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

Fragments + Chapter 22

Despite the fact that I'd known there was only one real possible cause for the gunshots in the hallway, it was still a shock to hear Heero calling for me - well, for "Max". His voice sounded almost concerned as he asked whether I could get out of there on my own but I dismissed that notion as the foolishness it was. Any concern he had was purely for me as his partner; there was no point raising my hopes only to have them dashed yet again.

Wufei and Sally had hauled me to my feet as soon as the first shot rang out so by the time that the door opened, the room had stopped spinning enough that I was able to walk with their assistance. As the adrenaline started to flow, I pushed the pain from my shoulder aside, blocking it out as much as possible. I could not afford to let it slow me down or distract me.

The pain wasn't the worst problem however. The blood loss and fever were far worse. They were what was making me dizzy and weak. Not too weak to manage on my own, though. I hoped.

We needed all of us armed and ready to shoot, which meant that I was going to *have* to stay on my feet by myself. Fei couldn't hold me up and use a gun as well when he only had one good arm. And as the most able-bodied of the bunch, Sally and Heero were going to have to be prepared to bear the brunt of the escape; neither of them could afford to be dragging my sorry ass along too.

I took the gun that Sally offered me and murmured quietly, "Let go Fei. I can manage now." 'I hope...' I added silently. Now that I'd been on my feet for a few minutes, the dizziness had subsided. I was still pretty lightheaded but I figured that I could manage as long as I didn't try bending over or anything equally foolish. I stuffed my hand in my coat pocket to take some of the strain off of my shoulder, biting my lip at the renewed throbbing caused by the movement. Really I should have had a sling but I'd needed the warmth of the intact shirt and jacket more than a sling while we were merely lying on the floor conserving our energy and waiting for something to happen. And now there was no time to waste messing around with making me more comfortable.

Heero gave me only the briefest of glances before saying abruptly, "Let's go," and moving off down the hall, never looking back. I swallowed painfully, missing "Odin" sharply and aching for even the smallest sign of happiness to see me or worry about my condition. Sally dropped in behind Heero and I waited for Wufei to follow, intending to take the rear. He glared at me and motioned emphatically for me to go. I sighed and went; I didn't have the energy to argue with him over it despite the fact that I was the better shot, especially since he had one eye swollen mostly shut.

We made it out of that hallway and partway down the one it met before Heero abruptly halted and signalled us into the nearest room. We pressed ourselves tightly against the wall, guns up and ready, while footsteps ran past, heading towards the area we'd just left. Heero cautiously peered into the hall and motioned us back out again, moving more quickly as we continued onwards. The jog we'd broken into was pressing the limits of my endurance and I was seeing black spots by the time Heero turned us down another hallway and slowed our pace again. I stumbled a bit, drawing a concerned, "Duo? Need help?" from Wufei as he moved up beside me.

I started to shake my head dismissively and realized that was a dumb idea as the dizziness threatened to return. "M'okay, Fei." Obviously, that didn't sound any more convincing to him than it did to me judging by the disbelieving look he gave me.

I drew a breath to try again but was interrupted by a sharp, impatient, demand of "Status?" from Heero.

"Fine," I replied with as much force as I could manage - which wasn't very damn much. Evidently Heero believed me because he turned and started moving again.

Wufei snorted and muttered, "Whatever happened to 'I don't lie', Maxwell?" I gave in to temptation and spared the energy to stick my tongue out at him in response. Firmly, I tamped down the hurt that my best friend hadn't been the least bit fooled by either response yet Heero had. Or if he hadn't, he still hadn't been sufficiently concerned to pursue the subject. Obviously none of "Odin" had survived the transition back to "Heero". Despite the fact that I'd known that would probably be the case, the disappointment of having that fact confirmed was painful.

I automatically pressed myself up against the wall as Heero and Sally did so ahead of me. We all held our breath as a jitney pulling an empty cart rattled past the end of our hallway. It was making far too much noise for us to be heard by its driver but the instinct to be as silent as possible still made us act as if he could possibly do so. Heero peered cautiously around the corner after it, then slipped back down the hall, motioning for Sally to come with him.

We huddled close, still watching both directions for trouble, while Heero hurriedly explained, "They're still loading the ships with equipment. We're heading for the small personal yacht in the docking bay. The next load that goes past in the opposite direction from that empty one, I want Sally to try to get on and hide. Get off as soon after entering the bay as possible, hopefully before you get taken right inside one of the transport ships. Head for the yacht unless you can find a good place to wait and be prepared to provide covering fire if necessary.

"Wufei, you go with Sally if there's room, otherwise wait for the next one. Then Duo, then me. Got it?"

Sally and Wufei both nodded sharply and agreed. I kept my mouth shut and considered the likelihood of me managing to dash out and hop on one of those things even if it *was* moving slowly. It wasn't too promising a prospect. I was starting to feel pretty damn dizzy even while standing still at this point.

Heero apparently took my agreement for granted since he motioned the others towards the junction of the hallways. He followed them and I brought up the rear slowly. I leaned my good shoulder against the wall wearily once we were in position. Wufei was closest to the corner, then Sally, then me. Heero had moved to the back of the group to keep an eye on our back trail. I absently noted Sally slipping past me to join him briefly before returning to her own spot.

While we waited for a suitable "ride" to come along for Sally and Wufei, I debated the odds of me managing this move. I really, really hated to have to admit that I didn't think I could do it. Despite how well Heero and I worked together, I always felt the driving need to match him. To not let him down or appear weak or incompetent. His cold snubs and obvious disapproval of me at times during the war lingered on in my memory all too clearly; I dreaded messing things up and drawing that disdain again. And I was pretty sure that a little thing like a bullet hole in his shoulder wouldn't keep him from doing anything he damn well needed to. I felt like a real weakling debating whether I could handle hopping a ride on a damn cart pulled by a jitney. The thing would only be travelling a little faster than walking speed.

Better a little disdain for being weak than getting us both killed by trying to do something I wasn't capable of at the moment, though. I waited while Sally darted out and jumped on the back of a load of equipment, Wufei close behind her. He had to put away his gun in order to make the jump, needing his good arm free to grab hold of a piece of equipment and keep his balance as he landed. They both crouched low and moved out of sight. Seeing how awkwardly Wufei handled that with one arm confirmed for me that there was no way in hell that I was going to manage it with one arm and dizzy spells.

Before the next cart drew close, I admitted reluctantly, "I don't think I can do this. I'm too dizzy." I didn't turn to face Heero as I whispered; I'd rather not have to watch his face go all cold and disdainful. I couldn't remember not being able to hold my own on a mission since way back during the war; admitting that I couldn't now hurt.

Heero's complete lack of response left me wondering whether for some reason he hadn't heard me. Or whether I'd been so badly distracted that he'd slipped away to check the other end of the hall again without me noticing him leave. I hesitantly glanced over my shoulder to confirm that he was still behind me. He was. And he was scowling rather darkly which confirmed that he must have heard me, too. I flinched at his obvious disapproval and turned my head back to watch the approaching jitney in silence. I should have been suggesting an alternative plan but my mind was too fuzzy with pain and exhaustion to think of one. I was about to suggest that Heero take this "ride" and I'd try the next - at least that way if I messed this up he would be safely on his way - when abruptly I was slung over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. I bit my tongue to choke off my startled yelp. It probably wouldn't have been audible over the racket from the approaching vehicle but I was causing Heero quite enough problems already. Then as he sprang into motion, I bit my tongue even harder, trying to hold back the pained outcry as the jolting and awkward position made my shoulder flare with agony.

As Heero landed in a crouch and slid me off his shoulder, I managed to murmur an apologetic, "Sorry," before the pain and dizziness took me over and everything faded to black.

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