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

Broken Warriors + Chapter 76

Heero kept his arm around Duo in the car all the way to the hotel, and held his hand in the elevator as they rode up with Zechs, Wufei and two men from Zechs's private security detail. Duo was grateful for his lover's touch, but suspected that Heero needed the physical contact and comfort more than he did. Nothing any of them could say was going to take that guilt out of his eyes any time soon.

As the elevator rose to their floor he looked over at Wufei and Zechs. As usual, they weren't touching in public, but Zechs was standing very close to him. He was a head taller than Wufei, and everything in his stance broadcast concern and protectiveness. And no wonder; Wufei looked pretty wrecked. He'd been great at the hospital, comforting Catherine like that, and helping them talk Trowa down. Wufei was always strong in a crisis, solid and calm. Duo had lost track of the times he'd been there for him. He wondered now if his own breakdowns had taken this kind of toll on him. If this had been anyone else, Duo would have pulled him over and hugged him, but it was Chang Wufei and because Duo was his friend, he left him alone and pretended not to notice that blank, lost look in those black eyes.

When he and Heero were finally behind the closed door of their suite he wrapped himself around him and felt those strong arms lock around him. Heero didn't break down or anything, just held Duo tight like he was afraid of losing him.

"Heero, it wasn't--"

Heero's arms tightened as he pressed his face against Duo's neck. "Don't. Please don't say it. Everyone's been telling me that, even Quatre, but it doesn't change what happened. I didn't act fast enough. I didn't stop them."

"You don't even know who they are!"

"No, but I know why they're doing it."

Duo hesitated, and then asked softly, "What happened at Kisarazu, baby? Please tell me."

Heero let go of him and sat down on the end of the bed. His expression would have looked hard and uncaring to most people, but Duo saw the pain he was in and at down beside him, not letting Heero keep any distance from him. Heero didn't object.

"It was bad intelligence," he began, his voice flat, like in the old days. He sounded like he was in a debriefing. "It was just supposed to be military factory, our usual kind of target. They made suit parts, I think. But there was personnel housing there, too. Families. They'd put them right next to the factory, maybe to prevent attacks? I don't know. But they shouldn't have been there and J either didn't know or didn't tell me, and I didn't figure it out until it was too late. I heard later that there were civilian casualties. Seventeen non coms were killed. I can tell you their names, if you like."

Duo swallowed hard. "Kids?"

"Not that time. It was a school day. The school was off base."

God, Heero had researched it! They'd probably all killed some civilians by accident; Duo had nightmares sometimes about that, dreams in which he could never see the faces of his victims. But Heero knew the names of his. It had been J's bad intel, but leave it to Heero to take it all on and punish himself with the details. No wonder he'd gone to pieces in the end. And in his fugue state, he'd gone right back to the scene of the crime. Duo recalled how Heero had gone looking for the Noventa family, offering to let them kill him to atone for his mistake at New Edwards. Duo shuddered inwardly, thinking of those rape photos. Had Heero gone to Kisarazu looking for punishment? Duo knew all about that sort of thinking. So did Quatre. But they'd gone to S&M clubs for it, not the enemy.

He took Heero's hand between his own, stroking the backs of Heero's fingers. "Listen to me, baby. What happened there was an accident. You didn't go looking to hurt anyone. But these bastards made it personal. They raped you when you were too sick to fight back. Now they've gone after your family. It's not the same thing, Heero. In war people get hurt. And you were--"

"Just following orders?" Heero cut in. "I know. Dr. Batoosingh has told me the same thing."

Duo blinked in surprise. "You talked to him about it?"

"Just since the pictures started coming. I--I'd forgotten a lot of it." That flat affect was beginning to waver. Duo could feel Heero beginning to tremble a little and grief and anger crept into his tone. "There are still pieces of my memory missing, Duo. There are a lot of things I hope I never remember. When I left Relena's security detail, I was trying to leave everything. I changed my name. I wandered. I was running away. I missed you all *so* much it hurt, but it was a tie to all that and right then I couldn't handle it. I just didn't want to be Heero Yuy anymore!"

Duo put his arms around him and rested his head on Heero's shoulder. Heero grasped the end of his braid and wound it around his wrist; it had become a talisman for both of them. "Other people made you into what you were, Heero. You were just a little kid when they got you. I don't know about that Lowe guy, but J and his crew weren't very gentle in their methods, right?"

"I know," Heero replied wearily. "But I can't change any of that. And it's so damn hard, trying to be someone else!"

Something clicked, something Heero has said back in Spain. When one of the doctors had told Heero he might not get back to the physical condition he'd been in during the war, Heero had said he had no desire to. Duo thought of all those pictures in Heero's sketchbooks: not a wartime scene or even his beloved Gundam among them. He didn't willingly talk about the war, even when he thrashed his way out of the occasional nightmare. It was amazing, really, that the bonds they'd forged back then had held at all, weighed down as they were for him by guilt and memory.

Then again, Duo realized, all five of them had gone to some lengths to distance themselves from all that. None of them talked about it. With the exception of Wu, and Heero's brief stint with the Preventers, they'd all chosen lives that had nothing do to with violence: Heero with his wandering and his newfound love of drawing, Tro and Kat with their circus, the wild sex and drug phases. And himself, too. Only it seemed that Heero, the strongest and most dedicated of any of them, had been the only one who couldn't outrun his past.

Duo kissed Heero on the cheek. "I love who you are, Heero. You're a good guy. My guy. You found your way back to us, and you *are* a new person. The way you are with me, with all of us? Oh, Heero!" Heero's eyes were still dry, but Duo felt himself choking up. "If it takes me the rest of my life, I'm going to show you how good and decent and loving you are!"

Heero sighed and stroked Duo's back under the braid. "Thank you. I do feel some of that, when I'm with you. But it wasn't enough, was it? Now I have to be the old Heero Yuy again and fix this." He stood up abruptly and ran a hand back through his unruly hair. "I 'm going to go look around at the house. Do you want to come?"

"Of course! Let's go."

Duo fed the security guys a line about going to find new clothes in the shop downstairs and they caught a cab to the Quarter. Heero had the driver stop several blocks from the house and they walked the rest of the way, avoiding the streetlamps.

The front door and garden gate were cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape and there were Preventer and NOPD officers on guard. Duo led the way around back where they climbed a live oak and jimmied the bedroom window open. The explosion had disrupted the security system and no one noticed their arrival.

The floor and the unmade bed were littered with shards of window glass on the courtyard side of the room. Some of the jagged pieces still lodged in the frame of one were bloody; that's where Trowa had been blown through. Heero went into the side bedroom and Duo stepped out onto the balcony. From here he could see that the blast had gutted the kitchen, flattened a lot of the trees and plants in the courtyard and taken out most of the windows that overlooked it. The fountain lay in pieces on its side in a large puddle. It wasn't gushing though; someone had found the main and turned it off. The sight of it all made Duo feel a little sick; it wasn't even his house and he felt violated. He wondered sadly if Trowa and Quatre would ever feel the same about this place. They'd loved it so much!

"Duo, come here," Heero called softly.

He was still in the side bedroom. He'd turned on the bedside lamp and stood by the bed, holding a manila envelop in one hand, and an unlabeled vid disk in the other. "This was lying on the bed. I don't see how the cops could have missed it. Someone's been in the house."

Duo took the envelop from him. On the front, spelled out in letters cut from a newspaper, were the words "TO HeeRO yUy wITh lOVe."

Without a word, Heero strode down the balcony to the darkened TV room and slipped the disk into the player there.

There was a moment of static, then they were looking at the courtyard below, at what was obviously just moments after the explosion. The glow of flames from the ruins of the kitchen doorway threw shadows and red light across the walls. The cameraman zoomed in on the blast zone, then quickly panned across the cobbled, debris-strewn courtyard to the broken fountain. It had been knocked off its foundation and water was spraying up from a broken pipe. The picture zoomed in and they saw Quatre lying in a twisted heap in a puddle beside it, the remains of his clothes in blackened shreds, with terrible burns and cuts all over his back and legs. The cameraman took a moment to catalogue those injuries, and the fact that he was bleeding from his nose and both ears. The back of his head was red and blistered, the hair burnt away to the scalp. He was also bleeding badly from at least one head wound. Mercifully, he appeared to be unconscious.

The picture shifted dizzily up to the balcony, as if the cameraman was looking for Trowa, then back to Quatre. It moved in close and a man's hand appeared in frame, reaching down to grasp the shining gold ring through Quatre's left nipple.

Heero let out an outraged gasp and clutched at his own chest as the unknown assailant yanked hard-- hard enough to tear skin and draw blood, not quite hard enough to pull it loose. The hand disappeared, then came back holding a Mauser .38. He pressed the muzzle to Quatre's temple and pulled the trigger. Duo flinched at the sharp click of a dry fire. The chamber was empty, but the message was clear. Someone had gotten close enough to film this, and could have easily killed Quatre if he'd chosen to. The camera wavered and the screen went blank for a moment, then was replaced by a still shot of a post card. It was an old fashioned precolony one, made of pasteboard, with a faded color photo of a city skyline at night. In the upper corner, in English, white letters spelled out "Kisarazu! City of the Future."

The shot remained steady, but this time there was sound. A man's electronically distorted voice whispered, "I hope you enjoyed the show, Yuy. Next time the gun won't be empty. How many more of your pretty little boyfriends have to get hurt before you come and visit me? I'm losing patience."

This was followed by a series of still shots, like a slide show: Trowa and Quatre walking into the performers entrance at Circus Della Notte; Heero sketching at a cafe; Duo buying apples in the French Market; Quatre at the corner grocery; Trowa at the garden gate.

Heero stood through it all, hands clenched, glaring at the screen. When it was over, he played it again, and then a third time as they both searched for some clue. But apart from the postcard and the obvious effort to goad them into acting, there seemed to be nothing.

Duo shut off the television and waited for Heero to speak. He didn't say anything for a long time, just stood staring at the blank screen. Then he reached into his pocket and took out a plastic envelope holding some jewelry. Quatre's jewelry, Duo saw. He took out the gold nipple ring and held it up for Duo to see. There was still dried blood on it.

Heero was wearing a knotted leather thong choker, one that Duo loved him in. He untied it and slipped the ring onto it, then put it back on. When he looked up again, Duo felt a chill. Those dark blue eyes were hard as stone and focused as a laser beam; full mission mode.

"Heero, we need a plan," he warned.

"I have one. I'm going to kill whoever is responsible for this."

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