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
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
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
And he wanted to cry.
And that made him angrier and more afraid than even the anger or the
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
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
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
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
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
Two weeks earlier, Polynices had asked Quatre to sleep with him.
After expressing the requisite amount of surprise, Quatre had laughingly,
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
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?