The first thing to register was dampness, his clothing felt wet and matted to him.  It was an uncomfortable feeling that he twisted against instinctively.  And he
found his fitful movements hindered by the blanket wrapped around him.  

Quatre made a soft murmur of protest, alerting Trowa where he'd fallen into a light doze on the opposite bed.  By the time the blonde boy was fully awake, he
found himself blinking bleary eyes at a familiar but unexpected form a few feet from him.  

Trowa sat on the edge of the other bed, waiting.  Pale bluish green eyes shifted past him to the dark bathroom door, and every last bit of color fled from
Quatre's already pale face.   

Quatre closed his eyes tight and turned his face back into the pillow beneath him, wishing fervently that he'd only imagined the shadowed boy sharing the
room with him.  And he waited, waited for the boy to say something.  He must have had something to say or he wouldn't be sitting there.

'Why is he here?  Shouldn't it be Duo sitting there?  Duo, who'd say some sweet thing about how naive and innocent I am, and how it wasn't my fault because
I'm naturally weak and fragile, and that's what he likes so much about me, so he wouldn't have me any other way.  He'd give me a smile that doesn't reach his
eyes, and then he'd offer to hug me and I could smile back and say it's nothing, I'm okay.  I was just surprised and he didn't actually do anything to me.

'And it would be true.  He didn't do anything I didn't let him do.  I just stood there, obedient, submissive.  I let him touch me, hurt me, and I didn't even try to
struggle.  All I worried about was which would hurt worse, and even I'm not that naive.  Which is worse?  Having his hands on me, or having more than his
tongue inside me?  I'm going to be sick...

'But...I'm not that stupid.  I won't be that stupid.  I could have fought back, hit him, screamed long before he shut the door on us.  I could have, should have,
but I melted into a pile of shivering limbs and cried.  All of the things running through my mind and I just cried and - and...

'Is Trowa still sitting there...?  Is he going to just sit there and listen to me whimpering into my pillow like some sort of - of victim or child or whatever he thinks I
am now?  What they all think I am now.  And I was happy...excited and hopeful.  All I was thinking about was having friends.  They were all on guard and I was
off in my own little bright world where nothing bad can happen.  And when it did happen, I ducked my head and cried my way through it.  And why doesn't he
say something...?

'Is he just sitting and watching me hide my face?  He doesn't have any reason to respect me, he never did, but what does he think of me now?  Did they know
what happened?  Duo must have heard me scream, but do they have any idea how long I cried before I managed to make that one little bit of resistance?  
That I just shivered and whimpered and...obeyed...  I didn't just collapse without a fight.  I gave him my arms, turned on command.  And if he'd hurt me again,
would I have done what he wanted me to...?  Would I have-

'No.  No...  I can't think of it or I'll be sick.  I'll have to run to the bathroom and be sick with Trowa watching me like some sort of voyeur.  Why is he just sitting
there watching me?  Why doesn't he say something?  Anything!  Unless there's nothing to say and that's why he's here instead of Duo, or even Wufei.  What
could I expect them to say to me aside from some uneasy promise that they still like me, weakness and all...

'I don't want to be that person.  I saw them before, so aware of everything in the hall around them, ready for anything that tried to hurt them.  And Duo, so
confident and capable of watching out for himself.  He'd never have cringed and put himself into a corner with his back to the person wanting to hurt him.  He
wouldn't have opened his mouth for-'

"I don't know you."

'Trowa.  He really is still there, watching me and waiting for me to look at him.  Watching me hide.  Wondering if I have any courage at all when I'm too afraid to
so much as show my face...?'

"I can't judge someone I don't know.  You can say anything and it won't make me look down on you.  I don't have any preconceived notions about you, so you
don't have to worry that you'll ruin my impression of you."

'What is he saying...?  That he doesn't know me so any impression he gets will be from how I act now?  Now?  Is he trying to make me feel even worse
or...giving me a chance to prove something...?  He won't judge.  Of course he'll judge, everyone does.  I judged Duo as a friendly, outgoing person who tried
to hide the upset in his eyes, a smiling mask over his face.  And Duo judged me right back as a nice, dumbly naive child who doesn't know any better than to
hide behind anyone who'll protect him from the world.  Because I certainly have proved I can't protect myself.  I can't have friends, not real friends who trust
and rely on each other, not if I can't even rely on myself.  I don't want to be that person...'

"If you want to be alone, I'll spend the night in the hall.  You don't have to talk if you don't want to.  I'm not here to spy on you."

'He'd leave?  Even just the room - he'd leave me alone after what happened...?  Doesn't he think I need someone to hold me tight while I choke down my
tears?  Blaming myself and begging someone to promise I'm not tainted from this, that I'll always be pure and naive and innocent, protected and sheltered.  
That it wasn't my fault, I'm the victim of a dark sociopath who was playing with my mind.  And of course I cried and whimpered, being frightened is natural for an
innocent victim.  I don't want to be that.  I don't...'

Quatre's hair had dried in messy tufts that hid his face, even when he pushed it a few inches off the pillow.  He could see his bangs.  He focused on them as
he spoke in a dry, hollow whisper.  "I don't want to be a victim..."

"No one does," Trowa agreed, his voice soft.

"I don't want to be coddled," Quatre said fiercely, glaring through blurring, angry tears.  "I'm not made of glass..."

"Then you're not broken."

A small whimper choked in his throat, and Quatre swallowed it down, wiping his tears on his damp sleeve.  He couldn't stop the fear, or the guilt and loathing
he felt over his behavior.  But he wasn't going to support it, either.

He forced his lungs to take a deep breath.  Then he turned a little, the blankets still too tight to allow much movement.  It was enough to let him look at the boy
seated across from him.  Steady green eyes met his gaze, calm and ageless.

"Are you going to ask me what happened?" asked Quatre.

"No..."

"Then why are you here?"

The blonde boy looked as if his soul were devouring him from the inside out, those wide pale eyes shimmering behind a veil of unshed tears.  But his
expression was locked in a terse, stubborn frown.  Trowa let his eyes shift over the boy's tense shoulders, the cocoon of blankets, and the shadows behind
him.

He let his gaze travel back to meet those bright eyes and offered a small, wistful smile.  "I'm here to help, if you need it.  I didn't think you'd want to wake up to
an empty room.  I wouldn't have."

Quatre's eyes widened in a bolt of confusion.

'He's comparing himself to me?  Does he - could he - honestly think I would react the same way he would if it were him lying here?  If it were him, he wouldn't
even be lying here!'

Breaking away from that steady gaze, Quatre pushed on the blankets.  It was an obvious distraction, but he really didn't want to be smothered on his bed like
that.  He crawled out of that tight wrapping and drew his damp legs up where he could have hid behind them if he chose to.  It was a statement to himself.

'I can hide my face just by ducking my head.  And I'm not going to.'

"Where's Duo?" asked Quatre.

"Sleeping, though not by choice.  Nicholas hit him earlier, on his way out of here.  Heero gave him a painkiller, so he'll be sleeping for a few more hours."

Quatre's eyes widened in sudden fear and disbelief.  "Painkiller for a hit?  How hard did he hit him?"

"His face will be very colorful tomorrow," said Trowa.  "But the pill wasn't just for that.  Nicholas stabbed him in the shoulder with his knife.  It's not a serious
wound, but there is a chance of infection.  That's what the pill was for."

The words barely sounded after 'stabbed' met his ears.  Quatre sat stunned.  

'He had a knife.  Doesn't that mean?  Even if I'd fought back, if he had a knife he would have used it if I fought back.  They don't know I didn't fight back.  They
don't know I fell apart.  And...he hurt Duo.  I know it's my fault Duo was hurt, but...if he could hurt Duo, he could have killed me.  It doesn't matter that I cried
instead of fighting...  He had a knife and I was completely unarmed and offguard.  I never stood a chance.'

"Trowa...?"

The taller boy blinked at him, his expression that same steady, unassuming look.  This time Quatre appreciated how straightforward those calm eyes were.  
"Would you help me?"

"That's why I'm here," Trowa returned.  "What do you need help with?"

"Can you teach me how to defend myself?  I don't want to have to depend on everyone else to protect me..."

'And if I find myself in a situation like that again, I'd have something to fall back on aside from my own tears.'

Trowa raised an eyebrow at that, not because he didn't think the boy was capable of learning - Quatre was no smaller than Wufei or Duo - but because the
boy had asked him.  He glanced away with another of those small, almost wistful smiles.  

"I'm not the best person to take lessons from," he admitted.  "Heero and Wufei have martial arts skills, and Duo has his own streetsmarts he could pass on to
you.  I've never..."

He shook his head and glanced back at Quatre, letting the boy see his slight smile.  "I don't think I would be a good teacher.  I don't have that sort of skill with
people."

"You don't have to be a teacher," Quatre said slowly, doing his best not to look away.  "You can be a friend helping a friend."

A few seconds of watching Trowa's questioning expression, and Quatre ducked his head.  He wasn't hiding behind his knees, he just didn't want the boy to see
the dark blush that had heated his face.  His words came out a little muffled when he spoke around that abrupt barrier.

"I can't ask Duo.  He likes protecting me and...I think it would hurt him if he thought I didn't want to rely on him.  He'd feel like he failed me.  I could ask Wufei,
but martial arts take years to learn and I'm, well, I'm not that graceful..."

"And Heero?" Trowa prompted.

"He makes me uncomfortable."

Trowa's eyebrows shot up, and he bit down on the words that flew to his mouth.  Surely Quatre didn't think Heero would hurt him.  His friend was quiet and
abrupt, and often terse in nature, but he was still a very trustworthy friend and ally.

"You can trust Heero," Trowa said softly, tentatively.

Quatre blushed darker, hiding his face deeper into his damp knees.  "It's not that..."

He took a deep breath and forced himself to glance up at Trowa, his eyes peeking over his knees.  "I trust him.  He just...makes me uncomfortable.  It's stupid,
I know.  But I think if he tried to teach me something and I failed, I wouldn't be able to try again.  He...he reminds me of my father...like he expects perfection
that I know I can't provide."

A strange expression shifted over Trowa's face, and Quatre was surprised enough to lift his face a little more.  Then the boy smiled, a quiet laugh breaking the
dimness in the room.  Quatre's eyes widened.

'How can I possibly be thinking this?!  Do I really want something else to cry about?  I'm not his type, and even if I were - I can't possibly be thinking like this
after what happened.  I'd get sick if he ever tried to so much as - but I'm not thinking about that.  It's...shock. Yes, and I'm out of sorts.  He's being impossibly
soothing, without smothering me or making me feel miserable about myself.  So I'm just being nice in thinking this.  He's very pretty when he laughs.  There's
nothing wrong with that.  Duo's hair is pretty, too.  That doesn't mean I'm insane to think it.  It's just the truth.'

"Heero is something of a perfectionist," Trowa admitted, still giving that small smile.  "But I can promise, if you failed to learn something the first time, he
wouldn't let you quit until you mastered it.  And if you did fail repeatedly, he'd blame himself long before blaming you.  He expects perfection from himself, not
from others."

"I'd still rather not ask him," said Quatre.  "Unless you don't want to teach me...?"

Trowa lost his smile, his eyes shifting away again.  He couldn't exactly admit that he'd do anything if it involved spending time with the boy.  He was interested
in him, pure and simple.  And he really wanted to know him.  He just didn't like the idea of hitting him - even if it was to teach Quatre self defense.  He didn't
think he'd be able to do that.

"It's not that I don't want to help," said Trowa.  "I'm not sure I'll be able to.  I'm willing to try, but-"

"You don't have to make any guarantees," Quatre said quickly.  "Anything you could help me with would be wonderful.  I...I couldn't do anything to help myself.  
I don't want to be in a situation like that again..."

"I understand."

And he really did seem to, the way he kept that sober, honest look.  Quatre didn't know what to make of it.  He was relieved not to be smothered in pity or
pampering worry, but a small part of him wondered if Trowa even cared that he'd been hurt and terrorized.  The boy didn't look worried or upset at all.

'I don't want him to be upset and worried, of course I don't.  I just...he doesn't look like he cares at all.  And I don't know which would be worse, the idea that he
doesn't know me enough to care, or having him coddle me and show that he does care.  I think he does.  He's been very...soothing.  Why is that the only word
I can think of to describe the way he makes me feel?  Is it intentional?  I don't know him, so I have no idea if he could be worried and hiding it inside.  I can't
tell.  But...I like how soothing he is for me...'

"Then," said Quatre, "after class tomorrow?  I don't know how much space we'd need, but-"

"You want to go to classes tomorrow?" Trowa interrupted, his eyes narrow.

It was the first negative shift in the boy's expression.  Quatre blinked in surprise and quickly looked away.  Did Trowa expect him to hide in his room until the
end of the semester?

"I thought you'd want to stay with Duo," Trowa continued.  "Though it might be better if we alternate so no one else is out for more than a day at a time.  
Heero's going to report him as sick, so he can miss for a week without anyone coming to check on him."

That wasn't what Quatre was expecting at all.  He let out a relieved breath - that Trowa didn't think he'd hide - and gave a worried frown.  "I thought you said
his injury wasn't serious!"

"It isn't," said Trowa, "but his face is going to be very noticeable.  Everyone who sees him in the next week will know immediately that he's been in a fight, or
attacked.  There will be inquiries, and without outside witnesses, the Rauders could use it to their advantage."

"Then...he'll be staying in his room until the bruise goes away?  What if it takes more than a week?  I'm surprised Duo doesn't just make up some story to-"

"He doesn't know what we have planned yet," Trowa admitted.  "He'll find out in the morning.  And he can't just make up a story.  No one here would believe his
word against the Rauders, even if the three of us testified in his favor.  We have no proof."

"I'll stay with him tomorrow, then.  It'll give me a chance to practice walking without wincing."

Quatre offered a wry, hesitant smile.  And Trowa frowned back at him.

"I have ointment you can use on the bruising," Trowa said seriously.  "Heero has it right now, for Duo's face, but I can get it for you.  It'll take the sting out."

The words brought Quatre's attention to his sore stomach, and he was very surprised to find that his shirt wasn't buttoned.  It was folded closed, and it had
dried that way, but it wasn't buttoned.  Quatre abruptly blushed dark red, his expression almost mortified.

'He looked at my stomach...  The others, too?  Just stripping me while I was unconscious?  Did they...did they look at anything else?!'

Trowa seemed to read his mind, having seen the furtive glance the boy gave his shirt, along with that horrified blush.  He flicked his eyes away, a vague
warmth rising to his own cheeks.  His lips, though, quirked into a very slight smirk.  

"Duo helped get you out of the tub," Trowa explained.  "We didn't know he'd been stabbed at the time, so when we saw the blood we thought it came from
you.  I was looking for injuries, but I didn't pry."

Pry meaning he hadn't looked everywhere, Quatre's mind supplied.  He blushed worse despite the relief that spilled over him.  "Oh."

"Duo chaperoned the entire time," said Trowa, that twitching smile widening just a hair.  "It was entirely appropriate."

"I understand," Quatre blurted.

He ducked his head, hiding his involuntary smile at the wry tone Trowa had used.  If he'd wondered if Trowa cared about what had happened, he had an
answer now.  The boy was avoiding things that would make him uncomfortable.  It was kind of him. But...

'The way he glanced at me before looking away, and that smile...  Maybe I am his type.  But this is the most ridiculous time to be thinking about that.  I should
be throwing up, or crying, or...washing my mouth out with bleach.  That's actually a good idea...too bad I don't have any.  Fluoride will have to suffice.'

"I need to change," Quatre said quietly, casting a tentative look at Trowa.  "Are you...going to stay here tonight?"

"Unless you want me to get Wufei instead," said Trowa.  "It's up to you."

Quatre knew the boy mentioned Wufei because Duo hadn't wanted him alone with Heero or Trowa.  But now that it was up to him, Quatre had in idea he was
better off with Trowa.  Wufei would probably be intensely uncomfortable around him at the moment, which would in turn make Quatre feel horrible again.

He gave a quick shake of his head and shifted to the edge of the bed.  A little wince passed his face at the ache in his stomach, but he ignored it as well as he
could.  "I'd like you to stay.  Thank you."

Trowa nodded, his eyes steadfast as he watched the boy disappear into the bathroom.  The moment the door was closed, he winced and dripped his gaze.  
His hands lifted from where he'd hidden them in his lap.  He turned them, dark curious eyes shifting over the places where his nails had dug grooves in his
palms.  And he let them fall with a deep, shaky breath.

He'd learned a number of things in his life, and how to bury emotions was the first thing he'd learned.  That innocent and fragile boy he'd wrapped up on the
bed earlier that evening wasn't the one who'd just crossed in front of him.  Quatre didn't want to drown in his pain, few people did.  That was something Trowa
understood very well, an attribute he held over even Heero, who was quite good at convincing himself he had no such pain.

But it was hard this time, almost too hard.  Watching Quatre fight with himself, seeing the stubborn pride in those painfilled eyes...  It was the sort of thing that
could eat away at a person while pulling him in at the same time.  

He wanted to sweep the boy up, kiss away his tears and whisper sweet compassion into his soft hair.  And that, as natural as it seemed, was the last thing
Quatre needed.  It would break what little confidence the boy had left and leave nothing but a trembling wreck of emotions.  Instead, he'd be someone to fall
back on.  Not the warm arm and protective companion Duo was, but a solid presence that would be there to help, but not to carry.

'And I want to carry him,' Trowa thought.  'He doesn't deserve to have his innocence shattered in a single night.  But I won't break him.  If Nicholas didn't break
him, I won't do it either.  He needs a brace and encouragement to find his own strength.  I can give him that.  I'm lucky I have the chance...to give him that.'

- - -
TBC



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