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

Broken Warriors + Chapter 81
Trapped

Someone had drugged him. Half conscious, struggling to wake up Duo fought to open his eyes, but his body didn't want to cooperate. His brain was packed with cotton. He couldn't figure out where he was or what had happened, only that there was some reason to be scared, and every reason to clear his head before something bad happened. It gradually filtered through the drug fog that he must be in a cellar. The dank, mildewy smell was unmistakable, along with the smell of shit and piss. It smelled like a squat. For a moment he thought he was back on L-2.

No, that wasn't right! He sucked in deep breaths and pried his eyelids open, then squinted them shut again against a hazy, stabbing glare. He was lying on his back. He concentrated hard and managed to roll over, away from the light. He felt damp concrete under his cheek. He also realized that someone had really kicked the shit out of him. His ribs hurt like hell and the side of his face and one eye felt swollen. His head was buzzing and spinning and he was having trouble focusing his eyes. He took a few more deep breaths, trying to ignore the stink, and managed to push himself up on his elbows and look around.

The world was trying to slide away from him. Everything pitched and blurred, but he made out single naked bulb in a metal cage overhead, and gray cement walls.

That felt wrong. He didn't remember coming to any cellar. //Think, Duo! Concentrate!//

An overwhelming sense of danger permeated the fog is mind. He had to get a grip!

//Japan. The alley. Heero! Where the hell was Heero?//

Fighting the undertow of drugs, he looked blearily around and spotted a huddled shape was curled up in a corner a few feet away, head resting on his knees. For a second Duo had a little flash back to that cell on the lunar base. Heero had always slept like that. And he'd worn manacles just like that, too. Metal cuffs covered his forearms halfway up to the elbows.

And he was wearing his old green tank top and those awful old sneakers.

And nothing else.

Oh god! Heero!

Duo fought harder against the drugs, and lost.

+

Zechs hadn't been able to settle down to anything after Wufei and Sally left for Japan. The expensive hotel room seemed stale and cold now. The bedroom was the worst. The rumpled sheets where he'd taken the final vestige of Wufei's virginity still smelled of sex and his lover's sweet, exotic musk.

//Anything you want, my emperor.// It gave Zechs a thrill, remembering his love's blushing attempt at a pet name. Zechs rather liked his choice. He lay down for a while, burying his face in Wufei's pillow, but that just made him feel lonelier. He couldn't sleep.

With a couple of bodyguards in tow, he drove down to the house to assess the damage. Fortunately, the blast had been contained and limited to one side of the house and a lot of broken glass. It could be repaired, if the Winner-Bartons decided to keep it. He rather hoped they would. The boys had all seemed so happy there.

It was late when he arrived at the hospital, but Trowa was awake. He looked better than he had. The bandage on the side of his face was smaller now, his eye puffy but clear. Wrapped in a flannel robe, he was sitting up in a chair by Quatre's bed, holding his sleeping husband's bare foot with one hand and reading a magazine spread on his knee.

Quatre looked a little better, too. He was still encased in the regen units, but the breathing tube was out and his color was normal again.

Zechs leaned in the doorway, feeling a little bittersweet as he watched them. Such love. Such devotion. Wufei had only been gone a few hours but Zechs ached for him.

Trowa looked up and saw him standing there. With a last look at Quatre, he tossed the magazine aside and limped out into the hallway, holding a finger to his lips.

"Let's sit out here," he whispered, his normally smooth, deep voice still hoarse. "He's been really restless. The cervical block is still in and he's getting claustrophobic. They gave him a light sedative. I want him to sleep."

"Certainly." Zechs took Trowa's arm to steady him and helped him to a couch against the corridor wall.

This was the first time he'd been alone with Trowa since the war. The feeling of that hard, wiry arm under his hand and the scent of the young man's body-they brought back memories he'd promised himself as a gentleman he would not revisit. But he'd known this boy's body, and his own body remembered. He pushed those memories away, but not before wondering if Quatre knew about that night in Antarctica? Now was not the time for such questions.**

There'd been no hearts and flowers back then, of course, just a quick bit of sex, but he'd liked Barton then and he liked the young man he'd become. Barton was a bit taller now, more muscled, but he still had that same quiet manner and those fascinating guarded green eyes.

"How are you doing?" he asked.

Trowa rested his head against the back of the couch. "Better. The headache's gone and but I'm still dizzy."

"You boys were always fast healers, or so I hear."

Trowa shrugged. "Where's Wufei?"

"Japan. He and Sally left a few hours ago."

Trowa looked at him in surprise. "He hasn't gone back to the Preventers?"

"Temporarily. For his friends."

Trowa sat forward and rested his head in his hands. "This is such a mess. What was Heero thinking?"

"He wasn't. That's the problem, and neither was Maxwell, apparently. Wufei was too worried to just let them go."

"But the Preventers? After what they did to him?"

Zechs sighed. "There isn't much he wouldn't do for any of you, you know. And not because he feels he owes you for helping him. He cares very much for all of you."

"I know." Trowa sat up and fixed those green eyes on Zechs. "Wufei feels things very deeply. The way he loves you? I hope you're worthy of it."

Zechs couldn't help smiling. No one had more reason to suspect him than Barton, he supposed. "I give you my word, I won't hurt him. He's all I want in the world."

Barton nodded, apparently satisfied. "It must be hard, having him go off like this."

"Excruciating."

Trowa glanced at the open door across from them and nodded.

"Have the doctors given you a prognosis for him yet?"

"Full recovery in time, but it could be months before he can go back to performing. He'll need physical therapy."

"And you?"

"I'm not sure. Given my line of work, they're being extremely cautious."

"What about your show?"

Trowa shrugged. "I'll figure something out. Right now I have other things on my mind."

Zechs marveled at the emotion behind those terse words, and at the bond that existed between these five boys. Wufei claimed the two couples weren't sexually involved, but Zechs wasn't so certain.

Just then Trowa's head jerked up. He rose unsteadily and limped quickly back to Quatre's bedside. Zechs hadn't heard a thing.

Quatre was only half-awake, but very agitated. The monitors by the bed were beeping frantically.

"Trouble!" he mumbled as Trowa and Zechs bent over him. "Heero. Trouble! Got to help-" Those blue eyes opened wide and found Trowa. "Got to help him!"

"What's happening, meli? Can you tell?" Trowa said, resting a hand on Quatre's head to calm him.

"No-just-he's scared. Never felt Heero like---scared. Sick. Something's gone wrong. He's-he's so lost!"

"Wufei will find him," Zechs told him.

A nurse hurried in and checked Quatre's vitals, then shot Trowa a dark look. "You shouldn't be exciting him!"

"I'm fine," Quatre mumbled, then his gaze shifted to Zechs. "'fei?"

"Yes, he and Sally went after them. And I have friends there who will help them."

Quatre closed his eyes, looking like he was in pain despite the block and drugs. "He's so scared, Tro! You should go-- Help him!"

Zechs watched in amazement as Trowa's usual guarded expression gave way to one of genuine anguish, torn between staying with his love and going to help his friends. "All right, mi corazon. I'll go." He looked up at Zechs. "Will you stay with Quatre? Watch over him for me?"

"Forget it," Zechs told him firmly. "In your state, you'd only be a liability. Besides, as much as I hate to admit it, if something really is going down now, neither of us could get there in time to do any good."

Green eyes locked with his. "If things do go-" He broke off, glancing protectively at Quatre. He lowered his voice. "Someone should still be there."

'For the survivors,' those green eyes told him.

Command training was deeply ingrained in Zechs, even after all this time. He'd overcome all his security chief's objections, picked an escort detail and calculated shuttle flight times before he'd even left the hospital.

Hell, he'd only been looking for an excuse to go. If Wufei was upset with him, he'd lay it off on Quatre's hunch.

+

The Tokyo Preventers didn't have any information on Hato under either name, but Masa Nakamura did.

Wufei used the cell Nakamura had given him as they headed out from the neon lit Ginza toward the Aqualine.

"He's linked to some unsavory rumors here," Nakamura told him. "Street kids seem to go missing after talking to him, all boys. He's careful, picking up ones with no family to call the cops. I think he owns several properties around the harbor. It will take you almost an hour to get here. Keno and I will start hunting."

Wufei was gripping the cell so hard his hand ached. "Thanks. Keep in touch."

"Will do."

Major Tzuki didn't take any chances, given the bombing in New Orleans. She called in another dozen Preventer officers and a S.W.A.T. team.

It was torture, pure torture, having to sit in the back of Major Tzuki's car with Sally, helpless to do anything but wait out the ride. Tzuki was on the phone in the front seat beside her driver, ordering a document search to find any properties Hato could be using.

They left the city and set off across the thin ribbon of elevated highway that spanned Tokyo bay like a glittering diamond necklace stretched across the dark water. Stranded in the middle of all that darkness, the lights on the far shore seemingly an endless distance away, Wufei had to close his eyes and summon the wisdom of Lao Tzu. Otherwise, he'd have been tempted to jump from the car and just run.

+

Duo's head was aching but clearer when he came around again. Panicked, he sat up and stared at the half naked figure hunched in the corner. It was like looking back in time. Heero even seemed smaller, as if he'd shrunk back to his fifteen-year-old self.

He struggled up on his hands and knees and started crawling toward him. "Heero? Oh, baby, what did they do to you?"

"That's not me. I'm over here."

Duo turned his head a little too quickly and the room spun. He choked back bile, and then turned more carefully. Heero, his grown up Heero, sat there against the wall behind him, still dressed in the dark jeans and tee shirt he remembered from this morning. But he was also wearing a set of those manacles. Duo looked back at the other Heero, then back at his Heero. As glad as he was to see him, his banged-up, drugged addled brain was still too scrambled to grasp the situation. "Holy fuck, Heero, what's going on?"

The half-naked kid curled up tighter in his corner and let out a scared little whimper.

"I don't know, 02," Heero whispered, and to Duo's horror, his lover's voice was shaking and thin, like a scared kid's. When had Heero ever sounded like that? "I just came around and there he was. When did they capture you?"

Duo did a double take. Heero looked honestly surprised to see him. He sounded different, too, the way he used to. On a mission. When he was fifteen. Heero was holding himself oddly, like he was sick or had some serious internal injuries, but there was hardly a mark on him that Duo could see.


"Heero, are you all right?" He looked over at the half naked kid again, and Heero's pale, shell-shocked expression. "Did they hurt you?"

Heero shivered and gave him a confused look. Then he stole a worried glance at the heavy wooden door across the room. It was made of thick planks and reinforced with metal strips. It looked like something out of a dungeon. "You shouldn't be using my name in a combat situation. And since when do you call me Heero?"

"Say what?" Duo rubbed his hands across his face, and felt dried blood down his left cheek and a good-sized goose egg on the side of his head where someone had cold cocked him. "God damn, 01, what's the--"

But his head was clearing and suddenly he knew exactly what was going on. He'd seen flashes of it on the plane and in that alley. Oh fuck. Heero had been flashing and now he'd flashed himself back about three years or something. Or maybe to the time he was fugued and those fuckers had . . .

Duo's brain took another leap. Heero had looked this scared and sick in those fucking photos. Was he flashing back to that?

Duo crawled over and sat against the wall beside him. Heero glanced down in surprise as Duo's thigh brushed his. He moved away and Duo's heart died a little. //Keep it together, Maxwell!// he ordered himself.

"Status, 01?"

Heero shivered and closed his eyes, turning his face away.

Duo's heart died a little more. What had they done to him while Duo had been out cold? Had they raped him again? Heero's clothes were still all in one piece. He clung to that slim bit of hope.

Duo searched himself for weapons, but they'd taken everything except the razors under his thumbnails. Somehow they'd overlooked those, even though he knew he'd cut one of the bastards during the alley ambush. Maybe they figured he just had a bad hangnail?

He was still dizzy and his head hurt like hell. Probably concussed. God damn, it was not a good week to be a Gundam boy, that was for fucking certain! Especially for one particular braided numb nuts baka who stupidly followed his emotionally traumatized boyfriend into a trap instead of protecting him!

Duo pondered that cold hard fact for a moment. Since the day Heero came back from the dead, Duo had been pushing him to be the strong one, the tough guy he could lean on. How blind had that made him? Now look where they were!

"Oh, Heero, I'm so sorry!" he whispered, trying to take Heero's hand. Heero didn't pull away, but he looked embarassed and very confused.

He wondered if being here was bringing back the memories Heero had lost. This might even be the very same room he'd been held in before. He decided to run with that. "Who brought you here?" he asked, letting go reluctantly.

"I--I don't know," Heero said, pulling his knees up under his chin, mirroring the other boy still curled up in the corner over there. "I can't remember. But--but they hurt me." Those dark blue eyes went wide and dark. "They might hurt you, too! You've got to get out of here, 02. What the hell are you doing here, anyway?" The look in his eyes shifted from confusion to alarm and that "you are such and idiot" look he used to give him. "You're--you're not supposed to be here. I was trying to--to protect you. You're not supposed to be with me! It's too dangerous to be with me! You've got to get away, Duo!"

"That was a long time ago," Duo told him. "Listen to me, ba-" He caught himself. Better watch the pet names for now, so he didn't freak him out. "Listen, 01, you're flashing back. The war's over. You're not a kid anymore, and you're not sick."

Heero shook his head slowly, like that didn't compute.

Duo clasped his lover's clammy hands and turned them in the manacles, showing him the edges of the fading suicide scars. "See those, Heero? That happened almost a year ago. What those men did to you happened before that. You came through, and you came back to me. You're strong again. You're with me and Tro and Kat now. Heero, are you listening?"

Heero was breathing harder now, glancing nervously around the cell. "You have to get out, Duo."

Duo sighed, resisting the urge to kiss Heero's clenched fingers. "Not without you, buddy."

Duo examined the lock on Heero's manacles. As he'd feared, it was operated by an electronic touch key. There was nothing to pick, just a smooth circle of contact metal. He was about to give up when he noticed something else. The links of short chain linking the two cuffs together were steel, rather than gundanium, like in the bad old days of the war. That metal was outlawed for general use. These were copies and they were only made of steel.

"Heero, I think you might be able to break yourself out of these," Duo told him. Heero had been working out regularly for months now and his arms were corded with lean, wiry muscle, but Duo didn't know if he was as strong as he'd been when J was doing whatever it was he'd done to him in the bad old days.

Heero shook his head, without even trying. "No, I can't. I can't!" He looked down at his hands for a moment, then back at Duo, as if he'd just noticed him. "You shouldn't be here."

Duo caught something new in the way he said it this time. "That's right, Heero. Your mind's playing tricks on you, making you think you're in that other time when you were lost and sick and these men were hurting you. I know it's confusing, but that's why I'm here with you. It's not that time anymore. We came to make these men pay, remember? We came to put a hurt on them for hurting you and Kat and Trowa."

"Someone hurt 03 and 04?"

For a moment Duo thought maybe he'd gotten through to him, but Heero still just sat there all hunched up and scared looking. Duo wondered if maybe their captors had shot Heero up with something more than just knockout juice.

Desperate, Duo took him by the shoulders, giving him a shake. "Listen to me, 01! You're confused. You're flashing. The year is 198. The war is over. You're not on the streets anymore. You're not sick. You're just confused. I'm with you. It's me, 'ro. Your Shinigami? Your--" Oh hell, might as well go for broke here. "Your mermaid, remember?"

Heero looked at him in horror and blushed a dark red that would have done Quatre proud. "How--how did you know about that?"

"You call me that all the time. Heero, look at me. Really look. I'm different. I'm older. You love me, and I love you. We're in Kisarazu, Japan, because some bad men tricked you into coming back--"

"Kisarazu!"

That registered, but not quite the way Duo had hoped. Heero pressed his face to his knees and wrapped his arms over his head. "Oh god! So sorry!"

Duo pried his arms down. "Stop it! It was a mistake, bad intelligence. You didn't know, and you didn't kill any kids. It was three years ago. Heero, am I getting through?"

Heero looked up and Duo saw tears on his cheeks. "I don't understand. 198?"

"Yeah. We're all grown up, see? We--you and I--we've been lovers for about three months now? Don't you remember?"

"L-lovers?" Confusion was replaced by utter disbelief. "No. I tried to--you hit me--"

Oh fuck. "Oh no, Heero! No no no! Don't go there! Finland was a long time ago, too!" Duo grasped his shoulders harder, as if he could somehow pull him off the rollercoaster ride of horrors his mind was taking him on. "It was just a misunderstanding and we got that all sorted out, I promise! You love me up good, Heero. You love me up all the time. You're my boyfriend, Heero. I love you so much! Please, 'ro, come back to me? I need you here. We're in a bad place, I'm not gonna kid you. I need your help. I need you back, Heero!"

Duo stopped and took a deep breath, close to tears himself. It wasn't going to do them any good if he had a meltdown, too. It probably wasn't helping that he'd forgotten his meds, hadn't taken them since Tro and Kat got blown up. By the time he'd remembered them he and Heero were already over the Pacific. Man, if Trowa ever found out, he'd really blister his ass . . . The thought of Trowa's disapproval was strangely comforting. He probably already had a date with the business end of a paddle for this boneheaded mission.

Heero was still eyeing him dubiously. "I'll try, Duo." His gaze shifted over Duo's shoulder. "Who's that?"

"I think it's time we found out."

Duo got up and walked toward the half naked boy. The kid didn't look up, but Duo saw his bound hands clench and the way he tried to scrunch back even further into his corner. The traces of dried blood and what was probably semen on his bare thighs told Duo all he needed to know.

Duo went down on one knee a few feet away from him, holding his hands out to show that they were empty. "Hey kid? It's ok. I'm not going to hurt you. I know what those bastards are doing to you. We're here to make it stop. We want to help you, Heero and me."

The boy raised his head just enough for Duo to see one dark, frightened eye in a very pale face under those ragged bangs. "H-heero?" He gabbled something in Japanese.

"He said the bad men keep calling him that, but it's not his name," Heero said softly behind him. "He thinks they've mistaken him for someone else. Do you think maybe they thought he was me? He looks a little like me. Those are like my old shoes."

"It was no mistake." Duo's mind was finally firing on all cylinders again. "Ask him if a man named Hato brought him here."

Heero translated and the boy nodded.

Duo sat down where he was and motioned for Heero to come join him. "Tell him my name is Duo, and that you and I are here to help him."

Heero translated and the kid looked up at them for real, then miserably tried to pull the shirt down to cover himself. He definitely had a street look to him, but not the tough kind. This one was a natural victim, a target for predators. A lot of people had tried to make that assumption about Duo, back in the slums.

Whoever had dragged Duo and Heero down here had taken their weapons and jackets, but left their clothing alone. Duo pulled off his long sleeved work shirt and tossed it to the kid.

The boy took it and spread it over his lap. "Arigato, Duo-sama." He looked at him again, then pointed shyly at Duo's braid. "Gundam Boy 02?"

Duo grinned. Once in a while having one of the five most famous faces on the planet paid off. "Yeah, Gundam Boy 02." He pointed at Heero. "Gundam Boy 01. Heero, ask him what his name is."

The kid hesitated, then whispered, "Yuki."

"Yuki. Ohiyo, Yuki-kun," Duo said, giving him another smile. He caught Heero's look of surprise and shrugged. "What? I watch a lot of Japanese horror movies with Tro and Kat. I picked up a few things."

The kid gave him a hesitant bow. "Ohiyo, Duo-sama. Heero-sama."

"Ask him if he knows where we are."

According to what Heero could get out of him, they were in an old house near the harbor. There was a big room with cameras down here in the basement. When the men abused him, they took pictures sometimes. Tears of shame rolled down the kid's cheeks at this halting admission.

Heero said something soft and kind sounding, but the boy just shook his head, hugging his knees harder against his chest.

Duo could get a better look at him, now that he was sitting up. He was built somewhat like Heero had been, compact and wiry, but much skinnier. He had the hair and blue eyes, but beyond that, he didn't look that much like him. He also didn't look much more than twelve. These guys weren't just sadistic creeps, they were pedophiles, too. Duo added that to his lists of reasons to kill them.

Heero asked him something else and the two talked quickly back and forth for a few minutes.

"So?" asked Duo.

"He thinks he's been here for four or five days. There are four men, counting Hato. He gives the orders. They've-" Heero swallowed hard. "They've raped him five or six times. They don't feed him much. He can't walk anymore. They drag him out when they want him. He's afraid he's going to die here. He heard one of them saying they didn't think he was much good anymore. One of the others is Caucasian. Yuki thinks he might be American. One of the others has a big scary bird on the back of his hand. Another has a tattoo on his hip. Yuki saw it the last time--"

"Yeah, I get it." That all fit with what Trowa had gotten from the photos. It had to be the same bunch who'd grabbed Heero, and had been sending him the hate mail.

"These are the men we came to find, Heero, only they found us first. Are you sure you don't remember any of that?"

"I'm sorry."

Duo ran his fingers through Heero's dark hair. "It's OK. But keep trying. I have a feeling I'm gonna need your help real soon. Why don't you give those cuffs another try? You're really strong, Heero, really! And those are just regular steel. Should be a piece of cake for you!"

Heero gave the links a couple of half-hearted tugs, but it was clear he didn't believe what Duo was telling him.

Yuki said something in a soft, scared voice.

"He says we should be quiet, because the men will probably be coming back soon."

Poor kid, thought Duo. He was obviously scared out of his mind. He wondered if Heero had looked like this, sick and fugued as he'd been. "Ask him if we can come over and sit with him. Tell him we won't try anything."

Yuki nervously agreed and Duo settled in beside him, offering a shoulder to lean on. Heero sat down next to Duo, and Duo was glad to see that he sat close, too. The younger Heero almost never did that.

Duo carefully put an arm around the abused boy and Yuki leaned against him, shivering. He felt feverish and looked dehydrated. There was no water in the room, just a smelly bucket in the corner for a privy. "Ask him if he has any family, anyone who might be looking for him."

Yuki shook his head. He'd run away from an abusive uncle two years ago and had lived on the streets ever since. He slept at the mission a lot, and the sisters were kind to him. They seemed to like "Hato-sama", so when he offered Yuki a job doing chores, the boy had gone with him willingly. He'd brought him to a big house on the edge of the slums, near the old military base. Yuki had been surprised. He thought Hato-sama was a rich man, but the house was run down and dark and the garden was overgrown. Yuki thought Hato would have him do some weeding or cleaning, but instead the man had brought him to the kitchen and given him food and some sake. He got him a little drunk. Then he told Yuki that he was a handsome boy, and that Hato-sama was a moviemaker. He wanted Yuki to be in a special film. Yuki was excited, until the other men came into the room. Hato told him to take off his clothes and put on the green tee shirt and black shorts, and some sneakers. The men watched him undress and Yuki started to feel scared at the way they were looking at him and muttering to each other.

Yuki told them he'd changed his mind and wanted to go, but they'd grabbed him and dragged him into a bedroom. That's when the first rape happened. Then they dragged him down here to the cellar. Now they just took him to a room next door to hurt him.

The boy was crying by the time Heero had translated all that. Duo held him close and rocked him. "You tell him we're not going to let those men hurt him again. Tell him, Heero."

But Heero didn't. He just sat there, staring down at his bound hands.

"Heero?"

No response.

This was not good. Duo gently cupped Heero's chin and looked into his eyes. They looked dangerously blank. Flashback or fugue, this was bad.

Duo put an arm around him, too. "Don't you guys worry," he said, hugging them both. "I'll figure something out."

He sure hoped so, anyway.

+

Nakamura called once while Wufei and Sally were still in transit to report that he and his boy had checked out a warehouse and found nothing.

"We're moving on to a house he owns on Market Street. Number 11290."

Wufei passed the address forwarded to Tzuki. "What's our ETA?"

Tzuki consulted a map. "Ten minutes. Tell him to wait."

"Wait for us," Wufei relayed to Nakamura. "Unless you think there's immediate danger."

"Copy that."

Tzuki glared back at him. "You can't authorize civilian actions."

Wufei held out a form with Une's signature. "Actually, I can. Consider Nakamura and Shiner formally deputized."

Tzuki gave him another frown and turned back in her seat.

Sally caught Wufei's eye and whispered, "Helps to have friends in high places, doesn't it?"

Wufei did not dignify that with a reply.

Ten minutes turned into fifteen before they and their escort vehicles stopped a block away from the address Nakamura had given them to continue on foot. Kisarazu was a gray, depressing place in general, and this rundown residential neighborhood overlooking the oily harbor was no better. The few streetlights that still worked showed empty windows and sagging roofs. Wufei wanted nothing more than to find his friends and get them away from here.

The house in question appeared to be abandoned. The walled yard was overgrown with untrimmed bushes and long dead grass. Nakamura and his partner appeared from around a back corner and came over to meet them.

"No sign of any activity, and we haven't heard anything at all. There's a basement, and the windows are painted out black. My guess is they're being held down there."

Wufei nodded. "OK. Let's go in."

+

Duo sat up and felt Heero and Yuki tense too, at the sound of heavy footsteps approaching. Judging by the way Yuki was plastering himself back into his corner, it was the bad guys coming to pay a visit.

"They're coming." Heero whispered, trembling. He still looked blank and lost. In fact, he looked a whole lot like Yuki did, like he wanted to make himself disappear.

There wasn't time for any more questions. Duo cupped Heero's chin again, making him look at him. "Let me do the talking, 01. Copy that?"

Heero nodded. He was shaking badly now and his hands were clenched in front of him. No question what he was flashing to now.

//Damn it, Heero, I know you could snap those links if you'd just try!// Duo thought in desperation. It occurred to him only now to wonder why the goons hadn't cuffed him.

A heavy lock rattled and the door swung open. An ugly, scar-faced Japanese guy in a good suit stepped in, accompanied by two strong-arm types with automatic rifles. All three of them had ex-OZ written all over them. The American wasn't with them.

"Well, well, isn't this charming?" said the suit guy, giving them a really nasty smile.

"So you're Hato," Duo said, standing up and stepping out to shield the others.

"You're quick. I've heard that about you. Guess it isn't all clubbing and whoring around, eh, 02?"

Duo shrugged. "So you're the guy's been sending Heero the pictures?"

"Mementos of our last visit together. I was only trying to get his attention." Hato leaned a bit, looking around Duo at Heero. "Hmm. Our friend isn't looking too well."

Duo took a step forward, fists raised. "You stay away from him, you sick son of a bitch!"

"Oh no. I'm afraid that isn't going to happen." Hato's smile widened dangerously. "Let me tell you a funny story. When we had the genuine Heero Yuy before, we didn't know it was really him! Can you believe that? I mean, boys who looked *enough* like Heero Yuy aren't all that hard to find around here, and he hadn't been taking very good care of himself when I found him. It was right there in that alley, the same one we captured you in this time. He certainly didn't look like the same pilot who caused all the havoc around here. No, he didn't look much more like himself than this little fellow beside you. But from the back, both of them were close enough for the purposes of my associates and me."

"You are one sick fuck!" Duo growled, fighting the urge to leap at the guy.

Hato looked down at Heero and chuckled. "He doesn't seem quite himself today, either, does he? Perhaps he's been a bit stressed? Has something been upsetting him lately?"

"You sent the bomb, too. And left that vid." Duo looked more closely at the two guys with him. "Which one of you put that gun to Quatre's head? I want to make sure I do the same in return, only my gun'll be loaded."

"My my, you are quite the little spitfire, aren't you? I'm not sure my fellow writers quite capture you." Behind him, his two gunmen were eyeing Duo and Heero like hungry wolves, not looking too scared by Duo's threats.

"Writer?" Duo asked.

"Script writers. I think you've seen our work."

Duo swallowed hard as the truth kicked in. "The S.K.U.M. vids. You--you write those?"

Hato gave him a little bow, as if Duo was a fan. "Heero Yuy is my specialty. I've been fortunate, being able to combine my craft and my own special interest. Ever since I saw on the news that Heero is still alive, I've wanted him to come back for another visit. He's my inspiration, you see. My muse."

Duo swallowed hard again, feeling queasy. This guy was obviously crazier than a shithouse rat. But he was a very dangerous one. With friends. "If you didn't know it was him, that other time, where'd you get those scrapbook pages you sent?"

"Ah well, you see that's what tipped us off. We found those after he got away. He's the only one who ever has. That alone should have been proof enough, I suppose. Such a remarkable boy."

Heero got away. Sick as he was, he got away. Duo's mind raced ahead. If he could keep these guys away from Heero just long enough for him to either snap out of it or at least flash to how he'd escaped . . .

Duo took a step back, still shielding Heero. "I'm not letting you put one finger on him again."

"Is that so?" Hato chuckled. Duo had amused him again. "Well, we'll just have to start with you, then, won't we?"

+

The assault team quickly took their positions around the house. Wufei and Sally put on bulletproof vests and helmets and joined Tzuki and the SWAT commander, Ito.

"I'm taking point," Wufei said, pulling down the visor on his helmet.

"Are you sure, Captain?" Tzuki asked. "Captain Ito is an experienced man."

"I don't doubt you. But this is my operation." He checked the magazine of his borrowed machine gun, snapped on the high-powered flashlight clipped to his shoulder, and looked over at Nakamura. "You better stay back."

On his signal assault units hit all three doors of the house at once. Wufei and kicked in the front door and went in low, gun at the ready.

The house was pitch dark inside. The front room was empty and the place smelled like it hadn't been occupied recently. Someone found a light switch and turned it on. At least the place still had power.

Ito motioned a unit up to check the second story but Wufei, acting on Nakamura's hunch, ran back through the house and found a door leading down into the cellar.

He found another switch and turned the lights on, expecting gunfire or a challenge, but there was no sound. With Sally close behind him, he slowly descended, alert for any movement.

The stairs led down to a wide open basement. The walls were whitewashed and there were odds and ends of professional looking photography equipment-lights on stands, several tripods, some reflecting screens. At the far side of the room, there was a door. A heavy wooden one.

Wufei and his team ran to it and he tried the handle. It clicked open and he kicked it back.

Another light was on inside, illuminating what could only be a holding cell, complete with narrow bunk and a set of manacles chained to the wall. It was empty, too. Dark stains that were probably blood blotched the mattress and a corner of the room. More stains showed here and there on the walls.

"Oh god!" Sally whispered, taking it all in at a glance.

Executions had been carried out here.

Wufei ran his fingers over the stains, noting how totally dry they were. That was good news. If any of it had belonged to Duo and Heero, it would still be tacky.

The team made a quick circuit of the entire basement, but could find no other doors. Racing back upstairs, he checked in with Tzuki and Ito. "Anything?"

"Nothing, Captain," Ito told him. "Looks like no one's been here in weeks."

"Damn it!" Sally groaned. "God damn it! Now what?"

Wufei strode out the front door, fighting down the nausea that followed the adrenaline rush. The sky was beginning to grow light in the east. It would be morning soon.

Nakamura was leaning against the lamppost by the street, cell in hand. "I think I've got someone who saw your friends tonight."

[chap. 80] [chap. 82] [back to pyrzm's fic]