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

AN: Dedicated to Dacia!

Thanks to Anaitis for much more than a beta this time, more like the kick that got this chapter in the right direction (well, I hope it's the right direction). Thanks to all who read and review and remind me that they like this story, because man, it helps...This chapter is not perfect; but then again, nothing ever is.

Freeport + Chapter 29

"Je suis l'enfant terrible
D'un monde en guerre
Je suis l'enfant maudit
Né de la peste
Je suis né comme un fou
Je suis né peste rouge
Je suis l'enfant naturel
D'une société cancéreuse
Je suis l'enfant rebelle
Et la loi est dang'reuse

Fils de-...!
Fils de-...!"


(I'm the bastard child
of a world at war
I'm the cursed child
Born of the plague
I was born insane
I was born a red disease
I'm the by-blow
Of a cancerous society
I'm the rebel child
And the law is dangerous

Son of-...
Son of-...)


- Beruriers Noirs, 'Fils de...'

+

Duo walked straight through the apartment without even removing his coat and stepped into the yard. His body language and actions clearly spelled out that he needed some alone time, but Wufei was having none of it. He followed, temper and some concern seething behind his customary stern expression.

"Who was that man?" he asked, stopping a few yards from Duo who had picked up the basketball.

"No idea," Duo answered with a shrug.

Don't give me that, Wufei growled inwardly. "You don't know his name, I take it. But you've seen him before?"

"Could be."

"Who- where does he live?"

"No idea," Duo repeated.

"Where did you see him before, then?" Wufei ground out.

Duo just tossed the ball at the hoop. The ball fell neatly through the metal and bounced back obediently to Duo's waiting hands. Wufei watched it, and spoke just as Duo started the next throw.

"It was Kropotkin, wasn't it."

The ball struck the outside of the hoop with a clang and bounced and rolled in Wufei's direction.

Duo was looking at Wufei, his face unreadable for once.

Wufei picked up the ball and tossed it at Duo with maybe a bit more force than warranted.

"I don't have your expertise in Freeport society," he growled. "But I'm not stupid, Maxwell, I-"

"No, you're not," Duo said softly. He'd caught the ball and tossed it one-handed at the hoop without even really looking. It bounced off the board and through the metal. Wufei glared at it.

"In Recyc, we faced two kinds of adversaries," he said slowly. He'd been thinking about this for awhile, and this attack tonight finally confirmed it. "There were some who were pirates, mercenaries or killers. They came from all over the colony. But there were also a fair number of regular citizens. 'Just people' you called them. And they all came from either Kropotkin or Goldman, mainly Kropotkin. I knew that surprised you. These are so-called respectable sectors; they normally don't breed riffraff and rebels."

Duo had picked up the ball again. His eyes had twitched towards Wufei at the 'so-called', but he didn't say anything.

"Tor Kendle lives in Kropotkin too. So do a few others we know of. I'm starting to think these people in Kropotkin are the core elements."

Duo tossed the ball at the hoop again, with his left hand this time. It fell through.

"The Breakers would do anything to stay hidden from the Preventers and even the rest of Freeport," Wufei continued heavily. "They would probably not induct any new member into their group unless they were sure of that person, and in Freeport, the best way to be sure of someone is to live in the same sector, where you all know your neighbours as well as your own family. Am I correct?"

"On the money," Duo drawled, catching the ball on the rebound and twirling it on the tip of his finger. Wufei remembered him doing that a few weeks ago, just before Wufei had told Duo he was going to stay, that he was going to defy the Preventer high command and stick with the investigation. He remembered Duo's sudden fierce smile, eyes bright with enthusiasm and approval; Wufei felt a stab of some undefined emotion in his gut.

"So the logical conclusion is that the Breaker conspiracy started in Kropotkin," Wufei said, suppressing the memory and the feelings to concentrate on the facts and theories. "That's where they're the most heavily implanted, that's where their leaders will be. But...Frank Ravachol doesn't live in that sector. He lives in Mooncurse. He doesn't even have many friends in Kropotkin, you said."

"Yup."

"I'm starting to think he's not the Boss after all. He may be a lieutenant, or possibly an ally of the Breakers. But the Boss, and the heart of the Breakers, we haven't yet discovered." Which was why the Breakers weren't yet all that frantic to silence Wufei and Duo as they had Herb.

"Brilliant, detective," Duo said, hooping the ball again.

Wufei watched him, eyes narrowed. Considering the confusing tangle of incomplete information they had, yes, it was a good deduction. Wufei was a good cop; he had an instinct for conspiracy, criminals and their setups. He'd figured it out despite his lack of knowledge of Freeport.

An astute native like Duo should have had his suspicions weeks ago, when they'd started to tail Tor Kendle.

At about the time Duo had become a bit withdrawn and started to disappear on his own for hours on end.

Wufei watched the swish of the long, black leather coat, the flash of boots beneath it as Duo moved across the floor with the ball, playing one-on-one with shadows.

"You have a lot of friends in Kropotkin, don't you," Wufei finally said.

"Yeah, a lot of old Sweepers settled there, and some of the ex-rebs from L2 who helped me during the war."

Wufei waited, but Duo didn't add anything.

Fine. Wufei crossed his arms over his chest.

"You think some of them are involved." His voice had hardened.

"That could well be," Duo answered casually.

"...I'd like to say that I'll spare them. I'd like to say that I'd let them go and forget they were ever involved. But if they are responsible for crimes..."

Wufei knew he sounded intransigent and stubborn. He needed Duo's help to corner these people. He should be flexible and willing to compromise. Wufei could do that if he was forced to. But not in these sorts of circumstances, not just for friendship. If there wasn't some greater need for those men to go free, then Wufei was not going to put them on his list and wait years to get them, and he was certainly not going to just forget them entirely.

Duo glanced over his shoulder at Wufei, a strange, illuminating smile that seemed more dangerous than a weapon dancing on his face.

"Is that what's eating you, Chang? Don't worry. If any of my buddies are involved - and so far, I found none of them that are, which is good. But if some of them fell in with this gang, I wont be asking you to let them squirm out. Space puppies like us, we live and die by our decisions. That's the way it goes. You and me, we’re on the same wavelength here."

"I know. I trust you on that."

And Wufei did. Unconditionally. He almost wondered why...

"You can, you can," Duo assured him lightly. "We're going after the Breakers and we're gonna destroy them. Every one of them."

"...Good."

Wufei - the Preventer - knew that Duo was telling the truth. He trusted the man, the ally. It was only a small part of Wufei, a part he normally didn't listen to, that didn't like the way Duo was speaking; it was that casual tone he'd used during the war, when killing was something you did to keep score between Us and Them, something that didn't matter. It was a tone that was unusual for the adult Duo, and one Wufei hadn’t want to hear again.

"If I find any of my buddies meddled in this...I won't ask you to let them get out. But there's one thing I want."

Duo was suddenly serious, staring up at the hoop instead of Wufei.

"I want to deal with them myself. Once we bring the Breakers down, you'll be able to arrest them when they try to make a run for it on the Outside; I damn well hope that fucker Carver rots in jail until he dies at the age of a hundred. But my buddies...I'll take care of it here. In Freeport. You won't need to know about it."

"Duo..." Wufei started uncomfortably.

"Some of these guys, I owe them my life. Don't worry, I won't let them go. But I'll take care of them myself. That's what's owed."

Wufei suddenly had his suspicions about what Duo had been doing these past few weeks. Duo would have been conducting his own investigation on his friends, despite the risk to himself that could entail. It was likely that some of these people were wanted by the law; gunrunners, murderers, old rebels on the terrorist watch list...Duo had been checking up on them alone so that if they were involved in something illegal but not Breaker-related, Wufei wouldn't be in the moral obligation to arrest them some time in the future. Duo knew Wufei too well, it would seem.

But if any of these friends turned out to be Breakers...Duo would deal with them directly and bloodily, according to Freeport's cruel laws. Wufei remembered the light glancing off a drawn knife and spoke without thinking.

"That man who attacked us tonight, is he one of your friends?"

"Huh? No, I've only seen him a couple of times before, in Kro."

Yes, Duo had said that earlier, Wufei had forgotten; which was unlike him, his mind was like a trap for important, mission-related facts. He felt tense, off-balance and he wondered why. The man's swollen, bloody face was hovering before his eyes, the flash of a knife...words stuttered through broken teeth...

"I wonder why he said we were going to destroy Freeport," Wufei muttered. Coming from a Breaker, of all people, that had been rich.

"Well, that's easy."

Duo was smiling down at the ball in his hands, a slash of a grin like the one he wore when he was called Shinigami.

"Think about it. The people in Kropotkin are rebels and anarchists. Breakers or not, Freeport's their home. And I'm a loner who's working for a cop."

"That's not..." Wufei's objection never really materialized; unfortunately, what Duo had said wasn't entirely wrong.

"It must look pretty obvious to them," Duo added, stuffing the ball beneath his arm and turning on himself slowly. "In their eyes, you and I are the spearhead of the invading forces. Or rather, the forces of law and order, since it's you. That's what it must look like. Of course, it's not gonna be quite that easy. But it'll come down to that sooner or later. I guess we were all idiots, to think this place could go on forever."

Duo wasn't looking at Wufei, he was staring dreamily at the corners of his junk yard.

"Democracy triumphs. If the Preventers tried to move in directly, the Elders would have used the detonators set on the colony's core. But in this case? When people find out what the Breakers were doing...it'll be the end. Freeport hates war. It's made too many victims here. When they realize some home-grown elements were trying to start a fucking war right under their noses...well, damn, they'll be so shook up, so scared of what's inside and out, that they'll welcome that peacekeeping force with open arms."

Peacekeeping force. That was what the Alliance had called itself when it had invaded L2 and the other Lagrange Point colonies.

Duo was staring at his yard as if he could see it burning already, but he was smiling in a way that chilled Wufei to the bone, and Wufei had not considered himself to be all that sensitive to chills. He was no longer on the outside, catching glimpses of that inner darkness; he'd stepped right into it. Almost as if he'd become a part of it. Something was opening before him, something he'd not seen before, and he-

"Stop it."

Wufei had said it without thinking. Duo started and glanced up as if he'd forgotten the other man was present.

Wufei wasn't entirely sure what he was asking Duo to stop. When Duo got into one of those moods, when he started to smile that dangerously flat grin and speak in those curt, hard words, Wufei let him be and a few minutes later, Duo was always back to normal.

"Sorry, mind wandered for a sec," Duo said dismissively, hooping the ball again. It rattled against the metal and nearly didn't go in.

Wufei could have dropped it...

He probably should have dropped it…there was something dangerous hanging in the air, and there had been ever since Duo had nearly knifed an unarmed man earlier.

Wufei didn't drop it.

"What the hell were you talking about? Whoever mentioned a peacekeeping force?!"

"Don't worry about it," Duo said, his eyes blind as they followed the ball's progress mechanically. "Just don't worry about it. It's bound to happen. It's what always happens. It's probably for the best anyway. It's got to burn before you can rebuild. We'll do our thing, and Relena gets her pretty Future. Clean up Freeport, the rest of the slums will follow, and then there won't be a dirty corner left in the Space Sphere-"

“If this is a joke, it’s not funny, Maxwell.”

“Joke?” Duo chuckled dryly. “I’m not kidding around about something like-“

"Yes you are- stop lying."

It was a careless, angry word, a reflex denial. It seemed to stir more echoes than warranted from the shattered pieces of metal around them.

Duo froze, ball in hand. He turned towards Wufei slowly, a dangerous look in his eyes. Wufei had stepped over a line.

"I don't lie."

"I know!" Wufei growled. He hadn't meant it like that, the word had slipped out- but then, neither had Duo meant what he'd said about burning and destroying. Of course Duo hadn't meant that; the smuggler was just being sardonic. "I know you care about this place, you wouldn't stand by if- I do not intend to bring in a peacekeeping force! I don't know what the hell you're on about, but-"

"Maybe you don't want to know...."

Duo's voice was soft, and he was staring at Wufei now as if he'd never seen him before.

"Piece of advice, stay outta my head; it's better all around. Hang around with a spacer like me too much, you'll get funny ideas. Look at you; you're already in deep shit with your bosses as it is."

Wufei stared at the admonishing finger mockingly waved at him.

"Freeport fucks around with your mind when you stay here too long. You don't want that; you're the poster-boy for democracy, right? For law and order. Not that they'll ever thank you for it."

Duo's jaw clenched in sudden anger, skewing the smile. Something in his eyes ignited, the fire that had burned earlier when he'd been about to kill. And the darkness was there, all around them, and it was looking right at Wufei, who took an instinctive step back, hands rising to parry though Duo still hadn't moved.

"You don't need to worry about me, you just carry on, copper," Duo whispered, the words falling lightly in ten feet between them. "Help Peacecraft build her future. She needs her running dog to keep her clean, while you ex the opposition, scare off the journalists and lean on the union workers."

Wufei stiffened, the blow catching him completely off guard.

"I'm just a spacer. I don't get all this 'greater good' stuff. You need to steer clear of gene-trash like me, Chang. You might get contaminated and forget what you're fighting for."

Duo looked ready for a fight, Wufei realized distantly; his hold on the ball had loosened and he'd inched his left foot back to brace himself. He was watching Wufei in something like bloody anticipation, like he actually wanted an attack, a savage exchange of blows.

But Wufei felt no anger and no will to fight. What Duo had just said was the truth, nothing more and nothing less. There was only one word Wufei could object to. His voice was flat, strangely calm, and distant in his own ears when he spoke.

"Stop calling yourself gene-trash."

There was a dark fire burning in Duo's eyes as he laughed; the sound danced manically around the broken pieces of metal strewn about them.

"Why? Can't stand the word? Oh, sorry, that not PC? But I am gene-trash, Lord Chang, and if that does your head in, maybe you shouldn't have let me fuck you."

This was provocation, pure and simple. But Wufei felt removed from it, as if those words were rats scurrying around him without touching him. He'd rarely felt so calm.

"I wasn't counting on having your babies, Maxwell, so the quality of your genes leaves me completely indifferent."

He had the cold satisfaction of seeing a crack appear in Duo's manic facade as the smuggler blinked in surprise. Wufei continued, his words flat and measured.

"I don't want you to use a racist, belittling term like 'gene-trash' when talking about yourself, because it's ugly, it's distasteful, and because you don't mean it. You've never been ashamed of your origins. If someone looks down on you for it, you get mad or you get even; you don't lose time in self-pity. You're only throwing this garbage in my face to get me to back off. Fine. You could have just told me to leave the subject alone. I would have. I owe you too much for your help to date to repay you as it is. As long as you assist me on my mission, you can keep your reasons to yourself. I'm not going to pry into something that's none of my business."

Wufei could hear the rigid courtesy in his words. As he turned to go, he wondered when he'd started to sound so much like his father.

"That easy, huh..." Duo muttered behind him.

"We're both tired," Wufei said crisply without looking around. "We've been sleeping and eating irregularly, we've been working long hours and we've just been attacked. We need a break. I'll forget what you just said."

"That's mighty big of you." The ball thumped sardonically against the wall. "But you're probably right."

"I'm going to bed."

"I'll stay out awhile longer. We could probably do with a cool-off."

Wufei closed the door behind him in silent agreement.



---



Wufei tossed off his jacket and shirt, and then froze, hands on his belt, when he heard the yard door open to the alley behind the building. Despite his own words about a break, despite Duo's suggestion that they 'cool off', Wufei was not going to let Duo wander the streets alone a mere hour after they'd been ambushed. Wufei stalked towards the door, but then heard a scuffle nearby, and a thump on the roof of the yard.

He listened without moving; he could hear the barest murmur of footsteps as Duo crossed the roof of the junkyard shed. Then there was a creak nearly above Wufei's head; Duo had started to climb the emergency ladder that went up to the top of the building and its flat roof.

He'd gone up there a few times before; once after Ravachol's visit and once after Agostina had refused to talk to them the second time. It was Duo's way of being alone in a city teeming with people, in an apartment he had to share with somebody else.

Wufei hesitated, then wondered why he was even thinking of following. Duo had made it quite clear he didn't want to discuss this, whatever 'this' was, and Wufei had no desire to intrude, or get verbally savaged again. So he went to bed.

He lay on his back, eyes wide open. After a minute, he realized he was glaring at the ceiling as if he could see Duo skulking up on the roof. Wufei turned, rustling the sheets in irritation, and chose to glare at the wall instead. He was finally starting to feel angry, that strange numbness fading to be replaced with his usual temper.

They'd had fights before. A lot of them. They both had strong personalities and little patience. He'd been angry at Duo before. Very angry. Downright furious sometimes.

Wufei wondered why he was chewing this over, and realized that it was because this time, there was a new element. He was finally angry, yes, but the emotion was still strangely distant; it felt almost like a reflex, something he felt because he knew that's what he should feel. There was another feeling here, underlying the anger, and he didn't want to admit to it. It made him feel weak.

He'd go to sleep. If Duo wanted to exhaust himself and deprive himself of a few hours of rest, that was his choice.

Despite his best intentions, his mind kept going back over the conversation, looking for...something. But he wasn't sure he wanted to find it.

It's got to burn before you can rebuild.

Of course Duo hadn't meant that as it sounded. That was the way a terrorist talked.

That was why he'd said Duo was lying.

Which had been a stupid thing to say, Wufei conceded, mentally berating himself. Duo never lied. Wufei knew it. Duo knew he knew it.

But Duo's words just didn't make sense. The whole reason Duo was hunting the Breakers was to defend Freeport. The money thing...Carver even...they held no importance to him.

So why had Duo said-

Wufei's lips tightened in self-directed anger. Who cared. Yeah, it was obvious that Duo was struggling with something. It was also obvious that Duo didn't want Wufei's help with it, or even Wufei to get too close. Duo had made that quite clear.

The bit about- Wufei grimaced with disgust - letting Duo fuck him...that was the sort of thing Duo would think of as an insult. He hadn't needed to add that. The first few words had been the blow that counted. So that was how Duo saw Wufei; Relena's running dog. Fair enough; he had told Duo what his real job was, after all, and that's what it boiled down to. The attacks against rebels; the intimidations; the criminals he let slip through his fingers while he attacked better men who’d only tried to fight an unfair system, because it was politically expedient...the parts of his ‘career’ Wufei felt he could never make up for, never justify...

Wufei turned around restlessly, viciously ashamed of the tiny feeling of hurt he was having to admit to.

He closed his eyes, trying to meditate and eliminate the little twist of pain. He couldn't. He wasn't used to using his inner strength for something so trivial and personal. He had never had a fight with any of his lovers before now. Their relationships had always been courteous, friendly, calm-

Or he just hadn't cared. He'd never let them into the places in his soul where they might cause some damage. He'd never given them the weapons to hurt him like he had with Duo.

Wufei stared blindly at the ceiling; he'd flipped around onto his back again without realizing.

Duo wasn't one of Wufei's safe harbors. He was a friend, and a dangerous man; an ally, and a wildcard.

He probably had things in his psyche he had no wish to share.

Wufei remembered the flash of the knife; Duo's wide eyes, pinpoint pupils as he watched the man who'd accused him of-

Wufei rubbed his eyes until he saw spots. None of his business, as Duo had demonstrated.

But he couldn't stop thinking...

That man tonight - a man from Kropotkin, a respected sector where Duo had friends. His words had done something to Duo; something severe. Duo had nearly killed him for it. Duo had come home with that feeling still lurking at the back of his mind, and, off-balance, he'd said something to Wufei that he didn't want to share. Understandable. Wufei had had slips of the tongue before, things that accidentally revealed more than he wanted. He hated that. He acted aggressively if the person - even a friend - tried to dig deeper. There were things in his past he never wished to discuss with anybody. Duo was undoubtedly the same. They all had scars, past horrors lurking in their minds.

But they were strong men who did not need the well-intended interference of others. They fought their demons alone, they won, they went on with the mission. They didn't meddle in each other's private lives.

Wufei remembered saying those exact same words to Duo, when they'd been discussing Heero. Wufei was explaining why he didn't know if his best friend was hurting or not. 'We don't meddle in each other's private lives.'

He remembered Duo's answer when he'd said that.

'Well, that's just sad.'

Wufei stared at the ceiling, stains and a spider's web gleaming under the light slipping through the blinds.

A friend didn't leave things at that. A lover didn't keep distances. Even when it hurt, he dragged the problem out and shared it. That's what Duo had done with Wufei; dragged Wufei's shame, his self-doubt, his 'job' to the surface, and yeah, Duo hadn't been very happy or impressed with what he'd found. Wufei had felt vulnerable, exposed. He’d given Duo weapons that could harm him more thoroughly than a knife- and Duo had used them, in a moment of anger that Wufei just couldn’t understand…

...It didn't matter. What Duo was trying to hide...didn't matter. What mattered were the Breakers, and their threat to law and order. And despite that slip earlier, despite what it was that Duo was hiding, Wufei still trusted him implicitly.

Wufei prodded that belief suspiciously and found it indestructible, even after that scene outside. He was sure of it. Duo would finish the mission, even if he died to do so.

The thought seemed to freeze something deep in Wufei.

What was it that Duo thought he was going to destroy?

Wufei stared at the darkness in the corners of the room for a few long minutes.

The anger started to dissipate slowly. There was so much of it...a deep-seated, diffuse anger that seemed to stretch back beyond this evening, beyond Wufei's visit to Freeport and the past five years and even the war. It had formed into something hard inside him, like a shell, a protection and a convenient set of blinkers to give him a view of the world that was as narrow as the blade of his sword.

Wufei could feel it start to crack.

Something in him gave up and didn't even try to stop it.

"Goddamit Maxwell," Wufei growled, glaring at the ceiling, "I should kick your ass just for putting us both through this. Who the hell do you think you are?"

He threw back the covers and headed towards the backyard door.

It would be wrong to say he'd made up his mind. In fact, his mind was quite divided and busy arguing with itself. The part of his soul that his ancestors had forged into a sword of justice was icily reminding him that he shouldn't have to take that kind of insult from a blasted anarchist who respected nothing, no law, no gods, no masters.

Wufei tugged on his boots and didn't bother with the laces.

His reserve was asking him what right he had to intrude into the inner soul of a fellow warrior. Wufei hated having people poke around his own self-doubts. More to the point, Wufei was starting to get rather worried about what he was going to find there. He was no fool. He knew that there was something potent and ugly powering Duo's words and that dangerous half-smile, and Wufei knew himself well enough to know he was really not going to like it. Why look for something that could cause a rift between them now, when they needed to be allies?

He slammed the door behind him and headed across the yard. His feet rang loudly on the metal.

Anyway, his pride added, if somebody was going to meet the other halfway, it should be Duo. Wufei would have respected Duo's privacy if Duo had asked him to, there was no need for the smuggler to lash out at him that viciously - Duo owed him an apology or two.

The yard door shut firmly behind him, the security lock clicking into place. Wufei reflexively checked the alleyway for ambushers. Though the poor bastard who jumped Chang Wufei tonight would not live to figure out how badly timed his attack was.

Wufei had never learned to handle inner confusion very gracefully.

He scrambled up onto the roof, the pile of garbage shifting beneath his feet. Duo probably made it look easy. Wufei had never been up here. He hoped the metal roof was solid; a lot of Freeport's non-essentials seemed prone to rust.

He hesitated at the foot of the ladder that lanced upwards into darkness. But only for a second. Then he bent down and prosaically laced up his boots to avoid ending this discussion and his entire mission prematurely by slipping on the ascent and breaking his neck.

It felt even colder up here; an icy breeze flowed above Freeport's buildings. Warped aluminium sidings creaked beneath Wufei's feet as he climbed over the parapet and set foot on the flat roof. The building's ventilation unit huffed and muttered to itself off to one side. He could barely make it out in the darkness. The pallid light of the sector's illumination was left down in the street below. A dozen yards above his head, the curve of the sector's ceiling was peppered here and there with signal lights, looking as remote as dingy stars.

Duo was standing on the parapet on the other side of the roof, outlined by the threads of light coming from down below. His back was straight as a dagger, hands in his pockets sweeping back the long coat. He watched the sector spread out below his feet, and Wufei watched him in turn.

The braid slipped across the dark leather as Duo half-turned.

"I guess you're too mad to care, but...I'm sorry. Shouldn't have said all that shit. That was way out of order."

"Yes, it was," Wufei muttered, crossing the roof towards that dark shape.

"...if you want to kick my ass, that's fine," Duo added as Wufei drew closer. He still hadn't turned around. "But not up here, that'd be stupid. Let's go down where it’s safe-"

He interrupted himself as Wufei climbed up onto the three-foot high parapet beside him.

Nobody moved in the streets below. Wufei had lost track of time, not that it meant much in Freeport's eternal night anyway. He didn't know if all the workers were out of the sector and in the factory and shipyards, or if it was Makhno's night cycle and they were disturbing the neighbours beneath their feet by walking across the roof.

The buildings loomed like large gravestones around them, only their bases illuminated at street level. In the distance, a smear of floodlights was a pale imitation of a dawn that would rise no further. Cranes stood outlined against the distant light like skeletal arms reaching towards the blind sky, waiting for containers to be hauled up from the lower level and into this sector.

"That man in D8 was a Breaker, a criminal and a would-be murderer. He was also wrong. You won't destroy Freeport," Wufei growled, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his sweatpants.

It could have been said a bit more gracefully, Wufei conceded, but he didn't care. He glared at the opposite building as if he could blame it for the anger, for the war, for the peace, for everything that had twisted up inside him and Duo and made them what they were.

Duo’s head bowed until he was staring at the street straight past his boots and the two feet of the parapet's width. There was a long silence. It was no longer hostile, despite Wufei’s grumpy tone.

"Did you enjoy the war?"

Duo dropped that like they were having one of their casual conversations as they walked the streets of Freeport. Wufei scrutinized him from the corner of his eye and could detect no sarcasm, no devious verbal trap, only bleak curiosity.

"No," he grunted, because it was obvious; who enjoyed war? Then he suddenly wondered if that was entirely true. The pain and violence had been bad; the confusion and self-doubt had been worse. But behind it all, at least he'd been able to do something. He hadn't felt like he was trying to move mountains with a teaspoon.

"I did."

Duo sounded matter of fact, almost cheerful.

"OZ and people like them have trampled me all my life. It felt fucking good to get back at them. More than that."

Duo breathed in slowly and then shrugged. "I guess I enjoy destroying. I enjoy killing. It's...simple. It's exhilarating. And it's easier than fixing things. There's power there. It's only when you destroy it that you’re truly free to create something new."

'Stop lying', Wufei had said. He hadn't wanted to hear this.

"You're not like that." This time he spoke a bit less arrogantly and without the blind denial. But that didn't mean he agreed.

Duo didn't answer.

Wufei stuffed his hands deeper into his pockets, feeling the tips of his fingers going numb with cold.

"I've only ever seen you destroy the one regime, and I think they deserved it," he said reasonably.

Duo let out a dry snort of amusement. But when he spoke, his voice was thoughtful.

"I try not to be like that. There's like two people in me. One of them wants to fix things, one of them wants to blow it all to hell."

"Everybody feels that way."

"Hardly 'everybody', but yeah, you probably know what I mean. The difference between us is, you guys can actually do it. Fix things, I mean."

Wufei looked at Duo's profile searchingly. 'You guys', he felt, meant the other pilots. The brothers born from blood and slaughter. When it came to soul-searching and self-examination, there were only four other people that could hold up that mirror. Only four other men who'd shared in the crime and in the salvation, and who could compare.

"You think we fix things?" Wufei muttered sardonically, his mind wandering over the last five years.

Duo's eyes were fastened on the darkness beyond the buildings; he spoke in short, easy sentences. "You try. I can't even try any more. It's gone wrong one times too many. Now I don't care. Fuck it. Let it burn. Let it all burn.”

Wufei said nothing. He had the feeling that Duo had something to add. At least he hoped so.

"That’s why watching you guys...sometimes it hurts. Even during the war. You guys went to fight with a plan- well, maybe not Tro at the start. Me, I kinda fell to Earth. I mean, not like a shooting star, more by accident. When I learned about Meteor- when I learned that some brainwashed motherfucker was going to go down in that beautiful beast and kill everybody, I tried to destroy him. Deathscythe, I mean. That's generally how I approach problems anyway-"

"You mean, you weren't the original pilot?" Wufei interrupted in surprise.

"Did you think I was? Me, a street-rat from L2? No, mate, I was the third backup. The one they hope they never get to, because they don't trust him further then they can toss Jupiter. The only reason they even considered me a candidate was because I knew my buddy in and out; but they never let me pilot him, and I had less than two hundred hours on the flight sim."

Wufei's anger had been dissipating like a draining abscess, but he still managed to feel a flash of aggrieved irritation as he realized that Duo had been a novice pilot at the start of Meteor and had ended up considerably better than Wufei could ever hope to be. Damn cocky talented bastard.

"When I met you guys, I thought I'd found people like me. Willing to defend Space tooth and nail; rats driven into a corner and biting back. There was some of that, to start with. But...you guys changed. You evolved. You didn't have reasons at the end; you had causes. Me, I just blew things up. Everything else I tried seem to lead me down an impasse where I was putting in danger the colonies I was actually trying to protect."

Duo's voice was soft now, barely audible.

"Especially Quatre. I think he's the one who made me realize. When I first met him, I thought he was a pansy. A little boy playing at being something he didn't even know about. He was a good pilot, but he was so nice; I guess I felt a bit protective of him, like he was some young kid who'd wandered into my gang and needed to be sheltered from just how ugly it can get out there. Wasn't able to protect him though. War has no mercy.

"And then...with all the shit he'd gone through, a pure-breed piece of fluff like him should have imploded. Instead, after escaping the Lunar base, I find him directing a financial empire and planning the future and thinking up strategies and- and doing stuff, achieving stuff without having to blow something up..."

"You're rather ignoring that whole messy bit with Zero," Wufei muttered.

"No. Because he beat it, didn't he...I never could. Ten minutes with that thing- fuck, I'd have blown my brains out if you tried to put me back in that box. But Quatre...shit. I guess what he believed in was stronger than Zero, in the end. Same with you, Trowa, Heero...you all started believing so strongly in your causes, whatever they were; peace, protection, justice- even when you were lost and exhausted and desperate you had a- a calm about you, a strength, a sense of purpose-"

"You had that too," Wufei said, though he was having a hard time remembering that teenage Duo, obscured by all he knew of the present man.

"No. I didn't have anything to believe in. Only something to destroy. The Doc used to tell me that tyrants create their own weapons of destruction. That's what I am.”

Duo snorted harshly. “I am gene-trash, Chang, however you pretty it up; I was tossed in a dumpster a few hours after birth and I should have died there. Most people do. They die even if they go on breathing. In the slums, they act like being a spacer means they're losers before they even run the race. They'd let the Alliance crush them like they deserved it. Or they'd fight like they were committing suicide. And the peacekeepers just rolled right over them, like it was their right.

"But not me. I'm the piece of grit that can't be ground down. The sand in the gearbox. Each damn thing that tried to bring me down only made me tougher. Like it stripped away each time something that might weaken me. The famine, the plague, the massacre...I just kept getting stronger. When I went to Earth, I had the strength to make a difference. I guess I did. But it didn't change me; I've become too tough for the likes of Miss Peacecraft to tame. If the Alliance couldn’t do it, what chance did she have?

“And after all the blood and fire…once more, things just didn’t change all that much. There’s still the poor and fucked, there’s still the rich and the ones who screw you over. And I realized I haven’t changed either. There's this anger burning inside. I want to destroy. I want everybody to live like I did. Then they'd stop talking about great Ideals and Futures and they'd only worry about their next meal. Then there would be nothing more to destroy. Nothing more to lose."

There was a moment of increasingly tense silence.

"And on top of all that, I talk too much," Duo muttered, his grin more of a rictus, his eyes twitching towards Wufei and back again as if he wanted to see Wufei's reaction and feared it as well.

Wufei knew where that fear was coming from. You dragged something like that out from the depth of your soul where it had festered in darkness like an infection, you exposed it to a man you respected, and then you saw just how ugly it was in the reflection of his eyes. Wufei remembered sitting down on a barrel in the wasteland in front of Recyc, staring at his sword rather than looking up to see the disgust in Duo's eyes, the condemnation. He'd have been happier tied to a rack and at OZ's mercy.

"You want to know what I think?" Wufei finally asked slowly.

"Does it involve you reading me my rights at some point?" Duo asked with a saucy smirk and darkness in his eyes.

"I don't like this part of you," Wufei said bluntly. It was, in fact, an understatement. "It's what leads to war, terror and the death of innocents. I arrest people who think that way on a monthly basis."

Duo's smirk widened, a cruel gash as he looked away.

"But that's only a part of you, and it's a part you fight much more effectively than I could with a gun and a set of handcuffs," Wufei continued. "The Duo Maxwell I know is not a terrorist, or a rabid destructive anarchist. He's an adrenaline junkie, a fighter, and not entirely sane, but he's not a danger to the public. Or do you think I'd forget that Aries unit you were fixing the first day I got here."

Duo didn't say anything, but Wufei felt a greater portion of Duo's attention on him now.

"If you really thought that way, you'd have let the Libra fall to Earth. Tabula Rasa," Wufei said. "Instead, you went to considerable risk to stop that from happening. Yeah, I guess I have to agree; you're not good at following orders, you’re not good at working with others and fixing what’s broken in our society. But when you destroyed - even when you enjoyed it - you always had something to defend at your back. Maybe that doesn't sound very important to you, maybe it's not that far away from mindlessly destroying an enemy for the sake of it. But I've learned that such thin margins make a considerable difference. It's why you're here. Right? In Freeport. Not Outside, running guns or drugs. And you're not part of the Breakers, either. Even if some of your friends are. Even if people like Ravachol have given up and turned on everything. You haven't."

Duo was silent for awhile. He was staring down into the street, his boot idly kicking the parapet. The half-grin had faded, but so had some of the tension in his shoulders. Wufei didn't think he'd actually changed Duo's mind about the power of destruction that lurked inside his soul, barely leashed. The God of Death...no wonder Duo had chosen that nickname...

No, words couldn't absolve you of that; Wufei knew it only too well. But to share it, to have someone understand it, even forgive a small portion of it...it brought a breath of relief, of acceptance for what couldn't be changed. Wufei's words had not been given lightly; in fact, he suspected he would be meditating on what Duo had said for a long time to come, trying to accept this hateful part of his friend, as well as the small reflection of it he knew existed in his own soul. But he trusted Duo. He trusted Duo's strength to protect him, Wufei, and everybody else in this colony, from Shinigami. Yet this unshakable trust was not based on logic or anything reasonable.

It looked like Wufei was still capable of a little bit of faith after all...maybe that, more than forgiveness and understanding, was what had removed some of the hardness and self-condemnation from Duo's eyes tonight.

"Yeah, you're right. That's why I came to Freeport," Duo finally sighed. "This place is a shit hole, but it can absorb people like me. Gives us something to do; something to fight. Safer all around, for me and for the Outside. Or at least that's what I thought." Duo's voice and eyes became sombre and bitter as they swept once more over the sector.

Wufei took a moment to follow Duo's new direction of thought; then he crossed his arms over his chest in a severe gesture that Trowa called 'form number one in the martial art of pig-headedness'.

"If you're thinking about the Breakers, don't. You are not responsible for that situation, and neither is Freeport-"

"The Breakers are Freeport."

"What?"

Duo was fiddling with the end of his braid, looking as tired and gloomy as Wufei had ever seen him. "I still don't know who they are for sure...but I can feel them now. I can feel them in the recycled air; in the streets of Kropotkin and Goldman. I know what they are. These guys are not gunrunners or mercenaries. That's...what makes it a bit hard for me, sometimes. I think, before we're done...I'll be destroying people I like and respect."

Wufei didn't say anything. Was that why Duo had become withdrawn these past few weeks? Why he'd not told Wufei that the men they were looking for lived in Kropotkin? Had he been silent so long because he was hoping, against growing evidence, that he was wrong?

"These guys are the pillars of Freeport, and I don't know what they're doing, but they really, really believe in it. They think they’re doing the right thing; like we were, when we fell to Earth five years ago. They'll defend that conviction to the end. This is the kinda guy who built Freeport. They're its heart and core."

Wufei's arms tightened across his chest; in stubborn resolve, and also because he was starting to shiver hard enough to make his knees quake. Maybe he should get off the parapet...but the fire inside wasn't quelled.

"No, they're not," he snapped. "Or the Troll King wouldn't have called them Breakers."

Wufei turned his head and met Duo's startled look.

"They broke the law," Wufei explained, not that he felt he had to; it was pretty obvious. "The rules of this place. I don't care how much they contributed to it, they're on the wrong side now."

Duo started to laugh; it sounded more tired than manic, but it was warm too. "Wufei...you're amazing. Even here, you're gonna find the thin red line between law and chaos, between right and wrong."

If I found that line in Freeport, it's because you showed it to me, Wufei thought. But he didn't say anything, he only sniffed.

"Must be nice to see everything like that," Duo added, still chuckling, eyes sad.

"Must be horrible not to."

"...Yeah."

"That bastard who attacked us earlier; I know why his words hurt you that much. But before you start getting depressed-"

"I don't get depre-"

"-and lashing out at your friends-"

Duo winced.

"-before you do that, ask yourself why you're going to destroy the Breakers."

Duo was silent for awhile.

"...As you said, they broke the rules," he said softly, with a self-mocking grin. "I know Freeport's not supposed to have any...but, well, I guess we do, at that."

"Right," Wufei snorted. "I have a very old-fashioned view of justice. It doesn't always happen in a court of law. As your Doctor said, tyrants - and all criminals - create the weapons of their own destruction."

"Yeah. But in this case, the rest of Freeport will go down with them. I told you, they built this place, they're its heart-"

"Freeport's going to suffer. Neither of us is stupid enough to believe this is going to happen without some pain. But the Breakers won't destroy it and neither will you," Wufei stated.

"...Why?"

"Because Freeport is like you, Maxwell; it's tougher than a roach. It might take a beating; it might change a bit. But it's endured this far, not because it's been moulded by laws and a government, but because it's evolved under pressure. There's a lot of power of adaptation in that. Don't worry," Wufei concluded with a morose sniff. "There will always be a Freeport in space, driving people like me completely crazy."

Duo laughed quietly.

"That'd be cool." He sounded wistful.

"You don't believe me."

"...It’s very, very easy to destroy things. Even when you try-...even when you try to be careful and save them."

Wufei took a deep breath and let it out slowly; it frosted faintly in the half-light.

"Do you want to stop?" he asked, his voice practical.

Duo looked at him curiously. "Would you arrest me if I did?"

"What?! No, you moron." Wufei glared at him, then his thoughts turned inward. "We can remove you from the equation...your assistance has been invaluable up till now, but if we had to, we could change our tactics. Think about this logically. From what you say, the Breakers are not an immediate danger to Freeport. So if we can draw their fangs on the Outside, we can cut down on their damage until they make a mistake- I'll take considerable pleasure in kicking a bit more attention and courtesy out of those delinquent Preventers we've placed on the blockade. They will have to show me that they deserve their badges! This is the time when we have to gain Freeport's trust, not its hostility; like that, when the Breakers trip up and reveal themselves, Freeport will turn on them and we won’t have to intervene. If we put a watch on the blockade- I know who some of the Breakers are now, and I know how they operate Outside. Trowa can formulate a strategy- he'll get Quatre back in to help us, I think the situation deserves it-"

Duo had been looking at him with a warm smile, his eyes crinkled.

"Stop burning your brain cells, pilot. I'm not quitting."

"But you said-"

"You might be able to stop them, buddy, but I'm not taking any chances. If I let the Breakers have their way, Freeport would be destroyed one way or the other. If it becomes the base of a new military order, well, it wouldn't be Freeport any more, right? I won't let that happen. I’d rather set the match myself."

"But..."

The objection died in Wufei's throat; Duo was looking at him in a way that was...warm, intense, and actually a bit embarrassing to someone like Wufei who never showed his feelings if he could help it.

Duo said softly: "I'm just glad, you know…that you're with- Jesus, aren't you cold?!"

Wufei started and looked down at himself. It wasn't that he'd forgotten he'd gone from a warm bed to this cold roof in only sweatpants and a t-shirt with a few holes in it, but it had just seemed of such secondary importance-

"Merciful Saints! Are you insane? Go back inside! You must be freezing your ass off! You do know it's like five degrees centigrade-"

"I'm okay," Wufei growled, though the way his fingers were gripping his shivering arms made a liar out of him. He didn't turn to leave though, he continued to stare at the streets below. A part of him didn't want to go down, even if he was, to be perfectly honest, about five minutes away from hypothermia.

Duo made an annoyed noise in his throat and took a step towards him. Wufei expected to be wrestled off the parapet - not a safe move by any standards, with six stories of empty air below their feet.

Instead, Duo shrugged part of the leather coat off of one shoulder and draped the wing over Wufei's arms.

"Got no sense," Duo muttered almost to himself. "Stupid macho shit...come down with pneumonia-...nuts."

"This place is what's nuts."

Wufei could feel Duo's eyes on him; warm breath brushed his cheek. But Wufei didn't lift his eyes from the sector below.

"It's a madhouse. Hell, you have people duelling in the streets. It's unsafe- you break every industrial code and regulation I now of. And I won't go into the working conditions. I'd hate to see what the nuclear core looks like, too. It's cold, the air stinks, and I think the oxygen mix is off most of the time. But the people here have worked hard; they’ve shown their strength. They've earned the right to make their own choices. I won’t bring in a peacekeeping force."

"I know, I know, I was pissed off when I said that," Duo sighed, absently rubbing Wufei's arm with his warmer hand.

"I admit, I did think this place needed sanitizing at first. I thought it was a slave-pit and a pirate hideout. But I have a better idea of how Freeport works now. Besides, as much as I hate to admit it as a Preventer, I think we need a place for misfits, rebels and outcasts. Especially now that humanity is heading in a new direction where they may no longer be needed."

"Maybe..."

"Besides," Wufei added, "if the Preventers tried to send in a task force, even under peaceful conditions, Freeport would eat them alive."

Duo chuckled.

They were silent for awhile, watching the distant lights blink on and off. One of the cranes started moving; a second later, a groan of metal sounded. Then the shuttle passed overhead and, close to the ceiling as they were, Wufei feared they'd be shaken right off the building. Fuck, he felt sorry for the neighbours on the higher stories. No wonder the ground floors were the most sought after...

After the echoes died, Duo said something. Wufei almost missed it, deafened as he was.

"I can't lie to you, Chang...it's about to get very dangerous. And...I liked what you said about Freeport, but you gotta realize, as much as we're trying to help the people here, we are now their enemies as far as they'll see it."

"As far as I'm concerned, that was the case from the start," Wufei answered with a shrug. "I never imagined they'd be happy with a Preventer in their midst. But...I wish I could keep you out of this..."

His arm was around Duo's waist; he hadn't been aware of the gesture. Now it seemed natural. There was no weakness here, no distance; and the warmth of Duo's body was much appreciated. Duo sighed and leaned into him companionably.

"I'm already in this up to my neck. And I can't let the Breakers do this. I don't care what they're fighting for: in the end, what they did to Herb, to Josh, to the Trolls...It's wrong. It doesn't matter what their cause is. When innocent people die...ah, I don't know how to say it. I...one of these days, I'll tell you a story...how I got my last name. Some shit that happened to me when I was young."

But not tonight. Wufei's own nerves still felt raw. They weren't used to sharing things like this, either of them.

"So, what's our next move?" he asked, practical.

"I think we're going to drop by Alan Morgenstern's place. He’s always pestering us to give him a visit, so we will...but on our terms."

That had been the last thing Wufei had expected. Alan Morgenstern? The financier? Sure, he lived in Kropotkin, but- he was one of the most respected men in Freeport. The man who'd help build Peacemillion.

"He's been nothing but nice and helpful to us," Wufei said slowly. His words were in no way an objection to what Duo was implying; ‘nice and helpful’ was always suspicious to Wufei.

"Yeah, he's been real friendly, so he won't mind if we break into his place, right?" Duo grinned like a wolf at the sleeping city beneath their feet.

"Erm, what exactly are you-"

"This is good," Duo interrupted him cheerfully, turning and hoping down from the parapet. "I hate it when life gets boring."

[chap. 28] [chap 30] [back to Maldoror's fic]