Author: pyrzm
see ch. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Broken Warriors + Chapter 71
S.K.U.M.

Thanks to the time difference, Heero caught Trowa and Quatre before they left for their performance that night. He considered making the call from the bedroom, but decided that wouldn't be fair to the others. Instead, he sat on the leather sofa in the living room beside Duo. Zechs and Wufei occupied a smaller sofa beside them.

Heero set his phone to speaker. "Hi Quatre. Mission accomplished. We're all here."

"Oh, Heero!" Quatre's voice came across a little tinny, but clearly worried. "I was just about to call you. I just got off the phone with Meir."

Heero frowned. "What did he want?"

"Your cell number. I didn't give it to him, but I said I'd pass along the message. He claims he has some more information for you."

"I'll call him."

"How did it go?" Trowa demanded, listening in one of the extensions.

"As planned. He claims not to be involved, but the people who have been harassing me contacted him. He gave us a name, and a post office box in Japan."

"Who is it?"

"Someone named Hideki Koudo. Does it mean anything to either of you?"

"No."

"Koudo?" Trowa muttered. "No, but it's a common name. It's probability an alias, anyway. I'll run a check, though."

"Trowa?" Heero took a deep breath. "Could-could you also check the photos again, see if you think the men in them look Asian? And look for distinguishing marks, anything we could use."

"Already done. One of them definitely could be, but he'd built, very muscular. One of the others has a tattoo on the back of his left hand. There wasn't enough of it showing to make a positive ID, but I faxed that section to Sally to see if she could make a match. My guess it is it's going to be military."

"There are three different men in the photos for sure," Quatre broke in, and Heero realized he should have known better than to try and shield 04. "One is Caucasian and blond, going by what I saw of his body hair, and he has a dragon on his left hip, but hopefully that won't be much use to you. It's low."

"Thanks, both of you. I'm sorry you have to deal with this."

"Don't be silly, Heero. We're glad to help."

"You're not going after them without us," Trowa warned. "We'll fly over right after the show tomorrow night. We can be there early Sunday afternoon, your time."

Heero looked around at the others. Everyone nodded. "All right. Let us know your ETA and we'll meet you at the shuttle port."

"Use a rental," Zechs said. "We can take my shuttle from here."

"How are you doing?" Quatre asked.

"Fine." Heero closed his eyes and concentrated on sending Quatre a sense of what he hoped was reassurance. He heard a small squeak at the other end and the sound of the phone being dropped.

"Quatre?" Now Trowa was concerned. They could hear him hurrying to another room, mobile phone in hand. "Damn it, Heero, would you quit that? I don't even do that!"

"Sorry," mumbled Heero.

"You wait for us, Heero!" Quatre was back on, sounding a little shaky.

"Copy that, 04. I'm going to call Meir now. I'll let you know right away if there's anything new. Don't wait up."

"Copy that. Be careful."

Heero ended the call, and then dialed Meir's cell phone.

The reporter picked up on the second ring. "Yuy, you got my message."

"Obviously. What do you want?"

"That's not so friendly, after I've been helpful to you!" Meir sounded amused. "This may be nothing, but perhaps it is. You know about the Gundam scum films, ja?"

"Gundam scum films?" The others shook their heads. "No. What are they? Some sort of vid?"

There was a pause. "Yes. It is best you see for yourselves. I will send them to you by courier."

"No. We'll pick it up. Leave it at your office."

"Very well. And Yuy? I'm not suggesting you watch them. Just know that they exist. They are not nice vids, not sympathetic. It is important that you understand that you are not heroes in the minds of all people."

Heero thought of the stacks of mail that arrived from strangers. Yes, they all knew they had people out there who blamed them, hated them.

+

Zechs knew the city, and went with Wufei to make the pick up. They were back within the hour, just as Duo was beginning to plan a foray out for dinner, but neither looked like they had any appetite. Zechs was carrying a padded manila envelope, which he was clearly hesitant to give to Heero.

Wufei looked ill. "It--it is porn. Awful stuff. With some actors who--" He shook his head and closed his eyes. "They are supposed to look like us."

Heero had expected as much, but Wufei's reaction, together with the fact that the normally unflappable Zechs looked ready to shoot someone made him brace for the worst. Glowering, Zechs shook a handful of plastic vid sleeves from the envelope and handed them to him.

It was bad. On the cover of the first one two young actors were being sodomized by burly Alliance types. It was clear who the two victims were supposed to be. One was a blue-eyed Asian in a green tank top; the other was a skinny, girlish kid with a long brown braid and a torn black priest's shirt hanging off his shoulders. The advertising text was printed in bad English and the title was "Gundam S.K.U.M* III: Hot P.O.Ws". An asterisked notation in parentheses below the cheap artwork read, "Slut Killers Under Men." Shocked, Heero numbly looked at the other four. It was more of the same, a whole series, apparently, featuring the five of them being sexually abused and degraded. The boys playing Trowa and Quatre bore only a passing resemblance, but the one portraying Wufei was almost his twin. More disturbing still, on several of the boxes, the boys looked like their older selves, not how they had in the war.

Wufei dropped into an armchair and hid his face in his hands. Duo fled. An instant later Heero heard the sound of retching from the bathroom down the hall. He shoved the vids back at Zechs and ran to find him. Most of the pictures were rapes, and that was too close to home for Duo. He wondered why it hadn't bothered him more, but decided that seeing real photos of his own real rape made anything else more bearable.

Duo was hanging over the toilet in the bathroom, still heaving. Heero knelt and tried to hold him but Duo pushed him away, then retched again, clinging to the edge of the bowl and shivering violently. Heero rescued his braid and held it out of the way. Duo didn't object to that.

When he was finally done he flushed and slumped back against the wall, hugging his knees miserably. "It's a mean old world out there, Heero. I should know, how I grew up. But I forget sometimes, y'know? Living with you and the guys, it's so damn good that I can pretend that maybe things really are different."

"They are, Duo. We helped change things."

But Duo shook his head, twisting his braid in shaking hands. "Maybe in some ways, but underneath? Deep down? There still plenty of just plain mean people in the world, people who'd just as soon step on you as go around. That doesn't change, no matter who's in charge. And there are always perverts and creeps. Always had been, always will be.

"Those vids? I heard there was shit like that out there, but I never saw any of it. And I figured maybe--" A tear rolled down his cheek. "The stuff I heard about was just sex, y'know? I thought it might even be funny to check it out sometime. But that stuff Meir sent?" He caught a hitching breath and wiped at his mouth. "That's rape, Heero. That's hate. And there are guys out there getting off on it! On thinking about doing that shit to us, because of who we are and what we did. It's like--it's like punishment, for all the people we hurt."

The growing look of despair in Duo's eyes concerned Heero more than his lover's words. He knew he'd been keeping up with his meds; Heero checked those every day. But the strain of the past few days and nasty things they'd just seen were pulling Duo down toward that dark place Trowa and Dr. Batoosingh had told Heero about. Drugs didn't keep it from coming back at him. Therapy didn't. Months of loving from Heero couldn't fend it off after all, it seemed.

It was tempting to send Duo back to New Orleans, to try to shield him, protect him from this ugliness. That was tantamount to declaring him a risk to the mission. Weak. Heero thought about how Wufei and Zechs had sparred so hard, the morning after their disaster in the bedroom. He thought about how Duo sometimes goaded him into disciplining him.

Steeling himself, Heero took Duo by both shoulders and gave him a hard shake.

"Snap out of it, 02!" he growled. Startled violet eyes met his. "Punishment? Are you telling me you think we deserve that kind of thing? That's bullshit and you know it. It was a war we didn't start, and we never hurt anyone just for fun. So I don't want to hear that kind of whining out of you again! We have a mission."

It was a risk, but a calculated one. A momentary flash of shame obliterated the fear, and then that rapidly crystallized into resolve. Duo nodded. "Yeah, you're right. Sorry, 01."

Heero stood up and hauled Duo to his feet. "I need Shinigami for this one, Duo. Are you up to it?"

Duo wiped his mouth again and squared his shoulders. "Yeah. Bring it on."

+

No one felt like eating.

Zechs picked up the package of vids. "I'm going to go watch these, see if anyone has the marks Trowa and Quatre described. You three stay out here."

Wufei looked miserable at the prospect, but made no objection. Heero enlisted him and Duo in trying to pin down the name Meir had given them. In the end they got no further than locating the post office box address on the edge of the ruined rundown industrial district. Heero vaguely recognized the area. He'd destroyed a factory near there, on that made gyroscopic stabilizers for mobile suits.

Zechs emerged a few hours later looking grim and dispirited. "No apparent matches. But if the bastards we're after are connected with this, then Meir is right. They are some very sick individuals."

"Maybe we should watch them," Heero said.

"No, Yuy. Please, take my word on this. It would serve no purpose."

Duo was fidgeting with his braid, twisting it in his hands as he asked, "Are you sure they're just movies? That it's not-not real. People do that, you know, film actual rapes."

"I know, but I'm quite certain this isn't anything other than poorly made smut. Take my word on this, please. Now I need a very long, hot bath. Wufei? I could really use the company. Good night, you two. Get some rest. There's nothing more we can do for now."

He and Wufei disappeared into the master suite. Duo went into the kitchen and came back with a couple of beers and a box of crackers. Taking Heero by the hand, he led him down to their room. Leaving Heero on the bed with the snacks, he went to the bathroom and ran a tub for them. They soaked in each other's arms, drank the beer with crackers, and crawled into bed with the lights on.

"I am up to this," Duo said at last, stretched out on his back with his hands behind his head.

"I know you are," Heero said, and he meant it. He just hoped he was.

[chap. 70] [chap. 72] [back to pyrzm's fic]