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

AN: Dedicated to Dacia!

HUGE THANKS to Anaitis for helping me hammer this chapter-from-hell into shape ^^; I couldn't have done it without ya!

Freeport + Chapter 23

"It's hard not to break down and cry
when every ideal that you tried
has been wrong
and you must carry on

'Cause you, you are the only one left
and you've got to clean up this mess,
you know you'll end up like the rest
bitter and twisted unless
you stay strong
and you carry on

It's hard, but you know it's worth the fight
'cause you know you've got the truth on your side
when the accusations fly, hold tight
don't be afraid of what they'll say
who cares what cowards think anyway
they will understand one day, one day
one day..."


- Yann Tiersen, "Les Jours Tristes"

+

Wufei woke up and came swiftly to the conclusion that he wasn't fifteen any more.

He stifled a whimper, because he was Chang Wufei, dammit. A drawn-out battle, a deadly pursuit up ladders and through tunnels, a footrace and a vigorous fuck were nothing to his trained body. Shit. Sally, I'd like 10cc of painkiller injected intravenously, or indeed anywhere you want. Please!

It smelled like coffee; the machine gave its first percolating burp as Wufei struggled with awareness. The laptop was humming faintly in the background; there was a soft tap of keystrokes. He was alone in the bed.

He cracked his eyes open and closed them again with a wince. On top of every single aching muscle in his body, his head was throbbing, particularly around the lump near his ear.

A second attempt showed him that no, there wasn't a spotlight shining right on his face and searing his brain. The neon in the kitchen was off; there was only the glow from the laptop's screen to illuminate the room, and some little white and blue flickers in Wufei's vision, which cleared when he blinked a few times. Duo was a black shape slouching on a chair near the computer in the semi-darkness. He was fully dressed and wearing his long leather coat.

For some reason it was the Scissorman's coat, which Duo never wore inside the apartment, that triggered the memory. That and the way Duo had slowly leaned away from the laptop, obviously aware that Wufei was awake, but hadn't turned around.

'I don't think you let gene-trash like me mount the likes of you, Lord Chang'

A lot had happened in the past twenty-four hours - the massacre in Recyc, Carver and Ferret's escape, what he and Duo had done when they'd returned - yet those words constituted the first memory that jumped into his half-awake mind and stuck there like a splinter.

...what...had that meant...? Duo often talked about himself and his origins disparagingly, but there was always an underlying pride, a steely self-confidence in his words: 'This is what I am, this is where I came from, and it's made me tougher than you'll ever know'. Then he won bloody battles single-handedly while laughing like a fiend, or hunted rats in Freeport to keep himself entertained...

'Gene-trash'...no, it didn't ring right. Whatever the words, the look in Duo's eyes had not been self-disgust or shame. For an instant, Wufei had been looking at something cruel, ancient, fully self-aware, and as dark and powerful as Duo's usual inner strength, yet turned inwards, the negative to the positive...

Wufei shook his head, trying to order his jumbled thoughts into something coherent, and lost the thread of intuition instead. He propped himself up on his elbows and turned towards Duo again to see if he could recapture that feeling of wrongness and analyze it properly.

Duo had swiveled his chair around while Wufei was struggling with feelings about as firm and coherent as spider webs. The smuggler looked relaxed, grinning at Wufei tiredly. The dark rings under his eyes contrasted harshly with the pale spacer skin, and made Wufei think of a panda.

"If you don't feel like a Leo rolled right over you, then I hate your guts," Duo chuckled, rubbing a shoulder with obvious pain.

Wufei stared and felt the last trickle of that 'wrong' feeling disappear in the face of the evidence. Duo was giving Wufei's bare chest an appreciate look and a bit of a lustful leer. Apparently he had no regrets. And also more stamina than Wufei - whose libido was now firmly stuck at zero - could believe. Maybe there was nothing wrong with Duo at all. Maybe Wufei was concussed.

"Coffee should be ready in a minute," Duo threw over his shoulder as he turned back to the laptop again. "That should make us feel like humans again."

"We need juice or plain water to hydrate ourselves; caffeine will not help to flush out-"

"You take away my coffee, man, even Recyc won't want your remains."

"Have you considered detox for your addiction, Max-" Wufei sat up and swayed. He steadied himself, wondering if he wasn't actually concussed, but the dizziness passed.

"It's surprisingly quiet out there..." Duo hadn't noticed Wufei's lapse; he appeared to be flipping through forums and the online Freeport bulletin boards. "The Trolls have been keeping the mess under wraps. They don't have much to do with us non-Trolls anyway, not until we kick the bucket-"

There was a ping from the computer. Duo leaned forward, opening the email program.

Wufei glanced at his watch. Three hours of sleep; no wonder he still felt mugged. He swung his legs slowly to the side of the bed, moving all major muscle groups to make sure there was no permanent damage. He was being distracted though: the slide of the sheet over bare skin was reminding him of what had happened before their nap in vivid, X-rated details.

He waited for the guilt; it materialized right on cue, waving every one of the Very Bad Idea reasons. Yet it was only a pallid wisp of the kind of self-flagellation Wufei was truly capable of. Despite the best efforts of his overactive conscience, Wufei couldn't fully regret that savage roll in the sheets. It had gotten to the point where resisting his unacknowledged attraction towards Duo was getting harder and more distracting than going with the flow, especially after those savage hours of battle and murder. Since Duo looked okay with it all...

There was still the niggling feeling that there was something wrong. Why was Duo wearing that coat...? That coat was part of his Scissorman persona. It was a mask...Wufei couldn't put his finger on what was off. His brain felt as bruised as his body.

Maybe it was just Duo's way of putting distance between them. Duo didn't appear to have any regrets over the sex in the heat of the moment, but that didn't mean he'd be looking for an encore. Wufei himself didn't know what he thought about that, but the idea of drawing that invisible line between them again failed to evoke much enthusiasm.

"A mail just came in," Duo announced briskly, leaning back in his chair with a squeak of ball joints.

"Cesar? Did he find Herb?" Wufei stood up as fluidly as he could, ignoring the stiffness of cold, abused muscles and the ache of the lump near his ear. It would get better if he moved.

"No, Cesar's not reported in yet. God only knows where Herb is."

"Who sent the-"

"The Troll King."

"...Their leader, I presume?"

"Yeah."

"What does he want?" Wufei focused on the here and now, and reached for his clothes. The scent of blood, chemicals and damp leather made him drop them with a wrinkled nose and go get fresh ones from his bag.

"He doesn't say, he just wants us to meet him."

"That doesn't sound good," Wufei grunted, pulling on a pair of thick docker pants Duo had lent him awhile back.

"It's fairly polite and non-threatening."

Wufei walked over to where Duo was sitting and leaned over his shoulder to read. Duo swiveled a bit in the chair and reached towards Wufei's face; the Preventer started a bit, but let Duo part the hair and examine the lump near his ear. From the slight tug and sting as his bangs were pushed back, it must have bled some more in his sleep. Duo grimaced, but then his hand drifted down Wufei's neck and bare back. Wufei barely noticed as he quickly read the message from some anonymous email address in Recyc sector.

It was short and to the point. 'Maxwell, I know it was you. Get your ass over to the Barbieri entrance to Recyc in the next six hours.' No signature.

Wufei turned sharply on Duo, who grinned widely. "Believe me; for the King, that is fairly polite and non-threatening."

"I'll go get my sword," Wufei muttered.

+

"How do we handle this?" Wufei asked. They'd cleared the busy shuttle platform and stepped into the two-block no-man's-land around Recyc; the Trolls didn't have any neighbors despite Freeport's crowded conditions. They walked through an empty area of ugly prefab warehouses, past a dusty terminal full of broken electric carts and through a wasteland of empty barrels, dirt and debris; even the feral cat population seemed to avoid the place. They could talk safely here.

"Apologize a lot to start with," Duo answered breezily.

"What if apologies aren't enough?"

"Do you believe in reincarnation?"

"No."

"Don't go making any plans then."

"Very amusing."

"It shouldn't come to that. The Trolls aren't that bad."

Wufei remembered their decorative use of human skulls, but didn't say anything.

"Once we've calmed down his Majesty, we'll see what the Trolls know about Herb. They were hiding him. They might have info about Ferret and Carver."

Wufei felt a flash of alarm. "Maybe we shouldn't push our luck," he said carefully. "Just go in, apologize, promise we'll never-"

"No, we got to keep on track." Duo's eyes had narrowed predatorily. "I'm hoping my lil' message will get Carver & Co to act against us; give us a chance for a rematch-"

"A chance to get killed, you mean," Wufei countered sharply.

"Nobody lives forever. But I don't plan on dying easy and neither do you. No, Carver's quite welcome to take a shot at us. But considering how secretive this gang is, it's more likely their boss will order the whole lot of them into hiding."

Wufei's footsteps slowed as if the dust rising around his boots was turning to quicksand. Duo was right; it would seem strange on the face of it, to hide from only two people. But if the Boss knew Duo - if the Boss was Ravachol for instance - then he would know that appearances could be deceiving. If they lost Carver's trace now, they might not pick it up again. But...

Duo was a few feet ahead now, talking animatedly. "We need all the leads we can find. I might be able to track the gang and their boss down later, now that I know they exist; but if Carver leaves the colony, you'll lose him for good, even if I corner his friends here. He won't be dumb enough to come back here while you're around. That's why- Wu? What are you lagging behind for?"

Wufei had stopped. The dark sector wall of Recyc was looming ahead like a solemn reproach. He'd made himself a promise in the midst of battle: he'd decided to tell Duo the truth if they made it out alive. He'd been...distracted earlier, to put it mildly, but now he had to keep his word. If he said something now, then Duo wouldn't take any risks with the Trolls. Duo would apologize, then drag Wufei to Scythe and kick him off the colony for good.

He licked his lips and glared down at a rusted barrel lying on its side in the debris. He heard Duo's boots scuffle dirt as he took a couple of steps towards Wufei.

"Duo, just go in there and apologize," Wufei ordered without looking up, voice harsh. "Play it safe. It's not worth it."

"What about the mission?"

"The mission is a lie."

Silence. Wufei glanced up finally. Duo was staring at him stolidly and didn't appear in the least surprised. Or angry. He looked both curious and grimly satisfied. Wufei almost asked if Duo had heard him, but he knew very well there was nothing wrong with Duo's hearing.

"Does Trowa even know you're here?" Duo asked abruptly.

Wufei had expected a lot of things - questions, accusations, and a lot of shouting - but not that.

"What?!"

"Trowa. Was he the one who actually sent me the signal to meet at Hilde's-"

"Of course! You think I'd come to this pit if I wasn't ordered to?!"

Oh, way to go, Chang. First tell the man you've been lying to him all along, then insult his home. Good job.

"Why aren't you even surprised?" Wufei ground out, rubbing his face savagely. His head had started to throb again, his blood pulsing in his injured temple like he was about to have a stroke.

"I don't know." Duo still sounded remarkably calm. "You wrap yourself up pretty damn tight. Not as bad as Heero, but close. The thing is, I've survived this long by being able to read people. I had the feeling something was up."

"Why didn't you say anything?!"

"Because it was just a feeling," Duo answered with a self-deprecating grin. "And I know I can be bloody paranoid at times. I wasn't sure. I thought-..."

He rubbed the back of his neck as Wufei stared at him. "I thought maybe you'd bluffed your way onto Freeport to hunt down Carver for your own reasons. Revenge, like."

Wufei's jaw dropped.

"You do seem to really want to get the guy," Duo added as explanation. "And...I always thought you'd go to the bottom of hell and back to ex somebody who'd done you bad."

That remark was probably pretty accurate, but..."I never saw Carver until a few hours ago. He's done nothing to me, he- he's nothing..."

The full import of Duo's words was slowly crushing him. Duo had known something was up; Wufei had probably betrayed himself in a dozen small ways, living with the other man for so long. Duo had felt something wasn't right, but he'd said nothing. He'd trusted Wufei. The smuggler had even helped him, at considerable risk to himself, because he thought that Carver had wronged Wufei in some way.

Wufei turned around and sank down blindly to sit on the empty barrel, slipping his sword's strap over his head when the bottom of the scabbard scraped on the rusty metal. His back was towards Duo; Wufei had never wanted to feel like a coward, but he couldn't face his friend at this point.

"So what's it about?" Duo was finally beginning to sound angry and suspicious. He was probably building a whole host of conspiracies in his head. "Why'd you say Carver's nothing? He didn't murder those kids?"

"Oh, he did," Wufei answered numbly, settling his sheathed sword between his legs, the metal tip of the scabbard resting in the dirt. "And for that, he was designated a class B criminal, with a little memo in his file that he might be willing to sell us a few terrorists as a plea bargain if we ever caught him." Trowa had done some bureaucratic magic to get Carver reassigned as A, but it was a lie, like the rest.

"Class B? Specials only take on Class A cases." Footsteps coming towards him. "What are you really doing here, Chang?"

There was a small shock through the barrel. Duo's foot had landed on it hard, it would have rolled if Wufei's weight hadn't anchored it. Wufei didn't have to look to know that Duo must be looming over him, angry and menacing. Wufei accepted the hostility as his due.

"Did you guys know about Ferret? Is that it? Have you been hunting this secret organization all along?" Duo asked in an ominous voice.

"No, strangely enough," Wufei sighed. "We honestly thought Carver was just a paid hitman. His association with Ferret is a surprise to us, one that intrigues Trowa greatly. But Trowa would not have sent me after Carver if he'd known about that; it's a high-risk situation, and I was not supposed to put either of us in any danger."

"Huh..." Apparently the enormity of that declaration was leaving even Maxwell speechless.

"There was a mess on L2," Wufei explained heavily. "I'm in Freeport to get away from the consequences of a decision I made there."

"Mess? Consequences?" Duo sounded completely perplexed now. "What kinda- did you- what, did you kill somebody? Jesus Christ! Are you telling me you're on the lam?!"

"I didn't kill anybody," Wufei muttered. "Oh, sorry, that is incorrect. I actually killed a great number of people, but that was in the line of duty. If I'd stayed out of trouble and killed ten times more, I'd have gotten a medal."

"What? What the fuck did you do, Chang?!"

"I arrested the Governor of L2."

Duo's foot slipped from the barrel and the whole thing rocked as he landed on it heavily. Wufei glanced up, concerned, to see Duo sitting there, staring at Wufei with eyes and mouth wide open. Wufei wished he could enjoy the fact he'd taken the cocky smuggler completely off guard for the first time in their acquaintance.

"You what?!" Duo finally gasped.

"You heard me."

"Dude, you're allowed to do that?!"

"Of course not," Wufei growled. "What do you think I'm doing here?"

"Sweet Mother Mary- you mean, you really are on the lam?"

"I just have to lie low for awhile. Barton and Une can clear it up, if I'm not around to-

"Une too?!" Duo took a deep breath and released it noisily. "Chang, before you give me heart failure, why don't you start from the beginning. Make sense, willya?"

Wufei almost wished he had been chasing Carver for some noble vendetta. At least Duo didn't sound too angry. But he probably hadn't yet realized that Wufei had been risking Duo's life and situation in Freeport for a charade. Then he'd be very angry indeed, and Wufei couldn't blame him.

"Well?" Duo asked, steely impatience in his voice.

Wufei looked down at his hands. Strong, capable. The hands of a martial artist and a killer.

"The peace is still fragile," he said, his voice abrupt to hide the fact he didn't really know what he was going to say. He'd had a terse explanation ready from the start, in case Duo discovered the truth, but that was before they'd gotten to know each other, before they'd been blooded together in combat and gone home and had sex and slept together...his prepared words now seemed so short that they were insulting. Duo deserved more.

"Our society is heading in the right direction, but we're still in transition. These are frightening times. We're still on the brink. One push, one stumble, and we would all fall once more into chaos and destruction."

"Cut. Out. The poetry."

"I guess it's no surprise that people prefer Relena's propaganda to the truth; they prefer to see the pretty ersatz of peace the TV shows them, rather than the long, hard road to it they still have to walk."

"And the rhetoric," Duo growled.

Duo had a point; what did a Freeport citizen care about the lies Outside? This was a long-standing grievance of Wufei's, a cowardice of his society he saw all about him. So pervasive and generally accepted, that he was left to wonder if he was one of a few brave souls willing to face the truth, or a bitter deluded fool who refused to accept the general group-hug the rest of the race seemed to be indulging in. But none of this was Duo's concern, it was his own doubts he had to struggle with.

But it was easy to talk about that subject; he'd had long nights full of friendly arguments about it with Heero and Trowa, and Relena as well, before the election. But the sequence of events that had ended up with him cuffing the Governor of L2 to a rusty pipe...this was not something the three ex-Gundam pilots ever talked about. It had evolved organically, with barely any discussion; it was so fundamental to who they were, how they fought for peace, that it had never needed words till now.

"The first year after the war, we were busy fighting armed insurgency. That's what Heero still does. He's deadly if his opponent has a weapon. Things like right and wrong, and justice...they don't mean much to him." That sounded like an accusation, but it was the truth, and was strangely part of the reason why Wufei admired his friend. "He...just does what needs to be done. And nobody argues. He's the destroyer of Libra. The savior of the Earth. At this point he can do no wrong, and Trowa makes sure to keep that image intact, which means that I have to-..."

His sword scratched in the dirt at his feet. His choice of words was completely wrong; it made it all sound cold and calculating, and it hadn't happened like that. Wufei had been the one to lose his temper four years ago and send the Police Commissioner of London Borough to the hospital. And they'd never been able to prove the bastard had accepted those bribes anyway, not before a court. Trowa had done damage control and used the situation to quietly force the man out of office, and...things had just...evolved...

An impatient huff from Duo reminded Wufei that he had a limited time to explain himself before the smuggler took the logical course of beating the truth out of him. The problem was, the truth was such a strange, hybrid thing these days.

"Trowa's at the forefront. That man is an amazing infiltrator. I know who he is, what he does, but I swear, sometimes even I can't tell where the real Trowa Barton ends, and where Une's sycophantic little aide starts." Trowa himself blurred the line on a regular basis; Wufei was long past being vexed at the way his friend - and Trowa was his friend - manipulated him. It was just part of who Trowa was. Might as well resent Heero's single-mindedness or Une's checkered past.

"What are you saying?" Duo sounded angry and confused, not a good combination for someone volatile and armed to the teeth. "Trowa is Une's aide. Right?!"

"Oh yes. Une relies on him completely. Second Lieutenant Barton is efficient, approachable, obviously a bit too young for his important role...easily influenced, undoubtedly bribable...Sally calls him the 'Honey Trap'. From the start, Trowa has been approached by dozens of officers and politicians who tried to use him to influence Une or buy the Preventers." The worst offenders had been discreetly purged from the government. They'd rarely been brought to justice though, because the scandal of some of the affairs Trowa had uncovered could rip the Peacecraft administration apart.

"Yeah, well, same shit as always," Duo grunted, obviously not surprised by any of this.

"It's not supposed to be the same shit!" Wufei barked, hands clenching around the hilt of his sword. There was a chunk of graffiti that was appearing all over the colonies and in Earth slums this past year. He'd spotted it in Freeport as well. ' The rich get away, the poor pay'. Some people were starting to see past the beauty of Relena's vision, and realize that things weren't changing fast enough. Wufei blamed most of the riots on this one fact.

"The cozening Romefeller gentry has been established for decades on Earth; all those counts and viceroys and whatever. Their corruption has filtered down to all levels of our institutions. It's poisoning the peace. When somebody rich or famous commits a crime, all the friends from his 'good ole boy's club' rally around him. When it isn't graft, fraud or bribery, it's simply incompetence protected and covered up by old friends.

"This isn't terrorism; this isn't murder and war. But it's insidious, and, since most of these rich men built their family fortunes on weapons manufacture, it's a war waiting to happen, even if the excluded in our society put up with it, and I'm not counting on that."

Duo said nothing. The L2 street-rat had grown up as a victim of that very system. He would know it better than Wufei.

"Trowa has done a lot of damage to this setup; so has Relena, by coming down hard on those spots of corruption that could be disclosed. But Trowa, and the infiltrator team he trained, have to stay friends with the trash; they can't act openly in a lot of cases. Besides, this way of doing things is so ingrained in our society, there is very little we can do legally that won't put our whole political system in jeopardy. That's when Trowa needs me.

"I cut right through those genteel arrangements they all have; I perform unsustainable arrests, I violate their rights, I search their houses, I drag them away in cuffs, I terrorize their families, I frighten away their rich friends. If I can carry a conviction, all the better. Most of the time the judge throws it out, but by then I've gotten them to talk, and their friends know it. And the rest of those rich parasites fear me all the more." Wufei had made some of the most powerful men on Earth flinch just by staring at them thoughtfully for a few seconds.

He tracked some distant movement with his eyes, probably a rat. It squirmed away like some of the men he'd chased these past years. The job might sound dirty and crude, but it certainly had its highlights. The look in their eyes when their petty little threats and bribes fell flat...Wufei realized a cruel, cold smirk of amusement was twisting his lips; he banished it. This was no time to smile. He cleared his throat, and stared gloomily at the wasteland around them.

"Of course, what I do is not right. Maybe it's a form of justice, but it's without restraint, proof or legality. It's intimidation in its basest form, and what's worse, I get away with it because I'm a Preventer. And sometimes, the men are innocent...I've had to...do other things as well...Frighten away journalists who were getting too near truths that could ruin us all. Harass honest men because their efforts at setting up unions or relief efforts were being subverted by criminals and the corrupt. Ignore those same criminals because they were still untouchable...In the end, I'm no better than those Alliance officers who used their mandate to commit atrocities all over L2 and the other colonies."

He waited for Duo to respond to that blunt statement, but there was only silence. Wufei wanted to look at his ally, to see how this was going down, but his body felt frozen in that straight-backed rigid posture, sword held straight up before him.

"That's why Une must punish me, when some of my misdemeanors come to light. Otherwise, there really wouldn't be any difference between the Preventers and any other dictatorship. She keeps me on the force by cleverly lining up my brilliant arrest record against the demotions and demerits I've earned. I think Trowa's taught her to juggle knives in her spare time...

"Above all else, my fellow Preventers, the many who aren't corrupt, are not supposed to admire me for this aspect of my work. I am a violent creature and we're supposed to turn away from violence. I do what must be done to avoid disaster, but the righteous must hate me so much for it that they will eventually come up with a better way. The new world must never depend on terrorists like us again for its salvation.

"I guess you can say I've made myself the enemy, to teach them what they have to fear becoming. I find it both easy to do and rather gratifying. Sometimes...I think Treize and I shared more than I like to think."

The long-drawn out howl of a metal crate being lifted by a rusty crane echoed in the distance; something started and scurried away in the debris near their barrel. Wufei watched a distant light blinking on...off...on...

He fished around for the rest of the story. He hadn't really needed to tell Duo any of this; he could have just given him a quick summary of what had happened on L2-X953. But he'd wanted his friend to understand that Wufei wasn't really the loose cannon his enemies and colleagues thought he was. He could wait a long time for justice and revenge; he did so often enough! His list of names and faces was getting long...No, when he broke the law, it was necessary and deliberate. He was the sword that cut through the old ways that were keeping them tethered to the past...He wasn't really-...his hands knotted on the sword hilt, the skin whitened and stretched. Get it over with, Chang.

"You know what happened on L2-X953. The rioters were getting organized. Heero was down; concussion. A state of emergency had been declared; that gives the Specials automatic jurisdiction over all other forces. Heero had put me in charge before they evacuated him." An unpopular decision to say the least, but not even the other Specials had been able to protest Captain Yuy's direct order, which put Wufei in charge until someone who outranked Heero - Trowa, in that instance - arrived to relieve Wufei of command. Besides, for all his colleagues disliked him, they had to admit that when it came to strong-arm tactics, Wufei had nothing to learn from anyone.

"We'd located the leaders a few hours before Yuy was injured; they'd holed up, probably in view of a final assault. I was planning on taking them out; one hard, bloody strike. The mobs could be brought under control without them.

"And then the L2 Governor landed unexpectedly on the colony and declared that he was going to make a direct appeal to the populace. He was going to go among the crowds, reason with them, shake hands, kiss babies, show them that he didn't really think they were violent rioters, just basically misunderstood. Or something. He was organizing the news crews on arrival, before he even notified us. He probably thought it would make a brilliant TV shot. Something to put in his ads next he's on the campaign trail. He's not a corrupt man; he's one of Relena's appointees. He's full of ideals, without necessarily the vision to go with it. Not that he thought he was actually at risk. He thought he was going to be a hero. He thought that sort of stunt actually works in real life when faced with a mob."

Wufei glared down at his lacquered scabbard, the dark lines as straight and rigid as ideals were supposed to be. He knew he sounded bitter and cynical. And he was. But there had been a tiny part of him which had wanted to let the man try, see if finally mankind had evolved enough to-...but hope was not enough. The politician had fallen for his own government's propaganda. Wufei had spent years fighting a war and then riots and unrest; he knew just how volatile the situation was. Their peace wasn't that strong yet.

"It's only in the movies where the great speech soothes the crowd," he spat out, voice scathing with condemnation and a deep-seated disappointment. "In real life, one bullet would be enough to herald a general insurgency. That kind of incident has started wars! Bloody fool. You don't wave the torch of Peace around when you're sitting on a powder keg.

"In the shuffle of arriving troops I managed to reassign the Governor's escort and isolate him in the Mayor's house. I explained the situation to him very carefully. I told him he was endangering the whole colony with his stupid stunt; maybe the whole of L2. When he refused to back down, I arrested him on the grounds that he was promoting civil unrest, and cuffed him and his secretary down in the basement."

"Fuck...." Duo croaked.

"Hm. Then I told everyone he'd changed his mind."

The relief from the troops and the other Specials had been almost palpable. Some of his colleagues had looked at Wufei in a way that indicated they had a good idea why the Governor had 'changed his mind', but they said nothing. This was the sort of thing Chang Wufei got up to, after all. They pragmatically accepted the risk he'd taken for the opportunity it was and put it to good use.

"We went ahead with the assault. It was brutal. They were well armed, and someone had been training them."

Wufei had insisted that he be dropped directly into the compound, to cause chaos and distraction and allow a frontal assault by the police. He'd landed in their midst like some divine punishment. It had been gruesome and liberating; it had been necessary. The death toll would have been ten times higher if he'd played it safe, let the Governor get himself killed, and then dealt with the ensuing chaos.

But in the eyes of those who wanted to believe in peace, Wufei had committed a massacre, he'd fallen back on violence instead of giving humanity's new vision a chance. The worst was, though Wufei was almost convinced that the Governor's intervention would have led to disaster, even he couldn't be one hundred percent sure of it...had he maybe stopped humanity from proving they were, once and for all, moving away from the path of destruction?

"Trowa arrived as we were cleaning up," he muttered, speaking absently as he wrestled with the doubts he'd managed to bury under his mission for the last two months. "I'd left him a message, so he knew to go and free the Governor. Trowa clapped the man into hospital for a few hours on account of dehydration or something, and got me off the colony on the first transport of wounded out of there, along with Heero. Une wanted me back on Earth; I was too vulnerable in space. She planned to put me in the stockade again, I'd be safe enough and under inquiry until she could apply pressure and let the whole thing blow over while keeping up appearances."

"Stockade."

The word was uttered in an oddly flat tone. Wufei shrugged without looking up.

"It's happened a couple of times. Depends on what I've had to do. I don't have to go that far all that often. Most of my career is flawless," Wufei added with no attempt at false modesty. If it hadn't been, he'd have been more a liability than a help and Une would have gotten rid of him long ago.

"When she can, Une lets me off lightly; I get a reprimand, a short suspension, or counseling," Wufei's voice darkened with distaste at the latter. "Once she put me on traffic duty. That was a rather restful month actually, and I was able to arrest two drug dealers outside a night club. But if the case is high profile, she has to go further."

He'd been a guest of the High Security wing of Preventer's Internal Affairs jail, for three weeks on one occasion, and for a couple of months on another. Wufei had rather enjoyed the calm, the solitude and the chance to meditate and reflect on his choices. When he grew bored, the director, a friend of Une's, smuggled in a few of his books.

"Some of my colleagues don't understand why I'm still in the force when I'm a violent, unreliable hothead who occasionally flies off the handle and throws procedure out the window. A few of them...might have an idea, but...well, overall, the word is that Une prefers to keep an eye on me, rather than have me run wild. Then there was the rumor I was sleeping with Trowa to keep my job- but I had Heero put a stop to that right away. Trowa is a remarkably good officer for someone his age, and in a difficult position. He doesn't deserve that kind of slander."

Duo made an odd sound in his throat. Probably irritated with all this meandering. Wufei hadn't realized he could talk this much, especially on this subject, which always ripped him apart with an equal measure of pride and shame. He never talked about any of this...not even to his closest friends. Heero and Trowa would have taken his place in an instant if they knew how much it hurt sometimes, because they, well, they just didn't care what other people thought about them, and their notion of justice was flexible, to say the least. And it wasn't that it was that hard on Wufei; nobody was asking him to lose a limb or self-destruct or anything. He could do this. Besides, Trowa and Heero had their own roles to fulfill, and Wufei...

A small part of Wufei was telling him he probably deserved this. And he was so very good at it...and sometimes he liked it- dammit, he'd fallen silent again. Duo was probably getting impatient for the bit that actually concerned him; what did he care about the last five years of Wufei's life...

"Trowa countermanded Une's order. He said he didn't want me rotting in the legal system when I could be doing something useful. He fished around until he found a somewhat low-risk mission in Freeport, and packed me off. If I was on a Specials undercover op, I couldn't be dragged back to face an enquiry, not before Une could do some damage control. Barton was also thinking of future missions. Since Heero's promotion last year, he's involved with Relena's security on a frequent basis. Because of, ah, an incident with her awhile back, I'm not even allowed in the palace. Barton was going to see if you could ease me into Freeport's society like you did with Heero. If you could, and we worked well together, then I could take over Heero's undercover missions here in the future.

"I guess I blew that...If it makes you feel any better, I imagine Trowa will be even more furious with me than you are."

The barrel shook slightly. Boots crunched through garbage. Wufei's view of the wasteland was eclipsed by a long leather coat as Duo stopped in front of him.

"So your job here was to lie low, look for Carver only if it was not too dangerous for us, and get used to Freeport." Duo's voice was as light and threatening as a garrote.

"Yes."

"So why've we been risking our necks, looking for this-"

"Carver is a killer!"

His snarl sliced through the quiet air and sparked echoes off a nearby shed. Wufei glared down at his hands, twisting his sword's hilt as if they were trying to strangle it. Trowa would be asking him the same question. Trowa could be very subtle and cold-blooded for the cause; oh so patient and calculating. He would want to know what the hell Wufei had been thinking, and he'd give Wufei this pitiful, understanding look when Wufei blew up but- dammit!

"He's a rabid dog who needs to be put down! The mission was just an excuse, but I took it! Carver is - should have been only Class B, and with our shortage in personnel, we can't afford the sort of manhunt it would take to track him down. I saw his file. The only plan for his arrest was: wait until he's caught red-handed on the crime-scene of one of his paid hits, so that we can convict him easily. But that's not right! Class A or B- what difference does it make to his victims, that he kills for politics or for money?! I can't ignore a crime just because it's expedient to do so. The family of the dead deserve more than that insult.

"But that's my problem, and I know very well it doesn't concern you. That's why I lied. I didn't think you'd help me if you knew that you were just supposed to keep me out of trouble," Wufei finished abruptly. He didn't lift his eyes higher than Duo's leather-clad knees. His head was hurting, it felt like the entire colony was leaning on his neck, and he didn't want to see Duo staring at him with anger and disappointment...he also didn't want Duo to see his face, because even now he knew he couldn't look repentant if he tried.

"You'd have been right," Duo said shortly. "I don't risk my life for Peace, Justice or anything with a fucking capital."

The tone wasn't the accusing one Wufei had expected. Surprise made him glance up despite his resolve not to. Duo wasn't even looking at him. He was staring off into the distance. And that chilling, bitter gleam was back in his eyes, that darkness turned inwards that had haunted his words a few hours before...Wufei would have preferred any amount of furious accusations aimed at his own head, because he didn't know what that look meant, but he instinctively hated it.

"I should kick your ass," Duo growled, snapping out of whatever mindset had captured him and turning on Wufei with the glare one would expect.

"I know," Wufei acknowledged, getting ready for the first blow, verbal or otherwise.

"You should have told me! I'd have said 'no', but you should have told me!"

Yes, he should have. But he hadn't. He'd put his mission, the one that existed only in his head, above his and Duo's safety, and given the chance, he'd do it again. That made even apologies meaningless, so Wufei remained silent.

"And what's worse, you let them-" Duo words ended in a primal growl.

Wufei stiffened abruptly as he heard the spring-sheath trigger.

Time and Freeport stood still as Duo slowly lifted the stiletto that had shot into his hand and stared at it blindly. Then blue eyes focused on the knife as if he was surprised to find it there. With a grumble Wufei couldn't make out, Duo hoisted up his sleeve and stuffed the dagger back into the spring loader impatiently. Wufei wondered if it was wise to breathe again-

He started back, but seated as he was, he couldn't dodge Duo's grab. A bruising grip on his chin forced him to look up into Duo's eyes. Wufei forbade himself to move or struggle, waiting for the deluge of blame-

"We don't have the time." Duo spoke slowly and distinctly. "We don't have the time for this shit. I'm gonna put this aside for now. For now. 'Cause otherwise- but okay, let's move on. And the rest? I'll just say one thing. Those Outsiders better like their peace when they finally get it. Cause it'll be your blood in the cement. You and Heero- you're the only real friends I got, and you go around like you're dead men walking. Like you don't even count! Get. A. Life!"

"Justice is my life," Wufei answered sharply, tearing away from the hold. He didn't know where this was going or what Duo was getting at, but Wufei knew that much.

"Yeah, I know. I just wish I could see you laugh more often," Duo muttered. The gloved hand fell down to Duo's side in a loose gesture like an admission of defeat.

Before Wufei could say anything - not that he had any idea of what to say- Duo erupted into motion again; he grabbed Wufei's wrist and yanked him to his feet. Wufei staggered away from the barrel and then stumbled after Duo who was literally dragging him towards Recyc.

"Come on. I'll rip strips outta ya another day. Let's go finish your mission."

Wufei nearly bit his tongue as he tripped over a piece of piping with his mouth open.

"But- but Duo-Carver isn't really- I mean, that wasn't really what Trowa sent me here for-"

"Yeah, well, even clown-boy don't know everything then," Duo growled without turning around. "I know better than to try to pry you or Heero from your mission - and I don't mean the kind that comes in a manila folder with 'Directives' on it. I'll help you kick ass and take names, and keep the band aids handy for afterwards. Come on."

Wufei lurched after Duo, the hand still gripping his wrist as if the smuggler wasn't planning on ever letting him go.

[chap. 22] [chap 24] [back to Maldoror's fic]