Trowa had sat by Treize’s bed for some time, and in that time watched the man fall into a pained sleep. He watched the broad chest rise and fall, nearly finding sleep himself at the lulling rhythm and then rose to go to bed.

He exited Treize’s room, shutting the door quietly behind him, moving into the dark hallway.

“How is he?” A baritone voice emerged from the blackness.

Trowa jumped. Heero had a way with surprises.

“He’s sleeping.”

Heero stepped out of the shadows, his face eerie in the pale glow of the hall candles. “I didn’t mean to be so crass earlier,” his voice was soft and sincere, “I get carried away sometimes.”

Trowa didn’t respond.

“I saw you today,” Heero stepped closer, “riding with him. I was jealous.”

“But you-you don’t even know me.” Heero was confusing him again.

“I know I like you. You can’t say you haven’t noticed.” He stepped forward again, his face a foot from Trowa’s, candlelight flickering on his cheeks, casting shadows over his eyes.

“What do you want?” Trowa was becoming defensive of his territory and stepped backward.

“You,” a shadowy grin spread over his face as he moved even closer.

And then Heero’s world turned white as Trowa’s fist connected with his right cheek. The force of the blow sent him spinning and his shoulder connected with the wall.

“Ahhh! Dammit,” Heero cursed, “what in the hell was that for?”

Trowa was walking away from him and he stalked after him, moving to catch up. “It’s not like I was going to rape you! Hey! Would you wait a minute!”

He reached out for Trowa’s shoulder and at the contact Trowa spun around, swinging again. Heero ducked and grabbed for Trowa’s wrists. He caught them and, despite his smaller stature, forced him against the wall, pinning him with his own body.

Trowa did not resist but waited to see what Heero had planned.

The voice that came from the now completely shadowed face was methodical, controlled and mockingly sweet, “I wont hurt you, I promise. I just want you to listen to me.”

Trowa’s reply was silence, he glared at the blackened face.

“I said that I wanted you and I meant it. But I know how to back off when I’m not wanted or when someone’s not quite ready.” He shifted his position a little and Trowa felt hot breath on his neck, “Just remember,” a kiss was placed where his breath had just grazed, “I’m waiting.”

He released Trowa, leaving the boy somewhat dazed, and disappeared down the hall. Trowa stood for a moment more. Trying to sort out what was going on in his body and mind.

Heero’s actions had been more than frightening, his sudden change of character astonishing. Still, something about the encounter had awakened things inside Trowa he could not explain. It was nothing like the warmness he felt around Treize, more like an animalistic response, an instinct.

Heero was the predator and he, the prey.

There was only one question that tugged at his mind. Did he want to be hunted?

The following days were a relaxing break for Trowa. That first day of Treize's return had been the longest of his life, a little frightening and more than confusing.

True to his word, Heero began to back off. Trowa only saw the boy in fleeting glances, sometimes at the river, other times pacing elegantly through the house. He had even returned to the mausoleum once or twice to see if he might find him there.

Why did he want to find him? Wasn't he dangerous?

The situation with Treize was entirely the opposite. Treize proved to be a resilient healer and though he refused Milliardo and Trowa's assistance, was back on his feet two evenings later. He had not mentioned their conversation since that night, neither had Trowa. Though he wondered if Treize had been truthful about his accident. He still felt it had been his words that had distracted the man. Or perhaps it wasn’t distraction at all, but a voluntary act gone awry. Trowa shuddered. He didn’t want to imagine that. It seemed a mutual agreement that they simply start where they were and make the best of the situation. And that they did.

The days after Treize's recovery were spent tutoring Trowa in horseback riding. They found that Trowa was a quick study. He and Brandy took to each other well and soon developed a respectful relationship.

"I think that horse likes you more than she does her carrots," Treize remarked as Brandy nuzzled Trowa's side, rubbing her head there. He had brought her carrots after their ride and the animal had bypassed the treat in favor of her current activity.

Trowa smiled and offered the food to her again. She took it eagerly but gently.

"You know," Treize began as he put away the tack, "she is truly yours. Should you ever decide to leave, you may take her with you." He studied the bridle he held as he finished, a flicker of hurt passing quickly over his gentle face.

"Thank you," Trowa returned, he wanted to remind Treize that he had no intentions of leaving but felt awkward in the moment.

"Sir." It was a familiar cold voice.

Treize snapped his head around to find Milliardo in the doorway of the barn.

"Yessir?" He asked, his smile back, his voice mocking Millardo’s ever present militaristic tone, tapping his heels a little for effect.

Milliardo softened a little before he spoke, "May I speak with you sir?”

Treize turned from Milliardo and regarded Trowa apologetically, excusing himself from the boy’s presence.

Trowa watched as the two spoke. They seemed so intimate with each other. It was something he had noticed since his arrival. It wasn’t that they touched so much as the way they looked at each other, or their posture.

They stood close to each other, closer than necessary, Trowa realized. Milliardo was anything but shy about meeting Treize’s gaze when they spoke, despite his usual formal manner. And when they spoke like this, away from prying ears, away from the house and all the regality it held, their tones were soft, even Milliardo’s.

How long had they been friends, Trowa wondered as he put Brandy away. Could they have ever been more?

At that moment, Duo appeared from around the corner of the barn, a wet ball of fur in his hands.

Treize looked up from his conversation with Milliardo, “Ahh, speak of the devil.” Milliardo looked annoyed at the interruption.

“Good afternoon, Master Treize, Commander Zechs, Trowa,” Duo walked over to the pair and Treize regarded his burden, looking at the bundle curiously as it moved.

“And what has the devil brought us?”

Duo held up the cat by the scruff of the neck. Malaise looked none too happy at being gawked at as he dripped river water onto the barn floor. “Found this old boy about to drown in the river,” he pulled him to his chest again, “I figured I’d better save him. Not that he does me any good. There are rats in this barn bigger than he is.”

“I’ll take him in the house when I go,” Treize offered, less than concerned. But Trowa saw how he looked at Duo, his eyes dancing over the boy’s figure with something like admiration. Was he imagining that? Was he jealous?

“I’ll take him,” Trowa offered and took Duo’s wet burden into his own hands, walking away quietly. Three pairs of eyes watched him go.

“Did I say something?” Duo asked, turning back to the other two.

“No,” Treize sighed, “I still haven’t figured him out but I’m sure it wasn’t you.” He watched the retreating figure, brow creasing, “probably me.”

“Well,” it was Duo again, “I hope he’s in better spirits for tonight, he’d bring everyone down if he showed up like that.”

“To where?” Treize turned to Duo.

Duo shrugged as if the answer were obvious, “To his birthday celebration of course.”

“Lord chil’, look like you done found you a drowned rat,” Netti remarked as Trowa brought Malaise into the kitchen, laughing at its misfortune. She helped him clean him up and dry him off, earning several scratches for her efforts.

“Never did like that cat,” she huffed, hefting her round frame out of her chair, “he never took too much to nobody ‘cept Mastah Treize and Mistah Milliard’. And he’s about the sorriest mouser this side o’ the Mississipp’.” Malaise sat in Trowa’s lap and licked his fur, oblivious to her rant.

“Where Mastah Treize?” she asked, moving to the kitchen sink, “gettin' nigh on dinner time.”

“Am I ever late?” Treize asked from outside the screen door of the kitchen before entering.

“I remember a couple days back you missed it altogether.”

“And I apologize immensely, my lady.” Treize said, bowing at the waste. Netti waved a dishcloth at him.

Treize sat down opposite Trowa at the dinner table, “And I must apologize to you.”

“For?” Trowa asked.

“I hear today is your birthday, I didn’t know.”

“It’s not my birthday.” Trowa looked back down at Malaise, studying his fur, “It’s Cinco de Mayo, a Spanish holiday.”

“Oh. Duo said it was your birthday and that you were having a party.”

“Catherine said once that my parents must be Spanish, something about my skin color, and since no one knew when my birthday was, she began to celebrate it on the fifth.” His tone was cold, as if he were talking about a funeral and not a birthday.

“Will she be having a party for you?”

“It’s not really for me, It’s a reason for all of them to celebrate. They need it.”

Treize studied Trowa. His soft tan cheeks slack, no smile at his lips. So sad on what was supposed to be the celebration of his birth. He looked so young, especially when melancholy, and so beautiful. And then another though hit Treize. What if he decided that this meant he was sixteen? What if he asked to leave?

Treize spoke, his voice suddenly commanding, “Well, you don't look a day older than the day I found you in the fields. You will stay for a year, as we discussed?”

Trowa shook his head.

“Good. Netti,” Treize called.


“Prepare a feast for Trowa and his family. Milliardo will take it to the worker’s quarters when you’re finished and you may join them if you wish.”

“Y--yessir,” Netti stumbled over the word, wondering for a second at why her Master was being so generous. He had never been cruel and, in fact, was particularly pleasant to her. She had practically raised him. But he had never requested something like this.

“You don’t have to do that,” Trowa said, snapping from his downed state, “we’ve celebrated in the past with what we have, it will suffice again, I’m sure.”

“Please,” Treize softened again, “I want to.”

“Will you be coming along?” Trowa asked Treize as he passed him in the hall. He had changed into simpler clothing, not wanting to feel awkward among his friends.

“No,” Treize remarked, noting how Trowa’s casual clothes matched his character, “I would only make everyone feel odd.”

“Yes, I suppose.”

“But Trowa,” Treize called out before Trowa was too far. Trowa turned. “I don’t care how late it is when you get back but, when you do, could you find me? I have something for you.”

“You don’t--”

“I know. Will you?”

“Yes.” Trowa answered thinking of the large distance between them and how he wanted it so much smaller. Perhaps it was shortening. “Of course.”

|Part 8|