see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer
the Furnace, Unshrinking + Part 19
You said you'd never
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
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
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
"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.
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