Warnings : Yaoi, angst, sap, OOC, Wufei POV, TWT. This one
is 1+2+5… my first attempt, please be warned and be kind.
Thanks to Christy for beta reading and Aya for comments! Thanks
Feed-back actually has a direct correlation with the urge to write.
I dreamed I owned them once… does that count?
The Romefeller goons left us sit for a good long time in our
stone walled cell, letting us stew in our own frustration. Giving us amble
time to snap and snarl at each other over how we had come to be here. It
had been an infiltration mission, what Maxwell termed a ‘snatch and
grab’. Our assignment had been to liberate a high-ranking official,
a man who claimed to be loyal to Treize Khushrenada’s ‘true
ideals’ and was promising to defect with all the specs on the new
mobile dolls in his hand. It could have ended the war, had it been the truth.
It had been an outright lie. A trap. A bold trap that had succeeded quite
admirably in snaring three of us. Maxwell, Winner and myself. I suppose,
when you got right down to it… this might very well end the war after
all. Just not necessarily in our favor.
If we lived to get ourselves out of here, I would allow myself
to think about what I intended to do to the leak the rebellion had to have.
This mission had been checked, double-checked and cleared at the highest
levels. Someone, somewhere had set us up. When we had carried out the first
part of the mission, infiltrating the base and making our way to the quarters
of General Bellows, all we had found waiting for us was a hidden canister
of colorless, odorless knock-out gas. The good General had even allowed
himself to be drugged along with us to insure that we took the bait. We
had taken it, all right; hook, line, and sinker. And awakened in this spartan
cell, cuffed in place, with raging headaches and nothing to do but speculate
and think about what was ahead of us.
‘What do you mean a mole?’ Winner was quick to
go on the defensive. ‘The General was drugged right along with us…
What makes you think he was in on it?’
Sometimes his naiveté was enough to drive a wooden
man crazy and I opened my mouth to tell him just that, but Maxwell, for
about the fifth time, interjected himself between us.
‘Well, Quatre,’ he drawled with that damned ever-present
grin fully intact. ‘The smirk on his face kind of gave him away.’
‘Oh,’ Winner backed down and I wanted to growl.
He had been arguing the point with me for the last five minutes, but one
word from Maxwell and it was ‘Oh’?
‘It’s ok, man,’ Maxwell reassured him. ‘I
was in front; I got a better look at him.’ His voice went pensive
then and he surprised me with, ‘Just wish I’d figured out faster
that his expression wasn’t right. If I’d gotten a warning off…’
‘It happened too fast, Duo,’ Winner told him gently.
‘Whatever they used on us, it acted almost instantly.’
‘But Wufei was right by the door,’ he continued.
‘He might have made it out… they might not have all three of
Having dropped out of the conversation when Winner had started
arguing with me again, not wanting to believe that we had been compromised,
I’d had a moment to calm myself a little. When I looked across the
dim cell I could see just how frightened Winner was and just how much Maxwell
was tearing himself up over his ‘failure’ to identify the danger.
‘I doubt I would have gotten far,’ I told him
gruffly. ‘I imagine there was a large number of armed men just waiting
for us to move into that room.’
Maxwell sighed heavily and I saw him try to work his shoulders.
‘Anybody else got a killer headache?’
Winner gave out with a groan and confirmed his with something
muttered in Arabic. I grunted.
‘Bet the dear General got an aspirin…’ Maxwell
began, then we heard the sound of footsteps outside the door. I had been
looking right at Maxwell and saw his eyes get a calculated glitter to them;
he seemed to be waiting for just the right moment, then he said, just a
shade too loudly, ‘They can’t find out that I know all the troop
locations… they’ll beat the crap out of me! I can’t…
I can’t take that again!’
To my knowledge, Maxwell had never been captured before this
screwed up mission. That made the likelihood of his having had ‘the
crap beaten out of him’ a bit unlikely. Winner’s eyes flew wide
and his mouth flew open, but Maxwell gave him a harsh glare and he shut
The next part went rather quickly. The door opened. Maxwell
managed to make a look come over his face that can only be described as…
unnerved. Not terrified. Not babbling. Not weeping. Just this carefully
constructed mask that plainly told anyone who was looking that he was the
one who had spoken, without it being overplayed. The three men who appeared
in our cell went right to him, unlocked his cuffs from the chains set in
the wall and hauled him away. Just as he had intended, I had no doubt.
I was awed by the look he threw back at us. Had I not known
him, I would have said he was on the verge of screaming for mercy and trying
to cover it up with a stoic but crumbling front.
When the door was closed behind them, Winner and I sat and
stared at each other, on opposite ends of the chamber, and tried not to
look at the empty spot on the sidewall midway between us.
‘Why… why did he do that?’ Winner whispered
to me and I wanted to roll my eyes.
‘To ensure that they took him and not one of us,’
I growled. ‘Why else?’
‘But…why?’ he persisted and I just shook
my head. I didn’t have an answer and I didn’t really feel like
talking about it. All I could think about was the look on Maxwell’s
face as they had pulled him from the room. I knew it had been an act…
but it had still been unsettling. I wondered how far away they would take
him for the questioning. I wondered how long before they figured out that
drugs didn’t work on us and got down to the ‘old fashioned’
method of interrogation. I pulled rather ineffectively at my cuffs again
and glared at the door. Winner curled into a miserable ball and got quiet.
It was two hours before they hauled him back and dumped his
limp body on the floor, not even bothering to reattach his cuffed hands
to the wall.
We waited for the door to close and the sounds of movement
outside to subside, then Winner called softly, ‘Duo… Duo can
you hear me?’
The black-clad form shifted; rolling over onto his back and
we very clearly heard him say, ‘Ouch.’
I let go of a breath I hadn’t really been aware I’d
been holding and called, ‘Status, Maxwell.’
There was a bit of a silence and I saw him attempting to evaluate,
he got as far as flexing his hands and arms before heaving a sigh and blurting,
‘Hell, Wufei… I dunno. Nothing broken, I don’t think.’
Irritation welled in my chest and I started to berate him
for only half doing the job, but he rolled over onto his stomach then, and
levering himself up on hands and knees, crawled toward Winner. I stifled
the faint pang of… of jealousy that bit at me and forced myself to
watch his movements. He was obviously in a deal of pain, favoring his right
leg and hugging one arm around his middle as he moved. He settled next to
Winner and they conversed in hushed tones for a few minutes. Something flashed
in Winner’s eyes, some spark of hope, but it was strongly overshadowed
by the unhappy expression that overtook him. Maxwell patted his leg reassuringly
and then turned to make his slow way towards me. I ached to see him struggling
so, and watched him closely, trying to judge the extent of his injuries.
It seemed to take him forever to make his way the fourteen or fifteen feet
across the cell. When he reached me, he fairly collapsed on the floor next
to me, rolling over onto his back to grin up at me.
‘Hey there, buddy,’ he chuckled. ‘Did you
have to get a seat so damn far away from the rest of us?’
His ability to wear that jester’s mask through everything
that comes along never ceases to amaze me. ‘Are you all right, Maxwell?’
I asked, allowing some of my normal brusqueness to leave my voice.
His grin brightened, flaring into something almost real for
a second before turning into something… a little cockier. ‘Ah…
I’ve had worse. The important thing is, I got what I was after.’
All I could do was blink at him while he reached his cuffed
hands down and those nimble fingers fished around in the top of his boot.
It took a little work and I waited patiently to see what he would produce
that was so important that he had deliberately endured a beating to obtain
it. I was expecting a weapon of some sort, not the tiny little sliver of
metal he finally pulled out with a triumphant air.
I couldn’t help the raised eyebrow. ‘And this
helps us, how?’
He fairly smirked at me. ‘Put your cuffs down here where
I can reach them, and I’ll show you.’
I shifted my bound wrists around and he settled close beside
me, bending his attention to the locks on my cuffs. I felt a faint glimmer
of hope try to catch light somewhere inside me. ‘You can really get
these things off?’
‘Given enough time,’ he confirmed, obviously distracted
by his work. ‘My somewhat… sordid youth taught me a few useful
things that weren’t covered in Gundam training 101.’
I watched him work for a minute, his brow furrowed in concentration,
and noted the faint tremble of his hands. He was clearly in some pain and
ignoring it, I wanted to tell him to rest first, but knew we didn’t
have that kind of time. ‘How long do you think this will take?’
‘Unfortunately,’ he muttered, ‘our buddies
seem to have bought the best for us. These are Kodiak locks from the look
of them… double sets… damned beveled drops… they’re
so freakin’ easy to bind… got to be careful.’ All I could
do was nod dumbly; it seemed he was speaking another language. He worked
for a bit in silence, his lower lip caught between his teeth as he concentrated.
Then, abruptly, he let his head fall forward onto his forearm with a straggled
‘Maxwell?’ I questioned softly, fear coiling around
in my gut. Did this mean he had given up? He wasn’t going to be able
to do it?
‘Sorry, man,’ he murmured. ‘Just give me
a minute… I wasn’t counting on them getting so… energetic
this early in the game.’
Damn. He was hurting too badly to truly concentrate on his
task. I looked him over again; wishing I could evaluate his condition better,
then tested the play in my restraints. The chain the cuffs were attached
to was long enough to let me move fairly freely in place, if not long enough
to allow me to move away from my seat by the wall. I shifted and he looked
up at me.
‘Here,’ I said gruffly, ‘rest your head
on my leg so you don’t have to hold it up. I’ll position the
cuffs so they’re in front of you.’
I had expected some flippant, outrageous remark, but an expression
crossed his face that I couldn’t understand at all, and when he moved
to comply, it was with a bit of hesitation. ‘Thanks, Wufei,’
he murmured and if I hadn’t known Maxwell so well; I would have said
he was embarrassed.
After a little more time had passed, he began to talk softly,
explaining that he had fought with his captors, escaping their grasp long
enough to palm his make-shift lock-pick and been royally ‘disciplined’
for his efforts. They had seemed to know that truth drugs were useless and
had cut right to the chase; giving him that beating he had alluded to earlier.
‘I gave it long enough to be believable,’ he told
me, ‘and then I broke down and spilled a bunch of shit I made up on
the spot. It won’t take them forever to figure that out, and they’ll
Suddenly, the cuff around my right wrist sprang free and there
was a tiny, exultant sound from Maxwell. It had probably taken him an hour.
I could only hope that he would get faster as he went. He took the thing
into his own bound hands and did some fiddling with it, now that it was
open, before looking up at me almost apologetically. ‘You can’t
get caught with it off,’ he told me. ‘I’ve jammed it so
it won’t really lock back… but you need to put it back on.’
‘Of course,’ I replied and winced at the arch
tone of my own voice. He only grinned at me. Then, on a sudden thought,
he turned toward Winner and flashed him a number one sign and a thumbs up.
Winner grinned back, losing some of the anxious look that had come over
Maxwell turned to me again, carefully letting his head rest
back on my thigh. ‘Ok… now for number two.’ I dutifully
shifted the second cuff into his range. He worked stolidly for several minutes
before glancing up at me with an oddly pensive look. ‘Uhmm…’
he ventured, ‘you realize that there’s no way in hell I’m
going to get done with both of you before they come back… right?’
I didn’t speak, only looked down at him and was surprised
to find him blushing slightly. ‘I know I can count on you not to move
too soon,’ he told me, eyes on his work. ‘I mean… that’s
why I’m doing you first, and not Quatre.’
He was counting on me to sit idly, with my hands free, and
do nothing while our jailers pounded him into the floor. It twisted in my
gut, to hear him say it, but I knew he was right. I didn’t know what
to say and only stared down at him, wide-eyed. I was left feeling completely
flustered. Pleased that he trusted my control, that he trusted me to do
what had to be done. But, at the same time… bothered that he might
believe that I could sit here completely unmoved by his pain.
‘I can count on you, right?’ he prodded, looking
nervous. ‘Unless Heero and Trowa come busting in here to rescue our
asses… I think this is our only chance. But we all have to be free
before we make our move or it’ll never work.’
‘I know,’ I told him and though I had meant for
it to be curt, it came out a little… pained.
He blinked up at me and then smiled softly. ‘Just don’t
watch,’ he quipped.
Heero and Trowa. If they had any way of knowing that this
mission had gone bad, they might very well come busting in here after us.
Or at least after the other two. Though they tried very hard to be discreet,
we all knew that Barton and Winner were… involved. And though he wouldn’t
have admitted it even if faced with a firing squad, I suspected that Yuy
was more than a little fond of Maxwell. But we weren’t due to make
any kind of report for days. The plan had been to get the General out and
go to ground until the heat blew over and we could safely move him out of
the area. Our other two partners wouldn’t even begin to worry for
at least two days. We could be very dead by then.
Maxwell continued to work, though his hands were shaking even
harder than they had been, and I could see his frustration mounting in his
‘Enough,’ I whispered after watching him struggle
for almost another hour and seeming to make no progress. ‘Rest for
a minute. You’re losing your patience.’
He snorted softly, but let his hands drop down to the floor.
‘Don’t have a ton of patience to begin with.’
It was my turn to snort at him. ‘You’re doing
fine. Just give yourself a minute… your arms are so fatigued you’re
shaking like a leaf. It can’t be making this any easier.’
He sighed and I felt him truly relax against me. ‘You’re
right… you’re right… just for a minute though.’
‘Just for a minute,’ I confirmed, but was considering
letting him take a short nap; he was showing all the signs of sleep creeping
up on him. I wondered if I dared?
As if reading my mind, he murmured, ‘Don’t let
me fall asleep. They can’t find me here… they could use you
against me so easily…’ his words were slurred with fatigue,
and I stared down at him, wondering.
‘Wufei!’ Quatre suddenly hissed at me. ‘They’re
Maxwell heard, and I found his fingers shoving his little
lock-pick into my hands for safekeeping. Then he rolled away, managing to
force himself up to his feet long enough to stagger back to where they had
dumped him before. When he got there, he just pitched forward onto the floor
with a faint grunt of pain and was lying pretty much where he had been,
just seconds before the door opened.
The first man into the room strode forward and grabbed Maxwell
by the collar, dragging him to his feet. ‘Not too bright, Gundam-boy,’
he growled. ‘Lying to the General like that… you really pissed
Maxwell muttered something I couldn’t hear and the goon
that had him dangling from his beefy hand laughed outright. ‘You’re
a gutsy little guy… I’ll give you that.’ Then his tone
darkened. ‘But the boss hates gutsy.’
Then they dragged him out, and the door was shut with an ominous
I tucked the pick inside the waistband of my pants and sat
for a moment feeling the rapidly cooling spot on my thigh where Maxwell
had been resting his cheek just moments ago. I was… very afraid. And
not just because he was the only hope we had at the moment, however slim.
‘Wufei?’ Winner ventured into the silence and
the fear was a palpable thing in his voice.
I didn’t want to discuss things at the level we would
have to, in order to hear each other across the cell. I didn’t think
we were being monitored, but you never knew. ‘Trust him,’ was
all I said and he subsided with an unhappy frown. I thanked God they were
taking Maxwell away from here to do their questioning. I didn’t know
how Winner would… hold up had they done it right here in front of
us. Though his empathetic, kind-hearted nature was… admirable. It
could be one hell of a liability in situations like this.
It was three hours. Three long, endless, insufferable hours,
before they brought him back. Again, they just dumped him on the floor and
walked out, without a word or backward glance. Winner hardly waited for
the door to close before calling fearfully, ‘Duo? Oh Allah…
Duo, are you all right?’
There was no response and Winner made a strangled noise.
‘Stop it!’ I snapped before he could truly work
up to a panic. ‘He’s breathing; I can see it from here. Calm
the hell down.’
I had expected him to get angry with me, to rant at me about
my lack of feeling, but he only took a deep breath and said, ‘He is?
‘Yes,’ I confirmed. ‘And though it’s
hard to tell in that damn black outfit, I don’t see that he’s
bleeding a lot.’
He settled down to dark mutterings then, something about ‘barbarians’,
something else about ‘inhumane’. I stopped listening, my eyes
focused on Maxwell’s unmoving form. After a few minutes, I thought
I saw a twitch of involuntary movement and I called softly to him.
‘Maxwell? Can you hear me? You need to wake up. What’s
I saw his hands spasm open and then closed, I saw an arm twitch.
When his voice came, it was rough and sounded thin. ‘Screwed over?’
‘Not good enough, mister!’ I snapped, heart in
my throat. ‘You can do better than that!’
He chuckled dryly and rolled sluggishly over onto his stomach,
wincing as he did it. I watched him try to push himself up onto hands and
knees and I watched him not make it.
‘Duo?’ I whispered and saw him find some sort
of resolve. He ended up dragging himself across the floor by virtue of his
‘You mind?’ he breathed when he got to my side,
twitching his head in the direction of my lap.
‘Of course not,’ I growled, frustration getting
the better of my temper.
He settled against me with a soft sigh that made me shiver.
‘How bad is it, damn it!’ I grumbled and couldn’t keep
the fear out of my voice.
He smiled up at me and held his hand out for his little tool.
‘I honest to God don’t know, man. I roll with it as best I can…
but they held me down this time. I think at the very least, I’ve got
a couple of cracked ribs. I’m just tryin’ to make sure they
don’t screw with my hands.’
I fished out his pick and slipped it to him, not able to stop
myself from squeezing his fingers for a second. ‘Try to protect your
damn head too, all right?’ I groused, suddenly embarrassed.
The grin slid away for a second and he let me see his pain
and his fear, and there was something else in the back of those bright eyes
of his that I couldn’t quite name. His fingers caught at mine as I
made to slide free and he let himself clutch at me for a minute before he
looked away, bending back to work.
‘General Bellows is a loon,’ he imparted after
a few moments of his exploring the lock in silence. ‘He just about
lost it that time… he wasn’t even asking me questions any more.
I think he was about ready to pound me into paste, but there was this other
guy there who got pissed at him, pulled rank and made him stop.’
Cold fear coiled around in my gut and I wanted to beg him
to hurry the hell up, but knew better than to apply that kind of pressure.
I wracked my brain trying to think of something that we might give them
that would hold them off for longer than the few hours that Maxwell had
‘If there was just something you could tell them that
would take them longer to verify,’ I pondered out loud and he snorted
‘I don’t even know if it’s about information
anymore,’ he sighed. ‘I think I’ve just gotten under the
‘Maxwell?’ I glared down at him. ‘What have
He glanced up at me and frowned darkly. ‘Son of a bitch
wants to hear me scream and I won’t fucking give him the satisfaction.’
His face told me there was no arguing with him over it. It was… a
petty victory, but one I could understand. I don’t know why, but I
felt… oddly proud of him.
I had feared that he would have to start all over again with
the lock, but some of his manipulations seemed to still be in effect, and
after an endless fifteen or twenty minutes, the damn thing snapped open.
‘Yes!’ he hissed in victory and took the cuff
to jam the mechanism the way he had with the first one, so the lock wouldn’t
I swiftly stripped myself of the other one and he looked up
at me wide eyed. ‘What… what the hell are you doing?’
‘Taking a very small chance,’ I told him gruffly.
‘I’m not watching you drag yourself across the damn floor again.’
He reached for my hand, and tried to sit up, thinking I meant
to help him to his feet. ‘Idiot,’ I murmured and shifted around
to slip my arms under him, carefully lifting him. He gasped and I hesitated,
‘Am I hurting you?’ But he only shook his head.
I took him swiftly across the cell and settled him beside
Winner, showing him how to sit so that Duo could use his leg to support
his head. Once I verified that he had his lock pick safely in his hand,
I started to go back to my own side of the room, but Duo stopped me with
‘Listen to me, both of you,’ he said intently.
‘No matter what happens… we can not make our move until all
three of us are completely free.’ He tried to temper the lecture with
a small grin. ‘We’d just be throwing all my hard work away.’
He had said both of you, but somehow I knew this was mostly for Winner’s
To back him up, I solemnly told them, ‘Of course, Maxwell.
Do you take me for an idiot?’
He flashed me a grin and a wink; it surprised me to see the
private message and to be able to read it so plainly. His assurance that
he knew I was only enforcing his message to Winner and wasn’t really
angry with him. It was all I could do not to return the grin. I grunted
and went back to my shackles, feeling strangely flustered.
After that, I could only watch them from across the room,
not able to hear any of their whispered conversation. I felt like I was
going to explode with frustration. I began to feel a bit more sympathy for
Winner, who had been over there all by himself all this time, enduring.
I could see Duo struggling even from here; I could see Winner’s
worried expression. I could feel time moving past us like a physical thing.
I wanted to yell at him to hurry the damn hell up! It took him almost an
hour to get the first cuff off of Winner’s arm. I knew it had given
way when Winner’s face flashed with a grin and Duo all but collapsed
on the floor. I had a moment of panic, thinking that he had fainted with
the job half done, but Winner leaned down and spoke to him and Duo rose
to make the adjustment that would let the cuff go back on without locking.
He barely got it done before we heard footsteps in the hall.
Panic welled up in my chest. I saw the lock pick exchange
hands and Duo, with some last reserve of strength, pitched himself out of
Winner’s lap, managing to make it several feet away before the door
I knew things had gone from bad to worse when I realized that
the much-maligned General Bellows was actually with the squad of goons this
time. I glanced at Duo and saw true unease written in his eyes. He was…
a little afraid of this man. I wanted to curse out loud; one damn restraining
cuff away from our shot at freedom. There was only Bellows and three men;
we might have managed to overpower them if we had been free.
There was a long, still-as-death moment while Duo stared at
Bellows, I stared at Bellows, Quatre stared at Bellows, and Bellows…
took in the whole damn scene.
‘Bring that one,’ he suddenly commanded, and pointed
My blood turned to ice in my veins. If they found the open
cuff, we were as good as dead. I tried to think of something to do, but
didn’t dare draw any attention to myself either. Then, the unthinkable
Duo grinned cheerfully up at his tormentor and quipped lightly,
‘Bellows sweetie, I think I’m hurt! You’re giving up on
me so easily?’
The General’s face suffused with rage, just that fast.
In the short time Duo had been in this man’s company, he had learned
all the buttons to push and he was pushing them now with wild abandon.
I wanted to close my eyes, I truly did, but it seemed a cowardly
thing to do. If Duo could endure what was going to happen to him next, in
order to save our escape plans, how could I not at least bear witness to
his courage? I suspected that Duo had given Winner the same ‘don’t
watch’ advice he had given me, because I saw our partner squeeze his
eyes shut, his face looking as white as chalk even from where I sat.
Bellows reared back and lashed out at Duo with a booted foot.
I thought I was about to see him die. Duo did indeed know something about
‘rolling with the punches’, if he hadn’t, Bellows would
have caved the side of his head in, I have no doubt of it.
My muscles were bunched and taunt as a bowstring, wanting
to spring across the cell and throttle the life from that bull of a man.
But… Duo had been right. Alone, against armed men, I would stand no
chance and we would be right back to square one, minus the lock pick Duo
had bought with his own blood. Sitting there, knowing my hands were free,
and also knowing I didn’t dare do a thing… was the hardest damn
thing I have ever done. Bar nothing.
The General continued to rain kicks at Duo’s writhing
body, some of them were evaded and some of them were not. Within minutes,
the big man was sweating profusely and cursing like a longshoreman. But
there wasn’t a damn sound from Duo, a thing that seemed to be driving
‘I’ll hear you scream you little piece of shit!’
he snarled, landing a blow to Duo’s back that made me bite my own
tongue to keep from crying out in sympathy. I glanced at Winner and was
relieved as all hell to find him with his eyes still tightly shut; at least
he knew his own limits. Then I noticed something else; Bellows’ own
men were starting to look uncomfortable with the actions of their commanding
officer. I started to feel a bit of hope when the two nearest the door exchanged
a few whispered words. Duo was weakening rapidly, his evasive tactics working
less and less well; Bellows had stopped for a moment, standing in the center
of the room panting like a marathon runner, looking like he was contemplating
a killing blow when one of his underlings spoke up.
‘Sir!’ the soldier called hesitantly. ‘Smith
says that Commander Stark is on his way down!’
Bellows cursed resoundingly, but turned abruptly away from
his handiwork, obviously not wanting to be found here. I had no doubt that
this Stark was the man who had ‘pulled rank’ on Bellows during
the last ‘session’.
I forced myself to stay where I was for a full count of twenty
after the door shut, then stripped the damn cuffs off and flung myself across
the room. I could hear the soft sound of weeping and it tore at my gut,
but when I knelt by Duo’s side I realized the sound wasn’t coming
from where I had thought. I spared Winner a glance, but he still had his
‘Pull yourself together,’ I snapped at him. ‘They’re
‘Oh Allah… they killed him didn’t they?’
he whispered and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Perhaps my
decision to watch had been the better one; obviously, only listening to
it had been far worse.
‘No,’ I told him firmly. ‘They did not.’
I turned Duo gently over and was surprised to find those outrageously colored
eyes of his open and looking for me. I found myself compelled to smile down
at him. ‘He is very much alive… though I doubt he is altogether
happy about that fact right now.’
The small joke won me a dazzling, but wavering smile. I was
moved to stroke his hair from his face and he gave me that look I couldn’t
quite fathom again.
‘Damn it, Maxwell,’ I scolded him. ‘Just
cry out… just once, and the son of a bitch will quit.’
His expression darkened and he rolled his eyes toward Winner’s
end of the room. ‘I… I almost did. But I’m afraid to now…
I’m afraid he’ll…’ He left the sentence hang, but
I didn’t need him to say it out loud. He was afraid they would haul
Winner out of here next. ‘I’m afraid I kinda have him worked
into a feeding frenzy… I’m scared what he might do.’ To
I sighed, but saw the bed he had made for himself between
the rock and the hard place. ‘Do I dare move you?’ I asked him
softly, more than aware of the time ticking away from us.
‘Don’t have much choice, do we?’ he grinned
up at me and couldn’t even raise his arm to aid me in lifting him.
I had to adjust my grip three times before I could pick him up without him
wincing in pain. ‘Just do it!’ he finally ground out and I did.
We did our best to make him comfortable when I got him there
and he set to immediate work, though his hand shook so badly I doubted he
would be able to do the job. I reluctantly left him there and went back
to my own place, feeling isolated and helpless. I desperately wanted him
where I could get him medical attention and could only sit and imagine what
those vicious kicks had done to him. If he’d had fractured ribs before,
I had little doubt that he had broken ones now. We’d be damn lucky
if that was all the damage that had been done. I vowed that if I found myself
in the same room with General Bellows and a gun, I would shoot the motherless
bastard right between the eyes. Every time I let myself replay the scene
in my mind, icy rage consumed a little more of my heart. How dare that slimy,
God forsaken, son of a bitch lay his hands on Duo? Yes; I would kill him
and it would only be a quick death because I didn’t have the time
to make sure it was a lingering one.
‘Wufei?’ the uncertain, almost timid tone of Winner’s
voice brought me out of my reverie. ‘He’s… he’s
‘Shit!’ I snarled, cold fear kicking me with another
burst of adrenaline that was doing me no damn good at all. ‘Can you
‘Not… not so far,’ he murmured.
‘Keep trying,’ I commanded, afraid to chance leaving
my spot. As long as it had been, our captors could be back any moment. Though…
my heart wanted nothing more than to go to him.
I watched Winner whisper urgently to the limp form next to
him. I saw him stroke tentative fingers over a bruised cheek. I watched
him shake ineffectively at a shoulder.
Those wide blue eyes came up to meet mine again, and he looked
completely shaken. Without Duo’s… abilities, we were…
as he would say, ‘screwed’.
I found myself staring at the suddenly fragile seeming figure
on the floor as though I could make him hear my thoughts, Don’t give
up brave-spirit. I know you have the strength for this… I know you
can do it. Wake up… come back to us. Don’t let that bastard
What answered me was the sound of footsteps in the hall.
I saw, with a certain amount of relief, Winner scrabble after
the pick and shove it into his pocket. But there was nothing to be done
The door swung open and I tried to adopt an uninterested expression
and could only hope I didn’t look as panicked as I felt.
It was, of course, Bellows again, with his three goons in
attendance. Though the man who had lied about the imminent arrival of Stark
earlier, was not among them.
I watched Bellows taking in the picture of Duo with his head
lying in Winner’s lap and winced. The man… smirked. It was an
expression that reeked of… smug malice.
He gestured to his new henchman and the man walked over to
haul Duo up by the front of his shirt, dangling him like a rag doll. He
dragged him over and dumped him at Bellows feet, like any good trained dog
would do. I sensed that there would be no help from that quarter and could
only hope that the other two were as squeamish as their missing teammate
I looked them over again; but four to one odds were still
too damn stacked, and I was too far away. They would gun me down before
I even got close enough to Bellows to do any good. And that would leave
Duo without my meager assistance. Though Duo was not a huge person, he was
still taller than Winner, and I doubted the Arabian could even begin to
be able to carry him out of here. I had figured out some time ago that Duo
wouldn’t be walking out under his own power.
Bellows toed at Duo’s inert form almost gently, his
grin widening slightly as he got a little movement. He poked again and waited
for that precise moment of awakening, the one before you have truly registered
where you are, while you are still trying to remember what in the hell happened
to you. Then he reared back and kicked Duo ruthlessly in the hip. The only
sound was the rush of harshly exhaled air. I saw the General’s smirk
turn to a snarl.
He squatted down and grabbed a handful of Duo’s hair,
wrenching his head up sharply and backhanding him.
‘Wake up you little piece of filth!’ he growled
low and menacing, before letting go. Duo dropped back to the floor, but
made an effort to lever himself up to a sitting position.
‘Where are the funny remarks now, Gundam-pilot?’
The name was a curse on the man’s lips. ‘That bleeding-heart
Stark is gone off to dinner… he won’t be showing up to save
your ass this time!’
He stepped away from Duo and moved over near Winner. We all
froze, watching the man to see what in the hell he was going to do now.
I had no doubt that Winner would not hold up to half what Duo had endured.
He didn’t know the tricks; the movements of the body that would help
minimize the damage. I would fare better, with my training in the martial
arts. Duo probably knew more than I did, from a life steeped in street fighting.
But Winner… his forte was tactics and the grand scale, troop movements
and the tediousness of equipment and supplies. He didn’t know hand-to-hand
combat. Particularly not at this… level.
But, as Duo had feared, the enemy finding the two of them
together had offered Bellows a wedge to attack Duo’s control with.
‘You’re so resolved not to cry out,’ Bellows
said, his voice suddenly a sickening purr. ‘Think you can hold to
that?’ He drew his sidearm and pointed it directly at Winner’s
head. ‘One sound, my little piece of shit, and your… playmate
here gets a bullet between the eyes. One cry. One moan. The slightest little
The General really was a sick son of a bitch. I wondered that
we had ever thought that he could possibly have anything to do with the
Treize faction. Treize would spit on this man.
Duo couldn’t contain a sudden shudder and the General
grinned ferally at him, looking like a man about to enjoy a sumptuous meal.
My eyes sought Winner’s and I held his gaze, doing my
best to bolster his courage. There was no color in his face at all and it
crossed my mind that now would, perhaps, not be a bad time for him to faint.
Then Bellows gave a curt nod to his new lapdog and the beating
began. This man, at least, seemed to be a little more familiar with how
easily one could break ones toys. His blows were designed for pain more
than damage, unlike Bellows uneducated, ruthless, near insane attacks.
After a very few minutes of this, Quatre again closed his
eyes and I was free to turn my attention to Duo. Which was not necessarily
a good thing. I was shaking with the need to put an end to this. I might
well have turned over my Gundam to buy even a moments respite for Duo. I
bit down on a string of curses that my brain told me would do no good, but
my gut was churning to deliver.
Duo’s tormentor picked him up and delivered a series
of stinging blows to his face before dropping him again. For a precious
few seconds he lay still while his attacker circled his helpless body, and
his eyes sought mine. Sought desperately for mine.
Our gaze locked for the space of a handful of pounding heartbeats.
‘Don’t watch,’ he mouthed at me.
‘Won’t leave you,’ I mouthed back, shocked
to find my sight of him wavering before me.
He graced me with a soft smile until the next blow washed
I thought it would never end. The slaps, the punches, the
kicks; it seemed to go on forever. Bellows seemed only to be getting angrier,
and he continued to taunt Duo with the gun to Winner’s head. Daring
him to so much as breathe too loud.
‘Sooner or later you’re going to break, you little
prick, and when you do… your friend here will eat a bullet for it!
One sound, punk, that’s all it’ll take to make me pull the trigger!
One whimper… one scream… How much can you take? How long can
you last? His life is measured in your silence!’ There was more, much
more. Constant mocking, sneering taunts. I was ready to scream in frustration
myself just from listening to it.
This was absolutely a no-win situation; if Duo caved and gave
the man what he wanted… he had promised to kill Winner. I had no doubt
the man would carry through with it. But Duo not giving him what he wanted,
despite the man’s making it impossible as long as Duo had any control
left at all… was driving the man to a blood frenzy.
I spared a glance at the other two guards and was surprised
to find only one of them standing there. I reevaluated the odds, but realized
that with a gun to Winner’s head, I was as good as hamstrung.
Then Bellows gave out with a nasty string of epithets and
pulled something out of his pocket. ‘Let’s see how you hold
up to this, you shit,’ he snarled and tossed what proved to be a shock
rod to his hired-thug.
Duo’s wide, horrified eyes came around to meet mine
under the cover of his sweat-soaked hair. His expression was pleading and
for a moment I couldn’t tell if it was for my help, or for my continued
‘Just hold on, I’m here.’ Faint comfort,
but all I had.
But it did seem to comfort; his eyes hardened in the split
second before he squeezed them shut in preparation.
I knew in the next half hour what hell was going to be like.
I have never had to exert so much control in my entire life. If someone
had handed me a gun and told me it would all stop if I blew my brains out,
I would not have hesitated. Anything… anything at all; they could
have my life if it would stop this brutal insanity. If it would just shut
Bellows the hell up.
‘All you have to do to make it stop is scream, piece
of shit. That’s all… cry out… beg me and I’ll stop.’
He laughed cruelly, tapping the barrel of the gun against Winner’s
forehead. ‘Of course… that means your little buddy here buys
the big one… but we’ll stop.’ Winner flinched when the
gun touched him but held his tongue.
I wouldn’t let myself look away, watching intently,
so that I could meet Duo’s eyes whenever possible. He made it happen
more than once, that look, at the cost of taking a blow he might otherwise
have evaded. It made my heart clench in my chest to realize how much he
was relying on something he saw in my eyes, to get himself through this.
The shock rod was… devastating. His whole body would
jerk and leap, his muscles wrenching themselves in painful contortions.
The rod’s wielder was… inventive. I swear by all my ancestors…
I truly thought I would break down and weep.
But through it all, Duo held his voice. Kept his silence.
Held on to that scrap of dignity with all his will. Bought Winner’s
life with his iron endurance. I felt that strange, twisted thrill of pride
run through me again. But, dear God… what was it costing him? How
was he managing?
So focused was I on Duo, that I missed it when that third
man returned to his guard position by the door. He was just suddenly there
again, looking vaguely green around the gills. Bellows never even noticed
that he had been gone. The returning soldier exchanged a glance with his
equally unhappy looking partner. I wanted to scream at them to put a damn
stop to this madness. This was nothing but plain, pure viciousness. This
was a vendetta, a personal attack on Duo, simply because he had defied this
The shock rod fell again and again, but not a whimper escaped
Duo’s clamped jaw. Then I happened to look up at Bellows just in time
to see something truly wicked cross his face. I saw him shift his aim and
he suddenly fired his gun just past Winner’s ear. I had seen his intentions,
but hadn’t had the time to warn them. Winner, already wound as tight
as a main spring, let out with a straggled cry. Bits of flying concrete
flew like shrapnel and cut his cheek. I couldn’t believe the moron
had fired a sidearm in a concrete bunker like this… it was a damn
miracle that the ricochet hadn’t hit someone.
Bellows objective had been to trick Duo into thinking he had
shot Winner anyway. Then when Duo cried out against the action, the bastard
would have shot Winner for real and then gloated in Duo’s face that
he had broken, and caused his teammate’s death. I felt faintly ill
that I could actually follow the devil’s own thinking.
But Duo didn’t fall for it; his body jerked as though
he himself had taken that bullet, but there wasn’t a sound…
not a blessed sound. That… failure seemed to push Bellows over some
edge. His eyes lost all trace of sanity, his face twisting in a sadistic
mask, a parody of something human. This was it… he was going to kill
Duo; I could feel it like an electric current in the air. I felt my own
muscles bunching and tensing, knew that I could not sit here and watch any
more of this. I would not make it; they would shoot me long before I got
across the damn cell… but at that point, I didn’t care any more.
I’d rather die with Duo than survive a few more days without him,
knowing I’d sat by and only watched. I knew he would curse me…
but I didn’t care.
‘Bellows! Stand down!’ A new voice suddenly commanded.
‘What the hell is going on here?’
The entire scene froze, and we made quite the picture, I’m
sure. The General, smoking gun still pointed unerringly at Winner’s
head. Winner, eyes squeezed shut and visibly shaking. Duo sprawled on the
floor, his entire body twitching violently. Bellows’ lapdog standing
over him, shock rod dangling from his fingers and a look on his face like
a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. The two guards by the door,
looking oddly pleased and desperately trying to hide it. And me… I’m
sure I looked as insane as the rest of them. Apparently chained to the wall,
but crouching to make a leap straight into the face of the devil’s
It had to be the infamous Stark. Bellows’ obvious nemesis
and all around thorn in the side. I could have kissed the man. I could have
shouted with joy. It was a difficult thing to remember that he, too, was
our enemy. He seemed very like a white knight in that moment. The disgust
on his face was plain.
‘Holster your weapon, Mister!’ snapped Stark when
Bellows just continued to stand there, and I found myself afraid to breathe
waiting to see if the General would comply.
Stark acted just as though he assumed that Bellows would do
as he was told and turned his attention to the soldier who had been doing
the actual… interrogation.
‘Bross! You’re on report!’ he barked. ‘Return
to your unit and I expect to see you in my office at oh-eight hundred hours
The soldier, Bross, visibly wilted, mumbled a ‘yes,
sir’, and headed for the door. It seemed to signal something to Bellows
and I remembered to breathe when he finally holstered his weapon.
Stark spared him a scathing glance, but only said, ‘Out!’
and the good General stalked from the room.
The two remaining guards visibly relaxed as soon as he was
completely gone from both sight and hearing.
‘Good job, Pierce,’ Stark said when there was
no doubt the other two were long gone. ‘This should finally be enough
to make some charges stick.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Pierce said dutifully, though a touch
of satisfaction tinged his voice.
The Commander moved closer to Duo, and just stood looking
down for a minute, sighing in irritation and shaking his head. I lost a
little bit of that ‘white knight’ feeling.
‘Take him down to the infirmary and have him treated,’
he said brusquely, his mind already on the next phase of his case against
Bellows. ‘Be sure they document the damage.’
I was seething, and could only sit quietly in my unlocked
cuffs and watch as they took Duo away for the third time.
I looked across at Winner and found him rocking gently to
and fro, his eyes staring straight ahead but not really seeming to see much
‘Winner?’ I called softly and got nothing in response.
I was truly afraid to risk slipping the cuffs off at this point. There was
too much of a possibility that they could come back at any moment. We still
stood a faint chance, if they brought Duo back to the cell. If he was still
capable of using his hands, he might still get that last cuff off. We might
still pull this off, especially now that Bellows wouldn’t be targeting
us any more. We might actually get more than an hour to get ourselves out
of here. I glanced at the door, wondering about a lock, wondering if Duo
could pick that too, given the time.
‘Quatre?’ I called again but his eyes just seemed
to be focused on that place on the floor where Duo had last been.
‘Oh-four… report!’ I snapped and was finally
rewarded with a flick of those eyes in my direction.
‘That animal is dead,’ he ground out, in a voice
that sent a shiver up my spine. ‘I will see to it.’
I couldn’t contain a bark of dark laughter. ‘Stand
in line,’ I told him and his gaze finally focused and met mine. He
gave me a tight nod.
The waiting wasn’t quite so bad this time, knowing that
he wasn’t out there being tortured. Knowing that someone was actually
helping him in some way. But I still felt like I was going to crawl out
of my own skin with frustration. I had never been in a position before where
I had to sit back and rely completely on someone else to get me out of a
bad situation. I consoled myself with formulating plans for once Duo had
us free from our restraints. It would be my turn then; mine and Winner’s.
Duo would be in no shape to handle whatever came next. Getting the cuffs
off wasn’t even half the battle; we still had to get out of the cell
and off the damn base undetected. It would have to be done with stealth.
Brute force would get us nowhere, we would be outnumbered several hundred
to one if the base was put on alert and the troops mobilized. I did not
allow myself to think about the possibility that Duo wouldn’t be able
to finish his part.
I wondered idly how long it took for one to develop an ulcer.
I came out of my thoughts and looked again at our partner.
‘You need to get your head together, Winner,’ I said gruffly.
‘When we make our move, I’ll have to help Duo out of here. I’m
going to need you.’
He gave me an odd look, almost shocked. ‘You think,
after all that… you still think Duo is going to be able to help us?
‘I have no doubt of it,’ I told him firmly. ‘If
he is conscious at all… he’ll do whatever has to be done.’
He stared across at me and didn’t speak for the longest
time. ‘You have a lot of faith,’ he said doubtfully.
I snorted. ‘How can you have witnessed what we just
did, and not have faith in him?’
He had stopped rocking and was looking at me intently. His
eyes seeming to measure and weigh me where I sat. It was making me incredibly
uncomfortable. ‘He’s my best friend, you know?’ he suddenly
said and all I could do was blink at him. What was he on about, now?
‘I am aware of the fact that the two of you are…
close,’ I said carefully, not sure where he was going, and not liking
the scrutiny I was suddenly under. He didn’t speak for such a long
time; I thought the conversation had ended.
‘He’s… lost a lot in his lifetime,’
he said softly, his eyes never leaving mine. ‘Don’t you hurt
him… don’t you dare hurt him.’
‘Never!’ I ground out before I had a chance to
think about it. Heat instantly flooded my face and I found myself almost
angry. What the hell business was it of his? An oddly satisfied expression
came over his face. I blushed all the harder.‘It will be a moot point
if we don’t live to get out of here,’ I snarled. ‘Now
mind your own damn business!’
He did shut up then, and we went back to waiting. It felt
like forever, but was probably only a little over two hours. I was so tangled
up in thought, that I never heard them coming. I jumped nervously when the
door swung open and watched in silence as the two guards from earlier carried
Duo back into the cell. I was surprised to see them almost gently lay him
down on the floor before retreating and shutting the door behind them.
Again, I counted out a slow twenty before letting myself go
His hair was loose; that was the first thing I noticed for
some stupid reason, and his clothes were rumpled and twisted as though he
had not put them on himself. His shirt hadn’t even been buttoned and
I noted that his rib cage was tightly bound. I gently brushed the hair away
from his face and called to him.
‘Duo? Come on… wake up… can you hear me?’
I checked his hands, and finding them without obvious signs of injury, took
one in mine and squeezed gently. After a moment or two, there was a faint
response. ‘That’s it… I know you’re in there.’
Eyes blinked open and sought mine, and I felt a shiver of fear; I could
see the signs of drugs in his fevered look. I smiled warmly down at him
though, pushing that aside for later, letting my fingers brush stray strands
of hair from his brow. ‘Wake up, my fearless little idiot,’
I teased and was gifted with a cross-eyed look, and the ghost of his cocky
‘Do you know what they found?’ I asked him, letting
my eyes search over him. ‘What did they do? How badly are you hurt?’
I could see dark bruises all over the place, wherever his clothing didn’t
cover it, and felt that cold rage building in me again. My eyes finished
their sweep and returned to his face, only to find it contorted with a dark
frown. I thought at first that he was overcome with the pain, but then I
watched as he parted his lips and I realized he was trying to answer my
questions. Was trying to speak and finding himself struggling with it. The
impossible, desperate need to maintain absolute silence through… that,
had left blocks in its wake. His conscious mind could not convince his sub-conscious
mind that sound was all right now. ‘Never mind,’ I hastily assured
him, hating to see that look on his face. ‘I’ll figure it out.’
I smiled again, trying to reassure and turned to the obvious things first.
‘Ribs… broken?’ I asked and he nodded, the pained frown
fading from his face. ‘Did they actually do surgery to reposition
them?’ Another nod and I muttered a curse. ‘They did that damn
fast! Did they… did they put you under?’ He hesitated and I’m
afraid my face must have taken on a horrified expression, because he quickly
reached to pat my arm and then gestured around what must be the site of
the incision under all the bandages, with a vague sweep of his hand. ‘Local?’
I guessed and he nodded vigorously. I couldn’t contain the heartfelt
sigh of relief.
‘What is going on?’ Winner finally called in exasperation
and I threw him a quick look.
‘I’m still trying to evaluate. He seems to be…
There was a tight growl from Winner’s quarter and I
suppose I could understand his agitation. He was still staked to the wall
like a gazelle at the watering hole.
I turned back to Duo to find him looking up at me with heavy-lidded
eyes. I wanted to be able to sit here and just offer him some respite, let
him sleep, but I knew we didn’t dare. ‘Your legs?’ I questioned,
remembering how he was favoring the right one. ‘Anything broken?’
He frowned for a second, puzzling out a response, before raising one hand
and wobbling it back and forth in that ‘maybe’ gesture. ‘Fractured?’
I guessed and got a tired nod. Damn. I felt the weight of time leaning on
my shoulders and had to ask him; ‘If I move you over near Quatre can
you get that last cuff off him?’
He gave me a somewhat wan attempt at a feral grin and I snorted
at him. ‘We’ll see,’ I muttered as I bent to lift him
in my arms, but his fingers touched my hand and stayed me a moment. I watched
his face contort again as he struggled against his own mental defenses to
force sound past his lips. I watched him swallow convulsively and squeeze
his eyes tight shut, and I leaned close lest I miss whatever message he
was working so hard to deliver. When it came, it was simply mouthed, but
there was no real sound behind it.
‘You didn’t leave me.’
My heart felt like it swelled in my chest and I couldn’t
help easing my arms around his shoulders. For the space of a handful of
seconds, he allowed himself to press his face into my shoulder.
‘Of course not,’ I whispered gruffly, but then
he started to feel heavy against my arm. ‘Come on,’ I had to
tell him, feeling like a total jerk, but knowing we had to get started or
this could all come to naught.
He nodded and let me lift him from the floor. Winner looked
vastly relieved to finally see us moving in his direction. I had to be careful
when I knelt to settle him against Winner, not to get tangled in that train
of hair of his.
‘Oh Duo, I was so worried,’ Winner told him softly
when Duo’s head was resting in his lap. ‘Are you all right?’
Duo only held out his hand, wiggling his fingers in that universal
‘give me’ gesture. Winner dutifully pulled the pick out of its
hiding place, but gave me a questioning look.
‘Don’t… don’t push him to talk, Quatre,’
I said gently and hoped I didn’t need to explain more. Winner looked
blank for only a second before I saw comprehension dawn in his eyes. Then
he just looked down at Duo working as best he could on the locks, like he
just might cry.
‘Oh Duo…’ he breathed. He got a dark glare
for his trouble and then that glare snapped in my direction. Duo caught
my eye and very deliberately jerked his head in the direction of my own
place by the far wall.
I did need to get back there; it very definitely would not
do to get caught out of my restraints. I looked at him for just a second,
trying to assure myself that I had made him as comfortable as possible until
I could get him the hell out of here. I brushed back an errant lock of his
hair, and then on a sudden impulse, knowing how I would feel with my own
hair down in front of strangers, smoothed my hands over the length of it
and gathered it into a tail. I hesitated then, searching for something to
tie it back with. Finding nothing, I slipped the tie from my own hair and
bound his back with it.
He twisted painfully to look back at me with a watery expression
that made me feel like we’d just exchanged rings. Oddly… I felt
warmed. ‘Get back to work fearless baka,’ I chided and went
quickly back to my lonely seat by the far wall.
I could read how the work was progressing by the level of
anxiety on Winner’s face. Duo was obviously struggling, either with
the drugs in his body, the residual effects of the shock rod on his nervous
system, or just plain exhaustion. I suppose it didn’t really matter.
I had just started to try to tell myself that we might have to change our
half-baked plans, discounting Duo’s active participation, when there
was a sound at the door. I saw Winner stiffen and grab the lock pick from
Duo’s hand. I saw Duo slump in utter defeat. The door opened and damned
if it wasn’t Bellows again. In a mood that can only be described as
homicidal, and… alone. Which absolutely could not be a good thing.
I was caught between exultant and… really angry. On
the one hand, I did not want that motherless animal in the same damn room
with Duo. But on the other… if he had truly snuck down here on his
own, he might well have handed us the other half of our escape on a silver
platter. If we could manage to overpower him.
I saw Winner murmuring quietly to Duo, his eyes never leaving
the General. I saw Bellows advancing on the two of them. I saw his hand
slip into a pocket and out came that damn shock rod. I saw Duo register
from Winner’s words that it was just Bellows, and he rolled away,
trying to get between the Arabian and their attacker.
I slipped out of the first cuff, quiet as a ghost while Bellows
had his attention on Duo. I was cursing in my head, having to move cautiously…
having to make absolutely sure that Bellows didn’t know I was free
until I was right on top of him. He hit Duo with the rod three times while
I was slipping out of the second cuff. There wasn’t a sound from Duo,
only Winner’s hoarse cries and Bellows maniacal taunting. Duo tried
to kick out at the man, tried to force him back, but only succeeded in leaving
Bellows an opening to shove the shock rod viciously into his crotch. I thought
Duo would surely scream out at long last, his body was convulsed up off
the floor, every muscle standing out in harsh relief. But there wasn’t
a sound. Not a damn whimper. It was Bellows own curses that covered the
sound of my movements as I came in behind him and took the bastard down.
There was nothing about this man that demanded mercy from
me. And everything about him that demanded extreme caution. I approached
him from his blind spot, but at the last minute swung around and hit him
squarely in the side of the knee. I was gratified to hear bones snap. I
was even more gratified to hear the son of a bitch scream like a baby. He
went down like a sack of potatoes and I leaped instantly to kick the shock
rod out of his reach. Duo was completely incapacitated, and Winner was still
chained. I needed to leave the room to find the damn keys… find weapons,
but I couldn’t leave Bellows where he might get at them. It wouldn’t
hurt to shut him the hell up either. I struck him sharply in a pressure
point on the back of the neck and he went limp, and just as important…
he went silent.
I forgot him in the next heartbeat, moving to Duo’s
shuddering form, curled into a fetal position on the floor. I knelt beside
him and took him by the shoulders, intending to try to get him to uncurl,
needing to evaluate his condition. But he shoved at me with a hand that
was shaking like he had palsy, and he pointed toward the door, pantomiming
the gesture for ‘key’. I didn’t need any more prompting
to do what I knew I should be doing anyway.
The guard station area was, obviously, empty or we would have
had company long before now. I could only assume that Bellows had bribed
or gotten men loyal to him to go take a smoke break while he had made his
little visit. I moved to the single desk and rummaged through the drawers.
Two of them were locked but it didn’t take much to force them open.
I was surprised to find the cache of our own personal items that had been
stripped from us when we had been captured. Our three hand guns and Duo’s
two throwing knives. I scooped them up with a delighted grin. The second
locked drawer proved to hold a ring of keys. I took them and darted back
into the cell, intent on freeing Winner and getting the hell out of there.
I came through the door and stopped dead at the sight in front of me. Bellows
was awake… more than awake; he had Duo by the throat and was trying
to throttle the life out of him. But it was the sight of Winner that froze
me in my tracks. He had slipped free of the manacle that Duo had gotten
open and somehow retrieved the shock rod. He had it pressed to Bellows temple…
and he wasn’t letting off the switch. His face… was a frightening,
near-insane mask that I haven’t seen the like of since… the
Zero System. It was Duo’s frantic clawing that broke my paralysis.
I ran forward and broke Bellows grip on him with a harsh, downward blow
to his forearms. I caught Duo before he hit the floor, lifting him and turning
us away from the sight of Winner delivering his own brand of justice. The
electric hiss of the rod continued for an eternity. My arms tingled with
the lingering feel of it, where I had come in contact with Bellows. I imagined
that Duo felt far more than that and I couldn’t help whispering softly,
‘It’ll be over in a minute. That spineless bastard will never
lay a hand on you again. Not ever.’
The shock rod would fry his damn brain given enough time…
and Winner was giving it amble time. He held it in place until I heard the
body hit the floor and then some. I waited, hoping he would stop on his
own, but when I turned back to face the scene, he didn’t look…
all together there.
‘Winner,’ I spoke levelly and tried to sound authoritative.
‘That’s enough. Turn it off now.’
He did it, just like that. Turned the rod off and looked right
at me with the most God awful blank look. ‘Make sure he’s dead,’
he said flatly.
I eased Duo down on the floor, where he could lean against
the wall and went to check Bellows for a pulse. Not surprisingly, he didn’t
‘Dead,’ I confirmed.
‘You are positive?’ Winner questioned, his voice
still utterly emotionless.
‘Absolutely,’ I told him, watching him warily.
‘Get this cuff off me,’ he commanded and I moved
to do so. I saw his eyes take note of the pistols I had stuck in the waistband
of my pants and he reached to take one without a word, once I had his hand
free. He automatically checked the load and moved toward the door. ‘Bring
Duo,’ he told me tersely and I wondered when I had lost control of
this situation. But one look at his face brooked no argument.
I stepped over Bellows with just a touch of regret; so much
for the idea of using him for a hostage. I bent down for Duo and he, at
least, used gestures to ask for his gun back. I let him have it, though
I made sure the safety was on. He was shaking so badly still, that I doubted
he would hit anything he was aiming at anyway. I quickly took his own cuffs
off him, having to resist the urge to hurl them across the room. Then, as
gently as I could, I lifted him in my arms. He frowned up at me suddenly,
his eyes seeming to come clear of his fog bred of pain, drugs and trauma
and he gestured for me to put him down.
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ I growled at him,
following Winner through the guard station. ‘You can’t even
He shook his head emphatically and gestured again. I got it
that time and I snapped at him angrily. ‘I’m not leaving you.
Period… so just shut the hell…’ I broke that off with
a sudden blush. His eyes sparkled with a hint of amusement for a split second
but he subsided.
‘Cut the chatter,’ Winner hissed at us.
We slipped silently down the only corridor leading out of
the cellblock, Winner in the point position. I wondered where Bellows had
sent the guards. I wondered how long he had instructed them to stay gone.
I imagined he had bought at least a little while; the man had acted as though
he had every intention of killing Duo slowly with that shock rod. The guards
would be in less trouble for leaving their post than they would be for witnessing
a murder and doing nothing about it. I was getting furious again, just thinking
about that asshole and what he had done to Duo. I realized, when Duo shifted
uncomfortably against my chest, that I had unconsciously tightened my arms
around him. I eased off instantly and breathed a tiny apology next to his
ear. He shivered and his arm around my neck tightened.
We reached an intersection and Winner signaled a moment’s
halt. I eased Duo to the ground while Winner came to squat next to us.
‘Do either of you remember the floor plan for this part
of the base?’ he prompted in hushed tones.
I had memorized the areas in the officer’s building,
where our supposed, original goal had been, and the surrounding sections.
I was vaguely aware that the detention center was on the west side and that
was it. I imparted that knowledge and got a grimace from Winner indicating
that he knew nothing more.
‘I don’t know which way to go from here,’
Winner growled, looking around as though he might find signs on the wall
showing him his route out of here.
‘It won’t be long before the guards come back,’
I warned him. ‘Bellows might have gotten the favor of a little quality
time with us… but he couldn’t have bought much.’
Duo touched my hand to get my attention, and I saw him wrestling
with getting words out again. His lips were trembling and his face was as
white as chalk, but no sound was forth coming. He looked about to rupture
something in his frustration.
‘Stop it,’ I chided gently. ‘It’s
all right… later for that. We’ll worry with it later. Tell me
with your hands.’
He stopped fighting and looked at me with the most confused
mixture of gratitude and humiliation in his eyes. But his trembling hands
began to move.
He pointed upward, over our heads and looked that way. I turned
my eyes in that direction and saw an air vent shaft. He gestured with his
fingers spread like a labyrinth of interconnecting lines and pointed to
the side of his head. He stopped for a second and then made another gesture
like a little kid driving a toy car.
‘This is ridiculous!’ Winner huffed in exasperation.
‘We don’t have time to be playing charades! Damn it Duo…
you have to…’
Duo’s face did something awful. Guilt and pain rose
up and I thought they would eat him whole. It was like watching him locked
away behind a glass wall, through which sound only passed one way.
‘Leave him alone,’ I snarled and got the first
spark of reaction I had seen from Winner since he’d killed Bellows.
‘I understood exactly what he meant. The airshaft leads from here
down to the motor pool, and he knows the way. He obviously came on this
mission better prepared than either of us… he memorized the whole
Winner looked to Duo for confirmation and got a tiny little,
sheepish grin in answer.
‘We don’t have much choice,’ I told him
and got a curt nod in return. I bent over under the shaft and Winner climbed
up on my back to work the cover open. It was a simple pressure fit and pulled
loose in his hands without a lot of trouble. He hopped down and we turned
our attention to Duo.
‘How in the devil…?’ Winner began, but Duo
stretched his hand out to me, his face set in firm resolve. I helped him
to his feet.
‘You sure you can do this?’ I asked him gently.
‘We can find another way.’
He glared at me and pointed for me to re-assume the position
of stepping stool. I shook my head and turned to Winner.
‘You brace, so I can hold him,’ I commanded and
he complied. I helped Duo climb unsteadily up and held his legs as gently
as I could while he pulled himself into the dark shaft. I could feel him
trembling with the effort. But he did it.
I gave him a few seconds to move out of the way and then climbed
up to follow him. Winner was right behind us, his bootlaces undone and tied
together to allow him to pull the grate up behind us. I didn’t breathe
again until it was firmly in place. We moved a few feet away from the entrance
and waited while Winner relaced his boots. Then I tapped Duo’s foot
to tell him we were ready. He began to crawl forward.
That was a somewhat nightmarish trip. Duo had neglected, or
lacked the means of imparting to us, that the trip must have amounted to
a damn mile. He tracked our progress through the mechanism of counting side
shafts by feel alone, it was pitch black in there unless we passed a grate
that let a little light seep in. Within ten minutes, I doubted if I could
have found our way back to the starting point.
Going was slow, not only due to the need to be quiet in the
metal shaft, but by Duo’s injuries. The pain pills or whatever they
had given him in the infirmary, had obviously worn off and I could tell
from the way he dragged himself forward, that he was in a very lot of pain.
It tore at me, but there wasn’t a damn thing I could do except follow
him and give his leg the occasional pat when he seemed to be flagging.
At long last, the light at the end of one of those dozens
and dozens of tunnels seemed to have our name on it. Duo stopped his crawling
some twenty feet from it and tried to turn to look back at me. I wasn’t
going to have him trying to go out that shaft first. I pushed against him
gently, prodding him to roll up on his side and I began to inch my way forward,
sliding up next to him. It was a fairly tight fit. It was a damn tight fit.
It was… embarrassing. And… and… something else all together.
When I was nose to nose with him, I could see him a little
bit from light coming through the grate. He looked done in.
I leaned even closer and barely breathed into his ear, ‘You
going to make it?’
He hesitated for a moment before nodding and that told me
more than his appearance how close he was to his limits.
‘Hold on a little longer, brave-spirit,’ I murmured.
‘We’ve come too far to give up now.’
He gave me an odd, wide-eyed look but only nodded faintly.
I squeezed on by and was able to get in position to see out through the
He had managed, somehow, to bring us right to where he had
said he would, and I could clearly see that I was looking down on a motor
pool full of vehicles. I had to shake my head in wonder; the base was a
huge thing and those air shafts had to have been a virtual labyrinth. I
still couldn’t believe he’d memorized the whole thing on the
off chance that it might come in handy. Though, I suppose it was a damn
good thing he had.
I lay still as a stone and watched for signs of movement in
the bay, but it seemed quiet. The room had small windows around the top
edge, open to the outside air for ventilation and I was finally able to
discern that it was nighttime. Which was all to the good. I gave it a full
five minutes of watching before deciding there truly was no one working
this shift. I edged forward and wrapped my fingers in the lattice of the
grate and pushed. It took more effort than the one in the corridor had,
but eventually, it did pop loose. I crept forward and eased it free, looking
around one more time before daring to slide out of the shaft and drop to
the ground. I turned to help Duo down but he didn’t immediately appear.
I waited; his injuries had probably stiffened up while he had lain still.
I waited; perhaps Winner was trading places with him in the shaft so that
we would both be on the ground to help him down.
Screw wait. I jumped for the edge of the opening and pulled
myself up. Duo was out cold and Winner was having to shove his inert body
forward from behind. Damn. I hauled myself up so that I was resting on my
stomach on the edge of the shaft and caught hold of Duo’s shirt, pulling
him toward me to aid Winner’s efforts. When we had him at the opening,
his arms dangling down, Winner hissed, ‘I’ll do my best not
to drop him.’ Which was small comfort.
I squirmed backward and dropped to the ground, sparing another
quick glance around. Then Winner began to push Duo over the edge and it
took all my concentration to catch hold of his shoulders and try not to
let him hit the floor as he came tumbling down. I feared what we had done
to his injuries but could do nothing about it now. I stepped to the side
and stretched him carefully out on the floor behind a truck while Winner
jumped down. Then I did the stepping stool maneuver so that Winner could
press the grate back in place. We regrouped behind the truck with Duo.
‘Now what?’ I wondered out loud.
Winner glanced around the bay doubtfully. ‘I had thought
that we might sabotage the majority of the vehicles and then steal one,
‘Far too many, we don’t have the time,’
I finished for him. ‘I can’t believe we’ve come this far
without them figuring out that we’re missing.’
He nodded his agreement, his eyes still scanning the area.
‘Maybe… those soldiers are loathe to report it because they
know what kind of trouble they’re going to be in when their part in
it is found out.’
It seemed the most likely source of our luck. Two or three
green recruits, used to having someone tell them what to do, suddenly realizing
that they had made a huge mistake and standing around arguing with each
other over what to do next. It might have been funny if our lives weren’t
riding on them continuing to debate the best way to cover their butts.
‘We have to move,’ he suddenly said. ‘Our
luck is going to run out sooner or later.’ And he was up and moving.
Since I didn’t have a plan of my own, I scooped Duo up and followed.
He led me across the bay in a roundabout way, keeping to the
edges and staying behind vehicles. His first goal turned out to be a pile
of dirty coveralls and he liberated two pair. His next goal was a row of
cars among all the military trucks and jeeps. I stood quietly in the shadows;
cradling Duo’s limp body in my arms and waited while he hunted down
the line. He seemed to find what he was looking for and waved me over, opening
the back door so I could ease Duo in and lay him on the seat.
‘Put this on,’ he told me tersely and handed me
a pair of the coveralls. It reeked of oil and gasoline and the sleeves were
just a hair two long, but I rolled them up and it didn’t fit half
bad. Winner took a little more adjustment, as he had to fold up the pants
legs as well.
Then I saw a thing I never dreamed I would ever witness; Quatre
Raberba Winner hotwire a car.
I’m afraid I blinked at him in disbelief, and for a
moment he smirked back. ‘Duo taught me,’ he said flippantly,
but then pain started to fill those blue eyes. The smirk vanished and we
were back to Winner the tactician. I climbed into the back seat and busied
myself arranging the seatbelts to afford Duo a bit of protection if this
should turn into a car chase, while Winner climbed behind the wheel and
pulled sedately out of the hanger. No one saw us.
It was a relatively short drive to the front gate, less than
a mile through a typical military base of Quonset huts and austere buildings.
Winner drove as though sightseeing until he came within sight of the gatehouse.
‘You have Duo’s knives?’ Winner suddenly
questioned me, and when I grunted an affirmative, he held his hand out for
them. I passed them forward.
‘What are you planning?’ I growled.
‘Car trouble,’ he told me without elaboration.
‘Get ready to take over the driver’s seat when I wave you forward.’
Then he deliberately began to goose the accelerator, causing
the car to jerk, killed the lights and then killed the engine.
He got out of the car, the very picture of a pissed off mechanic.
He slammed the door and then kicked the front tire, cursing colorfully.
I suppose he learned that from Duo as well. He had left the window down
so that I could hear what was going on. He stood in the middle of the road
for a minute, hands on hips and cursing resoundingly about damn senior officers
pulling rank, and stupid cars that ought to be junked, and poor dumb mechanics
who get called in on their off hours. He gave the tire another kick for
good measure and then turned and started stalking toward the gatehouse.
I pulled my gun and cautiously eased my head up between the headrest on
the driver’s seat and the side door, where I could see what was going
Waving his arms and ranting about poor enlisted men, he hollered
toward the shack as he went. ‘Hey… can I use the damn phone
to call for the tow-truck? I really don’t wanna walk all the damn
way back to the motor pool.’
The guy in the shack stepped out with a rueful grin, confirming
that there was just one. Winner continued to walk toward the man and I held
my breath waiting for the guy to get suspicious. Winner was ranting about
people pulling rank, still waving his arms around as he closed on the poor
unsuspecting soldier. It suddenly came to me that he was… doing Maxwell.
The gestures, the wording, the swearing. It was like I was watching Duo.
I reflected, as I saw Winner follow the guy back inside the shack, that
we were going to owe this whole damn escape to Duo in one form or another.
I spared a glance down at my unconscious charge. ‘You really are amazing,’
I murmured fondly.
Then Winner was raising the gate and waving me forward. I
flipped myself into the front seat and pulled the car carefully up to the
gatehouse, pausing only long enough for him to climb in beside me. It took
a great deal of will power not to floor it and take off like a bat out of
hell. I kept expecting alarms to go off. I kept expecting someone to start
shooting at us. That spot between my shoulder blades was itching creepily
as we drove a sedate thirty-five miles an hour out of there. I don’t
think I caught a proper breath until we had switched cars two more times.
I wound us through the local town until we were both a hundred
percent sure we were not being tailed, then I took us to the nearest secure
emergency-contact point and we checked in with base. I gave the codes that
got me directly through to Master O and I reported the possibility of a
leak somewhere in the Alliance upper echelon. I unhappily reported the failed
mission and then got somewhat insistent that I had wounded and needed to
be allowed to meet up with the other pilots. I had a very bad feeling that
not only were things going to get very ugly when Duo woke up, but Winner
was on the edge of some kind of flaming break-down, and I wanted him in
Barton’s hands before that happened. And Yuy was Duo’s best
friend; if anyone could help me handle this mess, he could. I almost moaned
with relief when permission was granted and Master O rattled off a set of
encoded coordinates. I could have us there within the hour.
It was… a very quiet drive. Duo stirred once, which
greatly relieved my mind, but he fell quickly back to sleep. Now that the
job was done and we were out of that place, Winner seemed to be sinking
into a silence as deep as Duo’s. I kept stealing glances at him, but
he just sat rubbing his hands together and staring out the window at nothing.
I couldn’t deal with either of them and drive… so I just drove.
I would have to judge that Master O contacted Dr. J, who in
turn must have alerted Yuy; they were waiting for me when I pulled into
the grounds. Yuy had the garage door open and ready for me, and Barton met
me in the drive to guide me to it. I was so screamingly relieved to have
finally reached help, that I really didn’t care that it was my two
passengers they were waiting for and probably couldn’t have cared
less if I had arrived in the trunk. I spared a glance in Winner’s
direction and found him still staring off into space, so I got out of the
car and waved my two teammates off, not allowing them what they wanted,
and I was graced with a matching set of glares.
I held up my hands in a placating manner and growled, ‘This
is going to require a little more than iodine and Band-Aids this time, gentlemen.’
‘Where’s Duo?’ snapped Yuy, a hint of panic
in his voice, though he would have denied it to his dying breath.
‘Asleep in the back seat,’ I reassured him and
saw him visibly relax, though his eyes kept flicking in that direction.
Not for the first time, I wondered when he was going to admit to himself
that he was in love. The man could give me lessons in denial. I almost smiled
at him, the picture of my own face in the mirror in the morning, but thought
better of it.
‘What is going on?’ Barton demanded and there
was a warning edge to his voice.
I scrubbed my hands over suddenly very tired eyes and tried
to think where to begin. ‘The mission went sour…’ seemed
to be a good place and I launched into the damn tale, hitting the highlights,
telling the pertinent parts. Like Duo’s being beat to hell and back
and Winner having killed his first man in hand-to-hand combat. Duo’s
self-imposed mental block keeping him from speech and Winner having killed
his second man in hand-to-hand combat. Duo being operated on by parties
unknown and Winner doing nothing but staring at the dead bug on the windshield
for the last hour. And Chang Wufei was pretty darn near the end of his endurance
‘All in all,’ I concluded. ‘It’s been
a pretty crappy couple of days.’
Barton had heard enough and started around the car after Winner.
‘I think it might be best to keep them apart for a little
bit,’ I called after him. ‘Winner seems to be very upset over
Duo’s… being quiet.’
He nodded curtly and I had to sigh; I had the vague feeling
that he felt I had handled this badly, for some reason. I watched while
he opened the passenger door and knelt down beside his partner. He spoke,
but got no immediate response. Then he reached to still those hands that
had been rubbing together almost nonstop since the moment we had decided
we were ‘safe’. It had taken me five miles to figure out that
he was trying to get the nonexistent blood off.
Winner seemed to focus for the first time in quite a while,
and when his eyes came to register just who it was in front of him, he gave
out with a little cry and pitched into Barton’s arms like a drowning
man after a life-raft. They began to murmur softly to each other and I turned
away, feeling vaguely like a voyeur. Well, that was one thing out of my
I turned back to Yuy when I felt a hand under my arm. He was
looking at me strangely. ‘What?’ I muttered.
‘You were… swaying,’ he informed me gruffly
and I almost laughed at the rouge thought that we had a lot in common.
‘Maybe you should carry Duo then,’ I told him
sheepishly and he only grunted. I moved to open the door for him and he
climbed in to undo the makeshift harness I had made out of the three seat
belts. ‘Watch his ribs and his right leg… at the very least.’
I muttered, realizing I honestly didn’t know the extent of Duo’s
injuries. Yuy looked at me sharply and I couldn’t help glaring at
him. I was damn tired and between the two of them, my temper was starting
to fray. ‘We were lucky to get the hell out of there alive…
If you two think you could have done a better job…’
‘No…’ Yuy cut me off as he slid gentle arms
under Duo’s poor, battered self. ‘I didn’t mean to…
imply anything.’ He climbed awkwardly out of the car and stopped to
look me in the eyes for a minute. ‘We were just… worried after
I heard from Dr. J.’
I could only grunt, too tired to deal with this oddly polite
Heero Yuy. I shut the car door and walked ahead of him into the house, opening
doors for him as we went. After the first couple of obvious direction choices,
he guided me into a living room and up a flight of stairs. ‘I don’t
think we should leave him alone,’ I ventured half way up, and could
almost feel his eyes boring into my back.
‘I want some more details,’ he gritted after a
moment and I nodded.
‘I just want to look him over first, Yuy,’ I sighed.
‘I have never seen anything quite as… brutal as what was done
‘Third door,’ he directed me tersely, and I went
in. It was a large room, with two double beds. Yuy’s gear was sitting
on the one bed, so I moved toward the other one, waiting for him to put
our patient down. He did it… hesitantly, and again I had to stifle
a smile. I remembered that feeling of not wanting to let go. Even when I
had thought I couldn’t carry Duo one more step, there had been the
strangest desire to keep him close and protected. We made quite the pair,
Yuy and I, two blundering, ungainly moths dancing around Duo’s burning
I bent to unlacing Duo’s heavy boots and glanced up
to find Yuy staring down at him. He was getting his first good look here
in the light and was very unhappy with what he saw. ‘Help me get him
undressed,’ I prodded gently and he bent to the task.
‘Dear God,’ I muttered when we had him completely
uncovered and I found Heero’s hand under my arm again.
‘Sit,’ he commanded sternly.
I shook my head, partly in the negative and partly to try
and clear it. ‘I want those bandages off too… I want to see
what they did to him.’
‘I’ll see to it,’ I was told in no uncertain
terms. ‘Sit down.’
I complied, settling on the side of the bed, near the foot
where I wouldn’t be in Yuy’s way. I couldn’t stop looking
at the dark bruises that littered the pale flesh. Duo is not a dark complexioned
person, his skills have him out at night more often than not, and he typically
wears long sleeves anyway. It just made things look worse. I felt, suddenly,
very damn weary.
Yuy came back with the medical supplies and bent to carefully
cutting away the gauze wrapped around Duo’s rib cage.
‘He told me they performed surgery and set some ribs,’
I informed him as he worked. ‘And they told him his right leg is fractured.’
Yuy glanced at me, raising a quizzical eyebrow. ‘He
told you? I thought you said…’
I waved my hands vaguely in the air. ‘He gestures…
talks with his hands.’
‘He truly can’t…?’ he began, looking
almost as shocked over the idea of a silent Duo Maxwell as anything else.
I sighed heavily and swept a hand through my hair. ‘Not…
not so far. It’s painful to watch him try.’
He nodded, but then I caught him glancing at me and realized
he’d been looking at me funny for some time.
‘What is it?’ I grumbled.
‘I’ve just never seen you with your hair down
before,’ he commented and left it hang in the air. A question if I
didn’t mind it, a statement if I didn’t want to answer.
‘For some reason, they unbraided Duo’s hair when
they had him in the infirmary,’ I told him and knew I was frowning
darkly. ‘It seemed… too intimate of a thing for that miscreant
Bellows to see. So, I tied it back for him.’
‘Thank you,’ he said, surprising me. ‘Duo
is very… sensitive about his hair.’ He gave me a look that told
me he might understand that I was a little sensitive about mine as well.
I found my face flushing slightly and I turned back to look at the stitching
we had uncovered.
‘Three ribs, looks like,’ I said unnecessarily
and watched while Yuy gently probed around the area.
‘A decent enough job,’ he murmured almost to himself.
‘Not a hack job at least… though I imagine they would have spent
more time on one of their own to minimize scarring. There really wasn’t
any need to make such a large incision.’
‘You…you don’t suppose…’ I said
on a sudden thought and saw him grunt in understanding. He went immediately
to his pack and came back with one of the hand-held scanning devices and
held it over the incision.
‘No,’ he told me at last, since the device was
turned where I couldn’t see the display. ‘No electronic output
at all… he’s clean.’
I sighed in relief at the same time I was berating myself
for not thinking of it sooner. What the hell was wrong with me? It would
have been the perfect way to plant a tracking device. I shivered almost
convulsively, thinking about having to cut that incision open to get at
the damn thing.
A warm hand came to rest on my arm and I looked up, startled,
into Yuy’s dark eyes. ‘It’s all right,’ he told
me. ‘You did fine.’ And he gave my arm a squeeze.
I nodded tiredly and was almost sorry when the hand shifted
away. Yuy’s fingers moved to brush over one of the places on Duo’s
leg where the shock rod had left a network of angry looking broken blood
vessels below the skin.
‘What caused these?’ he asked with a dark frown,
puzzling over them. They were everywhere.
I found myself growing angry all over again. ‘Shock
rod.’ I ground out and watched him get angry right along with me.
I saw his fingers twitch convulsively, clenching into tight fists. I recognized
the sudden rush of desire for retribution.
‘The bastard is dead,’ I told him. ‘Winner…
‘How?’ he wanted to know and so I told him. He
looked faintly shocked. ‘Quatre did that?’
I only nodded. He looked at me again; a slightly appraising
stare that I found made me uncomfortable.
‘You look about done in yourself,’ he ventured
and I snorted softly at the understatement. ‘You want to go get some
I thought about it, thought about how sweet it would be to
throw myself down on a flat surface somewhere and let all of this just go
away for a little while. But then I heard the not-really-there whisper of
Duo’s voice, the last words he had tried to speak to me.
You didn’t leave me.
‘I…I’d rather be here when he wakes up,’
I mumbled to Yuy and knew I was blushing darkly. ‘I… promised.’
I was expecting a certain amount of irritation over my infringement
on his undeclared territory. I was expecting him to bristle like a wolf
who finds another male skirting his boundaries. I was surprised by a gentle
smile and a nod of understanding.
We decided we couldn’t do a proper job of wrapping Duo’s
ribs again, until he woke up, so we just set the supplies by the bed for
the time being. Yuy went and fetched a pair of his own soft, cotton workout
shorts and we slipped those on Duo, not wanting him to wake up and find
himself naked. He swam in the things, his waist a good three or four inches
narrower than Yuy’s, but they weren’t going to bind on anything.
Yuy checked him over otherwise, the best he could. Looking for signs of
abnormal swelling, looking for sources of heat, checking his temperature
in general. Then we tucked him in and sat back to wait.
I found myself wondering how Barton was doing with Winner,
and felt a pang of guilt for just dumping the rattled pilot like that. I
think Winner had just finally found that place inside where you locked your
humanity sometimes, when you just had to get the job done. I don’t
think he’d ever had to find that place before… most of his battles
had been at the controls of a Gundam. He’d never had to look his enemy
in the eye before.
‘So when did he become Duo?’ Yuy asked, breaking
my train of thought, his voice holding an odd hint of amusement.
‘What?’ I frowned, completely lost.
‘You always used to call him Maxwell,’ he said,
his lips trying not to quirk into a grin. ‘You came back from this
mission calling him Duo.’
I blinked at him. I honestly hadn’t noticed. I found
myself blushing again and it irritated me. I thought about it and couldn’t
really recall the exact moment, but he was right; Maxwell wasn’t just
Maxwell any more.
‘I guess he just responded to me more when I called
him Duo,’ I temporized.
Yuy looked down, the tenderness plain on his face and brushed
a strand of hair from Duo’s eyes. ‘Gets under your skin, doesn’t
I stared at him, where he sat beside the bed, but he didn’t
raise his eyes from Duo to look at me.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ I grumbled
and felt myself getting defensive.
He snorted softly, ‘I guess I just recognize the look
in your eyes from seeing it in my own so often. I know how you feel.’
He gave a tiny little, almost self-deprecating shrug.
I stared at him in no little surprise, hearing the echo of
my own thoughts. ‘You aren’t angry with me,’ I said, more
a statement than a question, because I could see the truth of it in his
He treated it like a question anyway. ‘Why should I
be? I don’t own Duo… I wouldn’t want to. I’ve never
told him how I feel… I have no more claim on him than you do.’
Now that was a question. Cloaked in a statement. He was unsure
of what had passed between Duo and myself on this mission. He was a little
nervous that the territory might have been claimed. I shook my head at the
way my own thoughts were turning. Territory. What the hell was that kind
of thinking all about?
‘No…’ I assured him. ‘No more claim
than I do.’
I might have imagined the slight release of tension across
There was a sudden tightening in my stomach, an upwelling
of emotion, the wolf of my earlier thoughts telling me quite suddenly that
this was what I wanted. I wanted Duo, in my heart, in my life, in my damned
arms. Heero was forcing me, perhaps unintentionally, to look into the mirror
of his eyes. I could see as plain as the written word that Heero Yuy was
in love with Duo Maxwell. And if logic was followed, if I admitted that
I could see all the signs in myself that I saw in him… then it naturally
stood to reason that Chang Wufei was in love with Duo Maxwell. Damn. When
in the hell had that happened? When had simple attraction turned into so
much more? But it was there as plain as day, right in front of me when I
let myself think about it. Every primal instinct I owned wanted me to snap
and snarl and drive away this rival for what I suddenly realized I wanted
as much as I wanted to breathe. I shivered. Hard.
And looked up to find sad, understanding eyes on me. Heero
had already worked this all through. I’m not sure when, but he’d
already come to this place I was suddenly standing in.
‘Now is not the damn time for this,’ I blurted,
before I had a chance to think about it.
‘No,’ he said softly. ‘It is not.’
I was astounded by this Heero who sat in front of me and brushed
fingers as gentle as a mother’s over Duo’s sweat stiffened hair.
You cannot hate a person if you can truly understand them. Understand what
motivates them, understand what they want. In that moment of crystal clarity,
I understood Heero Yuy as well as I understood myself.
The wolf, confused, slunk away. My heart was strangely divided.
As much as I wanted to be able to say that Duo was mine, my heart, my love…
I didn’t want to see Heero hurt.
I looked up to find his eyes on me again and I was a little
shocked at the depth of understanding that greeted me there. I hadn’t
really understood before how it was that Duo had gotten along so well with
the hardened, stoic pilot of Wing Zero, but perhaps this was a side of Heero
that Duo was more familiar with.
I snorted as I realized that he had arrived ahead of me once
again. ‘You’re starting to make me feel slow.’ I muttered
and heard him chuckle softly.
‘You’re just tired,’ he soothed, his voice
that amused one again.
‘Well, how about saving me the effort,’ I quipped.
‘Anything else I haven’t figured out yet?’
‘It isn’t about us,’ he whispered, eyes
dropping back to look at Duo’s sleeping form. ‘It’s what
It was the next logical step, and I almost laughed thinking
what Duo would say if he heard me thinking about ‘love’ in terms
of logic. But I didn’t know another way to express it. It was just…
reasonable. It made sense. I loved Duo – I shivered again, letting
myself think that – and, therefore, his happiness was more important
than mine. It was an odd feeling. A very odd feeling. I looked at Heero,
unsure how important his happiness was to me, in the scale of things, but
feeling somehow… that it was.
How very odd. This wasn’t at all how I thought things
like this were supposed to be. Weren’t he and I supposed to be at
each other’s throats now? Posturing and threatening and raising our
hackles? I almost laughed at the mental picture that conjured.
‘What?’ he inquired, asking to be let in on the
‘Just thinking about the whole… alpha male thing,’
I chuckled softly, unable to keep either the grin or the blush from my face.
He looked squarely at me and said, ‘Grrrrr.’
It surprised a bark of laughter from me that I quickly stifled,
with a nervous glance down at Duo. Heero looked pleased with himself and
I couldn’t help a rueful shake of my head. Heero Yuy had a sense of
humor? Who would have thought?
Then Duo stirred and the entire conversation was forgotten.
He didn’t stir so much as he jerked. Then he began to
writhe, fighting to evade blows that weren’t really landing. Struggling
to get away from what now lived only in his mind. And I feared it was going
to live there for a long time to come. I came very close to getting kicked
in the side of the head, saved only by the rapidly tangling blankets. Heero
did take a hard shot to the shoulder from a flailing arm. The twisted look
of pain that overtook Duo’s face, the desperate way his body fought
against his unseen attackers… they were horrific things. But the truly
blood-chilling aspect was the utter quiet. The total silence in which he
fought. His jaws were clamped so tightly, the muscles stood out like ropes
beneath the skin.
‘Duo!’ I called, the first to recover from the
sudden attack. ‘Wake up! It’s all right; I’m still here!
Open your eyes! We got away… wake up, everything’s all right
Heero let me spout my reassurances, remaining quiet until
I broke through the nightmare and Duo finally woke to his surroundings.
Violet eyes, rimmed with white, cast about looking for something,
and I felt my blood quicken with the realization that he was searching for
‘I’m here,’ I told him and watched him zero
in on the sound of my voice. ‘I didn’t leave you.’ I said
firmly, feeling strange about saying that in front of Heero… but needing
that anchoring phrase that had grown up between us, to bring him back from
the dark places.
He was fairly quivering with tension; body strung like a steel
spring, and I held his gaze as reality slowly seeped back into his bones.
‘We got out… we got away. You’re safe now. I’m here…’
I hesitated, letting my eyes flick towards Heero, guiding his to look that
way. ‘We’re both here.’
He registered Heero’s presence for the first time, and
looking back and forth between us, seemed to finally begin to relax. I could
see the pain overtake him as the fear ebbed away. Heero instantly had an
arm behind his back, easing him down on the bed.
‘Take it easy,’ he told him sternly. ‘You
need to lie still.’
Duo’s eyes were so full of tangled emotions, that I
couldn’t begin sort it all out. There was an ocean’s worth of
pain, laced with confusion and fear, frustration and exhaustion. And something
else… some need that was going unanswered. I wasn’t sure what
to do… what to offer to him.
All of it very much complicated by Heero’s presence
beside me. I think, if Duo and I had been alone, I might have opened my
arms to him and allowed him to shelter there if he was so moved. But I wasn’t
sure whose place it was to make that offer.
Heero seemed as hesitant as I, hands hovering and brow furrowed,
and I suddenly saw him switch over into ‘mission’ mode. ‘I’m
going to get some pain medication and we need to rewrap those ribs,’
he said gruffly and got up to head, presumably, for a bathroom somewhere
down the hall.
A bit of the odd almost-tension eased when he was out of the
room and I was able to smile down at Duo, shifting further up the bed so
that I was no longer sitting by his feet. ‘Hey there, fearless idiot,’
I grinned at him. ‘Feeling any better?’
The ghost of one of his grins crossed his face for a moment,
but quickly faded. He raised a hand to give me the ‘sort of’
gesture and I caught it in mine, stilling the uncontrollable shaking.
‘You’re pretty liberally beat to a pulp,’
I smiled for him. ‘But… what’s bothering you the most?
What can I… we do to help?’
His fingers tightened on mine and he grimaced lightly, his
free hand moving to hover over his ribs.
‘We’ll get them rewrapped as soon as Heero comes
back,’ I soothed. ‘That will help. I’m sorry we unwrapped
them… but I wanted to see what they’d done.’
He nodded slightly, then the focus of his eyes told me that
Heero was back. He came over and knelt beside the bed, giving Duo the pills
with a mock scowl. Duo graced him with a sheepish grin and took them without
complaint; medication was something he would usual fuss over taking.
We helped him sit up on the side of the bed and the two of
us, working together, wrapped his torso tight with gauze. The support did
seem to help; I knew from practical experience the strange feeling that
cracked or broken ribs would give you, as though your own guts were going
to spill from your body.
When we were done, Duo looked away from both of us, blushing
slightly and made that universal, knees-together, hand-near-crotch gesture
that told us he had to go to the bathroom. It must have been an awkward
thing to convey in a sitting position, but he is nothing if not eloquent…
even without his voice.
Heero and I both reached to lift him and take him to the restroom
at the same time. I stopped. Heero stopped. Duo blushed crimson. I had a
strange impulse to ask Duo which one of us he would prefer take him, but
then I suddenly didn’t want to know the answer. It was becoming rather…
Heero quirked a sudden grin and looked up at me, almost shyly,
through the curtain of that mop of hair of his. ‘He needs to go to
the bathroom and he needs to eat.’ He stuck his fist out and I snorted
derisively, but played the damn round of rock-paper-scissors with him.
‘I win,’ he smirked at me when his rock broke
my scissors. ‘I hate to cook… I’ll take him to the bathroom,
you go make him something to eat.’
I glanced up at Duo and found an odd little grin on his face,
some of his embarrassment faded. ‘Look Yuy,’ I teased. ‘We
Heero smiled as he bent to slip his arms under Duo, gently
lifting him. ‘Don’t let it go to your head, he’s easily
I followed them out of the room, feeling a strange ache, watching
Duo with his arm around Heero’s shoulders. But then they went to the
right and I had to go to the left, downstairs to the kitchen.
It took a bit of poking around, but I found some canned soup
and eventually a pot to heat it in. I looked in the refrigerator and thought
about something more to go with it, but thinking about all the blows Duo
had taken, I decided to stick with the soup and see how he handled that
first. I could always make him something more later. While I worked, I kept
an ear open for Barton and Winner, but heard nothing.
When the soup was hot, I poured a glass of milk, set it with
the bowl in the middle of a large platter that I found, put some crackers
on the side and headed back upstairs.
I hesitated when I stepped into the bedroom, finding Duo sitting
sideways in a desk chair, leaning heavily against the back, while Heero
almost reverently braided his hair for him. I felt as though I had caught
them… doing something intimate. I was left floundering, standing in
the doorway with Duo’s dinner in my hands and trying very hard not
to stare at them. It was… ludicrous.
Heero seemed to sense some of my discomfort, though Duo was
too preoccupied with simply sitting up to notice much of anything.
‘Set that down and help me get him back into bed,’
Heero called to me, wrapping my hair-tie around the end of the finished
braid. I felt an absurd rush of warmth at the sight of the silly thing,
and quickly turned away to set the platter down.
I brought the pillows from Heero’s bed to add to the
ones already there and we got him settled in a position that would allow
him to eat without putting too much strain on his ribs.
Heero deliberately moved off then, busying himself on the
other side of the room, allowing me to sit down by Duo’s side with
the soup. Almost as though he were taking turns with me… he had gotten
to brush Duo’s hair for him, he would allow me to help him eat. If
what Duo had just gone through had not been… what it had been, it
might very well have been funny. I would not have thought Heero capable
of this level of… thoughtfulness. Chivalry, apparently, was not entirely
dead. A little confused maybe; but not dead. I had always held Heero in
the highest regard as a warrior, but had not always thought much of him
as a man. He had always seemed so very distant and cold. As emotionless
as a fish. Not at all the kind of person I would have expected to end up
partnered with Duo Maxwell. But it would seem that Duo was more astute than
I had given him credit for; there was indeed more to pilot 01 than met the
Duo’s hands were still shaking much too hard for him
to manage the soup on his own, so I fed it to him. The look of utter humiliation
that came over him was enough to break your heart.
‘Stop that,’ I chided gently. ‘There’s
no shame in it… no shame at all. You earned whatever help you get
from us. More than earned it.’
Heero came at the sound of the reprimand and sat in the chair
next to the bed. He gave Duo a small, self-deprecating smile, ‘Come
on… it’s not as bad as the month that Trowa spent taking care
of me. It’s just karma; it’s my… our turn to repay the
I looked up from the soup bowl to find him regarding me carefully.
I had that weird feeling in my gut again, the one I’d had when I had
taken my own hair down in order to spare Duo the small indignity of his
being loose. Like something more was passing between us than was immediately
apparent. I thought about what he had just said to Duo and felt that same
warmth spread through my chest, ‘our turn’, it sounded…
odd.‘Yes,’ I agreed. ‘Just relax and let us take care
Heero gave me a small enigmatic smile and I found my face
warming slightly, suddenly not so damn sure about all the undercurrents
of this conversation. Duo looked back and forth between us and only seemed
to be confused.
‘He likes to dunk the crackers,’ Heero murmured,
with another of those unreadable looks, and then got up to go back to whatever
the hell he had been doing across the room.
If nothing else, the interchange seemed to distract Duo enough
that he forgot about being embarrassed and just ate his soup. He managed
about half of it before giving me the ‘if I take one more bite, I
will burst’ sign and I set the bowl aside.
‘Sleep?’ I queried gently, at the sloe-eyed look
on his face and he only nodded. ‘Heero,’ I called. ‘Give
me a hand here?’
Heero came at my call and we eased the extra pillows out,
getting him back down flat on his back.
‘All right?’ Heero asked gently and Duo nodded
again, blinking heavy eyelids. Then Heero chuckled softly, and jerking his
head in my direction, said, ‘Tell Superman here to get some sleep…
he’s running on empty but isn’t going to lay down until you
give him permission.’
Duo looked up at me with wide, shocked eyes and I found myself
blushing again. What was it with the damned blushing? ‘I… promised,’
I mumbled, feeling rather idiotic. There was the flash of something absolutely
beautiful in Duo’s eyes, but then he frowned at me in mock reprimand
and made the two-hands to the side of the head, sleep gesture, stabbing
a finger at me for emphasis.
I grinned at him and gave him a snappy little salute. ‘Yes
I got a fairly honest grin from him, but then the soup and
the pain-pills did their job and it was suddenly just too hard for him to
keep his eyes open.
I heaved a sigh, the long hours suddenly catching up to me,
and felt it turn into a jaw-popping yawn. Heero chuckled at me.
I raised an eyebrow. ‘So where’s my room, smart-ass?’
He only seemed to smirk harder. ‘It’s a two bedroom
house. This is your room.’
‘Here?’ I asked, rather surprised that my voice
‘Unless you’d rather share with Trowa and Quatre,’
he confirmed. ‘Bearing in mind there’s only one bed in their
He was finding my discomfort… amusing, so I tried to
‘I laid out a pair of shorts for you,’ he told
me, rather matter-of-factly. ‘Go ahead and change and go to bed, I’ll
take the dirty dishes down and be right back.’
Well… as Duo was fond of saying, didn’t this just
beat all hell?
I changed quickly and climbed under the covers of Heero’s
bed, sliding toward the wall to leave room for him. I found myself at a
loss as to which way to turn, back to him? Facing him? Neither seemed right,
and I tossed back and forth several times before settling flat on my back…
an uncomfortable compromise. Heero came back after a very short time, and
turned the lights off so that there was only the light from the hall to
lend a dim glow to the room. I watched him walk calmly over to the side
of the bed and totally unselfconsciously, strip. He donned the second pair
of shorts he’d laid out while I stared, wide-eyed in the damn dim
light, and then he climbed in next to me. Things were very quiet for a few
minutes, while I stared at the ceiling and tried to understand why my blood
was pounding in my ears.
‘So…’ his voice came, very quietly, after
a little bit. ‘When did I become Heero?’
I did everything but sputter. I thanked all the ancestors
for the darkness that hid the dark flush of my cheeks and rolled very pointedly
over to face the wall. ‘Good night… Yuy.’ I managed after
He chuckled in the most amused damn tone and replied, ‘Good
Had I not been so exhausted, the exchange might very well
have kept me awake, it rattled me so. Again… I had not noticed, but
somehow, in my head, Yuy had stopped being Yuy and become Heero.
But exhausted I was, and it wasn’t long despite the
thoughts whirling in my head, before I fell asleep. But the dreams those
thoughts generated saw to it that the sleep was not altogether… restful.
‘You should let your hair down more often,’ Heero
whispered close to my ear. ‘You look so… severe with your hair
pulled back. You have a very exotic… beauty. You shouldn’t hide
I couldn’t answer him, my breath seeming to rush too
fast through my suddenly tight throat. He rose above me, looking down with
those steely blue eyes of his, dark with passion. I found my hand reaching
out to touch that expanse of muscled chest… almost like chiseled stone,
but warm… so warm.
He dipped down to bring his lips near my ear. ‘I could
learn to love you too,’ he whispered, his breath washing hot across
my cheek. I shivered convulsively and turned my head to seek his lips. I
wanted to kiss him… of a harsh sudden; I wanted him to kiss me. Wanted
it like I hadn’t wanted anything in a very long time. But when I turned
to meet those blue eyes again… they weren’t the same shade of
blue. And it was Duo leaning over me and he whispered low in his throat.
‘Touch me ‘Fei… why won’t you touch me?’
It was Heero’s rolling out of bed in a sudden rush that
brought me up out of the damn dream. I sat up and blinked stupidly after
him, my heart hammering in my chest, and having a very hard time figuring
out just what the hell was going on. I realized after a few more befuddled
moments, that Heero was calming Duo from the throes of a nightmare.
I heard Heero calling softly, until the silent thrashing slowed
and then he was able to ease Duo into a gentle embrace. I could see Duo’s
uncontrolled shaking from clear across the room. I got up and padded across
the floor, sitting on the bed beside them. Duo was clinging to Heero for
all he was worth, his body drawn up in a near fetal position, half in and
half out of Heero’s lap, trembling like a newborn lamb. I reached
to stroke a hand over his frazzled braid and joined my calming words with
‘We’re here,’ I told him. ‘We didn’t
The tense-to-breaking feel of his muscles seemed to ease and
he uncoiled somewhat, reaching a hand out for me. I took it in mine and
held it tightly. His eyes met mine over Heero’s arm for a second and
he looked very groggy and confused, through the pain and the fear. I smiled
at him warmly, ‘You know you’re safe here with us, spirit…
you have nothing to be afraid of.’
His trembling faded, almost as though his battered body could
no longer maintain it.
A tension seemed to fill the air and I glanced up at Heero,
shocked to find his face twisted into a mask of unbearable pain. It lasted
just a moment before the old face was back, the one I hadn’t seen
since I’d arrived here. The face with no emotion in it. He sat forward
and eased Duo from his lap into mine. Duo went where he was placed without
complaint, eyes half-closed in exhaustion. I frowned questioningly at Heero.
‘What are you…?’ I began but he cut me off
with a sad little smile.
‘I told you…’ he said softly. ‘It’s
about him and what he wants. You are obviously what he wants.’ His
fingers seemed to have trouble leaving Duo behind, drawing slowly away as
though it were painful to lose the contact. Then he turned to go back to
his own bed.
In my arms, Duo began to tremble.
‘Heero,’ I called gently, and he made me say it
twice before he turned back.
I got to see, in the dim light, the rebirth of hope in his
eyes as he took in the scene before him.
‘It isn’t me,’ I told him. ‘It’s
He came back towards us on hesitant feet, afraid to believe
what he was seeing. When he got near enough, his hand reached out almost
of its own volition and stroked down the side of Duo’s face. ‘I’m
still here,’ he whispered.
In his near doze, Duo took a deep breath and… settled.
Heero’s eyes widened and met mine. ‘I… don’t
I gave him a sardonic grin, ‘What safer place in the
world than between the Dragon and the Perfect Soldier?’
It surprised a rueful snort from him and he shook his head
at the very notion. Or perhaps my use of the code names we had all grown
to find so amusing.
I looked at the bed I was sitting on, measuring the space
available and glanced up at him with a small smile. ‘Care to test
He raised an eyebrow and made the same visual appraisal.
‘He needs the rest,’ I murmured. ‘If it
brings him any comfort to have us here… why not?’
‘Why not?’ he echoed in a breathless tone.
I looked down to find Duo watching us through half lidded
eyes, his expression very still, as though he had awoken to find wild deer
in his room and was afraid of frightening them away. ‘Is that all
right, Duo?’ I asked gently and got a very cautious nod.
We settled him in the center of the bed and then carefully
crawled in on either side of him. I ended up next to the wall again and
wondered how that kept happening. I stretched out facing them, one arm tucked
under my head and the other draped across my hip. Heero was almost my mirror
image. Duo lie flat on his back and suddenly seemed very awake, eyes wide
and staring up at the dark ceiling. I found myself reconsidering the whole
idea. He looked… scared.
‘Are you sure this is all right?’ I queried, trying
to convey that it wouldn’t be a problem if he wanted us to leave.
He reached out and took my hand, squeezing tightly, then with a sudden flinch,
reached with his free hand to take Heero’s too.
‘Go to sleep,’ Heero told him gruffly and eventually
he did as he was told. Heero and I were a little longer about it…
though we did our best not to meet each other’s eyes. There was too
much to talk about… too much that I don’t think either of us
understood. Maybe we were all three just a little scared. If I had tried
to sit down and explain to anyone just what in the hell was going on here…
I don’t think I could have. There were too many layers. Too many things
that might just be wishful thinking.
The fact that I am somewhat ambiguous about my sexuality is
not a new thing to me. I had found that my attraction to other human beings
seemed based more on something rather illusive… something not tied
to gender. Something that allowed me to see both Duo and Lucrezia Noin as
desirable people. Something that let me see both Heero and Sally Po as attractive.
That came as no surprise.
The fact that I found Duo Maxwell incredibly… distracting
was also not a surprise. He had, as Heero so aptly put it, gotten under
my skin some time ago. He has that illusive… something. More than
his fair share.
The fact that I truly loved him, wanted to be able to think
of futures and lives together… that was a bit of a surprise. At least
to most of me, I think my heart had known, somewhere underneath all the
denial. But I did. There was nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice for him
and it wasn’t contingent on how he felt for me. That, I think, is
what told me as much as anything, just how deeply I felt for him. I loved
Duo and I wanted him happy, even if that meant my own unhappiness.
Now, the fact that Heero loved Duo was not much of a surprise
either. I had known it in some peripheral way for some time. It was there
in his eyes if you caught him when he didn’t know you were looking.
It was there in his actions… though, until this night, he would have
denied any emotional attachment and insisted that it was ‘best for
the mission’. Caring for Duo was only common sense; Duo was important
to the war effort. It had nothing to do with personal feelings. And maybe
he had made himself believe that in some small way. But, no, there were
no surprises there either.
What was surprising were these strange feelings that wanted
to find a way through this that would hurt no one. As much as I wanted to
be able to answer Duo’s pain with my caresses and my love, wanted
to be able to hold him in my arms and tell him how I felt… I couldn’t
bear to see that dead look in Heero’s eyes again. It had surprised
me that his pain had cut me every bit as much as Duo’s had.
And just what in the holy hell did that mean?
Duo’s sleep wasn’t what one would call restful.
He just plain hurt too much. His total mental and physical exhaustion would
take him under, but then the aches and the pains would bring him back to
wakefulness and I would look to see his eyes, open and staring at whatever
was in front of him. Heero got up in the wee hours and brought him another
dose of pain medicine and he took it without any argument… a thing
that told us both how very much he was hurting.
I heard whispered words of reassurance from Heero more than
once, and delivered some of my own. Duo didn’t sleep well… but
at least he didn’t have another nightmare. Though when I chanced to
brush up against him, I could tell he was as tense and taut as if we were
still in that damn cell. I didn’t know how to take that from his shoulders.
I could only imagine what it had taken, mentally, for him to hold his silence
through everything that Bellows had done to him. At the time, I had wished
more than once that I could trade places with him… take the beating
to save him from it. But… honestly? I don’t know if I could
have done what he did. I don’t know that I could have kept from screaming
when… when that damn shock rod… when that thrice-damned son-of-a-bitch
Bellows had… had…
I found Duo’s fingers gently touching my cheek and I
realized that I was almost panting in rage, my muscles bunched with the
desire to pound the bastard into the floor. I raised my eyes to meet the
glitter of Duo’s in the dim light.
‘I hope the mother-less bastard rots in hell,’
I managed through teeth I had to unclench.
Duo awkwardly patted my arm, his hand twisting around to reach
me. I looked past him to find Heero watching us. ‘I’m…
sorry,’ I said and knew that I was talking to Heero. I had been the
point man. I was the one who should have kept Duo safe… for the both
of us. And I failed. I sat idly by and watched while that… that…
misbegotten inhuman son of a jackal had tortured Duo… had almost…
‘Oh God… Duo; I am so damn sorry,’ I blurted
and suddenly had to be… elsewhere.
I untangled myself as carefully as I could, crawled to the
end of the bed, climbed over the footboard and fled for the relative privacy
of the hall. Once there, I found it wasn’t enough and continued my
flight to the more secure bathroom where I could shut the door and hide.
I turned on the water in the sink to drown out any noise because I was very
afraid I was about to cry. I had not shed tears since I was a child, but
I could feel them pricking at the backs of my eyes. I braced my hands on
the sink and hung my head, fighting against them. I didn’t dare let
them get started… I was afraid I might not get them stopped again.
He had come so close… so very damn close. Right in front
of my eyes and I had sat and watched it play out without lifting a finger.
My hands had been free. I might have stopped it. The two somewhat sympathetic
guards might not have interfered. Bellows and his loyal lapdog alone, I
might have been able to overpower. I might have spared Duo. I might have
spared Winner. Duo had been so… damn courageous through the whole
thing. He had done what he had to, to get us out of there. He had endured
for us more than Winner and I together could have stood up to, and still
managed to come through it with a comforting smile for us, an encouraging
I felt so… useless. So damn… cowardly. I felt
like I had failed them all. I felt ugly and weak and dishonorable and…
I raised my head to meet my own eyes in the mirror and despised the person
I found there.
In a sudden fit of self-loathing, I cursed at the image before
me and drew my fists back to eradicate the spineless coward in the mirror.
Hands as strong as steel bands, closed around my wrists and
Heero’s voice, very close behind me, said simply, ‘Don’t.’
‘Leave me alone!’ I snarled.
‘So you can hurt yourself?’ he asked gently, voice
very calm. ‘No… never.’
He had the leverage and he had the strength; I quit struggling
after it became apparent I wasn’t going to win anyway, not without
escalating things to a brawl.
‘It wasn’t your fault,’ he told me firmly,
still holding my wrists tightly, as though he were afraid I might still
try to smash them into the glass if he let go.
‘I let them hurt Duo,’ I told him, surprised at
how sick and twisted my own voice sounded. ‘My hands were free…
my damn hands were free.’
He didn’t let go, but brought our hands down to my sides
again and he was suddenly so close behind me, I could feel his body heat.
‘You didn’t have any choice. You know that. If you had moved
too soon, you’d have only gotten yourself killed.’
I didn’t have the words for what was roiling around
inside of me. There was a part of me that wanted to shout, I should have
been dead before I ever allowed that to happen to him! There was a part
that wanted to go into the other room and shower Duo with kisses and apologies
until he found his voice again. There was a part of me that wanted to go
out and get roaring drunk until I couldn’t hear Bellows voice in my
damn head any more. And there was another part that only wanted to sit and
I looked up and met his eyes in the mirror and whispered,
‘There isn’t even a mark on me.’ Somehow… that was
the final insult, that Winner and I had escaped almost untouched while Duo
had taken all the punishment… all the pain and suffering. For us.
To win our freedom. I saw understanding in those bottomless blue eyes.
‘You brought them out alive,’ he consoled. ‘If
you’d been killed… they’d have never made it on their
I knew that. Somewhere deep down inside… but it didn’t
help. Every time I closed my eyes, I could see Duo writhing on the floor,
frantically trying to evade the blows. And in my heart I could feel his
silent screams. Could see those beautiful eyes boring into mine.
I didn’t know I was shaking until Heero brought our
hands, still joined, around me. He gave a tentative tug and I let myself
fall back against him.
‘I let them…’ I whispered, not able to get
more than that out. ‘I let it happen…’
‘You didn’t let anything happen,’ he reproached
gently. ‘And Duo knows that. I know that.’
There wasn’t an answer and I didn’t try to make
one. Just leaned stiffly into his strength.
‘Wufei,’ he breathed next to my cheek. ‘We
both want so much to hold him right now… and we can’t. He’s
too… fragile.’ I could feel him searching cautiously for words,
like a man stepping carefully through a minefield. ‘Let me…
hold you the way I can’t hold him?’
My breath caught in my throat and I know I tensed under his
hands. What was he asking? What…? He was hesitant… uncertain,
but having said it out loud, he seemed unable to back down, and I found
him turning me around to face him. He finally let go of my wrists and stepped
back a pace… opening his arms without another word. He couldn’t
quite meet my eyes and his face was as red as fire. It was that, somehow,
that let me… not flee the room. I am not altogether sure which one
of us reached out first. I’m going to say that he took me into his
arms because I am somewhat loath to say that I threw myself there.
We were suddenly just wrapped around each other so tight I
couldn’t quite breathe properly. I knew I was hurting him, because
he was hurting me. But… it was answering something that had been going
unanswered for some time now. I wanted… we both wanted, nothing so
much as to hold Duo close and protect him, to shelter him in my… our
arms. But we couldn’t… didn’t dare. He was hurting so
much… was so brittle right now. I felt course and clumsy next to him,
I could hurt him so easily. I could feel in Heero’s embrace that he
felt all those same things… and was trying to offer this substitute.
For a long time, we just hung on, and his strong arms made
something inside me cry out until I found myself wrestling with the tears
‘You didn’t come out untouched,’ he whispered
to me finally. ‘Don’t try to tell me you did. You may not have
any broken bones… but you’re bleeding inside. You’re hurting
as much as he is… now that you’ve let yourself slow down long
enough to feel it.’
‘Heero…’ I began, not sure what I needed
to tell him, not sure just what it was I suddenly needed him to know. I’m
sorry danced on the tip of my tongue, but it seemed so inadequate, somehow.
Help me played about in my head as well… but I had no explanation
just what I wanted help with. So all that came out was a strangled, broken
‘Hush,’ he told me. ‘Come back to bed…
you’ve frightened Duo.’
That struck me like a dash of cold water in the face, and
suddenly embarrassed, I drew away. I don’t think Heero had intended
that reaction, because his expression looked pained. He started to speak,
but then thought better of it, seeming to understand that the moment was
broken. He reached around me to shut off the water that had been running
all that time, then flicked off the lights and opened the door to lead me
back to the bedroom. I couldn’t look at him. I didn’t know what
to say to him. I felt terribly self-conscious at the same time that something
inside me was crying out to return to his comfort. I felt cold wherever
he wasn’t touching me anymore.
Of course, it was all swept under the rug when we got back
and found Duo halfway across the room, limping heavily, bent almost double,
trying to come after us.
Heero and I might well have been a damn stereo unit as we
both gasped his name and demanded to know what in the hell he was doing.
He stopped hobbling forward when he saw us, his eyes coming up and seeming
vastly relieved. I moved to pick him up, to get him off the damn fractured
leg, but he put his hands out to stop me. The movement almost toppled him
over and Heero was there to steady him. I froze… unsure of what had
just happened and watched Duo’s face twist in rabid frustration. He
was trying to speak, was wrestling with trying to force sound out, but nothing
would come. He looked about ready to implode. I didn’t know what to
do… was smarting over the implied rejection, and just… did not
know what to do.
Duo’s eyes were shining brightly, his face twisted painfully,
and I thought for a moment he was going to burst into tears. His hands balled
into fists and he was suddenly striking ineffectively at the air, unable
to do more to vent his frustration. On an impulse, I stepped within range,
suddenly wanting to feel his blows… wanting that tiny punishment from
him. But all I received was Duo’s arm thrown around my neck and his
head buried against my shoulder. He was shaking his head back and forth
against me, almost frantically. I could feel him trembling. I met Heero’s
eyes over Duo’s bent head and saw… sad understanding written
there? I’m not altogether sure just what I saw.
‘It wasn’t your fault,’ Heero said then,
echoing what he had told me in the bathroom and I frowned at him.
But Duo’s head jerked up and he was suddenly nodding
emphatically, looking first at Heero and then at me.
‘Duo doesn’t blame you,’ Heero said softly
and I realized he was trying to give Duo the voice he couldn’t find
on his own. ‘He knows you did what you had to do… the same as
Wide almost-violet eyes stared into mine, willing me to accept
what Heero was telling me. Willing me to believe it.
‘He trusted you to do exactly what you had to do…
he trusted you to be strong for him,’ Heero whispered softly and Duo
turned his wide-eyed gaze in his direction, looking almost shocked. But
it was obvious that Heero was still getting it right, from the tiny, almost
unconscious nods Duo was making.
‘He put his trust in you and you did not let him down.
You kept your head and didn’t panic. You trusted him to keep himself
alive until the time was right.’ Heero’s words were coming faster…
seeming to slip from his throat without him half hearing them himself. It
was almost as though he truly was channeling Duo’s voice. I shivered.
‘Duo understands what it is to be a soldier… he understands
what it took for you to sit there and watch. He knows that doesn’t
mean you didn’t care…’
Duo looked away from Heero and back at me, his gaze drawing
my eyes away from Heero’s to meet his again. He gave me a very firm,
deliberate nod, the ghost of a small, relieved smile playing around his
But then he sagged and almost went to the floor. Heero swept
him up with a gruff, ‘That’s enough of this for now.’
We put him back to bed and Heero checked him over quickly
again, looking for hot spots, checking for swelling. It was too soon for
more pain pills, for which I was sorry, because he had greatly taxed himself
trying to leave the room on his own. I felt the bitter taste of guilt; understanding
that it was my running away that had caused him to try.
I hesitated, after he was settled, unsure what to do. But
Duo reached out for us at the same time that Heero nudged me toward the
bed. ‘You need to get some more sleep,’ he commanded, managing
to sound irritated and concerned all at the same time.
It was the hopeful look on Duo’s face though, that truly
decided it for me. I wouldn’t deny that look for anything in the world.
Apparently… neither would Heero. We climbed back into bed and Duo’s
expression slid over into relieved.
Somehow, I did manage to fall asleep again. Truly asleep this
time and not the damn dozing that I had been doing all night. And no more
I woke facing the wall and immediately registered a heat source
at my back. There was a moment of mind-bending… confusion, before
things clicked back into place and I remembered where I was. I couldn’t
believe I had fallen so deeply asleep that I had been rolling around; I
had gone to sleep facing the other way. Gingerly, I raised my head and cautiously
looked behind me, worried that I might have bumped Duo in my sleep. I found
him awake and looking at me, watching me actually, with a warm… almost
happy light in his eyes. My heart… did something odd and I reflected
that waking up to that look every morning would not be a difficult thing
to get used to.
I noticed that the other side of the bed was vacant and looked
questioningly at my… bedmate. Gooseflesh ran down my spine as I dared
let that thought flit through my brain.
Duo made the hand to mouth, eating gesture and I understood
that Heero had gone for breakfast.
I turned over to face him, still feeling relaxed and oddly…
comfortable from sleep, and gave him a critical look. ‘How are you
feeling?’ I asked, surprised to see my own hand reach to smooth a
stubborn strand of hair from his eyes.
He quirked a tired grin and gave me a small shrug that only
involved one shoulder.
‘Are you in a lot of pain?’ I frowned, my fingers
reaching out to touch and then drawing back. There were so few places that
the touch of a hand wouldn’t just cause more pain.
His face got that frustrated look again and I watched in rising
concern as he tried to force sound out through a throat frozen by mental
blocks that he had seared in place with his own iron control. The muscles
in his throat were working almost convulsively; his face was darkening with
effort. When he raised fisted hands to seemingly strike at the sides of
his own head I couldn’t just lie and watch any more.
‘Stop it!’ I snapped, grabbing his wrists to pull
his hands away and having a very surreal moment of flashback on my middle-of-the-night
foray down the hall. ‘Stop fighting so hard… it will come on
its own. Don’t… please don’t… you’re going
to hurt yourself.’
He subsided, stopped fighting against me, and I was surprised
to find myself hovering over him, his hands in both of mine, practically
lying nose to nose. I could smell the sweet muskiness of his breath. I could
see the sudden vulnerability that lie in the back of his eyes. He tested
my grip on his wrists with a gentle tug and when I let go, his hand reached
tentatively out to rest on my shoulder.
He looked at me long and hard for a moment before carefully
mouthing, hold me? And the look in his eyes would have broken even Lady
My breath went out in a shaky sigh and I could only open my
arms to him, afraid to reach… afraid of hurting. His arms went around
me, hard and tight and I was reminded of my desperate embrace with Heero.
Reminded of that rush of need that had been answered by the almost-harshness
of the moment. I think that need was filling Duo right then… but I
didn’t know how to answer it. I couldn’t bear the thought of
hurting him further. His right arm was tight around my neck, his left resting
on my chest, as high as he seemed able to raise it. I allowed my own arms
to encircle him, as cautious as though I were holding a creature formed
of blown glass.
He clutching harder, trying to get me to tighten my grip.
I balked and he butted his head against my shoulder. I hesitated and he
squeezed harder… his hands pleading.
‘Damn it,’ I muttered against the top of his head.
‘Don’t let me hurt… I can’t hurt you.’
He didn’t relent until I was hugging him tight, then
I felt his whole body release a heavy, silent sigh and he relaxed against
me, molding against my chest.
I was near frantic wanting to let go, wanting to roll him
back over and make sure he was all right. But he seemed… content and
so I just lay and let him take what he needed. ‘Brave spirit,’
I whispered softly. ‘My brave damn spirit.’ I dared drop a kiss
on the top of his head and I felt him shiver, but he didn’t pull away.
Then there was a… tingle in the air that told me we
weren’t alone any more. I looked up and found Heero standing in the
doorway, breakfast tray in hand and a look in his eyes that threatened to
rip my heart from my chest. Duo must have felt me tense and he lifted his
head to look at me, and followed my gaze to the door.
I had no doubt we looked like a couple of kids with our hands
in the cookie jar.
Duo tensed and we both let go at the same time. I opened my
mouth to… explain, I guess, but didn’t know what to say.
Heero only looked… very lonely. He stepped into the
room and set the try on the desk near the door. ‘I brought breakfast,’
he said very softly and suddenly seemed to be trying to look anywhere else
but at us.
‘Heero…’ I began, but he turned away without
another word and left the room, his face was calm but his shoulders were
slumped. I could have handled it better if he had lost his temper. If he
had gotten mad and yelled. I didn’t know quite how to meet the misery
that was coming off him in waves.
Duo broke out of the paralysis first and began rolling toward
the side of the bed, intent on going after him.
‘Duo!’ I yelped and caught at him, trying to keep
him from hurting himself further. I wished, not for the first time, that
his fractured leg were in a cast.
He turned sharply, tugging at me. Not so much to get away,
but to get me to come with him. To get me to help him. He has a very expressive
face. Communicating with him had been easy, at least for me. As I have said…
he is very eloquent even without words. His face told me… terrified.
It told me… frantic. It told me… desperate and guilty. It told
me self-loathing and pain beyond all the physical hurts he had endured.
What the hell else could I do? I bounded out of the bed, turned
and scooped him into my arms and tore out of the room in search of Heero.
This had to be made right.
He hadn’t gotten far; Duo’s looks don’t
take long to convey their meaning. Heero was still on the stairs.
‘Heero!’ I called and saw his back stiffen. He
hesitated but didn’t turn. ‘Heero…wait.’ I called
again and he stopped completely, standing on the stairs with his back to
us. I moved closer, stopping at the top of the stairs, a little unsure of
trying to descend them with Duo in my arms. I wasn’t sure what to
say to him. How in the hell do you apologize when you weren’t even
positive what you’d done wrong? Damn it… that wasn’t quite
right. I knew exactly what I’d done and what he was feeling…
I had felt it myself the previous night when I had walked in to find him
brushing Duo’s hair. I had felt left out. Stung by their closeness.
Unsure of my place. Unsure of the whole damn situation. And I was still
unsure even now. I didn’t know what was going on here… couldn’t
half identify the feelings churning around in my gut. I didn’t know
how to reassure him… when I could have used some of that reassurance
His one arm wrapped tight around my neck, Duo reached out
toward the figure on the stairs with his free hand. He was trembling. No…
he was shaking. His whole body was taut as a spring strung out as far as
it could go. Then… as soft as a sigh, as harsh as a crow’s call,
as illusive as a flitting hummingbird… the sweetest sound I have ever
It hung on the air as full of portent and power, as a prayer.
It was such a soft sound that I was afraid for a moment that Heero hadn’t
heard, but then he whirled so suddenly on the stairs that he almost fell.
I couldn’t have torn my gaze from his face had the house
fallen in. The wonder… the joy… were palpable things. Still
wrapped around with hesitation… confusion… doubt. He began to
slowly climb to meet us, as unable to take his eyes from Duo, as I was unable
to take mine from him.
Duo tugged at me to get me to set him on his feet and I complied,
keeping my arm around him for support. He left his own arm around my shoulders
without being prompted. When Heero gained the top of the stairs, Duo reached
out with his other arm, though I know it cost him to raise it that high,
and slipped it around Heero’s neck. He looked from one of us to the
other and what he was reading in our faces… I couldn’t say.
He was brimming with frustration; unable to force out the words he seemed
so desperate to deliver. It was painful to watch him, a man never at a loss
for words, normally as articulate as a poet, as expressive as a Shakespearean
actor… struggling with the smallest sound. Then, suddenly, he was
drawing us toward him; bringing the three of us together… and he kissed
us. Together. At the same time. It was… awkward. It was ungainly.
Uncomfortable. Ridiculous. Achingly, painfully… sweet.
I understood then the delicate wire he felt he was on. The
minefield he felt he was traveling through. He was… the center. He
was the core we were wrapped around. The flame that drew us in. He had been
trying so hard to keep us balanced, even when he was the one who should
have been getting all the support he needed from us. Trying so hard not
to hurt… not to injure fragile, newborn feelings. He had understood
what a delicate thing it was, that was growing between us, when we had not.
Had understood that it all, somehow, hinged around him. I tasted guilt again,
putting that kind of pressure on him in the shape he was in.
He drew back, looking from one of us to the other. I felt
his fingers snake into the hair at the nape of my neck and he grabbed hold
tight. Then he turned toward Heero, tilting his head back and offering up
a kiss that Heero accepted with hungry abandon. I watched it unabashedly.
I watched it, feeling Duo’s fingers wrapped tight in my hair, making
sure I stayed right there with them. I watched it and didn’t feel
the sting of jealousy. Didn’t feel the bite of loneliness. I watched
and… waited my turn.
And Duo gave it to me. He drew away from Heero, his face flushed
and his breath quickened and he turned to me. I knew his other hand was
locked tight on Heero somehow. Knew he was making every bit as sure that
the Perfect Soldier stayed close beside us, as he had made sure the Dragon
didn’t flee. I claimed my place. Taking the time to savor our first
kiss, tasting him, exploring him, allowing him to explore me.
He had carefully taken away that awkward ‘first kiss’.
Had forced the moment and removed the possibility that either of us would
be stung if he chose to give his first kiss to the other. I couldn’t
believe the strain we had unwittingly put him under.
When we drew apart, I found Heero’s eyes on us with
much the same expression on his face that I suspected my own wore. Shell-shocked.
Happy. Scared. Totally out of his depth.
Both of us turned, almost unconsciously, to Duo for guidance
and I snorted in sudden derision. ‘He’s the one who’s
wounded here,’ I grunted. ‘Do you think we can manage to make
a decision without waiting for him to…’
Heero made a decision, suddenly and quite thoroughly. He leaned
past Duo, slid his own fingers into my hair along with Duo’s and…
It was a fierce kiss; very unlike the almost languid one I
had shared with Duo. He tasted sharply of oranges and… something spicy.
Our tongues warred as we struggled for dominance. It awoke something inside
me that almost frightened me and we parted, both of us panting and flushed.
Duo looked… anxious. A little of that ‘out in
the cold’ apprehension lurking in his eyes.
‘Baka,’ Heero murmured, tenderly brushing fingers
lightly over his cheek. ‘Later… there’ll be time enough,
‘When you’re healed,’ I joined my reassurances
with Heero’s. ‘Until then, I’m not going anywhere.’
I glanced up and met warm blue eyes and found encouragement there. ‘We’re
not going anywhere.’
Duo looked oddly… distressed, as though he had not expected
the bear to wake when he poked it with the stick. It was a little disconcerting
to see our true, magnetic north… falter.
‘Let’s get him back to bed,’ Heero frowned,
looking hard at Duo’s pale face. ‘He looks about to pass out.’
I couldn’t have agreed more and helped ease Duo into
Heero’s arms, moving ahead of them to prepare the bed with the extra
pillows so that we could prop him up and feed him breakfast.
We settled him in his nest of pillows and did our best to
make him comfortable, though there didn’t really seem to be a position
he could lie in without pain. We were back to communication through nods
and gestures, though it was a more hopeful silence… at least for me.
He had broken past the barrier once, his fear of losing Heero greater than
the fear that Bellows had beaten into him. Though the pain of losing the
sound of his voice was… sharper for me now, having been graced with
that single word.
And too… we were more aware of what we were doing, how
we were acting around him and how he was reacting to us. If I touched him…
held his hand or stroked my fingers over his hair, within minutes, he would
seek Heero out and find some way to touch his arm or link their fingers.
If Heero reached for him… Duo reached for me.
I felt… humbled by the care he took. Felt chagrin that
we had made him feel he had to do this. Felt guilt that we had put this
weight on his shoulders with our damn fragile egos.
Heero fed him another bit of sausage and Duo looked to me
for a sip of his orange juice. I met Heero’s gaze over the breakfast
tray and I saw the unhappy guilt in his eyes as well. One of us sighed softly
and between us, Duo tensed.
Heero set aside the fork and gently cupped Duo’s face
in his hands. I saw Duo’s eyes flick almost frantically in my direction,
so I took his hand in mine, maintaining the balance for him.
‘Listen to me,’ Heero told him gently. ‘We’re
sorry… we didn’t mean to frighten you. You need to stop worrying
about us so much. We’re… we’re… ’ He let go
of Duo’s face, turning to me, his eyes open and trusting… asking
for my help.
‘You are what’s important right now,’ I
told Duo, adding my reassurances to Heero’s. ‘This is all very…’
I waved my free hand vaguely in the air, ‘confusing right now. But
you’ve shown us rather firmly how you feel. Trust us now. We promise
not to be so… skittish, all right?’
He couldn’t help a smile and a tiny little snort, which
caught him by surprise and made his eyes fly open wide in alarm.
‘It’s all right,’ I soothed, squeezing his
fingers. ‘It’s safe here… don’t fight against it.’
He couldn’t quite hide the panic that welled up, though
he tried, glancing away from us and looking at the wall.
‘No one is going to hurt you,’ I said firmly and
he spared me only a flick of his eyes.
Heero and I sighed almost as one.
‘Are you still hungry?’ Heero asked gently, changing
the subject and we got a negative shake of his head.
Duo was chewing on something, worrying it like a dog with
a bone, but either didn’t know how to ask, or just wasn’t ready
to bring it up.
‘What is it, spirit?’ I asked softly and only
got another shake of his head.
Heero touched my arm, a bare brush of his fingers. ‘When
he’s ready,’ he told me and I subsided.
It nagged at me, that vaguely unhappy look on his face, but
I let it go; following Heero’s lead on this one and giving Duo the
space to think through whatever was bothering him.
Heero found a roll of plastic wrap in the kitchen and we used
it to cover Duo’s stitches so that we could help him take a shower.
It took the three of us to manage all that hair, but I could tell he was
grateful to be clean, even if we thought he would die of embarrassment in
the process. Heero and I mutually agreed to leave our shorts on and just
got in and got wet with him. I held him up while Heero gently washed and
rinsed his hair. Then he gave me a break by holding him while I carefully
did what I could to wash Duo’s battered body. I was heartsick by the
time we were done.
Duo was plain exhausted before we were finished, almost lolling
in our arms as we got him out and dried. We weren’t able to do much
more with his hair than blot it dry and pull it back in a quick tail. Heero
wouldn’t let him go completely to sleep without another dose of pain
medication, then we tucked him in and watched him collapse almost instantly.
I found myself dropping into the chair Heero had drawn up
to the side of the bed, feeling fairly damn exhausted myself. The act of
bathing Duo had been a trial… only serving to draw to my attention
each and every bruise and scrape, every cut and contusion. Whenever I chanced
to close my eyes, I could see Bellows lashing out at Duo. His face twisted
in an insane mask of hatred and raw fury. I shivered convulsively and not
just from the dampness of my skin.
Emotional upheaval can be every bit as wearing as physical
labor. And I felt about as ‘upheaved’ as I could get. I was
very confused and unsure of my ground. One minute I was clear with what
was happening here… between the three of us, and the next I only felt
like a lost little kid.
Warm, strong hands came to rest on my shoulders and I flinched
in surprise. I glanced up to find Heero looking down at me, his own face
the very picture of hesitancy.
‘You’re very tense,’ he said softly and
those rough hands of his began to knead across my shoulders.
‘I’m… very baffled, I guess,’ I told
him, looking away, willing myself to relax and accept this gift.
‘Baffled?’ I could hear the smile in his voice,
though I couldn’t see it.
‘Well how in the hell would you describe what you’re
feeling right now?’ I grumbled, thinking he was amused at my description.
‘Scared?’ he said softly and I was moved to look
up at him. ‘Damn scared,’ he reiterated and I could hear it
straining at his voice.
‘Of what?’ I breathed, and reached my hands up
to lie over his, stilling the gentle massage he had been giving me.
‘Messing this up,’ he promptly told me. ‘Hurting
one of you… not… not being…’ he stopped abruptly
and looked away. I could see the echo of my own fears and frustrations in
‘Not being what?’ I prompted when he didn’t
He was quiet for a little bit and I squeezed his hands encouragingly.
‘Not being good enough,’ suddenly popped out of his mouth and
I blinked up at him, seeing more emotion wash over his face than I would
have thought him capable of. ‘You two are so… beautiful…
and graceful… and… and good. I feel so rough and… and…
stained next to you.’
I rose to my feet and turned to face him, not truly believing
he could possibly feel that way, but having to face the truth of it in his
It was my turn to take him into my arms and his turn to seek
shelter there. ‘See yourself through our eyes, Heero,’ I told
We were all so full of doubts and fears, the three of us,
and I wondered again just how this was supposed to work. Just how this could
work. But then I remembered the gift of Duo’s kiss in the hallway.
Rendered so bittersweet by his trying so hard to stand on the edge of the
knife and balance it all in his own hands. He who needed our care and love
more than he ever had, who could barely stand on his own, who was still
wrestling demons that might yet prove too strong for him. But… there
he had been for us, reaching out and doing his best to hold it all together.
Even though his eyes told me he was just as scared as we were. Just as unsure.
Just as confused and overwhelmed, just as lost. Where the hell were we?
Where were we going? What could the future possibly hold for three war-weary
soldiers clinging together? But when I thought about that kiss, remembered
the ache in my heart when I heard that whispered plea, felt the arms around
me now, strong and warm… I thought; God this could be… everything!
‘I love you both,’ I said, shocked at the sound
of my own voice. I blinked for a minute, looking at the wall over Heero’s
shoulder and waited for some sort of explanation as to just who had said
that, because I was absolutely positive it hadn’t been me. Couldn’t
have been me.
Heero stiffened and straightened away from me, catching at
my shoulders as though he couldn’t believe I had spoken either. I
kept waiting for him to ask me to repeat it. He looked at me long and hard,
‘Are you… sure?’
‘Yes,’ I told him resolutely. ‘No. I…
think so…’ I found myself meeting his eyes, begging him for
some sort of guidance. ‘I’m so damn confused,’ I finally
confessed and cringed, waiting for the hurt to come into those beautiful
blue eyes. But he only grinned at me sheepishly.
‘I think… I think I’m damned confused too.’
It surprised me a little, to hear him say it out loud, but
perhaps my saying so first had made it easier for him. I was still reeling
from both confessions, having blurted the second one almost as an explanation
for the first. I felt the utter fool, and for one soul-weary moment wished
I could go back in time and undo all these feelings, make it not be so.
Stop it before it ever started. But… I wasn’t truly sure where
in time I would have to go to erase these emotions. Back before we had ever
met, I suspected. When I traced backward, I had to admit that I had felt
a spark of… something; from the first moment I’d laid eyes on
Duo. I remember thinking that no one who could pilot a Gundam as well as
he did should be able to laugh and smile and lift the darkness from the
hearts of his comrades the way he did. And Heero… he had impressed
me with his strength and courage from our first mission together. Had won
my respect with his steadfast dedication to peace and his unwillingness
to accept defeat.
‘Have you…’ Heero ventured into the quiet
that my musings had left, ‘ever been in love before?’
I shook my head even as I was saying, ‘Yes.’ I
hesitated, comparing how I had felt then with how I felt now and had to
amend it. ‘I thought I was. If you had asked me a week ago…
I would have said yes. But now… what I felt then was nothing compared
to what I’m feeling now.’ I met his eyes, trying to make him
He looked almost desperate to fathom it, searching my face
as though I were some oracle that he had sought, long and hard. He suddenly
seemed to realize that his hands were still holding me by the shoulders
and he hastily dropped them. ‘What… does it feel like?’
he whispered and looked supremely embarrassed. He wanted me to catalog it
for him. With his programmer’s mind, he wanted me to give him a simple
‘if/then’ statement to guide him through this. If you feel this,
then it must be love. He wanted a damn flow chart.
I scrubbed a hand over my face and sighed. How the hell should
I know? I wanted to blurt out, but didn’t have the heart. He looked
so… vulnerable and lost, asking me for direction. I wanted to laugh
and tell him it was the blind leading the blind. ‘Scary?’ I
smiled softly, trying to lighten his mood and he tried to smile for me,
but it didn’t work. I sighed again. ‘I… hurt when he hurts.
Hurt when you hurt. I would cut off my own arm if it would stop his pain.’
I blinked at him, afraid that I must sound like a lunatic. ‘You are
both more important to me than I am… that’s as close as I can
come to explaining it.’
He frowned at me darkly. ‘But… but Quatre and
Trowa almost fit that category. Does that mean that…’
I snorted softly, more at Heero trying to fit ‘love’
into parameters to understand it, than anything. But I suppose it was no
worse than my trying to approach it ‘logically’. ‘There
are many kinds of love… and I suppose they do fit… in their
‘Then what makes how I feel about them different than
how I feel about you and Duo?’ He ran a hand through his already tousled
hair with no little frustration and I found myself reaching to smooth it
as best I could with my fingers. I smiled at him suddenly, an answer of
sorts coming clear in my mind at the feel of the damp, silky strands.
‘Do you want to touch them?’ I whispered. ‘Do
you have the desire to know what every inch of their skin tastes like? Do
you… ache with wanting to feel their hands on your body?’
It was… a joy to watch his eyes widen and his face flush,
his breath quicken and his hands reach out without him seeming to notice.
‘No,’ he choked out.
‘I think,’ I told him huskily, ‘that’s
‘Then… then…’ he stammered, his hands
finding my waist and drawing us together. ‘I think that I might love
My heart faltered and I let myself feel how much it had been
hurting that I had said those words and no one had said them back.
He found my lips with his own and there was no more room for
words or hesitation. He was near frantic in his need, kissing me with a
desperation that spoke to me of long, cold nights of loneliness. Echoed
back to me my own nights of lying awake and thinking about what might have
been. If I had let it go on, we would have ended up making love right there
on the floor beside Duo’s bed. Heero’s hands were already grasping
at my hips and I hated myself for pulling away and making him stop.
‘Please Heero,’ I panted out, pulling him to me
and ghosting tiny kisses along his jaw to ease the sting of the rejection.
‘Not without Duo… We can’t. It would destroy everything.
He’s right… about the balance. We have to be so careful or we’re
going to lose this.’
He made a soft sound of distress near my ear and held me crushed
against him until he trusted his voice again. ‘Forgive me,’
he whispered when he finally could. ‘I’m so sorry… you’re
right. I know you’re right.’
Awkwardness was welling up between us again and I found myself
kissing his cheek, his temple, the curve of his jaw… anything to keep
us close, to keep that distance from forming again.
‘Don’t,’ he breathed. ‘You’re
making me want things I can’t have.’
‘I never said you couldn’t have them,’ I
was surprised to hear myself say. ‘I just said the time wasn’t
He looked at me with eyes so wide, I almost laughed. I think
I was shocking him. Hell; I was shocking myself. ‘I just feel like
we’re… within sight of the damn Holy Grail. I’m afraid
of making a mistake. And I think this would be a mistake,’ I told
him. I found myself looking at the floor, embarrassed by all the damn bad
analogies and emotional tripe.
But Heero smiled and raised my head with the touch of his
fingers. ‘Does that make you Sir Lancelot?’
I couldn’t help a small chuckle, caught rather by surprise
that Heero even knew the legend. ‘I don’t know… would
that make you King Arthur?’
He snorted scornfully, then grinned with wicked glee. ‘Then
it would naturally follow that Duo would be…’
I cut him off with a finger to the lips. ‘Oh…
do not go there! He will kill you.’
He relented but still couldn’t stop the parting shot.
‘Well… I always thought the legend wouldn’t have been
so tragic if the three of them had just learned to… get along.’
We drew apart, the moment ended, but a little less…
uncomfortable with it.
‘Would you stay with him while I shower?’ I asked
and he nodded ready agreement.
‘Of course,’ he told me in a tone that was almost
reproving. I could hear the implied, do you have to ask?
I took my shower and when I was done, Heero took one of his
own. I dressed while he was out of the room, in borrowed clothes and settled
myself on the foot of Duo’s bed, leaning against the wall and watching
over him. Heero returned, giving me an affectionate smile when he found
me wearing his jeans and t-shirt. He dressed as well, and then took his
place in the chair by the bed and we simply waited for Duo to wake up.
It crossed my mind, sitting there, that there were things
I should be doing. I should be writing up a full mission report. Should
be resupplying, since I had no clothes or weapons other than what I had
walked out of that cell with. I should be contacting base and requesting
my next assignment. But… somehow, none of it seemed as important in
that moment, as caring for Duo.
We shouldn’t all be here together like this, I remember
thinking. It was dangerous placing all of our eggs in one handy little basket,
just waiting for Romefeller to come and pick it up. But… I couldn’t
bring myself to care. I wouldn’t leave Duo right now without a damn
better reason than vague caution. And I wouldn’t ask Heero to abandon
him either. I suppose if I were ordered to go, I wouldn’t have much
choice, but for the time being it wasn’t an issue and I wasn’t
going to make it one.
I watched Heero watch Duo for a while, thinking about how
much I had not understood about him. Thinking about how much deeper the
man ran underneath the soldier. Understanding how much of a gift I had been
given in being allowed inside the armor for a glimpse of what lie there.
I realized that Duo had been given this gift some time ago, only I had not
understood just what it was that was different between them. I had just
noted one day that Duo suddenly seemed to know no fear around our normally
somewhat volatile partner. Duo had always been a tactile soul, never failing
to toss an arm around a shoulder or playfully punch an arm. Except with
Heero. Heero had lived behind a stone wall that had excluded him from that
kind of interaction. But apparently Duo had breached the wall when no one
was looking. Suddenly Heero had become just as ready a target as the rest
of us and had born it with surprisingly stoic grace. I almost grinned at
him, thinking about what he must have been holding inside all that time.
Thinking about it, because I was more than familiar with holding
feelings inside. Enduring Duo’s brotherly hugs with a frown and a
put-upon sigh even while I ached to return the embraces with a little more
than brotherly affection. Oh yes… I understood Heero Yuy all too well.
And it was that understanding that was turning my vague attraction into
something much stronger. Much deeper.
A small frown of worry creased the brow of the object of my
observations and I shifted my gaze to Duo, to where Heero was looking.
The sheet had worked its way down and Duo was mostly exposed
from the waist up. I bit back a heavy sigh, looking at him, and wished again
that the bastard that had done this to him were still alive so that I might
kill him with my own hands. So many bruises… so much pain. I was worried
about internal injuries beyond the broken ribs and the fractured leg. His
body was covered with horrendous black bruises and though I remembered what
Duo had said about being good at ‘rolling with the punches’
I just couldn’t see how he could have escaped without more damage.
‘You’re worried,’ Heero accused in a soft
‘So are you,’ I rejoined and we looked at each
other, neither of us seeing the point in disputing the obvious.
‘He took one hell of a beating,’ Heero said, rather
‘He took several damn beatings,’ I growled. ‘And
not all of them where I could see what happened.’
Heero gnawed on his lower lip, a nervous gesture I had not
seen him make before. ‘I wish there were some way to get him some
I didn’t reply, because I had been thinking the same
thing. But how? We could hardly just walk into a hospital and not expect
to be identified immediately. Sometimes this business of being out here
on the front lines had some severe drawbacks.
There was the soft sound of a throat being cleared, and Heero
and I both jumped, zeroing in on the doorway. I was put in mind of a pair
of over-protective wolves who have had a den full of pups breached by an
outsider. A comparison not far from the truth if the oddly startled look
on Barton’s face was any indication.
‘How… is he,’ he ventured into the tense
silence that greeted him.
Heero and I both relaxed when we realized who it was and how
we were reacting to the new presence. I was… mildly embarrassed and
Heero looked a little… discomfited.
‘As well as can be expected,’ Heero managed, after
a moment. ‘Hurting. Exhausted.’
Barton moved a little further into the room, seeming cautious
about it. I saw his eyes widen as he got close enough to get a good look
at Duo. Those eyes immediately narrowed and he muttered something that sounded
vaguely French. After a moment, he seemed to shake off his shock and he
turned on me with an expression that was almost sullen. As though he were
expecting some argument from me over whatever was on his mind. ‘Quatre
needs to see Duo,’ he told me flatly, daring me to gainsay him.
‘Of course,’ I responded carefully. ‘If
you think its best.’
He looked at me narrowly and I wondered what in the hell he
was so angry with me for.
‘When Duo wakes up,’ Heero interjected gently,
but in a tone of voice that would brook no argument.
Barton only nodded sharply, and with another lingering glance
at Duo’s battered torso, left the room.
I exchanged a glance with Heero. ‘Do you have any idea
why he’s so…’
‘Pissed off?’ Heero supplied with a grunt and
I had to quirk a rueful grin his way.
‘That rather aptly describes it.’
He sighed, running his fingers through his hair again and
looked down at Duo rather than at me. ‘I… think he feels that…
you should have been the point man on the way out of that base. So that…’
‘So that Winner didn’t have to do the killing.’
I finished for him and got a tight little nod.
I pulled my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around
them, feeling a little bit irritated… feeling a little bit guilty…
feeling a little bit mournful for the loss of that part of Winner’s…
innocence. I suppose if I were in Barton’s shoes, I would be…
pissed off too. And thinking back… I’m not all together sure
why things had fallen out the way they had.
I dropped my forehead down on my raised knees and sighed heavily.
‘It probably was the biggest cluster fuck I have ever been involved
in.’ I blurted and felt my face flame when I heard Heero snort softly.
It didn’t matter; he couldn’t really see me anyway.
‘You brought them out alive,’ Heero told me sternly.
I almost laughed out loud. ‘Duo brought us out alive.
I wasn’t much more than a damn pack mule there at the last.’
I heard the creak of the chair and then his weight settled
next to me on the bed, carefully away from Duo’s legs. I didn’t
acknowledge him immediately, not at all sure what he expected of me. After
a moment, a finger came and poked at my shin.
‘Hey…’ he said softly, his voice this odd
combination of fearful and amused. ‘Isn’t this where you’re
supposed to reap the benefits of… being in a… relationship?’
I couldn’t help but raise my head to look at him. ‘We’re…
in a relationship?’
He quirked that sardonic little grin that I was coming to
understand was something special that only Duo and I had probably ever seen.
‘Albeit a somewhat twisted, unique, damn complicated one… but,
yeah… I think so.’
I smiled, shaking my head and he reached to take my hand,
giving it a tug until I unwound myself and turned to sit next to him with
my back to the footboard of the bed. We just sat with our shoulders touching
and… it truly was something of a comforting feeling.
‘Talk to me?’ he whispered softly. ‘I don’t
think I can take both of you going all silent on me.’
I sighed and found my head wanting to rest on his shoulder.
I fought against it for a little bit and then let it fall. What the hell?
I knew he wouldn’t care.
‘I thought Bellows was down for the count,’ I
told him, feeling like I was in some sort of strange confessional. I had
to repress the urge to say, bless me Father, for I have sinned. Or whatever
the hell it was. ‘I shouldn’t have just left them alone with
the man while I went to get the keys. I should have… hauled Bellows
out or… cuffed him or something. I left the cell while Duo was completely
helpless and Winner was still handcuffed to the damn wall.’
I felt Heero reach out and entwine our fingers together. I
had to fight the urge to pull away, it felt… strange.
‘You made a split second decision in a tense situation,’
he told me softly.
‘And it was the wrong one,’ I growled.
His fingers squeezed mine gently. ‘But you didn’t
know… you did your best.’
I closed my eyes and saw that mental image again, of Bellows
with his hands wrapped around Duo’s throat, no real sanity left in
his eyes. And Winner… his face lit with something damn close to the
murderous rage that was consuming Bellows, stretched to the limits of his
chains, pressing that infernal shock rod to Bellows head. I shivered convulsively
and Heero shifted to slip an arm around my shoulders.
‘I know a thing or two about guilt,’ he told me
in a voice laced with pain. ‘I know a little something about bad decisions.
You can’t tear yourself apart over it. You all came out of it alive…
that’s what matters.’
‘I know,’ I soothed, not wanting him dwelling
on the things I knew he was remembering. ‘I know… I just keep
replaying it in my head, trying to figure out what I could have done differently.’
‘A million things,’ he said in a voice that was
a little husky. ‘A million damn things… but none of them happened,
and you can’t go back. You have to let it go.’
New Edwards. I knew that’s what he was thinking about,
knew he was picking at that scab with a vengeance.
He had released my hand when he had slid his arm around me
and I reached up to catch his fingers in mine, griping firmly. ‘All
right… that’s enough,’ I chided. ‘Stop thinking
about it… it was not your fault.’
He snorted disdainfully at me. ‘You can wallow in guilt
and I can’t? That’s hardly fair.’
‘I screwed up,’ I snapped before I had a chance
to think better of it.
‘And I didn’t?’ he questioned with a raised
‘Oh… just shut up,’ I growled and gave his
fingers a sharp squeeze.
‘Check mate,’ he whispered softly and kissed the
top of my head where it still rested against him. I blinked in surprise,
but made myself sit still. ‘As you told me…’ he fairly
breathed against my hair, ‘I hurt when you hurt.’
That one got me. Blindsided me and took me down. I love you,
he had just said to me. Voluntarily and unprompted and it ran through me
more sharply than it had when he had actually said it.
‘I hurt for you too,’ I responded tentatively,
hoping he understood.
I think that he did, for his arm tightened around me and he
gruffly rubbed his cheek against the top of my head. ‘What’s
really bothering you?’ he murmured after a moment of holding us tight
‘I’m scared,’ I breathed before I could
stop it. This conversation had left me feeling stripped down to raw emotion
and things were popping out of my mouth without official permission from
my brain. ‘They hurt him so badly… I’m scared of losing
him. I… have this awful feeling… this horrible foreboding. I…
I…’ I didn’t know how to articulate the gut-wrenching
fear that there was something wrong, something we didn’t know about…
something that would slowly kill him while we sat and watched, not knowing
what to do.
‘Hush,’ Heero sighed, stroking a hand over my
hair. ‘I know… I know… you don’t have to tell me.
‘I want a Doctor, Heero,’ I blurted, raising my
head to look at him intently. ‘I don’t care how… I want
a Doctor. I need to have someone tell me he’s all right inside. I
need someone to look at that incision and tell me they did a good job. I
need someone to look at his leg. I need…’
I realized that my voice was rising when Heero caught me in
a rather painful embrace and pressed my face into his neck. ‘Stop,’
he commanded gently. ‘I told you… I know. We’ll think
of something. We won’t let anything take him away from us.’
‘We’ve not even properly told him what he means
to us,’ I whispered, surprised and no little embarrassed to find that
my hand was fisted in Heero’s shirt.
There was an odd little silence and then Heero softly said,
‘I think we just did.’
I blinked up at him, only to find him looking the other way.
I followed his gaze and found a pair of very wide, blue-violet eyes staring
Flustered, Heero and I separated and I assumed that my face
was every bit as red as his was. Duo, meanwhile, was doing his deer-in-headlights
impression; though he looked a little bit more like a raccoon than a deer,
with the dark bruising on his face.
Heero recovered first and went back to sit on the chair beside
the bed. ‘How are you feeling?’ he asked gently and reached
to take Duo’s hand almost automatically. I think he did it without
any real conscious effort.
Duo nodded in a manner that meant, ‘ok’ and I
saw Heero frown slightly, concerned with Duo’s continued silence.
‘Can we get you anything?’ I interjected before
it had a chance to go farther than that. Duo shook his head, but moved to
sit up. I’m sure he felt uncomfortable lying flat on his back with
us hovering over him. Heero and I both quickly moved to help him. Duo managed
to look… alarmed. I met Heero’s eyes and we couldn’t help
laughing at each other.
‘I’ll get the extra pillows,’ Heero smirked
at me and left Duo’s side.
Duo seemed relieved to be out from under our scrutiny for
the minute it took Heero to fetch the pillows from the other bed. I helped
him sit up while Heero arranged the pillows behind him and we settled him
as comfortably as we could.
‘Do you need something for the pain?’ Heero asked
him, watching carefully for signs of distress.
Duo raised a quizzical eyebrow and touched his wrist where
his watch would have been if we hadn’t taken it off.
‘Heero,’ I scolded lightly, ‘its too soon.
He can’t have anything for another couple of hours.’
Heero looked mildly embarrassed, but forged ahead anyway.
‘Are you hungry? Do you need to…’
But suddenly, Duo’s eyes weren’t on Heero any
more and we turned as one to follow his gaze to the doorway.
Winner and Barton stood framed there, Barton with a hand lightly
on his partner’s back, as though offering some kind of encouragement.
I idly wondered if they’d been standing out in the hall waiting. That
thought left me feeling rather… uncomfortable.
‘Duo?’ Winner fairly breathed and I glanced back
to catch Duo’s reaction and found the most shocking expression of
disbelief on his face. I heard a tiny little intake of air and then Duo
threw his arms open wide. Winner all but ran to fling himself into them.
‘Ki o tsukete!’ Heero exclaimed, his reversion
to Japanese showing me his extreme agitation.
I found my own hands frantically trying to stop Winner’s
headlong flight, but Duo’s arms were reaching past me and before I
could stop it, they were wrapped around each other and Heero and I couldn’t
find purchase to separate them without further harming Duo.
‘Winner!’ I snapped angrily. ‘He’s
hurt… watch out, damn it!’
I might as well have been calling to them from the moon.
At least Winner had his arms around Duo’s neck and not
around his ribs, which was small comfort as we sat helplessly and watched
Duo tremble and shake trying to hold on. When I let myself calm down and
truly looked at them, I realized that Winner actually was being very careful
and it was Duo who was doing all the frantic clinging.
Movement made me look past them to Heero, and his expression…
was an odd study. I realized with a strange pang that I was seeing the face
of the Perfect Soldier again… closed off and emotionless. Except I
could see the emotion that was hiding behind the mask, I could see his fear
and agitation, and knew that he was getting ready to work his way up to
truly angry. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Barton tensing and
easing forward. This was about to get extremely ugly.
‘Heero,’ I said softly, and saw his attention
leave Winner and focus on me. ‘It’s all right.’ I told
him firmly and watched doubt cloud his eyes. ‘He’s not hurting
I could see muscles that had been tensing to drive him up
on his feet to deal with this implied threat to our Duo, relax almost of
their own volition. I saw him look to me for guidance and my heart gave
a funny little thump in my chest at the very implication that he totally
trusted my judgment. I saw him look a little closer, as I had, and realize
that Winner was actually being very gentle. He settled back in his seat,
but still managed to look… irritated. When I looked again, Barton
was very close beside him but seemed to relax when Heero did. I sighed inwardly
and had to resist the urge to shake my head. The wolf analogy came to mind
Winner was murmuring softly to Duo and I saw Duo’s hand
come up to stroke over the blond head buried in his shoulder. I couldn’t
hear everything. ‘… so sorry… thought they’d killed
you… lost your knife… sorry… its all right… killed
a man… Bellows…. So sorry…’
It just seemed to be tumbling out of Winner’s mouth
as fast as he could talk, and it was such a strange, strange thing to see
Duo Maxwell listening intently and remaining quiet. So damned quiet.
Winner was being very careful not to hurt, but I think Duo
was hurting himself trying to sit up straight and hold Winner in his arms,
trying to comfort. There was a subtle swaying motion and I realized that
Duo was rocking him like a child. Then I saw his face get that distressed,
strained look that told me he was trying to speak. It made my heart ache
to watch it and I glanced down at the sheet under my curled legs, almost
wishing that I had gotten the hell off the back side of the bed before this
had gotten started. Duo’s head dropped wearily onto Winner’s
shoulder and I could see him almost panting. Then Winner stiffened and stilled,
and I realized that Duo had managed to speak to him.
‘No… oh no Duo,’ Winner murmured, drawing
back to look into pained eyes. His fingers stroked over Duo’s face,
gentle and soothing. ‘You didn’t fail. He never broke you…
never. Not for an instant. I’m fine… I’m just fine.’
I realized in that moment that Duo had thought that Winner
was dead. His memories somehow jumbled enough from the drugs and the pain
that he had thought that Bellows had killed him.
Guilt was already welling in my chest as I realized that my
decision had kept them apart and left Duo with that misconception, when
Barton spoke up from beside the bed.
‘Real bright move, Chang,’ he muttered. ‘Not
letting them see each other.’
I was very suddenly, very angry. I turned a dark glare in
his direction and snarled, ‘You’ve been after a piece of me
since I got here. Just what in the hell is your problem?’
He matched my glare with one of his own and snapped, ‘I
want to know just what you did on that damn mission. Seems to me that you’re
the only one who escaped without a scratch.’
I… saw red. Maybe it was too close to the guilt that
was eating away at my own gut. I don’t know. I just know that between
one blink and the next, I was off the bed and had him on the floor. I don’t
remember moving. I don’t remember cocking my fist back to hit him.
I don’t even remember how we ended up on the damn floor. I blinked
and just found myself sitting on his stomach, pinning him to the ground
and the only thing that kept me from drilling him with a hard right cross,
There was yelling. There were curses. There was enough testosterone
in that room to choke an elephant. None of it was really registering with
me. I vaguely recall Winner shouting Barton’s name. I think I remember
Heero yelling at me. But I couldn’t seem to make myself care. Barton
had poked a stick into the middle of my anthill of frustration and come
out with more than he could handle.
But then a voice rose above it all. Not necessarily with its
volume… not even with the roughness of disuse, but with the sheer…
power of the unexpected.
‘Stop it!’ Duo wailed and the entire damn room
I forgot about Barton, my hands just letting him go as I turned
to look toward the bed. The anger just bled out of me, and Heero finished
the job of pulling me off our prone teammate. Later I would be humiliated.
Later I would apologize. Later…
Duo was sitting up, alone in the middle of the bed, because
Winner had abandoned him the minute that Heero had ripped me off Barton.
His hands were clamped over his mouth and his eyes were wide and bordering
on terrified. He was trembling so hard I could see it from where we stood.
Heero and I seemed frozen, rooted to the floor, the echo of that beloved
voice still ringing in our ears. Heero had not relinquished the grip he
had on my arm and we just stood and stared like a couple of assholes.
Winner seemed the most unaffected and after seeing to his
partner, started to return to Duo.
Duo stopped him with an up-flung hand and he was suddenly
gesturing him away, frantically waving him completely out of the room. For
a moment, Winner looked hurt, but then seemed to see something in Duo that
made his face soften. ‘Are you sure?’ he asked gently and Duo,
eyes squeezed shut, one hand still clapped to his mouth nodded vigorously.
‘All right,’ Winner soothed gently. ‘I…
understand.’ Then, gathering Barton up from the floor, they both left.
I spared them very little of my attention. I was too busy trying to figure
out if the ‘go the hell away’ gesture included me.
Heero let go of me and made a tentative move toward the bed.
Toward our… heart. I held my breath, waiting to see if he would be
accepted there and could have wept when Duo stretched out the same hand
that he had used to clear the room, in open entreaty. Heero fairly fell
on him to gather him tenderly into his arms.
I hung back, uncertain if I was still welcome after my…
pathetic display of childish temper, but Heero growled menacingly, ‘Get
the hell over here.’ And I didn’t have to be prompted twice.
We bracketed him. Surrounded him. Embraced and engulfed him.
Wrapped him up in that place between us that seemed to hold the soul of
He tugged at us. Clutched at us. Clung and held on to us.
Burrowed into what we offered as though his sanity depended on it.
And when he had himself hidden away in the tangle he had made
of us… he began to weep.
Silent scalding tears at first, that seemed to be burning
up from somewhere deep inside him. Boiling up out of his pain and grief,
born of his frustration, confusion and… yes; fear. Eventually his
breath began to hitch and finally he was being wracked with sobs that were
devastating to hear… and a joy all at the same time. The blessed sound
of his voice was utterly priceless… despite the sounds he was making.
All that mattered was the fact that he was making those sounds.
We drew the tears from him with soft caresses and tender kisses,
with gentle words of comfort. Until he was spent and exhausted and fell
asleep with his hands still holding fast to us, making sure we stayed right
where we were.
I felt… humbled. I had never in all the time I’d
worked beside the God of Death, seen him break down. Had never seen him
unable to dredge up one of those impish grins. Had sure as hell never seen
him shed so much as a single tear. That he trusted us enough to let go of
all his masks and barriers… was damn daunting. That he had somehow
needed us to let himself give in to this release was… bittersweet,
somehow. It did something to my gut that I can’t even begin to describe.
I met Heero’s eyes over the top of the cherished head
and saw echoed there the same awe I felt. The same unsettling understanding
that the three of us had started down a path that we suddenly realized had
no way back. We were utterly committed. I don’t know that I would
have had it any other way.
‘Ours,’ Heero whispered to me with a feral, protective
gleam in his eye and I understood the overwhelming feelings that were churning
around in him… churning around in the both of us.
‘Ours,’ I confirmed and I think we both knew a
vow when we heard it. A promise that would bind us through the rest of our
lives, though we hardly fathomed it then.
He stretched carefully across the few inches that separated
us and kissed me, sealing the vow… making the promise. And I kissed
Then we settled down to sleep, because it was an iron clad
cinch that neither of us would do anything to disturb our Duo’s rest.
He wanted us here. Felt safe and protected with us here. I wasn’t
In a few hours, when Duo woke, we would worry with medical
treatment and missions, reports and orders. For now… more than one
kind of barrier had come down and I, for one, was simply going to enjoy
the feeling of being part of a greater whole.
Fiction : GW :