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Slash and Yaoi Fiction
Title: Sweet Darkness
Author: Juxian Tang
Fandom: Gundam Wing
Pairing: Trowa/Quatre, Wufei/Treize, Treize/Zechs
Rating: R
Warning: nastiness, angst, lot of bad things and non-cons implied everywhere
Archive: yes
Feedback: juxiantang@hotmail.com
URL: http://juxian.slashcity.net
Comments: alternative universe; the story was first posted on fanfuction.net under the name Zettai Reido
Summary: Quatre is a prisoner in a sick, twisted place and suffers pain and humiliation on daily basis. Will things change with the appearance of his new cellmate - a mysterious young man who is desperate to keep his secrets?

SWEET DARKNESS

Chapter 1

My heart fell when the door opened. I didn't expect them to come for me this night. I knew I should've - but as hours passed, I relaxed and lost my guard. And then the lock hissed - and I saw them in the doorway. I didn't want to resist, knew how useless it was - and looking at them, I started getting up on my feet.

It was when they pushed him inside. He'd probably given them enough trouble because they didn't unlock his wrists first - and he fell forward awkwardly. The thud made me wince sympathetically - but he didn't make a sound, stayed bowed over his knees, strands of hair obscuring his face.

He looked tired - and he didn't fight; but as he turned to look back at them - a flash of dark-green through tangled hair - there was something so defiant in his gaze that I had a sucking feeling of premonition in the pit of my stomach.

They prided themselves on not allowing any signs of defiance from us. Hannigan stepped into the cell and pressed his charge gun under the prisoner's chin. The flash was short but spectacular as usual, making the captive convulse on the floor. His hair spilled around his head, showing pale, bruised face. Hannigan looked down, apparently musing whether to shoot again.

He didn't, eventually - bent down and ran the card unlocking the cuffs from the prisoner's hands. And at the next moment the guards were gone and the door was sealed.

Only then I let out my breath; so, they hadn't come for me this time. And I had a cellmate now. For how long? I had no idea. He was not the first one during the time I'd spent there - and he might be even not the last one. Or, maybe, I was going to be the first one in a sequence of cellmates for him. I couldn't say - I didn't know what would happen to me - and those who knew were not going to inform me about it.

I didn't know if I was glad not to be alone at the moment. A part of me definitely felt contented; those long days and even longer nights in the empty cell - sometimes I was about to claw the walls. Yet it all depended on what kind of person the newcomer was; if he proved to be rough stuff and violent, my stay could turn into an endless fight. Not that I couldn't defend myself... well, yeah, like I could.

In the yellow light I looked at the captive roll his head in excruciating aftereffects of a charge gun shot. He coughed and red spattered on the floor; he must've bitten his tongue while having convulsions. Things like that happened all the time, with me, too - although one could say I should've been better prepared; but you couldn't be quite prepared to a charge gun, that's the thing.

The man coughed again and brought the hand to his mouth, wiped the blood. The trace of the cuffs was a dark stripe on his narrow wrist.

He was not a man, actually - a boy, like me or a bit older - whip-thin and dressed in some kind of uniform, burgundy-red in color. It'd probably looked very posh just recently - but now the buttons were torn off and all insignia was gone. I peered trying to identify what planet he could be from but nothing came to my mind. He could've been from some outskirts, there were so many of those secluded colonies around, all keen on their independence.

It still would've made me feel better if I knew what to expect from his kind of folks. I looked at him warily, wrapping the arms around my knees. He continued to cough - now making dry, harsh sounds. There were trickles of sweat running over his temples and I wondered if he could've been sick; I could pick up that from him, too, then. On the other hand, why did it have to worry me? Wasn't I already moving towards death here?

Yet I gazed peevishly at him until he stopped coughing. He raised on his elbow and his long bangs fell on his face again, concealing it immediately. I didn't even know if he saw me; he moved clumsily and pressed the fingers to his left side, as if checking something. I had no idea what it was but he seemed to calm down a little and started dragging himself into a sitting position.

He was silent; not even a hiss of pain - and I knew his body must've been screaming. It was all disconcerting. I wiggled uncomfortably - and it made him look at me. The iris of his only visible eye turned sea-green when capturing the light. I looked back at him, standing his gaze, trying to look cool. I didn't feel cool; I didn't trust him. He scared me, to tell the truth - there was something unnatural in how tough he acted. I hadn't been like that, not even in the beginning.

"A whore," he whispered, his voice hoarse from coughing. A little grimace of pain distorted his face as he talked. There was no disgust in his face as he ascertained my occupation, just statement of the fact.

Well, I never made a secret out of it - and I hardly could, anyway. There was not much left of my clothes but even those gave me away - clinging knee-long pants and a top that left my belly open.

"Hey, you have some kind of disease?" I asked frowning when he coughed again.

I saw him shiver; it was cold there, true - but something told me it was not the reason. For a little while I was sure he wouldn't answer me - or worse - and then he shrugged, wrapping the tattered jacket around his shoulders.

"It's not contagious, if you're afraid of that."

Surely looks like one, I wanted to say but didn't.

"Where are you from?" I bit my tongue at once, regretting to ask it. He could've gone mad with me... or start ignoring me demonstratively. His gaze was so cold, like transparent green glass.

"I'm a Misque."

"Ah..."

"Does this 'ah' mean that you heard about us?"

I tried to read in his eyes - hard stare on the clean-cut young face - but there was no clue what kind of answer he expected.

"I believe not."

"Misques could hardly be among your clients."

"Like they don't do the wicked thing," I shrugged.

"No, we don't."

"Whatever."

His words were not said in an insulting way - just coldly - and I didn't take them as an insult. A Misque, a whore - everyone was equal there. Everyone was moving towards the only possible end.

"What's your name?" I knew my talking to him was not particularly welcome - but I couldn't help it. Whatever else - but I missed talking so much. I even tried to talk to Hannigan and others when they took me out... with almost no result, of course. "Mine is Quatre."

As if he wanted to know it. I saw him rub his temples as if in headache. Maybe, my talking caused him a headache. Then, when I already vowed to myself that I wouldn't say another word, he glanced at me and said indifferently:

"Trowa."

"Nice to meet you," a phrase popped out of me before I could catch it. Fortunately he ignored it. Trying to erase the last impression, I hastily started explaining things for him. "There's water is in the bucket in the corner - for drinking and if you want to wash yourself. They give water every morning - so, there is enough of it. In the opposite corner there is a toilet. I think they'll give you a bedding when they bring the meal. Just a blanket, actually," I demonstrated him mine, wrapped around my shoulders. I didn't even know if Trowa listened to me - his face was barely readable, half-hidden under his hair as he settled down against the wall. His eyes closed but there was a small frown of discomfort between his thin smooth eyebrows.

My voice trailed away. I stopped talking. Well, I knew he wouldn't be interested in what I could say - why would he? And he surely wouldn't be interested in telling me anything about himself. Here was not a good place for making friends; not a good place at all.

I curled, closing my eyes and trying to sleep. The presence of someone else in the cell was curiously comforting - even though Trowa was surely one of that arrogant kind. But the truth was that listening to his breath - and thinking about him being there made me almost contented.

I started dozing off when a distant scream pierced the air. Well, it hadn't been quiet till now either - but it was the first time this night someone was made scream like that. It was not a humanoid screaming - a shrill, high-pitched sound - but full of unmistakable torment. Believe it or not, I found out that the sounds most races made in pain were somehow similar... at least those races who made sounds at all.

I tried to stay motionless all through the screaming and it was as difficult as always... I just couldn't get used to it, I didn't know why. I knew some could even sleep through that soundly - but not me. Perhaps I remembered too well how I myself had been screaming - not too long ago.

I heard Trowa move - and it was a clue for me to open my eyes. I started talking hastily, even before wondering whether he wanted to listen to me, whether he needed this information:

"You'll get used to it. Later it'll just slide over your mind and that's all. After all, we are here to be punished - what to be surprised with?"

"I am not surprised," he cut me off. I sighed; no, maybe, he wasn't.

"It'll stop soon, it's almost morning," I finished in embarrassment - and added. "I wish one couldn't hear it in the cells. Impossible to sleep - and by day it is even more impossible."

"Why?"

My heart jumped up in delight that he asked. I was surely getting weird here, treasuring every word we exchanged.

"They turn off the heating in the morning. There are only mechanical guards here by day - so, they don't see the reason to heat it. It gets *awfully* cold then."

I didn't stand cold well; and there was no way I could get used to it. So, I just went through these twelve hours of suffering every day and thought how lucky I was - since for some races cold was much more dangerous than for me.

"I can imagine that," he said impassively and closed his eyes again.

His face looked haggard - waxen pale and colored purple under his eyes - and he kept coughing with shallow, cackling sound. His chest under the torn uniform moved oddly as well, his breath coming in harsh, ragged gasps that left clouds of white in the air.

Did they realize there was something wrong with him, I wondered. And what would they do? Try to finish with him as soon as possible, until he died on them on his own?

Stupid, I chided myself. What did it matter how he'd die? He'd die all the same. And I'd die, too.

* * *

The screams stopped at last and I wondered absently if it was due to a confession or death of the interrogated; or did they just put it off till tomorrow? I slept then, for an hour or two, no dreams, thankfully - and opened my eyes only when the signal sounded.

The slot in the door opened and I heard a soft sound of a blanket land on the floor. I got to the door right in time before two bowls of soup and our rations landed down as well.

"Water?"

"Yes, please, sir," I raised the bucket and the guard directed the hose there, filled it quickly. The window shut in my face. Morning routine.

I heaved the bucket, slammed it on its place and turned to Trowa. He didn't even reach for the blanket or for the bowl. His tired eyes watched me without expression. I fidgeted uncomfortably.

"You will eat, won't you?"

I hated the way he looked at me; as if I was not there. The lines of his face sharpened during the last few hours and his skin was paper-like white. He shivered and that brought some animation into his face.

"It just..." he whispered and suddenly I realized he was not talking to me. "It just feels like dying... I'm not dying, really."

His hair, moist with sweat, clung to his face and his eye was black with an expanded pupil.

It was when I understood. He didn't look at me - he didn't talk to me; he probably didn't know I was there at all. He was delirious. Seriously sick.

Damn! He'd said it was not contagious! I bounced on my feet nervously, touched my own forehead checking if I had fever. It didn't feel so; my throat didn't hurt as well as I swallowed - and there was no cough. But it didn't matter, of course - it might've taken a while before the symptoms appeared.

How could they put him into my cell, I thought petulantly. As if there were no enough things I had to handle! And it was not that anything contagious for humans could affect them as well.

Damn it again! I hit the wall in exasperation and rubbed my hurt fist thoughtfully. Stupid kid... Stupid Trowa... I didn't even know if it was his name or surname.

"I can't die..." he kept whispering. "I have to bring it home. So, I won't die - they promised I won't..."

"Don't you know you shouldn't trust anyone's promises?" I asked loudly. It didn't reach him.

I picked up a bowl of soup from the floor and dipped a spoon, still looking at him. Whether he was dying or not, I still was hungry. And there was nothing I could do about it, anyway. No reason to call for the guards since there were only mechanics around there now. And, in any case, I knew better than calling for the guards.

The soup was already cold. I swallowed it quickly and looked at Trowa's portion. He probably wouldn't need it. But the guards didn't take it well when someone appropriated someone else's ration and if they saw me on the camera, I would be deep in trouble. Not that I wanted another bowl of that stuff anyway.

"You should at least use the blanket," I said - and, like before, he didn't hear me. I didn't know what I disliked more, his previous reluctant talking or his silence. "Here." I picked it up and leaned to throw it over him.

He was burning. The heat coming from his body reached me, so unexpected in the cold cell that I flinched. I looked down at him almost in disbelief. So hot... It couldn't be a good thing - and I knew it. But at the moment, I was overcome.

"Trowa! Hey you, Trowa, listen to me!" Kneeling in front of him, I shook him by the shoulders. His head lolled and his eyes blinked heavily but there was no recognition in his stare. "You said you're not contagious. Is it true? Tell me now - is it true?"

Most possibly, it didn't even matter. If I were to get sick, I would already be that. But I kept shaking him.

"Tell me!"

It was when I almost gave up as his stare stopped on me slowly - and then suddenly, to my disbelief, a quiet smile blossomed on his lips.

His thin-fingered hand trembled in the air as he reached to my face as if blindly. The touch was scalding hot but impossibly gentle, running over my cheek and eyebrow.

"No, pretty child," he whispered elatedly. "It's safe. It's a good thing inside me... That's why they all died to protect me. It just... hurts..."

His hand felt but his wheezing breath kept going. And I still felt as if his touch burned me. Crazy, it was crazy - there was no reason why I was supposed to believe him. But somehow I did; or, maybe, I just didn't care.

I pulled the bucket towards us and wetted a corner of the blanket. I didn't even feel how cold the water was, my fingers were as cold. But Trowa's forehead was burning.

He moaned and shifted when I wiped with face with the wet cloth and as he started sliding down against the wall, I caught him, holding upon my arm. Oh God, he felt so hot. Like a piece of a living heat against me.

"Cold," he whispered. "Nice."

So, I guess it was what made both of us feel good.

Water trickled over Trowa's face, soaking into his hair. With his long bangs swept away he looked younger and somewhat more vulnerable, his eyes closed and fluttering minutely. I wiped his neck and upper chest, his unbuttoned jacket let me do it unimpeded. For a few moments, I felt hesitant about going further.

He'd told me his folks were not the ones who used services of prostitutes; so, maybe, in his sane state my touch would be contaminating for him. But what the fuck... there was no way to stay uncontaminated here. Soon he would be contaminated any way - maybe, in worse possible ways.

I pulled his jacket open and kept wiping him. He was heavy and hot - and only after a while I noticed that I didn't feel freezing as usual, even with all that water splashed over me.

"Good boy," I smiled. "Good Trowa. We'll both be good."

His skin was discolored - covered in fresh dark bruises, no doubt from his yesterday's capture. And there was a bright ropy scar on the left side under his ribs, perhaps three inches long, glaring red on his white skin. I wondered if it was what had bothered him at night.

He was half-soaked by the time I finished - and so was I. The dust on the floor around us was turned into dirt, marring his smart uniform.

"We'd better move to another wall, you know," I said with a sigh. "And it's an inside one - not so cold."

Trowa didn't seem to react - although I could feel the fever had gone down and his breath quieted a little. I put his arm around my shoulder and dragged him on a dry place. As I was back for his blanket, I already knew what I would do.

"You know..." I started and stopped; what was with me that I kept talking even though he didn't listen? But I just felt better informing him of my decision. If he didn't answer - well, silence means consent, right? "Some cellmates... certain species, that is... they share the body warmth. You know what I mean... it's really warmer like that."

I swallowed hard and shut up. If he were conscious, he would probably break my nose for suggesting such things. And now I was going to use his helpless state. But I did help him, wiped him with a wet blanket - didn't I deserve something in replace?

"You want us to sit... under the blankets together?"

My inner monologue - or was it not so inner - was interrupted. For a moment I stared, unable to say a word. My heart was thumping. Trowa's voice, hoarse and faint, was sane, no doubt. The wet dark eyelashes rose and his eyes, bright and transparent-green, looked at me. I gulped and kept silent.

"I guess it's a good idea."

Oh really? In a haste, while he didn't change his mind, I settled next to him, wrapped both blankets around us. His wet warm side was pressed against mine.

Once again, his warmth startled me. The fever had gone down significantly but he still was warmer than me. I wished I could nestle against him, cuddle as close as possible.

"You're wet," he said.

"You too. You are so warm..." I couldn't help it, sighed contentedly.

It was... it was almost like sexual pleasure - far better than anything I'd felt during last months - no, last years. I couldn't resist it, slid my arm under Trowa's back, trying to get as much of him as possible. He was... wonderful.

His cough didn't bother me any more; if I were going to die of the same sick disease he had - at least I'd die warm. His shifting reminded me not to trespass, however. So far he might've tolerated it - but I was pretty sure he wouldn't much longer.

"Sorry," I whispered - and to my surprise he answered.

"It's okay. Thank you... for help."

I grinned. Appreciation comforted me. I moved between him and the wall, made him lean against me. His weight and his heat were lulling.

His hair was like silk; short on the back of his head and not dirty yet, it was ticklish against my cheek, more pleasant than I could expect. I suddenly felt like touching him there, his warm graceful neck and soft short strands falling over the collar of his jacket. It was weird - I shouldn't have missed touching - for God's sake, they touched me enough, nearly every night. But it was different...

"Perhaps this way we'll even get some sleep," I said reasonably, just to snap out of the mood.

"What's wrong with you... that you can't ever shut up?" Trowa said quietly. And I shut up.

I dozed off; the weight of Trowa's body who unconsciously leaned on me stronger as he fell asleep didn't bother me but seemed strangely pleasant. And feeling his warm breath on my skin as he curled against me, his head on my chest, was good, too. It was almost as if he trusted me and I trusted him and we meant something for each other. Nothing of that was true, of course, I knew it - and yet somehow it made me feel warm inside, too.

He grew hotter and restless after a while and as I reached for the water, he started babbling again:

"I have to go... I have to bring it... They're waiting for me... It's my mission... I was born to serve..."

His head rolled against my chest in anxiety as he half-struggled, half-clung to me. He was pulling his jacket open, I could feel it, reached again for the place where his scar was.

"I can't fail... I can't..."

"Shh." I blew on his forehead slightly, pulled his bangs away from his face, amazed once again how soft his hair was - rocked him a little. "Of course, you can't fail. You'll do what you have to. No problem."

His body relaxed, slumped against me, his cheek pressed to my chest. For a moment I felt how my heart clenched. Poor guy. He was going to face too many demons here to be able to deal with the ones he'd brought from outside. He would need all his strength here. But did he have this strength - with all his confidence?

Maybe, I wouldn't even get to know it. Maybe, this night would be the last for me. Or the next night would be the last for him.

He woke up with a start - raised his head from my chest, sent me a weird look - and I nearly screamed as he stopped leaning against me. Half of my body went asleep under his weight and now the needles of restored circulation shot cruelly.

"You should've pushed me," he muttered, surprising me with noticing.

"It's okay."

He shrugged, getting up sluggishly. I watched him in case he was going to trip over but somehow he managed to get to the toilet and then I turned away. A little while later I felt his look on me - and as I looked back at him, his gaze was cold and shut as usual, staring from the face half-hidden under the long bangs.

"Quatre." Hmm... I didn't know he remembered my name. "Did I say something when I slept?"

For some reason I felt uncomfortable. Would he hate me for witnessing a moment of his weakness? I found it difficult to stand his gaze and that's why I stood it patiently, then shook my head.

"If you did - I didn't hear."

I tried to smile and thought I succeeded - but smile didn't visit his eyes. His voice was hard and brittle as he talked.

"Good. Because if I said something - and you think about using it to rat on me - I'll kill you. Believe me, I can do it with my bare hands."

I flinched. For some reason, I couldn't look away from his hands; pale thin fingers, longish wrists of beautiful shape - but somehow I didn't doubt they could bring death; maybe, already had done it. His hands didn't shake any more.

"I was taught to kill," he said flatly. His narrow figure stood almost straight, the traces of sickness nearly gone - or forced away. I swallowed and shook my head briefly.

"No need to threaten me, okay? I won't need to say anything to anyone. You'll tell everything yourself."

The end of Chapter 1

&&&

Chapter 2

"I've warned you, Quatre. Remember that."

His voice sounded toneless, as cold as his gaze was - but strangely, the words had less effect on me. He must've threatened me not because he was strong but because he was desperate.

I nodded and Trowa turned away from me, walked, resting his palm against the wall; he didn't feel well, far from it. Poor baka... There was no reason why I would feel sorry for him - and then I recalled suddenly how he'd called me 'pretty child' when he was delirious; not 'whore' or something like this. Unconsciously I ran the fingers over my face where he'd touched me then. Unlike Trowa's, my hands were ice-cold. I was freezing again.

Okay, there was nothing to do about it. I bit on my thumb trying to pull myself together and then kicked off one of the blankets.

"It's yours."

A short glance through the tangled strands was dark-green; no answer came. Trowa stopped at the door, examining it closely. It was the only opening in the cell, no window or anything like that. I saw his slim hands brush over the even surface.

A brief flash of anger went through me. All right, he could do it - could pretend he didn't care for anything, there were more important things than getting warm, eating, sparing yourself a bit of pain. In a little while he'd get to know that nothing else just mattered - in this place, anyway.

"You want to escape, don't you?" Why did I ask? He never answered much. "You can't escape from here."

His shoulder moved slightly.

"I can't, can I?"

No, you can't, I wanted to say. There had been others, before him, who'd been as sure that they could get out, could leave this place. No one had left this place alive; it was a thing I knew for sure.

The slot in the door opened and another lot of rations flopped in. I took mine and gnaw on it, watching how Trowa turned his bar in the hands.

"You'd want to eat it now, before it got hard."

He shrugged in reply and made a bit or two. It didn't go much further, his face went blank in pain as he tried to swallow. He suddenly was in front of me and handed me the bar. I looked warily at him.

"Why is that?"

"I can't... eat it anyway."

"Then put it to the trash," I said harshly. "I'm not allowed to take your food."

For a moment it seemed to me something changed in his eyes.

"I... I didn't want to get you in trouble."

You just promised to kill me, I thought sourly.

He was getting worse again, shaking and with too pale, wide-eyed face. Why didn't he lie down, I wondered and thought that I knew the answer - he was afraid he wouldn't get up again. I watched him hobble along the wall and annoyance I felt about him exchanged with sadness.

He was not going to survive here - because he didn't try to survive. Even if in fever he talked about having no right to die. But he didn't know how much it took here to stay alive.

*I* knew it just too well.

Sounds came right from behind the wall I was leaning against. I got agitated just for a moment, before realizing what it was. A normal thing... I could just let it slip over me.

"What's that?" Trowa's voice was sharp and tense.

It amused me a little that there still was something that could make him react. And I could see in his eyes that he knew what it was - who wouldn't? I enjoyed answering.

"People are trying to pass the time best they can."

"Having sex?"

"Believe it or not, it works," I said mildly. He shook his head incredulously. I closed my eyes; sighs and moans behind the wall were kind of lulling.

In the beginning, listening to it, I'd sometimes got excited. But not any more, not for weeks or months by now. What I felt at the moment was just amazement that someone could do it and enjoy it in this place.

"We are not going to do it," Trowa said levelly.

My eyes snapped open. He collapsed on the floor at the opposite wall, as far from me and from the offensive sounds as possible. His eyes looked warily from the exhausted face.

As I gaped a little, unable to find words, he frowned, his eyes getting even darker than before.

"Don't take me wrong, it's not because you're a whore or something. It's your personal matter what to do with your body. I just... don't do such things. I want to stay out of it."

I still couldn't say a word. You fool, my mind screamed. You don't know what happens here. As if someone's going to ask you!

"Is it clear, Quatre?"

"It is," I muttered. What was the point of explaining that I didn't want to have anything with him at all? He wouldn't believe me, would he? I shivered although it was getting warmer.

The temperature rose steadily. It meant that the night was close. As long as I was there, I still couldn't figure out what was worse - the constant cold of the day or the constant expectation of the night.

"Trowa..." He could've hated me for talking again but I just couldn't keep silent, needed to do something to beat down the panic. "They'll possibly come for us soon. Don't try to fight them. If you fight them, they'll get angry. And trust me, you won't want them angry."

For a while he didn't answer - and I was ready to talk some more, just to hear a sound of someone's voice - even of my own voice, reedy and pathetic as it was. Then he glanced at me and for a moment it seemed to me there was no animosity in his gaze.

"Why do you tell me this?"

Because I don't really care what to tell...

"Why do you care?" he asked. "What does it matter if they get angry with me or not?"

"I thought you wanted to live," I said and bit my tongue. He didn't have to know I heard what he said in delirium. But Trowa didn't notice; he probably wasn't lucid enough even now to remember what he'd said.

"What makes you think that I need your advice?" he asked harshly. "I know much more than you do about survival. You think yourself so streetwise... as if you can teach me something."

I flushed; I didn't think I still could flush - but he made me. Of course, it was true what he'd said - I couldn't teach him anything. I was amazingly successful at making a mess out of my life and winding up here. But, come to think about that, he wound up here as well.

I looked away from Trowa, stared at the door - and as if on the clue, it slid open, letting Hannigan in.

I knew I had to expect him; there had been three nights when he hadn't come for me. But seeing him still made my heart feel cold and as if too heavy to beat. His long white eyes stopped on me, the pupils focusing sharply.

"Get up, slut, today is your night of fun."

I bit the inside of my lip, kept biting it even when my mouth started filling with blood. Staying silent was a priority; alone, I sometimes couldn't cope with myself and whimpered in fear. But no way I was going to show it in front of Trowa.

Although who cared...

I got up and walked to the door. The edges of my vision were blurry and it was getting worse but I didn't mind. I didn't want to see anything. Hannigan didn't cuff me - he knew I wouldn't try to escape. His hard, enormously long fingers lay on the back of my neck, pushing me forward.

"And you get up, too." Another voice sounded behind me and I knew they talked to Trowa. I could've looked back to see what happened but my own misery wrapped me up so tightly that I didn't care, could do nothing but to make a step after step along the corridor.

There were two directions and I'd gone both of them. To the left meant an interrogation room - I'd finished with it a long time ago. To the right meant the barracks - and sometimes I thought that all the agony of interrogation it was still better than what Hannigan called 'fun'.

Yet being 'fun' was possibly the only reason why I still lived. Those who were not 'fun' - died.

"Tell me, Quatre Winner, how old were you when you became a whore?" I heard Hannigan's half-amused voice behind me. He seemed to be in the mood to talk.

"Thirteen." We had talked about it before, he knew everything I could say.

"Wasn't it a bit late? I know you humans start earlier."

"I was not supposed to become a prostitute. It just... happened. When we left Nevis... we needed to survive in some way."

"So, you are not a professional?"

"No one ever complained."

"What species did you take?"

I hated this part.

"Humans. Cadmians. Vesperi. Dellians. Aomi. You."

I knew that the conversation was pleasing him immensely - heard the slight hissing sound of the air pumped through his windpipes.

"What was the worst, whore?"

"You know you are the worst."

The blow was heavy and unexpected, throwing me face down - and I cried out involuntarily, rolling on the floor, curling into a foetus position. I knew it wouldn't help me but my body reacted instinctively. Through my fingers I looked up at Hannigan, wondering if he'd reach for his charge gun now. But he didn't need to use the charge gun - he could do enough damage just with his fists.

"Don't ever forget 'sir', bitch."

"Yes, sir. Please forgive me, sir."

He waited for me to get up, standing with his long limbs folded on his chest. He pointed towards the barracks and I walked in.

* * *

I wasn't alone there to serve them this night; there were other prisoners whose names I never knew and didn't want to know. I avoided any gaze I could meet as Hannigan walked me towards the bed - and I knew others were as little eager to see my face as I was to see theirs.

What we had to do to stay alive made none of us happy - no matter how little choice we had over that matter. But none of us would prefer to die anyway, I thought cynically.

I hadn't always been like that... so cold - so jaded. And, maybe, remembering that I'd been different was the worst thing. I remembered my sisters and their constant, unquestioning love, my father's pride and care. I remembered being clean and confident in my ability to stay worthy, no matter what. It was all in the past now; never to be back.

"Undress, slut," Hannigan said behind my back. I took off my top and pants quickly. They were my only clothes and if they got torn, I would have nothing to wear at all. I didn't need to look to feel Hannigan move behind me, get closer. His index finger traced my spine, hard, the fingernail cutting the skin in some places. The pain didn't make me shiver, dispensable as it was. He pushed me forward and I scrambled onto the bed, lay on my back looking up at the morph's spidery figure.

He touched my face impassively, neither caressing nor hurting - rather indicating his possession of me. My eyelashes trembled under his fingers but I didn't close my eyes - I knew it would be punished with a blow that would make my mouth fill with blood. There was something I could do, though, and I prayed for Hannigan to never know I did that. I tuned down my vision, unfocused my gaze until his white face became just a stain floating in front of me.

I wished I could tune down my other sensations as well. But even as it was, at some moments I almost managed to slip away, to be out there. Yet now and then Hannigan returned me to reality - his hand on my face while his other hand kept thrusting inside me as he made me look at his comrades, his voice hissing with pleasure:

"Look at him - isn't he pretty? The little prince of mine, little blond slut..."

I never knew with how many of them he shared me. Several hours later, when the last one of them retrieved his organ out of me, I felt squashed and groggy, unable to raise my head, just lying there as my blood soaked into the sheets. They'd torn me - they always did.

"Get up, whore," Hannigan's voice came - ruthless. He must've had a soft spot about me - or he wouldn't keep me for so long, wouldn't he? And yet I knew better than to expect any mercy from him.

I knew I had to get up - before he would get angry, before he used a charge gun - and I made myself roll down on the floor, then got on my fours, then pushed myself up. The room swirled around me wildly.

"Shower."

Shower was the only good thing about it all. Surely it was not done for my benefit but because their fluids became acid when coagulating on and inside my body - and next time I wouldn't be this much 'fun' for them.

The water was pure pleasure, running over my bruised body, washing off their ejaculates. I fell on my knees, my mouth half-open in pain, as I tried to wash the liquids out of my rectum. It hurt like hell but I knew it had to be done. It would be worse if I didn't do it.

I didn't hear Hannigan behind the rustle of water, just felt him embrace me from behind.

"Yes, sir, thank you, sir, for taking me," I whispered feeling tears well in my eyes. I just wanted to be left alone. I hadn't been crying since I was a child - but this place was getting under my skin, little by little, destroying my mind faster than it destroyed my body.

He left me on the floor, gagging and coughing, spraying the wet tiles with blood - and it took a quarter of hour for me to be able to get up again and finish washing myself.

The cell was empty when I returned, Trowa's blanket lay in a heap at the wall just as he left it, his uneaten ration next to it. I looked around numbly, not knowing what I felt. What took them so long with him? Or was he already dead? He should've wished to be dead, I thought suddenly, if he wanted to keep this integrity of his... not having sex, huh...

I picked up the blanket and wrapped it around myself. The cell rocked around me gently, like a huge ship. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine I was on a ship, like that beautiful liner we all traveled with, my father's warm hand on my shoulder, my sisters next to me, giggling...

I buried the face in my arms and wailed.

"Shut up, you fuckin' kid!" someone yelled behind the wall; so, I bit on my palm and kept silent.

***********************************************************

They had never promised it would be easy. They had promised it would be endurable - and he would have at least three weeks before this thing started killing him.

Trowa remembered the huge hall on Oatta, the light dimmed, deeply colored virtual landscapes changing on the walls. The exchange carried on over his head as if he wasn't present, the Oatta's voice low and insistent.

"He's too old. Six-, seven-year-old would be perfect, wouldn't suffer any inconveniences, wouldn't feel discomfort. But his body will counteract."

In reply, Raymond Dien sounded as always - calm, level and patient.

"He's the youngest member of the delegation. We don't have any other choice and we don't have time or possibility to seek for another transporter. Anyone of us would agree to be in his place but you refuse..."

"No, no, it's out of question." For once the Oatta spoke hastily. "The vaccine will kill any adult person within days. It'll be an outright murder and a waste of the product."

"Then I don't see any ground for discussion."

Trowa sat quietly, looking at his hands folded on his lap. His participation in the conversation was not needed; and anyway, what could he say? Oatta didn't understand anything about them Misques - maybe, no one did. The readiness to die for the sake of fulfilling the mission that Raymond Dien and other showed - Trowa felt it, too. No fear, no pride for being chosen - just knowledge that he was following his duty, serving his Order and his people. His life didn't belong to him but to Misques.

Trowa still felt a small twinge of excitement and worry at the thought of what he was supposed to do. What if he'd turn out to be unworthy? What if he didn't manage... But of course he would manage - there was nothing so difficult about it.

He'd heard about the seizure-flu; the epidemic that mowed clean the whole colonies in the Northern Sector. Fortunately, the population of Trowa's own planet was immune to it. But the Northern Sector would definitely pay for the vaccine a lot. And it was a lucky chance that Misques in the travel came across Oatta who had this medicine and also had an interest in spartanium and were willing to exchange. Spartanium didn't cost much but the vaccine would cost a lot. And it was not only a question of money but of prestige as well.

Honor for his planet - and another good deed performed by the Order of Misques.

Involuntarily, Trowa shivered. Raymond Dien didn't seem to notice it, to Trowa's relief; he should've known better than to lose self-control. The landscapes on the walls changed to seascapes, blue and green, as Trowa kept looking at them through the hay-colored web of his bangs. He loved beautiful places; and being a member of the diplomatic mission meant that he would see a lot of beautiful places all around the world.

A shadow fell over him, dulling the colors of virtual pictures to grey. Above him, the toad-like shape of the Oatta towered. The round orange eyes focused on him.

"Come with me, child," the alien said. There was no haughty note in its voice as there had been when it'd talked to Raymond Dien. Trowa wanted to say he wasn't a child, fifteen was by all means an age of maturity in Misque Order - but somehow he didn't feel like arguing. The Oatta's webbed paw touched his shoulder as he got up on his feet.

The touch was unnecessary, adding nothing to Trowa's way and, confused, he looked at Raymond, wondering how to react. The Oatta's paw curiously felt very warm - and somewhat pleasant. Trowa had forgotten how a touch could've felt - during his years in Misque Order no one had touched him other than in game or by necessity. The alien's touch was somewhat different. Almost like... a caress?

It didn't make sense - why would the Oatta want to caress him? And anyway, Trowa hardly could know how a caress would feel. He certainly didn't know much of these in his life. Maybe, only when he was very young, below two years old - but even then Trowa didn't think his mother had ever caressed him. She must've known she would give him away once a girl would be born - so, there was no reason to get attached to him.

He still felt somehow disoriented and unable to cast this touch out of his mind as they proceeded to the surgery room. Two other delegation members joined Raymond there.

Trowa looked at the plastic-covered cot, Oatta-sized, in the middle of the room and reached for the buttons of his jacket. The silver badge was prickly under his palm and it was when he realized his hands shook slightly.

He had still a long way to go to become a real Misque; he wondered if Raymond would chide him later for it.

"Just the jacket," the Oatta said. "And pull down your pants a little bit."

"What is it?" Raymond's voice sounded above but, lying flat, Trowa couldn't see the man any more.

"Local anesthesia."

"Is it necessary?"

"By all means, it's necessary," the Oatta snapped.

Trowa didn't feel the incision. He could see, though, how a capsule of transparent material cracked in the Oatta's paws - and a black cylinder slipped inside his body.

"He'll start feeling sick in about three hours," the Oatta talked while sealing the wound. "The symptoms are identical to the ones of seizure-flu. But it is not transmittable and it isn't lethal. At least not for a while. The cylinder must be removed within three weeks the latest, though."

"It's all right," Raymond said. "It takes seven days to reach the Northern Sector."

They took a passenger ship there. It was slower but safer in the strained situation in the region. Trowa didn't come out of his room even once on the trip. He was slightly taken aback with how bad it turned out to be. Of course, he knew that people were dying of it - but still he didn't expect the utter weakness of his body, alternating floods of hot and cold that either made him pile all available blankets over himself or left him breathing with open mouth, like a fish on a shore.

The light hurt his eyes and he kept the room dimmed, apart from the times where other members of the delegation came to visit him. They talked about his duty and the honor the Order would acquire due to him. At first Trowa felt mildly irritated with them - as if he needed to be reminded of his duty. But they surely meant well - and later he was so weak he just slipped out of lucidity as they talked.

They probably noticed he didn't listen and stopped coming - all except Raymond Dien who seemed to take a kind of charge over him. He came to leave dishes with food on Trowa's table.

"You have to eat. You can't allow weakening your body like that. You have responsibilities."

In the periods of relief Trowa managed to make himself eat a few bits. His throat was constantly sore and swallowing hurt - and eventually he gave up, flushed the food down the toilet. Raymond would be mad if he knew about it but Trowa felt so distressingly feeble and unstable that he decided he didn't care.

Only cold water was good, when Raymond brought him a glass that was misted and dripping with melted ice - and held it while Trowa drank. Raymond's long pale fingers were cold as well - and sometimes, in the weakest moments, Trowa wished Raymond touched his forehead with those fingers. Raymond never did, of course.

It must've been third or forth day when the ship stopped suddenly. At first Trowa remembered just bits and pieces - Raymond who came to his room, his jaw set hard as he waited for Trowa to dress, exasperation flaring in his dark eyes when Trowa's fingers were so awkward they couldn't cope with buttons.

"Morphs moved their post," he said through clenched teeth finally.

In the hangar the line of passengers was long and silent as they walked through the check. Trowa had never seen morphs before - and in any other case he would probably try to see and memorize as much as he could. But as it was, he had to spend all his strength on just standing upright.

"Damn freaks," he heard Raymond's voice behind him, the words hissed with as much emotion as the Misque General could allow. "Abominations."

And dangerous abominations, above all. Considered by humans a dead-end branch, the morphs managed to conquer all the center of the galaxy within last fifty years, driving humans away to previously uninhabited planets. The epidemics of seizure-flu were morphs' fault among the rest; those planets just didn't fit for humans and the humans didn't have funds or possibilities to move out there.

The uniformed creatures, tall and swift moving, paced fluidly along the line, their eyes without irises focusing briefly on the passengers. The morph-dogs on their leashes panted hard and eyed everyone warily.

A morph in a silvery helmet that encased the upper part of his face and long sheet of white hair streaming over his back stood talking to others, arms folded on his chest. His silhouette could look human, Trowa thought - if the long extra-phalange fingers didn't give him away. He wondered briefly if the species could be a hybrid between human and morph and if it was possible, taking into account the obvious high position of the man, his jacket adorned with signs generously.

"Move," Raymond whispered behind Trowa, pushing him slightly as the line walked.

Trowa made a step - and that was when one of the dogs yanked the leash, reached him in a moment, its heavy paws pushing him in the chest, its ugly muzzle shoving under his ribs, just where the cylinder was sewed into his body.

He recalled the Oatta's voice:

"You don't need to worry, the vaccine won't be shown on x-rays."

But apparently the dog could smell it.

Trowa swayed, trying to stay on his feet against the dog's weight. Blood beat in his ears and he couldn't be sure if he heard the rustle of voices behind him, Misques exchanging quiet, hasty remarks. Oh God, what was going on? Did he fuck up, after everything - let them down on their mission, couldn't do what was demanded from him? The dog's claws scratched his skin through the material of his jacket. Even with his vision going blurry Trowa still could see how the morphs moved towards him, the one with long white hair breaking his conversation, walking up as well.

"What's there? Does he have some smuggling on him?" The morphs' voices were harsh, snappy.

"He's a member of Misque Order, you insult us all by saying it, sir." It was Raymond Dien's voice.

"Misque or not Misque, the dog smells something."

The leash was jerked and the dog pulled away from Trowa - and then morphs' hard hands grabbed him and yanked him out of the line.

"Search him."

He knew it was not reasonable to fight - so, he stayed motionless even as they tore his jacket open and groped over his body. The touch over the scar made him wince involuntarily.

"He's nothing on him."

The dog was still too close, glaring at him as it was held on the leash. Trowa felt choking, agitation making his troubled breath even more difficult. He had nothing on him... so, they were supposed to let him go. They had nothing against him, they didn't have right...

"He has nothing on him. But how about *in* him?"

The voice was cold, brittly beautiful - and without looking Trowa realized that it was the human-like morph talking. He heard again how the Misques shifted and talked behind him.

"I'm certainly interested to know," the morph said, making a step towards him - and a sling blade flashed in his long-fingered, white-gloved hand.

In his feverish state of mind Trowa didn't feel so much scared as mesmerized with the knife catching the light. The morph's small mouth twisted in a mean smile as he approached.

And at the next moment everything happened. A hand grabbed Trowa's shoulder, yanking him aside, Raymond's voice against his ear said quietly and inarguably:

"Run."

The clashing of metal was already all around; Misques' traditional sabers many considered something like decorations - but they surely could use their weapons.

On the right, there was a way to the shuttle area - and Trowa knew he had to get there. A part of his mind was screaming in despair - why did they do it? Why did they fight for him? None of them apart from Raymond ever called him by his given name. And now they fenced and died for him.

The door was so close when huge, unbearable pain hit into his back, Trowa's body refusing to obey as he flopped face down on the floor, smashing his nose bloody and convulsing in pain. He would've thought he was dying - but it hurt too much to think about anything at all.

"Good work, Hannigan." The voice of the human-like morph sounded above him. Trowa tried to pull his limbs together, tried to turn - and when he did, the morph stood on one knee next to him. His gloved hand reached to Trowa's face and pushed his bangs away. For a few moments his eyes met Trowa's - blue irises and black pupils in the slits of the helmet. It couldn't be - it must've been fever - morphs' eyes were always white, not blue...

"Stupid boy," the morph said as Trowa shook his head, trying to escape the touch. "What is it you hide? Well, we'll find out."

The morph moved and his white hair brushed over Trowa's face, soft and smooth. Other morphs yanked him up on his feet and turned to face the hangar. Nine bodies in burgundy-red uniform lay on the floor motionless and the morphs moved between them, delivering control shots. Trowa didn't know if he really saw it or if it was something delirium brought to him - how Raymond's body jerked in a convulsion after this shot. But pools of bright blood, much lighter red than the one of the uniforms, was what he definitely saw.

"Take him away," the blond morph said. "I'm going to deal with him later."

The end of Chapter 2

&&&

Chapter 3

"Wake up!" A slap was like a flash of red, making the approaching darkness step away. Trowa felt salty, hot taste of blood filling his mouth. His head seemed too heavy, impossible to raise. Even his eyelids were too heavy but he managed to look up. The morph's long silhouette blurred in front of his eyes. Trowa saw a hand raised again, tensed involuntarily in apprehension but could do nothing to avoid another blow.

"I said stay with me," the morph said.

This one was someone Trowa hadn't seen before; neither in the hangar nor later, coming for him to the cell. Probably just some official in charge of his interrogation... and enjoying it. The morph's pale face with outturned nostrils twisted in a delightful grin as he saw Trowa shiver.

He must've thought Trowa was afraid; of more pain, of what could be done to him as he was cuffed to the chair, wrists behind his back, at the full mercy of his tormentor. But it was not pain that frightened him; Trowa knew positively he could handle it, no matter what they'd do to him. Even as his body and mind were weakened with the vaccine's effects, he still knew he could muster enough self-control not to break.

He was more afraid of truth serum or hypnosis they could use to make him talk. Misque training included resisting that stuff as well but at the moment he felt too shaky to rely on himself.

What a shame, Trowa thought with faint self-detest; he'd let all the others die for him - and now he was not even sure of his own strength. The only thing that gave him hope was that the morph didn't seem to intend using drugs on him so far.

"Let's talk," the morph said. "Here, look at me."

His hand gripped on Trowa's hair, forcing him to look up. Another blow was directed right to his face, making Trowa's lips go numb even as he knew they were split and bleeding. Trowa coughed and spat blood on the floor.

He didn't talk. He decided on this tactic as soon as they brought him to the interrogation room. Not a word to them, not even his name. He couldn't afford any fissure in his defense - and with his head feeling heavy and overstuffed like that, he couldn't rely on his presence of mind to make good choices.

So, he looked at the morph and kept silent.

"Oh, you'll start talking." It didn't seem to faze the creature. "Sooner or later. And so far..."

Trowa knew what the thing in the morph's hands was and felt uprising panic; the cold metal of a charge gun pressed to his solar plexus and at the next moment the world whirled in a blast of pain.

He came round, shaking, feeling numb pain in his cuffed wrists; must've sprained them or something. His breath was coming in small, shallow gasps, almost akin to sobbing and Trowa clenched his teeth in shame, regaining control. Whining like a puppy... how disgraceful.

"You don't waste your time, Ivers, do you? I hope you're enjoying yourself."

The voice came from Trowa's side - soft, smooth, beautiful voice - and a hand came, too - long fingers in while silk glove - brushed Trowa's hair away from his face, touched the corner of his mouth. Blood soaked into the fingertips of the glove.

"Zechs Merquise," the morph said. "I knew you'd appear."

"I said so, didn't I?"

The helmeted morph, the one with his white smooth hair nearly waist-long, moved towards Trowa, lowered on one knee, looking in Trowa's eyes from roughly the same level. His blue eyes... definitely blue, like thawed ice - seemed to be narrowed as if in half a smile - and only then Trowa realized the man's hand still was on his face, not caressing, just staying there.

"I think I'll take over him," the man said thoughtfully, his eyes never leaving Trowa. "While you didn't disfigure him or something."

Trowa didn't want to look in these eyes, wanted to look away - and realized he couldn't make himself. So much for his training, his self-control. Ivers' voice above him was sour but not opposing.

"Do as you wish, Merquise. I have other work to do."

Trowa realized the other morph stepped away, walked out of the room - but most part of his mind was occupied with struggling for control over himself. He shook his head violently, wrenching out of Zechs Merquise's touch and losing the contact with the man's eyes. His sprained wrists hurt worse, he must've been pulling on them unconsciously.

"You don't want me to touch you, do you, little Misque?"

Trowa glared at him and kept silent. Zechs got on his feet lightly and paced around.

"And you don't want to talk. You don't appreciate me sparing you from Ivers' attention, do you?"

Trowa remembered a flash of sling blade in Zechs' hand in the hangar as the morph was going to check if he was carrying something *inside* him. It was vastly arguable whether Ivers was worse than that.

"It's all right, I'm not in a hurry. I have enough time on my hands to achieve understanding between us."

And I don't, Trowa thought. In two weeks he would be dead and the vaccine would be lost.

"You think I need you to tell me something," Zechs continued, pacing, his chin in his curled palm. "Well, you're wrong, Misque. There's little I don't know about you. Trowa Barton, fifteen years old, Lieutenant of the Order, on your first mission... It wasn't a successful mission, was it? So many dead... because of you. Why did they die to protect you?"

Trowa had an answer to that: because an individual life of a Misque was worth nothing. Only the fulfillment of the mission mattered. If it was not him but some other member of the delegation, important for the mission - Trowa would probably die for him without a second thought, with the same readiness as Raymond Dien and others had demonstrated.

But the truth was that a part of his mind was asking the same question as Zechs asked: why did they die? He wasn't worth it... and if he failed now, their deaths would be in vain.

He couldn't show that Zechs' words hit the aim - couldn't reveal his weakness to the enemy. He gathered his strength to look defiantly. A fit of cough spoiled everything.

As he stopped coughing, blinking involuntary tears, he saw Zechs' mouth curve in irony.

"My goodness. You're really sick. What's wrong with you? Is it something you're doing for your Order that is killing you slowly?"

I don't care what you say, Trowa thought; you won't make me talk back.

"I know there's something," Zechs said softly, almost sweetly. His movement was so fast that Trowa didn't have time to prepare to it. He apprehended pain but Zechs' touch was gentle, hand sliding over Trowa's ribcage, inside his unbuttoned jacket, fingers running over the scar on his side. "I can find out any moment I want. But do you know what? Maybe... maybe, I prefer some mystery."

He leaned so close, saying the last words, that it sounded almost intimate, that Trowa could feel his breath, cool and odorless, on his lips. He felt like bucking, trying to get away - but it would mean that he was bothered, that the morph managed to get to him. So, he stayed motionless. A long strand of Zechs' hair fell on his face, soft and ticklish.

"You really can control yourself, can't you?" Zechs' thumb touched his mouth, Trowa's teeth sticking in his lower lip. Strange, he hadn't noticed he was biting his lip. "All that Misque stuff... But you don't deceive me. Behind that - behind the hard surface - you're as human and weak as anyone else. Just a boy... And, telling the truth, Trowa Barton - I like it. Among all those uniformed guys - you were the only one alive inside. With your fears and wishes. I'll get to them, I promise you. I know what you want. I know what you fear."

I want nothing, Trowa thought desperately. And fears... who didn't have them?

"Do you want me to touch you?" Zechs said quietly. "I see how you crave for that, how you lean into my hands. You poor boy... your body knows what feels good, even if your mind denies it."

Trowa protested silently, thrashed, trying to escape the morph's closeness. The silk of the man's hair fell like a curtain over him now. Zechs' hands pressed on his shoulders, not leaving him even that small chance of movement.

"I can make you feel good," Zechs said. "Tell me you want it."

He slipped on his knees between Trowa's legs, his gloved hands sliding over Trowa's chest and belly, moving his hips apart. It was not like Trowa could bring his legs together anyway - but Zechs added to the feeling of helplessness as his palms lay on the insides of Trowa's thighs.

The morph's face was hidden but his small mouth looked pink and soft and smiling. Zechs moved too fast again for Trowa to notice - and then the blade was in his hand, gleaming cold metal. Involuntarily, Trowa made a short gasp - and hated himself for it.

"You're afraid I'll kill you."

Trowa shook his head. A moment later he realized it was an answer, he did communicate with the foe, even if wordlessly. Zechs' laugher told him the man had noticed.

"Or you're afraid I won't kill you at once - but will make it long and painful."

The blade traced the line of the scar, without pressure, then went lower, to Trowa's abdomen. He thought about throwing himself forward on the knife. But he didn't have the right, he had his duty - and while there still was a chance, even a tiny one...

"Or I might just have some kinky sex game in mind. You humans don't consider us alive but we morphs like sex as much as the next guy."

The blade snipped the belt of his pants, cutting the material just for an inch - and even that little made Trowa shudder hugely. The blade was cold but the morph's hands on his groin were warm - unavoidable.

"And you Misques need sex as much as well," Zechs concluded.

It was not true, Trowa argued indignantly in his mind. Misques were celibate by choice, no rule demanded in from them - but no one Trowa had known would ever... And he was going to keep it this way, too.

"I'll enjoy playing with you, my green-eyed beauty," Zechs said. His mouth was smiling below the smooth edge of the helmet.

"Leave me alone."

The words came out hoarse and somehow without real strength. Trowa bit his lip in misery of breaking his silence, having no will-power even to keep his decision. Face very close to his, Zechs laughed.

"So, a cat didn't really get your tongue."

His hands pressed on Trowa's knees heavily as he got up.

"But I have no wish to force you. Break your knees open, wrap my mouth around your cock, suck you dry, fuck you senseless, make you beg for more... Everyone can do it. I prefer to go at my own pace. And tell you what? You interest me only while there is still something untouched in you."

Zechs' long finger tapped over Trowa's forehead and again there was no escape from this touch.

"Studying you amuses me. All the little things that you try to hide. Your fear of being violated... it's endearing, in a way. Almost as much as your wish to be taken. And your futile hopes to finish your mission... I know you still think about it. But I also know what you fear worst of all. And it is not what I or someone else can do to you. It's not even the failure in your task. It's being alone you're afraid of, right? That you'll never return to your Order or they won't accept you. You don't know anyone but them, do you - you have no one. I read the history of Misques - you're an unwanted child, a reject - your mother was the first one to cast you away. If Misques cast you away as well..."

Zechs suddenly stopped - and strangely, the words he didn't say affected Trowa more than anything he'd said. He noticed just now he was shaking, not with cold but with despair clenching his heart. Damn morph, what did he know? How could he know... Zechs' hands lay on his cheeks as the man leaned towards him like for a kiss.

"That's right, be afraid. Because you won't ever return to your Order, you won't ever see them again. All your life before now is crossed out."

Still shaking, his heart fluttering wildly, Trowa worked his mouth and spat, bloody clot landing on the smooth surface of the helmet. Zechs' eyes didn't blink. For a moment more he kept holding Trowa's face, then whispered quietly:

"You're so much like me," - and let go.

* * *

He didn't quite remember his way back to the cell, his body and mind seemed to be disjointed. The only thing Trowa was sure about was that Zechs was gone - and it made him feel such immense relief that there was no place for anything else to feel. He tried to tell himself it was unreasonable - pathetic - to be afraid like that of a morph who didn't even hurt him. But panic mixed with disgust flooded him as soon as he recalled the warm hands touching him in the intimate places, the sound of velvety voice impossible to escape.

Hitting the hard floor of his cell was almost blissful; the cold little room appeared like a kind of shelter in his muddied mind. He stayed motionless until the door locked and then looked up.

The skinny blond boy in his silver-blue glimmering clothes was already there, crouched at the wall, his huge eyes, nearly black, looking at Trowa warily, somewhat questioningly. The boy's face was streaked with drying tears and there were fresh bruises on it.

He, Quatre, could be an impostor, Trowa reminded himself - put here to pry into Trowa's secrets. He had to treat the boy with suspicion, always be on the alert with him. Tears and bruises meant nothing; it could be some ploy - Zechs and others wouldn't be above it.

"Hi," Quatre said in a small voice. "How are you?"

If he didn't want to get anything out of Trowa - why then he would talk all the time, ask those stupid questions, tell those stupid things? Maybe, they promised him some indulgence if he found out from Trowa what they wanted. Trowa looked away deliberately, wiped his face with his palm. His nose still trickled blood; the morphs really had a heavy touch.

Not looking at his cellmate, he got on his feet and walked to the bucket of water, squatted at it and washed his face. Cold drops leaked over his chest and suddenly Trowa's control snapped. Unable to be tranquil any more, he splashed the water all over himself, rubbed, scratched his skin trying to get rid of the feeling of the morph's hands on his chest and below the waist.

No, there were no traces - and come to think about that, Zechs was always wearing the gloves. But the feeling didn't want to go away, clung to his skin as Trowa kept scrubbing himself in despair. There was a ringing in his head that made all other sounds vague and distant but he still realized that the little prostitute was saying something again, in a hasty, thin voice.

He didn't want to hear Quatre, didn't need the other's meddlesome attention. His hands, numb, were awkward and his fingernails, scratching feverishly, caught the line of the scar. Fresh blood sprinkled from under it. Pain and feeling of hot fluid sliding on his chest sobered Trowa. He slumped on his knees, obscurely aware of Quatre's presence behind him. The boy hovered uncertainly, his small pale hands clasped together. Not wanting to see him, Trowa let his bangs fall over his face, shrouding his vision.

"You're hurting yourself," Quatre said. He knelt on the floor next to Trowa and Trowa started away from him unconsciously. Why did they all try to touch him... The boy was not a morph, of course, not an enemy - even if possibly a traitor. "Here, that's for you."

Quatre rummaged in his pants, not into a pocket but between the cloth and his body and pulled out a piece of white material, quite clean, handed it to Trowa. Trowa looked over the reached hand at the boy's pale, badly bruised face.

Why did they have to beat him like this, he thought half-absently. Quatre's midriff looked sore and was covered in black and blue marks as well. Surely Quatre was not a fighter and hardly could cause any trouble. The white cloth in the hand trembled slightly.

"What is it for?" Trowa asked suspiciously. His voice came out scratchy and it really hurt to speak.

"To stop the blood," Quatre said.

"I don't want anything from you..."

The boy shook his head and put the cloth into Trowa's palm. The material still felt warm with the heat of Quatre's body.

The piece of material was probably one of very few things Quatre owned, Trowa thought suddenly - and didn't have heart to quarrel more, pressed the cloth to his scar. Blood soaked through it quickly but he held it pressed and felt the bleeding stop little by little.

Quatre got up but kept looking at him, his head tilted awry slightly. Half in annoyance, half with gratitude, Trowa glanced at him, meeting the boy's eyes. Quatre's eyes were actually blue, not black - just very dark. For a moment Trowa found himself wondering how the boy would look without that terrorized expression in his eyes.

Strange thoughts... they had nothing to do with priorities.

"Thank you," Trowa said finally, recalling that he should've said it.

"Did they rape you?" Quatre asked in his girlish lilting voice.

Trowa flinched as if slapped, staring up at that big-eyed face. How could he talk so matter-of-factly about this... this thing? Like... like it was to be expected. He sought Quatre's face for the signs of gloating or mockery but found none - just something that looked almost like sympathy there.

"No," he said through clenched teeth.

"I just thought... you were washing yourself like mad..."

"It's none of your business."

"All right," Quatre stepped away. Trowa knew his intensity, near-violence frightened the boy - and felt a brief pang of shame. But if it took that to keep Quatre away from him - he would go for it.

The boy settled down in the nest of the blanket at the wall, not looking at Trowa any more. Quatre's fair bangs fell over his eyes in some sad, dispirited manner. Trowa thought it was no good to think about it, turned away. His mouth felt parched and he gathered some water in his palms, swallowed it. Cold water didn't feel so good any more. In fact, it felt like liquid fire on his inflamed throat and seemed to land like a stone in his stomach.

Trowa shook himself, denying the weakness of his body, got on his feet and picked up the blanket.

God, he was really wet. He hadn't noticed it while trying to wash himself but now soaked clothes were clinging to his body, making him shiver. He huddled and paced a little, trying to get warm.

"Did you... did you confess?"

Quatre's voice made him stop, made him look at the boy again. Wrapped in the blanket, the boy looked particularly frail, just his pale face and small hand visible.

"What was I supposed to confess?" A sharp movement as he looked away from Quatre made pain shoot through his head and Trowa had to catch the wall not to sprawl.

So, the little whore was prying, after all, wasn't he? Not that Trowa doubted it - but it still made him feel somehow disappointed.

"Whatever they wanted you to confess."

"I've done nothing."

He thought Quatre would laugh at him, would demonstrate disbelief - but the thin voice was calm, just thoughtful.

"It doesn't matter. I've done nothing as well. I was just with that man... and, maybe, he hadn't done anything, too. But he confessed everything. And I confessed, too."

Involuntarily, Trowa wanted to ask what were the crimes Quatre took on himself but didn't have time to talk.

"Don't confess anything," Quatre said suddenly and his eyes blazed with almost impossible dark-blue at Trowa. "Once you do, they won't be interested in you any more. They'll kill you then. So, try not to do it - as long as you can. Only one day you'll just feel that you can't any more - and you'll want to die."

"Why then didn't they kill you?"

It was not that he needed the answer to this question so much - partly Trowa felt that he knew, could read it in finger-shaped bruises on Quatre's arms, swollen red traces of teeth over his collarbones. And yet the boy's words were not what he expected - Quatre's voice sounding flat and simple, all the expression gone from it.

"Maybe, I'm already dead."

Another abrupt turn made the cell swirl around him. Trowa wanted to look at Quatre, to see the boy who'd said such a thing - but all he could see was floating blackness in front of his eyes.

"You'll fall down," Quatre noticed.

So what, Trowa wanted to say. Now really, wasn't the boy stupid? He claimed to be dead inside - and yet here, was concerned with whatever happened to him, to Trowa, never stopped interfering, no matter how Trowa tried to drive him away. He pressed to the wall, seeking support for his weak legs - but it seemed to be too little. The blanket slipped on the floor as Trowa shivered. His jacket was so wet and it didn't get dry; he tried to pull it tighter over himself but without buttons it didn't want to stay together. He thought about picking up the blanket, tried to reach for it - and almost lost precarious balance that he had. He struggled as much as he could, trying to stay upright.

"Let me."

For some reason Quatre's voice sounded not from afar but quite close; weird - Trowa didn't even notice the boy get up and walk up to him. With his attention dispelled like this - he was really in danger, was he?

"Let me, I won't hurt you." Quatre gave his hand to him - not touching Trowa, he'd probably learned something, after all. "You're such a mess..."

"No more than you are," Trowa mumbled. What ever did Quatre want from him again? But the reached hand looked like a possibility, like another prop for him to support himself. And it probably was warm...

It wasn't, Quatre's fingers thin and icy - but by then Trowa didn't care any more, clasping Quatre's hand, leaning heavily against the boy. His pride reminded him that he should've declined help - but his body felt too feeble for struggling. Somehow Quatre picked up his blanket and put Trowa's arm around his neck and walked him to another wall.

There he let Trowa slip down on the floor and started settling down next to him. For a moment, Trowa's jacket swept open and he felt Quatre's smooth midriff pressed against his bare skin.

"You really needed to get wet from head to toes?" Quatre cursed softly.

"You don't have to..." Trowa muttered but then the thought of what exactly Quatre didn't have to do slipped out of his mind.

"I don't have to," Quatre agreed. "It's just... I hate being alone. I think I'll be alone again, soon - when you die. So, before then..."

"I'll die only after three weeks," Trowa said. "No, already less. Two weeks." He didn't know how these words escaped from his mouth and, cautiously, he looked at Quatre wondering what the boy could figure out of them. Quatre sighed, shaking his head, his light bangs brushing over the golden eyelashes.

"If you say so."

He obviously thought Trowa was delirious. It was a good thing, of course, but for a short while Trowa wanted to reassure him, to make him believe that he was serious, he knew what he was talking about. He felt like telling Quatre everything - about the Misques, about his assignment, about his plans to get out of here. He wanted to tell Quatre about Zechs and the morph's impertinent touches - and, maybe, Quatre could say something that would make him feel better about it all, would make him stop feeling soiled and trespassed... or at least would make him stop feeling it was somehow his fault that he'd allowed Zechs to say and do all those things.

But of course Trowa didn't say anything like that. He felt Quatre's narrow shoulder under his cheek and wanted to back away, break the contact. He had to stop showing his weakness like that, had to stop enjoying the other's closeness and warmth so much.

He even managed to shift a little because Quatre muttered in a sleepy voice:

"What are you fidgeting?"

When did the boy have time to fall asleep? And why didn't he seem to mind Trowa's wet clothes and all the inconvenience together? He sighed, leaning against Quatre's shoulder again - and felt a thin arm wrap around him. Trowa thought some more about getting free and then whispered resignedly:

"Okay, you can hold me. Just a little bit."

Quatre's breath was soft and steady, so, maybe, he didn't even hear - and a few moments later Trowa fell sleep as well.

***********************************************************

Sand leaked in through every crack. No matter how you tried to keep it out, no matter how diligently the cleaners worked - it still layered the surfaces with a thin film of golden yellow. Only the screen of the computer that shimmered with green letters was untouched by the desert, protected by a force shield.

The man brushed the seat of the chair absently and sat down. His other palm covered a nearly empty glass with a habitual, almost unconscious gesture. His eyes, peering, inflamed with constant irritation of sand, never left the changing letters and numbers on the display.

"Almost there," the man whispered. "Just a little more."

On the surface of the table, a sketchy drawing of a rose that he'd done half an hour ago, became blurry and powdered - and with lazy fingers he resumed the contours, uncurled petals of the opened blossom. Then his hand returned to the keyboard - and there was nothing lazy in his movements any more.

He'd waited for so long for this data to be sent. And now he was getting it - and soon everything would be done; everything would be changed. Soon he'd get this opportunity to act, to bring his plans into reality.

Soon they wouldn't be able to deny the truth.

Many considered him a madman; many considered him a criminal. The man's expressive mouth twisted in a small grin at this thought as he emptied the glass in one last swallow. He, Treize Khushrenada, was neither. He knew what he was doing and, more important, what he was doing it for. He'd always known it.

Those cowards in High Command - it was easy for them to judge him, to accuse him of cruelty, of unwillingness to let bygones be bygones. But how could he - who'd seen all that - the piles of dead bodies, adult people weighing like five-year-olds, the air thick with soot of human flesh burning - how could he let it be bygones? Those who'd been there with him never judged him. For them he had been and stayed a hero, no matter what the government called him now.

A rebel; an extremist; a warmonger. Treize shrugged; he didn't care what they thought about him as long as there were people who helped him. Like this source that was sending him the plans of security system of the biggest prison that morphs created in the Central Region.

Morphs... Those abnormalities. How could it happen? The disgraceful truce with the morphs, the defeat of humans... But Treize was not going to give up. And if the government needed violence to make them pay attention - well, he would use violence. It wouldn't be the first time for him. It wouldn't be the first time he would risk his life for his homeland - even if his homeland had given up on him, had accused and convicted him for the sake of keeping flimsy good relations with their enemies.

Lies; lies and betrayal. It all made him sick. In fighting there was no lie.

The bottom of his glass was dusted with sand but Treize barely noticed it, poured another portion of colorless liquid. With a soft sound the glimpses of the letters on the screen stopped. Done! A small icon of a message flashed in the right bottom corner and he clicked on it.

"Good luck, Captain."

No signature; he'd probably never know who was the one risking his position and, maybe, life to provide him with this data.

He got up, called - and people flooded the room - his men, excited, thrilled, ready to act, pushing each other to get a good view of the screen.

Nothing was impossible with his people, Treize was sure of it.

"The prison looks like a mean place."

"So far so good. After we make them see what those monsters do, they won't be able to deny anything."

"When shall we start?"

"No reason to waste time."

His boy said the last phrase; even without looking Treize would recognize the voice, the tone, out of thousands; hard, cold, sound - like a click of a gun lock, of one of those heavy, shiny guns Wufei was so fond of. Slowly, Treize turned back and felt how his heart sank slightly, inevitably as it always happened as he saw the boy. How many years had they been together? Three, four? His feelings never got too old - his aching never stopped.

The thin figure was hidden under long jacket as always, sleeves almost to the tips of the fingers, high collar up to Wufei's chin. The black silk of his hair was almost lost on the black silk of the material. But the eyes stared back at Treize openly, confidently, almost with a challenge.

"Of course, Wufei," he said and couldn't resist, reached his hand and touched the thin fingers briefly. At once Treize knew it was a mistake to do it, knew it even before having done. The movement Wufei made to withdraw from him was restrained, practically unnoticeable - but Treize noticed it all right.

Did he expect it to be different? It would never be different. It was another settling he had against the morphs - his personal one - for what they had done - to him, to someone he loved...

"When we'll do it, everything will change," Treize said, trying to hush the feeling of premonition. "We'll get our honor back, our good names back."

His men replied enthusiastically. So many of them had the warrants issued on their names, the awards announced for their heads - like he did. On the table, under the layer of sand, the dog-eared papers were buried, with their faces and enumeration of their crimes. None of them was a criminal. They all simply wanted justice, didn't want to put up with the rule of deviant creatures meted out in the center of the world.

The moment others were gone, Wufei turned to him, his ink-dark eyes narrowed, flashing. The voice was so flat it seemed there was no expression in it at all - and that made it sound even more dangerous.

"If you touch me once more like that... in front of everybody... I'll break your fingers, Treize." And before Treize wanted to say he wouldn't, he'd finally learn, Wufei continued quietly. "Don't you dare to mark me as your bitch. I'm not your bitch."

"Of course, you aren't." The feeling of helplessness flooded him in a familiar wave - and even as he talked, Treize knew it was worthless, Wufei didn't hear him. "I never meant it like that. If anything, it's... the other way round." His speech slurred.

Wufei's thin ponytail whipped against his shoulder as he turned away abruptly.

"You're drunk."

"No, I'm not."

It was just the third glass today, he knew his norm. Anything more would make the world fuzzy and unclear on the edges while the third glass just made it softer, made it tolerable.

"What if your people saw you like this?"

"They saw me. They noticed nothing. It's just that you know me so well, Wufei."

A brief grimace of disdain distorted the boy's smooth face. Treize shook his head. There was nothing new in what happened. Every day it was like that - and yet every night they shared the bed - on Wufei's rules but anyway...

You're not my bitch... maybe, maybe... I'm yours.

The light of the setting sun - deep, blood red - seeped through the small window inside the room, turning the transparent liquid in Treize's glass first into rose, than into scarlet. It looked like real wine now, not the artificial processed thing one could get on this planet.

Maybe, there would be some time when he'd drink real wine again, Treize thought. If everything went as they planned with their new operation, things would change. He wouldn't need to hide any more, they would be able to move to a normal planet - he and Wufei. There would be real roses and soft grass to walk on. And maybe there Wufei would be different, too.

"I'll go check the flyers," Wufei muttered walking to the door without looking back.

"Wufei..." He couldn't let the boy go like that. "Do you think we'll make it?"

He watched the boy stop, narrow shoulders deliberately straight.

"Don't you dare not to. Do you hear, Captain?"

The end of Chapter 3

&&&

Chapter 4

The hand was clenched on Trowa's jacket so tight that the knuckles were contoured white. For a while Trowa peered at the thin fingers, aware of someone's body pressed against his and then sighed, remembering. The boy, his cellmate - Quatre. Somehow they changed their position during the sleep and now Quatre's fair head lay against Trowa's chest, the boy's breath ticklish on his skin.

His first impulse was to move, to shake the boy off - had Quatre not clasped on him so hard. As it was, Trowa decided he would bear it for a little while longer. His exhalations left clouds of white in the freezy air. So, it must've been day shift again.

Quatre moved suddenly, just a few moments later, raised his head - and his eyes, wide and still sleepy, looked at Trowa through the strands of light-yellow hair.

"We've overslept," he said in a husky, drowsy voice.

"Overslept what?" The strange comfort of their closeness was gone as soon as Quatre shifted, and Trowa's own voice sounded hard and rather unfriendly. "Are you late somewhere?"

Quite unexpectedly, Quatre giggled - as if there was something really funny Trowa had said. A moment later the boy was on his feet, walked to the door and picked up the rations from the floor.

"I knew it. They're not good any more! Totally unpalatable."

"I'm not hungry," Trowa shrugged. It was not quite true; he was a bit hungry. He knew he didn't have fever at the moment but his head felt too light, swimming, and it might be of not eating much during last days. He still didn't think he would be up to swallowing a piece of stale-looking ration.

"Then I'm throwing them away," Quatre declared. Trowa watched the boy splash some water in his face over the bucket, teeth chattering. "You know, Trowa, what I'd really want now? A cup of really, really hot milk with four... no, five spoons of Choco Mix in it."

Trowa wanted to say something harsh about Quatre's preferences but then thought that Choco Mix sounded truly good. He'd had it only once, at a hotel, when he got up before other delegation members and no one could stop him from helping himself. Raymond Dien had lectured him for an hour after that about food being necessity, not pleasure.

Raymond was dead; dead because of him. Recalling that - and recalling how few days he still had left to fulfil his mission was like a cold shower. Trowa got up on his feet and winced in pain. The cloth, once white but now stained in brownish-red, was stuck to his side. He pulled on it and the pain grew sharper as a thin trickle of blood slid down his skin.

"Wet it," Quatre said. There was a flicker of sympathy in the boy's eyes. Trowa frowned. He still couldn't make a conclusion about Quatre. Was he a fraud, a traitor used against him? And if yes - then how could the boy look and act so guileless, so innocent, so... sweet? Something that almost made Trowa have fancy ideas of touching Quatre, his wide-eyed face and soft hair, of finding a word for him that wouldn't be abusive or harsh but nice, gentle... fancy ideas, indeed. Trowa surely had enough self-control not to have them.

And if to think about it, Quatre was as far from innocent as one could be. He was a whore, had sold himself and didn't even hide it. All the rest was an illusion.

But then Trowa had spent two nights holding the boy - and even though his mind repeated to him in undeniable voice that it was nothing, his body still remembered it.

"Wet it," Quatre repeated, "it'll get off easier."

"I know," Trowa muttered. It really did - as he squatted next to the bucket and, shivering, drenched the cloth with cold water. The bleeding was really small, already stopped by the time the material came off. Trowa occupied himself with it pointedly, not looking at Quatre who squatted on the other side of the bucket, eyeing Trowa.

"I know, I know..." Quatre repeated. "I bet you do. You know everything, don't you?"

Quatre's small hand dipped into the water and splashed some on Trowa. For a moment Trowa looked at him, unable to believe it the boy did it on purpose. Quatre met his gaze with a brash, almost fearless smile.

"What did you do it for?"

"For fun."

"Fun? Is it fun for you?" Almost unexpectedly for himself, Trowa reached to the bucket and splashed a handful of water at Quatre. The boy shuddered and laughed.

"Isn't it?"

Another spray of water hit Trowa's face. He pushed his wet bangs away absently. Quatre giggled as water doused him, tried to avoid it and landed on his ass. There was something nervous, nearly hysterical in his laughter and Trowa recalled Quatre's eyes red with tears yesterday. The boy's moods were swinging... but how could he be stable, in a place like this? Trowa had just spent a day and a half there and he already felt something was dented in him.

"God, I'm so cold," Quatre mumbled; his lips were bluish but he didn't look unhappy.

"Why doesn't it surprise me?"

"You'll get cold, too." Quatre got on his feet, walked up to Trowa, reached his hand. After a moment of hesitation Trowa took it. "Come under the blanket."

It came to Trowa's mind that there was not much chance to get warm in their soggy clothes - but there was nothing else to do and Quatre didn't suggest anything, despite of what Trowa could think about him. He just wiggled next to Trowa until Trowa growled at him; then Quatre went quiet.

Minutes passed in silence, the heat of their bodies fighting cold and wetness little by little. Trowa found himself mesmerized with the little steady movement of Quatre's chest against his side. After those days in prison, he'd get to know more about intimacy than probably any other Misque knew.

If only he could be sure he'd be able to come back to the Order... to compare the notes.

But he had to return to the Order, couldn't afford not to! It was a priority - it was what he had to think about. Already two days were wasted here and he, Trowa, didn't even come close to escape. At this rate, Zechs' words could turn out to be true - he would never see the Misques again, would die here...

Zechs; Trowa's stomach lurched at the thought of the morph. His mind refused to recall what else Zechs had said and done - and it was exactly the reason why Trowa made himself recall. Zechs was interested in him... so, he could've used it.

Oh no, he couldn't! An involuntary shiver that went through him was so strong it made Quatre look at him. Trowa shut his eyes tightly, not wanting to meet the boy's gaze. Somehow, Quatre probably was responsible for this thought coming to Trowa's mind at all, Quatre who had no difficulty in using his body to get through any situation.

It all made Trowa feel faintly sick. But the truth was there was no other way, no breach in security of the prison he could use. And if he managed to make Zechs be interested enough to lose his guard... at least it was something he could start with.

Why did it have to be so unbearably difficult? It was not, right? Raymond and others had given more for him - and if to weigh everything sanely, surely getting it on with the morph was not such a great sacrifice for the sake of the mission. He'd heard of Misques sacrificing more.

"Quatre," he called in a suddenly hoarse voice.

"Ugh?" The boy's cheek was soft and warm against his shoulder and for a moment Trowa didn't want to go further, wanted just to stay as he was... and let time slip away from him irreversibly.

"Tell me... about yourself. How was it that you started... selling yourself?"

He felt as, next to him, Quatre recoiled from him minutely. The silence was very long, especially taking into account how eagerly Quatre chatted about everything, and Trowa added awkwardly:

"Can you tell me? I need to know."

Did he need to? What kind of answer could Quatre give that there would be something useful for him in it? Or was it like he wanted to derive courage from the knowledge that someone had been in a similar situation?

Of course, Quatre's situation couldn't be similar. He, Trowa, had a mission to fulfil, he was doing it for a purpose.

"I needed money," Quatre said. "I decided I could as well get paid for doing that."

"Was there no other way?"

"Maybe, there was. I dunno. There was one guy who... well, after I'd lost my sisters... he kind of took care of me. And then one night it... just happened. And after that he said I should earn my living. Then the guy got killed and I was on my own."

It should've been expected - there was nothing in what Quatre said that Trowa could use for his own plans about Zechs. He rubbed his temples; his head felt throbbing and heavy and Quatre's words made his headache even worse. Maybe, it was because of his repressed wish to ask more, to ask different things: how it would feel, would it be very bad to have someone touch your body in such a manner, would he feel dirty after that...

Pointless questions; Trowa knew he would do it - and would hope to gain something from that.

"It was better on my own," Quatre continued and his voice grew animated again. Trowa felt a slim arm intertwining with his again - and for some reason this touch didn't cause him aversion. He was almost pleased his questions didn't put off Quatre - although why would he feel like this? The boy was nothing for him, just a sojourner. "I could keep all money. And I traveled a lot. Some guys were fun," Quatre continued.

Fun... What a strange word, Trowa thought. Fun like splashing each other with water? Stupid idea... but for a moment Trowa thought he would miss Quatre's stupid ideas. If his plan worked, he'd get out of prison; and Quatre would stay... to die here.

He shook his head. He had to concentrate on other things, on whether he'd be able to fascinate the morph enough to make Zechs give him some slack.

The day shift was coming to the end. Quatre, who'd seemed quiet comfortable before now and kept babbling even though Trowa answered in monosyllabics, went quiet and somewhat tense. Submerged in his own scheming, Trowa decided not to pay attention.

Finally their rations landed on the floor and Trowa felt how this sound made Quatre flinch. The boy probably had another swing of the mood as his eyes became dark and huge looking at the door almost unblinkingly. He didn't even move to take the food.

He's afraid they'll come for him, Trowa thought in a sudden flash of intuition; just like they did yesterday and probably nearly every night. This understanding made him dizzy, made his headache worse. Why did he care what Quatre was afraid of? He had no reason to - he'd spent just a numbered amount of hours with the boy and it was not in the codex of Misques to care for outsiders.

Quatre didn't matter; he had to think about Zechs.

The door slid open but the morph that stood there couldn't be taken for Zechs in any way. This one was taller and even more willowy, with short black hair smoothened away from his very pale face; the one who'd taken Quatre with him yesterday.

Trowa felt how Quatre pressed to him, apparently without noticing it, so closely that for a few moments Trowa could feel the wild beating of the boy's heart through their two ribcages. He clenched his teeth, telling himself it was none of his business; he had to mind his own things.

"I see you two got cozy," the morph said, arms folded on his chest. His colorless lively mouth moved, twisted in irony. There was something so loathsome in his tone, almost sickening; Trowa touched his temples unconsciously; the headache made him queasy. Quatre didn't lean against him any more, sat very straight and frozen, his eyes locked on the morph.

"What are you staring at, honey?" the morph said almost mildly. His voice was completely unlike Zechs' but the little note in it, of fake indulgence, of softness that was used just to distract, to lull - Trowa thought he recognized it. "Come to me... my personal little slut."

He watched Quatre get up and move to the door, the morph's long fingers running over the boy's shoulder. Trowa got up on his feet as well; his voice had a cracked, toneless note in it as he spoke.

"I want to see Zechs Merquise."

"Oh?" The morph turned back to him. Trowa noticed that in the corridor, there was another morph there, blank-faced, silent. "You do, don't you?"

Briefly, Trowa saw a flash of surprise in Quatre's eyes - but he didn't want to look at the boy, he needed to concentrate on his task.

"Yes, I do," he confirmed quietly. It was not that the morph needed his confirmation. The creature's eyes, white, seemed to be void of any expression but his mouth was curved in a grin.

"What a pity. I don't think Zechs Merquise wants to see you."

How much he wanted it to stop there, not to go any further. But Trowa knew he had to and pushed himself into continuing.

"Maybe, he will - if you take me to him."

A burst of laughter from the morph was long and loud; even on his companion's face, a wan smile appeared and was gone. The morph looked down at Trowa, obviously exhilarated.

"Do you really expect me to do it? And why do you want to see him, anyway? Oh wait, I know."

Trowa felt heat rise to his cheeks; the thing was that the morph really knew. The rotten creature had guessed it right, no doubt.

"Well, if you ask me really nicely, pretty boy, maybe, I'll agree to substitute Zechs for you. And if I like you a lot - who knows, I might let you take the place of my little whore." The morph's bony fingers caressed Quatre's face absently. Trowa's gaze just slid over the boy; he refused to meet Quatre's eyes, didn't want to see amazement and, maybe, hurt in them.

"You can't substitute Zechs," he said firmly.

A flash of anger dilated the morph's pupils, making them glassy. Trowa watched him step forward as the long-fingered hand sought for the charge gun - and braced himself for pain. The muzzle of the gun pressed to his ribs but he didn't see it, didn't look away from the morph's face. He stuck his fingernails so deeply in his palms that already didn't feel it - but anything was good if it helped not to show his fear.

"Hannigan," the quiet voice of the other morph came. "You know you can't."

Can't? Why not? It didn't make sense... But the shot never came. Instead of that, the morph's face rippled - and suddenly the morph stepped away from him. Trowa swallowed, the spittle feeling sharp like broken glass in his throat. Hannigan was breathing hard, looking at him.

"Merquise said not to..." the other morph continued.

"Shut up!" Hannigan turned to him briefly. "Shut the fuck up, Kirov!"

But it was already clear, and Trowa felt dizzy with the realization. Zechs had given the orders protecting him - for some reason. And Hannigan couldn't touch him.

There must've been something in his eyes that the morph could read and interpret because Hannigan's face distorted in anger. A moment later he seemed to regain control, though. His mouth moved in a cold smile.

"Yeah, right. I'm not supposed to touch you. It's good I have someone I can vent my anger on."

The morph moved so fast, Trowa barely noticed it - turning his hand with the gun, pulling the trigger. Trowa heard a short cry Quatre made as the shot hit him; watched mortified as the boy's thin body collapsed on the floor, racked in convulsions. He became aware of Hannigan observing his reaction only a few moments later.

"Zechs has his own toys," the morph said. "But I have mine - and I'm free to do with it whatever I want."

Quatre finally stopped shivering, sat up shakily on the floor. The boy's breath was coming in short, uneven gasps, almost like sobs and Trowa recalled the agonizing pain in the chest that the charge gun brought. He clenched his fists even harder, catching Quatre's unfocused stare - as if the boy still was not quite lucid. A little trickle of red rolled from the corner of Quatre's mouth.

"Do you enjoy the performance, boy?" Hannigan talked without looking at him, coming up to Quatre, pulling the boy up on his feet. Quatre still looked disoriented, his eyes, dark and wide, slid over Trowa almost without recognition. And at the next moment his gaze stopped on Trowa with a weird expression; it should've been resentment there. But there was not; there was what looked rather like strange hope - as if he, Trowa, was the only one there who wasn't Quatre's enemy.

Maybe, it was true. If only Quatre didn't have to pay for his, Trowa's, impertinence.

"I don't enjoy it," he said, trying to make his voice sound calm. There was no point in saying something in Quatre's defense, he told himself, all it would do would be just pissing the morph off even more.

"Too bad for you. Because I certainly do."

Hannigan's long bony fingers clasped on Quatre's arm, tossing the boy against the wall. The cry Quatre made at the impact made Trowa want to close his ears and eyes, not to hear or see any of it. His heart was thumping wildly, the beating of pulse in his temples hot and hard.

It probably would be easier if Quatre fought or screamed, didn't just take it, with this withdrawn, almost blank expression in his eyes. As if he retreated somewhere inside himself - maybe, somewhere where pain was not.

"Stand upright," the morph said disdainfully, yanking Quatre up on his feet. The boy's thin arm was already marked with fresh finger-shaped bruises. His teeth were chattering again, but now not with cold; the whole Quatre's body was shaking. The morph's fingers pressed under Quatre's chin, making him look up. Trowa could see how the boy's throat worked as he tried to swallow. There was more blood trickling from his mouth.

"Give me a kiss, little flower," Hannigan said.

Trowa looked away in disgust. A part of his brain reasoned - how he was going to do it with Zechs if he couldn't even look at it being done to someone else. But mostly he didn't think anything at all, just felt sick and faint.

"Hannigan," the other morph said. "Let's take him to the barracks, enough of that."

"Enough," Hannigan agreed lightly. "Just one more little thing."

Trowa winced as the morph was next to him again, the creature's abnormally long arms wrapped around Quatre's shoulders.

"I don't want you to feel guilty, pretty boy, for bringing it all on your friend."

Quatre's not my friend, Trowa thought harshly, nothing like that. The misery in the boy's eyes was almost impossible to bear. I don't have to think about it, Trowa reminded himself, I have to think about my mission. But this thought didn't have real strength behind it. All his thoughts were a mess; it might've been because of the sickness... but somehow he couldn't be sure of it. He couldn't be sure of anything.

"In fact, the little whore likes it rough. I know it for sure," Hannigan said. Quatre's face was nearly void of any expression, just his lips trembled. He must've been in pain, Trowa realized, his arm was twisted behind his back at a very wrong angle. "Don't you, Quatre Winner?"

A push made Quatre's arm wrench up a bit more as a short cry got off his lips; Quatre's eyes went unfocused for a moment.

Please say that you do, Trowa thought, and let it be finished. Let them take him away, to the barracks or wherever they were intended to and leave him, Trowa, alone to pursue his own aims. Let him stop seeing all this.

As if it stopped going once he didn't see it. Memories flooded him suddenly, unexplainably - of Quatre's small hand clasping on his as he pulled Trowa up on his feet, his giggling childish voice asking another pointless question, their shared warmth just such a little time ago.

And now the boy was standing in front of him with his eyes nearly black with pain and his lips nearly white - with the morph demanded him to say those words, to humiliate himself even further.

"What's wrong, Quatre?" the morph repeated. "Tell him how much you like it."

For a moment it seemed Quatre was going to say what Hannigan wanted to hear from him - what Trowa wanted to hear from him. Then he made a sharp intake of breath and kept silent.

"Hannigan," the other morph said in a bored voice. "Let's go. Others are waiting."

"Just a moment. Something's wrong with my slut. He's probably forgotten who he belongs to."

The morph's movements were too fast again; Quatre was pushed away, slumping against the wall. For a moment Trowa felt relief, almost believing that somehow it was all over - but the expression of desperate apprehension in Quatre's eyes said him it was definitely not.

"So, you don't like me," the morph said. "I'm really hurt. But it's okay, I know who'll you like, by all means. Kirov, bring Nero here."

The words didn't have much meaning for Trowa but the expression of wild terror filling Quatre's eyes shocked him. The boy scrambled up on his knees hastily, reaching for the morph; Hannigan stepped away so that just the flap of his uniform brushed against Quatre's fingers.

The boy's voice was so small it had practically no sound at all, the words coming disjointed, desperate.

"Please... please, sir... don't... I'll do whatever you want me to... Please, sir... I like you, I like what you do, I like everything..."

His voice broke; he was shaking so hard he couldn't talk. A feeling of premonition seized Trowa, the knowledge that something that frightened Quatre so much couldn't be good - and somehow, in some way it meant bad for him as well. The other morph stepped in, holding a black morph-dog on the leash.

This one was bigger than the species that guarded the passengers in the hangar, its dark muzzle with small red eyes wrinkled and leathery. The morph's face was blank as he held the creature at his feet.

"Here, here," Hannigan said stepping away and Trowa saw how even residuals of hope were gone from Quatre's gaze, shock making his eyes dulled, unseeing. The boy crouched on the floor, hugging himself, as if the barrier of his thin arms could ever be a protection enough. It seemed he couldn't bear to look at the dog - and yet was bound to look at it, as if hypnotized.

"Perhaps you'll enjoy watching *this*, pretty boy," Hannigan said to Trowa. Kirov unleashed the dog quietly, his face impenetrable.

The creature rushed forward, its strong body pushing Quatre down, its paws on the boy's chest as its muzzle shoved against the boy's face and neck. With sick feeling Trowa recalled his own stand with a morph-dog, the pressure of a heavy body, the seeking snout butting into his chest. Quatre made just one sound, a choked gasp as the dog pushed him - and then went silent. Trowa could see blood leaking on his arms from under the dog's claws.

His pulse was beating so hard it hurt. His habitual mantra - about the mission, about what he had to do - didn't work any more, sounded distant and even meaningless. Hannigan stepped a bit closer.

"Come on, kid. You know what to do. Nero loves you."

The dog backed away slightly, as if waiting for something. Quatre's head rolled, his eyes with nearly translucent eyelids closed tightly. His chest was fluttering as if his breath was troubled. Trowa wondered if he was even conscious; he probably was - just gone too far into shock.

"Move," Hannigan said. "You know what to do. Get on your fours, little bitch. Nero doesn't like to wait."

Understanding hit Trowa at the same moment as the dog growled, plunged forward again, its muzzle against Quatre's midriff, its teeth scraping the boy's side. He saw a trickle of blood - and then it all swirled around him as he threw himself forward, his body impacting against the dog's as he pushed it away from Quatre.

So much for the mission, he thought absently.

The dog must've been confused for a second, letting him push it away - but at the next moment it came round and jumped. Trowa didn't resist its weight, rolled on the floor. Nero was over him, pinning him down, the dog's huge head with bared teeth bent down.

"Take him, Nero," Hannigan said. "He's all yours."

The dog obeyed immediately but even as the words sounded, Trowa threw his hands forward, catching the heavy muzzle, pushing it away from his face. The dog struggled against his grip, growling low, pressing down. He knew he would die if his hands wavered. Most possibly he would die in any case. He kept holding, not knowing how long he would be able to keep the muzzle away from his throat - seconds, half a minute? Like through a thick cloth, Kirov's voice reached him:

"Should I call it off?"

"Don't," Hannigan said lightly. "I want to see it."

His fingers were too weak; the muscles in his arms vibrated and with every moment Trowa knew he had less chances for the one move he needed. A move he'd known just theoretically, he hadn't killed a living creature before, even if he knew how. Spittle fell on his face from Nero's muzzle, the dog's tiny eyes glared in his face unceasingly.

It was a matter of speed - and how could he hope to be faster than a morph creation? But he did do it; loosened the grip momentarily, recapturing the huge head again before the teeth locked on his throat, twisting abruptly. His wrists screamed with pain and for a split second he thought nothing happened. Then a soft cracking sound told him the dog's neck was broken.

Nero's paws still continued scrubbing on his chest, tearing his jacket and his skin - but the creature was already really dead, blood-thirst and hatred draining from its dulling eyes. With the last effort Trowa wrenched from under the dog before it slumped with all its weight on him.

The room swayed and danced in front of his eyes, the light in it not yellow any more but red and black. He was vaguely aware of the presence of two morphs there, heard Kirov's lost voice repeating:

"He's killed it. He's killed it."

Trowa made an unsure step and slid down on his knees next to Quatre. His own voice sounded strange for him, his hands felt alien as he touched the boy, asked:

"Are you okay? Can you hear me?"

He felt Quatre move - and a moment later the boy was over him, clinging to him, pasting himself over him, his thin cold arms wrapped around Trowa's neck, the grip almost painful as the boy's skinny body pressed against his, shivering.

"T... trowa..." the word came out stumbling but the hands touching his face, petting it, like fluttering wings, seemed to know what they did. Trowa thought about breaking free, about this closeness being not right, not conforming to the rules - but couldn't find enough self-control to separate himself from Quatre's embrace. "It could kill you," Quatre whispered, his cheek pressed to Trowa's shoulder. "It could kill you!"

"Well, now something else will kill him," Hannigan said philosophically. Trowa looked up at the morph and saw the charge gun directed at him. Now he did push Quatre away, with a reasonable thought that it didn't do for both of them to get a hit - but this thought what the last thing he had time for before pain seized him in white flame.

The end of Chapter 4

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