Author: June
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer


A-N/ Summary: Harsh words and cruel deeds. 1x2x5

Through the Furnace, Unshrinking + Part 29
Jeopardy

29a. Wufei

Did you know you would last this long?
You made it to the dawn
Now you're gone
You are gone

-Dirty Three

Wufei stretched his tired and sore muscles in the ancient forms he'd learned shortly after he learned to walk. Hands push out, slide leg forward, slow movement through a series of blocks, finger placement precise, breathing slow and deep. These motions were his center, his meditation. They were his base. Without them, there was only a constant roar of emotions that would lead him astray, down a twisted path of irrationality and madness. His forms drew him back into the cycle of breathing and movement and careful meditation. He stretched his sore muscles and thought very carefully about the events of the last five days.

They'd been a blur of cold sleepless nights, gray mornings waking bleary-eyed to find himself wrapped around one or the other or both of his lovers, muscles stiff from the cold and the hard floor. Even though they'd scrounged up some old foam from someone else's long-abandoned squat, Wufei's body wasn't used to the rough treatment. Nor was he used to the freezing trek outside to relieve himself and brush his teeth. He wasn't used to the cold, prepackaged food or the canned soup heated up on their tiny cook stove. It left him feeling lethargic and undernourished. He wanted vitamin C and protein. And no more salt. They had money. They could go to a restaurant, or even a hostel for a night or two, but Heero said it was too dangerous to venture past Downtown. Wufei couldn't even go running. Only Duo emerged from the decrepit shell of the city to buy water and more prepackaged food. Wufei recognized Duo's ability to essentially disappear at the first sign of danger – he knew Duo was the best choice among the three of them. When he returned from these brief excursions, it was to tell them that the city was crawling with cops as well as Gael's men. All of their old haunts were covered… the parks, the library, the gym, the few bars and restaurants they frequented. But most disturbing of all, their home appeared to be empty. Wufei hadn't asked how Duo was able to ascertain this, but he trusted his lover's assessment: Trowa and Quatre were not there.

Duo told them this last night. As far as Wufei was concerned, that was the breaking point. They'd either made a run for it or Gael had them. Or they were dead.

Wufei shook his head sharply and started his form over again, clearing his head. For about ten seconds.

Heero had been furious, but also fearful. His face had gone blank and he'd disappeared to another part of the factory. Duo had looked at Wufei with large worried eyes. "He's blaming himself."

"Of course he is."

They'd spent an hour looking for him, found him in a small dusty room, staring at the black screen of his laptop. The battery had died days ago. Heero had looked up at them like a lost child and said, his voice barely audible, "I don't know what I'm doing. I never did. I'm going to get us all killed."

This admission – while Wufei knew it to be largely false – had ignited his anger like nothing else. Duo'd had to pry them apart and the ensuing tussle had resulted in some of the most aggressive and brutal sex he'd ever had. However, they'd all admitted that they felt better after relieving a bit of tension.

Hence his sore muscles and his desperate need for a little space and solitude. Sex was not an outlet for Wufei. Physical exertion and meditation had always fulfilled that role. But in the days since the three of them had more or less sorted out their feelings and needs, sex seemed like all they had. If Duo wasn't out scavenging for food and information and Heero wasn't pacing or cursing at his dead laptop and Wufei wasn't fighting phantom enemies, drilling his body ruthlessly, then they were busy making up for lost time, fucking each other's brains out, and generally denying the fact that two of their best friends were stuck in the lion's den while they were stuck out in the cold.

In his nineteen years of living, Wufei had never felt so emotionally ravaged or fulfilled. He was wanted and needed. He had both Duo and Heero with him in every sense of the word. And yet they were paralyzed and none of them were sure what they should do next. Ever the mediator, the negotiator, the one among them who could smooth things over no matter what, Duo found himself needing to keep Wufei and Heero from ripping each other to pieces on a daily basis. Probably closer to three times a day. Wufei knew this about himself and Heero. And he knew that it wasn't fair for Duo, always the one to soften harsh words or step between dangerous glares. He knew Duo dealt with it the only way he thought he could, by offering himself up to their anger and frustration. Yet it still struck him as odd and slightly disturbing that his way was sex.

But it shouldn't have, he supposed, because Duo had lived his entire life adapting and bending over backward and contorting his body into whatever shape was needed for survival. When he was a kid, smaller than most, with a braid that made him a target, it meant learning to disappear. When he was a little older, it meant learning to fight – both dirty and clean. Now, it meant using the skill he'd cultivated over the last two years.

And for some reason, this bothered Wufei. It pissed him off. As he moved from his stretches into the first dozen forms taught to him by his father, he realized he knew the reason. He wasn't sure he trusted sex with Duo. He trusted Duo, absolutely. But sex was… it was Duo's labor, it was what he sold. Heero had tried to reassure him, had in fact scolded him for thinking that Duo took sex lightly, had said that if Duo had chosen Wufei, then they were together. They were with each other. But…Wufei had been trained from the very beginning that the proof of anything lay with the sword. Bonds were not forged between two bodies coupling. Sex didn't establish anything. A solid strength at his back during a fight, a glinting blade fighting with him and for him… that was what counted.

And he had that with Duo. They'd proven their bond in that insane flight through the city streets. It was there between them right then. And really, it'd been there that first night with Ralph, though that had been… it'd all started when they'd first had sex. But it wasn't just about that! Wufei angrily punched the air, torso bending, leg scything outward, `swishing' audibly. It was about living through that ordeal with their honor in tact. That night had been a sort of battle. So why did sex have to come into it again and again? Was that what proved their bond for Duo? Did he need that?

Voices that he thought long gone began to question him, forcing him to interrogate his own feelings for his two best friends. He didn't want to still worry about this shit. His clan had fucked him up more than set him straight. He was an emotional disaster because of them, because he couldn't seem to square what he so clearly wanted with what he'd been taught he should want.

And now he could hear them fucking. They'd obviously woken up and now he could hear Duo. When he listened carefully, he found Heero's voice underneath it, throaty and muffled. Duo's voice was harsh and almost child-like right before he came. When he wasn't putting on a performance for a client, Duo sounded…

He shook his head again and focused on the intricate movements of his fists and palms. His heel struck the floor, torso twisted, double punch. They needed to get out of here soon. He was going crazy.

He removed another layer as his exercises heated his blood and muscles. Picking up his sword, he began the next set of forms. He didn't hear Duo climb the stairs, but he knew the young man was leaning in the doorway watching him. Trying not to let this fact disrupt his concentration, he continued the swift and deadly combinations of thrust, parry, dodge, spin, thrust. He just barely caught movement from the corner of his eye and turned, blade raised to block Duo's blindingly quick attack.

"What are you-" He shut his mouth with a snap, realizing immediately that he could not afford to be distracted by words. Duo's beautiful short sword snuck all around him, probing for weakness, his lover's eyes doing the same. He was grinning, face flushed with excitement and good humor. As they sparred, Wufei watched with a practiced eye the young man's fighting style with a blade. He immediately found it inferior to his own, but only insofar as it had no definable form. Wufei recognized many of his movements as steps that he knew well, but they were not in any sort of-

His eyes widened as Duo dropped low, and swept one long leg along the dusty floor, attempting to trip him. He stumbled back, just barely keeping his balance. Duo came at him immediately, laughing. "I almost got you, lover," he said a bit breathlessly.

Wufei saw the immediate future open up in front of him. He saw their sparring continuing down this path of lightheartedness and laughing. And he saw the frustration and unease he'd been feeling all morning overtaking his muscles and twisting his face into a mask of spite. He stood at this split in the road for another moment and then, stepping back into a defensive stance, beckoned Duo with a flick of his fingers and a small smirk.

Their pace increased and Wufei could see the unease in Duo's eyes growing as he drove him back. His pale skin flushed pink and his fading bruises stood out in sharp contrast as he struggled to defend himself against the dragon's swift strikes. He spun out of the way, braid flying out behind him. It was too easy an opening to take. Wufei's blade just barely missed the rope of hair. It would have been so easy to cut it off. Instead he grabbed it and tugged sharply, almost upsetting Duo's careful balance. His lover whirled on him, pale features darkening with the beginnings of anger.

"I think we should probably stop, Wu," he said softly, voice dangerous. "We shouldn't get mean."

Wufei felt the sudden and ugly need to prove his superiority in this one aspect of his life. This fight between friends now represented the war he'd been waging within his soul since Duo had first drawn him into an existence radically different from the one he'd lead. The outcome had never really be determined. He wanted to have a place in Duo and Heero's world, but he also felt the fierce need to defend this last bastion of his old life.

Duo didn't belong in this world of precise and ancient fighting ability. He belonged in the dark, nothing more than a shadow with a switchblade. Wufei was supposed to tread the righteous and straight path of the warrior. He was supposed to be made of stone inside and out. Duo was unbreakable too, but only because he could bend in half without snapping. He did whatever he had to, compromised himself in any way he saw fit, so that he could survive. Wufei was not like that. He couldn't be like that, as much as he respected Duo for it. As much as he wanted to be a part of Heero and Duo's world, there was a stubborn weight in his chest and a buzzing hornets nest of voices in his head telling him that he could never live the way they did, do the kinds of things they'd done. The voice of his clan told him to be proud of this fact, to be glad that he was different. He didn't want to be different. He wanted – god, he wanted everything they could give him. He wanted them to be unbreakable together, but he couldn't shake the fact that it … that he knew he was wrong to want it.

He surged forward and finally snapped.

"We shouldn't be doing this! You shouldn't have this!" He snatched the blade from frozen fingers and then threw it and his katana to the ground, the point of Duo's short sword sticking in the wood floor and swaying back and forth. "Why are you like this, Duo? This fighting is not for you; why are you trying to be something you're not?"

His lover stood perfectly still, violet eyes regarding him with alarm and confusion. "What do you mean?" His voice was low, and despite his uncertainty, there was a threat in his tone. Wufei heard it and felt the air between them shifting. Good.

"You think you can just pick up that sword and fight me on some terms that you've decided are appropriate? You don't know anything about it. Fucking a guy for a few lessons doesn't mean that you're- that you can just…" He lost his train of thought watching Duo's expression go from one of alarm to deep hurt and then to fiery anger. His violet eyes turned to agate and he took a step forward. Wufei saw Heero in the doorway, eyes narrowed. His lover glanced between them in confusion, trying to gauge the tension.

"It doesn't mean that you get what I have lived through to make it here – to be here with you." He glanced again at Heero. He pointed an accusatory finger. "He thinks that we're stronger together, that we're unbreakable. We're not. Neither you nor he know what's right, what we're supposed to do. What if I know this is wrong, if we're weak for relying on each other like we do? What if this strength we're supposed to have together is really just… What if we're wrong?" He said it again and felt himself losing his grip on what exactly was at stake here. His words were just as sharp as his blade and he could see them cutting Duo deeply. His lover was withdrawing, arms hugging himself. Wufei imagined it was because he'd cut too deep.

"Chang…" Heero was quickly striding toward him and Duo was now backing away.

"Stay the fuck away from me, Yuy" Wufei snarled, switchblade out and open in his palm before he could think about it. Heero stopped cold, looking at the blade with surprised eyes. Wufei looked at it, too, and somewhere inside he was amazed that he'd just threatened his partner and lover with a weapon that could injure, that could kill. He looked back up at the two young men before him – one pale and bruised, the other dark and scarred – and knew that they were both his if he wanted them. And he was theirs if he just dropped the knife, if he just apologized and begged them to forgive his twisted, tortured mind for spewing such poisoned words. They weren't his words. They were eighteen years of unflinching discipline, of rigid upbringing. They were six years of therapists and doctors and clan elders telling him that he was… wrong.

"I'm sorry," he said thickly. "I don't think I can do this. I'm not like you – I can't just-"

His vision was suddenly filled with coarse dark hair and a snarling mouth as Heero twisted the knife from numb fingers and shoved him backwards. He welcomed the confrontation, went down under that ferocious body and fought back with every scrap of vitriol he had left. But he fought with relief, wanting Heero to pound some sense into him, to thump his head against the floor and call him a moron and then kiss him until he couldn't breath. He wanted it and hated himself for wanting it.

His voice grew hoarse with shouting and he tasted blood. His gut burned where Heero's knee had slammed him ruthlessly into the floor. His knuckles stung and the back of his head hurt. He didn't know when Heero's fists had finally opened, when those arms that were weapons had stopped shoving and punching, but Wufei found himself held down tightly, a heaving chest pressed against his own, a firm mouth pressed to his temple. He found himself holding onto Heero as his breath whistled through his lungs. He gripped solid muscle and turned his stinging eyes into Heero's lips, felt an impossibly gentle pressure on his lids.

"You okay?" those lips murmured against his skin.

"No," he gritted, squeezing his eyes shut tighter. "Fuck." He swallowed hard and felt himself shaking just slightly. "Heero, what I said to Duo – I keep fucking it up. I don't know how to-"

"Shut up, Chang," Heero said softly. "You flipped out. I know why you did, and Duo will figure it out. Just be still for a minute."

Wufei took a shuddering breath and tried to gather his fragmented thoughts. And then he realized. "Heero, I haven't told him what I told you." He whispered this, not wanting Duo to hear. "He doesn't know about my clan or Meiran. He doesn't why I'm – like this."

"He's not here, Chang. You can tell him later."

Black eyes snapped open and darted around the cavernous room. "Where is he? Where did he go?"

"He's gone. He ran away. But he'll be back. Don't worry."


29b. Duo

One o' them bullets went straight for the jugular vein

- Patty Griffin "Not Alone"

His feet pounded against the pavement; he didn't care if anyone heard him coming. His braid slapped heavily against his back, swaying from side to side; he didn't care if anyone recognized him. He could run faster than them all; he could disappear like a ghost; he didn't even exist. He dared them to come after him; his hands needed to grab and break and crush. He wanted to pick a fight with the first punk who looked at him funny and, had he been only a few years younger, he would have done it. "Lookin' at my braid? Think it makes me look like a woman? Am I less of a man because of it?" Four bloody knuckles and a loose tooth later and he'd feel a hundred times better.

He had different weapons now. But they were just as deadly. That kid there, looking him over with a belligerent sneer. Probably thinking he was a fag. "Look at those skinny limbs and that braid. Must be easy." Their fight played out in Duo's mind even as he ran past without giving the kid another look.

`I could have you flat on your back, knees by your ears, begging, in under three minutes. It'd happen so fast that your dick wouldn't know what to do with itself.'

Duo smirked to himself and felt no better. There were hundreds of men in this city who'd do pretty much anything for him. He had them all, even if they thought that beating him around a little meant they had the power. The bruisers and the gentle, affectionate men… they were all the same. They were his. His weapons worked differently than Heero and Wufei's, but they were just as brutal because his victims could not see his brutality until they were already exposed and vulnerable to it. Every john he'd ever had – their emotions were silken spidery threads wrapped around his fist. One cruel twist and they were broken men.

Lucky for them all Duo was not a cruel person. Most of the time. Lucky for them all, Duo did not try to break his clients like many of them tried to break him.

But some still ended up fractured.

Wufei's fearful and angry words crackled through his brain, alive and sharp. The bright panic in his lover's eyes and his rigid posture cut deeply.

Duo was not now nor had he ever been ashamed of his past or of what he'd become. Not ever. No one could break him because he was made of some composite never seen by another soul – blood and bone, sure, but also motor oil and broken glass and dirty hair and rubber bands. He could look like some pale angel, but inside he was dark and sinuous. He could mold himself into whatever anyone wanted to see. He was fiercely proud of this ability. He'd lived to be twenty years old because of it.

This ability lead him to believe that he could be someone's lover, too, if he wanted. And, God, did he want. He wanted to be Wufei's lover. And Heero's. It felt so good to want them. The fact that they wanted him too should have made it all easier. But again and again, he found himself begging or praying, to whomever or whatever, that he could be what they thought he was, be what they wanted him to be. And, still, he failed to come up with exactly what "that" was. It was there a lot of the time, he thought, when they were lying together in their sleeping bags, exhausted and shivering, holding onto each other and just… his nose in Wufei's hair, Heero's hands sliding along his ribs. It was there then and when they were running from Gael, fighting and running away. It was there then, too, in the perfect movement of their bodies.

He knew Wufei was uneasy about the three of them. It was an unconventional situation to say the least. Duo understood this. So, he'd thought that if he couldn't calm Wufei down enough to see that sleepy trust and love shown to him when they all lay together, then maybe he could draw it out with a fight. He'd thought wrong. He'd been wrong, and Wufei had told him as much.

This was why Duo didn't like to mess with real intimacy; this was why he learned to disappear when he was young, learned to fight when he got older, and learned to give a piece of himself in exchange for an unmatched ability to manipulate both physically and emotionally when he turned eighteen. All three put together made for an almost water-tight "Don't fuck with me" package. Heero had understood this on some level since they were kids, which was probably why he'd kept his distance until he'd figured out that Wufei had made it through somehow.

Duo wasn't sorry that Wufei had. He didn't think he was, anyway. All their fight this morning meant was that he had to fix something. He had to be better. He didn't want to be bad or wrong and he knew, more surely than he knew most things, that being with Heero and Wufei was neither. And, despite what he might think, Wufei was not bad; Wufei was beautiful in every sense of the word. And so was Heero. So it had to be something about himself. He wasn't how he was supposed to be yet. But he'd figure it out because he knew it'd be worth it.

He'd use his run as thinking time; he hadn't been able to get out on his own to just think probably in weeks. He needed to just cool down and figure out how to fix-

He slowed from his near-sprint to a jog. Then he stopped as he saw what was happening. Cars pulling in to park all around him, men and a few women getting out, closing off exits. He turned down a side street. They were there, too. The way they walked, they appeared to be armed. He twisted around, quickly saw that he was surrounded, turned back to the half dozen men headed straight for him.

"Took you fellas long enough," he said lightly. "I was beginning to wonder whether you'd forgotten about me." They said nothing in response. "What'd you do while I was gone? Were there lotsa unsatisfied clients bangin' down your door?" Again nothing. "Did Bossman persuade a few of you to pick up the slack? How'd you like the hustling gig? Did you like gettin' all prettied up, like getting on your knees for them?"

Cecile was the last to emerge from the car. Duo shut his jaw with a snap. "Hasn't that silly partner of yours told you that your mouth would get you in big trouble some day?" She crooned this to him as she came forward.

"He has."

"You should have listened to him. Where is he? His employer wishes to speak with him."

"Is there a problem?"

"There is if he continues to avoid his employer's summons, if he continues to shirk his duties."

"What about me? Am I in trouble?"

She smiled. "Oh yes."

"Excellent. Then what comes out of my mouth isn't going to make much difference either way."

"No."

He grinned and curled his fingers into fists.

+

He awoke to pain, but his mouth was only open to gasp, not to scream. Those bruises from the car accident must have... They shouldn't still hurt this much. Not this much. He was on the floor, face pressed against something wet. Had he drooled in his sleep? Wufei hated when he did that, made all sorts of disgusted noises and shoved him away looking all affronted and... He opened his eyes and realized it was blood, not spit. And the pain was too intense to be just leftover bruises. It all focused in his left shoulder. He couldn't even move it without pain shooting-

Someone behind him jerked his hands and he choked, rearing backwards onto his knees, spitting out blood in his effort to draw enough air to cry out. He craned his neck back to catch a glimpse of his tormentor and saw Cecile, her mouth twisted in a small smile. Her white shirt was spattered with red. He caught a glimpse of his shoulder, saw the bone sticking out at an odd angle, a strange lump that was the source of the fierce burning pain radiating to the tips of his fingers and down his back. How did that... And then he remembered.

Smothered by the shear number of bodies crushing him to the pavement, slithering between them. Even on the ground, he was more agile and flexible than they could hope to be, gravel grinding into his skin as he struggled. One of them succeeded in grabbing him, hauling him to his feet, wrenching his arms behind him. He'd thrown his head back, skull connecting with bone. More shouting, but they wouldn't let go. He thrashed and bucked, felt plastic bindings go around his wrists – he really lost it then, nearly succeeded in throwing them off. Then cool slim fingers trailed along his arms and he froze. She whispered soft words in his ear and he instantly forgot every bit of French he'd ever learned. But he heard the words 'already dead' in there somewhere and then with hands that clearly knew anatomy very well, she quickly, easily, brutally, dislocated his shoulder. And that was it.

He glanced around the room now, trying to figure out where exactly he was, and he instantly knew. The floor was hard, covered in linoleum, easy to clean up. Manacles and leather straps hung from the walls, as well as any number of harnesses and binding devices. Duo turned his eyes quickly away. This was one of the mansion's play rooms, for guests with more energetic hobbies. He'd only had a handful of jobs in a room like this. Those jobs had taught him many things about himself and the nature of his clients. He chose to look at those experiences as educational.

With his shoulder as fucked up as it was, he was grateful not to have woken up in any of those contraptions. He hoped he was only here because of the blood leaking from his nose and mouth, that Cecile didn't want to dirty any of Gael's carpets.

The man in question stood before him now, arms crossed over his chest. He was looking at the red puddle on the floor. He appeared to be deep in thought.

"Hey, Boss," Duo finally said, voice muffled with clogged sinuses. "Somethin' I can help you with?"

He looked up. "The only thing I could possibly need from you, Duo, I already have."

"And what's that," he muttered.

"You. Your body, your life. I have it now."

"I thought that whole ownership deal was hammered out when we first signed on as your thieves. Thought we were yours then. What's changed?"

He smiled. "My use for you."

Duo watched his employer draw closer. The man's posture was casual but alert. And he was making Duo very uneasy. He knew he was in trouble for running away and for resisting the men and women who brought him in, but he didn't know why they'd been so brutal. He was crippled at the moment, which wasn't usually Gael's style. He wasn't usually so cruel – scary as hell in a distant, threatening sort of way, but not overtly cruel.

On his knees, hands still bound in sharp plastic, shoulder still out of its socket, Duo was at his mercy. His employer was directly in front of him now, leaning toward him.

"I never liked you," he murmured. "But you were a great worker, one of my best employees. The list of men willing to pay top dollar for you grows larger all the time."

"Then why don't you pay me more?" Duo grumbled, glaring up through thick bangs.

The man grinned suddenly and, behind him, Cecile again jerked back and upward on the plastic binding his wrists. He nearly passed out as he felt his shoulder bones grind and knock together. To keep from doing so, he screamed long and loud. It felt good to be that loud. He screamed until a boot in his gut stole his breath and he doubled over, choking again.

Gael knelt down beside him. "I don't pay you more, because I don't have to."

Duo raised his gaze. "Not very good for our relationship, Boss. Where's my union rep when I need her?" His voice was strained and wheezing.

Gael smiled. "We have no relationship, Duo. This is it; this is the end of it. My use for you has changed. The only purpose you serve now is to bring who I really want to me. So... this idea you have of who I am and what I can do to you... it's based on your history as my employee. And you have been an outstanding employee. But your history and my history mean nothing in the present. History has no meaning. It's only what is of use to me now. And now..."

He left that hanging as Duo dropped his gaze and let his posture sag. Pain pounded through his body, telling him in no uncertain terms, "You are fucked. He's going to kill you. You are going to die."

He flinched against the feel of the gun pressed against his cheek bone. Gael shoved it hard into him, forcing his head to the side. "Everything you thought you had, thought you were working toward, thought you could gain and make for yourself – it was not real. There is only what I gave you. I gave you your life. And I can take it from you just as easily."

Another jerk on his wrists, but he strangled his cry in his throat. He squeezed his eyes shut and felt a few tears leak out. He wasn't crying; he didn't ever cry, but his body was betraying him.

"And the best part? You don't even have to be alive to bring Heero and Wufei to me. Your death will bring them just as surely. They will have nothing left. They will serve me as my fiercest warriors and they will be more loyal and devoted than dogs because they will have nothing to lose and no force to guide them other than fear. I will protect them, keep away that fear of having nothing. I will be all they have. Do you understand? Your death will ruin them, and I will rebuild them. I already have the others. The only bit of business to take care of is you. And I will relish it."

Duo kept his mouth shut with some difficulty. His brain scrambled to push aside the pain and absorb all that Gael had just said. He had to think it all through, and quickly. His death appeared immanent. He would most likely have no chance of warning Heero and Wufei of what Gael had in mind for them. He would most likely never see them again, let alone have the opportunity to say anything. That was the bad news. The only good news was what Duo knew to be true. And that was that his death would not ruin his best friends – his lovers. Their strength lay in pairs, not with him as some sort of linchpin. Duo and Heero had been best friends forever. Duo and Wufei had been friends and then lovers for over a year. Heero and Wufei were bonded by blood and a fiery rivalry, by a deep partnership forged from a night that had almost killed them both. The three of them were stronger together, but their strength didn't come from the whole; it was founded on the components. So, in Duo's pain-addled mind, logically, his death would bring Heero and Wufei to this mansion with all the fury of avenging angels. Gael didn't stand a chance against them. They would leave him no more than a stain on one of his fancy carpets. They would mourn Duo's death and then they'd move on, their own bond even stronger.

It was very important that Gael did not know this, so Duo kept his mouth shut. And behind closed eyelids, he let himself mourn for what he was about to lose. He didn't really know how to do it and he knew he didn't have much time, so he concentrated all his strength on memory.

Remember everything about them. Hold them close to you now and maybe you can take some part of them with-

He felt a different set of hands on his back and his eyes snapped open. He knew those hands. "Trowa..." he whispered. His heart surged to new life until his employer spoke again.

"Mr. Barton, I'm glad you're here."

"What was it you needed, sir?"

His voice was flat and cold, distant and uncaring. This was an older Trowa, or rather, a younger one, Trowa from years ago.

"I want you to fix Duo's arm, if you wouldn't mind. I've heard your skills in field medicine are considerable. "

"I told you they were," he said without interest.

"That must have been where I heard it, then."

"Why can't Cecile do it? She's just as-"

"Because I want you to do it."

"...Fine."

With even more effort, Duo kept his mouth shut. He heard the familiar "snick" of Trowa switchblade and tensed. Then a firm hand held him still as his bonds were cut. He grunted in relief as his injured shoulder came free, and then Trowa was carefully pressing him down onto the floor. He looked up to meet Trowa's gaze and blinked quickly at coldly distant green eyes. He tried to convey his confusion through his pained expression, but the Frenchman only shoved a piece of cloth into his mouth and muttered, "Bite on that," before grasping his arm in strong confident fingers and with a sharp tug, popping the bone back in place.

His jaw clenched and his back arched and the cloth in his mouth muffled his cry. And then it was over.

Trowa pulled him into a sitting position and arranged his arm against his chest. "Don't move this for awhile, okay?" He then took off his own shirt and fashioned a sling for the injured arm, tying it securely and settling Duo's arm more comfortably. Throughout the process, Cecile and Gael watched silently but with great interest.

"What the fuck is going on?" Duo finally managed. Trowa regarded him soberly, eyes traveling over his features as though memorizing them.

"I wanted you to know something," Gael said conversationally. Duo turned to face his employer and found the man's arms casually crossed behind his back, gun held loosely in his right hand.

"And what's that, peaches?" Duo snapped. He didn't bother to scold himself for his attitude. Gael already hated him. As Cecile had said earlier, as he was now realizing, he was already dead.

"That, thanks to your flat mate, coworker, and... friend, Mr. Barton, I know everything."

Duo blinked, now even more confused. He looked at Trowa and, getting no help there, looked back to Gael. "What?"

"I know what you've done Duo. I know what you've been up to and with whom you've been up to it. I know everything about all of it, thanks to Trowa."

If he hadn't already been pale and sweating with pain, he probably would have turned white as death. He knew? How much did he know? All of Heero's work and Trowa's – was it all for nothing? Had he known all along? And... he looked at Trowa, ugly realization dawning.

"You... you told him?"

Trowa stood slowly and turned away from him.

"He's been telling me Duo, almost since the beginning. I know everything that you've done."

Confusion and disbelief held him rigid for a few moments more, and then he hunched forward, not wanting to see what was before him. Trowa now stood beside Gael, hands loose at his sides.

"I wanted you to know that you have lost, Duo, utterly and completely."

He stayed hunched over, cradling his arm to his chest. His heart thudded in his ears and his muscles threatened to go to mush with all the tension slamming through them. Inside the sling, pressing against his ribs was Trowa's switchblade.

[part 28] [part 30] [back to Singles a-k]