Author: Calic0cat
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Fragments + Chapter 21

I hoped that I was getting closer to where Max - no, Duo, I corrected myself - was being held. I was running out of places to search and all too aware of just how much time had passed since I made that damn mistake. When I *did* find him, I had no idea what condition he would be in. How much damage my bullet had caused. It was entirely possible that Duo would be completely unable to assist in his own rescue; he could very well be unconscious. Or even... No, unconscious was the worst possibility that I was going to consider.

There were very few regular workers around in this area. It was well into the satellite's "night" period and the manufacturing facilities had given way to storage rooms and offices. Matching the rooms against my mental map of the ventilation shafts that I'd explored made it clear that this region was one of those that I had been unable to reach. That alone was enough to raise my hopes a bit. My latest disguise - a janitor's uniform and a cart with a large garbage can loaded on it - had served me well so far. Without knowing how the security patrols worked - check-in times and patrol routes and so on - I was highly reluctant to take out a guard and take his place but the janitor's uniform gave me nearly as much freedom. It allowed me to stick to a tried-and-true tactic that Duo tended to favour in such situations - boldly and openly walk down the hallway as if you know exactly where you're going and have every right to be there. It worked in a truly staggering number of cases; people just didn't tend to question someone who acted very sure of himself. They simply assumed that you had a legitimate reason for being there.

Strolling nonchalantly down one of the few hallways that I hadn't explored as of yet, I spotted no less than *four* security guards loitering outside a closed door. 'That must be the room I want... There's no reason for that many guards to be just standing around in the hall...' I turned into a room before getting too close to the guards and emptied the wastebasket into the large garbage can I was pushing around. That bought me a few minutes to consider my next course of action.

Four guards were going to be a little tough to take out all at once without drawing too much attention. And I couldn't be sure just how long it would take me to get Duo out of the room. If he was capable of walking at all, I couldn't expect him to move with his usual speed and agility. Getting him from here back to our escape vehicle was going to be tricky.

First things first, worrying about how to get Duo from the room to the shuttle could wait till after I figured out how the hell to get four guards out of the way. Time was not on my side; I needed something fast and effective. Quiet was virtually impossible; there was no time to arrange to drug them and I had nothing like that with me anyway. But trying to take out four at once by myself, preferably without having to kill them all, was a rather steep task to take on. A distraction would - hopefully - split them up so that I could deal with one or two separately. So - distraction time.

I climbed up on top of the desk to check exactly which type of sprinklers the place actually had. 'Good. The heat-activated type; no chance of them turning on for this little bit of smoke.' It looked like the fire alarm was the same type, heat-activated rather than smoke. My little garbage can fire wouldn't put out nearly enough heat to set either of them off. I dug through my pockets for the cigarette lighter I'd "obtained" along with one of my previous disguises. Lighter in hand, I hesitated, reconsidering. Yes, we'd used a fake fire as a successful distraction in the past but not usually when there were so many unknowns about a situation. The fire wouldn't keep the guards busy for more than a few moments and they might call for assistance rather than even check it out themselves; Mattis's men seemed to actually have a smattering of intelligence. If I only needed a few moments to slip past them it might work but under the circumstances - no.

Something else was needed. Something more like Duo's usual method of operation than my own.

I stuck the lighter back in my pocket and eyed the filing cabinet in one corner. Testing its weight cautiously by rocking it up on its edge, I decided it might do the trick. I took the garbage can off the dolly I'd been pushing it around on and set it out of sight behind the door, then pushed the cart over to the filing cabinet. I lifted the entire cabinet with an effort - it was damn near too heavy for even me to handle - then dropped it, letting it hit the edge of the dolly so that the cart scooted away and hit the wall noisily. I started cursing - loudly - while I rocked the cabinet up on one edge and carefully slid one foot under the corner. It didn't take long for two suspicious guards to appear in the doorway.

"Get in here and help me get the damn thing off my fucking foot already!" I snarled impatiently. "Stupid supervisor, scheduling one person for a three-man job..." I called my imaginary superior a few distinctly disrespectful names and smacked the filing cabinet with one hand. The two guards exchanged faintly amused looks, relaxed, put away their weapons, and called an all-clear down the hall before entering the room. The man moved to the opposite side of the filing cabinet from me while the woman pushed the cart back over. "Damn cabinet weighs a fucking ton," I grumbled.

The guard opposite me said unsympathetically, "Then you should have known better than to try to handle it by yourself."

I gave him a disgruntled glare and said grumpily, "Lift on three. One... two... three!" We heaved together - then I lifted it even higher and shoved the full weight of it in his direction, tipping the top towards him so that he would overbalance. He went over backwards, taking the cabinet with him. I rammed the cart into the other guard with one foot before the first guard even hit the floor. Guard number one shrieked as several hundred pounds of paper-loaded metal cabinet crashed down on his torso. He would have broken ribs at the very least but I didn't feel particularly guilty; he worked for a man running an illegal arms factory after all.

Guard number two was sent flying into the wall by the cart and I silenced her with a single quick strike. Working rapidly, I grabbed her weapons and com unit before silencing the still-shrieking man pinned under the cabinet and disarming him. My mind counted off the seconds, urging me to hurry.

I flung myself into the corridor and fired off a quick shot, shattering the com unit that one of the remaining guards had raised. My second shot struck the other man's gun-hand, sending his weapon flying. "Drop it!" I snarled as the first man started to draw his gun. "I have nothing to lose by shooting you," I pointed out icily as he hesitated. Petulantly, he tossed his gun away from him - and in the opposite direction from me. Well, he had guts, I'd give him that much.

"Open the door," I ordered sharply. I fired a warning shot that just grazed his foot as he hesitated rebelliously. "*Now!*" He didn't waste any time in drawing the two bolts back and pushing the door open. "Hold it! Back away from the door!" I snapped as he moved towards it. I wasn't giving him the chance to try a little hostage-taking of his own.

"Max!" I called sharply, hoping desperately that I would receive a response.


I winced both at the note of disbelief in his voice - he really hadn't believed I'd come back for him and despite the fact that he'd had good reason to think that, it hurt - and at the weakness of his response. He didn't sound too good. I moved closer to the door, keeping a careful eye on both guards and listening for any sounds of movement from the ones in the office down the hall. "Can you get out here on your own?" I asked urgently. I didn't want to risk stepping in there myself if I could avoid it, nor did I want to chance sending one of the guards in at gunpoint. Both courses of action carried a higher risk than I liked.

"Uh - sort of. A couple of friends of ours are here too, Odin... I don't suppose you remember Wufei and Sally?"

The names triggered a few more memories and I gritted my teeth, fighting to stay in the present. I had most of my memory back but there were still substantial chunks missing. "I do..." I said briefly. I remembered enough to know that they were friends and fellow Preventers agents at least. Though what they were doing *here*, I didn't know. "Hurry, we probably don't have much time," I urged. It was highly unlikely that the gunshots would go unnoticed but unless there was a patrolling guard in this immediate area that I hadn't spotted, it would take a few minutes for anyone who was an actual threat to reach us.

The three of them came through the door and I flicked a quick glance over them. Sally had a few bruises and was limping. Wufei's face was swollen and he had one arm in a makeshift sling. And Duo... Oh god, Duo... My heart lurched at the sight of him. Sally and Wufei were both supporting him. He was so pale... And his shirt so stained with blood where the suit jacket hung open in front... His bangs and shirt clung damply to him, clear signs that he was or had been sweating heavily. 'Blood loss, fever - which means infection - oh god, Duo, I'm sorry...'

As soon as the three of them were clear of the room, I motioned sharply and ordered the guards to go into it. I confiscated the second guard's com unit and all their spare ammo as they passed me. Yanking the door shut, I slammed the bolts home. When I turned back, Sally had retrieved both guns from the floor and was checking to be sure they were in working order. She handed one to Duo - even using his non-dominant hand he was a pretty damn good shot, though it looked like staying on his feet was requiring most of his strength even with Wufei's good arm around his waist - and kept the other for herself. Duo murmured something softly and Wufei reluctantly drew away, leaving Duo to stand on his own. I handed one of my extra confiscated weapons to Wufei. He wasn't as close to ambidextrous as myself or Duo but even a bad shot would be better than nothing.

Duo swayed slightly as Wufei moved away, then steadied. I fought off the urge to just pick him up and carry him. If he thought he could manage on his own, I would at least let him try. Despite how long we'd worked together and how much I loved and respected him, he never failed to surprise me with just how damn tough he really was.

"Let's go," I said simply, leading the way down the hall. I forced myself not to look back, relying on my hearing to confirm that all three of them were following me. None of them had shoes so they moved very quietly; it was a good thing that we weren't likely to encounter any rough terrain between here and the ship. Sally's steps were uneven but light while Wufei's were as ghost-light as my own. Duo's were heavier than usual and not as quick, clear reflections of his poor physical condition, but still lighter than the average person and reasonably steady. A tiny part of my attention continued to monitor his movements for any sign of faltering but the rest of it returned to the main objective: getting us all out of here alive and hopefully without any further injuries.

It was going to be one hell of a long trip back to the docking bay. Of that I had no doubt.

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