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Slash and Yaoi Fiction
SWEET DARKNESS

Chapter 11

"Don't worry about me." Zechs stood at the glass wall of the spaceport building, stuffing his hands deeper in the pockets. His eyes were squinted against the sun. "I'll be okay."

A little absent smile appeared on his lips, so naive that it made Trowa's heart clench painfully.

They landed on Adrianopolis right after the dawn but the spaceport of Bajazet, the biggest city of the planet, was never quiet. As they stopped in the hall on the first level, near to cash machines, people swarmed around them in a steady fluctuating crowd. Not only people - various species - and Trowa thought that Zechs didn't stand out against other humans at all, no more than he and Quatre did.

"I'm sorry I can't get more money," Trowa said. He'd paid for the landing permission, since he hadn't had a place reserved - and, doing that, he entered his Misque code. He felt a bit nervous; all Misques had accounts they could use when necessary - of course, it went without saying that the money would be used only for the needs of the Order. What Trowa apprehended was that they thought him dead and cancelled the access. But they didn't - and it filled him with a warm feeling. So, they believed in him, they waited for him... they knew he would come.

He took off the rest of the money from the account in cash and split it, leaving a part for him and Quatre for a taxi and giving the rest to Zechs. It was hardly for the needs of the Order but Trowa decided he would work it off later. He couldn't leave Zechs just like that, without any connections, without money... One could found it strange, almost incredible that he was concerned about the man he'd feared and despised nearly hysterically just a short while ago. But Trowa couldn't help it - it was how he felt.

"You have other things to think about," Zechs added in a soft voice.

Trowa nodded and held Quatre's hand tighter. The boy was so quiet; exhaustion made him apathetic. His curved eyelashes blinked tiredly over misted eyes.

In the beginning Trowa had worried how Quatre would feel about Zechs being on the same ship with them. He even thought about not telling anything, because Quatre was ill, he might've never even known. But he did tell, and Quatre went very still - and then just said Trowa should give Zechs the ointment for his hands - the one Doctor J had given them to make scars heal faster.

But Quatre must've been bothered more than he let out because once, in half-delirious state, he just walked into Zechs' room when Trowa brought food there. Trowa had to admit he was not nice to the boy at the moment, snapped at him quite harshly. The situation was potentially dangerous - even if he almost trusted Zechs by then.

Yet Zechs didn't try to do anything, just looked at Quatre intently.

"He's your former cellmate," he said to Trowa later, some surprise in his voice.

"I know he is."

"I didn't think you and him... Oh well, I understand."

What the hell did he understand? It irritated Trowa because the closer they were to Adrianopolis, the less he understood himself. And now, when he was in Bajazet, there was no time left to ponder at all.

It'll be over soon, he thought. Quatre would give the vaccine away and be well again. But what was he, Trowa, going to do?

There was no other answer to this, actually. He was returning to the Order, was giving up everything else. His life and his soul belonged to Misques - and all the rest was just a folly, a temporary distraction.

But how would he live without Quatre? How would he live without ever touching the boy again? There was just too little, they just had sex only twice: that first time - and then after the exchange of vaccine - and later Quatre was willing but too weak to really participate, and Trowa didn't want to burden him. They'd never do it again, would they?

"Good luck to you both," Zechs said, and Trowa thought it was him who should've wished good luck to the morph.

"Bye, Zechs," Quatre said quietly.

"Bye, Quatre," Zechs smiled. "Bye, Trowa Barton."

He turned away, and Trowa found himself gazing at the tall narrow figure walking away from them. The silhouette was somewhat huddled because of Zechs' hands hidden in the pockets. The long sheet of smooth hair distinguished Zechs from the crowd for a while and then he merged with others. Trowa led Quatre to the taxis.

As the air-car glided between shimmering towers of Glass City, another name of Bajazet, he couldn't resist, pulled Quatre against his chest, kissed soft tangled hair and burning forehead.

"He doesn't want you to leave him," Trowa recalled Doctor J's words. He and Quatre never talked about it - a topic that seemed to be under a secret prohibition; and Trowa already knew Quatre was good at keeping silent on the topics he didn't want to talk about. But now, as he met the boy's eyes, so dark-blue they looked black, he suddenly knew that Quatre didn't talk about it exactly because he understood everything.

Trowa kept himself from tightening his arms around Quatre, not to hurt the boy. He realized he was biting his lip until feeling the taste of blood; but it didn't help much to sober him. There were words he wanted to say but Trowa knew he couldn't, didn't have the right to say them. Nothing could be changed any more.

I love you...

The car stopped at a tall lancet-like building; House Tervingi, the hotel where Misques rented a floor. Over the reception desk, among others, Trowa saw a small silver tab with joined lion heads - the symbol Trowa hadn't seen since his insignia was torn off his jacket in Ismail prison. The symbol he remembered as long as he remembered himself. Home; he was at home.

He felt weak, almost lightheaded when he introduced himself. Would they accept him? Did they wait for him?

They did; they expected him and were ready. The elevator took him and Quatre up - and as the doors slid apart, Trowa saw familiar burgundy-red uniform and knew it was for real. His long way was finally over.

The General on Adrianopolis was a woman; a rather young one, with delicate pale face and long almond eyes behind metal-rimmed glasses. She didn't smile, as regulations demanded from her, but there was some softness in her gaze that Trowa had never seen in Raymond Dien's or in any other Misque occupying a high position.

"Lieutenant Barton? We hoped you'd come. Every branch office was informed that you could appear. It's very convenient that you got here, to Adrianopolis."

Her words did for Trowa what he couldn't reach during all the time before, mustering himself into necessary emotions, into satisfaction with fulfilled mission. Her words made him relieved, as if he knew for sure now everything was going to be all right - Trowa didn't know which way but all right.

"I'm General Une," she said, "or Une, as my people call me and you can call as well." Such a thing wouldn't be possible on Nevis - but here it somehow seemed just right, and Trowa nodded, strangely pleased with the sound of her name. Her longish eyes behind the glasses looked at him attentively. "We kept sending inquiries to Marotania about you but all they answered was that they had no idea of your whereabouts. Looks like for once these monsters said the truth, didn't they?"

"I..." he started. "There was no way to return faster."

"Unfortunately." Une's voice had a small note of disappointment in it. "So, as far as I understand, the vaccine is lost."

"Oh no," he broke in heatedly, suddenly flushed with the importance of what he was going to say, of bringing good news. "It's not lost! Quatre... he's carrying it..."

He turned to Quatre and realized he still held the boy's hand. Une didn't refer to it in any way but, of course, she noticed. Quatre's small palm slipped out of Trowa's hand. The boy seemed to feel so bad he hardly even noticed where he was; his eyes, wide open, had a wild, unseeing look in them - and Trowa felt a pang of pain at the wish to support him. But it would be inappropriate; even touching another person was inappropriate.

"Oh." A brief flicker of joy on Une's face was as much as she could afford showing. But her voice expressed more, filled with warmth. "You're a true member of the Order, Lieutenant Barton. I'm sure your determination won't be left without an award. Or a promotion. I think you well deserve it."

He didn't care for an award - or rather he had his - being back with Misques again, being accepted...

"It's not my credit," he said hastily, "I hardly did anything, it's Quatre who took it on himself. And the flyer - I came in a flyer, we'll need to return money for it..."

"By all means," Une said firmly, interrupting him. Two men at her side moved when she made a sign to them. "We'll take care of everything."

Trowa saw the men walk up, and one of them caught Quatre just a moment before the boy seemed to be about to slip on the floor.

"Trowa," Quatre's voice was very weak - and somewhat panicked. He didn't like when someone unfamiliar touched him, Trowa recalled and turned to say that he'd take care of everything himself, but Une stopped him with a short gesture.

"Stay here, Lieutenant. Your participation is not needed. We have everything ready to remove the vaccine - as I said, we expected you might come here."

He stayed - and the door shut after Quatre. It was going to be all right, Trowa told himself, they'd take the vaccine out and Quatre would recover. Une looked at him patiently, almost kindly.

"You can rest now, Lieutenant Barton - or I can call you Trowa, I presume? You look exhausted. And you're probably hungry - I'll send you some food here. Your uniform and your room will be ready shortly."

She and her people walked out, leaving him alone in a spacious, nearly empty room. Strange - Misque rooms never seemed empty to Trowa before, and this one, with its simple furniture and a lone decoration of lion heads was equipped exactly in compliance with regulations.

To divert himself - and not to think about Quatre, Trowa looked through the window. The sight was really spectacular - tall fragile spires, half-transparent, and green-blue, blinding sky over it. It almost made you feel as if there was no solid ground under the feet, feel floating.

The door opened and a robot-servant brought a tray with food. The taste was as bland and the mixture apparently as nutritious as Misques' food usually was but Trowa hardly could feel any taste anyway.

He wished so much he could be with Quatre. There was nothing he could do for the boy at the moment, and Trowa told himself this wish was unreasonable, egoistic. He paced around the room nervously, unable to snap out of the mood. The robot gathered the plates and left the room.

Suddenly a thought came to him, and panic flooded him with choking wave. Trowa stopped still, unable to take a breath for a moment. Misques... Misques didn't consider anesthesia, all minor surgeries were carried out without it. A real Misque should be invulnerable to pain... or should be able to handle it.

They would think it 'a minor surgery'. But Quatre was not a Misque! Oh no... Trowa rushed to the door, to call for someone, to warn them - and his hands stumbled against a smooth surface, immobile under his attempts.

Was he locked? He couldn't believe it, it must've been some mistake. Sick feeling overwhelmed him, making him feel for a moment as if he was again in morph prison, anxious to get out, unsure if he'd be able to do it, to fulfil his task, make Raymond and others' death worthy.

Of course, it was an illusion, he was at home, was with the Order. He just wished they didn't lock him... or leave him some way to communicate. There was an intercom on the table and Trowa picked the receiver. No tone came.

He looked at the stupid machine, frowning, unable to figure out what it was all about. He had to stop them, to let them know they should've used anesthesia, not to hurt Quatre. Suddenly the room swayed in front of his eyes, the floor going unsteady. He only felt like this when he was very ill... He grabbed the corner of the table, trying to stay on his feet - but his hands grew feeble as well, so, it didn't help and Trowa felt hard floor hit against his knees.

The food was spiked, he understood clearly. But why was it done and what could he do about it - he didn't have time to think about it because blackness took him and he gave in.

* * *

He came round in a different room and it was dark. His head pounded with heavy, black pain and the feeling of sickness returned as soon as he moved. Trowa scrambled out of the bed, shivering at the sensation of cold floor under his bare feet. Starry sky and rich night illumination of Bajazet was behind the window. He looked at it and barely had time to rush to the bathroom before his stomach turned inside out.

The drug must've been a crude, utilitarian thing, used for its purpose without regard of aftereffects. Trowa felt weak and cold and his brain still refused to function properly.

What was it all about? Were they angry with him for something, considered that he neglected his duties? But he'd done his best, hadn't he? His uniform lay on a chair, just as Une promised him. Trowa touched it with the tips of his fingers, recognizing familiar textile and feeling faintly queasy for some reason instead of usual and appropriate pride. He didn't have much choice, though, his own clothes were gone, so, he put it on.

The door was closed. He chided himself for being paranoid but couldn't help it, struggled in vain to open it. The room was soundproof, they all were, so, there was no sense in calling.

"What is it I've done?" he muttered instead, slipping on the floor sullenly, drawing his bare feet closer; he wasn't given boots. "What is it for?"

Didn't they trust him?

He realized suddenly that even two weeks before now this thought would make him agonize with its bitterness; but at the moment he worried about other things more.

He wanted to see Quatre, to make sure the boy was all right. The surgery must've been over by now, Quatre probably already felt well. Wrapping his arms around himself, Trowa closed his eyes and imagined the hot thin-armed embrace of the boy, strength bordering on despair in it. He remembered those times when he held Quatre, naked, against his own naked body, their nipples and their groins touching...

Was he crazy? A member of the Order shouldn't have thought about these things. But at that moment Trowa realized he didn't care for regulations. He wouldn't give these memories away for anything.

The floor was icy but he didn't want to go back to the bed, in case if the door opened while he was asleep and he would miss it. He did doze off after a while, after his frozen body went so numb he didn't feel cold any more. He hadn't dreamed about Raymond for a while - but now he saw the bony hard face again, heard the voice he already started forgetting.

"It's for your own good, Trowa. You know where you belong."

The door clicked open after the dawn. There was a robot with a food tray behind it but Trowa didn't feel hungry enough. Especially for another portion of drug, he thought acidly and got scared with fury of his own thought. He'd probably spent too much time surrounded by enemies that he kept expecting the worst even now, when he was at home, with his own folks.

He passed the robot and walked along the corridor. His bare feet made a slapping sound on the floor. The corridors had the usual feeling of a Misque office: dark-red-clad men and women hurrying on their business, their expressions almost identical in their withdrawn seriousness. Trowa wasn't quite sure what he was looking for until he saw a small tab with Une's name on it. He knocked and, when no one answered, he walked in.

The General was here - and a few more people - and as they looked at him, Trowa felt embarrassed and chagrined at his forwardness. He hadn't been allowed to enter, after all. A part of his mind told him to step away, to leave and wait - but he didn't think he could wait any more.

"Trowa?" Une's voice was slightly concerned and quite mild - milder than any other General's voice Trowa had ever heard. "Something happened?"

No, you just put me to sleep for God knows how many hours and kept me in a locked room even longer, he wanted to say but said carefully instead:

"Did the surgery pass all right? Did you remove the vaccine?"

"Yes, sure," Une answered impassively, as if it was something that went without saying, almost didn't need her attention. "One of our disciples is just of the right age, she can carry it without any harm for herself as long as it's necessary - as long as it takes to sort out the things with the Coalition of Northern Region."

She turned away from him after saying that, indicating that the conversation was over, tilted her beautiful head with flower-shaped coiffure towards another men, said something quietly about the document in her hands.

"And Quatre?" Trowa found his voice gone suddenly. "Can I see him?"

He saw a frown of displeasure between Une's delicate eyebrows; she paused as if hesitating whether to answer - and this pause was enough to make terror and grief flood him. He jerked forward, almost touched her.

"He died? Is he dead?"

"No, Lieutenant Barton, not at all." The passing to this form of address must've been significant but Trowa didn't notice it. Relief, as immediate as shock had been, made him tremble. "He was completely alive and feeling well when he left our office."

The horrible meaning of her words took a little while to descend on him; for a few seconds he looked at Une not quite able to process it.

"What... what did you say?"

Trowa heard disapproving noise of other Misques around him; he'd spoken too loud, with an edge in his voice. An elderly man said sharply:

"You forget yourself, Lieutenant."

Une raised her thin-fingered hand to quiet him.

"It's all right. I just said that your companion walked away, Trowa."

A sudden seizure of grief took his heart, feeling like steel vices. Quatre was gone; he wouldn't see him again.

Of course, Trowa knew they'd have to part - no matter how he denied it; but he told himself there still was time - if not for touching - then for talking, for greedy looking at the boy's big-eyed face. He wasn't prepared to know that Quatre just wasn't here.

And then another thought came, much more bitter and terrifying.

"How could he go? He's just had the surgery..."

"We have qualified doctors, don't you know?" Une's voice turned freezing cold, all mildness gone from it. "He was taken care of, so, there must be no any trouble."

The thought sickened him, of the scalpel cutting through Quatre's skin, of the needle sewing the cut. It must've hurt... they would think that if a Misque girl could take it without anesthesia, then Quatre surely could.

The thought was so agonizing that Trowa couldn't talk for a moment. Yet he knew he had to talk.

"Why..." His voice badly obeyed him. "Why did you throw him out? How... could you?"

"He doesn't want you to leave him..."

"Of course, we didn't throw him out," Une said calmly, her slender finger readjusting the glasses on her nose. "He was properly thanked and paid for his assistance to the Order. Speaking about payment, didn't you say that you should reimburse the flyer you were using? If you tell us the account number, we'll transfer money promptly."

He barely heard it; blood pounded in his ears deafeningly. His anger was so strong he almost couldn't breathe. His voice came out tight, with a broken note in it:

"He saved my life."

"Very possibly," Une said. "But you didn't expect him to stay here, did you?"

He did; it was a secret dream, almost too naive to dwell on it - but the truth was that in some ideal case Trowa thought it was possible. Of course, Quatre couldn't become a Misque - he wasn't from Nevis and he wouldn't be considered pure enough. But, maybe, he just could stay, in some way, to work for the Order, to make it possible for Trowa to see him. Or to know he was all right, at least.

"It's not a brothel to keep here your lovers, Lieutenant," the same man said.

The mention of a brothel sounded outrageously rude - and Une winced at it, but this time she didn't chide the man.

"Away on a mission, as you were, in extreme conditions," she continued in her rich, sweet voice, "one can easily understand that you could allow a kind of indiscretion. We're reasonable people, we don't punish you for it. But you're a part of the Order now, Lieutenant. You're expected to follow certain rules. And I'm afraid the presence of your young fellow traveler doesn't comply with the rules."

"What if something happens to him..."

"It's not your concern any more, Lieutenant. Your concern should be what else you can do for the Order. Did you forget whom your life belongs? The Order saved you when you were supposed to be sent to processing, after your mother gave you away. We brought you up. You gave the vows to serve Misques and people of Nevis. Did you forget it?"

"I didn't," he whispered, his head lowered.

The words had a strange power over him, affecting him on subconscious level. These were the words he'd heard from early childhood, that he remembered nearly better than his own name. Yes, the Order had the right on him: he would be dead - processed - if Misques hadn't taken him - and his duty was to serve them without any regard at his own life and interests. He didn't have any interests apart from the ones of the Order.

But Quatre was not a Misque; how could they do it to him?

"When did he go?" Trowa found himself asking. "I have to find him."

"No, you don't. And you won't, Lieutenant. If necessary, we'll limit your freedom again - up until you part with your illusions."

Trowa looked at her in horror. So, that's why they locked him. Like a criminal...

"Lieutenant, it's difficult to overestimate the value of the vaccine you brought us. We already started negotiations with the Northern Region. When the assignation itself happens, you'll have the right to be present there. It's a big honor for someone so young as you. Don't endanger your good standing." Une's lips curved in a smile briefly.

He understood everything she said and didn't say. Don't resist, be a good boy - and you'll be awarded. And Trowa's reason told him the same. Be good, don't give them an occasion to lock you up. He would try to find Quatre... just to make sure the boy was all right, no harm was done to him...

Trowa nodded. The room was swirling in front of his eyes - but he did the right thing, demonstrated his readiness to obey.

"Daniel, Alexander, show Lieutenant the way to his room," Une said. Two men from behind her walked forward; they probably were the same ones who had taken Quatre away yesterday. Trowa couldn't help feeling a kind of animosity towards them, even knowing they were not to blame.

And then he understood. She didn't believe him, she still wanted him to be locked up.

Trowa stepped away, his hand seeking the handle of his saber instinctively. How weird... he wasn't given boots but the saber was there.

"Lieutenant, no need to be violent." Une's voice was perfectly composed. "We don't like to apply force but we might be compelled to do so if you resist."

No, he wanted to say, no. He thought about Quatre, recalled the gentle face with so serious and yet so vulnerable eyes. It was so easy to hurt Quatre. He recalled the thin voice calling his name - the last word he heard from Quatre was his name; this time Trowa failed to help him.

He couldn't unclasp his hand; it was spasmed on the handle of the saber. The men looked at him without anger, just with tried patience. Was he going to fight them? It was absurd, they were his folks.

But as it happened, the choice was taken from him, because one of the men raised his hand with a small black box in it, and a second later the paralyzer was activated. Trowa felt every muscle in his body turn into nothing, his feet give up, as he slumped on the floor.

Lying crumpled, he saw fine boots of Une walk up to him, stop at his face.

"It's for your own good, Trowa," she said in a soft, almost sweet voice. "The Order will protect you from your own mistakes."

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

"We appreciate your assistance. Misque Order won't forget your help. Please accept this small sign of our gratitude."

The female voice was melodic and calm. It flooded and ebbed somewhere behind on the edge of my consciousness. There was blackness in front of my eyes; now and then some objects floated out of it, colored in blinding light, and disappeared again. I felt a grip on my wrist - and then something cool lay in my palm. Money. They probably realized I was not holding it well, so, the same hand put the plastic cards in my pocket.

I felt so weak. The pain was so harsh and continued for so long; it'd taken me too much strength not to scream. I remembered lying on a surgical table and them talking above me.

"Better fasten him down so that he won't thrash."

Then I didn't know yet why they needed it. They were a man and a woman in lab coats and masks. Straps tightened on my wrists and ankles. I was about to panic and try to fight but at the next moment met cherry-black eyes looking at me from the next table.

A child; a girl, pretty like a doll, staring at me from under a fringe of sleek dark hair with quiet seriousness. I think I smiled at her. I knew she was going to take over the vaccine - and she was so young, she probably was afraid. Her long curved eyelashes fell and rose but her expression didn't change.

A hand probed my belly, against the scar that almost healed. J had stitched it very neatly, I hoped they would re-stitch it so that there would be no bad trace. Like on Zechs' hands... his scars were really bad...

What was I thinking about? My mind wandered. J, Zechs, Trowa... If Trowa only could be with me now; I remembered that time at the infirmary - then it all seemed so easy because I could look in Trowa's eyes, so dark-green - like leaves in dusk. And hold his hand...

"Here, I think," the man said - and suddenly pain splashed like scalding water over my side. I hadn't realized they hadn't done an injection or something, like J had done. For a moment I almost thought they just forgot.

It hurt; I didn't want to scream, bit my lips fiercely but the pain went on and I didn't know how I would bear it.

"Hold him down," the man said, "he's trembling too much."

It was when I understood that they didn't forget but wanted it this way for some reason.

I hoped it would end soon; then I prayed for it to end - but it didn't, the pain continued as the fingers went inside me, searching for the capsule. I felt sick with blood that filled my mouth and I couldn't swallow it all, so, it trickled from the corner of my mouth.

There must've been some sense in it, I told myself; maybe, it was things like this that made Trowa as he was, made him that strong. Maybe, if I could bear it, I would be at least in a way up to him, I would deserve him. For him, there was nothing I wouldn't do.

They took out the capsule but pain didn't stop; it was tearing, like claws cutting my insides.

"We'll stitch him later," the man said. "Now let's take care of Susanne."

I saw a scalpel in his hand and saw a cut he made on the girl's belly. They cut her without anesthesia as well! I felt terror and felt shame for my weakness. It surely was not so bad, if such a little one could endure it. Her face wrinkled in pain, as if she was going to cry - but no tears appeared in her eyes. She opened her small pink mouth and hissed - a sound like a kitten makes when scared. They slid the capsule inside her and the woman got a stitching machine in her hands.

Then the world started losing clearness for me. I barely felt how the stitches were put on my cut. It hurt not there but deeper, as if I could still feel fingers digging inside me. The girl was taken away - I wasn't sure when. The darkness was pulsing slowly around me.

It was okay, it would pass soon, I told myself. I just had to bear it for a little while. Then Trowa would come and everything would be okay. I just needed a little rest.

Someone came; my vision was so bad for some reason that I couldn't even say clearly if it was a doctor or one of dark-red-clad people - Misques. He pulled me from the table.

"Come on, dress up."

Pain slammed so hard I almost fell on my knees, would do if he didn't hold me. He shook me in annoyance and started helping me with my clothes.

"Trowa," I said. I thought they wanted me to meet Trowa. The man didn't answer. He walked me somewhere, the grip of his hand on my upper arm hard and steady. Then the female voice came.

"You can go now. We don't stop you."

I seemed to be in the elevator, go down - and then the door opened and I felt cool draft of fresh air on my face.

* * *

It was when I understood I wouldn't see Trowa. I turned back, wanting to protest even though I didn't quite know what I could say - and the man stepped forward, caught my shoulder and said looking down at me:

"Leave Trowa Barton alone. He doesn't want you."

He pushed me away and I stumbled - and the door slammed shut.

I hovered on the front steps; pain made me weak and dumb. It took a little while for the meaning of the man's words to settle. I felt shell-shocked - so slow in taking in what happened, what I was supposed to do. Trowa didn't want me... he wanted me to leave.

"It isn't true," I whispered. It was a bright day; the sun blazed in the sky; but it was also cold - or it seemed so to me. I wrapped my arms around myself, trying to get warmer. Under my touch, pain pulsed in my left side, burning hot. The sun was turning black now and then.

Wasn't it true? I never expected to stay with Trowa after he got back to his Order. I knew it was not possible - his whole life was with Misques; and in this life I didn't have place. I just didn't want him to die - wanted him to have what he wanted, couldn't see him so unhappy. I just wanted to stay with him a little longer - at least as long as it took to get here.

Now he was with his people - and what did I expect? What did I want, what kind of award? Trowa never made any promises to me. So, everything was as it had to be.

I just wanted to see him. Just one more time; just to see his beautiful face half-hidden under the long bangs, meet serious gaze of his dark-green eyes. Even if he didn't touch me ever again... if I only could see him, it would be so different. I knew it would stop hurting then.

But he didn't want me - so, I had to go.

The first steps brought waves of agonizing pain through my belly. I held my side, feeling tender stitched gash under my hands. It didn't stop throbbing but I kept walking, just one step after another. And when, after I don't know how long, I looked back, I couldn't see the building of the hotel, lost among other glass towers of the city.

I had to start my life on my own; without Trowa. It surely was possible - I had lived no problem before knowing him - so, I would be able to do it again. Maybe, I just needed some time; some time to heal - some time for the thoughts of Trowa to lose their excruciating freshness. But, maybe, I didn't want to heal; I didn't want to forget.

I stopped on a quiet corner and counted the money I had. It was enough to get a room in a place where no one would ask questions - and stay there... until the pain passed. It was a good idea and I tried to will my body into moving. I would manage it if thoughts of Trowa, Trowa's face and voice didn't haunt me. I couldn't stand it; pain broke me down on my knees and I crouched, suppressing whimpers.

Time seemed to get funny. I didn't know how long I stayed like this. It got even colder; maybe, evening was approaching. After a while I made myself get up - and nearly fell again. Pain in my side was so bad I would throw up if I had something in my stomach.

There was a curious feeling on my skin and I looked down. The left side of my shirt was soaked in blood.

It wasn't supposed to be like that, I knew it; something was wrong. I prodded myself in making a few more steps and then thought I wouldn't be able to find a room, just wouldn't be able to walk that long. And anyway, they would hardly take me, bleeding like this.

Blackness threatened to surround me again and I thought panicky that if I fell in the street, they would take me into processing - a person without documents as I was. I didn't know why I cared but the thought of being deconstructed into organs somehow made me sick.

It was what made me move, after all. I hobbled to the taxi box and pushed a button. An air-car appeared almost immediately; the driver gave me a look as I got on the back seat.

"I have money," I mumbled, desperate for my words to sound clear. "Take me to a hospital, please."

He still kept casting suspicious looks at me; I hung on the remnants of consciousness desperately. If I passed out, nothing prevented him to take the money and dump me again - and then processing... But there was a moment when I knew I wouldn't hold on - and, anyway, what did it matter what happened to me. So, I closed my eyes and let it go.

I didn't expect to wake up. But as it happened, I did. The room was white and warm and seemed a bit fuzzy - but pain was gone. I wanted to turn and didn't know why I couldn't; I grew so weak.

"Shh, don't move." A woman with kind aged face bent to me; her soft hand brushed over my forehead. "You don't need to go anywhere."

"Don't I?" I couldn't hear my own voice but it didn't matter. Her words sounded so good; it was so nice not to have to go. She smiled and patted me again.

"It was a close call, you know. You're lucky the doctor got you, child. Someone had done a butcher's job on you, your spleen was all shredded. But you'll be okay now, you'll be okay..."

The End of Chapter 11

& & &

Chapter 12

They did lock him after all; and they took away his saber. The latter didn't matter - he wasn't going to go violent anyway. With all this time at his disposal, alone in the room too cold to sleep, Trowa had come to some decisions. There must've been a way to find Quatre - or to find out if he was okay. Please, Trowa thought, please let him be okay... even if I won't ever see him again.

But to start searching, he at least had to be out. Une understood it as well; or perhaps she was not satisfied with his repentance yet.

He got a book on the history of the Order, the regulations and the book of oaths as his company - the reading that was supposed to turn Trowa on the right track of mind. He read them; he prayed and repented kneeling, three times a day, as it was expected. But, maybe, for Une his unceasing pacing told more than his proper behavior. Trowa knew it was unreasonable to give himself away like that but his anxiety was too strong, and again he found himself measuring the perimeter of the room... like he'd done in prison cell a few weeks ago.

Then he grew so weak that walking became an ordeal.

One time after he got locked, a robot brought him food and pushed it through the opening in the door. But later there was nothing. Fasting was a normal penance for lawbreakers, so, Trowa wasn't surprised. There was water in the tap and it was good because it meant he didn't need to suffer with thirst as well. He felt hunger pains only first two days and ignored them quite easily - and then there was just weakness.

Trowa stopped walking finally and just lay in bed, facing the door, waiting for it to open. It must've opened, sooner or later - they were not going to let him die, right?

He thought he started having hallucinations from long staring when the window on the door suddenly opened and an apple rolled through it and landed on the floor. Trowa blinked but it didn't go away, so he got off the bed cautiously and picked it up. It was big, hard and red and smelled beautifully. It smelled so good, in fact, that for a few moments Trowa couldn't believe it its reality.

"Hey, are you going to eat it?" a thin voice came from behind the door. The shutter of the door was slightly raised. Trowa came closer, looked through it and met a gaze of very black bright eyes glistening from under a dark fringe. "Eat it before they find out."

"Thank you," he said, slightly lost, and bit into the apple.

"Ugh-ghu," the girl said. "I'm Susanne."

She was standing on a stool, he could notice, to be able to look into the opening. She looked like a doll in her tight-fitting uniform, with a small saber and a cap of smooth black hair. She tilted her head awry, listening to the sounds in the corridor.

"Be careful," Trowa said. "They'll punish you if they see you here."

"I am careful," she said and Trowa knew she meant it. She had that usual feeling of a Misque disciple around herself - so serious, so dignified; even as they were talking through the half-raised shutter. And then something glittered in her eyes. "Why did they lock you? Because you wanted to see that boy?"

He felt a pang of apprehension at her words; she knew about Quatre... Susanne seemed just of the right age, could she be the one who carried the vaccine now?

"Did you see him?" he asked with faltering voice. She nodded and suddenly pulled her jacket up. A scar under her ribs was long and glaring red.

"Does it hurt?" Trowa asked quietly.

"No. Not any more." She added seriously. "In the beginning it did. And your friend - he was hurt, too."

It was nothing Trowa didn't suspect - but knowing it for sure suddenly made him feel weak. He pressed his forehead to the door, waiting anguish to let him go.

"He's strong," Susanne said. "Almost like a Misque."

There was stinging in his eyes and Trowa struggled, knowing that tears were so close. Of course, Quatre was strong. His beautiful boy, his little prince was strong and brave. Trowa's vision became blurry but he raised his head and smiled at Susanne.

"Did he draw that?" she asked suddenly plucking a folded paper from under her jacket.

The lush forest of startling colors - emerald of leaves, blue and red and yellow of exotic birds; and among green, a long stealing body of a great black cat, a brown bulk of a bear, golden coils of a huge snake... Trowa had thought the drawing was lost, gone with his clothes, maybe, burnt. He missed it so much.

"I know this book," Susanne said.

"Ah?"

"The book," she repeated. "It's about jungles, about a boy who was lost and brought up by wolves. He didn't draw the boy, did he? My mother read the book to me."

Trowa couldn't let the paper go. His fingers clasped on it too hard. But it was all he had left from Quatre, wasn't it? He managed to take control over himself finally.

"When did your mother give you away?" It probably was not so long time ago, if Susanne remembered what she was read; it must've been so difficult for her, at this age.

"She didn't give me away," the girl said seriously. "She wouldn't ever do such a thing. She always said if she was to have a child above the quote, she would better leave Nevis than give her own child away. She died," Susanne finished abruptly.

"Oh. I'm sorry."

He saw her blink quickly, her eyes wet. Then she looked up.

"It's okay. Une loves me. She takes care of me. She trusted me to carry the vaccine. It's an honor."

"Don't you feel bad?" Trowa knew she wasn't supposed to but it still surprised him.

"Not at all," she shook her head. "And, anyway, soon we'll pass the vaccine to the Coalition. Une is negotiating now. Soon we'll go to the Northern Region and give it away. It'll be so interesting! I'll see new places! I haven't seen anything but Nevis and this place..."

She suddenly stopped on a half-phrase, rolled down from the stool.

"Someone's going! Bye!"

"Bye," Trowa said letting the shutter fall.

The apple tasted wonderful. He tried to make it last as long as possible but it didn't quite work. Then he just lay touching Quatre's drawing with the tips of his fingers.

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

It turned out I'd spent four days unconscious after being brought to the hospital and having my spleen removed. It cost way more money that I had. Megan, the kind nurse, asked whether I by chance had an insurance. I said 'no', I never had one. She still made me give her my name and checked it in the system.

"No, you don't," she agreed with a sigh. "All right, maybe, the doctor will come up with something. She won't want you to go to the street in your state."

I really had no idea what to do; they could've kicked me out now but I still had nothing to pay with.

"I can sign a contract and pay as I earn," I suggested when Doctor Po appeared.

"And how are you going to earn?" she asked with a frown on her strong-featured face.

Well, I wasn't going to discuss it. In fact, I wasn't sure I would be able to earn money as before. What good was I when a man touching me made me freak out, sent me into unbeatable panic? But if I had to, I knew I would be able to cope with it. After all, they'd saved my life at this hospital.

"All right," finally Doctor Po said with a wince. "Stay here until you get well - and then we'll decide something."

It was two days later she came to my ward glowing quietly, excitement filling her eyes.

"You know what, Quatre?" She sat on my bed, which was unusual, and she smiled - with was even more unusual. "I've got your blood test. I thought there was something, so, I sent it to re-check. Have you ever been in the Northern Region? Well, I meant to ask if you ever had seizure-flu."

I didn't know what to answer, so, I nodded.

"It's amazing. Seizure-flu, even if a patient survives, doesn't leave immunity. But you have it in your blood."

It must've been the aftereffect of the capsule.

"In fact," she continued, "it's so strong it's apparently possible to make a vaccine... It can save so many lives."

It wasn't necessary, I wanted to say; Trowa had delivered the vaccine, and the Northern Region would receive it soon. But I didn't know if I could talk about it.

"It's amazing," Doctor Poe repeated. I just nodded. She looked at me and then said with a sigh. "You're a good kid, Quatre, but you're so quiet. You aren't in pain, are you? Megan can give you something."

"I'm okay," I said.

"Well," she shook her head. "We'll work together now, right? And a good thing is that you'll stay here so far. Actually, you won't get away from me until we're through," she added gently.

It was good I could stay here so far. When she left, I turned away and stared at the wall - as I usually did.

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

They finally came for him. Trowa got fresh clothes, boots, his saber back and a proper meal. The men treated him indifferently but without condemnation, so, he thought he must've redeemed his fault. He felt anxious about being let go, left alone - wanted to get to the computer and start checking whether he could find Quatre. It was hardly a good way but at least he could check... he couldn't bear the thought of it - he could check if Quatre was on the lists of dead.

But a man called Daniel never left his side - and there were others around - and then the General appeared. Trowa saw Susanne at her side, caught a short sly gaze the girl cast at him.

"I'm pleased to inform you that negotiations with the Coalition of the Northern Region has just completed. They fully agreed to our conditions. So, we'll starting there tomorrow."

Despite his weariness, Trowa felt a wave of excitement, probably induced from others, felt the familiar pride for the Order, pleasure of being a part of something so good and so powerful. Une waited until restrained exultation stopped, then raised her delicate hand.

"The delegation will consist of me, General Une, the leader of the delegation; Captain Daniel Hayes; Adjutant Masanori Aono; Adjutant Darla Aster; Lieutenant Trowa Barton; Disciple Susanne Wright."

Her beautiful eyes stopped at Trowa as she mentioned his name. She hadn't lied telling him that he would participate in the final procedure. Well, a Misque General wouldn't lie, would she?

"See you all tomorrow at five," she said. "Daniel, check that Lieutenant Barton stays in his room till departure, will you? He isn't fit to walk around much yet."

It wasn't right! Unfairness of it shocked and sickened him. Trowa needed time alone, he needed a computer - had to do something to find Quatre... If only he knew Quatre was alive - it would change everything. Then he would do whatever Une and others wanted him to do.

He thought he could make a deal with her.

"Sir, I need..."

"Please, Lieutenant," she winced as if he was causing her headache. "I thought you learned your lesson. In any case, I don't feel up to arguing with you any more. You go to your room now, tomorrow we all go to the Northern Region and then I'll pass you to our brothers from Nevis. I'm sure they'll find a way to come to understanding with you."

If she hadn't said it, if she'd just let him make the search - everything probably would have been different.

He spent the night looking at the dark-green sky through the huge window of his room.

It was so difficult. The Order was his only home, the place where he was always accepted. Even punishing, they never turned away from him, never rejected him. Everything they did was just to keep him as a part of the Order. As long as he was with Misques, he never had to feel alone. He always had a place where to go.

He thought about Zechs, rejected by his own people and not accepted among humans. This fate scared him so much... Then, in prison, Zechs had been right - it was what Trowa feared most of all. He recalled how Zechs walked away from them in the spaceport - to nowhere; it still filled him with sadness and sense of wrongness to think about it. But there were things that caused him more anguish - so much anguish, in fact, that Trowa wasn't sure he would be able to live with it - with knowing that he'd left Quatre alone, never done anything to find the boy.

In the morning Daniel came up for him. Trowa followed the rest of the delegation for the early breakfast and then the air-car took them to the spaceport. On the backseat, Susanne took the place between him and Daniel, and Trowa was grateful for it. He could feel her bird-like light body pressed against his side and he liked it. She kept silent - they weren't supposed to know each other, apparently, and Susanne was good at keeping secrets - but her small hand touched his once or twice, as if accidentally, and Trowa felt sad and warm with it.

The girl still had so much of a homely child in her; in few years she probably would become just like any other Misque.

The lounge where they waited for the flight was a glass cupola with huge deep armchairs. Only two groups settled there so far: Misques and a delegation of Sillarians - their black round bodies shining in the rising sun, their long thin tentacles touching unceasingly as they carried on their tactile conversation.

A robot suggested drinks. Trowa took a few sips of orange juice and thought it was even better that Sillarians were here. The aliens had to use speech-adapters to talk with humans but they understood everything. Misques wouldn't allow a scandal in front of them.

He put the glass on the robot's tray and got up.

"Where're you going, Trowa?" Une looked up at him from the book she read, her gaze tired and slightly miffed.

"I quit," he said. Oh God, till the last moment he wasn't sure he could say these words. But then he said them - had broken his oath; and nothing happened, he didn't fall through the ground. It didn't become easy either - but at least there was no way back.

"Sit down," Une said. It looked like she didn't understand, just wanted him not to stand out in front of the aliens.

"Good bye," Trowa said. He wanted to say special good-bye for Susanne but didn't want to endanger the girl. Her eyes and mouth were round as she looked at him. He walked to the door.

"Daniel, follow him," Une said behind him. Trowa turned to her.

"You won't try to stop me, will you? It will be most embarrassing."

He walked out of the lounge and the glass door closed behind him. He couldn't afford lingering, so, he kept going.

"Barton!" It was Daniel's voice; the man did follow him, after all.

"What? Are you going to paralyze me..." he started, looking back - and suddenly in front of his eyes the transparent dome of the lounge burst out in fountains of glass. There was no sound - and it made the picture completely unreal, like some crazy dream. It only seems to me, Trowa had time to think - and then something heavy, like a huge paw, hit him. The world swirled around him - and darkness came.

When he could see again, it was the floor he saw in front of his eyes. Or he thought it was the floor; bright geometric ornaments that decorated it were barely visible now, hidden under a layer of crushed glass. Glass was smeared in red - and for some reason Trowa didn't like how it looked, even if he couldn't quite find a word for it.

He moved a little - and saw a few prone bodies, on the right and in front of him. One man didn't move - but a woman next to him knelt and her mouth was opened as she pressed her arm to her chest. There were muscles visible in her arm and white bones, and Trowa understood suddenly that she was screaming.

He didn't hear it; he heard nothing. People were running away and towards him but it was so quiet - just steady rustle of blood in his ears. Trowa got on his knees and saw Daniel. The man lay on the floor, face down, and long slivers of glass stuck from his jacket-covered back. There was such awkwardness in the position of his arms and legs that Trowa knew at once he was dead, even before seeing a huge pool of red spreading under him.

Behind Daniel, there was the lounge. Or there must have been - because it wasn't there. Just heaps of glass and plastic piled on its place.

It couldn't be; it must've been some mistake... his imagination... It just couldn't have happened. Trowa walked towards the crushed heap of debris. The floor seemed to rock under his feet and there was something that hindered him to walk but he didn't pay attention.

He saw Sillarians first, their black bodies thickly coated in green of their blood. And then there was wine-red - of Misque uniform - and broken bodies on the floor. A terrible feeling of deja vu flooded him. He had seen it before - his comrades lying dead on the floor of the hangar in morph prison. But this wasn't a memory; it was real.

Glass among glass broke under his foot. Une's spectacles. And then he saw a smaller body among adult ones - a broken doll left by a giant child. He fell on his knees on the shattered glass and picked Susanne up.

The front of Susanne's jacket was soggy with blood and torn - and in thick red Trowa saw black splinters of broken capsule stuck there. Her eyes were opened, not even dulled yet - and there was a surprised, uncomprehending expression frozen in them.

He felt warmth of her face as he closed her eyes - and her blood was soaking into his clothes as he pressed her to his chest. He shook in dry, racking sobs. Someone touched his shoulder. He reacted violently, jerking away. A man in police uniform said something but Trowa couldn't hear a word. There was just this quiet noise in his ears and that's all.

//"Give her to me."// He finally understood what the man said but it didn't mean he was going to obey.

"W-why d-did they do it?" he asked. He suddenly realized he was stammering; it didn't happen to him before. The man's eyes got a compassionate look in them. Trowa knew he said something, probably answered Trowa's question.

Another man took Susanne from his hands - and then there was a doctor next to him. Obtrusive hands patted him all over. He wanted to shake them off, to say he was okay. Then he understood what bothered him all the time, even though he didn't feel pain. A fragment of his own saber stuck from his side. Trowa reached to pull it out but the doctor got agitated suddenly, brushed his hands away - and then an oxygen mask was put on his face and he felt very light-headed. He didn't resist when they put him on stretchers and took him somewhere. He just didn't care.

* * *

He didn't care what they did to him. He would prefer they stopped fussing around him but to tell them that meant start arguing, and Trowa didn't want it. Finally they left him alone, after taking out the piece of the saber and a few splinters of glass. No one bothered him any more; there were other people in the ward but they all were too wrapped up in their own suffering to pay him attention. Silence enveloped him like a swaying shroud.

Well, the truth was he started hearing just a little. Bits and pieces - just enough to understand that he was considered 'lucky'; that the explosion was an attempt of assassination of Sillarian delegation - a successful attempt, obviously; that the blast was so strong there were over thirty wounded among those who just had been near to the lounge.

So, he had his answer to 'why'; or hadn't he? There could be no answer, no explanation as to why Susanne had to die. The same was about Une and others; and how many more lives would be lost because now the vaccine was destroyed. But it was Susanne Trowa mostly thought about.

In some way, the thoughts of her were connected in his mind to the thoughts of Quatre; her death amplified his loss. She was gone - just like Quatre was gone. Trowa lost both of them. He never could protect anyone who was near to him; neither the girl who was so kind to him, nor the boy who trusted him. He failed them both.

Trowa would hate himself - but instead of self-hatred there was just emptiness inside him. He didn't want anything; he didn't want to exist - to get attached to someone else, to lose someone else. It would be better if he just let it go.

Shadows flickered in front of his eyes, from the big TV screen - his neighbors watched news. It didn't bother him; nothing did. There was numbness spreading through him slowly - and Trowa knew soon he wouldn't feel sad any more. Everything would just be gone.

There was some movement next to him but he refused to look, refused to hear, wrapping himself deeper in his cocoon of solitude. And then something made him look and he turned - and there was Quatre looking down at him, his huge dark-blue eyes full of worry.

At the next moment Quatre's eyes brightened, his small hands lay on Trowa's face and he said something, Trowa couldn't discern what.

"Y-you're real, aren't you?" It was a silly question - no hallucination could feel so real as the hands cupping his cheeks - but Trowa had to make sure. Quatre nodded eagerly; there was a smile on his lips but his eyelashes trembled as if he was going to cry. "You're okay..."

"Yes," Quatre said, and now Trowa could hear him, better with every word. "I saw the news, about the explosion, and that there were Misques there. And they brought the wounded to our hospital, and I thought you could be there, so, I looked for you and found you..."

Of course, it was Quatre; who else could talk that much without breaking for a breath?

"G-good," Trowa said. "That you f-found me."

Quatre's eyes went round.

"You're stammering! It must be shellshock. But it'll pass, I know it'll pass soon."

Trowa looked at him, frowning, recalling how Quatre said 'our hospital', taking in his hospital shirt. He wanted to ask so much but Quatre's soft palm covered his mouth.

"No, don't talk! You must not. You have to rest, have to be quiet."

I don't want to be quiet, Trowa thought, I almost went too far into quietness. He caught Quatre's hands and pulled him closer - and after a little resistance the boy climbed on his bed, pressed towards him. Quatre's thin arms wrapped around Trowa's neck. He felt Quatre's warm breath tickle on his neck and moved getting even closer.

"Careful, you'll hurt yourself," Quatre said insistently - and then whispered in a small voice, his fingertips touching Trowa's face tentatively. "Please get well, okay?"

It was bliss; he could spend all his life like that, with Quatre pressed to his side, feeling the boy's skinny form in his arms, with fluttering touching of Quatre's fingers on his face. But there was something he needed to say, so, he moved to be able to face Quatre.

"Will you stay with me forever?" he asked. "Please don't leave me."

Dark-blue of Quatre's eyes was so deep he could drown there - wanted to drown there.

"But how..." Quatre started and Trowa knew what he was going to ask - and it was easy to answer.

"I left the Order."

"Oh."

"It's nothing. Will you just be with me?"

Quatre's arms tighten around him - and he knew it was the answer, knew it when Quatre pressed his head to Trowa's shoulder, his hot forehead and soft hair against Trowa's collarbones. But he still was glad when he heard the boy whisper quietly with his face hidden:

"Of course, Trowa. Of course, I will."

The End of Chapter 12

& & &

Chapter 13

Sometimes at night Trowa woke up in a fit of unreasonable fear when it all seemed an illusion to him, seemed that he'd never found Quatre. But then he looked at the boy, curled in the next bed, and a glowing feeling of completeness came to him again. He'd never been happier in his life. He got Quatre back - and Trowa knew he wouldn't make another mistake like losing him once again. Everything else was almost dispensable. They had nowhere to go; it was, maybe, days till Trowa would recover and it wouldn't be possible to stay at the hospital. They had no money. They actually had no past - well, the only past Trowa had was with Misques and he knew he would never go back to them.

"What shall we d-do?" he asked Quatre. His stammering almost passed, recurring just occasionally.

"Something. Find a job. Find a flat. Live." Quatre's thumb pressed to his lips to make him silent and it distracted Trowa from any arguments he might have. He pulled Quatre in his arms and kissed; he could never have enough of the boy's closeness, of feeling Quatre's fragile body and soft skin, of Quatre's ability to kiss so, that Trowa forgot how to breathe and felt wonderfully lightheaded after that.

They'd made love two days after Trowa got to the hospital. It was awkward, because Quatre insisted on his lying still - and Trowa just couldn't lie still. But the thought that they had so much time before them, would have chance to do it again and again filled him with wild, intoxicating joy.

Doctor Po and others at the hospital didn't seem to mind their affair. One of the nurses, a kind-looking elderly one, said to Trowa once:

"It's good he found you. He was always so sad, I thought he would never smile."

It looked like it worked out somehow with the vaccine for seizure-flu, and Trowa couldn't help seeing it as anything but a miracle; although what supreme forces could be so kind to him - certainly not the ones of Misques. It might be some Quatre's guardian angel.

It was early morning and Quatre was in Trowa's bed, his head on Trowa's chest. There was something going on TV but Trowa found it difficult to concentrate while Quatre's small cold feet rubbed against his. He cast a glance at Quatre and caught a sly sparkle of dark-blue eyes under the long eyelashes.

"I'm just trying to get warm," Quatre grinned. And at the next moment the door opened and Doctor Po walked in. Her usually serene face had a strange confused expression - and there were two men in civil clothes behind her.

"Quatre." Her hands were clasped tightly, in a gesture so nervous that Trowa felt suddenly disturbed. "There's someone who wants to see you."

The men stepped forward and Doctor Po backed away.

"Quatre Winner. You're under arrest."

It was crazy. They couldn't mean it. What for were they going to arrest him? Trowa saw Quatre look at them, his head raised from Trowa's chest, a pink trace left on his cheek from crumpled material.

"Before you ask whether it's a joke or a mistake," one of the men said, "here's the warrant."

Trowa felt his arm tighten around Quatre involuntarily, as if by holding the boy hard enough he could make these crazy people go away. What the fuck was it all about? Quatre wasn't supposed to have anything to do with police at all. Some officials had visited Trowa when there had been an investigation about the explosion - but Quatre wasn't involved in anything.

The boy's eyes were so huge and dark, and there was such a weird expression in them, Trowa couldn't figure it out. He felt Quatre move away and held him forcefully.

"No, wait. What's the charge?"

One of the men was younger, the other old and fat, with hoarse irritated voice.

"Prostitution."

"What the hell?" Trowa didn't know whether he was more angry or astonished. It was so ridiculous he even felt some kind of relief. "Does he look like a prostitute or anything? He's at the hospital if you didn't notice."

"The statute of limitation for this crime is three years. Three years didn't pass since the last act - so, we have every reason to arrest him."

The twisted logic of that made him feel creepy. And he knew there must've been something else, they couldn't bother just with this absurd accusation.

"You don't have any evidence against him."

"Oh yes, we do," the younger man said with a short smile. "The most solid evidence there can be. His own confession."

Trowa felt Quatre sit up, move away from him - and felt sudden emptiness of not having the boy close any more. As if Trowa's arms could really protect him... The man turned his wrist, his watch showing a small screen, and Trowa heard Quatre's voice, distorted slightly with recording but completely recognizable.

"I was with a client... Morphs were after the man, I think, so, they arrested us together."

"Did you know the man?" It was Treize's voice, quiet and even.

"Barely. He picked me up once or twice before."

"You mean he bought your services?"

"Yes."

So, it was a part of Quatre's statement - the one Trowa had never heard, the one Treize had sent wherever he wanted to send it. Trowa felt anger fill him. They didn't have right to use it - how dared they? Quatre's face was flushed, his eyes cast down - and Trowa saw him move a little more away unconsciously.

No, don't go, he wanted to scream. There's nothing to be ashamed of - it's them who should've felt shame!

"He told it all on his own accord," the fat man said with satisfaction. "We usually have to spend more time coaxing criminals into confession. But the little fool made it all so easy for us."

The man's voice, open contempt in it made heat rushed in Trowa's face; he clenched his fists. The man must've noticed it because a paralyzer, much similar to the one Misques used, appeared in his hand.

"Don't move, kid. Or you'll get really, really hurt. You know what's the difference between a police model and a standard one? Ours works much faster - but has a side effect: hurts like hell. All right, let's take him, Ramirez."

The younger man moved towards the bed and Trowa tensed, ready to lash. He was pretty sure he would be able to take the man down before the other one would shoot. But how to let Quatre know he should run?

He cast a look at Quatre and knew suddenly that it wouldn't work. Quatre wouldn't try to escape. And anyway, where would he go? To become a fugitive, hunted by police? Yet the thought of these men taking Quatre away was splittingly painful.

"Don't try to play smart," the man said. "Did you hear what I said? I'll shoot if you just move a finger."

A dark-blue flash of Quatre's eyes was desperate, pleading as he turned back.

"Please, Trowa. Don't do anything. I'll go with them."

He didn't know what to say; he couldn't be quite reasonable. Quatre gave him a look, both stern and imploring, and got up from the bed.

"Let's not get it trouble, please, Trowa. I'm sure they'll let me go soon."

"Five years," the fat man said. "I can promise, it won't seem soon for you. Five years of working camps is the usual sentence for your kind of crime."

The man wanted to provoke him, Trowa thought. The other one, Ramirez, looked at his colleague with some distaste on chiseled face.

"Come on, Parker. There's no need to intimidate him."

He had cuffs in his hand.

"I need to dress," Quatre said.

"No way. He'll bolt," Parker shook his head adamantly.

"I can keep a look on him," Ramirez suggested.

"No. I'll do it myself."

"Please, Trowa," Quatre said in a very quiet voice. "Don't move."

"Don't," Ramirez confirmed. "Believe me, you don't want your friend to be hurt as well, right? And Parker is a mean bastard."

Oh please; not 'good cop/bad cop' thing. Quatre walked out of the room and Parker with him, and Ramirez stayed, looking down at Trowa with thoughtful expression.

"Your friend seems to be a reasonable guy," he said finally. "It might... be helpful."

"For God's sake..." It was keenly humiliating not to be able to express his anger in anything but impotent words. "What are you doing, guys? There's no more delinquency in the city that you're going after prostitutes? The fuckin' article probably didn't apply for last ten years!"

"But it exists," Ramirez said. "And sometimes it can be quite handy."

"Handy?"

"For example if the statement with confession was recorded in Treize Khushrenada's camp."

Everything suddenly made sense - including why the men were in civil, not in police uniform.

"You're ISS?" Trowa asked - but he surely knew the answer.

"Right. Interplanetary Security Service. And if your friend cooperates with us, he'll get off without a scratch. If not... Working camps on Balsa are an icky place, believe me."

"Oh God." He could say nothing else; he almost couldn't breathe with shock. Ramirez looked at him with pensive, distant expression. And then he bent towards Trowa and said:

"A good lawyer can probably get your friend out. But you don't have a good lawyer, do you?"

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

The man, Parker, had that sickening manner of eyeing me. I could read every thought of his, every idea of what he would like to do with me; not that I would like to dwell on it. It was good at last that he kept his hands to himself when I changed my clothes - and in the car he probably felt self-conscious before his companion. Which was lucky for me; if I could only manage to stay away from him later...

I wasn't going to slip into panic; I repeated it to myself so many times that it sounded like mantra. No matter how little control over the situation I had - I could at least keep control over myself. Thinking about Trowa's forlorn, darkened eyes as I'd seen him the last time before being taken away made me bite my lip. It hurt to see him upset; he didn't deserve it to happen to him.

At the first moment, when they'd said they were going to arrest me, I thought it was because of my father, that his enemies reached even Adrianopolis in search for him and for anyone and anything that could be used against him. I didn't know whether my father was alive or dead but I knew that people who wanted to destroy him would stop before nothing. Maybe, my sisters already suffered from their revenge.

Finding out that it was just that ridiculous charge of prostitution made me so relieved I almost couldn't take it seriously. Well, cuffs on my wrists surely made it less of a joke. And later, when Parker and Ramirez explained what they wanted from me, I guessed I might've really been in trouble.

"Treize Khushrenada's camp. What can you tell about it?"

"It's big and there's a lot of sand."

"Don't you dare to laugh at us!" Parker slapped his palm against the table. Too little to have an effect... at least he didn't slap me. "We'll laugh at you - when you take the first ship to Balsa and stay in mining pits for five years. Do you think your boyfriend will be waiting for you when you come back from there? *If* you come back."

"Just tell us everything you know," the other man said. He didn't sound so eager - either didn't care enough whether I answered or not, or it was the role he played. "How do they open corridors in protective shield?"

They didn't know Trowa had been in Treize's camp as well, I realized. It made me feel almost dizzy with joy.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I said.

"All right," Parker said. I saw the paralyzer in his hand. The thing worked blinding fast, he'd been right about it. Next moment I was on the floor, all my muscles clenched in pain that spread through my body like wildfire.

It was so bad... I only thought it was lucky the bastard didn't try it on Trowa. I didn't scream - but not because I could keep from it; I surely would - but my throat was paralyzed as well. Parker squatted near to me, his hand turning my face.

"I don't have any patience to smart-ass bitches as you are. When you're ready to talk, blink twice. You can move your eyelids, I know. Then Ramirez with give you a medicine."

I didn't blink; what I really wanted to do was to spit in his face. But I couldn't do it - and it would be unreasonable anyway.

They talked some more - part-threatened, part-convinced, part-scolded me. Or, rather, Parker talked, and Ramirez inserted well-placed and completely necessary remarks like:

"You know prisoners on Balsa lose all their teeth within first year? They have such shitty water there. How do you think your lover will like you then?"

I didn't blink.

"He's probably just stupid," Parker said. "Who else but a stupid slut could set his own trap by recording the fuckin' statement?"

"If you think we need your help so much, Winner, you're wrong," Ramirez said. "It's rather that we give you a chance to deserve forgiveness. Khushrenada's days are numbered. That little information that you have will probably spare some lives when he's arrested."

I didn't know how much time passed; it could be hours. Pain never subsided; I wondered if it was going to pass by itself or one needed a medicine Parker had talked about. And whether they were intended to give me that medicine. My vision blurred; tears leaked from my eyes and I could neither stop nor wipe them.

"Don't think you can be more stubborn than we are," Parker said. "You'll either help us and walk out of here - or you won't walk out of here at all. Time is on our side."

"And the paralyzer leaves no traces," Ramirez added.

Eventually it was him who injected me some stuff, and pain abated slowly as I could move again. My head ached and my body felt weak and awkward as I sat up on the floor.

"Take him to the cell," Parker said with distaste. Ramirez himself took me there, talking in a quiet voice all the way.

"Why don't you cooperate? I thought you would catch it in the air what's profitable for you. Don't you want to see your lover again?"

It hurt so much to think about Trowa; I wanted to see him... wanted nothing more than to see him.

"I don't suppose you have some fancy stuff in your head about 'loyalty' and 'betrayal', do you? You already got in trouble because of Khushrenada - now it depends on you to save yourself."

I gave him a glance and didn't say anything. He didn't know that Treize had saved me and Trowa, that I owed everything to him. And it was better that Ramirez knew nothing; I was going to guard my memories from him as long as I could.

"You disappoint me," he said. "Do you know Parker already hinted me that he would appreciate it if I left you two tete-a-tete when you're in paralysis? I might want to be nice to my partner."

I wanted to say 'fuck you' but his words really distressed me so. I knew he could do it safely; no one would even know. This thought made me feel desperate.

I was almost relieved when Ramirez left me alone in the cell. Locked again... very funny: just a month passed and I exchanged morphs' prison to human one. At least it was not cold there.

Trowa, I thought, I'm sorry. I miss you so much.

It was heart-wrenching, to think about him.

But, Trowa, I can't do what they want from me. Will you understand me?

* * *

They were right - time was on their side. It took two days to wear my resoluteness so thin that a little more and I was ready to start talking. Another push - and I would spill everything I knew, say things I would regret.

I don't want to recall it.

On the third day warders came for me. I moved in half-daze; the thought of seeing Parker and Ramirez again filled me with helpless dread. I barely noticed it was a different room they took me to - or, rather, I was so despaired it didn't matter for me. It took me a real effort to stay upright.

What I saw first was that those two were not there. And then a man sitting at the table got up - and everything about him was so familiar - his straight back and big hands and piercing eyes - that my body reacted before my mind could deny it as impossible. I threw myself at him, wrapped my arms around him, and he picked me up from the floor effortlessly.

"Dad," I said. "Dad."

For a while he didn't let me go - and I couldn't break away from him, as if without clinging to him it meant that the feeling of his strong arms around me would become an illusion. Finally he put me down and held on outstretched arms.

"Hasn't he grown so much?"

"Oh yes. Hey, little brother, don't you notice me?"

There was a young smiling woman next to my father, and my jaw dropped.

"Iria! You changed the hairstyle. You changed so much..."

"You bet I did," she laughed, cuddling me. Of course, it was her; I hadn't known how much I missed her soft hands and cozy smell and fluttering kisses. She was big; I could feel her round belly pressed to mine as she hugged me - she was pregnant.

I looked around; a part of me wondered if it was some beautiful dream - and then everything was possible there, I might've missed someone else. But there was just an unfamiliar man sitting at the table.

"And Milady?" I asked. Dad and Iria looked at each other.

"She's okay. She'll be with us, too."

"Son..." Dad pulled me closer again, patted my back. Now I recognized his rather awkward movements when it came to hugging - so, he probably was real. "Finally I found all of my children."

"You don't need to hide any more?" I asked. It was Iria who answered, her eyes glowing.

"Not at all! The Executive Board granted him asylum. There are so many changes. We'll probably go home soon, on our planet. There will be elections..."

"It's too early to talk about it, Iria," father said reticently. "I don't know if I want to participate in those elections."

Iria just smiled, and I smiled, too. Surely he would; my father couldn't live without politics. It had been his involvement that sent him first in exile and then put his life in such danger.

"Dad became legal already a year ago," Iria continued; her arm lay around my shoulder, her soft hand brushing my hair. "First he found me, then Milady - and now you. Oh, we looked for you so much! Only when someone checked for your name in the system, we could track you."

So, both Parker and Ramirez and my family found me the same way - after Megan had checked for my insurance. It was rather ironic.

Iria's words reminded me painfully what I tried not to remember. They looked for me... But they didn't know what I had become. If they had, they wouldn't have looked for me. I dishonored them so much. I withdrew from Iria quietly, freed from her arm. She looked at me with that breathtakingly kind smile of hers. It hurt to look at her, at my father's serious, gentle eyes. Their gazes would change when I told them. But I had to tell, I had no right to steal their kindness. Iria was first to feel that something was wrong.

"What happened, Quatre?"

"I..." I didn't know how to say that. "Dad, Iria, I... I wasn't like you think I was. I let you down... I was a..."

"Oh come on, Quatre, stop it!" Iria pulled me to herself suddenly, her arms around my neck. The softness of her body was so accepting, and her hand tucking a strand of my hair so tender. I heard her whisper in my ear. "You don't need to tell anything. Dad knows it. We saw the statement you recorded for Khushrenada. That's how we knew you were alive."

So, they knew - and they still wanted to find me? The thought was so enormous that I shivered. Iria didn't let me go, holding me tighter. And then I couldn't stand it any more. Tears ran from my eyes. She didn't say anything, just hugged me and patted my back.

Finally I wiped my eyes and looked up.

"It's my fault." My father looked somewhere above me and the corner of his mouth was twitching. "It's because of my ambition I lost all of you for those years, such difficult years. But I won't lose you again."

"We'll take you out of here," Iria said brightly. "It's Mr. Anderson, your lawyer." The man looked up at me from the laptop in front of him.

"Give me forty-eight hours," he said, "and I'll clear him of all charges."

* * *

Mr. Anderson was as good as his word. Two days later I stood at a long expensive air-car with my father and sister. I'd never seen Parker and Ramirez again.

"We're going to Rochengen," Iria beamed at me. "Dad got an estate there. You won't believe it - it's huge! There're horses there. You have to see it."

"Quatre *is* going to see it," father said. "But first to the hotel. You have to change your clothes."

It was so good to be with them; it was so good to be out. I didn't want to look at the prison building again.

"I won't go anywhere without Trowa," I said. My voice sounded suspiciously trembling. What if they didn't agree? They had accepted me, with my past - but what if they thought it would be too much? I looked at them stubbornly. They exchanged a glance; I understood they probably knew something.

"By all means," father said. "Your friend can go with us."

"He's more than a friend." I felt so relieved with his words and yet I wanted him not to misunderstand me. My life was like a kaleidoscope recently, all broken glass - but there was the only thing that was constant there. I probably could live without anything else - but not without Trowa.

"All right," father said, waving his hand.

In the car, Iria whispered in my ear, laughing:

"You've changed, little brother. You've become so earnest. But trust me, you don't need to put everything out loud with dad."

"Losing all of you puts things into another prospect." Dad was talking, sitting in the front seat. "It makes one see things more clearly, children. There's nothing that can make me lose you once more."

So, I met Trowa again - something I thought would never happen. I had him with me again. During the flight to Rochengen, I couldn't let his hand go, even when I fell asleep. And when I woke up, he still was with me and his hand was clenched on mine tightly.

Rochengen was a green planet, one of rather few with minimal industry there, which made it so popular for having a villa or a house there. The estate was really big, the house completely beautiful, built in a way that subtly reminded about our old house on my native planet.

Milady wasn't there. But I had a video channel to her as soon as we arrived. She was on Vesta, in a clinic for drug-addicts, and some things in my father's words became clearer for me.

"She'll come back home in a couple of months," Iria said. "It takes time. And she'll have to be careful for all her life."

My father was talking to Trowa in his study. I felt painfully nervous looking at my watch - and a bit angry.

"What's the point of talking to him?"

"Don't worry." Iria walked in with two glasses of carrot juice and shoved me one of them. "Drink this, it's full of vitamins. Dad won't say anything bad. He's just... you know - wants to know your significant other better."

"I'm not going to marry Trowa," I muttered. Iria giggled. She looked so peaceful in her blue wide dress, matching the color of her eyes so well. For a moment her gaze acquired a distant look, as if she listened to something inside her.

"Iria, is it a boy or a girl?" I asked.

"A boy." She smiled and yet something changed in her eyes. I hesitated whether I could ask the next question. Some things might've better stayed unsaid - but I thought I still needed to ask.

"And the father?"

Seriousness in her eyes was upsetting to see; but there was no hurt, just some sadness there.

"It was in-vitro fertilization. Quatre..." It looked like she wanted to say something, and then the door of my father's study finally opened and Trowa walked out. "We'll talk later. Here's... your friend."

I couldn't keep myself away from Trowa, grabbed his hand and pulled after me. In our room, some time later, I lay next to Trowa, looking at his face under a wave of long bangs. The strands were tousled and Trowa's lips were puffy. I kissed him again.

"What did he say to you?"

"Oh... what education I got and stuff like that. He said you need to study, you've lost at least three years."

"I won't go to school!" I started shivering. To go to some boarding school, to be locked up there - and without Trowa... I couldn't let it happen. Trowa gave me a look and then his arm tightened around me.

"Don't get so nervous. You don't need to if you don't want. You can study by correspondence - and I'll... I can help you."

I held onto him. His gaze was so serious. I caught his hand and pressed his fingers to my lips.

"You don't like it here, do you?" I asked.

I felt a tiny instinctive movement of his body and it was the only thing that gave him away, because his voice was completely quiet.

"Why? I do. It's your home."

"But you..."

"I just... it's a bit strange... that your father should support me."

"Oh please..." I felt another seizure of panic. "You're not going to leave, are you? Please, we'll find some way, it'll get better - just don't leave, okay? I just need a bit more time..."

I wasn't sure what I was talking about but all I knew was that I had to make him stay. There were small tremors going through my body and Trowa ran his hand over my back, along the line of vertebrae. It was so good to feel him touch me, to be close to him.

"I'm not going anywhere," he said quietly. "I... I don't think I can bear to go, anyway."

I nodded and put my head on his chest. Everything was going to be all right - if he just stayed.

I was afraid Trowa would think me too clinging if I held his hand when going to sleep, so, I struggled with myself and let him go. But in darkness he moved closer to me and I felt his fingers intertwine with mine.

* * *

I was at the library, struggling with math books that Trowa decided I should've repeated before going forward. Repeated! I forgot them so thoroughly during three years that I might've as well started learning them anew. Then the door opened and I saw dad and Iria come in. Iria's eyes were swollen with tears, and my heart sank. I didn't want to wonder what happened.

"I have to talk to you, Quatre," father said seriously, sitting down in front of me. Iria stayed on her feet, blowing her nose. "It's about the situation in our family."

"Dad, you don't need to! I didn't want him to, Quatre!" Iria looked desperately at me. I felt slightly sick.

So, that was it. Things came to a conclusion faster than I expected - faster than I promised to Trowa they would. There was no need to look for some way to make Trowa happy here because everything was resolved for me. Dad was going to tell me they couldn't put up with my having an affair with another man, that it was inappropriate for Winner family.

Shit; I'd spent just three days at home - I just started getting used to be here. But one thing I knew for sure: I could live without anything and anyone - but I couldn't live without Trowa.

I made a few deep breaths, preparing myself to what I was going to hear. Sickness abated.

"Quatre," father looked at me seriously. "You know that child Iria carries... When we thought you were dead... Well, we decided that we needed a heir for the family."

"Milady can't have babies," Iria added in a voice thick with crying. "So, there was no other way."

"The child was genetically altered to have enhanced intellect and abilities - to make him a perfect heir for Winner family. His political and diplomatic talents will be outstanding. I was going to pass him all my knowledge and experience."

"It was only because we couldn't find you, little brother," Iria sobbed.

It started downing on me. I looked up at Iria, trying to meet her eyes - but she looked away.

"Quatre," father said in a solemn way. "I want you to understand. We can't be any happier that we found you. You're my son, you'll always be my son, no matter what happens. But at the present, genetic alterations achieve such success - lay the foundation for a personality that will match the task perfectly."

"Not a word more!" Iria suddenly went red and angry and stopped crying. "Quatre is at home now, what to talk about?!"

I got up and walked up to her, hugged her. She clenched my hand; her fingers were icy.

"I just want to say," my father continued, "that while I never judge you, son, for everything that happened... the way of life you've chosen at the current moment... is neither appropriate for a future politician nor secures descendents for the family."

I almost chuckled when I heard how he put it.

"You can either take both rights and obligations of a heir or..."

"Father!" Iria cried out.

"Shh, don't cry," I patted her, "it's not good for the baby. Dad..." for a moment I almost couldn't talk, relief was so great. If it were the worst thing that was going to happen, I would be the luckiest person in the world. "Dad, I don't want to be a heir. I never wanted. I think there's something wrong with my... personality," I grinned. "I'll be completely happy if Iria's child is be a heir."

"Don't say that..." Iria sobbed again and I pressed her to me. My father looked at me in the way that made him seem both relieved and exasperated.

"You just say it like that?"

"How am I supposed to say that?" I asked quietly.

"All right." He sighed and relaxed somehow. "All right. If it's what you want, Quatre. You, and Iria, and Milady are always going to have a place in my heart."

I nodded; I barely could stay serious - something was singing inside me. I probably didn't feel that elated since we arrived home.

"Quatre," Iria turned to me, tears drying on her cheeks. "Thank you."

"Thank *you*," I took her face in my hands and kissed her, and she tucked my hair away behind my ears. The gesture was so Iria-like that I felt everything was going to be all right. My father squeezed my shoulder briefly and they walked out - but I couldn't study again. I ran out of the library and dashed to the garden.

"Trowa! Trowa!"

He looked up at me from a book on his lap. His lips and fingers were stained in orange-red from the berries he was eating. I flopped on him, straddling his thighs.

"What, have you already learned everything?" His book fell on the ground but he couldn't reach for it, with me sitting on him like that.

"Everything," I lied and caught his fingers in my mouth. They tasted sweet and sour. "Now... we can... go riding."

He looked at me with that thoughtful gaze on his and then said in a quiet voice:

"No... if you wiggle some more like that - we won't go anywhere."

He never stopped surprising me. I doubled with laughter, then jumped down from him and pulled him after me.

"Let's go. I'll take Pearl and you'll take Orlov."

Pearl was a white horse and Trowa used to ride a bay stallion. He sent Orlov in gallop and I had to chase him. Later, when we were on the hill and the house was barely visible between the trees, I told him what happened.

"You look way too happy for someone who'd just been disinherited," he said and dismounted. I got down on the ground, too. He kissed me, holding my face, and then his hands slid down, fumbling with my clothes.

His eyes with widened pupils, black in green, were so beautiful I almost couldn't bear to look at him. So, I gave up and closed my eyes, just felt what he was doing: the draft of cool air on my skin and warmth of his lips and heat of his body pressed to mine. Then he slipped down on his knees and I felt his arms around my waist, holding and cradling me. And then his lips enveloped my shaft.

I threaded my fingers through his hair. It became difficult to stand, my legs went weak - but Trowa supported me. And it was absolutely impossible to be silent - but it was not necessary as well, so, I called his name and sobbed when coming. And later he called my name in the breathless, desperate voice of his, as I felt him moving inside me and looked at his face against the cornflower blue of the sky.

It was dusk when we finally rode back. The house was like a white shadow, fluttering with its open windows and doors and light curtains swaying in the wind. We walked through the hall. The TV was on; I heard a familiar name first and only then realized what was said.

"A long elaborated operation on the capture of the terrorist # 1 is finished. The trap is shut. Several hours ago Treize Khushrenada and six other members of the brigade have been arrested by United Force..."

I saw Wufei on the screen suddenly, his lips white and his face frozen as soldiers held him, wrenched his arms behind his back. He looked like he was going to lash out or to collapse - but he did neither eventually. Past him, men carried stretchers with plastic-covered bodies, giving a glimpse of UF uniform or insurrectionists' fatigue now and then. There were other captives and I recognized their faces. No Doctor J - but J hardly ever went on the missions.

And then Treize was there, his wrists shackled behind his back - but soldiers still gripped his arms firmly. His eyes were wide open and had a strange empty look in them as he turned his head as if looking for something but not finding it. He stumbled against the debris on the floor and would fall if the men didn't shake him upright. There was a kind of surprise on his face.

I turned to Trowa and met his gaze, darkened on the pale face. He must've read the question in my eyes and whispered the answer I almost knew already:

"He's blind."

The End of Chapter 13

& & &

Chapter 14

"I cannot keep you from going there." The way Mr. Winner said it, he surely would like to do it. "But I frankly don't see what you're going to do there."

"I don't see how we can just stay here and wait for a result." Quatre didn't look at his father, nibbling his lip nervously - and his defensive stance affected Trowa as it always did, making him want to stand by Quatre, to prove him he wasn't alone. It was unreasonable: Quatre didn't need his interference - and Trowa again reminded himself not to appear overprotective.

He wished he had a better knowledge of how to express his feelings, wouldn't swing to and fro between being obtrusive and aloof. And there was so much he felt; for all those years he'd spent with Misques he didn't even know there was so much there. He just didn't have a good grip on his expressing things - and it was a constant source of disquiet for him. What if Quatre found him annoying? What if something went wrong between them?

"What result, son?" Mr. Winner said with a wince of exasperation. "It's all pretty obvious. The Executive Board got itself in a very inconvenient position. They should've let morphs get Khushrenada - it would leave their own hands clean at least. I don't imagine how they are going to sentence him without turning him into a martyr. I won't be surprised if there is no any trial. Some accident - and both Marotania will be satisfied, and the EB will save its face."

There was a weird logic in it, Trowa had to admit it. The calm, reasonable voice of Mr. Winner made him feel uneasy, disturbed.

"But if there is a trial, our evidence can be useful for Treize."

"Why do you think they'll let give any evidence, Quatre? Nothing will depend on the things you'll say."

"We'd rather go there," Quatre said flatly - and somehow it sounded final.

"I put money on your account, so, you can use it in any way you want. I just wish you showed your determination in other things," Mr. Winner added.

A quiet smile fluttered on Quatre's lips as he looked up. There was still some dismay in his eyes, as knowing that he disappointed his father was never easy, but Quatre seemed resolute.

"Thank you, dad."

"Just don't get in trouble," his father muttered. "The Earth is a nasty place and I expect all kinds of weirdos visit Moscow for this occasion."

"Ugh-ghu." Now Quatre's eyes glowed.

For one thing, Mr. Winner was right; the city was full. The passenger ship Trowa and Quatre took had to line for landing for over than sixteen hours.

"I wonder why all those people want to be here," Trowa said once.

"Probably an entertainment. Of course, there are some - from Northern Coalition, for example - who really hate morphs and for whom Treize is a hero. But for the rest... many had never even met morphs. So, it's just hot news to follow."

On the TV screen, they watched how Treize found his place by touch in the transparent box of super-durable plastic. His face had a strained, concentrated expression as if he constantly expected some trick, his eyes unblinking.

He didn't belong there, Trowa thought feeling how his fists clenched tightly. He recalled Treize from the time on the sand planet - his animated face, his voice full of excitement as he talked about their future, their victory. Now twenty of his people were dead, six arrested - and others blockaded in the camp, presumably without a chance to break out.

It wasn't right, it shouldn't have been like that... The feeling of utter helplessness made Trowa feel furious - and he was afraid of thinking how Treize could feel; only he knew too well how.

Several weeks ago, when Trowa had left the camp of the insurrectionists, he wondered whether he'd see Treize again. He didn't expect it would be like this; he would give everything for not seeing Treize this way, in this state. And Treize... Treize would possibly prefer to be dead than to be there, wouldn't he?

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

With time, it grew easier to find his place in the box. Maybe, in a couple of weeks he'd be doing it in quite a dignified manner, Treize thought wryly. The seat was narrow and as soon as he occupied it, force cuffs locked on his wrists and ankles, fastening him to the place. Another force ring went around his waist. His skin tingled with the touch, and complete immobility was excruciating; he couldn't get used to it. Combined with complete darkness, it seemed sometimes more than he could bear.

It was nothing; he didn't have to give away that it bothered him. But Treize knew his nostrils flared all the same and he tended to hyperventilate. Taking himself under control demanded almost more strength than he had - but he managed it. He had to - if not for himself than for his boy...

Wufei was in the next box. If Treize could see, he would be able to see him - if not to touch or hear: the sound in the boxes was switched off when they didn't answer questions. Thinking about it made him regret the loss of sight with special acuteness. Wufei was so close; and so unreachable.

Sometimes he thought he would give everything just for touching Wufei again, for holding the boy's hand. It was exaggeration, of course, there were things Treize wouldn't do for any promise, any award - like agreeing to admit himself guilty, for example. But as time went, as the parody of the trial continued, and he stayed in darkness and loneliness, his resoluteness was wavering. And it frightened Treize most of all.

It would be such a cruel irony that, if he broke, it wouldn't be for the hardships he had to go through. His life as an outcast was never easy and he didn't expect it to be; he accepted everything: loss of his name, being called a criminal, being hunted.

He even could deal with his last failure. The source that had given them information for so many successful operations turned out to be a provocateur. Treize didn't know if it was a set-up from the very beginning - he didn't want to believe in it, really - or if the source got captured and only his name used. In either case, it was Treize's fault, and the result was disastrous.

He wished it had been a real bomb, not a blinding bomb that had blown up then. But they probably intended to take him alive; well, they succeeded. Maybe, succeeded more than they planned. Darkness turned out to be an ordeal that he found the most difficult to bear.

It drove him to despair that the simplest things became so cumbersome - like shaving or trimming his fingernails. Every time before going to the courtroom he spent an hour checking his face and clothes by touch to make sure there was no untidiness, nothing that would make him laughable, stupid. He still kept being nervous - and it weakened him more than anything else.

Soon after the arrest, a doctor checked his eyes. Treize was not informed about the verdict. He didn't know what kind exactly the blinding bomb was but he knew that the vision could be recovered if there was immediate treatment. Maybe, he would've had to wear lens glasses, like Doctor J did, but at least he would've seen again.

In any case, he didn't get any treatment. But it didn't surprise him, after all. He was rather amazed they hadn't used the chance of declaring him insane after psychiatric expertise. But they went after the second best thing.

"Witness, what can you tell about the state of discipline in the camp?"

"I'm not sure it could be called discipline." It was one of his men who got arrested with him; the only one who testified.

"Explain yourself, witness."

"Captain Khushrenada neglected control over the camp. He was more preoccupied with the relations between him and his lover... or drinking. Things were falling apart. I'm surprised we lasted this long."

His heart was pounding so hard the man's words sounded distant. He did manage to keep his face blank, though - or he hoped so. He knew there were cameras watching him, catching every change of his expression.

Oh if only he could say that the man - the traitor - lied. The worst thing was that probably everything in his words was true. Drinking, going crazy over Wufei, getting into that affair with the morph... He, Treize, failed his people. And now he didn't have a chance to die as a hero.

He knew he wouldn't be sentenced. Not to death, anyway. Death would return him some dignity. But as he was - blind, with a reputation of a drunk and a madman - he was not dangerous. They would show him mercy - would keep him alive.

The thought of it made a smile distort his lips, a smile that was as far from amused as it was possible. The Executive Board wanted to keep him alive... the conspirators, who, as he knew, were arranging an escape for him, wanted him alive. Morphs, who sent assassins already trying to kill him twice, wanted him dead... Nobody asked him what he wanted.

But the truth was Treize wasn't sure he had strength left to want anything at all.

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

It was impossible to get a place in the courtroom, of course. Every morning, as the prisoners were brought to the session, a special shield corridor was built to keep the crowds away. And presumably to prevent another attempt of assassination.

Mr. Winner had been right about one more thing - no one was going to listen to their evidence; but somehow Trowa didn't find it surprising. Eventually he and Quatre managed to see a secretary of Treize's attorney. The woman looked at them with tired eyes and said:

"Do you know how many people come here claiming they can say something important about Treize Khushrenada? Do you think anything that you say can make any difference?"

"It seemed what I could say made some difference when they were after Treize," Quatre said angrily. He rubbed his arms unconsciously - in the way he acquired after his arrest by ISS - as if he was cold. Trowa felt a kind of stifled despair, seeing it - knowing that even if Quatre never talked about what he'd been through there and seemed to be happy to forget it, his body still remembered it.

The secretary did write down their names and data finally and promised to call but Trowa didn't put much hope on it. He had a feeling of something irreparable happening. Every day as this disgraceful trial continued, something was shattered - around... inside him.

They walked to the court building daily; not that it could change anything - but the feeling of anxiety was too strong to stay at the hotel. There were always people around, despite cold weather - a grey crowd fluctuating in the street. Maybe, some of those people were there just to be a part of a mass, just to feel others around - and Trowa thought it was not so wrong about him as well. Among people his helplessness was not so choking.

He felt Quatre's thin arm wrapped around his waist as the boy held him tightly. Not far away from them, on the border of the porch, a boy-preacher recounted the Bible:

"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these..."

Wet snow fell on the preacher's bare arms and legs and thawed quickly. The boy's face, tilted up, under tangled bangs of dark hair, was enraptured - as if he could see something no one else could.

Treize used to have the same kind of look in his eyes; not so mad - but with slight edge of distraction in it. Trowa thought it'd been what made people follow Treize - that Treize made them believe he could see more than they could, see a bigger picture.

This look was gone now; and Treize couldn't see anything any more.

Several long sleek looking air-cars landed at the building. The police went alert again, keeping the crowd away. A group of tall, long-limbed people walked out. Trowa felt how next to him, Quatre grew very still, and as he looked at the boy, Quatre's gaze was wide and frozen, his eyes following the morphs unavoidably.

The crowd went still. No one dared to denunciate morphs openly - and morphs knew it. Trowa saw one of them lean towards his companion, say something with a deliberate smile on his face. Then the delegation entered the building.

The crowd burst out with yells and curses. Trowa saw Quatre wince a little, as if this noise caused him headache.

"Let's go?"

Trowa nodded, feeling how Quatre's arm tightened around him.

They managed just a few steps as a man grabbed Trowa's arm, stopping him. They guy was probably drunk or just high on the shared emotions.

"Did you see those freaks? They should be put on the trial, not Captain Khushrenada! These monsters - they give me creeps, just breathing the same air with them! I would die if one of them touched me!"

Trowa put his hand on the man's wrist, freeing himself effortlessly. He felt Quatre being pushed against him and held onto the boy tighter. The man seemed displeased to be ignored.

"Why are you silent? Don't you want to say how much you hate morphs? Maybe, you're a morph-lover?"

He reached again, and Trowa saw Quatre push him away with sudden violence, heard the boy's voice distorted with fury:

"Don't touch him!"

"Hey, look at these two! They like morphs!"

Trowa yanked Quatre after himself but the crowd already went denser around them, not letting them go. Hostile faces around them made Trowa have a sick feeling of apprehension. He sensed Quatre's nervous shiver and shoved away a man who tried to grab the boy. A fist flew in his face but Trowa didn't have time to get frightened. A long thin shadow stepped between him and the attacker.

"Get out of here!" The voice was familiar but Trowa almost couldn't believe he heard it. The man who shielded him turned back briefly, allowing him a brief glimpse of dark-blue eyes and a mouth curved in a smile. "Ouch!"

The next blow got his protector in the face - and Trowa saw the attacker look at his hand, streaked bluish-purple, in surprise. It took just a few moments for the information to settle.

"There's a morph here! One of them is a morph!"

"Oh fuck."

Trowa grabbed Zechs' hand and pulled him away, pulled Quatre as well. At Trowa's side, a blond girl pushed through the crowd. As their eyes met, she gave Trowa a kind of conspiring look.

They managed to get out at last and then Zechs pushed him.

"Run!"

It was probably the best variant, judging on how aggressive the crowd was. So, they ran, until stopping on a quiet street, making sure no one followed them. Zechs looked down at them, smiling with split lips and without any regret in his eyes.

"You turned up... v-very timely," Trowa said in a slightly shaky voice. Zechs' smile became wider.

"As always, ne? Why can't you watch for yourself not to get in trouble?"

Trowa rolled up his eyes; Zechs' condescending way seemed to never change. The morph managed to be exasperating even at the moment when Trowa felt real joy at seeing him.

"You're all right, aren't you? You're bleeding," Quatre said. Zechs sniffed blood running from his nose and finally wiped it against his sleeve.

"Perfectly all right."

Was he? How was he going? Trowa looked at him almost greedily, trying to make sure that everything about Zechs was as it had to be. Zechs looked skinny; his hair was cut short and tangled - but somehow it made him look younger. Or, maybe, it was the look in his eyes - wide and bright on the angular face; the look of almost childish amazement.

"I see you aren't in the Order any more, Trowa Barton! How came?"

"You'd better tell how you are," Trowa said. "Hey, aren't you cold?"

He just noticed Zechs had only a thin sweater on, too little for such a freezy day.

"Nope." It hardly was true, judging on Zechs' bluish lips - but the morph smiled again eagerly. "I don't care for cold or hunger. Physical needs are nothing - body is nothing at all, that is."

Trowa frowned, meeting Zechs' excited look. The words sounded vaguely familiar. He followed Zechs' gaze and saw two other people in the street, standing a little away from them. The boy-preacher in his t-shirt and short pants and the girl whose gaze Trowa had met in the crowd. They stood on a distance - but in such a way that their connection to Zechs was obvious. Maybe, it was how they looked at him - the girl kindly and patiently, the boy with that mysterious captivating expression in his big fierce eyes.

"Your friends?" Quatre asked.

"More than friends. My sister and brother... and I'm like brother for them."

It looked like Zechs finally found a place and people where he belonged. Trowa found it somewhat sad that these people were a sect of a kind; he couldn't feel well about sects or orders after his breaking with Misques. But if Zechs was happy...

"I'm not crazy," Zechs said in an unexpectedly quiet voice. Some blood trickled from his nose again and he wiped it with his hand. The scars on his fingers were still crude, marring the tips harshly. He'd probably need a plastic surgery to make them look normal... but Trowa knew Zechs hardly would do it. "I know it's probably silly, all that stuff about not caring of body needs, not thinking about another day. But they... they accept me. They don't care what I was."

"I understand," Trowa said. Yes, Zechs was happy this way. Wasn't it the most important? "By the way, does you religion allow you to have a cup of coffee with us? And your brother and sister?"

"I don't think they will want to," Zechs shrugged. "But I'd like to. Wait a minute, okay?"

Trowa watched him as he walked up to the boy and the girl, said something. The boy kept this distant gaze of his but the girl smiled and nodded. Her frail hand touched Zechs' shoulder briefly, in a gesture of simple affection, obviously natural for her - and then the boy raised his hand and touched Zechs' face as well.

They looked like they belonged together, Trowa thought.

Zechs walked back to them, turning on the way, and Trowa heard his bright voice as he repeated:

"I'll be in an hour, Relena."

The girl and the boy wrapped their arms around each other's waists and walked away, under the falling snow they didn't seem to notice.

* * *

In a small cafe Zechs warmed up his hands on a mug of milk coffee. Trowa noticed people were staring at his fingers - but they surely didn't realize what kind of accident left those scars. Zechs seemed to guess his thoughts.

"I still didn't quite learn to use them deftly. Always forget they're a bit shorter than I'm used to."

There was no bitterness in his voice - and, maybe, that made Trowa feel even more disconcerted.

"Why are you here?" he asked finally. "Do you live in Moscow?"

"We live wherever we want," Zechs shrugged. "Nomadic life, you know - when Heero decides he should see new places, we just move. You think I'm here to see Treize die, right?"

Frowning, Trowa shook his head. The truth was this thought came to his mind; but really, how could he blame Zechs for hating Treize?

"I don't hate him." Zechs, as usual, seemed to read his thoughts. "Yes, I'm here because of him - but I didn't come to gloat. I don't know if you believe me..." He caught a longer strand of his bangs and pulled it over his eyes, in a fitful gesture that was in a stark contrast with the calmness of his voice. "I don't want him to die."

It was strange but Trowa understood suddenly that he did believe.

"He... changed my life," Zechs said, letting a strand go. There was tension in his eyes but he didn't look away. "Well, it was rather a cruel change but... I don't regret it... I think I don't regret it."

"It's like... you don't have to wear the helmet any more, right?" Quatre said softly. Zechs' gaze became more peaceful.

"Exactly. He said once... that I was beautiful."

Trowa didn't want to wonder at what moment Treize could say this - if it was true at all.

"I still miss my people sometimes," Zechs said in a different, rather hard voice. "Some kind of nostalgia."

"What do Marotanians do here?" Quatre asked casually - almost too casually, Trowa thought. "The trial is not their jurisdiction."

"Maybe, they want to check whether their enemy is going to really get an appropriate punishment," Zechs smile wryly. "Or, maybe, they look for a base for future expansion."

It was half a joke but nobody laughed.

"One of them said to another," Quatre said, "that this place will be theirs in fifteen years."

"So, I might've made a wrong choice," Zechs said, and this time he chuckled. "Well, I guess I gotta go. Maybe, we'll see each other again."

"Sure," Trowa said. I hope so, he thought.

The sun had set and snow was falling thicker now. Zechs stood in the doorway for a moment, as if preparing himself for stepping out, then huddled and walked away.

Suddenly Trowa thought that it was unimportant whether he'd meet Zechs again and when. There was just too much uniting them - and he knew these threads would never be separated fully.

He felt Quatre's hand squeeze his under the table and met the boy's sad smiling eyes. He had an overwhelming wish to hold Quatre closer - close enough to make sure that nothing would separate them.

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

"Wufei Chang, how long do you know Treize Khushrenada?"

Till the last moment he couldn't believe Wufei would answer their questions. How could they make him? Why didn't he refuse? And when it finally happened, Treize felt more helpless than ever; if only he could see Wufei... if only he could stop the boy...

"Three and half years."

"How long do you have intimate relations?"

"Two years and eight months."

Such a flat voice; as if nothing was happening.

"That means that you were... how old when it started? Twelve?"

"Almost thirteen. But it was me who initiated it. Captain Khushrenada wouldn't... He thought it was too early. He thought I was traumatized."

There was a mere shadow of irony in Wufei's voice, making it sound painfully recognizable - so, that Treize felt he almost couldn't bear it.

"Were you traumatized?"

"Probably."

"What happened?"

"I was taken hostage by morphs."

"Marotanians."

"Marotanians."

"Wufei Chang, will you please open your shirt?"

Treize found himself striving up - and being thrown back by the force cuffs. It felt like his wrists were about to break - but the bonds didn't fail. Nothing he could say would be heard, with the sound switched off - he understood it; and yet for the first time he couldn't keep silent, begged knowing that even if Wufei couldn't hear him, he still could see... could possibly read his lips.

"Please. Please don't."

There was a pause. He didn't know if Wufei hesitated. There must've been some agreement between him and the lawyers, some plan - but Treize couldn't think about it now.

"Please."

He heard a soft rustle of cloth and thought he didn't want to see it, was glad he couldn't see it. The sound, a joint breath the audience in the courtroom gave out, told him enough.

Then, almost three years ago, when he'd got Wufei back, was the last time he'd seen it, and then, unhealed, the traces of acid burns on Wufei's body were scarlet and seeping. Treize remembered Wufei at the infirmary, in bed - so small and so quiet; never crying, not even once, despite all that pain. He, Treize, cried then. And when he tried to take Wufei's hand in his - and the boy withdrew, rejection in his eyes, Treize wanted to kill every morph he could, wanted to put his life for it.

"How did you acquired these marks?"

"Marotanians left them."

"Have you been a prisoner of war in Marotania?"

"I wasn't a prisoner of war." Wufei's voice was hard and toneless. Another rustle of clothes - the jacket buttoned again, probably. "I was a hostage; they used me to make Captain Khushrenada comply with their demands."

"Didn't it work?"

"He didn't surrender to exchange places with me, if that's what you mean."

They wouldn't have let Wufei go anyway; Treize didn't need to say it - Wufei knew it very well. There was no way to come to an agreement with morphs - the only thing they understood was force. And finally it worked: he managed to free Wufei...

By then acid excretions had destroyed thirty per cent of his skin.

"How long did you spend in captivity?"

"Three weeks."

"You were raped, weren't you?"

"Yes."

"Tortured?"

"Yes."

"Did Treize Khushrenada know about it?"

"Of course, he did. Of course."

"What was his reaction?"

"He was... he was enraged. He said he wouldn't stop as long as he could keep fighting morphs. And when the truce was signed, he said it was unthinkable. He said there could be no truce between him and these monsters."

It was not the truth... Or it was only half-truth. To reduce what he did to personal revenge... But Treize knew why Wufei was doing it.

The boy was saving him from death. Whatever way they were going to present it - like temporary insanity or something - it was all done to mitigate his sentence. Who wouldn't go mad after seeing his young beloved defiled and maimed by the enemy? Who wouldn't understand this kind of hatred?

That's how they made Wufei testify - by promising that it would save Treize's life.

If they wanted to keep him alive so much, there must've been something wrong with it.

* * *

"This is another letter you'll never get. They probably think me mad that I ask them for paper and pencils all the time - what can a blind man write? And in any case, nothing will leave my cell: neither a note nor a letter. Well, I don't even try - and this one will go where all others do: ripped in pieces, small enough for no one to be able to read it. No one would be able to read it anyway, I think - the letters must be climbing on each other atrociously. It doesn't matter. Because as I write it, just for a moment, I can imagine that you'll be able to read it, you'll be able to hear what I say.

My dear boy, I think you forgave me - judging on how you tried to spare me on the trial. I know why you did it. Your courage and your self-sacrifice could win it for me, could change my sentence to just twenty of thirty years instead of death. I wonder if you know that *I* can't forgive myself I wish I could've prevented you from doing it - because it wasn't needed. I can't accept what you've done for me. I can't accept any mercy. There is no way for me to walk out of it.

Remember I used to tell you about my dreams - of us being together, walking hand in hand in a beautiful place with green grass and blossoming roses around? Somewhere, there is probably this place. Somewhere but not here, not for us.

I lost my case. I lost everything. When I think about living for more thirty or forty years with the thought of my failure... living in darkness, as a helpless invalid, I pray for it to be over in some way. Death... death would be such a relief.

I would do it myself - I think it's possible to find the means, even under constant surveillance as I am; but that would be an ultimate proof of my weakness, wouldn't it? So, I just hope that someone else will do it to me, that another assault will be successful.

I don't know if you'd understand me - should you know what I think about. You'd probably call me a coward. Would you hate me?

No, you wouldn't. My beloved, my beautiful one... Yesterday as you talked on the trial, I could hear your voice, even though I couldn't see your eyes - and your love was there. Your love that survived everything I had done to you.

And I always fail you..."

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

It had been shown so many times on TV that one could learn it second by second. The transparent cage and a slim, too pale man with reddish-brown hair sitting very straight in a narrow chair. His eyes, sky-blue, wide open, blinking slowly, looked absently at nowhere as another witness was interrogated.

No one had noticed it when it happened - just the camera fixed it impassively - how Treize's calm face distorted with a grimace of pain suddenly. There was no sound but his hands moved convulsively as if he tried to reach to his chest - and the cuffs held them in place. He lowered his head and his hair fell down hiding his face.

For another minute or two the trial went on as if nothing happened - and the another convulsion, much stronger than the first, racked his body. Now it was noticed. The audience startled and soldiers rushed into Treize's box immediately. He collapsed on the floor, spasming, as the cuffs were released. There was blood leaking from his mouth, and for once the sound in the box was not switched off, so, one could hear the tearing cries of pain he made.

There were enough cameras in the courtroom to monitor everything - and one of them followed Wufei's reaction closely - as the boy struggled to get up and was held by the cuffs, as he screamed something that had no sound in it.

He was held on his place all the way when doctor appeared - and Treize's body, still twitching violently, was placed on stretchers and carried away. Then Wufei stopped struggling and just looked, very quietly.

At night Trowa felt he couldn't stay in place; Quatre caught him on his usual pacing around the room, put his arms around Trowa's waist and held him for a few moments, then said:

"Let's get out."

The prison hospital was surrounded by people. There was a constant humming around but Trowa barely could distinguish words. They stood and waited. At three a.m. it was all over.

"They said if he lived till the morning, he had a chance to survive," someone said next to him. "It happens like that."

"They found the guard who did it - but the guy's a dummy, nothing more."

"Khushrenada was a murderer, he just paid his debts!" another voice yelled from far away.

Holding Quatre in the ring of his arms, Trowa felt the small trembling of the boy's body and pressed him harder.

"Without Treize, the trial doesn't make sense," Quatre said in a small voice that sounded level but Trowa wasn't deceived with it. "And the scandal... Maybe, they'll let others go. Maybe, they'll let Wufei go."

"I don't think so. And Wufei... I don't think he wants to be let go now."

I don't think he wants anything at all... The thought of how much Wufei lost made Trowa clench almost convulsively, his arms tightening on Quatre's shoulders so much that he might've hurt the boy. Quatre didn't seem to notice but Trowa made himself relax slightly. Treize was dead. Now it was too late to hope for something. Nothing could be changed. The thought of his own helplessness was burning; Trowa bit his lip, fighting the pain inside.

Quatre turned to him, without freeing from his arms. The boy's eyelids were red, his breath thick; he'd been crying all the time quietly.

Still having his arms around him, as if it could shield Quatre from whatever threatened him, Trowa walked him away from the crowd. A street just a little away was empty and dark and the noise from the hospital reached there like the rustle of sea. They stopped. Trowa kissed Quatre's face, feeling the wetness of the long eyelashes against his lips. The tears leaked again and Trowa kissed them away, their salt on his tongue - and felt his own tears sting his eyes and didn't resist, let them trickle.

A distant voice came, of a preacher - not Heero but another one - who kept raving at the hospital.

"Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him."

It was dark; street-lamps were broken or switched off, and Trowa barely could see Quatre's face - just the gleaming of his darkened eyes. Yet Trowa couldn't stop staring at him, holding the boy's face in his cupped hands - as if it could secure that Quatre was real and wouldn't go away.

"Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous; and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!"

The words were so creepy, so inappropriate that they made him shiver - and Quatre suddenly pulled him closer, wrapped his arms around Trowa.

"Tell me I won't lose you," Trowa whispered so quietly that he wasn't sure Quatre heard. But he did hear; his light fingers ran over Trowa's face and his quiet voice answered earnestly.

"You won't."

It was a promise Trowa accepted - and confirmed it with tightening his arms around Quatre's waist, suddenly wanting to feel him closer, as close as possible. He felt Quatre holding onto him and buried his face against Quatre's shoulder. And in the cradle of the thin arms around him he felt safe and sure, for a little while, felt that everything just could be okay and they could be together.

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

He remembered pain but now it was gone. For a few moments he did nothing but reveled in it, in the absence of hideous claws tearing his insides. He remembered shame as well - for his own weakness that had made him scream and thrash in agony, begging people whose faces he didn't even see to stop it and kill him. Shame was there but felt blunted, distant. He wondered if being free from pain meant that he was dead. It was funny - he didn't believe in afterlife; and why would he have this rather pleasant kind of afterlife, anyway?

Treize felt a smile on his lips and at the same moment a rather annoyed voice reached him:

"Well, if you can laugh, you surely must be okay."

Grey light broke between his trembling eyelids. Light... he hadn't seen light for so long. Yet there was nothing else he could see.

"What's so funny there, I wonder," the same irritated voice said.

"J..."

"Who else. You really got on my nerves this time, Treize. It could've happened we wouldn't be able to drag you out."

His eyelids felt enormously heavy and he couldn't see anything, so, Treize let them fall.

"I don't believe it. I died."

A huffing sound Doctor J made indicated that he was not going to condescend to answering that. A little later he continued.

"All right. You died for everyone. And I'll tell you - if you stayed at that hospital a bit longer, you would really die. But we managed to get you out in time."

"You saved me," Treize repeated.

"I hope we did."

"It was... it was cruel." He thought about the remorse that would flood him now - as soon as he had just a little strength: remorse for choosing an easy way, for leaving his people... for the words he wanted to say to Wufei, words that only death could justify.

He asked quietly, more himself than J:

"How shall I live now?"

The doctor's voice came unexpectedly serious, almost mild.

"You'll decide it yourself. It depends on how you can live. If you have strength to keep fighting - why not? You can always come back to the world of living. I'd say it would be even... cool."

"And my vision?"

"Not much of it will come back, I'm afraid. Twenty to thirty per cent. But one can do a lot of good even with such vision. Even blind at all."

J's words made him ashamed. And as he felt it, the numbness inside him was gone suddenly, replaced with burning anguish. What had he done? He had escaped, in one way or another - but he had. And he left Wufei behind. His boy, alone, in prison, thinking that Treize was dead.

It hurt so much it made him moan.

"Shh, shh," J patted him on the shoulder without much compassion. "What's wrong?"

How could he say what was wrong? How could he admit he'd ditched his boy... What if he wouldn't see Wufei again - and it would be his fault? He couldn't even cry out.

Treize heard distantly a sound of opening door - and then quick light steps approaching the bed. He didn't even start recognizing them - but he tried to sit up, his body moving instinctively. He could see nothing but a narrow silhouette...

And then he was slapped.

"You son of bitch."

"Don't hit him, Wufei," J said, "he isn't that well yet."

"Oh." There was nothing else Treize could say.

"How could you?" Wufei asked - and then repeated, in a voice breaking with pain. "How could you? You promised you wouldn't leave me."

"He was trying to open his veins through when the help came," J said to Treize. The words were like a distant booming; he felt so weak he was about to collapse and so desolate he started shedding tears.

"Wufei... come closer."

"Why do I have to do what you want, you bastard?" Wufei said antagonistically. But then he came up and sat on the bed, and Treize felt losing the remnants of his strength. His head fell against Wufei's chest - and suddenly there were light touches of small hands on his back. Then he cried for real; not quietly, but with great sobs. The movements of the hands became hastier, gentler.

"Hey, don't be upset, it's nothing," Wufei said in an awkward voice.

"I don't want to die," Treize said. "Not any more."

"At last he said one marginally clever thing," J chuckled somewhere near.

The End

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