Freeport + Chapter 17"Will you and your government teach eagles to fly and tigers to hunt? Of course not. No one is so arrogant with nature. But you and your government want to tell me what to buy and how to live, and I am more complex than any eagle or tiger. Give me only the same respect you pay the badger and the blue jay, and leave me alone.
After all, anarchy means nothing more than human ecology."
- Allen Thornton, Laws of the Jungle
The rusty tin can was punted clear off the sidewalk; it shot across the street and rattled into an open sewer near a pylon. Duo scowled after it, as if he wished he'd kicked it harder.
They were walking the distance from Vanzetti to Makhno instead of taking the shuttle. Duo said that he had a couple of people he wanted to talk to on the way back, to try to track down Herb Spasson. But Wufei gathered the main aim of the exercise was to let Duo release a bit of steam without too many witnesses.
"Shit, we're just not getting a break on this fucking case. Another dead end," Duo grumbled.
"Spasson might be the one who ends up dead."
"Maybe, maybe not. Depends how friendly he is with Ferret-face. Maybe they're just hiding him."
"Until Carver and Ferret leave the colony, I'm guessing. Or maybe Herb is just really, really stupid and he willingly followed Ferret and his big, scary buddy all the way to recyc."
Duo's feet pounded the sidewalk as if he wanted to punish it. He mumbled another litany of curses like a mantra. Then he sighed, and glanced at Wufei.
"You're taking this better than I thought."
Wufei shrugged. It'd take more than this kind of setback to break through his control nowadays. He'd had a lot worse during his career. An informant disappearing at a critical moment - and reappearing in a river with a brand new pair of cement boots - was pretty much par for the course.
"At least we have a name and a face now, and a few more leads to follow," Duo murmured, scratching his chin as he walked.
"How is that going to help?" Wufei had not been terribly impressed by their ability to find anybody in this chaotic colony to date.
"It helps a lot. We know who Herb is, and we know he lives in Haymarket. And we know he's such a good buddy of Ferret's that the latter went and got him out before we could ask him any questions. That says just how much Herb knows. We don't know who Ferret and Carver are, but we know Herb; he'll be traceable. Once we find him, he can tell us Ferret and Carver's names, and then we'll have them by the jewels."
Duo suddenly grinned, feral and deadly, though when he spoke, it was with a theatrical sigh. "I've been neglecting poor Scythe lately; her pipes are getting a bit clogged, and I won't tell you what's lurking in the Zero-G toilet. I think my lil' beauty should be seen by a good plumber. Don't you? I know how to find one; we'll talk to a couple of people on our way back. And we'll stop by Chris's candy stand. I could do with some comfort."
"We don't have time for you to get stoned, Maxwell."
"Not stoned, mate, just a bit merry. Give me that, right?"
Wufei didn't answer. At this point he almost felt like a bit of chemical comfort himself, the mild kind that Chris could provide. It was barely a temptation, in answer to the frustration and the gloom that lurked behind his control. He was never going to get out of Freeport at this rate.
They avoided the busier thoroughfares and walked along deserted side streets and back alleys between repair hatches. There were hangars and workshops here; old buildings that had developed faults and hadn't been repaired through lack of time and resources; junkyards; grimy air filter units; trash everywhere, and a good number of feral cats. Wufei felt about as cheerful as their surroundings, while Duo's mood steadily improved as they walked. Duo bounced back quickly, as always.
Wufei's thoughts kept wandering down strange avenues, as if they were getting lost in these dark and twisted streets. He tried to analyze Ferret's unexpected appearance with Carver, but in his pockets his hands kept fisting, wanting the little rat in their grasp for some immediate justice. He concentrated on the chain of events and the connection between individuals, but his ears rang with violent music; in his memory, the frenetic writhing to its tempo was oddly fascinating. He glared reprovingly at a junkyard up ahead, whose contents had burst their chicken-wire fence and spilled over into the road; but his rebellious thoughts refused to dwell on the disorder. They drifted instead to a hand at his waist, the surprising strength in a wiry arm, and a mouth near his, whispering Bella ciao, o Bella ciao, Bel-
"Wu? You okay?"
"I'm fine," Wufei lied automatically.
"You're awfully quiet."
"I don't feel the need to rant and curse over something we can't change," Wufei retorted, and hated the way he sounded completely stuck up.
"Really? I think it'd be good for your digestion," Duo drawled, unaffected by Wufei's pissy reply.
"What else am I supposed to do," Wufei sneered, a flare of ill-temper slipping through his control. "Jump around like I'm being electrocuted, and insult a noble art by calling it 'dancing'?"
"Whoa, someone don't like the scene," Duo murmured, rolling his eyes.
"Do you dance?"
Blue eyes blinked innocently. "Why, Mr Chang, are you me asking out on a date?"
He laughed when Wufei spluttered a denial.
"They don't call it dancing, if that makes you feel any better," Duo added. "The kids call it 'smashing', or 'crashing' or something. It seems to change its name every ten years. And no. I never got into the whole dance culture. Back on L2, I was either too young, too hungry, too poor, or too much of a terrorist. Now…nah."
"You looked like you were into it," Wufei pointed out, remembering Duo's grin and the unleashed energy in his step as he'd passed the pit.
"No. I spent too long fighting I think," Duo answered, his gaze turning inward idly. "That pseudo 'I'm going wild now!' shit don't do much for Shinigami."
"Not unless you blew up the dance floor," Wufei muttered.
"Fuck, you still mad at that?!" Duo growled, making a show of massaging his temples to relieve a Wufei-begotten ache. "Come on, man, how else were we going to get into that holding bay? I didn't hear you suggest leaving your brand-new Altron behind for Tsubarov to find."
"You nearly blew us to hell, Maxwell."
"For guys like us, it would have been a bloody short trip, Chang. Did you want them to stick you back in that cell and switch off the O2 again? Shit, I think a bit of smashing would do you some good. You're wound up tighter than a C90 hauling cable trying to tug a barge. No fucking wonder Une made you take those anger and stress management thingies, not that they did any visible good."
Wufei's boots rang harshly against the metal as he stopped abruptly.
Duo paused in his stride and glanced back. "Oops. Was Heero not supposed to tell me about that?"
"I would rather he hadn't," Wufei answered tightly, his furious gaze trying to ignite an oil slick at his feet.
"You know Heero. Social sensitivities of a buster rifle," Duo sighed. Wufei had the distant feeling that Duo regretted the jab now; the thought was lost in the embarrassment and anger eating at him.
"If it makes you feel any better, Heero was totally on your side. He said he'd have done more to the little shit than squeeze his windpipe a bit," Duo sounded both hesitant to dig any further and way too curious not to.
"It sounds like he told you a lot," Wufei muttered, suddenly worried; his eyes darting around the empty streets and the nearby junkyard, following a rat scurrying across a drain- anywhere but at Duo.
"No, not really. What happened exactly? Why did you do it? Didn't they charge you? Doesn't Une mind that you tried to strangle a coworker?"
Wufei glanced up cautiously. Duo's curiosity had quintupled almost visibly. It was now coming off of him in sizzling waves. But he was apparently trying to look sympathetic, too.
That meant that Heero had only given him half of the story. Wufei had nearly panicked for a moment, wondering just what Heero had said. But Duo was looking at him straight in the eye- besides, if Duo knew the details of Wufei's career, he'd have his suspicions about why Wufei had been sent to Freeport so suddenly. And he'd have said something right from the start. He'd have probably said a lot.
"There were extenuating circumstances," Wufei answered shortly, starting to walk again automatically as if he could physically move away from the discussion.
Duo shadowed him step for step. "Such as?"
"Does it matter?"
"Yeah, it does. If I ever feel the urge to strangle you a little bit, I'd like to know what kind of circumstances could extenuate that," Duo quipped.
"Mind your own business, Maxwell. And you're free to try me any time."
"I'll remember that," Duo purred, lengthening his stride to pull abreast of the Preventer. "But if you don't tell me, I'll just have to guess."
"Did he make a pass at you? Spill your coffee? Pinch Sally? Steal your paper clips? Push-"
"He let a murderer get away!" Wufei snarled. He knew Duo was joking. He knew Duo was only trying to get a rise out of him. But behind the joke, maybe Duo did think Wufei could snap for so little, and that made the words come tumbling out, hot and angry.
"He misfiled-" the word nearly ignited under the heat of his sarcasm "-the testimony of a murder witness, because that witness was an influential man, and the murder happened in a bondage-special cat-house. He said - when my hands were on his throat - that he didn't think it would matter because of course he expected us to tell the judge unofficially what had happened and the judge would behave as if he'd heard the testimony in court and override anything the defense had to say and send the murderer to a penal colony without having to sully the reputation of an important man who only happened to be a key witness-" Wufei paused to take a needed breath, and realized his voice had been raised, and Duo had been making shushing motions for a few seconds now. Fuck. Good thing this area was mostly deserted.
"Anyway, Defense would have torn us to shreds in court," Wufei muttered. "We had to drop the case. The murderer walked."
"Let me guess." Duo's voice sounded amused, but there was steel in it. "This was on L2?"
"Really?" Duo looked surprised.
"We're colonists, that's what we think of first," Wufei pointed out tiredly. "But Romefeller and the Alliance had control of Earth for decades. Things have been working that way for years. It's all very genteel down there. Very well mannered. Rich people aren't bothered by-" Shut up, Chang. Shut up now, before you really let something slip.
Fortunately, Duo was more interested in Wufei's personal experience than politics. "So how come you got the slap on the wrist and the guy's not in the stockade?"
"What about what he told you?"
"For some strange reason, choking a confession out of a suspect is considered bad form in the Preventers," Wufei snorted.
"Didn't Heero back you up?"
"...Your partner? Christ, don't tell me you talked to this rat alone."
Of course Wufei had 'talked' to the man alone. If Heero had been there, that would have made things way too complicated for Trowa and Une.
"I...was alone. I...lost my temper and attacked him where there were no witnesses."
It felt wrong to lie to a friend. It felt worse, somehow, when it was Duo, who put such a stock in not lying to start with. The words stuck in Wufei's throat; his mouth tried to clench round them.
"Hey, I would have lost my cool too," Duo told him kindly, obviously misinterpreting the reason for Wufei's difficulties.
Wufei grunted and started walking again. Maybe now they could forget about it.
"Sounds like you were the lucky one, not to land in the stockade," Duo commented, following him step for step once more. "I guess Une knew the truth?"
"No," Wufei growled. "The man simply didn't press charges."
"Huh, I wonder why," Duo drawled with sly amusement.
Wufei remembered the wide eyes that had gone from offended to frightened in less than three seconds. And then bulging a few second later. As always, there was some small satisfaction to be had from this kind of episode, whatever the circumstances and whatever the consequences.
"So Une sent you to the head-doctor instead of the stockade?"
Wufei sighed, aggrieved. "Can we change the subject?"
"No. I've never been to an 'anger management' course. I'm sure OZ would have been happy to pay me one, though. Spill; I'm curious." A sharp elbow nudged Wufei. "Come on, what was it like?
"Boring. Humiliating. Stupid. Useless. Need any other adjectives?"
"Need details, man."
"Because I'll drive you ape until I get them," Duo answered in a reasonable voice.
Wufei wondered if his ancestors were having fun at his expense in the Celestial Gardens. Or was this their punishment for the stain he'd put on the Chang family name.
"Look, it was just a gesture. Une had to satisfy the board of directors that I wasn't- that I'd get my stress under control and that I wouldn't try to strangle anybody else. So they made me go see this young councilor on L5; not a shrink, just someone to talk to."
"What? The kind who wants you to get in touch with your inner muffin or something?"
"That kind," Wufei ground out.
"That must have been rough," Duo muttered sympathetically, though his eyes were twinkling with amusement. "Especially if she was too young to serve in the war. Some of the kids- hell, they're my age, but I feel like I could be their Dad."
"I don't think she considered me a father figure," Wufei told him dryly, lips pinching. "After two weeks, she threatened to quit if my case wasn't reassigned."
Duo's face twitched, but he kept up a good front of compassion and fellow feeling.
"Unfortunately, that didn't look good on my file, so Une ordered me to see a shrink. I suppose she selected him because he was old and male and probably wouldn't burst into tears during the session," Wufei growled.
"What did he say?"
"You're being tremendously indiscreet."
"You betcha. Come on, what did he say?"
"He started to ask me about my hobbies, particularly anything that would let me express myself." Since Duo was dragging this embarrassing episode out of him with meat hooks, let him hear it. Wufei was bleakly curious to see how long Duo would be able to keep that serious face and compassionate mien.
"I'm guessing he wasn't amused by the fact you unwind by practicing sword strokes," Duo prompted.
"I avoided telling him about that," Wufei said shortly. He'd never have involved Dr Deer in something so private. "Anyway, he was thinking along the lines of an artistic endeavor. He asked me if I could sing."
"How's that supposed to help you relax?" Duo looked puzzled. "It's never lowered my blood pressure."
"In the shower, like everybody else. I sound like a gear that's been left out in space without sealant, but my volume makes up for that."
Wufei winced at the thought.
"Do you draw?" he asked doggedly.
"…Design specs." Duo looked puzzled.
"Do you dance? Oh, you already answered that."
"…This guy actually wanted you to sing, draw or get down and boogie?" Duo's eyes were wide again, and the corner of his mouth was twitching a bit. "Where did you say this quack got his diplomas?"
"I gave him the same answers you did," Wufei growled, ignoring the rhetorical question. "Can't dance, can't sing, can't draw, but I know twenty different ways of killing a man with my bare hands."
Duo hid his short snicker in a cough. "I bet that went down well."
"He said I needed an outlet for my aggression. I pointed out that I had quite a few of them: they're called criminals."
Something like a whimper escaped Duo as he tried to keep the serious look on his face.
"He wasn't amused," Wufei understated. "He suggested that with my level of education, writing or drawing would be a suitable means of expressing my anger and feelings. I refused to write, on the grounds that this could inadvertently divulge information on Preventer cases, so he asked me to try painting. "
"…And?" Duo managed to gasp out, his voice a little higher and wobblier than usual.
Wufei rolled his eyes, but at this point, he had little dignity left in the matter.
"I drew some stuff so he wouldn't go whining to Une and get me suspended. When I showed it to him, he thought I was making fun of him."
"Were you?" Duo gulped.
"No, that was pretty much my best effort," Wufei admitted, feelings his cheeks flush.
Duo twitched, and went a bit red.
"So, what did you do?" he asked, after clearing his throat.
"Calligraphy," Wufei muttered. "I learned the art when I was younger, before the war." He was so irritated at Dr Deer, Une, Trowa, Duo, everybody, that he did not feel graceful enough to acknowledge that he'd enjoyed rediscovering this small part of his past.
"That's the fancy letters, right? Chinese characters?"
"Did that help relax you?"
"I guess it did. I wrote the characters for Useless and Stupidity in a very nice composition, which made him happy."
"Then I composed a small poem in reference to his ancestry and their relationship to canines," Wufei finished sadistically, watching the smuggler's crumbling façade. "He liked that one so much he asked me if he could hang it in his office. That actually helped my stress and anger levels no end."
Duo squeaked an apology or something and burst out laughing. He was shaking so hard he had to lean against a big piece of piping at the edge of the junkyard.
Wufei glared at the bent neck before him, for appearance's sake. Inwardly, he wondered why Duo's laughter was somehow less embarrassing than Heero and Trowa's quiet understanding. Maybe it was because Heero and Trowa, despite their support, didn't really understand how much the whole episode had offended and humiliated Wufei. Duo…would probably have blown up the shrink's desk by day two.
"Oh man, what a quack! I can't believe Une asked you to see him," Duo spluttered, trying to regulate his breathing.
"To be honest, his advice was more constructive than the councilor's."
"Oh, what did she say?"
"She told me to watch more television," Wufei ground out. That had been on the very first day. Things had gone rapidly downhill after that.
"Come again?" Duo wiped his eyes and focused on him.
"Television. She said I'd find it soothing."
"The lil' crumpet sounds even dumber than the old guy. Why would you find TV soothing?"
"She did. Most people do," Wufei muttered.
"Really? I find it boring. Hilde has it on all day when I go see her. She won't even let me put on the sport's channels," Duo added, scowling petulantly.
"It tells them they're at peace." Wufei felt numb, a flickering screen haunting his bleak thoughts. Somebody else must be saying those words in that low, defeated tone. Somebody who only sounded like him. "After decades of war and loss, it tells them everything is okay, and that the riots are all just isolated pockets of looting, and that the economy is getting better all the time, and that Relena's wearing a new dress to the Luxemburg grand ball."
"Yeah, boring, as I said." Duo heaved a great sigh, with an extra chuckle leaking through it, and lounged back against the pipe. He cocked his head and scrutinized Wufei. The latter found himself shifting under the direct gaze, as if all the nights where he'd felt lonely and isolated from the universal Peace were something sinful he should hide.
Duo swung around and stood up onto the sewer pipe in one fluid movement, black coat swinging like a curtain opening. Just as Wufei was about to ask his friend if he'd blown a fuse, Duo threw back his head and hollered.
Wufei distinctly felt his jaw thump his breastbone.
"Marx! You thought religion was the opium of the people?!" Duo shouted at the top of his lungs. "You didn't know what TV was, you poor fuck, you!"
Wufei cringed and stared around wildly.
In the distance, a dog barked. There was the sound of a window opening abruptly nearby.
"Relena could wear jackboots and a rose lapel as long as she made it look cool on screen!" Duo shouted. "Fuck 'em all!"
A head poked out of a window in a distant building. Duo waved, and the person went back inside. Somebody behind a tall wall a block away shouted 'hear hear!' The echoes chased Duo's voice around the sector until it faded like the noise of a distant mob cheering.
Wufei was staring around, aghast, waiting for somebody to berate them. When he glanced back at Duo, he was pinned by a challenging stare.
"You ever do that, Wufei?"
Duo threw back his head, his arms-
It wasn't a word. It was just a primal scream, free and splendid in its sheer brutality.
Wufei quivered but said nothing, reduced to silence by the shout, the way it bounced freely back and forth through Freeport's metal streets.
Other windows opened; Wufei was too mortified to look and see anybody's reaction. But apart from a distant shout of 'shut the fuck up', nobody protested. Another dog barked, a small excited yip-yip-yip; its cries were buried by the groan of a train passing overhead.
Duo hopped off the pipe and landed in front of him. Wufei faced a stare that was part challenge, part understanding. As if Duo could see every squirming little doubt, every angry word buried in Wufei's soul. As if he could count the names on Wufei's mental list, and knew how much it cost the Preventer to not act on it.
Wufei was left staring at the pipe as the black-coated figure moved abruptly aside. He could feel Duo's eyes drill into his head, an invitation or a dare, or maybe both. Wufei took a step back instinctively, embarrassed at the very thought that he could- he was in control of himself, he wasn't some-some savage to put on such a display-
"Come on, let's go home."
Wufei's eyes stayed fixed on the pipe, even when Duo's boots began to move. He felt almost...- though there was no reason for him to feel ashamed, he amended harshly before the thought had even formed; he'd not been the one making a spectacle of himself, he-
Duo's hand landed on his shoulder, giving him a shove in the right direction. Wufei growled something indistinct, his head down. The hand stayed on his shoulder a couple more seconds longer than needed, and gave a slight squeeze before falling back to its owner's side.
By the time they made it back to Makhno, the moment was well over, and conversation had resumed. Duo had made enquiries about Herb with a few friends, and also bought a couple of bright pink pills at Chris's stand. He'd offered one to Wufei, with a twinkle in his eye that indicated he was doing this just to start a good verbal match, and he wasn't disappointed.
"What's the difference between taking a mild booster, and swinging a sword like a maniac for two hours to get an endorphin boost?" Duo drawled, lowering his voice as they passed Babka's door. "You're monkeying with your neural chemistry either way-"
"Exercising is good for you, and it's a natural body response-"
"To stress!" Duo shot back, unlocking his front door absently. "Are you saying-"
Duo stepped into the room and froze. His stiletto instantly shot its sheath and nestled in his palm.
Wufei's sword was drawn as soon as he'd heard the twang of the dagger's spring. He eyed the man sitting at Duo's workbench, casually going over an old tech manual Duo had left lying about.
The silence was absolute, apart from the voices of children yelling outside and the gentle leafing noises of the man flipping a few pages.
Duo's eyes had flickered around the room, resting briefly on the back door, which looked closed and locked.
"What are you doing here?" he asked softly, finally bringing his attention back to the intruder.
The man looked up, as if he'd only now noticed their presence.
"What?" His voice was raspy, and sounded oddly amused. "Not even a 'hello'?"
"Hello, Ravachol. What are you doing here?"
[chap. 16] [chap 18] [back to Maldoror's fic]