Freeport + Chapter 18L'enemi etait chez moi
On m'a dit résigne toi
Mais je n'ai pas pu
J'ai repris mon arme...
Hier encore nous étions trois
Il ne reste plus que moi
Et je tourne en rond
Dans la prison des frontières.
Le vent souffle sur les tombes
La liberté reviendra
On nous oubliera
Nous rentrerons dans l'ombre
(The enemi was in my country
I was told to accept it
But I couldn't
I took up my weapon again...
There were three of us yesterday
Today I am the only one left
And I pace
Within the prison of the frontiers
The wind blows across the graves
Freedom will come again
We will be forgotten
We will return to the shadows.)
- La Complainte Du Partisan, Emmanuel d'Astier de La Vigerie, code-named "Bernard" by the French Resistance, London, 1943
The song is also known as 'The Partisan', in an English version by Leonard Cohen
(Note: Translation is my own, and not that sung by Cohen and Baez. The last verse was completely changed in the English version, which made the song into a song of triumph. The original French version is grimmer, full of bitter determination and ultimate resignation.)
Ravachol, the shadowy kingpin whose men had presumably smuggled Carver out of L2, was sitting at Duo's workbench as if this was where he spent most of his leisure time. Wufei, abruptly plunged into the calm of battle, divided his attention between the apparently unthreatening drug lord and the rest of the room; surely the man wouldn't be here alone. Surely Mako and a few dozen thugs were hiding out in the yard or-
"I apologize for making myself at home, but I wasn't sure when you'd be back," Ravachol murmured, flipping to the next page of the borrowed tech manual and apparently pouring over the use of alternators in engine blocks. "I'd have waited for you on the doorstep, but I tire easily."
"How did you get in?"
Ravachol eyes flickered up at Duo and he smiled slowly. It was not a pleasant expression on his worn face.
"What do you want?" Duo asked, keeping his voice neutral.
"Why Duo, you don't sound happy to see me." Ravachol cocked his head to one side and looked at Duo searchingly.
"Your man Mako tried to hustle my Blade," Duo growled.
"Ah. Yes. Your Blade…" The man's worn, broken voice picked the words apart.
Wufei met and matched Ravachol's scrutiny. The man might get Wufei lynched with one well-placed word, but the warrior wasn't going to cringe before the likes of a dealer.
Ravachol stared at him for a while, yellow-tinged eyes narrowed. It was pretty clear to Wufei that Ravachol knew who he was and what he was doing here. What wasn't clear at all was what he intended to do about it. There was no noise from the yard outside; Mako might be quiet enough to hide there, but there wasn't a small army out there with him. And something in Ravachol's eyes told Wufei that there wasn't even Mako out there to insure his safety. Ravachol was alone
In view of what the man knew of Wufei and Duo, that would take a certain amount of courage and self-confidence, the Preventer reluctantly conceded. Ravachol was obviously in no shape to fight anybody, much less two accomplished warriors.
Ravachol brazenly examined Wufei from top to toe, with an offensive curl of the lip. The Preventer focused on the man's hands. They were gnarled, the fingers crooked, the skin reddened and rough in some places. It wasn't the ravages of age. There was a vivid, puckered scar in the palm of one of them, as if something had been hammered through it at some point. The fingernails that Wufei could see were thick and the ends grey. When nails were torn out at the root, they never grew back quite the same.
Wufei's eyes flickered over the rests of the wrecked frame. Ravachol's skin was sallow; the yellow of jaundice. It tainted the white of his eyes, the crescents in his ruined fingernails, his gums when he spoke. His face was a yellow skull, paper-thin skin stretched over bone. His hair was as black as Wufei's, but it was ragged, wispy and brittle.
His eyes were as sharp as daggers though, and they held Wufei's gaze with considerable hostility and not the slightest show of weakness, at odds with the ruined body.
Ravachol swiveled in his chair to talk to Duo, who'd moved towards the kitchen counter.
"I hear you've been trying to get in touch with one of my Mooncursers. I'm sorry if Mako put you off negotiations with Darbois. His actions had nothing to do with you."
That distinction hung in the air like the smell of a corpse, until Duo spoke softly.
"Wufei is my Blade and my friend. Anything to do with him has to do with me."
Ravachol's lips twisted downwards. "I see," he muttered, and he sounded honestly regretful, though not as much as Wufei, who was now seriously worried that not only was his cover blown, he was dragging Duo down with him.
"So…was there anything I could help you with?" That veneer of insincere civility was back. "Since you didn't get to talk long with Darbois, and he had to leave on his holiday, maybe I can help you. Who exactly are you looking for?"
"I told Darbois what I wanted. And others before him. I can't believe you've not heard about it," Duo ground out. His fingers had tightened on the dagger he still carried. The turn of Ravachol's last sentence had not been lost on Wufei either. When Duo had contacted Ravachol's freetraders, he'd explained that he wanted to set up a weapons run to the Nines; he'd concealed the fact he was looking for a particular ship and crew.
Ravachol and Duo stared at one another for a few long seconds, an unspoken challenge to see who would put the charade aside first.
Then Ravachol's eyes flickered over Wufei again. He crossed his arms brusquely over his boney chest, visibly annoyed. He was dressed in warm slacks, vest and coat; well-cut and elegant clothes that suited his height but not his girth; he looked lost in them.
"Duo…" Ravachol's voice suddenly hardened. "You were chasing someone in Kropotkin the other day, I heard."
"Not chasing, really. Just curious about something. I'm a concerned citizen."
"Yes, but not of that sector. Though I understand you have a lot of friends there."
"Yes, I do. A lot of friends," Duo confirmed softly. Wufei wished he could let that reassure him, but though Duo's support in Freeport was strong, a lot of it would evaporate with only a few well-chosen words by Ravachol to the wrong people.
"And this guy you were chasing- sorry, that you were curious about; was he one of them?" Ravachol growled, with only the thinnest pretence of unconcern left.
"No, not really."
"Did he maybe have something to do with the man who was murdered in Kropotkin the other day?"
"Why would you think that?" Duo's mobile face a picture of innocent curiosity.
"You were both in that neighborhood," Rav replied, scratching his nose.
"So were a lot of people."
"I see," Ravachol murmured, as if Duo had confided in him.
He slowly unfolded himself from the swivel chair. He was five foot nine, though he probably weighed less than Wufei. He held himself stiffly.
"I'm not here to chat, though it's been pleasant catching up with you. I'm here to discuss that trade route to the Nines you said you wanted to set up."
"Yeah?" Duo looked at him, apparently surprised at the sudden turn of the conversation, and visibly cautious.
"I wouldn't, if I were you," Ravachol stated baldly. "I've been doing a lot of business with the Nines these last five years, and before that as well. I have developed quite a nose for trouble. My instincts tell me that your client is a risk. I would steer well clear of him if I were you."
"Is that a fact?" Duo drawled. "You don't even know who my client is."
"Oh, I have a fairly good idea, Duo, I have a fairly good idea," Ravachol murmured, glancing at Wufei. "Remember where your allegiances are, freetrader."
"I'm not entirely sure what you mean, but I think I've just been insulted," Duo countered, eyes hard.
Ravachol looked at him in silence, and then he walked over to Duo slowly. Wufei's fingers tightened on his sword and he stepped up to stand by Duo's side; there could be a weapon or two hidden beneath that oversized coat, though Ravachol looked too frail to pose much of a threat.
Up close, Ravachol smelled of expensive cologne and the stale, musty scent of disease. Sunken eyes held Duo's as the drug lord stopped a few feet away, looking down at the smaller smuggler.
"I'm just saying this as a friend, Duo…" he finally said. His hoarse, broken voice was suddenly gentle.
Duo turned his face away, an abrupt movement that looked like a flinch of pain. His mouth moved; the grin took a second to form and it was a pale caricature of his usual smirk.
"I'm sorry, Rav," he whispered. "But a drug-dealer is no friend of mine."
Ravachol smiled. It was surprisingly sincere. "I know," he answered. "You're a stubborn, sneaky little bastard, Duo Maxwell, but you always stayed remarkably true to yourself. You could teach many a man twice your age a thing or two about principles. I'm wasting my breath, I know, but take care, Duo, and do try to stay out of trouble."
Duo's eyes stayed fixed on the ground, the slump in his shoulders unhappy.
Ravachol took a step towards the door, then looked back. A pair of brown eyes speared Wufei.
The latter never regretted the no-communication rule more than now. He met Ravachol's hostile glare and surpassed it. He hoped his stance was as unequivocal as he'd want his words to be: this criminal could keep his bloody threats! If he touched even one hair of that ridiculously long braid, Wufei would find him, even if it took him a lifetime.
Ravachol unexpectedly laughed, a wheezy chuckle that relaxed the ruined lines of his face, and showed a faint ghost of the man he might otherwise have been.
"Hah, Mako had warned me that you seemed particularly protective of one another. I wish…" Ravachol sighed and lost his mocking tone. "I wish we could have met five years ago and in better circumstances. I think we'd have had more to talk about back then. May your stay in Freeport be pleasant, pilot. And short."
With those last two dire words tossed over his shoulder, Ravachol made his way to the door and let himself out.
Wufei was silent for a while, digesting that. Duo had turned around to lean against the kitchen counter, shoulders rigid. Wufei had a lot to consider, but he found his gaze dragged to the taut line of Duo's neck. The smuggler's hands were balled into fists. His face was turned so Wufei couldn't see it.
The latter felt torn between the urge to turn away and leave Duo to battle this out privately, and…a strange compulsion to walk up to his friend and- and shake him or- something. This tension on Duo's normally relaxed frame just didn't look right.
Wufei realized he'd compromised by staying where he was and staring at Duo's right ear, which really wasn't helping anybody. He shook his head abruptly, and turned towards his bedroll and bag
"I should leave," he stated.
"Like hell," Duo growled behind him.
"You heard him. He knows who I am. Duo, he threatened you directly."
"Yeah, like that's never happened before!" Duo snapped, spinning around. He gave Wufei a pugnacious glare; the pain faded behind the stubbornness Ravachol had commented upon.
"Forget it, Chang! Duo Maxwell's no quitter! It's not so much that Carver's a hitman- Hell, Heero did some of that too in his time. I could let that pass. But Carver ex-ed a guy here in Freeport. On the sly! This is my home, dude. I don't let people like Carver do things like that!"
"How about people like Ravachol?" Wufei asked neutrally. "I think this visit makes Carver and Ravachol associates. At least. We might end up going against Ravachol directly."
Duo glared moodily at the floor instead of answering.
Wufei hesitated, mind whirling, his stack of clothes and pack at his feet. His eyes wandered towards the door through which the ruined man had passed.
"Who did that to him? OZ?" he asked abruptly.
"The Romefeller and OZ alliance, before Treize came back," Duo answered after a moment of silence that had Wufei wondering if he would answer at all.
"I remember you mentioning he was a rebel fighter."
"Yeah. Yeah, he was. But not your kind. He's right; five years ago, you two would have had a lot to talk about. You'd have argued like a Mother Matron and a ho."
"What do you mean?" Wufei asked quietly. He wasn't particularly curious about Ravachol's past, apart from anything that might relate to the case, but the sharp angle in Duo's shoulders was something he still wanted to reach out and touch, whichever way he could.
Duo stared blankly at his dinky kitchen cabinet, then turned and hoisted himself up onto the counter.
"Rav was something of a legend in the cesspit where I grew up. He's been a rebel since he was old enough to throw a stone. His dad was a schoolteacher. Donno why, but most revolutionaries I read about in quarantine seem to have a mom or dad who's a schoolteacher."
"Somebody should do a study," Wufei concurred ironically, knowing it would feed the flow rather than break it. Duo was like that, Wufei had learned this past month; he needed the appearance of a conversation even during a monologue.
"The usual shit happened; Dad was arrested for trying to organize a union, and got 'disappeared'. Mom died during the very first plague. Rav turned to anarchy like some people enter the church." Duo chuckled. It had nothing humorous to it.
"Is that why he and I would argue?" Wufei asked dryly.
"No. Well, okay, that's one reason. The other is, Rav knows no rules when he fights. No rules." Duo's legs had started to swing, up and down; his eyes fixed on them.
"He has no honor?" Wufei prompted.
"Define honor. His aim was to get Earthers outta space. All means acceptable. Terrorism, riots, sabotage, piracy. He set up drug and weapons deals back when you and I were both too young to reach a Gundam's control stick. That's how I met him, when he was smuggling shells with the Sweepers. You should have heard the man talk, back then...he was amazing. He never touched a penny of the money he made off shit and hardware; it all went to the resistance. He told Howard once he hated dealing, but it was the only way he'd found to finance his army."
"The end justifies the means," Wufei interpreted, his voice colored by considerable distaste.
"Don't get on your high horse," Duo snapped - the legs swung more and more viciously. "We looked nice in our shiny suits attacking only military targets, but Rav didn't have that option. More to the point; we almost lost! Like, dozens of times! We barely survived the year, and if we did, it was in part because Treize and Lady Psycho had ulterior plans; not because of any smart moves on our part. We should be dead, and our cause completely fucked. And then it wouldn't have mattered a rat's arsehole how noble and honorable we stayed. Ravachol fought for over ten years and made sure that L2 and L3 were never fully under the Alliance's control. So who's the hero here?"
"I cannot answer that question for you," Wufei answered firmly; he'd leaned against the wall and severely crossed his arms, a familiar position for a familiar frame of mind. "But I know that nothing good can come if you compromise your own principles; your cause is corrupt before you fire the first bullet."
"Must be nice to have Gundanium-plated certitudes like that," Duo growled, kicking viciously at the air.
"Are you saying you agree with his methods?"
The legs stopped abruptly in mid-swing.
Something like calm came over Duo's face. For an instant, the deeper currents that moved Duo Maxwell were visible; darkness and light, blending; strength, belief and callous determination. Wufei remembered the way Shinigami had laughed when he was at Deathscythe's controls...the glimpse into Duo's inner workings was both frightening and fascinating; Wufei wasn't sure he wanted to look, but found himself compelled to. He almost retracted the question, but Duo was already speaking in a calm, matter-of-fact voice, and the moment was over.
"I don't do philosophy, Chang. All I know is that when it came down to Operation Meteor, I went one way. Rav would probably have gone the other. That's the difference between us."
Duo contemplated his legs that were now dangling quietly from the edge of the counter.
"For ten years, Ravachol fought any way he could," he continued softly. "The colonies didn't support him openly, but they were getting raped by the Alliance, so they were happy to see the rebels screw them over in turn.
"Then White Fang seceded, while Oz and Romefeller were fighting each other. Suddenly it looked like the colonies had a chance; they might actually get rid of the Earthers. Rav was one of the rebellion leaders by then; he harassed Romefeller troops, guerrilla-style, he spied for the White Fang, he blew up communication satellites and weapons depots, all that. He was this close to freeing the colonies.
"So the colonies sold him to Romefeller."
"What?!" Wufei asked, startled.
Duo smiled cynically.
"Ravachol's an anarchist. Has been since he threw his first Molotov. If the Fang and the colonies had won the war, he'd have had a lot of influence. And that didn't go down well with some people. The colonies were lead by a bunch of rich families - like the Winners. They didn't want to give up their control; they just wanted to stop paying taxes to Earth to fund Earth wars. But anarchy? You got to be kidding.
"So they sold him out, once the Fang got a good head start; they gave his location to a Romefeller taskforce and stood back. I hear the colony leaders even made it out as a gesture of good faith towards Romefeller. They were 'renouncing base terrorism.' They'd already taken a step back from White Fang. And they certainly turned on us when the heat was on. If Romefeller had won the war, the colonies would still be under Earther control, but at least they'd look innocent of any open act of aggression. Nice, huh?"
"No, not really," Wufei muttered. The student of history and politics he'd once been knew this happened in every war, every revolution. That didn't mean the warrior had to like it.
"Romefeller held Ravachol for a month before the Libra went down. They thought he might know White Fang's plans. Which he didn't, of course. Ravachol's pretty ruthless, but he's not apeshit like Marquise. That crazy Earther had a bee in his blond bonnet, but any true spacer knows that the colonies can't survive if the Earth gets blitzed."
Duo was staring blindly at the door out of the room.
"They tortured him; he told them nothing. They shot him so full of drugs, his kidneys and liver were damaged; he still didn't talk. They threatened to execute hostages; he tried to hang himself with the IV feed they'd put in his arm to keep him alive.
"Then we did a number on Libra, and Mizz Peacecraft did her Peace and Love speech, and it turned out nobody had won; neither Earth nor White Fang. So Romefeller kicked Ravachol out of jail and left him to die in the gutter."
The words seemed to dampen the weak light coming from the workbench, which Ravachol had turned on before flipping through the tech manual with his ruined hands.
Wufei stayed silent. He'd been prepared to die like that himself; he felt no pity for Ravachol. And he didn't agree with the man's methods. But the darkness seemed to nibble at the edge of his vision; the inky depression that had dragged him down after he'd failed to kill Treize, or after he'd killed Treize but failed to kill the idea of the man. It seemed that sometimes, even if you did everything that you thought was right, you still ended up in the wrong, and the entire universe buried you in it. It was something that Wufei knew all too well.
"I don't know how he survived," Duo continued, stretching and rubbing the back of his neck under the braid. "He turned up six months later in Freeport with Mako and a few other scary guys in tow. He picked up some of the drug routes he'd set up before, and he's not left the colony since. I don't know what he wants now: maybe he's still fighting, still gathering money and weapons for some great revolution; maybe he's just going through the motions, selling drugs to rich kids because when their parents bury them, he'll have gotten a bit of his own back. I don't know.
"I do know that if Ravachol's behind Josh's murder, and playing cozy with Carver and Ferret, then I have no problems taking them all down. Since that's the question you didn't seem to want to ask me directly." Duo jumped off the counter.
"After all, it won't be the first time Ravachol got screwed over by someone he thought was on his side. I'm going to wheedle some beef soba from Kimura over in Volt. If I have to eat that shit the commissary dishes out tonight, I'll puke."
The door closed with a firm thump before Wufei could mention security measures, ambushes and murder.
Wufei stayed leaning against the wall. The reasonable side of him was insisting he follow Duo, but he wouldn't. He glanced down at his backpack instead.
He should go. He was a source of danger to his ally.
But he wasn't going to abandon his mission, and he wasn't going to run while Duo was in danger.
Duo's words had been meant as an explanation; almost an apology for the bitter, twisted existence of a man that Duo had once admired. To Wufei, they had only illustrated what a dangerous animal they were dealing with. He knew the kind. He knew it because he'd seen the darkness in Ravachol's eyes when he'd looked in the mirror after killing Treize.
This was a man who'd lost even the tenuous justification of a cause, but who was too strong - or too weak - to give up and let go. He could do anything. To Duo. The only way Wufei would have left was if he could have been sure to track down Carver another way, and if Duo left with him.
Why had Ravachol even come here? On the surface, it was simply to talk Duo out of digging any deeper. But there was more; Ravachol had wanted something. Was he trying to determine how much Duo and Wufei knew? Was that why he'd asked about Ferret?
No matter; they'd figure it out soon enough. They'd have to. Wufei guessed that Ravachol was wary of Duo's many friends; they would look into the L2 pilot's death most carefully. That would be the reason it had been Ravachol who'd shown up, instead of Mako and a dozen thugs. Wufei wasn't sure how much that protection was worth. He wasn't about to leave Duo in this pit alone, with only that intangible armor to cover him. Wufei jerked away from the wall, gave his backpack a moody kick, and went to check the back yard, not that he expected to find anything. Looked like they were going to spend the evening upgrading security, while trying to figure out how Ferret, Carver and Ravachol all fit together.
Beyond that, he knew what he had to do. He had to help Duo find a link between Ravachol and Joshua's murder. Freeport had no laws, but it certainly had rules, however much its citizen's denied it. If Wufei and Duo could prove that Ravachol and Carver were involved, then Freeport would do Wufei's Justice for him.
The Preventer might disapprove of vigilantism. But deep inside, past the constraints of the Law and the social contract, Wufei thought he'd rather like to see that sort of Justice applied. There was a rigorous symmetry that appealed to him. Ravachol and Carver had broken the unwritten laws of the colony that protected them; they would pay the price.
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