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

Through the Furnace, Unshrinking + Part 19

19. Trowa

You said you'd never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He's not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And say do you want to make a deal?

- "Like a Rolling Stone" Bob Dylan

Trowa stood by the door to their bedroom straightening his collar and watching Quatre sleep. The boy looked exhausted, dark circles under his eyes, usually bright hair limp and greasy, scarred mouth drawn down in a frown. He looked beaten. Trowa tried to ignore the sharp stab of pain in his gut as he strangled the desire to go to Quatre's bedside and touch him, brush the hair from his forehead. He couldn't do that now, not without Quatre's permission. And he'd clearly revoked that privilege last night, when he'd also torn their future together away from both of them. Trowa could only hope that future was temporarily banished and not destroyed.

He finally gave into temptation and knelt by the bed, resting his hands by Quatre's head. He murmured softly, half singing, half speaking the words to the only lullaby he knew, one of the few memories he had of his older sister. It had always comforted and reassured him.

"I know not, I ask not if guilt's in thy heart
I but know that I love you whatever thou art
Thou has call me thy angel in moments of bliss
And thy angel I'll be mid the horrors of this
Through the furnace, unshrinking, thy steps to pursue
To shield thee and save thee or perish there, too."

He swallowed and looked down at his hands. Then he stood up slowly, grabbed his bag and paused at the doorway. "I'll fix this, Quatre. I'll make it okay for you; I promise."

+

Of all the young men sharing that flat, only Trowa had ever become familiar with their boss's base of operations. The rest stayed away, preferring to do their jobs and be left alone. Even Heero, who wanted more than anything to be away from the hustling business, did not venture to the mansion. Trowa would have liked to stay away as well, probably more than any of them, but he had a job to do. While Heero painstakingly gathered information via his pirated hacking software on his stolen laptop, Trowa had volunteered to develop a physical presence within Gael's stronghold. Of the five of them, he would have the best chance of gaining Gael's trust. Heero was otherwise occupied, didn't want to encourage Gael's obsession with him and was, in general, far too surly for the job. Quatre was too new and an unwilling recruit to begin with. Wufei was about as subtle as a... dragon and Duo- well, he would have been the only other viable option, except he had a little too much personality. He would have been just a little too eager. There was nothing safe about Duo. Trowa could be all but invisible; he could be the color of water. Safe. Reliable.

So, here he was, standing in front of the mansion, a willing participant in Heero's grand Escape Plan -- the idea for which Quatre had unwittingly been responsible many weeks before while Heero was recovering from an encounter with Cecile. He'd created a monster with that idea and now, Heero could not be torn away from his laptop. Much to Duo's chagrin, his best friend had all but disappeared into his software, spending hours and hours collecting, combing and filing away everything he learned.

Trowa took a few deep breaths, calming his ragged emotions and tucking his long bangs behind one ear. He had to look presentable in this place. Today would be slightly different from other days spent at the mansion. On those days, Trowa pretty much hung around, waiting for odd jobs. Most people knew his name, knew he was harmless, an eager recruit who wanted to move up in the ranks. Most often he was asked to work as a messenger, traveling back and forth across the city, sometimes beyond, to deliver packages or bits of information deemed too sensitive for the post. Other days he did light bodyguard duty, essentially standing around outside a restaurant while a few suits did lunch. His favorite work was driving. He'd get his own car, sometimes for a whole week, and all he had to do was shuttle the suits around -- a private cabbie. A few times he'd been called to pluck some dealer out of a sticky situation, whisking the scum away before the cops arrived. Trowa liked driving. He didn't like playing the personal assistant -- coffee and lunch runs, taking all the boring phone calls. And he was, after all, a hustler, so occasionally, the boss called him in on last minute jobs. He was already on the premises anyway. Trowa did not particularly like those days, either.

Today, however, would not be like those days. Trowa was walking in with his own request. He'd never done that before, never asked for anything before. But he sure as hell wasn't backing down, so with utter calm and steely cool, he walked inside the mansion.

From the outside, it was an unremarkable building, just an old apartment complex in need of a paint job and some new bricks. On the inside, it was a palace that took up the entire city block. Trowa scoffed -- internally -- at the show of wealth, at the way in which Gael used the money Trowa and his friends had earned for him. He'd never been impressed by chandeliers and grand staircases, fountains and luxurious furniture. But this place wasn't designed for his simple tastes; it was built for a young and arrogantly rich drug lord. His hundreds of underlings had paid for this decadence with their labor -- selling drugs, selling sex, gambling and a host of other lucrative activities. Trowa swallowed his anger. How many had paid for it with their lives? If he didn't get help, Quatre would soon be one of their number.

Trowa took no interest in the game rooms that took up entire floors, the ballroom, or the many dining rooms. Be passed by the dozens of private rooms devoted to more varieties of pleasure and pain than Trowa would have guessed possible. He'd seen a few of them and had no interest in seeing the rest. Offices were scattered throughout the mansion in seemingly random locations -- in the basement, tucked next to bathrooms, on the very top floor. Trowa guessed there were many more that he didn't know about, and he was certain that they were all kept so far apart because Gael didn't want any of his secrets in a centralized location. Good thinking, certainly. But even decentralized secrets weren't safe from Heero's thorough investigation. The kid should have gone to school for programming and security. He'd be making millions by now, at the age of 21. As it was, well, he made due with a hustler's sporadic income and a home-built laptop full of stolen parts. But Trowa knew he'd get his chance. They all would if their scheme actually worked. 'Up or out,' he thought as he went through security and headed straight for Gael's office.

+

"Hepatitis, is it? Well, that is unfortunate. Terrible. Give Quatre my sincerest apologies." Gael gave Trowa a sad smile. "I had no idea his client was capable of such cruelty."

'Yes you did,' Trowa growled internally. 'You didn't listen when Duo told you he was dangerous. You only listen with your fucking pocket book.'

Gael leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers together. "What does young Master Winner plan to do now that his career opportunities have been so severely limited? He certainly can't go back to his family. Papa Winner's not dead yet. His sisters are not ready for him to come home."

'He's planning to kill you, you fucking piece of silk-wrapped shit.' Trowa surprised himself with his vehemence. "Well, that's not really up to him, is it?" Trowa tried to sound as worried and concerned as possible. He let his anger nowhere near the surface. "He can't hustle anymore -- not like he used to -- and I don't think he'd do well selling anything else because... well, he's got 'narc' written all over him. And besides that... he's a pretty well-known face, even after all the time he's been missing. I think he'd be recognized."

"What do you suggest then, Mr. Barton?"

Trowa took a deep breath and gave Gael a quick measuring glance. He found the Boss to be monstrous and cruel, but he most definitely was not stupid. "Well, sir, I see one of two options. You could keep him hidden here, let him help with office work, or waiting tables at banquets."

"Or?" Gael clearly did not like the idea of a boy who was essentially a hostage hanging around his place of business.

"Or... you could give him a chance at some heavier work."

"Such as?" Gael looked vaguely interested.

Trowa plowed ahead. "He's an incredible athlete, sir. He moves quickly and quietly, and despite his size, he's quite strong. He's a crack shot, as well as an expert with throwing knives. Unusual form of defense, sure, but good in a pinch."

Gael sat very still and stared at him for several seconds. Trowa stared right back. "What are you suggesting Mr. Barton? You want him to be a bodyguard?"

Trowa shook his head, no. "He's too good for that," he said bluntly.

"A hired gun then... or knife, as it were? That seems a bit..."

"He would do excellent work as a bounty hunter, sir. In your line of work, you need invisible people. Quatre needs to be invisible for his own safety." Gael raised an eyebrow, suddenly looking interested. Trowa flushed and ducked his head. "He'd be a valuable investment, sir. This would prove to him that he's not been abandoned, that he can still work and earn his keep, even though he's... somewhat handicapped."

Gael was smiling but his eyes were sharp. It was a calculating look and Trowa didn't like it, but at least he wasn't outright rejecting the idea. "Quatre Winner: heir to a fortune, golden-haired hustler, cold-blooded hunter." The grin widened and Trowa flinched internally. Quatre... would do the job well. The Frenchman could see it in him, had recognized it after he'd known the Winner heir a very short time -- the boy had taken lives before. He could do it again if he had to. Though hopefully, the majority of his jobs would be round-ups, returning people alive. "I like it -- what a story. What a turn of events!"

Trowa kept his expression neutral while he cringed inside his own head. 'This is all your fault, and I swear I will take you down for it,' he gritted silently. 'I'll let Quatre kill you, but I'll bring you there.'

"I will require a test of loyalty, of course," Gael murmured, half to himself.

What did that mean?

"Mr. Barton, do you think he'd be willing to clean up the nasty affair of his infection?" Trowa's heart abruptly sped up. "Do you think he'd be willing to face the man who violated him and left him with his illness? Would he take care of him?"

Trowa felt his mouth twist upward in a fierce grin. Perhaps Gael did have a heart -- or at least a sense of balance. "Yes, sir."

"Excellent!" Sometimes, he really was like an excited teenager, just as Heero said. "I'll expect him to complete the job as soon as possible. That particular client has become more trouble than he's worth. Always making messes. I'm glad to finally have someone to clean it up." And sometimes, he was the cold, collected drug lord, just as Heero said. It was all so matter-of-fact. So simple. How could this have been so easy? Trowa almost sagged in relief. But then he remembered the most important reason for his visit.

"Sir... one other thing." Gael arched an eyebrow expectantly. "About Quatre's treatment. I... went to the library this morning and looked into what it entails." Gael waited. "It's two drugs administered at the same time. One's an anti-viral. Here are the names." He slid the print-out across the boss's desk, and waited for him to pick it up. When he made no move to, he clenched his jaw and continued. "Many patients who catch the disease early, which Quatre has, are successfully cured by this treatment. Or at least the viral load is reduced enough to be nearly undetectable. But... side effects are pretty serious, the first and most common being extreme fatigue. As I said before, sir, I think Quatre would do excellent work for you, but while he's undergoing treatment, he won't be... well, he'll need lots of rest."

Gael cocked his head to the side and gave him a small smile. "You care for him. Deeply."

Trowa tried not to alter his posture, but he felt himself stiffening, withdrawing. Gael didn't need to know about that part of his life, of their lives. "I'm concerned for his safety and his health. It affects all of us."

Their gazes locked and for the next several moments, they measured each other in silence. Trowa realized he was holding his breath and forced himself to relax. Gael looked down at his desk and finally picked up the information Trowa had printed for him.

"This is what will happen, Mr. Barton," he said eventually. "Quatre is now a member of this family and has been for the last half year. I take care of my own. So he will receive treatment if he wants it. He will see a specialist I pick for him as I can't risk him going to the hospital on a regular basis. But he must also work for it. I don't tolerate freeloaders. I'll expect excellence from him, even if he is fatigued." Gael looked up. "I want him to be brilliant and healthy just as you do, but I'm also a money-grubbing cheapskate. And you already know I'm a monster. I'll help him, but he'd better be working."

And that was as much as he could hope to get from Gael, so Trowa nodded and thanked him from the bottom of his heart, while in some distant part of his brain, a part that'd been bred deep but remained hidden, he watched his boss with the cold calculation of a professional assassin. That part of his brain was counting how many days Gael had left to live.

"Of course there will have to be some form of payment for this favor."

"Payment, sir?" Trowa had been expecting this.

"Oh, nothing much, nothing you aren't capable of handling. Oh, don't look at me like that, Mr. Barton. I wouldn't ask you for that kind of payment. God knows, you give enough of it already. What I need from you, Trowa is information. I have this feeling that things have suddenly gotten very interesting in your little corner of the world." Trowa's blood ran cold. "And since I like to keep a close eye on my workers and how they're getting along, I want you to tell me." Trowa's mind was racing. "And you had better tell me the truth, because I will know when you lie."

Until Trowa met Quatre, he felt as though he could leave his job and the family behind at any time he chose. Until he agreed to be Heero's spy, voluntarily spending a good portion of his day under Gael's nose, he was sure he was only hip-deep. Until Trowa and Quatre kissed, he'd still felt like he had some breathing room, even though he knew the water was lapping at his chest. Now, with this request -- asking him to spy on his own friends -- Trowa felt sure that he was drowning.

[part 18] [part 20] [back to Singles a-k]