Author: June
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Through the Furnace, Unshrinking + Part 12

12a. Quatre

In matching blue raincoats,
our shoes were our show boats
we kicked around.
From stairway to station
we made a sensation
with the gadabout crowd.
And oh, what a bargain,
we're two easy targets
for the old men at the off-tracks

- "On the Bus Mall" The Decemberists

Quatre did not hate his life. This realization dawned on him as he sat at the bus stop, waiting for Trowa to finish a job. It settled around him as he hummed softly and bounced his knee up and down in time with his tune. He smiled when the sun came out.

He and Trowa tried to work out their schedules so that they worked together, but when they didn't like today, it wasn't a big deal. They'd just wait until the other was finished. In the beginning, Trowa had wanted to keep a close eye on Quatre's jobs, make sure they ran smoothly and be there for him when they were over. And Quatre had been grateful because, even though he told himself he didn't care that his new job was sex with strangers, he did care. And without Trowa there, well, it could have gotten ugly -- more for the customer than for himself.

But that was then and this was three months later. Summer was over and the air had turned brisk. He needed to wear a coat out on his jobs, a coat that his new boss, Gael, had provided. It was dark brown leather; incredibly soft and flexible with a quilted lining that kept out the chill. A few days after his whirlwind arrival at the sixth floor flat, a trunk of new clothes had shown up for him, also courtesy of Gael. They all fit him perfectly: snug jeans and corduroys and a bunch of t-shirts that pointed out just how skinny he was. There were almost no dress cloths in the trunk. The others had way more than he did, which led him to believe that he wouldn't be receiving the kind of jobs that required them. High brow clients meant social circles in which the Winner heir might be recognized. So he was stuck with the cheap-shit johns. Fine by him; he'd never liked any of his parents friends anyway.

Today's had been fun. The kid had barely been older than him. Micah was his name. Apparently his friends had gotten him a visit with the new "golden boy" as a birthday present. Micah had been extremely embarrassed. Quatre had smiled and flushed a little that he was known as "golden boy," indeed, that he was known at all. Then they'd gotten naked and goofed off for two hours. They both had fun and they both got laid; all-in-all not a bad deal.

Job's like those weren't bad at all; they were in fact kind of fun. On those jobs, Quatre could feel his growing sexuality, and he embraced it out of sheer curiosity. He felt a sort of smirking joy that he was living and almost enjoying a lifestyle his family would have condemned outright. He took a certain amount of pleasure thinking about his family's reaction to his new life, a life they had forced upon him.

But Quatre knew that these more pleasant jobs were favors from the boss, to keep him from losing it when he walked in on... someone considerably less desirable than a kid like Micah. There were plenty of them as well. On those days Trowa's presence -- in his head if nowhere else -- had been much appreciated. He repeated their conversation whenever he felt that panic rising in his chest.

"Sometimes they frighten me, Trowa. I don't want them to. They're just people, but there are times when... I'm terrified."

"Rightfully so," Trowa had replied in his usual monotone. "That's what he wants. It is all he ever wants." 'He' being the Boss. "He wants to own you. And you have to let him, but he doesn't have to own all of you."

And then he would practice what Trowa had taught him. He slowed his breathing and retreated into his own head, focused on living entirely in his own skull. There he could see every facet of himself, every bit that made up Quatre Winner. And when he knew that he was about to face a particularly unpleasant client, he gathered all the parts of himself that could be dangerous and walked them through his brain to someplace safe. He locked them away and when he opened his eyes, he was not afraid.

This had not worked at first, obviously. It had taken practice and conditioning. For the first several times he was on his own, without Trowa, nearly every job had left him hiding in some grimy hotel bathroom, rocking himself back and forth, or taking marathon showers in an attempt to scrub off the smell, or just screaming his head off for awhile. Not very dignified, but therapeutic nonetheless. He knew his flat-mates did not approve of these coping mechanisms, but they did not suggest many others. Probably because they didn't know any; probably because they'd done the same thing when they'd started.

Well, he didn't do that anymore. Once Trowa's mind partitioning exercises had started working, Quatre felt that he could operate like a fairly normal person -- even if normal meant hustling.

He stood up when he saw Trowa walking toward him and gave him a small wave. His friend waved back and Quatre thought he saw a smile curl the corner of his mouth. He liked the way Trowa moved, liked the lines of his body. The tall Frenchman was dressed in loose-fitting jeans and a thick gray turtleneck sweater; however, even with all that cloth, Quatre recognized the muscles and movements of someone capable of swift and deadly violence. It was not something he ever missed; he'd seen it in his other three flat-mates immediately. Watching Trowa move made him simultaneously nervous and excited, a feeling he liked.

Not wanting to wait any longer, he jogged across the street to meet Trowa half-way, an easy smile spreading across his mouth. "Hey, you," he said as they neared each other. Trowa closed the distance between them and, being 10 centimeters taller, easily picked him up and spun him around a few times before setting him gently on his feet. Quatre laughed, for those few seconds feeling about half his 18 years. He swayed dizzily for a moment then found his balance and went up on his toes to leave a feather-light kiss on Trowa's cheek.

"Hello," the Frenchman murmured. "I'm glad to see you."

Quatre gave his brightest smile because he knew Trowa liked to see it and grabbed his arm to pull him out of the way of an oncoming truck.

12b. Trowa

And we laughed off the quick tricks
the old men with limp dicks
on the colonnades of the waterfront park.
As 4 in the morning came on, cold and boring,
we huddled close
in the bus stop enclosure enfolding.
Our hands tightly holding.

-"On the Bus Mall" The Decemberists

Trowa let himself be led across the street, out of traffic, eyes still somewhat dazzled by Quatre's smile. Every time he saw it, he told himself that it was only for his benefit, that his friend could not possibly be that happy, that darker currents ran beneath that bright surface. But every time, he felt himself further and further disarmed. His heart and stomach made strange little leaps and he knew he was in trouble, sliding down a very slippery and dangerous slope.

They reached the bus stop and Quatre finally dropped his arm. Trying to think of something to say, Trowa resorted to talk about work, something he knew they shared, the only thing they'd really talked about in the three months they'd shared a room.

"Work went well, I take it?" he asked.

Quatre shrugged. "Whatever gave you that impression?" he returned innocently. "I'm just this happy to see you."

Trowa smiled, but then his eyes narrowed. "Did it not go well? Did something happen?"

The boy shook his head, white-blond hair sparkling in the mid-day sun. "No, it went fine. Micah was very nice -- shy, but friendly. Very self-conscious about the size of his... you know."

Trowa nodded sagely. "And?"

"Well, he really didn't have anything to worry about in that department."

Trowa laughed out loud, a rare and foreign sound to his own ears. However, he'd found himself laughing more since Quatre had come. He knew the boy liked it. They were each pretending a little for the other's benefit.

The bus arrived and they boarded silently, taking seats next to each other. Quatre turned to watch the houses go by and Trowa's thoughts turned inward, back to the conversation he'd had with Heero a few days before. It'd been right after another run-in with Cecile, and Trowa had been cleaning out the shallow slice running along-side Heero's shoulder blade tattoo. The curve of the cut was perfectly even with the ink; she was an artist, no doubt. Heero couldn't reach around to bandage it, so once again Trowa played nurse and did it for him. And that's when Heero had told him about the conversation he'd had with Quatre, about his and Duo's electronics store heist, about the computer he'd built and about their plan. Trowa had known that Heero and Duo were up to something, and he knew he'd help them however he could. But he was still a little unnerved by the role he'd volunteered to play. He wanted to do it, was willing to take the risk; he just wanted to be sure Quatre knew the story, too.

"Have anything to do this afternoon?" Trowa asked.

Quatre turned away from the window and back to his friend, giving him a weighing stare. "Don't think so; not unless I go out to pick up some extra cash."

Trowa swallowed a sad smile. Quatre had learned very quickly. "What would you think of a run through the park and maybe a little training?"

Quatre cocked his head to the side. "More training? I think I've got it down for the most part. You said yourself adaptability was the most important thing."

"You're right; it is. But...just come with me. There are a few other things you should know."

+

Neither spoke much as they jogged leisurely through the city park, simply enjoying the fall air and the feeling of their bodies in fluid, easy motion. Then Trowa felt his friend's eyes on him and turned a questioning look in his direction.

"You know," Quatre said with a smile, "I like to see your face. Your hair looks good back."

Trowa shrugged. His hair, held by a dark blue bandana, poked out in dark auburn spikes at the back of his head where the material ended. He though it looked ridiculous like this, but better than having it in his face when he ran. "Thanks. I'm not cutting it, though. So don't ask."

Quatre held up his hands in protest. "I wouldn't dream of it. I know how much our group needs their hair. You'd think your identity depended on it."

"Would you like to dye that pretty blond hair of yours black? We could do it today, if it means nothing to you."

Quatre's eyes widened. "Oh, well, no, I couldn't. My clients know me by my blond hair."

"You care what your customers think?"

Quatre shrugged. "I'm not dyeing it."

"I'm not cutting mine."

"Can you imagine Duo without his braid?"

Trowa snorted softly. "Absolutely not. He wouldn't be...Duo without it." Quatre nodded. Even though it was only hair, it was intrinsic to not just his image, but to, well, his identity. "You still haven't talked to him, have you."

Wiping sweat off his forehead as he ran, Quatre frowned. "No. And he doesn't show any interest in talking to me, either." They turned off the path and struck out up a large hill.

"You should talk first. He blames himself for getting you into this mess, even though it is in no way his fault."

This was delicate territory. Quatre said nothing in response and they concentrated on sprinting up the hill. Trowa easily outstripped him, and waited for him at the top, drinking in the sight of Quatre's easy athleticism. When the boy reached the summit, he punched Trowa's shoulder and gasped out, "No fair... longer legs." Trowa grinned.

They stood for several moments regaining their breath until finally Quatre shrugged. "And I know it's not Duo's fault. My brain knows that. I also know that my sisters are not going to come for me. I know they're the ones who betrayed me, but..." He laced his fingers together on top of his head and turned away. "Trowa, you understand why I haven't wanted to... exactly reach out to him."

"I do, yes," Trowa murmured. "But-"

"He was seducing me. He was showering me with all this attention and dancing with me and... he was getting paid to do it! He told me I was beautiful and amazing and I believed that he meant it. And then, then we were all taken out and put in that car and no one would tell me anything and no one would help me when that asshole threw me on the ground. Heero had a *gun* and ... and you were the only one who tried to make me feel better." He took a deep breath. "Duo didn't do anything wrong, really, but I still felt betrayed."

Trowa pulled him into a loose hug. "You're breaking my heart. Please stop."

"I should be going to college this year. I had a room assignment and my courses picked out and everything."

"You won't be doing this forever. That's what I wanted to talk to you about." Quatre pulled away and gave him a questioning look. "Heero is... he's planning something, as I think you know. Duo is in on it, and Wufei is too. And so am I."

"And I'm with you," Quatre said automatically. Trowa smiled, a bit uneasily, but plowed ahead. "We're all in because Heero won't leave anyone behind. He's looking to move up or out of the Family and that takes...balls. And probably violence."

"I know. I gave him the idea. And it's a ridiculous idea, extremely dangerous."

"...I know. These next few months will be... difficult because I'll be the one infiltrating Gael's business. I'll be the physical presence while Heero snoops around on his computers."

Quatre was shaking his head. "No, Trowa, that's crazy. It's too risky. I'll talk to Heero and we'll think of another way to get inside the-"

"It's already started. Heero has already begun his investigation; he's already learning his hacking software. And I told him I would do this; I'm the only one who can. You're too new; Duo's too loud and Wufei is too..."

"Wufei."

"Right."

Quatre give him a small sad smile and reached out to run pale fingers along his arm. "I've never met anyone as careful and as guarded as you; I know you're perfect for this, but..."

Trowa shook his head sharply, suddenly uncomfortable. He didn't bring Quatre out here to talk about his own virtues. He came here to test him.

"Quatre, if Heero and I fail, if we're caught, Gael's retaliation to our betrayal will be swift and ruthless. And you won't be spared. So, I wanted to ask if you..."

"Know how to handle myself?" Quatre finished, a strange grin twisting his lips. He thumbed his nose. "Yes."

Trowa raised an eyebrow. "Really. I would not have guessed."

The boy folded his arms across his chest. "And why's that, Mr. Barton? Because I'm small and pale and happy and innocent?"

Trowa mirrored his stance and tried to return some levity to the situation "That about sums it up."

"Please, I could take you down so many different ways, you wouldn't know which end was up."

"Well, what can you do?"

"I know how to shoot a gun, if that's what you're asking. But my trainer -- a childhood friend -- he taught me knives, too."

Trowa nodded. "Interesting."

"Useful," Quatre added. "I might lose a gun, but my knives..."

"You used to sleep with them didn't you."

"Still do."

Trowa started at this. "But... where-"

"My youthful modesty, Mr. Barton. Have you ever seen me get dressed?"

Trowa shook his head, brain lurching a bit. How well did he know Quatre, really? He looked at the boy's knobby elbows and his sharp collar bone. What sort of potential energy waited coiled up around those bones? "What else?" he asked a bit faintly.

The grin was back. "Care to find out?"

[part 11] [part 13] [back to Singles a-k]