Author: Anria Lalumin
Warnings: mild violence this part, and language. Lots of it.
Pairings: 1xR, and 6+2 at the moment, gradually inching towards reciprocation.
Disclaimer: I've passed into the anger stage of grieving. What do you mean, they're not mine?

::Lizards:: = sound effects, like over-the-com speech

Trust + Part 5

Duo jumped to his feet as the door opened, instinct telling him to be on his guard. His mind was screaming at him, panicked, as he realised that Zechs may not have heard the door opening -- and the damnable skeleton of a communications device was lying on the floor, plain for anyone to see who walked through to the main apartment. This information filtered through to his brain as he recovered from his surprise, and from some cache of stored intelligence and bravado, Duo formulated a plan. He found a cocky grin and slapped it on.

In some ways, it was not a surprise who stood in the doorway. The stately brunet man who had spoken to him and Zechs when removing them from the cell entered, nodding politely to Duo. He seemed to be the one they were going to deal with the most. Well, him and the standard little group of unshaven thugs with machine guns that followed him in.

Frankly, Duo would rather deal with the thugs any day than have to manage the aristocrat. At least he could predict how the thugs would act. Aristocrats were a mystery to him.

"Come back to see if your prisoners are comfortable, have ya?" Duo said a little too loudly, interrupting the brunet man as he opened his mouth to speak.

The man frowned genteelly, as Relena was fond of doing at him, and then sighed. "I suppose I cannot complain over your words, Mr Maxwell," he said. "After all, 'prisoners' is a regrettably accurate description of yours and Mr Merquise's status here. I take it he is in the main body of the apartment?" the man gestured to the door.

Duo shrugged easily. "Unless he's found some way of gettin' out of here he neglected to mention," he replied, still talking slightly too loud.

The man nodded and gestured to the thugs. Duo knew better than to resist when four converged on him at once, and those irritating wrist-to-elbow cuffs were clamped on again. "Would you mind putting these on in front this time?" Duo asked on of the grunts manhandling his arms into the cuffs. "It's just that I really don't like feeling my arms are gonna get wrenched out of my sockets any minute."

The grunt looked at the brunet man. He shook his head silently and moved into the main body of the apartment, taking four more grunts with him. How many of those were there? Oh wait, stupid question. All anyone ever really needed to know was 'enough'.

Yeah, like that'll satisfy Une.

"Really, you'd think you'd be nice little terrorists and allow me a modicum of comfort," Duo complained, still talking too loudly. "Back in the good ol' days when I was the one blowing up bases, I still had enough humanity to make sure my prisoners were comfortable. Of course," he added thoughtfully, "considering I never took prisoners, that doesn't really mean much."

One of the thugs whacked him on the back of the head. "Shut up, idiot," he growled.

Duo mock-gasped. "It talks!"

The thug's eyes narrowed and he raised his fist menacingly.

"Johnson!" the aristocrat said sharply, catching the action as he walked back into the antechamber, the four grunts and a manacled Zechs following. "Do not let him provoke you."

Duo pouted. "Aw, come on, I need a little fun. You keep me locked up with His Blondeness there and expect me not to go crazy? Let the man beat me up! It'd be more fun, for one thing!"

The brunet's eyes narrowed and he walked slowly and deliberately to stand in front of the insolently grinning Duo. "Mr Maxwell," he said, "I am fully cognizant of your skills. I know the intense level to which you were trained. I do not understand what you hope to gain from such childish behaviour or how it would benefit you, but that does not mean I am stupid enough to believe it offers you no possible course of action. So I will warn you that if I hear another word come out of your mouth I will have you gagged. I am not a fool, an
d your idiotic mannerisms cannot trick me."

Duo blinked at him. Does he really think me pissing off the goons had any purpose? he wondered. Come on, all I want is some entertainment!

"Enough of this." The man gestured to his grunts and swept out of the room, Duo and Zechs propelled along behind him. He strode easily through the maze of corridors, never once faltering or checking to see if he was going in the right direction.

The room Zechs and Duo were shoved into was a melodramatic man's dream. Unlike the opulent hallways upstairs and the plain grey corridors in the lower levels of the complex, this room was almost entirely black. The lights were dimmed, creating looming shadows around the edges, and a single spotlight graced the centre of the room, highlighting the large vid-phone connection set up there. All it would show to the person on the other side of the communications would be whatever was in that single spot of bright light.

Duo rolled his eyes. "Y'know, back when I was the one doing all the terrorising, you'd never catch me dead in a place like this. Too much melodrama, man, it belongs on a TV screen! Real life is more gritty than this -- "

"Shut him up," the brunet said to the thug on Duo's left. The modern-day Neanderthal nodded and slugged him in the jaw.

The hit wasn't that hard, thanks to the awkward angle, but Duo still went flying backwards. The hold the thugs had on his arms meant that he didn't hit his head on the floor, but it was a particularly uncomfortable position to be in.

"Mr Maxwell, if I cannot trust you to keep your mouth shut at all times during this communication, I will have my boys here find a permanent way to keep you from speaking," the aristocrat told him firmly. "I am rapidly losing all patience with you, so do not push me."

The part of Duo that was firmly self-destructive and just loved to hijack his mouth and get him into trouble forced an insolent grin to his face and began formulating words even as Duo was opening his mouth. They never made it out. Zechs caught Duo's eye over the brunet's shoulder, and the look in his eyes made the words die on Duo's tongue before they ever made it to his lips.

The aristocrat, not having seen this exchange, only saw Duo start on one course of action and apparently think the better of it. He smiled a little cruelly, and stepped back. "Thank you for your cooperation," he told the American, turning around to face the vid-phone. He waved his hand negligently, and the thugs yanked both Preventers back into the darkness outside the circle of light.

From the startled face that popped up on the screen, the aristocratic terrorist had somehow managed to get hold of Relena's personal com line.

"Mrs Peacecraft-Yuy," he said pleasantly. "I apologise for the abruptness of this call, but I believe you can most likely figure out what it is about."

The surprise vanished from Relena's face as she composed herself. ::"Yes, I believe I can,":: she said neutrally. ::"However, I would like to know who I am addressing."::

"How remiss of me! You may call me Falcon -- "

Duo's eyes bugged out of his head. Shit!

" -- and I represent the Blackbird revolutionist group."

Duo caught Zechs' eye around the thugs. He looked as grim as Duo felt, and shook his head to Duo's unspoken question. He had had no idea, either.

The Blackbird revolutionist group were the biggest thorn in the Preventers' proverbial ass since Dekim's failed takeover attempt. They were responsible for a large number of bombings on civilian buildings, and claimed credit for a whole load of others that had never been conclusively proven as having come from their organisation. Une had been trying to track them down for months -- and she really, really wanted to get her hands on 'Falcon', their leader. He was charismatic enough to collect a large following and ruthless enough to be responsible for the deaths of several hundred children alone, not mentioning the adult civilian men and women. The Preventers had been unable to track them down and eliminate them as of yet because they changed location so often, and members often had a ridiculous amount of loyalty to their cause. What exactly that cause was, was covered in a ton of propaganda and bullshit until about all they had been able to make out was that Falcon wanted to take over most of the Earthsphere, and was glib enough to make people believe it was for their own good. And now he had some leverage, even weak as it was...

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK!

Falcon was speaking again. "I see you have heard of us, Mrs Peacecraft-Yuy," he said pleasantly.

Relena's mouth was compressed to a thin, hard line. ::"I understand that I am now speaking to the man responsible for the deaths of eight hundred and seventy-two civilian men and women, not to mention three hundred and forty-six children."::

The numbers were so unbalanced because the Blackbirds had once hit a public school of approximately five hundred children, killing the majority. It was just like Relena to have kept count.

Duo stared hard at the screen, willing the woman to keep going in that fashion. As long as she remembered who she was dealing with -- he may have disliked the woman personally, but as long as she kept her head he could rely on her to deny any requests Falcon might make.

Falcon sighed. "Regrettable but necessary," he said to the blonde woman. "Their deaths will be remembered in honour once our cause is achieved."

::"You killed three hundred and forty-six children. I highly doubt you will or any other of your group will be remembered as anything other than murderers."::

Duo mentally applauded.

Relena wasn't finished yet. ::"I refuse to have anything to do with you and your 'group'.":: She put even more sneer into that last word than she did into Duo's name. For once, he didn't mind.

Falcon smiled unpleasantly. "I think you misunderstand me, Mrs Peacecraft-Yuy. After all, I do have something which you hold very dear."

::"What are you talking about?":: Relena was obviously losing patience.

Falcon made another of those hand-waving gestures, and as if they knew what he was thinking the thugs holding Zechs and Duo brought them forward. Duo opened his mouth to say something -- he wasn't quite sure what, but these things usually came to him as he was saying them -- until Falcon caught his eye, and Duo slowly closed his mouth again. Who knows, he might need his big mouth later.

Turning back to the screen, the aristocrat-cum-terrorist smiled to see the shocked look on Relena's face. "Did the Preventers neglect to inform you of your brother and Mr Maxwell's disappearance?" he asked in tones of mock concern. "Tut, tut, tut."

::"Relena?"::

Duo's head snapped up as he peered into the background of the screen. Well, now he knew they were safe -- Heero would never let his wife give out any information of any kind or agree to any deal.

"Mr Yuy!" Falcon said with false cheer. Everything about the man seemed fake. "How nice of you to join us." It was fairly obvious he was displeased -- he must have realised the same thing as Duo.

On the screen Heero leaned over Relena's shoulder and peered into the darkness surrounding the spotlight with practised ease. Eventually his eyes came to rest on Duo, and he quirked an eyebrow in silent question.

Blackbirds, Duo mouthed to him. Making communicator. One way. Une. Track signal. Victoria base area, maybe. He shut up again, knowing Heero would get the message and alert the Preventers.

"A list of our demands are being sent to you as we speak," Falcon was saying smoothly, not pausing for a moment. "I trust you will agree to all of them, if you wish to see either of these young men again."

"Don't," Zechs said.

::"We won't,":: Heero said.

Falcon span around and glared at the blond man, his mask of gentility breaking momentarily. Then he smiled unpleasantly and turned back to face Relena and Heero.

"I do so hate violence," he told them, "but on occasion it is necessary to make a point." He raised a hand and flicked the wrist, and the thugs holding Duo hauled him back into the darkness. "Please show Mr and Mrs Peacecraft-Yuy what they will be subjecting their loved ones to if they do not comply with our demands."

Two of the four thugs holding Zechs let go of his arms and moved in front of him. Relena watched in confusion, Heero in grim knowledge of what was about to happen.

One of the thugs balled his hand into a fist and slammed it into Zechs' gut, forcing him to double over. Zechs made a small, odd choked noise of pain, but set his jaw and refused to give any other sign that could be taken as a weakness.

"Fuck no!"

Duo wrenched his way forwards to the circle of light. "No! Fuck no! I don't care who he is, no one deserves that! You fucking monster!" he screamed as he was

dragged backwards, kicking and thrashing madly. "Gag him," Falcon said coolly. Duo continued to scream obscenities until two thugs pried his jaws open and shoved a rolled-up ball of cloth in there, tying it to his mouth with a second.

::"You can't do this!":: Relena cried over the comlink. ::"This is inhuman!"::

Falcon ignored her. Meanwhile, the two other thugs were systematically beating the shit out of Zechs. The torso seemed to be their favourite, although one had given a couple of good blows to his legs. The blond man was steadfastly enduring it, refusing to make a sound or show more evidence of pain than he had to. Barely a flicker showed in his expression.

After a moment, Falcon nodded to the other two men holding Zechs, and they stepped back. The man sagged on his feet and staggered a little, showing how much he strength he had lost in that he had been relying on them to hold him up. From the shadows around them, Duo strained around the makeshift ball gag to scream at Falcon some more, tears coming to his eyes as he felt every blow that landed on Zechs as though it landed on him. Sure, he may hate the man, but no one deserved this!

Falcon had apparently turned the comlink onto mute, as Relena was screaming but there was no sound in the room other than the dull thud of punches that Zechs wasn't even trying to avoid hitting his flesh, and the small involuntary gasps of pain that made their way past his lips. Duo wasn't sure he even knew he was making them.

It was obvious that the four men beating him were nearing the level Zechs could take and stay conscious. One of them kicked him to the back of the knees and his legs crumpled, dropping him to the floor with a thud before he keeled over, cheek pressed to the metal. It was a particularly submissive position -- or a provocative one, depending on how you looked at it.

His body balanced on his knees and cheek, ass up in the air, blue eyes glazed and staring at nothing, and Duo prayed that they would stop now he was barely conscious. He felt an inordinate pride in his fellow Preventer -- the man had taken a harsh beating and not cried out once, had not asked them to stop, had not tried to move out of the way but had simply taken it like a man, as corny as that phrase was.

One of the thugs moved closer and stamped on his back. It caught on his arm at an odd angle, and the sickening crack echoed throughout the room.

"That's enough, boys," Falcon's urbanely cultured voice seemed to come out of nowhere. One of them picked Zechs up and propped him on his shoulder as Falcon turned the sound back on the comlink. Relena had stopped screaming and was now sobbing into her husband's shoulder while Heero glared daggers at the terrorist. His expression was somewhat at odds with the comforting hold he had on Relena, his hand petting her blonde hair.

"I regret that that was necessary," Falcon said. "However, I believe you needed proof of our intentions. Mr Merquise will be seen to, do not fear, but if our demands are not met within a week there will be a more unpleasant call made. Good day, Mr and Mrs Peacecraft-Yuy."

The screen went blank.

"Take Mr Maxwell back to his quarters," Falcon said to the thugs holding Duo. They nodded and began hauling him off, but not before he heard the man say, "Mr Merquise held up remarkably well. Take him to the medical bay to have his arm set, and then return him to his quarters."

The march back to the apartment that Duo and Zechs had been living in came in a blur. All Duo could see was that boot connecting with Zechs' arm, the sickening crack, and the unnatural angle it had been left at, bone poking through the pale skin. He thought Zechs had passed out with that last hit, and was glad of it. He couldn't help feeling that somehow this was his fault.

Logically that was ridiculous, he knew. He pondered it, focusing all his attention on the problem while he was shoved into the apartment and the cuffs were wrenched off him. He barely acknowledged the ache that came from being able to move his arms freely after being in an uncomfortable position for so long. He ignored the odd jarring sensation that came when the makeshift ball gag was wrenched from his mouth, and hardly registered the slamming of the door.

Somehow... he felt this was his fault.

He should have spoken up sooner. Then Falcon's attention would have been moved to him and Zechs wouldn't have had to have taken a beating. He knew he had had worse ones than that -- he knew he could take it. When you were a street rat, it was sink or swim and there were few lessons. One of them was learning how to take a beating. He'd had enough of them, he should know.

He didn't think Zechs had ever been systematically beaten up before.

Somehow that made it worse.

What was even worse than that, though was that something in his mind was telling him he shouldn't care. Because he hated Zechs. Because the man was a pain in the backside. Because... because... Duo wondered if this was the first time he had ever let himself look at the real reason he hated Zechs. And it just made him feel worse.

Because...

It was so goddamn petty.

Duo sank to the floor where he stood, leaning against the wall, eyes staring blindly at nothing. He kept seeing the thug break Zechs' arm, over and over again, hearing the crack and hating himself an awful lot right then. He'd made this worse for the man than it had to be. He wasn't the only one who'd been kidnapped, after all! He'd been rude, and impolite, and just downright nasty, and the man had taken it all in stride and hardly said anything in defence of himself.

And then he'd got the shit beaten out of him.

And all Duo had done was make it worse, because there was really nothing about Zechs he truly disliked. Despite his whacked-out time at the end of the first Eve War, he really wasn't a bad guy. He had far more patience than Duo, for one thing, and he found time to be nice even under intense pressure.

And Duo treated him like shit.

For a small, stupid, petty reason.

It just... hadn't seemed like that at the time.

At the time it was a perfectly good reason. After all, he'd never expected to actually meet Zechs, let alone work with him, so it was perfectly all right. But he'd let it get so... so ingrained, and now he had made things worse for the man by not letting go.

Duo made up his mind.

He'd have to make it up to him.

Somehow.

Even as he thought that, the door opened for the second time that day.

+

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