had pulled out his bed and was playing with the kitten. Trowa smirked to see Jade jump when the cat attacked his feet under the sheet, and shook his head as he went back to help Une and Heero continue to unload the truck.

The fourth trip carrying boxes in, Trowa realized Jade had joined the procession, and that damn golden tabby was clinging to his shoulders, mewing a running commentary the entire time. Jade followed Heero inside, trotting past Une, who watched with an amused expression as she carried a box of clothes up to the loft and placed it on the edge, shoving it over a little before making room for Heero.

The truck was half-unpacked by noon, and Trowa called a break. Jade raised his face from where he'd been rubbing his nose against the tabby, and headed for the kitchen.

"I think we have enough for sandwiches," Trowa told Une. "We need to do another grocery run, I think."

Heero nodded. "We have soda and orange juice, unless you'd prefer coffee?"

"Soda's fine," Une replied. She watched as Heero disappeared into the kitchen to pour drinks, and turned to Trowa with an uneasy expression. "How's he doing?"

"Jade... or Heero?"


"Jade's had some rough spots, but we've done some research, so we understand better now what he expects. We really do need to know how they broke him down," Trowa told her, keeping his voice pitched low. "And Heero's... doing the best he can."

"Of course," Une replied. She hesitated, and dropped her eyes to study the sofa's simple blue and white checks for several minutes. "It's pretty impressive, what you've managed on the house so far. I've moved a number of the agents around, and your tasks are covered for the next nine months." She sighed and fingered the unraveled seam along the sofa's back. "It may take longer," she added softly.

"We're not willing to use their methods," Heero interrupted, his voice soft as he returned, handing a glass to Une. "So it's going to take twice as long, at least. Unless we have a break-through... " He shrugged. "At least we have something to do in the meantime."

Trowa nodded. "This place really isn't habitable yet, for winter. There's still a lot of work to be done," he said. "I'm curious if you knew that before you sent us here."

"I did," Une said, the crisp tone returning to her voice as she flashed him a smile. "But sometimes, the best way to heal the heart is through the hands."

Before Trowa could reply, the sound of bells in the doorway announced Jade's presence. Lunch was ready.


The truck was unpacked completely by mid-afternoon, and Une didn't stay around for long. She kept her goodbyes to the point, and skillfully backed the truck without hitting the overhanging trees, a wave through the window the last they saw of her. Trowa smiled ruefully as the dust settled on the road, and wondered whether they should have the road leveled before winter came.

Heero nudged him in the elbow.

"Just glad suddenly we didn't bring my motorcycle," Trowa said, amused. "You going to get groceries, or should I?"

"I'll do it," Heero said, jingling the keys and leaning up for a quick kiss. "I... I could use the break."

Trowa frowned slightly and caught Heero by the elbow before he'd turned away. "What is it? You've been avoiding Jade. He doesn't seem to have noticed." The tall man's expression said clearly that Trowa had noticed, however.

"That's good," Heero replied.

The hidden intention in the sidestep was obvious to Trowa. Heero wasn't ready to speak about it, but the taller man could only growl and cross his arms. The motions were as clear to Heero as they were meant to be: don't tell me later. Tell me now. I need to know.

Heero frowned, concentrating. "I've been thinking about it, since last night." The Japanese man pursed his lips and looked away, across the field. "I'm not comfortable with what I've realized." His voice dropped to a whisper as he checked behind Trowa to make sure Jade was still in the kitchen. "Last night, a part of me... wanted to do that. All rationalizations aside."

"I see," Trowa said, keeping his voice neutral. Inside, his heart was hammering against his chest, uncertain. Please, Heero, he moaned silently, don't break my heart. I can't take it.

Heero was silent for several minutes, staring back across the field before he turned his blue eyes on Trowa. They widened as if surprised at the raw emotion lurking behind Trowa's eyes, and then Heero managed a crooked half-smile. "I am *not* leaving you," Heero promised, his voice firm. "But I can't deny that last night, my head said one thing, my heart said another, and part of me wasn't listening to either."

Trowa nodded and uncrossed his arms, waiting.

"I don't know what I'll do about it, but as soon as I do, I'll tell you." When Heero glanced up, his blue eyes were large, his expression lost and worried. "I can't avoid him, and I want him back, but I'm not willing to lose you in the process." Dropping his eyes, he shook the keys in his left hand and leaned forward, brushing the knuckles of his right hand against the back of Trowa's hand. Without another word, he headed for the Jeep.


Trowa remained on the porch for several minutes, pondering Heero's words. It wasn't surprising there was going to be some latent attraction between the two. He knew, after years watching their friendship from his own distant vantage point, that the two had often laughed about their bad timing. By the time Heero had separated from Relena, Duo was in a long-term relationship with a Sweeper from L3. It was Duo's connivance that set Heero and Trowa up on a surprise double date, and completely unrelated that Duo's own relationship ended shortly thereafter. Trowa vaguely recalled Heero reporting that Duo was sick of a long-distance affair.

Bad timing, Trowa thought, leaning against the doorjamb, watching the starlings play in the field. A squirrel leapt down from the oak tree over the empty drive, and dashed across the field into the woods. The breeze ruffled the wild hay, and Trowa contemplated being in the cabin long enough to see snowfall, followed by the first crocuses. Sighing, Trowa leaned his head back and closed his eyes, feeling the last days of August warmth seep through his skin past his bones and into his heart.

I won't hate you for being attracted to him, Trowa promised Heero silently, but I won't stay around to love you if you won't include me.

He could hear something clattering in the kitchen, and tilted his head as though he could hear better, but didn't open his eyes. His head was clearly telling him that Heero had asked him to be there, the night before, to prevent this particular type of misunderstanding. Heero, fearing being left out of Jade's universe, had sought to make sure Trowa didn't feel the same when it came to Maxwell's friendship.

Trowa sighed and pushed away from the door, heading into the quiet darkness of the cabin.


Another clatter came from the kitchen, and a peculiar meow, followed by a second one identical to the first. Trowa paused by the sofa, listening, his curiosity piqued by the dissimilar note in two otherwise identical sounds. Creeping forward as silently as possible, he rounded the corner into the kitchen, to see Ifrit on the counter, watching intently as Jade unpacked a box.

The golden tabby swished its tail, leaning forward to peer into the box. Its ears were forward as Jade rustled paper, lifting out a serving bowl and putting it away. Trowa recognized the bowl as one Catherine had given him as a house-warming gift, and he smiled, figuring that Quatre had seen fit to pack a few extra items. Then Ifrit meowed, and Jade mimicked the sound as he stretched up to put the bowl away.

Trowa smirked as the sounds were repeated a few more times. If Jade wasn't speaking, then it obviously wasn't because there was a problem with his voice, but because something in his training had ripped the ability or willingness from him. Trowa wondered if it was related to his braid, or if it was simply a normal part of the auction house's slave creation process.

He pushed the thoughts away and stepped into the kitchen, aware the kitten was breaking a cardinal rule of Trowa's house. Stepping up behind Jade, he lifted up Ifrit as the startled longhaired man spun, embarrassed.

"Iffy," Trowa intoned solemnly. "No cats on the countertops."

He set Ifrit down on the floor and leaned over to see what else was in the box. There was a squeaking sound from behind him, and Jade yelped, jumping a little at the same time. Trowa turned, startled, to see Ifrit clinging to Jade's shorts, before proceeding to climb the rest of the way up Jade's shirt. From there the cat leapt onto the countertop, blinking lazily at Trowa with a distinctly smug expression.

Trowa frowned.

"No," he said. Picking the cat up again, he deposited it on the floor. "Cats do not get on the countertops." The tall man patted Jade on the shoulder. "Heero's gone for groceries. I'm going to start unpacking the books. Maybe after dinner we can find something to read out loud." He was about to turn away when a flash of gold moved out of the corner of his eye, and he turned, disconcerted to see the cat back on the countertop.

This time, he nearly scowled outright.

Picking up Ifrit, the cat squirmed in his hands as Trowa bopped it lightly on the nose. The kitten's ears went back flat, and it flexed its claws. Trowa smiled a little, and nuzzled the cat nose-to-nose before putting Ifrit on his shoulder. Trowa was about to shake his head at the kitten's antics when a second movement caught his eye. This time, it was black, and he turned around again to see Jade perched on the edge of the countertop. His gaze was lowered, but a hopeful smile played on his lips.

Recognizing the first appearance of a playful smile on Jade's face, Trowa thought for a second before stepping forward to put his hands around the other man's waist.

"No Jades on the countertops, either," he whispered as he set Jade down, impulsively emphasizing his words with a quick pat to the longhaired man's nose. Jade flinched, surprised, but the smile never left his face, even widening a little as he lifted his chin to Trowa. It took a second for Trowa to realize what Jade wanted, and he smiled as he leaned forward, rubbing noses with Jade.

"Come join me in the living room," he said, catching Jade by the hand. "I'm sure if we work together, we'll have most of the books put away before Heero returns."


End Part 9



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