by: Shoori

Marking it Down to Learning + Chapter 18

Trowa stood in front of the window in the lounge that had once, in a time that seemed like another life, been the living room of the townhouse that he shared with his four lovers. It had been a place they'd hung out, a place to be together while pursuing their own interests. Every time Trowa looked at the room, he saw what had once been there.

Wufei had sat in the big, overstuffed chair in one corner and read. Quatre had lounged on the couch, papers from his family business piled beside him as he waded through the masses of paperwork that business produced. Heero had sat in a chair that faced Wufei's, his laptop on his lap, scowling happily as he fought with whatever program he had been creating at the moment. Duo had lain on the floor in front of the TV, chortling at his favorite shows, or at whichever of the thousands of vids he loved was occupying his interest at the time.

And Trowa... He had sat beside Quatre, and helped with the papers. He'd sat on the floor, his back against Wufei's chair, reading a book of his own as the Chinese man slowly ran the fingers of one hand through his hair while he held his book in the other. He'd sat beside Duo, grinning at the vids and rolling his eyes at Duo as the other man recited his favorite lines along with the actors. He'd sat on the arm of Heero's chair, debating the merits of particular programming techniques when the other man ran into difficulties.

Or... He'd sat in the far corner, his back to the others, and played his flute. Or he'd lain on the couch or the floor and took a nap. In the last year, he'd even had the courage to bring his notebooks out in front of the others, and write ­ stories, poetry... whatever he felt like writing that day. They hadn't mocked or pried ­ they'd smiled at him before they went back to doing their own thing, and hadn't demanded he show them what he wrote. He knew, though, that if he ever wanted to show it to them, they'd read it, discuss it... encourage him.

They had always encouraged him just to be... himself. Do... what he wanted.

Now, the room was a base, a headquarters, where the Preventer Special Team dedicated to bringing down the Order coordinated its surveillance operations when their undercover operative was in the field. The couch had been moved out. Duo's big screen had disappeared, as had the shelves that held his vids and CDs. They had been replaced with a large console with several screens, showing the live feed from the surveillance cameras they'd placed in various locations outside the Order's facility. Wufei's chair was gone, and Heero's, and the coffee table. A large bank of sound equipment rested against the other wall, hooked up to the computers he and Zechs and Heero used to record the tapes of Quatre's forays into the Order, and to try to construct a blueprint of that facility. Another workstation with several computers stood near it, and on the end, opposite the bank of windows, which were usually kept tightly curtained, was a screened-in area, containing all the equipment they used to search Quatre every time he returned from the Order. The only things remaining from the old room were one small couch, which had once been where he'd sat to practice his flute, and a few of the end tables and lamps.

Now, instead of reading one of his beloved books, Wufei was scowling at a computer screen as he attempted to reconcile the latest information they'd discovered with what they'd had before. They'd recently taken the risk of implanting Quatre with minute tracing devices of their own to try to facilitate the creation of their blueprint, and so far they'd gone undetected.

So far.

Une had deemed it an acceptable risk, and Quatre had agreed.

Trowa hadn't, but he'd been overruled.


Heero was working on his laptop, but not to create some program for his own satisfaction. He was wearing headphones, listening to the latest transmission, filtering away voices, bringing background noise to the fore, listening for clicks of switches, compressors, plumbing sounds... determining anything and everything he could about the building that housed the group they were trying to bring down.

Quatre wasn't there. Even though dawn was breaking outside, lightening the city streets Trowa was staring down at to a luminous gray, Quatre was still with the Order. He'd taken to staying overnight in the last few weeks, deepening his rapport with the head of the Order, Polynices, fleshing out his image as a man losing his battle with his urges, falling deeper and deeper into depravity.

The overnight stays had at first made Polynices a bit suspicious, but time had lessened his reservations. Time, and Quatre. The blond had laughed with the leader of the Order, laughed and told the other man ­ in that languid, amused drawl that was so foreign to Quatre and that Trowa hated so much ­ that he'd told his lovers that business was calling him away, that there were problems with labor and procedure that kept him out all night, and that they'd accepted it without any doubts. Trowa had listened to Quatre tell these stories, listened to him mock them, listened to him laugh with Polynices about their foolish belief in him.

And even though he knew it was a sham, a lie ­ even though he'd helped concoct the stories himself ­ he'd been hurt.

And that hurt made him angry.

He was so angry. He was angry all the time, at everyone and everything that had taken his life away from him. Every time he looked at the living room, stripped of all the comfort and peace he'd enjoyed, turned into a de facto police station, he was angry.

Every time he saw Wufei and Heero frowning at their computers, saw their drawn and worried faces, he was angry.

Every time he looked across the room and saw Zechs working on the case, he was angry.

He wasn't angry at Zechs. He appreciated the blonde's help, and some part of him, some part that felt very ­ strangely ­ remote was glad that the blond seemed to be returning from the self-imposed prison he'd kept himself in for years.

But the blond wasn't the person who was supposed to be there.


That made Trowa the angriest.

Duo was gone. Duo had left. And now...

Now, Duo was a prisoner of the Order, and Quatre had to use him as if he didn't know him, use him as if he were a whore.

He was a whore.

Duo, his lover, his friend... was a whore.

Not of his own choice. Not now. But...

But the Order had gotten hold of him somehow. And though they certainly had not proved themselves above kidnapping innocents...

Duo was a grown man. He was undeniably attractive, but he was also strong, and alert, and...

Well, Trowa didn't imagine that the Order had kidnapped him from a library or a grocery store.

That's how they would get children, innocents, virgins to sate the sick appetites of their customers.

Anyone ‘recruited' into the Order as an adult mostly likely was brought in because the Order knew that they could do the job.

Trowa knew how the Order had found Duo.

He'd been whoring. Prostituting himself.

He'd shared the secret of his past, been rebuffed... and gone back to the life he'd once escaped from, that he'd tried ­ and failed ­ to hide from the others.

Trowa knew that that's what had happened. He knew it.

He also knew that he was the only one of the group that did understand that. The others wouldn't even think of it, wouldn't realize... From things they'd said, he knew that they believed Duo had continued his investigations of the Order, had gotten too close, and had been brought in by the Order to preserve their own secrecy.

They, for all that they'd been soldiers and fought and killed and bled, were very innocent of some things.

They would never imagine that Duo would go back to... that.

They couldn't imagine it at all. It would never occur to them.

But Trowa knew... knew. And he was furious, so furious, with the American. He wanted to shout at him, scream, drag him away from all that and bellow until he was hoarse that Duo hadn't needed to do that, didn't deserve it, wasn't fit for that kind of life...

And he wanted to cry.

And that made him angrier ­ and more afraid ­ than even the anger or the rage.

He knew why Duo had gone back, knew the insidious fear and doubt that the American had been living with for so long, knew the voices that whispered to him in the darkness, the voices that suggested that he was living a lie, that he was gutter trash that never deserved the life he'd led in Sanc with the others...

He knew, because the same voices murmured to him in the night. The same shame had caused him to hesitate when he reached for one of the others, had made him hide his past with a desperation born of the fear of rejection.

If they knew, they'd turn away from him. Some part of himself had always believed that.

He knew Duo had believed that too.

Then, it had happened to Duo, and thus confirmed to him that the life he dreaded was the only one he was really fit for.

And he'd gone back to it.

When Trowa found that out, he was nearer to breaking then he'd ever been. The despair that had risen threatened to overwhelm his sanity, and the only way to save himself was to turn it to rage. In that rage, he'd thrown the secret of his own past at the others... and met with the rejection he'd so feared.

He'd turned his back then, turned and walked away as surely as Duo had. The only thing that saved him was Duo.

It was so... ironic. If it hadn't been for Duo, the need to find Duo, save him from the pain he was so needlessly inflicting on himself, he'd have gone the same way as the other man. Trowa knew that if he'd left Sanc that night, he'd have ended up in the same place as Duo.

Maybe not as quickly. The American was a little more... extreme than he was. But in time ­ and not too much time ­ Trowa knew he would have found himself in a place where he was used by a person ­ or persons ­ who saw him not as a human being, but as an object to be exploited and discarded when it was no longer interesting or new or diverting.

He'd have gone back to it because some part of him ­ some large part of him ­ believed that that was what he was.

How could he fight that? How was he supposed to eradicate so large a part of his own understanding of the world? He'd grown up knowing that he was nothing, that his only use was to be of use to others, in whatever way they wanted. He was expendable in the most basic way. His needs were so unimportant as to be non-existent, as he himself was in the scheme of the universe.

He could tell himself that that was untrue. That it was a lie. That he'd been mistreated by people who were evil and cruel. That he had proved his own worth, to himself and to others.

He could tell himself that, and he did. And he knew it to be true.

But that part of him... that part of him laughed at these assertions of self-worth, whispered insidiously to him that it was all a mirage, a lie, a house of cards that would one day tumble to the ground around him.

And for a time, he thought it had.

Then Quatre had come, and Wufei and Heero, and told him that they didn't reject him, they did care about him, they did feel he had value. The fears he'd pushed aside to focus on saving Duo were addressed, in some ways even assuaged, enough that he was able to ignore them again, push them again to the back of his mind where they only tortured him in unguarded moments...

And there were few unguarded moments. But when they came... He was powerless to resist them, he had to turn his back on everything ­ as he had just now ­ and battle silently with himself, until he could push aside the doubts, or turn them to something else.

Usually, he focused on anger. If he was angry, the rage drowned out the fear, the sound of his heart beating furiously in his ears muffled the whispers that he wasn't good enough, that he was dirty, that it should be him, not Duo, on his back and his knees, being used as a whore.

He was getting good at it, at bringing the anger. It was easy to summon the rage, though it was hard ­ very hard ­ to dismiss it. He stared down at the lightening streets, one hand absently rubbing his chest. It hurt ­ he felt sick, all the time he felt sick, a physical after-effect of all the anger that was constantly churning in his stomach.

He wasn't angry now, though. Now, he was trying not to be angry, not to be fearful... he was striving for the detachment that used to be so second-nature to him and that had proved so elusive in the last months and years.

He was trying... because he'd finally realized how much his anger was affecting the others.

Not on his own, of course. He hadn't realized on his own. The day before, before Quatre left for his daily assignation with evil, the blond had shown him what he, Trowa, was doing to him.

Quatre was... not in good shape. They were all worried ­ terribly worried. This had gone on much, much longer than any of them had intended it to. Quatre had been visiting the Order almost daily ­ with no breaks longer than two days ­ for four months. It had been over five months since Duo had left, three since they had rediscovered the other man in the grip of the Order.

All that time, Quatre had been ingratiating himself deeper and deeper inside what was arguably the most corrupt institution that Trowa ­ or any of them ­ had ever encountered. With each passing day, the Order ­ and Polynices, its leader ­ believed more and more in the façade with which Quatre presented him. They gifted ­ or tested ­ him with ever more elaborate and licentious perversions, which he seemed to delight and revel in. And the more depraved he ‘proved' himself to be, the more they seemed to believe and even trust in him.

Many of those perversions they'd dreamed up for Quatre Winner, he had visited on Duo. For Quatre had proclaimed quite an interest in the long-haired boy the Order had given him, and it had quickly been established that this particular whore belonged to Mr. Winner.

Trowa knew why Quatre had done that. He was saving Duo from being used by anyone else, because Mr. Winner was far too important to accept sharing his favorite. The blond was hurting his lover ­ at a terrible mental and emotional cost to himself ­ to save him.

Trowa knew that. And he knew Duo knew it as well. But he also knew that, to Duo, being used in that way by Quatre would be far more awful than being used by anyone else, however evil or repulsive they were.

But Trowa couldn't tell Quatre that. The blond wouldn't understand, not really, and even if he did, he would argue that they couldn't allow Duo to be used by someone who might seriously hurt him.

And he would be right. But...

There was no ‘better' solution. There was no solution at all, except to get the mission over with, bring down the Order, and see if any of them could ever become whole again.

Hence, all the latest moves.

The surveillance equipment on Quatre. He'd been there long enough that he wasn't that carefully checked any more, and the equipment was so advanced that it probably wouldn't ever be caught by the Order's own devices even if they checked Quatre rigorously.

But if it were detected, it would end the mission ­ and Quatre's life, most probably ­ at once.

That was bad enough. What was worse was that Quatre was intensifying his infiltration even more than he already had.

He was there almost every day. And frequently, he stayed the night.

Trowa understood why he did. It increased believability. It convinced the Order of his sincerity. And, in a strange way, it almost seemed to help Quatre.

Because when he spent the night, he, of course, spent it with his favorite.


Quatre would sleep, holding Duo close to him.

In a perverse way, the others almost envied him that.

Trowa knew that it was a help to the blond. It was probably a small, bitter comfort to Duo as well, since he knew that Quatre would be projecting all the caring and regret and comfort he could to the other man during the hours the two spent together, ostensibly asleep.

But it was so... so wrong.

Most dangerously, to Trowa's mind, was the relationship Quatre was developing with Polynices.

From the beginning, the leader of the Order had been fascinated with Quatre. But the interest, rather than waning, had intensified. Wherever Quatre was within the facility, Polynices was too. When Quatre had sated his lust on whomever he was using that night, Polynices would talk with him for hours.

Two weeks earlier, Polynices had asked Quatre to sleep with him.

After expressing the requisite amount of surprise, Quatre had ­ laughingly, mockingly ­ consented.

Trowa closed his eyes, shutting out the picture of the street below, beginning to bustle with morning traffic.

He'd wanted to go in then, end it right at that moment. He'd been angry ­ so angry that he barely remembered anything. All that stood out were the hands holding him back, Wufei's angry voice shouting in his ear, and the look of apology and regret in Zechs' blue eyes right before the blond had punched him soundly in the temple, knocking him out.

He was enormously ­ if mutely ­ grateful to Zechs for that.

Polynices had used Quatre three times in the last few weeks, and every time, Quatre refused to discuss it. Several months earlier, the night they'd discovered that Duo had been taken by the Order, they'd finally confronted Quatre. Zechs had, surprisingly, been the most helpful in breaking down the walls the Arabian had constructed around himself, forcing an amazingly raw and painful conversation where he'd revealed far more of his own past and turmoil than Trowa had ever suspected existed. Trowa had been strangely envious of Quatre and Zechs after that conversation. They understood each other, it seemed. They had the same background, had been raised in the same way, and life had forced each of them to make similar decisions and choices, had engendered the same conflict and regrets. But they had someone to share them with.

Someone who understood.

Trowa had someone he thought might understand him.

But that person had left him, and was now a prisoner.

So Trowa was alone.

And though he'd assured Quatre ­ and meant it ­ that he wasn't angry with the blond, he was still angry. He had no way to release it, no way to control it. In a way, he didn't even want to control it, because it helped him, gave him something to focus on and something to protect him from things that were so much worse.

But he hadn't realized until yesterday how much that anger was hurting the others ­ especially Quatre.

Trowa opened his eyes again, staring unseeingly at the street as that scene played itself out again in his mind, as it had been doing for hours since Quatre fell asleep, Duo pressed to his chest, Polynices keeping his demented vigil over them both.

Trowa stepped out of the bathroom, turning determinedly toward the living room. Quatre was going to the Order again tonight, and they had to prepare. His briefs from the night before still hadn't been properly processed, Heero and Wufei had put together more blueprints that needed to be evaluated, he needed to review the tapes he'd spliced the night before and be sure there were no faults...

He'd jumped slightly when he heard someone tentatively call his name. He turned slowly, and saw Quatre standing in the doorway to one of the bedrooms.

The blond looked awful. He was pale, and dark circles surrounded his eyes, which had none of the sparkle they'd once held. His hair was mussed, and he was bare-chested, clad only in dark gray sweatpants which were too big and bagged around his ankles. They were, Trowa realized, his sweatpants. Quatre must have borrowed them to sleep in. The blond probably didn't own any sweatpants.

It was two in the afternoon, but Quatre was just getting up. No surprise ­ it had been after three in the morning when he'd gotten in, then he had to be de-bugged, and had to report, answer questions...

And get to sleep. Even though the blond had chosen not to sleep with them the night before, Trowa knew he always lay awake for hours before he could go to sleep at night after a visit to the Order.

"Trowa... can I talk to you for a minute?" Quatre asked, somewhat tremulously.

Trowa kept the frown that threatened from showing on his face, nodding briskly as he moved to join Quatre in the bedroom. Why did Quatre need to talk to him alone? Was there something he felt was too awful to report to the others? Something he had been trying to shield them from, and had been handling himself?