Marking it Down to Learning + Chapter 13 (cont)
Echoes from the Past

One day, Trowa had been sent to a nearby town to pick up some supplies to help with their progress. He didn't usually run these errands, but it had been rumored that some of the forces they were fighting were in the area, so the others sent Trowa instead of going into possible danger themselves.

When he finally returned it was late, and the camp was, for the most part, silent. Trowa dropped off his heavy load of supplies, and wandered back to his own tent, which was located near Aubin's.

He glanced over at the clearing, to the small fire burning before Aubin's tent...

The other boy was there, but not alone. He lay, naked on his back, and a solider grunted and rocked atop him. Trowa was about to look away, not wanting to see the other boy's shame, but something about the way Aubin lay there made him look closer.

In the slight light from the fire, he saw that the boy's face was covered with blood. He'd been beaten almost beyond recognition, the delicate nose broken, the blond hair matted with blood. He lay so limply beneath the soldier who labored over him that Trowa wasn't even sure that he was alive.

A strange pain rose in his chest - a pain like he'd never felt before. It flowed through his body, making every nerve end tingle and ache. He shuddered for a moment, almost unable to bear its intensity, when the debilitating pain suddenly transformed into a furious energy. He stepped closer to the fire, not caring if the soldier heard him, or was angry... he wasn't even thinking about it. All he could think of was the broken, bloody body lying on his back in the dirt.

The mercenary stiffened, raising up and yelling as he came, thrusting viciously in the battered body beneath him. He sat back on his heels, grinding himself deeper into the boy's body, and released his pleasure into the form beneath him. He sat for a moment, trembling with passion, lost in the haze of desire.

Trowa suddenly hated him more than he'd ever hated anyone in his entire life. His fists clenched, and he stared at this... this savage... and he wanted to kill him. He wanted to hurt him as much as he'd hurt Aubin, and him, and every other innocent that had ever been hurt by this pack of animals he lived with... Trowa had committed violent acts upon more people than he could count, but he had never wanted to hurt anyone before like he wanted to hurt this man.

The soldier, still unaware of the murderous presence lingering in the darkness outside the circle of light cast by the fire, smiled widely down at the boy beneath him.

"It's been a pleasure knowing you, boy," he said evilly, and Trowa watched as Aubin's swollen eyes flickered open as much as they could. Abruptly, the solider reached down and wrapped his meaty fists around the boy's neck. Aubin managed one hoarse cry, but his airway was restricted by the hands compressing his neck.

Something snapped in Trowa, something that had been perilously close to breaking for some time, something that he'd managed to keep together, something that was viciously torn asunder by the small, pained gasp forced out of Aubin's throat.

Trowa heard a low rumbling from somewhere, heard a furious beating in his ears, saw a film of red suddenly filter across his vision. Before he knew what he was doing, he was throwing himself across the distance separating him from the soldier - from Aubin's attacker - from the man who suddenly embodied everything that was coarse and evil and ugly in Trowa's life. And his knife was somehow in his hand, and before the soldier could do more than look up, surprised, Trowa was on him, and the knife was buried in his chest.

His initial rush still propelling him, he managed to knock the soldier off of Aubin, into the dirt beside him. He pulled his knife out of the man's chest, and thrust it again and again and again into his unprotected torso, slashed it across his skin, hit him with the blade over and over, not even noticing that the man was no longer moving.

Slowly, he came back... the rushing was gone from his ears, and the only light came from the weak flames. He looked up, suddenly alarmed, but noone was there. He'd been too quick - the soldier had never even had time to spread an alarm.

He turned slowly, dreading what he would find.

His worst fears were confirmed - Aubin's eyes were open, and he was staring at him with something akin to horror.

Trowa's shoulders slumped. It was all over. He had proven himself to be nothing more than the other men - an animal, a savage. There would be no more letters, no more lessons... no more flute. He no longer had any right to it.

But then... Aubin smiled at him. He opened his mouth as though to speak, then grimaced in pain. Trowa hurried over to his side and knelt beside him, not even wanting to think about how he must look, covered in blood and gore.

"The flute... is yours... " Aubin whispered, so softly that Trowa had to bend closer to hear him.

The younger boy leaned back, frowning in confusion. "Mine? But it's your... " His words trailed off as he stared at the other boy. He looked closer, and saw the bruises, the welts, the bleeding wounds on the blond's delicate body. He saw the swelling around his neck, and the blood on his face.

Aubin was dying.

The blond attempted a smile as Trowa stared down at him in horrified understanding. "Thank... you," he whispered painfully, glancing at the mutilated body of his attacker.

Trowa shook his head. "I didn't... I wasn't here," he reminded the other boy miserably. He'd failed Aubin. He hadn't protected him.

Aubin smiled again, despite the pain it must have caused him. "Your name," he said, his voice feather-light, forced with obvious effort through his damaged throat. "You are... Aluin. Noble friend."

He smiled again, and despite the damage that uncaring men had done to his face, it was somehow his real smile - full of hope and mirth and cheer. He smiled up at Trowa, then his eyes closed... and he was gone.

He was dead.

He had been Trowa's only friend. And the younger boy hadn't even realized it, until he was dead.

He finally had a name... but noone to call him by it.

He'd never told anyone else that name, had retreated back into the anonymity of Nanashi. Nanashi had been able to shrug blankly when asked if he knew anything about the dead soldier lying beside the dead whore. Aluin would have had to scream, to protest, to try to attack and punish and kill all of those who had hurt Aubin.

So Aluin had been pushed away, buried so that Nanashi could live, and Trowa could be born. He'd never told anyone about him... but he'd never forgotten about him. And sometimes, he'd been able to be him again, in dreams, where he visited with Aubin, who was happy and at peace and reunited with those whom he loved.

Trowa scowled, annoyed at himself. He pushed himself up out of his bed and headed toward the door, intending to go to the kitchen to get himself something to eat.

Why was he thinking about Aubin now? He'd never forgotten the other boy... but he tried not to think of him. Aubin's memory was just another bitter reminder of the ugliness and horror that flourished so freely in the world. He'd been so innocent, and he'd died. Another wasted life.

That was what he'd wanted to stop, when he'd joined the Preventers. No more wasted lives.

Now, it only seemed he was wasting his own.

He put his hand on his doorknob, and jerked the door open, but something stopped him before he went into the hall. He stood in the open doorway for a moment, then slowly, reluctantly, turned back into the room.

He opened the drawer of his dresser, shoved away several shirts, and retrieved a small, battered case hidden among them.

Aubin's flute.

He'd kept it for years - kept it through battles and wars, kept it in space, carried it with him on Heavyarms when he'd become part of Operation Meteor. God knows by what miracle he'd never lost it, but he never had.

He had another flute - a sleek, expensive model Quatre had given him, carefully fashioned and polished and perfect. When he played, he usually used that.

But today... He opened the case carefully, minding the hinge that had broken years before. The flute that lay in there looked forlorn - somewhat tarnished and dull, like something once loved that had been forgotten and neglected.

He reached down, and carefully picked up each piece, fitting the instrument together almost reverently. Gently, he set the case aside, and lifted the flute to his lips.

He hesitated. He hadn't played this flute in years - not since he'd been working as a mechanic on L3, plotting his revenge on a cruel, spoiled rich man named Trowa Barton, who was willing to pause in his plans to take over the world to engage in a small dalliance with a young, nameless mechanic who had wanted nothing to do with him. Like it always had, this flute had salvaged him - had brought him somewhere shining and pure and clean that protected him from the reality in which he'd lived. He hadn't been able to stay in that place long, but the respite it brought him enabled him to endure everything else.

Since those years, though... he hadn't needed to be protected. Even in the few years he'd spent alone after the Eve Wars... there had been more in his life than there had ever been before. Then there had been Duo, and then Quatre and Wufei, and Heero, and he hadn't had to hide.

He scowled at the thought of his lovers. Another beautiful thing, tarnished and battered, like the flute in his hands.

Before he could allow those black thoughts to entirely take over his mind, he closed his eyes and lifted the flute, slowly breathing into the instrument, playing one stretched-out note at a time to allow it to warm up. Then, slowly, he began to play, letting his fingers wander over the keys, allowing the darkness behind his eyes to be replaced by a bright light, filled with smiling faces and gentle voices and beauty...

He played guided by no specific melody - he let the flute sing the song that it wanted to, grateful only that his breath and his hands could be used by the instrument to create its music, humbled that it accepted him enough to use him to bring into being the sounds that filled the room and transported him to that place where he was always protected, always at peace.

He played on and on, allowing the music to soothe the raw anger and pain that had been churning inside him. But after a time - minutes, perhaps, maybe hours - he slowly returned to reality, and realized that he was exhausted. His breath slowed, and the flute went back to sleep, taking the music with it.

He lowered his arms, noticing how they shook with fatigue, and let the flute rest gently in his lap. He sat for a few moments, slowly regaining awareness of himself and his body and his surroundings... and realized that he was no longer alone in his room.

His eyes jerked open, riveted on the door he had left open when he'd answered the demanding call of the flute. And he met the steady, intense, but tear-filled gaze of Heero Yuy.

They stared at each other in silence for a moment, then Heero spoke.

"I've never... heard you play like that before," the other man ventured hoarsely. "Your playing is always beautiful, but this... " He shook his head slowly, blinking back the tears in his eyes. "This was... amazing."

Trowa just stared at him, waiting for the scorn and betrayal and rage that had sprung to life inside him every time he looked at Heero for days to rise within him. But nothing did. He was just tired, and hurt, and curiously drained.

Heero moved cautiously into the room when Trowa didn't yell at him, and stopped a few feet in front of where the other man sat on his bed. "I've never seen that flute before," he commented slowly, obviously trying to make some conversation.

Trowa continued to stare at him, watching his progress as an animal would track another animal, not speaking or reacting to his words.

Heero stared back, obviously unsure, not wanting to break the peace of the moment, but realizing that he couldn't stop here.

"It looks old," he ventured, gesturing at the instrument. "Have you had it for a long time?"

"Since I was ten," Trowa replied briefly, momentarily surprised at the scratchiness of his own voice as well as the information he was unexpectedly revealing to Heero.

Heero frowned. "You got it when... "

"It belonged to another whore," Trowa told him bitterly, feeling some more of the hurt that he'd felt in the last weeks rise. He should be over it - Quatre had come to him, had shown him that he still believed him worthy. Wufei had done the same. He had enjoyed being with them, had been relieved to still have the option... but for all that the experiences with his two lovers had been meaningful and pleasurable, after they were finished, they had left him feeling... depleted. Strangely devoid of the emotions the act was intended to express.

It kept coming back to that. He was a whore, and now they all knew it. And Heero... Heero had rejected Duo for that. Perhaps he'd repented of it after, but his first instinct had been to push him away in disgust. And wasn't the first reaction the most accurate? Why would his reaction be any different for him?

"Of course, the person that gave me this flute never wanted to be a whore. He never got to the point where he gave it away willingly. But, he was dirty anyway, right Heero?" the green-eyed man finished belligerently. He pulled apart the pieces of the instrument in his lap, shoving them almost roughly into the molded depressions in the worn black velvet that lined the inside of the old case.

"Trowa!" Suddenly Heero was beside him, was practically upon him, was sitting directly across from him on the bed. Trowa struck out almost instinctively, crashing the fragile case into Heero's chest.

The blue-eyed man didn't react to the blow, but grabbed the case firmly and yanked it away. Trowa tensed, suddenly horribly afraid that Heero was going to throw it aside in anger, damage it, destroy it...

But the Japanese man stood up and carried the case carefully across the room, setting it down gingerly on Trowa's dresser, making sure that it was secure there before moving back across the room to sit on the bed again.

"You're not dirty," Heero said bluntly.

Trowa stared at him, still recovering from the sick feeling that had overtaken him when he'd thought that Heero was going to destroy his flute, and startled by the directness of the comment. But that was Heero. Once he had something in his mind, he went straight toward that goal, no matter how unexpected or unorthodox his plan.

"I never thought that," the Japanese man continued. "Not about Duo, not about you. Never. I... "

"Bullshit," Trowa snapped. "You told me what you said to him... and I saw you... "

"Christ, can't you allow someone to be surprised?" Heero snapped, suddenly angry. Trowa glared at him through narrowed green eyes, but Heero glowered right back, the hesitancy of the last moments and days suddenly gone.

"What would you do if you suddenly found out I'd spent most of my life being abused?" Heero snapped. "Would you just shrug and be fine with it? I hope you wouldn't," he announced challengingly. "I'd hope it would shock the shit out of you, and make you sick and angry and guilty and want to beat the shit out of someone, like I felt when I heard that some sick fucks hurt you and Duo."

Trowa glared at him. "I don't need your pity or your guilt," he sneered. "Fuck it, Heero, and fuck you. I don't want... "

"You don't want anyone to know you," Heero accused with matching heat, blue eyes simmering with anger. "You want to be the perfect, cold, composed Trowa Barton, showing nothing, feeling nothing, saying nothing... "

"You're one to talk," Trowa interrupted angrily. "The Perfect Solider, who can't even have a conversation with someone he's slept with for three years without... "

"Why do you keep throwing that up in my face?" Heero half-shouted. "I fucked up. I know it, and I'm sorry, and I'll grovel appropriately when we find Duo - after I kick the crap out of him for running off like that. But what do you want, Trowa?" he demanded. "I've told you that I didn't mean what he thought I meant, that I wasn't disgusted by him - or by you - or by anything you did... "

"You're full of... "

"I am not!" Heero corrected furiously. "But you won't believe it. Why are you so sure that I think you're filthy and disgusting?" he probed relentlessly. "Why are you so damn convinced that I couldn't think anything else? Is that how you feel, Trowa?" he pressed. "Do you think you're dirty? Tainted? Corrupted? That since you were used, and hurt, you can't possibly be worth anything to anyone... "

Trowa shouted wordlessly, throwing himself at the other man, his fists clenched. He wanted to hit him, hurt him, punch him... do anything to stop the words pouring out of the other man's mouth. Heero caught his arms and effortlessly held him away from his own body, holding him firmly in place with his strong hands.

"Fuck you, Heero!" Trowa bellowed, all the rage he'd ever felt in his life pounding through him. "You can take your amateur psychology and shove it right up your... "

"No!" Heero shouted, shaking him. "I won't, Trowa! I won't back off and let you sit here and brood and convince yourself that you suck and noone likes you... You're not dirty, and I do care about you, and I'm not disgusted... " He trailed off, and he sighed, tiredly. "And none of this is your fault," he finished wearily.

Trowa stopped struggling, the wind abruptly knocked out of him.

"It's not your fault," Heero repeated, looking up to skewer Trowa with his piercing gaze. "You couldn't fix what happened to you, or to Duo... and it's not your fault that you didn't talk about it with him, or warn us... " He sighed again. "We've all fucked up, Trowa," he said bluntly. "I've been thinking about it... and we were so busy trying to convince ourselves we had everything we wanted that we never gave each other what we needed."

"And... what exactly would that be?" managed Trowa. He'd wanted it to sound scornful, but the words came out tentative, unsure, questioning. Instead of showing how angry he was, he sounded like he needed... reassurance.

"I... I don't know," Heero admitted, his air of intense certainty faltering slightly. "But I want to find out," he rallied. "I want to know. And I want to know... with you, Trowa."

The taller man stared into Heero's blue eyes, his gaze moving slowly to his wrists, still imprisoned in the other man's tight grip. Heero immediately let go, gently rubbing the bruised flesh. "I... don't want you to be angry with me anymore, Tro," he continued softly. "I'm... sorry that I hurt Duo, and I'm sorry that I hurt you. You've got to... you've got to let me try to make you believe that," he insisted gently, his thumbs carefully kneading the reddened spots on Trowa's wrists.

Trowa looked up slowly, again meeting Heero's eyes.

"I don't know how to convince you," Heero admitted. "Maybe... " he suggested, "you could tell me?"

His voice ended on a questioning note, but Trowa just continued to stare at him. He didn't know... he didn't know if he believed Heero, but he didn't think the blue-eyed man was lying. But he certainly didn't know what Heero could do that would make him know for sure, one way or another, where the other man stood...

"I asked Relena what to do," Heero told him slowly, grimacing in acknowledgment as Trowa blinked in surprise, "and she said that I should tell you things." He frowned. "I'm... not used to that," he admitted, "and... I don't really know what's understood between all of us and what isn't. But... " He took a deep breath. "But I know that I care about you, Trowa. I... " He swallowed. "I care about you a lot. And I want to be with you. Always. I want you... to be happy," he continued, "and I want us all to be together again, and I want all of us to be happy. But I don't want to be exactly like we were," he frowned, "because there's more to... it... than what we had. I don't know what, and Relena wouldn't tell me," he added in a growl, "but I want to find out. With Wufei, and Quatre... and with Duo... and with you," he finished, looking up to stare directly into Trowa's eyes.

The other man found that he could hardly remember how to breathe, he was so lost in the wide, compelling, achingly sincere pools of blue that were currently pulling him in. Heero meant what he said - there was no doubt about that. And if Trowa didn't fully understand what he was talking about... well, Heero apparently didn't either.

But he was trying... and it was doubtful that Heero would make this much effort over something that he didn't really want. He was far more likely to just shrug and walk away... exactly what Trowa had thought he had been doing for the past two weeks.

Apparently, though, he hadn't been... and he wasn't. He was here, and he was trying... and Trowa could do no less.

He didn't know, though, what to do, where to start, how to tell the other man that his apology had been tentatively accepted, and that he too was willing to find out what they had to do to be together.

His eyes fell, and his gaze rested on their hands. Heero's hands still gently held his, his fingers lightly cupping his wrist as his fingertips carefully supported the slightly swollen skin. Slowly, Trowa turned his hand around, moving his arm so that his fingers slid into Heero's. He carefully tightened his fingers around Heero's, tensing slightly as he waited for the other man's reaction.

He didn't have to wait for long. Heero's fingers moved in his, clenching them tightly. The Japanese man squeezed his hand, letting his feelings and relief and nervousness flow through his fingers into Trowa's body, showing the other man through touch the truth of what he'd said aloud.

Trowa sagged with relief as he realized his gesture had been accepted and returned. He swayed slightly, exhausted. Heero reached forward to catch him, and suddenly they were both lying back on his bed, Heero against the pillows, himself curled in Heero's embrace, the other man's arms warm and strong around him.

He looked a little tentatively up at him, but Heero smiled down reassuringly. Slowly, the Japanese man lowered his head, and his lips met Trowa's.

The other man tensed, waiting for some form of violent , intense, satisfying, but numbing pleasure to rise between them. But it didn't - instead a warmth slowly and gradually grew, filling the empty and cold places inside him, saturating him with comfort and relief.

They kissed for a long time, and Trowa relished the feel of Heero's lips on his. The Japanese man's lips were soft, his tongue warm and wet as it gently probed the contours of Trowa's mouth. The green-eyed man ran his tongue over Heero's, learning the feel of it, then sucked gently on it, drawing a slight gasp from Heero. He returned the gasp when Heero mimicked the gesture, but even that didn't push this comforting closeness over into undiscerning passion.

They just continued to kiss, to gently touch each other, to taste each other, feel each other breathe beneath their lips and their hands and against their bodies. Heero's fingers twined in his hair, and he gently moved his own fingers over the hard muscles of Heero's chest, tracing their contours and shape, feeling the power coiled within them. All the while they kissed, and eventually Trowa began to taste himself on Heero's tongue, as if they'd somehow merged and become one being.

Eventually, Heero pulled away, dropping one last soft kiss on the corner of Trowa's mouth. The other man didn't feel disappointed or rejected, particularly when Heero gently pushed his face into the crook of his shoulder, silently offering comfort and support and companionship. He reached down and unbuttoned the button on Trowa's tight jeans, loosening them, but made no movement to undress him or touch him intimately. The taller man relaxed, letting himself lean heavily against Heero, letting the other man hold him as he slowly fell asleep.

His last conscious thought, before he moved into a dark and dreamless slumber, was that maybe... maybe it wasn't a dream. Maybe it was true. Maybe they did want him, even tarnished as he was. Because maybe, just maybe, there was something to him that he didn't see, but that they did, and that Aubin had.

Aluin. Noble friend.

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