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Slash and Yaoi Fiction
SWEET DARKNESS

Chapter 5

"I knew you'd give me a reason if I tried hard. But that was almost too good."

Hannigan's voice reached him through the darkness, and Trowa struggled unconsciously, before having time to regain self-control. As it turned out, his struggles were futile, his hands chained above his head. The rough edges of the cuffs were cutting into his wrists and he tried to ease the pressure but his feet barely touched the floor. Yet this pain was good for him, making him lucid again.

"Now even Merquise won't say you shouldn't be punished."

Hannigan stood so close that for a few moments Trowa couldn't see anything but the morph's narrow silhouette, the pale deformed face frozen in a smile. The morph's hand whipped forward, captured his face and tilted his chin up so forcefully Trowa started losing his feet again. Sickness came back, at the thought of the colorless lips closing to his. He bit his tongue so hard it started bleeding. There was nothing he could do - he'd made his choice when he'd fought the dog away from Quatre. At that moment he'd given the power over his body and his life to the morph.

Quatre... Worry, unexpectedly sharp, pierced him. He didn't know why he worried. It was illogical. The little prostitute shouldn't have been his concern, meant nothing for the mission and the Order. Why then did he, Trowa, ruin everything for the boy's sake?

He thrashed, trying to get free from Hannigan's grip. For the first time he realized they were not in the cell any more but in some room, an interrogation room, apparently - looking nearly identical to the one where Trowa had spent last night.

Quatre was there, too - sitting on the floor with his knees up against his chest. His wrists were chained to the wall high above his head and there were small trickles of blood running down his arms. His enormous tragic eyes, so dark on the fair face, met Trowa's gaze with silent despair. Trowa looked away in distress; his intervention hadn't obviously changed anything, had spared Quatre nothing.

"What shall I do with you?" Hannigan asked conversationally as his hands roamed over Trowa's chest, under the jacket. "Punish you first and fuck you later? Or the other way round? I think I'll like my cock in that pretty mouth of yours. I wonder how you'll enjoy the taste of my come. It starts burning after a little while unless I let you wash it out - here, the little flower knows it well."

Trowa stuck his fingernails in the hard metal of the cuffs and felt the tips of his fingers bleed. Hannigan hit him, the punch in his abdomen so hard that Trowa had to bite the inside of his lip through not to make a sound.

"I think punishment will go first," the morph said. "I'd like you all soft and weeping after I finish."

I won't weep, you fool, Trowa thought. The sight of an electrified whip in the morph's hand made him sick with apprehension. He suppressed an involuntary shudder. There was constant metallic taste in his mouth from the blood he had to swallow. Quatre's voice reached him through the pounding in his head.

"Please, sir... please don't..."

"Shut up, bitch," Hannigan said lightly. "It's all your fault, remember that as you watch how I beat him. And I'll add to his punishment for every word you utter now."

Divide and conquer; an old tactics. Despite himself, Trowa felt the corner of his mouth curve in a smile. He never finished the thinking - the pain that wrapped him made him choke, turning his thoughts incoherent, disjointed.

He hadn't realized it would be so bad; he'd never been whipped before - Misques didn't believe in corporal punishments - rather applied boycotts, isolation, public condemnation or fasting. The feeling of the electrified lash clinging to his body was unspeakable. There was no trace left but he kept feeling it, across his chest and upper belly, even as the next blow came.

I won't weep, he thought again - but he did cry out, on the fifth blow, hated himself for this strangled sound that, no doubt, pleased the morph. Blood from his bitten lips got in his throat and he coughed. Fire-like pain encircled his body, tore into his mind. He clung to the only thought he had left - that no matter what, the morph wouldn't see his tears.

He didn't close his eyes but darkness surrounded him, turning Hannigan's figure into a shadow and the lashing whip into an arc of brightness.

The flash was stopped suddenly and no other blow came. Trowa struggled with his failing sight, shook his head furiously, trying to see clearly. Sickness became nearly overwhelming but at least he knew what he saw now - another morph next to Hannigan, a hand in white glove gripping on the Hannigan's wrist.

"It's enough," Zechs said.

For a moment, Trowa felt overpowering joy at seeing him - and cringed in shame at the next moment. How weak he became, how disgraceful if he started seeing the morph as his rescuer, started feeling gratitude to him for stopping the pain.

"He killed Nero," Hannigan said, jerking his wrist out of Zechs' grip.

"I know, I know." The helmeted man's voice was light, derisive. "You provoked him, didn't you? Kirov told me all about it."

"Kirov should mind his own business," Hannigan muttered.

"Oh?" Trowa saw how Zechs' mouth rounded in a feigned surprise. "I thought that, as the head of the block, I have the right to be informed about everything that happens. You don't think so, Hannigan?"

For a little while the morph didn't answer, his lips compressed in a thin line - and then he stepped away, shrugging.

"Yes, sir."

"That's better." In a fluid movement Zechs came up to Trowa, his hands flying up to touch Trowa's face briefly, brush the strands of hair away. Trowa wanted to avoid the touch but had too little control over his body to do that. Zechs still must've noticed his feeble struggles. "It's okay, my beautiful one," he said softly. "It'll stop hurting now."

The lock opened, releasing his cuffed hands, and Trowa slid down - and there were Zechs' arms, solid and strong, supporting him.

"Don't fear to fall," the morph's voice whispered against his ear, a tress of Zechs' hair ticklish. "'Cause I like catching you. I'm taking him away," he added in a different, business-like voice to Hannigan.

"Yes, sir. As you wish, sir." But as they were at the door, Trowa heard the other morph mutter in sotto voce hatefully. "Damn freak."

His consciousness was wavering as Zechs walked him along the corridor. He'd like to get free from the morph's grip but wasn't sure he could stand by himself. He didn't know if it was the aftereffects of whipping or if his state worsened again because of the vaccine - but he seemed to be on the verge of blacking out every moment.

"Here." Zechs' voice reached him through half-oblivion. "My office."

Next thing Trowa knew was that he sat in an armchair, deep and comfortable, and Zechs was leaning towards him. His white hair shimmered and his polished helmet shimmered as well and for some reason it was painful on Trowa's eyes, so, he squinted.

"Is something wrong?" Zechs asked, a strange note of worry in his voice. "Don't pass out on me any more... my beautiful criminal."

His hand was on Trowa's face again, cupping his cheek - and Trowa moved away, deeper into the armchair. His hands were chained in front of him, he noticed - in fact, stayed chained from the time he'd been hanging on his wrists. It wouldn't hinder him to push Zechs away, though.

"You're stubborn as always." Zechs left him, straightened, crossing his arms on his chest. "One might think you preferred Hannigan's company to mine. Do you feel so disgusted with me? Is it because I'm a morph?"

Of course, it was; there was no other race that liked morphs, that would willingly contact with them. And yet, as Trowa thought about it, it was not just that - the fear he felt about Zechs, the panic that seized him at the man's every touch... Trowa couldn't explain it - or didn't want to try to explain, so, he just said:

"Yes."

It seemed to him there was something bitter in the curve of Zechs' mouth as he stood looking down at Trowa thoughtfully.

"You know the history of morphs, don't you?" he said all of a sudden.

Surely Trowa studied it; he had an unpleasant feeling in his stomach as the idea what Zechs was talking about came to him.

"I do."

"And what is it you know?" The voice was taunting and yet somehow strained. Even when Zechs didn't touch him, the morph's presence was still overwhelming, affecting Trowa in some way. He muttered without looking at Zechs.

"Morphs are mutated humans."

"Right," Zechs said lightly. "Colonists sent away to the planet where it was impossible to survive. But it turned out human genes had a lot of secrets. Who could guess that the children born there would be anthropomorphs, perfectly adapted to the new conditions - and stronger, faster, more flexible than their ancestors? Who could guess that the side effect of the mutation would be enhanced intellect?"

"You got back to those who wronged us, didn't you?" Trowa said quietly. "More than justly. All those planets where humans die of diseases and radiation... and don't mutate, for some reason..."

"Yeah, right," Zechs interrupted him as if it was didn't interest him, as if it was not what he wanted to hear. Trowa looked at the flood of the white hair as the morph turned away from him. His voice sounded hoarse as he talked. "But did you ever wonder what happened if anthropomorphs mutated as well? If, for some reason, a child was born in different conditions, in the conditions close to original ones of the Earth? Backward mutation, so to say? Looking too human for his own good? What about such a creature?

"It depends on what his parents are, doesn't it?" Zechs continued in a light, almost casual voice - but he never turned back, never looked at Trowa. "For example, they might occupy such high positions that no one would dare to say it in their face that their child was an abnormality, a deviant. No one would dare to put any obstacles on his way; he would get everything - a rank, a career, a post - just as far away from the home planet as possible. 'Please, please, go and spare us from the shame of seeing your face.'

"It's funny but some really think it can be contagious." There was joyless laughter in the morph's voice. "Can rub off or something like that. It's convenient sometimes, however, you know - when no one wants to cross your way."

Zechs turned abruptly, his eyes flashing with dark, bright blue in the slits of the helmet. Trowa didn't have time to say anything - and, in fact, he had nothing to say as Zechs moved to him swiftly, his hand on Trowa's throat, hard, not really suffocating but not letting go as well.

"By the way, Kirov told me you wanted to see me. What was it about?"

Trowa shivered. What was it about? It seemed such a long time ago - all his reasoning of that period so distant that he barely could recall what he had been intended to do, after all.

'To have sex with you' was an honest answer; 'and then to escape' was even more honest. But it wouldn't have worked, Trowa realized suddenly; even if he'd managed to get it on with Zechs. The morph would never let him go.

"About nothing," he whispered, his voice barely audible.

"Liar." Zechs' slap wasn't of real force, just stinging a little. "Liar and coward."

His hand in Trowa's hair gripped hard, forcing his head back. He leaned closer, so close that Trowa felt smooth surface of the helmet against his face. And at the next moment Zechs' lips were on his, Zechs' tongue in his mouth.

Zechs' lips felt soft and warm, his tongue wet and obtrusive, wandering in Trowa's mouth. Trowa didn't feel any taste, his nasopharynx was swollen and insensitive; there was just the feeling of something alien in his mouth. Neither pleasant nor repulsive... But the helmet pressed against his face inconveniently, painfully - and it returned him to reality. He hit with his cuffed hands into Zechs' chest and kicked with both his feet - and the morph flopped on the floor, seeming slightly disoriented. Trowa got on his feet, staring down at the man.

There was no way to escape, so, he just waited as Zechs wiped his mouth on the back of his palm and rose.

"I guess I'm in for another meeting with Hannigan or Ivers," Trowa said levelly.

Zechs' movements were slightly stiff - Trowa must've hurt him, after all. A blow in his solar plexus made him double, hunch over Zechs' arm. Zechs supported him and lowered him on his knees almost carefully as Trowa gasped, trying to catch a breath. But his grip on Trowa's shoulders was iron-hard, pushing Trowa on his fours.

Against his side, Trowa felt Zechs' groin pressed to him and knew that the morph had an erection.

"I can take you right now," Zechs said in a sing-sang voice. "How will you like it? It'll be your first time, right? Face down, seeing nothing but the carpet, feeling nothing but pain. You'll never be as before after that, you'll always be dirty. Even if you ever manage to get out of here, you'll be spoiled. Your Order won't want you any more - you, a whore, a failure... No one would want you any more. No one... Even I."

Zechs' voice broke, and suddenly, in a flash of understanding that pierced through the cloudiness of Trowa's mind, Trowa knew that Zechs' threats and insults were really not directed against him - but in some weird way mirrored the morph's own pain and fears.

Deep down in his heart, a feeling akin to pity moved in him - but at the next moment Zechs pressed his head to the floor roughly and all Trowa could think about was struggling uncontrollably, just to delay the inevitable a little more.

The floor shook under him suddenly, an echo of a distant explosion seeming at first just like beating of blood against his eardrums. But it must've been real because Zechs' hand let him go abruptly. Trowa backed away from the morph, looked up. Zechs got on his feet smoothly, his small mouth compressed. Sounds of alarm first seemed to be far away and then grew louder, flooded the room. Trowa saw the morph wince.

For him, the noise was almost unbearable. His aching head and raw nerves shot through with pain. Involuntarily, he held his head, covering his ears - but it did nothing to make the sounds go away. He noticed Zechs' lips move and rather guessed than heard what the morph said:

"Stay here. I'll go check what it is."

The door shut behind the man, and then Trowa moved. He felt dizzy and weak, sore all over - but he also knew that if he didn't move now, he'd probably lose his only chance.

He looked around the room, searching for weapon - and above Zechs' table saw two thin ancient rapiers, crossed under the glass. He hit against the glass with his cuffs, turning away from the splinters. His hand smeared blood on a sharp piece of glass as he reached for a rapier - but finally he had it. Its point was probably blunted but still it was a kind of weapon. Trowa walked to the entrance, intended to wait for Zechs to return to attack him when another explosion shook the ground under his feet. He fell forward, onto the door - and as the door slid away from under him, he found himself in the corridor.

Next to him, other doors opened smoothly as the sounds of alarm became frenzied.

He saw morph soldiers, running, and saw other species as well. He pressed to the wall but no one seemed to notice him or pay enough attention. With an effort, Trowa resurrected the plan of the prison in his mind - as much of it as he knew. If he was going to get to the shuttle, he had to go downstairs.

If? What else was he going to do? This was his chance, no doubt his only one. He saw a few men in ragged clothes - probably prisoners as well - moving in that direction. One of the morphs stopped to shoot at them; two men fell, two more managed to escape. And at the next moment the morph fell dead as well, attacked by some species, unknown to Trowa, from behind.

It looked like an illustration to Struggle for Existence, Trowa thought wryly. Or it looked like hell. He leaned against the wall and supported himself with the rapier stuck against the floor. He knew what he had to do - his mind gave him very definite orders. To get downstairs and fight his way to a shuttle, flee from there. But when he moved, he walked not down but forward, against the flow of people.

He had barely registered the way when Zechs had dragged him from the interrogation room to his office - but something had to stay in his head. Maybe, it's all in vain, he thought helplessly; maybe, he's not even there any more. Taken back to the cell... and then Trowa would never find him. Or dead.

The door to the room was opened, as all others - and Quatre was there - and no one else.

"Trowa!" There was incredulity, joy and distress mixed in the boy's voice. Trowa wanted to say something but staying upright demanded so much strength he had to clench his teeth - so, he just shrugged weakly.

The boy's hands were cuffed - just like Trowa's had been when Hannigan had whipped him, and Trowa thought scathingly that the morph probably just replaced the toy with another one when Zechs had taken him away. What upset him most was blood that leaked from Quatre's mouth as the boy talked. His breath sounded so painful he likely had a few ribs broken. Focused on the immediate task, Trowa found the control device, pushed the button opening the lock holding the boy's hands. Quatre slipped on the floor bonelessly.

"Come on..." Trowa reached his hands to help him get up; the rapier was just a hindrance so, he let it go. "Get up. We need to get out of here."

He felt Quatre hang onto him for a moment and then the boy fell again. There was a strange feeble smile on Quatre's face.

"I don't think... I can walk."

"Oh. Okay."

Trowa turned with his back to him, got down on one knee.

"Hold on then. I'll carry you."

He was not sure he could but there was no fuckin' way he was leaving the boy here; not after all the way he'd done for it.

"Just look at this. How touching!"

Trowa's long bangs obscured half of the view from him - and for a moment he could almost make himself believe it was just an illusion, his fear materialized. He heard Quatre's short gasp; of course, the morph was real. For some reason Hannigan had returned.

"You're just a stupid boy," the morph said. "And I don't have time to play with you. I think I'll do it quickly now."

The gun in his hand was not a charge gun but a real one, pointing down at Trowa. For some reason Trowa couldn't look higher than it was, couldn't look at the morph's face - saw just the black round muzzle in Hannigan's hand.

Shouldn't have left the rapier, he thought absently; although what difference it would make - apart from dying with a weapon in his hands.

A sudden burst of fire made him look up; and he'd thought that when you were shot, you didn't hear the sound. But he wasn't shot; it was Hannigan whose chest suddenly tore with bluish flowers of open wounds. The morph's purple blood splashed on Trowa's face as he looked at the swaying creature in disbelief. It seemed Hannigan still tried to pull the trigger, with his last movement - but already couldn't do it. He felt forward, down at Trowa's feet.

And then, behind the morph, Trowa saw the one who'd been shooting - a smiling man with an automatic gun in his hands. The man was dressed in camouflage and his face framed with reddish-brown hair looked vaguely familiar. Trowa just felt too messed up to recognize him.

"I think it was timely, ne, kid?" the man said, his smile getting even brighter for a moment.

"Thank... thank you..."

"Never mind." He stepped over the morph's long legs and nodded to Trowa. "Get out of here while it's possible."

At the next moment he was gone - and shots were heard farther down the corridor. Trowa turned to Quatre and repeated:

"Hold on. Let's go."

The boy looked guiltily at him and Trowa shook his head impatiently. Quatre's bony arms hooked around his neck, and he got up.

With how skinny Quatre was, he just couldn't weigh much - and at any other moment Trowa would carry him effortlessly. Now he could carry him, too - there was just no other way about it.

First few corridors were empty, just dead bodies here and there - but as Trowa reached downstairs, it was inferno. The crowd was so dense, all kinds of species moving towards the shuttles, that the mass seemed solid, with a few taller figures of morphs caught in its middle. The vibration from leaving shuttles was continuous - and yet the crowd didn't grow thinner.

He knew there was no way everyone could take place in a shuttle - all those prisoners desperate to leave. He entered into the crowd, got in the flow and even managed to advance a little. His cuffed hands didn't let him shield from the pushes - and he heard a small painful cry Quatre made as someone must've shoved against his broken ribs. Another push, more like blow, made him stumble - and suddenly a hard hand caught him, pulled away. Almost without surprise Trowa looked at Zechs' helmet-covered face.

"I knew I'd find you," the morph breathed out.

The words were so senseless that Trowa thought he must've heard wrong. In this mess, with everything falling apart - Zechs wanted to say he was looking for him? Three of them were pressed to the wall by running people; Trowa let Quatre slide off his back and swayed with sudden relief. His knees were so weak he didn't know how he could stand.

"Don't go there," Zechs said in a low voice.

You can't stop me, Trowa wanted to say. The power of the morphs over the prison was down - ruined probably by that man in fatigues who'd shot Hannigan just a little while ago. He saw Zechs' very long fingers reach to his face. The morph's gloves were torn and soaked in dark fluid, so mixed that Trowa couldn't say whether it was human or morphs' blood.

"Don't go," Zechs repeated.

The next explosion was very close, the blinding fireball blossoming down the corridor, right in the middle of the crowd. It felt like the wall Trowa leaned against started crumbling. But, maybe, it was just his body that was giving up.

He was sliding down and couldn't stop it - and saw Zechs' narrowed eyes, looking at him attentively. He heard Quatre's desperate voice, screaming something next to him. Zechs put his hand in his pocket - and suddenly Trowa knew what he'd see next. A flash of the blade in the morph's hand.

"Please... Please here! Help him!" Quatre cried out, and Trowa wondered absently who the boy could ask for help. And at the next moment more people in fatigues were in his range of vision - the familiar one among them and for some reason Trowa thought he must've seen this beautiful radiant face on TV before - or over the numbers stating an award for his capture.

He didn't know if Zechs was shot or hit but the morph slumped on the floor suddenly. There was no knife in his slack hand, just a card for unlocking the cuffs.

"Help him! You won't leave him - you saved his life once, sir," Quatre's lilting voice was so insistent - Trowa hadn't known it could sound like this.

"Captain?" someone asked behind the man. The man walked up to them and bent towards Trowa.

"Okay," he said briskly, his eyes darkened blue on the white face. "We need witnesses all the same."

He took the gun in his left hand and his right arm wrapped around Trowa's ribcage, pulling him up. Trowa wanted to mind being dragged like a kitten or a little child but the man didn't seem to notice.

"Quatre..." he looked back for the boy and saw in relief that another man helped him up.

"What about the morph?" The smallest one of the insurrectionists, a thin black-haired boy, probably no older than Trowa himself, spoke with almost unmoving lips, his thin black eyebrows drawn together.

"What about him?" the man turned back slightly.

"He's not dead."

"Then finish him off, Wufei."

"Look at his rank, I think we might use him."

"All right," the man shrugged. "Then take him as well."

Trowa saw how Zechs was jerked up on his feet, his arms twisted behind his back cruelly. The morph's head drooped, he probably was not quite conscious, and his long hair flooded down against his chest like threads of silver.

"To the flyers," someone said.

The end of Chapter 5

&&&

Chapter 6

The room was a tangle of thin nets hanging from the ceiling, separating the area in tiny cells. It apparently was done to prevent sand from littering everything but it didn't work so well and the floor was layered with tiny ribbed dunes of golden gravel while dust clung to face and hands unbearably.

The lights, caught in the web of gauze, seemed reddish and dull and the figures of the doctors looked like vague white shadows, their voices distant humming. They were taking care of wounded; there were wounded among the men in fatigues; maybe, there were dead as well.

"Where are we?" Trowa's voice was hoarse, barely audible and his eyebrows drew together in pain as he talked.

"At the infirmary," I said. "On some planet. I don't know which one."

I'd barely had a glance at it, at the vast spaces of yellow sand under orange sky as we'd got out of the flyers. The men left us here, in a small space with two beds, separated with flimsy screens from the rest of the room. They also had taken the cuffs off of Trowa and me - which was good.

"Damn." Trowa's voice wavered.

His bloodless face with sunken closed eyes shadowed, teeth clenched hard. It was hot in the room, even stifling with all those nets catching the air, but he didn't stop shivering, even under the blanket, hugging himself, his narrow hands clasped on the dark-red material of his torn mucky jacket. I pulled a blanket from the other bed, piled it over him. His hair was hiding half of his face; I smoothed it away, probing his forehead. Well, it was nothing I wouldn't know without it: he was burning again. His eyelashes trembled as he tried to open his eyes, then shook his head.

"Go away. You're heavy."

I took my hand away quickly, still feeling the heat of his skin against my fingers.

"Trowa," I whispered. "I'll go call for someone. You're really sick."

"No!" For once there was strength in his voice, intensity making it louder. "Don't call for anyone. You're such a... pest."

I took a deeper breath, feeling how sharp hot pain pierced my side. The never-leaving tang of blood in my mouth became stronger; I fought pain and sickness and fear until I could be sure my voice would sound reasonably steady.

"Trowa... I'm sorry."

"What for?" His voice was inanimate again, the words slurred. His eyelashes never rose, as if too heavy for that. I leaned against the bed rails, holding my side, trying to take little small breaths to lull the pain away.

"If you didn't carry me, you wouldn't get so sick."

His eyebrows arched as if in misery.

"Baka."

"If you didn't come for me, you would be able to get away on a shuttle."

I knew that; I wasn't a fool, no matter what he said. If he hadn't returned for me, I would've likely been dead now. Or with Hannigan. A wave of panic flooded me at the thought of the morph's deadly white face, colorless lips and enormously long fingers, at the memory of a too loud sound of my ribs cracking under his fist.

"That's good, little flower. I like it so much when your eyes go all big and black."

No, it was just a memory, nothing more; Hannigan was dead, I reminded myself - he couldn't touch me any more.

"I did what I wanted to do," Trowa whispered; there was a weird expression on his face - so much determination... as if he wanted to convince himself in what he was saying. "It was my decision. You have nothing to do with it."

I chuckled quietly; yeah, maybe, I had nothing to do with it. He'd just saved my life.

I didn't say anything but he grew restless suddenly, tossed as if trying to escape something - a grip, a presence.

"Shut up! I don't want to hear it. Shut up!"

He was delirious again and I didn't know which way I preferred him. He could be so snappish when lucid - silent or antagonistic - but his tormenting deliriums when he argued with someone who wasn't here were even worse. I sat quietly in the bottom part of his bed, waiting for him to calm down.

"He said I would die there... but I didn't... I already got out... I'll leave here as well... I'll do what I have to, I didn't forget..."

I felt a little pang of misery at his anxiety, at his determination. He'd talked like this in prison, as well - about something he had to do, no matter what. Oh, surely he'd do it - I already knew Trowa well enough to believe that nothing could stop him once he decided. He'd leave here... and I wouldn't see him ever again.

"At first you have to get well," I said in a reasonable voice.

He must've heard it. His mouth curved in a wry smile as he shook his head.

"Silly. I can't get well."

There was something in his words... something that made me believe him - and made my heart sink hopelessly.

"You'll die? You can't die, can you?"

He'd talked about having more two weeks or something like that, before - and I clung to this thought desperately. I saw his bluish eyelids move; a flash of his eyes was dimmed green.

"Why... why do you care?"

Why did *you* care, I thought; why did you care what would happen to me? I shifted, pulling my knees up to my chest. It made breathing more difficult but in a way I felt less vulnerable like that, as if my own body could give me some protection. It was an illusion, of course; if anything, my body had turned or was used against me countless times

Trowa's pale face, eyes closed again, was blank and tired, as if he was sleeping or unconscious. I listened to his breath, steady and quiet, feeling how this sound calmed me down somehow.

"Quatre." He shifted restlessly. "Have you gone somewhere?"

Hadn't he told me to go away?

"Nope," I said. "I'm here."

"Good." His frown smoothed a little. "Although I don't care, of course... you can go if you want."

"I don't want," I said.

"Quatre..." There was some strange, fluttering sound in his voice - and it let me know he didn't know what he was saying again, was delirious once more. "Pretty one. Little... little prince."

Little prince; that's how Hannigan called me, keen on various endearments that he inevitably made sound as insults. I closed my eyes, fighting the memories, intent not to let them crowd on me. It was Trowa who said it - Trowa who'd saved me from what I didn't want to recall; from Trowa these words sounded different, even if I couldn't understand why he wanted to say them.

"You make me feel wrong," he whispered, his fluctuating voice dream-like, distant. "Make me want to touch you... you to touch me... It's not right... I don't want it... I know what's right," all of a sudden his voice became strong, hard, almost unwavering. "I won't do any mistakes any more, Raymond."

I bit my lip, looking at him in misery. I wished so much I could reach to him, to pull him out of the world of hallucinations where he was. But I knew how he reacted when I touched him, so, I stayed where I was. There were blackish circles swaying in front of my eyes at the lack of oxygen since I couldn't take a normal breath. My side under my hands seemed throbbing with hot pain at every heartbeat. I held tighter, hoping for it to stop.

"So, let me see what you have there, young man."

The voice sounded behind me - and the touch came from there, too - a grip of cold metal on my elbow, very hard. I panicked even before turning back, thrashed, rolled down from the bed on the floor, wrenching out of the hold and looked up. A sound that escaped me was a strangled shriek.

"Hey, hey," the man said hastily, raising both his hands, of flesh and of metal. "I just wanted to see..."

"What happened?" Trowa was sitting on the bed, his eyes opened but glazed, unseeing. "Don't you touch him."

"...wanted to see if I can do something about your ribs."

The man had a white coat on; his grey hair was tossed away from a wrinkled face with such a strange kind of glasses I'd never seen before. He was a cripple - one of his hands was an elaborated device made of shiny metal, its fingers moving with almost morph-like speed. It must've been what had scared me so much. I sighed, feeling chagrined and unhappy with my own stupidity.

"You look like you can use a doctor, kid," the man said and then looked at Trowa. "And you too. Wataru!"

A man appeared, pushed the net away - a much younger one, blond and in gold-rimmed glasses - and stood silently looking at the other doctor.

"See to this one," the grey-haired man pointed at Trowa. "And I'll take care of the other."

He reached his hand to me and, as I took it, pulled me up to my feet.

The floor seemed a bit shaky and the man's face was suddenly too close, breaking in a smile as I gripped on his hand harder.

"Nice to meet you. I'm Doctor J. But you can call me simply 'sir'. And what's your name?"

"Quatre," I said.

On the next bed, Wataru was making a quick examination of Trowa.

"You're so messed up, both of you, kids," Doctor J said disapprovingly, pushing me to sit down. "Well, we'll see what can be done about it."

I saw Trowa resist weakly as Wataru pulled his blankets down, opened his jacket. The man turned to Doctor J suddenly, his eyes widened behind the glasses.

"I'm not sure, doctor, but it certainly looks like... Well, you'd better take a look."

I watched them cautiously as they bent over Trowa, the younger man's voice sounding very tight.

"Fever... these red lines on his ribcage, see there? It certainly looks like seizure-flu. We might be on the verge of an epidemic here."

I flew from the bed, stumbled forward, as if I could shield Trowa from them. Wataru's face looked sick with fear, Doctor J's face frowned and tense.

"He's not going to cause any epidemic!" For some reason I didn't find anything better to prove it than taking Trowa's hand in mine. "He's not contagious at all. I was in the same cell with him - we slept under the same blanket - and I got nothing from him. I don't know what he has - but it's something different," I finished.

"How long were you in the same cell?" Doctor J asked.

"Four... five days." I exaggerated; but I had to make them believe it.

"And when did he fall ill?"

"He was like that already when they brought him."

"That you didn't get infected proves nothing," the old man shrugged, his fingers, real and metal, intertwined. "Some people have immunity to it. But if he's ill for so long... Seizure-flu kills overnight, that's I know."

"You don't... need to worry..." Trowa whispered; his head rolled on the pillow. "I won't... infect anyone."

"How can he know it?" Wataru snapped. I looked up at Doctor J pleadingly; of course, I didn't know the man, met him just minutes ago - but somehow it seemed to me he was not so pigheaded as his assistant. And there was no one else all the same.

"I'll make the analyses," the doctor said. A syringe appeared in his hands - and at the next moment Trowa's hand flew up, catching the man's metal wrist.

I watched Trowa push himself up into a sitting position forcefully, his eyes open, unblinking, with just thin lines of green around dilated pupils.

"The virus is not an active one. It's a vaccine."

"There's no vaccine from seizure-flu," Doctor J said mildly.

"There is," Trowa fell back again. His arms were wrapped around himself tightly and his face had a stubborn, sealed expression that I recognized so well. "I won't say anything else. I want to talk to the Captain."

"If he's contagious, it's a danger," Wataru said firmly. I saw Doctor J shrug thoughtfully.

"Treize brought him here. Go inform him about the situation. If he decides to talk to the kid, it'll be his choice."

I saw Wataru walk away and sighed out in relief a little.

"Here, I'll give you an anti-fever injection." There was no antipathy in Doctor J's voice as he talked to Trowa. "There's no reason for you to burn your brain out."

The silly one argued, of course - just as I knew he would:

"No... it can harm the vaccine..."

I could bet Doctor J was about to say something really scathing when the netting was pushed away again and, in front of Wataru, there was that very man who'd killed Hannigan and saved us, ordering to take us away.

* * *

"It's the infirmary, for Christ's sake," Doctor J kept complaining in a very quiet voice, drawing the nets behind us. "I have the right to be wherever I want to."

It was Trowa's wish - and for some reason the Captain went along with it - to talk tete-a-tete. Wataru interfered, of course, said that it was a risk, it could be some trap, an attempt of assassination or something - and the man gave him a brief, not unkind, rather indifferent look.

"There's always a risk. So, J? Will you kindly leave us alone?"

"All right, all right," the doctor muttered. "I really have things to do. Like putting some bandage on this kid's ribs."

I didn't want to walk away from Trowa - but surely there was no other way; Trowa wanted me to be gone with all others as he talked to the man with reddish-brown hair and calm blue eyes.

"Here." Doctor J stopped. "We won't hinder them here. Sit down, kid."

He talked barely audibly - and a moment later I understood why. Even though the Captain's silhouette looked dim, shadow-like now as he stood in front of Trowa's bed, his voice was clear and distinct, catching on us through the nets.

"So, now when we're alone - what did you want to talk to me about?"

I looked up at the doctor in surprise; his face was deadpan as he busied himself with some medical paraphernalia.

"You're Treize Khushrenada, right?" Trowa's voice was fainter but still distinct enough; behind it, I could feel the effort he was giving for it to sound steady. "I... recognized you."

"I am." The man's silhouette suddenly broke as he sat down on Trowa's bed. His voice was a bit softer now. "And you?"

"Trowa Barton. I belong to Misque Order. We got a vaccine from Oatta, for seizure-flu. I need to deliver it to the Order as soon as possible."

Even though Doctor J must've listened as attentively as I did, his hands never stopped moving, pulling my top up, probing my ribs. I shivered slightly at the difference of sensations from his warm human hand and cold metal one - but curiously, his touches didn't make me panic. There was something soft and yet business-like in them.

"One rib is broken, two fractured," he informed me. "I'll put fixating paste on them, so, it won't prevent you to take a shower."

"A vaccine for seizure-flu?" Treize repeated quietly. "I know they would be desperate for it in the Northern Region."

"The Order will take care of it," Trowa said unfalteringly. "I just need to take it there sooner. Immediately if possible. I got arrested by the morphs, it was a delay. And too many people died..." he added softly.

"I see." Treize's voice was thoughtful, very serious. "But I don't know what can be done about it. The planet is surrounded at the moment, neither flyer nor shuttle will be able to leave it. With time, we'll find corridors for travelling safely - but it'll take a while."

"Safety is not a priority," Trowa said in the expressionless, almost robot-like voice that he sometimes had as he talked about his duty. "I can take a risk."

"It won't be a risk. It will be suicide. As far as I understand, the vaccine will be lost if you die."

There was a pause when I seemed to hear how the nets were waving in the barest draft of the air. Then Trowa said quietly:

"I don't have much time, sir. The vaccine cannot be exposed, it's stored only inside a body. An adult body won't do, it'll kill an adult person. I can carry it for a while."

"How much time do you have?"

"Two weeks. Twelve days while I'll still be functioning."

I had known it; he was always repeating about this term. And it always seemed like something very long to me - maybe, because I didn't quite believe in what he said, half-considered it another delusion of his. But at this moment I felt something swelling in my throat, choking me. Two weeks... and then he'd die. Two weeks - it was so little, it was practically nothing!

I felt how Doctor J's hands stopped on my ribcage, his fingers touching through the film of fixating paste - and despite myself, I leaned into that touch, as if seeking protection from reality of Trowa's death in such a short time.

I had spent I didn't know how long with death hovering over me, surrounding me, in morphs' prison. But now, when we'd got out of it, when the system hadn't managed to destroy us...

"No, Trowa..." I whispered helplessly.

"A little fanatic, your friend," Doctor J said in sotto voce, taking hold on my hand, dabbing my raw wrist with disinfectant.

I bit my lip with stinging pain, my eyes filling with involuntary tears. I blinked them away angrily; it was not such a bad pain, nothing I couldn't bear.

"I see," Treize repeated. "We'll be checking for corridors and as soon as something is up, you'll get an opportunity to go. You might've heard various things about me but I'll do my best for the vaccine to get to the Northern Region."

"Thank you, sir."

"Two fanatics," Doctor J said, shaking his head. "No wonder they've come to consensus so easily."

"Trowa... Trowa is not a fanatic," I whispered; the doctor's steely glasses turned to me. "He's... he's a hero."

"For me, it's all the same," the man shrugged.

I saw Treize's figure straighten as he moved away from Trowa's bed, pulled the nets. The barriers of half-translucent material became thinner and thinner between us - and suddenly I saw him standing in front of me, his head lowered slightly, his calm eyes narrowed.

"Curiosity killed a cat, J. You should've known it in your age."

"What? I just mind my own business..."

"Yeah, right." There was no real anger in the man's voice. "And if you finished with your business - can I take the kid? I want to talk to him."

I looked up at him at loss. What could it be the Captain himself wanted to talk to me about? Did he want to re-check Trowa's story? I decided at once I'd confirm everything, what I knew and what I didn't.

"I don't know." J put a thin stripe of transparent plaster on my other wrist. "Wait behind the net, I have to check."

I could see it gave him enormous pleasure to say that. Treize walked out.

"Any other injuries you want to tell me about, kid?" J said. I knew by the tone of his voice what he was talking about and flushed, shaking my head. "You sure?"

"Yes, sir."

"All right. Treize, he's yours. And, Treize, you gotta find something for the kids to wear. This one can't... totter around here in two scraps of silk for the clothes."

My clothes were more than two scraps but I decided not to argue.

"I gotta..." Treize shrugged. "Okay, I'll see what can be done. Now follow me, will you, kid?"

"Where are you taking him? He has to be in bed."

I looked at Treize. There, in prison, during the attack, his self-confidence, his determination had a wonderful pacifying effect - as if nothing bad could happen when he was around; no bullet or fire could touch him or anyone he took under his protection. And he was beaming then - exhilarated with the battle, violently happy with all the havoc he created around him. Now this joy was gone; there was something quietly subdued in him' not less powerful - but something sad, almost sorrowful.

I got up and walked to him. Doctor J had done something that made me keep on my feet almost steadily, the pain in my ribs turned into dull ache.

"It's right over there," Treize said. "My office."

* * *

This room was much smaller and void of nets completely. A narrow window, reminding me a loophole by its form, was covered with sand at its bottom for a few inches. It must've been night outside, the darkness ink-like, almost solid. I watched Treize walk up to the table and sit down silently. He reached to the screen of a TV transmitter, made the sound louder.

"Although no terrorist group assumed responsibility for this act, the Executive Board announced that they blamed for the attack so-called New Answer Brigade led by Treize Khushrenada, former Captain of United Force. Two years ago, as the truce between United Planets and Marotania was signed, Khushrenada refused to lay down arms..."

A flicker of Treize's wrist switched the channels. I saw the record of the attack starting, flyers approaching the huge glimmering disc of the prison.

"Central Prison, otherwise known as 'Ismail', considered escape-proof, had never been under attack since its foundation twelve years ago. How could it happen that it fell under one blow from a famous terrorist group?"

There was something in Treize's face, something that made me look at him rather than at the screen. I wondered if it was being called a terrorist that made his mouth tremble as if in pain.

"The government of Marotania already demanded apology from the Executive Board, as well as extradition of Khushrenada."

'Marotanians' was morphs' self-denomination, I recalled. No one else called them this way apart from media and politics, and even they not always.

"The number of casualties among morphs is unknown - but for other species it certainly could count for thousands, when the fugitives, who hijacked the shuttles from the prison's bay, entered the minefield surrounding the prison. This newest addition to the security system was unknown to anyone except prison officials. So, even though Marotanians couldn't prevent their captives from actually leaving the prison, they still could boast that no criminals escaped during this attack."

I looked at the screen blankly. There, rotund shapes of shuttles blasted silently in the darkness of space.

I recalled suddenly the quiet, insistent voice of the helmeted morph who'd stopped Trowa on his way.

"Don't go there. Don't."

If he... if we got to a shuttle, we would be dead now. If Treize hadn't taken us along, we would've possibly been dead or in a lock-up now. I looked at Treize in admiration.

He didn't look on the screen; his eyes were cast down at his hands that lay on his lap, intertwined, seemingly placid - if not for the white lines on their knuckles.

He had a grey strand in his hair, I noticed suddenly - white among reddish tresses. He looked at me, his eyes blazing with such pain that I flinched.

"Sit down." He showed at a chair and I obeyed. A brief, absent smile curved his lips. "So, they want an apology, don't they? They've just murdered several thousands of species, humans among them, in cold blood - and now they want an apology? How many of those 'criminals' were really guilty of something, I wonder - not were used just for demonstrating the power of the new masters of the universe - anthropomorphic monsters? How much time did you spend in the prison?"

The question was unexpected - all before then, during his speech, Treize almost seemed as if he didn't notice me. I swallowed nervously.

"I'm not sure what the date's today."

His intent eyes stopped on me for a few moments.

"July 12."

"Oh. It's eight months then, I believe."

I hadn't had an idea it was so long; time had started being confused a while ago but I still believed it was less, three or four months, maybe.

"Eight months?" Treize looked at me sharply. "It's supposed to be a transit prison, no one can be held there for more than a month or two."

I didn't know what to say for it but he seemed to grow agitated again - now in a good way, as if my words pleased him. I saw him get up, walk to a cupboard, pour transparent liquid into a glass for himself. Sharp tang of processed spirit caught on me.

His face was thoughtful as he took a sip.

"We need to reveal the truth about this prison, about morphs," he said with quiet intensity. "Whether they want to listen to us or not. We have to throw the truth in their faces as many times as it'll be necessary. Documents, testimonies - everything possible. One day - and I believe this day will come soon - they'll hear us. They will know who their real enemy is.

"Can you tell about your time in prison?" he asked avidly. I looked at him, not sure what to say, rubbing my plaster-covered wrists. What did he want to hear, anyway? "I want you to tell about it, kid. What is your name?"

"Quatre," I said.

"And full name?"

"Quatre Winner." I didn't want to repeat it; sometimes I almost wished I could drop it all together. But Hannigan never let me forget it, his manner of calling me by name and surname similar to other morphs' - but he also knew I hated it, hated to be reminded who I was... and how I failed my family, how I couldn't keep my dignity in the end.

"Well, Quatre," Treize said softly. "Will you do it?"

"Do what?"

"Will you testify? We'll make a record, a videotape, where you'll tell everything. How you were arrested, how much time you spent in prison, how you were treated there..."

I felt the room start swirling in front of my eyes and clasped the seat of the chair. He couldn't mean that, could he? He couldn't want me to tell... I couldn't... I must've misunderstood.

"Quatre." As the haze cleared, I felt strong fingers holding mine - and Treize was near to me, squatting in front of the chair, his hand on mine.

I had no reason to be afraid of him, he'd saved both Trowa and me - but his closeness, the strength of his hand made me panic. I shrunk back in the chair, shivering.

His eyes were blue, radiant and very serious, compassion in them as warm as the touch of his hand.

"Don't be afraid, Quatre. I won't hurt you. No one here will hurt you. Do you understand me?"

I nodded.

"We need your help. You have to tell... People must know the truth - even if the Executive Board doesn't want to listen to it. Truth is a powerful weapon; I believe in it as much as I believe in my other weaponry. Think about people, in future, whom you can help by exposing the truth."

"I... I..." My thoughts messed up.

He must've been wrong about me; he probably thought I was a different one, a hero, someone who'd passed through that time in prison with honor and dignity - someone like Trowa. And what could I tell about - apart from my shame and weakness?

"I don't think it can be useful... what I can tell," I whispered. "It was not... like you think."

He kept looking at me - and then something changed in his eyes; as if he understood. I thought he'd leave me now, step away in disgust. But Treize's hold on my hand became just a bit tighter.

"What do you think I think? Why do you think I can't imagine it? You're wrong if you think I want some tale from you. I know the truth... there is no shame in it."

No shame... I suddenly knew that he didn't lie, didn't misunderstand. Of course, he knew - my clothes gave me away all right. And he still asked me to help.

I felt really cold suddenly, even in the stuffy room. How could I say 'no' to him?

"I'll do it," I said.

"Good." For a few seconds he stayed, smiling, and then got up. "I'll prepare everything for the recording tomorrow morning. There's no reason to delay with it, the statement should be sent as soon as possible."

He walked up to the table now, his fingers ran over the keyboard swiftly. I got up.

"Thank you," Treize turned to me briefly, with his smile of stunning radiance and infinite sadness. "You can go now. I'll tell someone to find you some clothes."

I nodded and left, pushing the door close behind me.

The infirmary was empty by then, and nearly dark. In the light coming from an adjacent room I walked between the nettings until finding my bed. Trowa in his lay flat under the blankets, his eyes closed. There was an IV needle inserted in his left arm and I thought that Doctor J apparently managed to convince him to take some medicine.

I still shivered minutely with tension as I slunk under the blanket. The bed was soft, warm, surrounding me seemingly from every side. I sighed contentedly - I'd almost forgotten how it was to sleep in bed; so good... So good that I almost could forget about the task waiting for me tomorrow and just sleep.

"Quatre?" Trowa's quiet voice caught on me. I looked out of the blanket cocoon and stared at him. "Is everything all right?"

"Yes," I whispered in reply. There was a small frown trembling between Trowa's eyebrows, as if in a worry. "He wanted me... to testify... about the prison."

There was a pause and then another question came.

"Did you agree?"

"Yes," I said again. I watched him cautiously, for a sign of disdain on his face, for surprise as to what I could tell.

"It's brave of you," he said. I wondered if he joked but he didn't look so - and his face smoothened as his breath grew lighter and steadier.

"Good night, Trowa," I said quietly, hugging the pillow, settling more comfortably. Trowa's tranquil face with light and shadows cast on it was the last thing that I saw before falling asleep.

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

His fingers flew over the keys without the eyes following them - and his mind participated in what he did just as little. The documents were filed and ready to be sent. In the next coverage they'd say that Treize Khushrenada's group did assume the responsibility for the attack. But how many of them would mention the rest of the evidence he'd send - explain the reason why he did it, was going to keep doing it as long as he was alive?

Audio coverage kept sounding as a constant accompaniment.

"The Executive Board informs Marotanian government that, while Treize Khushrenada is considered a criminal and will be put on trial once captured, he won't be extradited to any other race."

He smiled mirthlessly at it. What courage! The EB decided to show they could take independent decisions as well, not to be just lapdogs of morphs. For him, it hardly changed anything; he was ready to be arrested one day, understood sanely that it might happen - just as he sanely was going to do everything to possibly avoid it.

He clicked 'sent' and watched the stream of data being dispatched, fingering a strand of hair. The white strand; he could find it unmistakably, without looking, and he knew exactly when it'd appeared in his hair. On the day when he'd gotten Wufei back.

Again, as always, pain flooded him at the memory; pain, amplified with cold anger, so strong that sometimes it seemed to him his heart was not going to bear it, would give up under the pressure. He tried to fight these feelings - they were not good advisors in what he was doing. But how could he forget...

And even if he tried to forget, there were always things that would remind him. Like that boy he'd finished talking to so recently... what was his name - Quatre... So thin you could count his ribs under this leaving nothing to imagination garment of his... Treize thought he should order to feed him well... to feed both of them kids well. And those huge dark eyes on the childish face - the eyes that seemed to be scared forever, hiding terror in their depth even when the boy smiled.

He recalled how Quatre backed away from him, as if a touch could hurt him, and felt his hands clench in fists convulsively. What kind of creatures morphs were... But of course he knew what kind: sparing no man or woman or child. How old was Quatre? Fourteen, fifteen? Wufei had been twelve...

Treize's memory prompted him quickly a picture of a skinny exuberant child, fiercely vivacious, guilelessly passionate. They had been doing so many things together, playing games, wrestling, talking of books, of music. Der Rosenkavalier, The Knight of the Rose... Wasn't it what Wufei called him?

The glass of wine was a saving anchor from those memories and Treize reached for it hastily, emptying it without feeling the taste. His fingers pressed on the glass too hard - before he noticed it, before the vessel burst in his hand in a waterfall of splinters.

"Whoosh... look what you've done..."

He talked to himself quietly, pulled out small bits of glass from his palm and wrapped his handkerchief around it. No reason to bother J with it... and earn a weird look from the doctor.

Then - four, three years ago - there had been nothing between him and Wufei. they both knew there would be, in some years - it seemed it couldn't be otherwise. But at that time there was nothing - but their joint work, their joint fight - the hatred to morphs they shared... Wufei's parents both dead because of the damn race... Hopes they had. And a kiss, an occasional touch, maddening in its shortness, sparkles of desire between them.

Nothing was as they dreamed. Everything happened sooner, uglier - so awful that Treize couldn't think about it, couldn't - if he still wanted to be functioning tonight.

Just one crime - one crime among the rest of what the morphs did. One... two lives ruined - what was it in comparison with thousands dead in that failed escape from the prison?

What kind of creatures could set that mining field around the prison?

Don't ask...

So many years of fighting - first on behalf of his homeland, as a military - and then as a partisan, maquis. Trying to separate humans and inhuman. Only recently Treize more and more believed that it was not so easy, that the line of justice was jagged and not everyone who had a human face could be called human. Sometimes it seemed to him there were too many of those who'd stepped beyond the line of inhumanity and stayed there. Including himself.

Treize got up on his feet, swaying slightly. The wine, combined with after-battle exhaustion, hit him fast and hard. But there was nothing to be done about it.

He wasn't an alcoholic, he drank not because he couldn't do without it... But because without the softening veil of inebriation, the world just had too sharp angles for him - unbearably sharp. The wine helped him to go on - not hindered him, never affected his duties.

He knew what his duty was now. The morph... They'd make him testify; make him tell all the dirty secrets of his race. No matter what it'd cost.

The end of Chapter 6

&&&

Chapter 7 

Despite the late hour, there were people in the corridors, everyone high on adrenaline after the fight. Treize entered the recreation room, the voices from there loud and heated. The air was thick and bluish with cigarette smoke and there were twenty or so people there, half of his team, crowded around the TV transmitter. He knew they would be watching.

They moved when he came in, their eyes intent, and Treize nodded to them briefly.

"They blame us for this thing with the minefield," someone said.

Even though Treize was ready for these words, they still hit hard. He did his best to sound calm, to sound confident - and was satisfied with the result.

"You know they would. They're desperate to make someone responsible - and we're just too convenient a target."

"And morphs want us to give them back all the hostages," another man said derisively.

"They can't even count their own men, don't know how many we took, if any!"

"The hell we'll going to give the slut back. Only piece by piece, maybe."

Treize listened to them, smiling faintly; it was good they were like this - sure, enthusiastic. They couldn't afford thinking about failures - if they wanted to keep fighting.

It was actually in the quest of Wufei as much as to check on the people's mood Treize had come here - but Wufei was not there, unsurprisingly. Wufei never liked crowds, preferred to be alone- the reason why, even though the boy had everyone's respect, he hardly had any friends.

It'll change, Wufei, Treize promised silently. After everything will be over, I'll take care of that. You'll have friends, you'll have life - everything that a boy of your age should have.

"Sir..." someone hailed him. "Do you think the Board will get in contact with us?"

So far the contacts from the EB were sheer ultimatums... as well the Board's participation in the siege of the planet, together with morphs. Treize smiled, touching the man's shoulder.

"What do you think yourself, Jackson? It's a long way till then - but one day it'll happen."

A few more men entered the room, loud, discussing something excitedly. There was a weird smell clinging to their bodies, the one that Treize refused to admit feeling, even though it made his stomach lurch involuntarily. He saw them notice him and stop, their eyes feverishly bright but their voices dying away. He moved to the door, caught one of the newcomers by the sleeve, asked in a low voice:

"Have you seen Wufei Chang?"

He wanted the man to say 'no', for some reason - but he knew what the answer would be.

"Yeah." There was a broad, nearly delirious smile on the man's face. "He's with the morph. I tell you, sir, it was a good idea to take him. Let one of those bastards try their own medicine..."

Treize jerked his hand back abruptly, letting the man go. It was what he'd expected, wasn't it? He knew Wufei, after all. But he also hoped Wufei had enough presence of mind... not to do anything... too bad.

He rushed down the steps to the basement, the sound of his boots on the stone loud and hasty - half in a warning for those down there: not to let him catch them doing something that would make him angry. Only Wufei was never afraid of him, that's the thing...

The basement premises were chillier than the upper ones but also more stuffy - the ventilation in the building didn't work so well. And sand was everywhere, covering the floor, crackling under his feet as Treize walked along the corridor.

They didn't take his approach as warning - and in the end it was even worse than he expected. The smell assaulted his senses as he walked in - unbearable in a tiny room. The men didn't seem to notice it, however - which Treize could explain - carried away as they were. Two of his people - and Wufei perched on the edge of the table, his hands buried in the wide sleeves of the jacket. He must've been the only one who heard Treize approaching - and didn't react at it, didn't let the others know.

Well, as if Treize could expect anything else from him.

He stopped at the doorway, glaring at the men - and they noticed him finally; one of them backed away from the morph hastily; for the other it took a bit more time as he had to disengage himself, then rearrange his clothes.

"Fuck... sir..."

Idiots; stupid idiots. Treize felt anger seize him - at the sordidness of the situation, at his obligation to deal with it. He leaned against the doorjamb, feeling how the dank air of the room was suffocating him. Couldn't they spare him from looking at their brutal entertainment?

"Sorry, sir... didn't see you..." the men said breathlessly, zipping his pants.

"You may go." He prided himself on his voice sounding levelly. They walked past him out of the room and Treize felt this smell again, coming from them. Arousal... blood, sweat and semen. Was he too clean to understand it, as Wufei always scolded him - and too far from understanding to approve it?

Just three of them stayed now - he, Wufei and the morph - and Wufei shifted lightly on the table, his thin figure seeming to consist just of angles and hard lines. His eyes met Treize's, unrepentant.

"You're crazy, aren't you?" He couldn't help saying that. Wufei looked like he expected Treize to lecture him - and what else could Treize do, anyway? "You know we wanted him to testify. No one will believe he tells the truth and does it willingly after what you've done. He's of no use for us any more!"

"Morphs heal fast." Wufei's mouth curved shortly - and then the boy jumped down from the table, walked up to the prisoner. "But it's not the point. He's of no use for us anyway."

The morph's body was limp, suspended on the arms wrenched behind his back, the flow of his hair nearly brushing the floor as his head sagged. His uniform jacket was gone and the shirt was shredded, half-deliberately, half during the beating, Treize realized - but his pants were lowered on purpose, no doubt of that - down to his chained, pulled apart ankles.

"No one will believe him all the same," Wufei said wrapping the morph's long hair around his palm and yanking the man's head back.

The morph must've been exhausted, barely conscious as he submitted to Wufei's gesture without struggle. His blood-smeared face, raised to Treize, was blank, with fluttering eyelids over the eyes full of pain and shock in black pupils and blue irises. Blue...

A moment later Treize understood what Wufei meant. The morph's features had no sign of his origin in them; no outturned nostrils demonstrating nasal passages - no vein-lined pallid skin. The morph was pale - looked sick, in fact - but the color of his skin was white, not greyish.

"We were lucky to take a morph who doesn't look like a morph and no one will believe what he is," Wufei said sardonically, letting the man's hair go.

He'd been wearing a helmet, Treize thought. A question nearly left his lips - if the man was really a morph, not some traitor. But of course, he was; there was enough of his blood everywhere to witness for that; purple - not red. The man's hands were deformed as well, the fingers too long - bloodied now as he must've clawed on his cuffs.

"Sucks, doesn't it?" Wufei said.

"It's all right," Treize found himself saying, denying that the note of irony in Wufei's voice hurt him; as if it was Treize who'd chosen to take this particular morph with them - as if it was all his fault. "We still have other means to prove our case, other evidence..."

Wufei's ink-black eyes looked at him with that strange expression that both maddened him and made him feel weak in his knees: both affectionate and contemptuous. As if between them two it was Treize who was young and immature - and Wufei was adult and knowledgeable.

"What I want to say, Treize, is that you don't need to worry your pretty head about damage control. The morph is worthless; and he'd never known much anyway, he was rather a dummy there... honorable Zechs Merquise... He told us everything he knew, it wasn't difficult to make him talk. But we can't use him to testify - so, I don't see a reason why our people shouldn't have some fun."

Why shouldn't they? Treize wondered about it. He hated morphs, wanted to see as many of them dead as possible. But not like this... he didn't want this to be done. To one of his captives. By his people. It was what defined them as human, wasn't it? Kept them from crossing that line of inhumanity he thought so much about.

But, maybe, it was just theorizing. Maybe, he didn't understand. His people's anger demanded more than just shooting a few of morphs during the attack. His people wanted something more tangible - like an impact of their fists against a responsive body, like hearing their enemy's voice crying out in pain, begging them for mercy. Like this smell of blood that made Treize really sick but probably excited others even more.

"You can stop worrying and go drink yourself to sleep now, Treize," Wufei added coldly, defiantly. Treize didn't react to the insult - it was too deliberate and he had more important things to say.

"You offered them all to participate in it, didn't you?"

Wufei's face was tranquil, his figure so narrow, brittle as he stood with his arms wrapped around himself. The chained morph's head dropped again. Blood and sperm kept rolling down over the morph's thighs and Treize looked away; this sight was too much for him.

"Only those who wanted," Wufei said brightly. "Unsurprisingly, there were quite a lot of them. But you didn't give an order forbidding it, did you, Captain?"

It was true; he didn't.

"I thought it went without saying that you wouldn't... wouldn't abuse and rape a prisoner."

These were wrong words, he knew it - and the payback was swift. Wufei's face changed, his lips spread in a sweetest smile, his voice sounding just too kind.

"Oh really? And I thought, on the contrary, it went without saying that a prisoner always gets raped and abused. Stupid me! I must've misunderstood something... in my time."

"Don't fool around, Wufei!"

Treize bit his tongue not letting his voice break, said the words through clenched teeth. Wufei's dark eyes in meagre light of the basement scintillated.

"Fool around? I don't think there's anything to be called 'fooling around' here. Anyway, we didn't harm him so much, did we? Morphs can bear more than humans, it's well known. And twenty men or something is what even a human can bear... even a boy."

Treize felt splitting headache; how unfalteringly Wufei could aim in his soft spots. How well he knew where Treize's soft spots were... a hint, a reminder - to spur his memory, to make pain flood him. Treize wondered if reminding hurt Wufei as much as it hurt him; very possibly it did. Only his boy never showed the pain.

"But if you feel so sorry for him," there was deceptive mildness in Wufei's voice - mildness that Treize didn't believe but couldn't avoid being affected with, "if you think he shouldn't suffer for what he and his race did... Well, since we don't need him for testifying anyway, I don't see any problem with releasing him. Release him, Treize. Show your humanity you like to talk so much about."

Oh God... There had been times when talking about humanity, about future were not just a travesty for Wufei. There had been times when they could talk... kiss and talk.

Wufei's glimmering eyes didn't leave him, a little half-smile turning the corners of his mouth - and under this stare Treize reached for his gun. He knew what Wufei meant under release - never misunderstood him; there was no other way to let the morph go. The handle lay in his hand smoothly, habitually. He stepped towards the morph and reached for his hair.

The long strands were soft and smooth, silky even despite the sand in them. Treize pulled on them, making the morph raise his head. The bloodied face, so unbearably human, was tilted up to him now, the morph's blue eyes with hugely dilated pupils looking at him.

The creature was almost beautiful, Treize thought absently; by human standards, of course - the features clean, nearly delicate, the mouth small and pink. And those long black eyelashes trembling over the widened eyes. The morph's lips were split badly, the bruises on his face dark and cruel - and this damage strangely made him look younger... more vulnerable.

Treize raised the gun.

"Zechs... Merquise?" Wasn't it the name of the morph Wufei mentioned? The dark eyelashes, so long they seemed to be made up with mascara, fluttered as the man's eyes widened, locked on the gun. Treize pressed the muzzle to Zechs' forehead. The morph shivered minutely, letting Treize feel how he tried to withdraw involuntarily. "You're to be executed for your crimes."

The words came out almost softly - and indeed he didn't need to raise his voice, so close they stood. The morph's eyes looked in his, blinking; the man didn't say a word, didn't ask what right Treize had to judge and execute him.

Maybe, he understood as well that killing him now would mean sparing him from everything that could've waited for him here, in captivity, Treize thought; from Wufei's frenzied revenge, from others' anger. For a moment Treize took his gaze away from the morph's face and glanced at the boy. Wufei's face was an expressionless mask, his long slanted eyes focused on Treize, unblinking. And even though his lips didn't move, Treize felt as if he could hear Wufei's hard voice in his mind:

"Release him. Yeah right, spare him. Give him an easy death... what had never been given to me."

The right to judge and execute... did Treize really have it? The revenge is mine... Wufei could judge - others who suffered from morphs could judge. But him, Treize?

He felt familiar despair flood him. The gun was pressed to Zechs' forehead, the morph's head immobile in Treize's grip and Treize could count the seconds passing - by his own heartbeats, by the blinks of the morph's darkened eyes, by the shallow gasps falling from Zechs' lips. He knew already he wouldn't shoot.

Treize hit with the handle; the sound of the morph's broken jaw was sickening, the impact reverberating through Treize's wrist. As the morph's head fell, a trickle of blue blood sliding from the corner of his mouth under the white net of hair, Treize stepped away and tucked the gun back.

He was at loss for words for a few moments, not knowing how to explain cruelty - or weakness - of his decision - but as it turned out, the words were not necessary. Wufei's eyes glowed, looking at him - warm, nearly gentle.

"Well done, Captain."

Treize wanted to argue, to say that his choice didn't imply that Wufei and others were free to continue with their practices now - but it did imply and he knew it, so, he spared his breath.

Lightly, gracefully, Wufei moved towards him, as near as it was only possible between them, with Wufei's shoulder almost touching Treize's. The boy raised on tiptoes, for his mouth to be on the level of Treize's ear, whispered barely audibly the words Treize knew he would hear, wanted to hear so much:

"Go to my room. I'll be shortly."

Shortly... after just enough time to initiate some other cruel game with the morph. But together with bitterness, there was embarrassing, undeniable heat that filled Treize, washed him from head to toes. Wasn't it in expectation of these words that he'd done - or, rather, hadn't done what he was going to?

"Get ready," Wufei whispered.

He would be. The blindfold; the cuffs locked on his wrists and ankles - things done habitually, almost automatically. Things that could seem a kinky S&M game if Treize didn't know their point, didn't know that it all was to make Wufei feel safe, to make Treize unable to reach to him, to touch him... the only way Wufei could be with him.

He walked out of the room, sand screeching under his boots, with just one glance back. Wufei didn't look at him by now, gathering some things of the table; and the morph's head was lowered, his long hair obscuring his face again, as purple blood soaked into the ground between his feet.

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

Time was running away like sand through his fingers and all he could do was just watch it impotently, desperately. But even despair lost its edge with the weakening of his body. Nearly two weeks of fever had worn him out - Trowa had never felt so feeble and vulnerable before.

Surely, J and Wataru tried to do their best - but little depended on them. The only one who could change something for Trowa was Treize but day after day passed with him saying the same thing: no corridor opened yet, they had to wait. He knew Treize didn't lie - the man knew how important the vaccine was, said he would do everything for it to be delivered, and Trowa believed him. It was just the fate that turned this way; ill fate.

Trowa knew Quatre had recorded his testimony and it was sent to whomever Treize sent his messages - the Board, the Parliament, media. He'd never known what Quatre had said there; on that morning the boy had been so nervous that couldn't put the buttons through the buttonholes of his shirt.

"Would you like me to go with you?" Trowa asked almost unexpectedly for himself. There was no reason why Quatre would want him there, and nothing threatened the boy... and when did he become Quatre's self-appointed protector, anyway?

Quatre made a small gasp, looking at Trowa with the weird mixture of guilt and hope in his incredibly expressive eyes - then shook his head.

"It's 'kay. I'd better do it... on my own."

Trowa just nodded; he really didn't want to be there. For some reason the thought of Quatre's childish voice recounting everything that had been done to him made him feel ill. Of course, the past was there, wasn't going to go anywhere...

Trowa didn't know how many others among Treize's people had heard Quatre's statement - and talked to Treize as soon as he could.

"Order your people to stay away from him, sir, so that no one dared to... to force him. I know one can think that if he was what he was, it's possible to use him. But no one must touch him here... unless he wants it himself."

"You can take it for granted," Treize said seriously. "The boy is safe with my men. They'd never do him any harm."

Trowa wanted to ask about Zechs at that moment, what happened to the morph - but he never managed to make himself say this name. He never, never wanted to hear about Zechs Merquise again, never wanted to think about the morph.

He and Quatre were given a place at the infirmary, those two beds where they'd spent the first night. The big room was generally empty, so, they had it all for themselves. And while Quatre used to wander around the building, Trowa seldom walked out, mainly because he wasn't sure in his strength any more. It'd happened once that his legs gave up somewhere on the way and one of Treize's men had to carry him back to the bed - and Trowa didn't want it to occur again.

His world seemed diminished this way: to faintly waving nets around him, to J's and Treize's visits... and to Quatre's presence that Trowa didn't notice how he started liking or needing. To himself, Trowa explained it with Quatre's own words he remembered from prison time - when Quatre had said he wanted to be near to Trowa because it was for such a short time, because soon Trowa would be gone from him.

Maybe, it was that - he would be gone soon. Whether he would leave to deliver the vaccine - or whether it'd be departure to death - it was just a matter of days either way. Soon they'd part and Trowa wouldn't see him again. He wondered if the aching feeling he had when thinking about it was regret. Regret of not seeing again the pale tender face, its features so cute and its mournful eyes of such un-childish seriousness - of not hearing the high-pitched voice asking another one of those annoying questions:

"Why did you get up? Didn't J tell you to stay in bed? Look, you'll lose your IV!"

Or:

"Do you want peach cake? It's soft."

"I can chew, I can't swallow," Trowa said angrily.

There was always some kind of cake or cookies Quatre was gnawing at; the cook apparently had a soft spot about him. Maybe, quite a lot of insurrectionists did - maybe, Quatre reminded them of their children or younger brothers.

A part of Trowa's mind was glad to know that Quatre was safe and well liked here; but a part of him tinged with a confused emotion he couldn't find a name for until realized one day it was jealousy. It was unfamiliar, absurd - because what kind of jealousy he could feel about the boy who was nothing for him, about a former - and, maybe, future prostitute? He had other things to worry about, much more important things than to think about those whom Quatre's mind and body might belong.

But nights were the most difficult time to direct his thoughts the right way. And it was at night when, in fever, Raymond Dien's face appeared in front of him and Trowa felt guilty and desperate more than ever that he hadn't done anything yet, that there was a chance he wouldn't be able to do anything.

Trowa had already decided that if he couldn't deliver the vaccine, if he failed - he wouldn't have it removed to stay alive, as Doctor J offered him to do. He didn't need his life like that - in shame, in failure. It nearly enraged J - his refusal.

"What did I say? A fanatic!"

"You're not supposed to know about that stuff at all," Trowa said weakly. "And I'm sure Treize didn't tell you."

Well, J obviously knew everything now; and Quatre knew as well - Trowa just declined every attempt of the boy to talk about it. He didn't need Quatre to feel sorry for him; he didn't deserve pity if he was to fail... and he'd have his award if he got back to the Order.

At night Trowa lay listening to the jingle of springs in Quatre's bed as the boy tossed and turned unceasingly. For someone so light, Quatre certainly made awfully much noise in his sleep. As if fighting someone... so close and yet not close enough.

The truth was sometimes Trowa missed the necessity of their forced intimacy, like in the prison cell, when they went asleep with their limbs tangled and feeling the breath of each other. It wasn't cold at the infirmary - no reason for them get close. So, there was just Quatre's usual forwardness as he sometimes flopped on Trowa's bed - or a reached hand in the darkness catching Trowa's as Quatre babbled sleepily of some places he'd seen or some things he'd done.

And when one morning Trowa found Quatre in his bed, curled on the blanket, he tried not to think about the joy that fluttered inside him. He turned, spooning against the boy, and pretend sleeping.

* * *

"It's going to storm tonight." J dropped two respiratory masks on their beds. "Put them on when it starts."

"Is it going to be so sandy here?" Trowa raised his eyes from a medical book; whether he was going to die in a few days or not, he didn't think he should've wasted his time without learning something useful.

"No more than usual," J shrugged. "See all this sand on the floor? When Queen of Sand storm comes, it'll all get up and hang in the air. You'll cough it out later with pieces of your lungs."

Doctor J was exaggerating, as usual.

"If you get scared, stop by at the recreation room or something," he winked before leaving.

"Scared?" Quatre drawled. "What did he mean?"

His small tongue was stuck between his teeth as he colored the drawing. Someone had given Quatre a pad of paper and fountain pens and he was drawing almost all the time recently - unfamiliar landscapes with strange sad animals on them, animals with nearly human eyes - horses, deer, predators, joined in some weird dance of part-courting part-preying. Quatre's drawings surprised Trowa - not with their style that was a bit naive even if neat - but with the feeling of maturity that came from them, absence of explicit violence mixed with constant threat there.

"Don't you draw people?" he asked Quatre once.

"I don't draw people," the boy shook his fair head. He didn't draw dogs as well, Trowa thought and bit his tongue not to say something tactless.

"There's something for you." Suddenly Quatre sat on his heels, the paper pressed to his chest. "I mean if you want that, of course."

"For me?"

"Yes. I've drawn it for you. But if you don't want it, it's okay." The boy's voice was getting agitated, had that edge in it that Trowa sometimes thought didn't have to be there normally.

"Sure I want it."

"All right." The tension was gone from Quatre's voice; he folded the paper and handed it to Trowa. "No, don't look. It's..." he said with an effort and Trowa looked at him in surprise - Quatre had never tried to explain his drawings before. "It's for you."

He suddenly flushed, bit his lip savagely, his expression becoming the one of such misery and loneliness - and Trowa felt a pang of regret for Quatre's openness gone. As if the boy was building a barrier around himself. Trowa had known all about building barriers... it didn't feel good.

And at the next moment the first crash of thunder came.

The light above their heads flickered and dimmed visibly - but even like that they could see the little grits from the floor rise slowly and hang in the air in spirals. Trowa could see it the little fair hairs on Quatre's forearms rose with electricity.

"Don't breathe!" In a moment Quatre was over him, put the mask over Trowa's nose and mouth. Satisfied, he put on his own mask, looking at Trowa with mysteriously glimmering eyes over the edge of the respirator. The sand was swaying in the air slowly, gathering in long stripes, like strange airy cobras dancing on their tails.

"Cool." Quatre's voice was muffled but still understandable.

It was cool; Trowa nodded quietly. Doctor J had said nothing about covering their eyes, maybe, because he didn't need to bother with it himself - but likely it was not so good to look at it as well. Trowa started feeling his eyes sting. And then, in one more rumble of thunder, the light was gone all in all.

They usually didn't leave the light on in the infirmary for night - but there used to be some light coming from the next room - and Trowa knew somehow Quatre liked it, probably had been used to sleeping with light from the prison days. Now the darkness was complete - apparently the light in the whole building was gone.

Thunderstorm gave place to silence - and Trowa strained his eyes trying to see at least something, discern Quatre's figure. But even a cat would see nothing in this darkness. The rumble came again, now closer, and Trowa felt sand lash against his cheek.

"Quatre?"

"Ah?"

The voice was breathless and came not quite from where Trowa expected it to. It strangely disturbed him, not to be sure where Quatre was - as if there was something important in knowing it, as if the boy was threatened somehow and he, Trowa, could protect him. He reached his hand forward blindly - and met a small cold palm in the air. He clasped Quatre's fingers and pulled slightly.

"Come here."

The boy moved immediately, eagerly; Trowa's bed sagged under their joint weight - and a moment later Quatre's shoulder, bony and thin, pressed to his. For a moment, the pleasure of this touch, unexplainable, was so strong that Trowa felt overwhelmed, uncaring about anything else but this warmth spreading inside him. Quatre fidgeted, settling more comfortably.

"Close your eyes," Trowa said.

"Why?" Quatre's voice was little, mesmerized.

"I dunno. It'll hurt your eyes."

"How do you know?"

"Common sense."

"You... you don't have common sense, Trowa," Quatre giggled suddenly. It was a nervous giggle, not an easy one - and Trowa caught himself on feeling concerned for the boy again.

"What is it about?" He made his voice sound carefully level.

"It's a fact. Everyone says it. J says it."

"J is a weirdo - and, so, you listen to him?"

"I do." The laughter was gone, abruptly as it happened to Quatre all too often, exchanged with seriousness - and suddenly Trowa knew what Quatre would say next and didn't want to hear it. "Trowa..."

"Queen of Sand - no wonder they call it so."

"Trowa." Insistence in Quatre's voice was so strong that Trowa couldn't interrupt him. "You don't need to die, you know. Even if there's no corridor till then."

"Shut up."

"There must be another way..."

"Shut up!"

He couldn't bear it any more. In his anxiety to make Quatre silent he reached blindly, finding Quatre's face, feeling smooth cheek and sandy gauze of the mask. He felt Quatre back away from him slightly.

"What're you doing?"

"Checking if you obey me and keep your eyes closed."

"You..." The little frown between Quatre's eyebrows fluttered against his fingers. "Why do you I have to obey you? Do you keep *your* eyes closed?"

A narrow sand-covered palm groped over his face and Trowa pushed it away unconsciously.

"You stubborn one," Quatre muttered.

"No more stubborn than you."

"More."

"Not more."

"More!"

It was ridiculous; and it got more ridiculous in a moment, as Quatre pushed him suddenly, turning him down on the bed. Trowa wrestled blindly, not knowing what he tried to achieve - to push the boy away or to pull him closer. Quatre was over him, pressing him down to the bed - and Trowa didn't know if he couldn't wrestle him away or didn't want to. Quatre's body was along his, all the way, just thin clothes separating them - and Trowa could feel every bone and muscle in this thin form, could feel how Quatre's chest fluttered against his. He writhed, caught Quatre's wrists and held them - and their faces nearly touched, mask against mask - but even through them Trowa fancied he could feel Quatre's breath.

It felt so good; so good that Trowa's head seemed light and swimming as Quatre leaned on him, silent, in darkness.

What are you doing to me, he wanted to ask. What am I doing to myself? But he couldn't - his thoughts lost their coherence, his body lost its strength.

"Trowa!" suddenly Quatre's hands slipped out of his slackened grip and touched his face insistently, carefully. "Trowa, are you all right?"

I am, he wanted to say but only shivered violently - and Quatre was off of him at once, the boy's arms hugging him, raising him into a sitting position.

"Trowa, do you feel all right?" The boy's voice was plaintive, begging. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"No, baka," he said finally and leaned against Quatre's shoulder and decided that he wouldn't open his eyes any more, would just sit like this and wait for the storm to pass.

The end of Chapter 7

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