Author: pyrzm

Lost Souls + Chapter 15
The Cell

Trowa hadn't been by to see Heero and Chang in the cell for a couple of days. No testing was done either, so Heero couldn't even ask J what was going on, and their guards certainly weren't going to chat with them. No one had roughed either of them up since Trowa had beaten up Chang, but it was very clear that their lives were in the palm of someone's hand, probably Commander Une's.

Chang was a quiet guy, as quiet as Heero, it seemed, but with nothing else to do, they found themselves talking to pass the time. Chang had dropped the arrogant act, but he was still very serious.

Heero told him a little about his upbringing with Odin Lowe, the man who'd trained him young as an assassin, then abandoned him. He didn't remember much of his life before that, and after that J had found him. Heero said little about the details of that relationship; as much as he admired and respected the scientist, he didn't care to think back on some of his "training". Chang listened quietly, and asked a question now and then.

"That must have been very difficult, for one so young," he said softly.

Heero shrugged it off. "It wasn't so bad. I think I might be one of the bioengineered children they experimented with," Heero told him. "J made some modifications, too. I'm stronger than I should be, and I heal very quickly."

"That must be how you survived your self destruction attempt. Truly, I thought you were dead. You were made to be what you are, and trained to it. You're fortunate."

"How do you figure that?"

Chang was quiet for a moment, then he sighed. "I'm the only son and heir of the Dragon Clan. It's a great house, one of the foremost of L-5. We trace our lineage back to Earth three thousand years. I am the last heir.

"I was taught Wu-Yi fighting from a very young age, and studied with the greatest masters of the colony, but more for the skill and artistry of it. I was always a scholar at heart. I miss it very much."

"But you're incredible in the field," Heero told him. "I've been really impressed with how you fight."

Chang pressed his shackled hands together under his chin and bowed to Heero. Even in the dim light of the cell, Heero could see that he was blushing. "Thank you, Heero Yuy. That means a great deal, coming from you, a warrior I so admire. You are the best of us, I think, and what you did in Siberia? I only hope I could show such bravery. You have the heart of a true warrior."

Heero shrugged. "I don't know what else to be, that's all. 03 and I, we've never known much else. But you have a family, a real, normal life. I don't even know what that is. What did you study, before the war?"

Chang blushed again and looked down at his hands. "Poetry."

Heero blinked. "People study that?"

Chang shrugged, embarassed by the question.

"So--- do you know a lot of poems?"

"I suppose."

"Like, in your head, without a book or anything?"

Chang smiled at that and it was Heero's turn to color a little. "Yes, that was part of my training. Would you like to hear one, to pass the time?"

"All right." He wasn't sure he did actually, but he didn't want to be rude.

Chang sat up and folded his hands in his lap, eyelids lowered. His expression softened somehow, making him very different suddenly; he looked very young and very gentle. Dirty as he was, with his hair straggling around his face and bruises covering his face, he took on a certain beauty as he began to speak.

"This is a poem by a man named Rhihaku. He lived in the eight century Before Colony and was a soldier like us. It's called 'The Lament of the Frontier Guard.'"

"By the North Gate, the wind blows full of sand,

Lonely from the beginning of time until now!

Trees fall, the grass goes yellow with autumn.

I climb the towers to watch out the barbarous land:

Desolate castle, the sky, the wide desert.

There is no wall left to this village.

Bones white with a thousand frosts,

High heaps, covered with trees and grass;

Who brought this to pass?

Who has brought the flaming imperial anger?

Who has brought the army with drums and with kettledrums?

Barbarous kings.

A gracious spring, turned to blood-ravenous autumn,

A turmoil of wars-- men, spread over the middle kingdom,

Three hundred and sixty thousand,

And sorrow, sorrow like rain.

Sorrow to go, and sorrow, sorrow returning.

Desolate, desolate fields,

And no children of warfare upon them,

No longer the men for offence and defense.

Ah, how shall you know the dreary sorrow at the North Gate,

With Rihaku's name forgotten,

And we guardsmen fed to the tigers." Heero was surprised as he listened. It was as if Chang was making him see a different place, just using his voice. Heero had been in China. He could imagine a ruined castle in the middle of the rolling barren hills. And he was struck by the image of the bones. He could see them in his mind, too, or at least how he would paint or draw them.

When Chang was finished he struggled to find words to express how the poem had affected him, but words were not his strong suit. "It doesn't sound like that man liked war very much. It was-sad."

"Don't you find war so?" asked Chang.

"I don't think about it. I just carry out missions."

"Perhaps it's better that way. I find it very sad. I lost many friends when hostilities with the Alliance first broke out. My wife died in the first offensive."

Heero blinked. "Your what?"

"My wife."

Heero scowled at Chang. "You're not old enough to be married."

"I told you, I am the heir of a great clan. Marriages between the elite families are arranged at a young age. Meirin and I were betrothed when we were six and married when we were thirteen."

Heero pondered this amazing piece of information. "So you and she-- You had sex?"

Chang colored darkly at that and turned his back on Heero. "That is not an honorable question, Yuy!"

"Sorry!" Heero mumbled, mortified. This was why he didn't talk to people very much. He wasn't good at it. He almost always ended up offending them or getting odd looks. J hadn't taught him much about that sort of thing. It seemed like the only people he could talk to were Trowa and that nutcase, Maxwell. No matter what he said, or how he said it, they never seemed to mind him. Come to think of it, Relena Peacecraft had been almost impossible to offend, even when he was threatening to kill her. He couldn't figure out what had made him want to protect her; she was really rather annoying, now that he thought about it. All the same, she'd made an effort to befriend him, the very first person ever, before Maxwell. And of course, any time they'd been together, she'd done most of the talking.

When Chang remained silent, Heero felt the need to bridge the gap. "I liked that poem. Could you do another?"

Chang sighed, then shifted around to face him again. "I suppose." He thought a moment, then said, "This one is by Li Qingzhao, one of Meirin's favorites."

"It was far into the night when, intoxicated,

I took off my ornaments;

The plum flower withered in my hair.

Recovered from tipsiness,

the lingering smell of wine

broke my fond dream.

Before my dreaming soul could find

my way home.

All is quiet.

The moon lingers,

And the emerald screen hangs low.

I caress the withered flower,

Fondle the fragrant petals,

Trying to bring back the lost time."

"I'm not sure what that was about, but it sounded kind of sad, too. Is all poetry like that?" asked Heero, honestly curious.

Chang shrugged, and Heero saw he was uncomfortable again. "No. Those are just the first that came to mind, that's all. I'm going to rest now." With that, he went up to the corner where his blankets were and laid down facing the wall.

Heero sat on the floor, chin on his knees, puzzling over why anyone who could fight like Chang would care about studying poetry. The two that he'd spoken had left Heero feeling lonely and empty inside. Why would anyone want to write something like that?

+

Duty and honor. To Wufei, only child and last heir of the peerless Dragon Clan, those two words defined the world and his own existence. There were no higher ideals. Any and all situations could and must be interpreted against that standard.

The mother he'd never known was said to have been a woman who epitomized both, and his father, so aloof and serene, was their embodiment. The nurses and servants who cared for him all agreed it was so. Throughout his childhood, Wufei strove to be worthy of his father's notice, and on those rare occasions when he merited it, he felt a great sense of accomplishment. He was a dutiful son in all things, a dutiful young citizen, and a dutiful young scholar. He always fell short of his father's ideal and his own, of course, but that was only reason to keep striving.

At age six, he was dressed in a black kimono and a funny hat and affianced to a scowling little girl named Meirin whom he'd never seen before. He didn't want to do this. She scared him and bullied him when no one was looking, but it was his duty. He made no mistakes at all in the ceremony and his father was pleased. Over the sweet rice cakes and dragon-shaped candy at the feast that followed, he and his new fiancee paid no attention to each other.

Life went on, and Wufei found his own way to happiness. He found his soul in the poetry of his ancestors, and in the teachings of Lao Tzu and Yuh Niuy*. He strove for mental perfection among the books and scrolls of the colony's great libraries. He strove to perfect the joining of body and mind on the practice mat, with his fists and sword. His Wu-Yi instructor, Master Lon, was harsh and strict; his smiles were more rare than those of Wufei's honored father, and more treasured.

When he was thirteen Meirin reappeared. They married with equal disinterest and dutiful attention. Meirin was less easy to ignore now, however. She was loud and spoiled. She challenged him on the mat and often beat him, then gloated about it. She spurned the gifts his father suggested, and sometimes cried for no reason Wufei could comprehend. After a month, however, they reached a truce. After another month they began to become friends. He liked the way she fought. She took an interest in his poetry.

It was on the practice mat that they came together from their separate lives. It was there they had a common language, if they did not always agree on the meaning. Meirin saw it as fighting, a battle. She was the aggressive one, the one who cared most about winning, besting him and all the other students who trained with them, while to Wufei, Wu-Yi was an art form no different than poetry or brush painting. There was as much to be learned through defeat as through winning, or so he thought.

He came to love Meirin in his way. He liked her spirit and fire and the way she laughed. It never occurred to him that there should be anything more than that between them, and when she kissed him one night, as they sat under a cherry tree he pulled away in surprise. It still baffled him, why she'd stalked off and avoided him for three days.

When the war came, he and Meirin were among the chosen elite picked to train to pilot the great Gundam war machine built by Master O. Wufei approached the challenge with all his will and sense of duty, and was only a little downcast when Meirin was the one chosen. She went off for special training. He happily went back to his books. The war was still far away, and probably wouldn't come this far. L-5 had little to do with Earth or the other colonies. Apart from Master O and his associates, no one really expected them to become involved.

+

Wufei was surprised at how much of his past he'd ended up telling Heero as they sat in the empty cell. He found himself at ease with Yuy, which surprised him. He did not make friends easily, and even less so since the possibility of death had became a stark reality. It had hurt when Meirin died. He didn't want that kind of pain again.

But there was just something about Yuy that drew Wufei in, even it it wasn't his conversation. Those skills were limited and halting at best, although it was obvious that he was highly intelligent. When he did choose to speak, he had something to say. Otherwise, he seemed content to listen, and didn't mind silence.

Yuy also understood duty. Wufei thought he sensed something of the same from Barton, but their current positions as prisoner and turncoat made it impossible to explore that possibility the way he could with Yuy.

+

Trowa had been a bit surprised when Une sent him to escort Ambassador "Peacecraft" back to her base for another meeting. Nikol had been livid, but had to keep his mouth shut.

The strange thing was, Trowa was now almost positive that Une knew exactly who he was. It was only a hunch, based on a few random comments she'd made about him and Heero. She was a hard one to figure out, that was for sure, but he was pleased with his assignment, even if it did mean losing touch with Heero and the scientists for a couple of days.

He was given a small, fast, heavily armed shuttle for the mission. It was more symbolic than anything else, rather like a sending a little dog to protect a lion, given the Tallgeese's capabilities, and its pilot.

He docked at Colony X904 and a government car was waiting to take him to the cultural center where Peacecraft was speaking. He found him in the foyer, and waited respectfully at attention as Peacecraft finished speaking with the smiling people who were crowded around him. A number of women were fawning over him, as Une had, and a few men, too. Peacecraft was the perfect gentleman, smooth, well spoken, perfectly at ease and charming as hell. Trowa smiled to himself; it was a far cry from the horny soldier who'd leaned over Trowa on that gantry and asked straight out, "Do you want to?"

Peacecraft noticed him at last and acknowledged him with a slight nod. "Ah, I see that my escort has arrived," he said, smoothly breaking away from the others. "Thank you all for your insight and hospitality. I assure you, I will do all in my power to work for peace in space."

Trowa saluted him. "I'm ready to escort you back to base, Ambassador. My craft is fueled and ready."

"There's no rush, Officer Barton. You've had a long flight. Dine with me before we leave, won't you?"

"I'd be honored, Sir, but my orders--"

"Are to see to my comfort, surely?" The man gave him a sly look that was more Zechs Merquise than Milliardo Peacecraft. "Come now. You have to eat, and I'm famished."

The way he said it made Trowa wonder if he had more than dinner in mind, and those suspicions seemed to be confirmed when they ended up dining alone in his suite. Peacecraft ordered a lavish meal: real fish in a real lemon sauce, fresh vegetables Trowa had never seen before-- something called asparagus--potatoes that hadn't come out of a box or can, and a puffy cheese thing he called a souffle. He'd never had food like this before and he almost forgot why he was there as he savored it. There was a wine called champagne, too, and Peacecraft insisted he take a few sips, even though he was on duty.

"You seem to be enjoying the meal," Peacecraft observed, amused.

Trowa slowly chewed a mouthful of asparagus before he answered, savoring it carefully since he doubted he'd ever have it again. "Mmm. Yeah. So this is how rich people eat?"

"I suppose so. You probably grew up eating field rations and whatever you could scavenge off the land. And whatever poor creature crossed your path that day. Am I right?"

"That's pretty close."

"But you appreciate fine things. I can tell."

Trowa thought longingly of Quatre's lavish desert base. He recalled the huge bed with those soft, silky sheets with special fondness. "You're a Peacecraft. Does that mean you're rich?"

"My family's money was confiscated when the Alliance betrayed and murdered them. But I was taken in and raised by wealthy people, so I can't say I lacked for anything. Certainly not by your standards. It's a shame, really, someone with your sensibilities being so cut off from things he can appreciate."

Trowa helped himself to the last of the souffle. "Are you going somewhere with this because I'm close to your enemy now and you want to turn me, or are you just trying to get in my pants again? Either way, I'm not for sale."

Peacecraft laughed outright at that and his hair caught the light with a distracting gleam as he shook his head. "Actually, I'm relieved to hear it. We shared a good, honest soldier's fuck that night, didn't we? I'd hate to have sullied the memory."

"If you're really on the side of the colonies now, you don't need to bribe me."

Peacecraft raised his champagne glass. "To you, Trowa Barton, an honest man. There are so few of your kind left in the world."

Peacecraft chatted easily over the chocolate tort dessert, remarking on the different colonies he'd been to, and a visit he'd had with his long lost sister, Relena.

"She's quite in love with your friend Yuy, you know," he told Trowa. "I don't see it, myself, but she's utterly infatuated. Is it reciprocated, do you think?"

Trowa considered the question, then shook his head. "He never spoke much about her to me. I don't know if he understands love, or even affection. But he'll defend her again, I know that."

Peacecraft studied him closely as he spoke, and continued to do so, a little smile playing about his lips after Trowa had fallen silent. "I see. I thought as much. Well, and how have you been? But of course, I can see." He waved a hand at Trowa's uniform. "We've both turned our coats, and ended up still on opposite sides. Truly, these are very complicated times." He stood and stretched, shaking his hair back from his face. "If you'll excuse me, Barton, I must change for the flight."

Trowa rose and bowed, then headed for the door. As he passed Peacecraft, however, he slipped an arm around Trowa's waist and pulled him close. Trowa's body reacted long before his mind caught up. Those intense blue eyes were just inches from his own.

"So, still no kissing?"

"N-no. No kissing," Trowa whispered, momentarily lost in that touch and that gaze.

Peacecraft's smile was a little sad as he combed his fingers back through Trowa's bangs. "I must say, Barton, I rather envy the one you save those lips for. I hope he appreciates them."

"He does," Trowa replied softly.

"Good." He released Trowa and went off to the bedroom to change.

Trowa adjusted the front of his trousers, easing the sudden aching erection that had sprung up at the man's first touch to a more comfortable angle. Was he waiting for Trowa to follow him into the bedroom?

Utterly confused, Trowa just stood there and a moment later Peacecraft emerged in his pressure suit. "Shall we?" he asked, was as if nothing had happened between them.

Not certain if he'd passed or failed whatever test Peacecraft had just posed, Trowa followed him out to the waiting transport.

+

There was still not sign of Trowa the following day. Heero was getting very bored, and a little worried.

Chang picked up on it. "You and Barton. Were you friends, before all this?"

Heero shrugged. He hadn't really thought about it, but he supposed they had been. He'd saved Heero's life and taken care of him for months, without expecting anything in return. Heero had gotten used to having him around, and, if he allowed himself to admit it, actually enjoyed Trowa's company in Europe. Like Chang, he was a good soldier and a quiet companion. If he'd wished for somehthing more--physical from Heero, well, he hadn't been insistent about it when Heero hadn't been able to reciprocate, hadn't said a word. Heero wasn't quite sure what had held him back; it was stupid to let hinmself hang onto the memory of violet eyes half closed in pleasure and waves of chestnut hair glistening in firelight--

"It must be difficult," said Chang.

Heero looked up with a guilty start as the other boy intruded on his wandering thoughts.

Chang have him an odd look. "The way things are now, between you and 03," he said, keeping his voice very low.

"Hn." For the sake of the mission, he couldn't very well defend Trowa at the risk of his cover. In fact, Trowa might really have turned traitor, and was using their previous association against him now. But deep down, Heero just didn't want to believe that. No matter what logic and the mission dictated, his gut said Trowa wouldn't turn against them like that.

But friends? Did he even know what that meant, except as defined by J as an entanglement he could not afford?

Lunchtime came and went. They ate in silence, then attempted to discuss poetry again. Chang was doggedly trying to explain the difference between a simile and a metaphor when the cell door slid open and a small, dark figure staggered down the stairs and collapsed at their feet. From the corner of his eye he could see someone watching them through the view port in the door.

At the sight of that ridiculous braid and those weird black clothes, Heero felt that strange split again: logic said to cover their acquaintance and not give the guards anything to use against them; his gut was screaming "Help Duo!"

He stayed where he was as Duo let out a long groan. He'd been hurt again, the idiot. It looked like someone had beaten the hell out of him before they dumped him in here.

A cold knot cramped Heero's belly. What if it had been Trowa again? Heero could put not name to the emotions that gripped him, threatening to drive him to his feet to scream at the people outside the door. He sat very still, feeling a little dizzy, but he kept his voice cold as he said, "So you botched your mission. You couldn't destroy the base and you couldn't kill J and the others."

"Hey, how about a little sympathy?" Duo groaned, managing to give Heero the finger with one manacled hand. "Besides, looks like you guys are in the same situation. Is it safe to talk here?"

Heero nodded. "Just keep your voice down."

"Gotcha," Duo whispered. "You should be glad I showed up. I've got some good news. 05, your Gundam and mine are being rebuilt by our crazy friends with the weird haircuts. I just saw them. All we have to do is stay alive for a month until they're done."

"That is good news," said Heero. "Don't go dying on us."

"Don't worry about me, pal," Duo muttered. "I have no intention of dyin' that easy. Shinigami'll be up and kickin' OZ ass in no time. But right now . . . I need some sleep." And he passed out.

Hiding his concern behind a scowl, Heero knelt beside him and checked him out as best he could with his hands manacled together. Duo's breathing was fine, and his pulse was normal. Still, he'd been roughed up badly. Less than a month ago Heero had gotten him admitted to that hospital on L-1 with internal injuries and cracked ribs. Now here he was again, bloody, beaten, but unbowed. Heero picked up that heavy braid and ran it through his fingers, moving it away from Duo's face. The idiot had a talent for getting caught, it seemed, but he was tough as nails.

He and Chang both set their afternoon water ration aside for Duo. When he came around at last, Heero helped him sit up and drink.

"Feeling any better?"

Duo grimaced. "No, but thanks for asking."

"Who did this to you?" Heero demanded.

Duo glanced up at the door, but there was no one there. "One of the scientists actually, a big bald goon."

"Dr. O, my instructor," murmured Chang, coming to kneel beside them. "He must have been careful, if you are only hurt this badly. He is a Wu-Yi master, too."

"Yeah, I'll vouch for that, whatever it is," Duo muttered, rubbing his swollen jaw.

"So what happened this time?" asked Heero.

"Hey, you make it sound like I'm some kind of screw up! I'll have you know I infiltrated the OZ recruitment zone, stole a Leo, escaped capture and just about got killed all over again blasting my way into the base."

"And you did this all on your own?"

"Well . . ." Duo grinned. "There was this girl, a real spitfire name Hilde. She had your eyes and your pigheaded stubbornness, 'ro. Maybe she's a long lost sister, huh? She's a colonial Ozzy and all, but I think I must have talked some sense into her, because she covered my ass long enough for me to break into the base. Long story short, I ended up in some sort of secret bunker where the mad scientists are working on our new suits. They told me the score and roughed me up to make the capture look good. G figured it was that or have them shoot me. And so here I am to rescue you two damsels in distress!" He grinned and batted long eyelashes at Heero. "So, did ya miss me, 'ro? Get all lonely without me to scowl at?"

"I soaked my pillow every night," Heero replied with heavy sarcasm, trying to ignore how close to home Duo's words hit.

Even beaten to a pulp, Duo managed a leer. "Soaked it with what, blue eyes?"

"Should I go over to my corner and cover my ears?" Chang growled.

"Good to see you again, too, sunshine. Got a kiss for me, Wu-man?"

"The name is Ch-- Wufei, Maxwell."

"Whatever you say, Wuffie." Duo took a good look at Chang. "Shit, who happened to you?"

"Trowa Barton did this. And you will call me Wufei!"

Duo's eyebrows shot up under his bangs. "03 worked you over? Heero, what gives?"

"He's the one who captured me when I broke into this base. It happened three days after I left you."

Duo rolled up onto his knees, all trace of humor gone. "Whoa. Let me get this straight. 03 is with OZ now?"

Heero leaned in close, keeping his voice low. "We think he's under deep cover, but we can't be certain. He got put on the spot by an officer named Nikol and ended up having to prove his loyalty by beating up Wufei."

"I had the impression the man suspects who Barton really is," Chang whispered, coming back to join them. "I think he could have hurt me worse, and he didn't blow my cover, so I didn't blow his."

Duo sighed and blew his bangs up out of his eyes. "Man, I'm glad Kat isn't here to see this. He's not, is he?"

"Who?" asked Heero.

"Quatre. 04? I guess you guys haven't actually met him yet. I hung out with him after Siberia until we left Earth. He's a great kid, a real sweetheart."

So Duo had been with 04 all that time, while Heero was Trowa. For some reason this information made him uncomfortable. That, and hearing Duo describe this other boy as a "sweetheart." Adding this to a growing collection of feelings to be crushed and ignored, he asked, "Why would this situation upset 04?"

"He and Tro are friends, from back before New Edwards. If Tro really has turned? Fuck, it'll break Kat's heart!"

"There is no place for such emotional attachment in war," Chang said disapprovingly. "It clouds one's judgment and leads to mistakes."

Duo gave him a long, measuring look and shook his head. "Seriously, Wu-fei, how do you manage?"

Chang frowned at him, confused by the question. "Manage what?"

"Manage to sit all bent over like that with that stick shoved so far up your ass?"

Heero braced to prevent a fight but Chang simply raised an eyebrow at 02. "The same way you bear up under being constantly mistaken for a girl, I suppose. Or perhaps that's your intention?"

Duo had no such restraint. He was on his feet in an instant, injuries notwithstanding and Heero had to block him with a shoulder to the gut to keep him from slamming into Chang. Duo collapsed in a ball with a pained grunt and Heero knelt on his braid to keep him down.

"Both of you, shut up!" he growled. "Like it or not, we are in this together. The scientists have a plan and right now our main objection is not to fuck it up. Do you understand?"

"Of course." Chang had not moved a muscle during Duo's outburst. The arrogant mask was back in place.

"02?" Heero growled.

"Get off my hair!"

"Maxwell!"

Duo glared up at him. "Thought you weren't going to call me that anymore, Yuy."

Heero glared back. They'd never spoken of what had happened in Finland, but he knew Duo was throwing that up at him now. "I will get off your hair when I'm certain you have cooled the fuck off. You really want the guards to come in and check on us?"

"I'm cool. Totally chilly. Just tell him to lay off Kat, OK? Nobody badmouths 04 around me!"

"I was not 'badmouthing' anyone," Chang retorted. "I was merely making an observation, and one which you just proved admirably."

"05!" Heero gave Chang a warning glare.

"Yuy. Hair. Off!" Heero moved his knee and Duo sat up and pulled his braid into his lap, clutching it protectively. "Jeeze, Heero, no offense, but when's the last time you washed those shorts?"

"And you smell like roses."

"Yeah, well I lost my toothbrush when Deathscythe went down."

"And they don't sell them on L-1?"

"You didn't exactly leave me with a big allowance, and the Bank of G is out of business!"

"I didn't expect you to take so long to follow!"

"And once again you prove my point," Chang observed smugly. "Would you two like me to ask the guards to move me to a different cell so you can be alone?"

Heero glared at Chang again, but felt himself blushing.

Duo, on the other hand, looked closely at Chang as if he'd never seen him before. "Did I just hear you make a joke, Wu? Did you just razz on us?"

Chang just raised an eyebrow again, inscrutable as a cat.

Duo grinned. "OK, you can stay. So, anyone got a deck of cards? Some weed? Any good porn? No? What the fuck kinda hotel is this, anyway?"

Heero wasn't certain exactly what had just happened, but it seemed to be an improvement.

+

There was no real way to keep track of time in the cell, but Heero knew that the lights were turned off at 9 pm and turned back on at 5:30 the following morning. It was still pitch dark when the opening of the door awakened them. At least three armed men were silhouetted in the doorway and none of them were Trowa.

"Prisoner 02, on your feet!" one of them ordered.

"Whazzzat?" Duo mumbled somewhere in the darkness near Heero.

"I said on your feet, prisoner!" the man barked. "Go get him."

These men were drunk. Heero heard it in their voices and smelled it as they entered the cell. He tried to get up as they headed for Duo, but one of them swung the butt of his gun and took him in the belly, knocking him flat.

"Not that one, you moron!" another said, yanking the man back as he aimed a kick at Heero's head. "You want Une all over your ass? They'd notice him!"

Two had Duo by the arms now, dragging him toward the door while he fought and kicked and swore.

"What's going on? Where are you taking him?" Chang demanded.

"Interrogation," one of them snickered. "Sit tight, you little slant. You're next."

++

* Yuh Niuy: ancient Chinese woman warrior philosopher, founder of the Wu-Yi school of marital arts, which Wufei practices.

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