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

Through the Furnace, Unshrinking + Part 32

32. Wufei

So bury me in wood and I will splinter
Bury me in stone and I will quake
Bury me in water and I will geyser
Bury me in fire and I will phoenix
I'm gonna phoenix

- Smog "Say Valley Maker"

Wufei stood with his ear to the bathroom door, listening for any sign of activity outside as Duo washed up in the sink. The sound of water against enamel seemed ridiculously loud to his ears, but he kept his mouth shut. Heero had rested their light on the ledge in front of the mirror and was gently re-braiding Duo's hair, combing through it as best he could with his fingers while their lover scrubbed at his bloody face with a wad of wet paper towels. He winced as his lip started bleeding again and Heero's whisper was loud in the tiled room. "Careful Duo. Don't injure yourself any further." Duo grunted and continued to ruthlessly rub at the dried blood on his chin.

Finally, when he was done cleaning up and Heero was finished tying back his hair, Duo leaned down and took a long drink from the faucet. Wufei realized that with all the excitement throughout the day, he'd probably gotten quite dehydrated. He splashed another handful of water over his face and then straightened, turning off the faucet and scrubbing back his bangs with one hand. His dampened hair stood up at odd angles for a moment before he flattened it with another swipe of his hand.

"So... " he started. "You boys wanna tell me why there are cops crawling all over this joint or should I keep guessing about why the two of you and they showed up at roughly the same time?"

Heero looked at the floor and Wufei turned his attention to listening for noises outside.

"We didn't know where you'd gone," Heero whispered finally. "We didn't think you'd just... disappear. I knew you wouldn't do that."

Wufei flinched slightly. He and Heero had been quite the disaster, trying to determine what they should do when they'd realized Duo wasn't coming back. Wufei was convinced that he'd driven Duo off with his cruel temper - driven him to leave them for good. And Heero was certain that something had happened to keep him away. He assured Wufei that Duo would never be so cowardly. He said that Duo ran and hid but he never abandoned those he loved.

Either way, they'd needed to find Duo - immediately. They knew that it wasn't safe for him to be out and about and visible. So, they'd gone directly to the police, both to enlist their help in finding him, and to hand over copies of everything Heero had accumulated over the last several months in his careful, silent attempt at sabotage.

"We needed help finding you," Heero continued. "So we went to the police and told them that we thought you were probably here, taken against your will."

Duo snorted. "The four cops I ran into didn't look like they had any interest in helping me out."

"We also told them that a significant percentage of their force was actually working for Gael. We told them which ones we suspected, and the officer I spoke with said she'd take care of it." He paused and scratched the back of his head, looking nervous - or at least as nervous as Heero Yuy ever looked. "Then we told them everything else. We handed it all over to the police. It wasn't going to get us anywhere if all Gael had to do was snatch you out from under our noses."

Wufei turned from the door and glared at Duo. "When Heero says 'we,' he means just him. I didn't open my mouth once."

"Whatever came out wouldn't have been constructive," Heero muttered. "You'd only have scared people or gotten yourself locked up somewhere."

Wufei watched the grin start at the corner of Duo's mouth and slowly spread across his face. He felt his mouth twitch in reply. Heero was watching Duo as well and Wufei had never seen such a clear broadcasting of the depth of his two friends' relationship. Perhaps it was because the bathroom was so dark that Heero felt he could let such naked emotions out. Perhaps he was just that relieved to see Duo standing in front of them, very much alive and not too severely injured. Whichever it was, Wufei was glad he got to see it. 'We are all stronger together,' he thought. He was beginning to believe it.

Duo's grin faded and he reached up to rub his shoulder. "So... you guys didn't meet any trouble when you went to the police station? No one was... waiting for you, or anything? No firing squad?"

Heero shook his head, looking confused. "Why? Should there have been?"

Duo's hand traveled from his shoulder down to his elbow. "... No. No, I guess not. ... Just wondering." A strange silence fell between them and Wufei wanted to ask just what Duo had seen in the hours he'd been kept here, what he'd been led to believe while Gael hurt him and threatened him and tried to kill him. Then Duo shook his head quickly and gave them a forced smile. "So, what now?"

+

He couldn't get a good look at the room Duo said Quatre and Trowa should still be in, and this was really pissing him off. There were police everywhere. He supposed he could just walk up to them and ask where Trowa and Quatre were, but Duo said there were most likely dead bodies in that room - ones that Duo had put there - and so going back in would involve way too many questions. And anyway, they weren't here to cooperate with the police; they were here primarily to break the law and put an end to the threat that had been riding them, that had been crushing them, for the last few years of their lives. Wufei had a sword strapped to his back - a sword that he planned on ramming between Gael's ribs and so making his presence known to the cops crawling all over the place really wasn't... But damnit, he needed to get a closer look!

Behind him, Duo was whispering softly to Heero, asking him again if he was sure that the police were here because they believed what Heero had shown them on his laptop, that they were really here to shut Gael down, not to kill Duo Maxwell the second they saw him. Heero assured him again that, yes, the police really were on their side this time, that when Wufei and Heero had shown up at the station, dirty, desperate, and in a tremendous rush, the officer they'd spoken to had sat them down and taken what they'd said and believed it and then acted upon it. The officers who'd attacked Duo had clearly been some of those under Gael's thumb. Heero explained that the officer he'd spoken to had ordered pretty much the entire force out to Gael's mansion to try and prove who exactly was working for Gael and who wasn't.

Duo was finding this very difficult to believe. Wufei didn't blame him. The whole thing had happened rather suddenly in Wufei's mind as well. Heero and he hadn't spoken on the way to the station, and Heero had done all the talking once they'd gotten there, explaining everything he'd gathered to the officer he'd determined to be trustworthy months ago, back when their plan of escape had sent only a distant thrill of excitement down their spines - before it'd loomed over them all, casting them all in shadow.

Anyway, the officer's name was Elsa. She was very nice. She'd been working on bringing Gael down for years, but somehow could never pin anything on him. Wufei had felt like snapping that the reason for this was probably that about one third of the city's police department actually worked for Gael. But he didn't think she'd appreciate hearing that from him, and he didn't think Heero would have appreciate it, and it wouldn't have helped them to get out of the station any faster, and that had been his main concern because Duo was gone, possibly dead and they had to find him and sitting still while Heero spoke with her had been probably one of the most difficult things he'd ever had to do.

But he was able to do it simply because he knew that as soon as they left the station, it would all be over, one way or another. Heero and he were storming the castle, either to find Duo and escape or to meet some other end avenging him. The options before him had narrowed to those two. If Duo was alive, then they all would live. If he was...

Well, he hadn't needed to take that path, so no sense thinking about it now. Duo was alive. They'd found him. He'd returned Duo's sword to him, and while the brutal words they'd exchanged that morning were still fresh in his mind, Duo didn't appear to be holding a grudge. This left him secure in the knowledge that they would all live through what they were about to do. If not one, then the other. Duo was not dead, so they would live.

And now the police were moving out - the officers and a whole troop of medics with two, three, four... five stretchers making their way towards the elevators down the hall. The three hustlers backed away from the solemn line of people and stretchers, disappearing into the dark, only able to make out distorted shadows and glimmers in the erratic beams of the flashlights. Wufei watched the bodies rolling by and felt his throat go dry just as Duo's whispered his fears behind him.

"Jesus, there's five of'em. What if Quatre or Trowa... how do we know if they're on one of those?"

Wufei turned to see Duo's dim silhouette against the wall. "None of them were small enough to be Quatre," he rationalized. "He's shaped like a 12-year-old."

He spun around when he heard a loud thud, one of the stretchers hitting a doorway, snagging the sheet and dragging it off the body. The medics cursed as the stretcher's momentum jerked the body to the side, rolling it toward the young men hidden in the shadows. Wufei's lip curled as he saw the body, his middle sliced open with what had to have been a switch-blade. The wound was jagged and deep and as the dead man fell sideways, a grisly mess sloshed out, filling the air with the distinctive cutting smell of digestive fluid and blood. Behind him, Duo made a small choking sound and disappeared. Heero glanced after him, hand over his nose and mouth to block the smell. Wufei inhaled through his mouth, but it didn't help. As the medics struggled to right the body and cover it, one of the officers spoke softly to another holding the elevator door open.

"Keep searching for the boys who did this and their boss. He's still on the premises somewhere. We'll ID these bodies when that's straightened out."

Wufei turned to Heero and saw his smirk mirrored in lips pressed firmly together. "Let's find Duo and then find him," he murmured, heading in the direction their lover had taken.

They found him back in the bathroom, hunched over the toilet bowl, throwing up what little was in his stomach. Wufei flinched away from such obvious weakness in the face of another person's death. Sure it was grisly, but how could Duo have such a delicate constitution as to- Then he gave himself a good mental shake. This was Duo, and his lover was not like any other kid he'd ever met. This was Duo who'd been on his own from the very beginning, who'd doubtless born witness to much worse as a child trying to scrape by in Downtown. Then as a young adult, he'd experienced a different kind of brutality, the kind that didn't result in messy piles of viscera, or even cuts and bruises - the kind that wormed its way inside a person's head and stuck there and twisted all original perceptions of self-worth and integrity and pride. That kind of brutality had led them to the fight they'd had that morning. No, Duo wasn't sick because he'd seen a dead person. Duo was on his knees, not because of the smell, but because he'd put that body on that stretcher.

Heero reached down to lay a hand on Duo's back, but the hustler's shoulders jerked away from him. "Get off," he murmured, voice hollow.

Wufei's mind flashed back to their desperate flight through the city the week before. Dozens of Gael's muscle had come after them that night, with guns and blades. Duo had even been smacked by a car, Gael was so intent on getting a hold of him. Both Wufei and Heero had killed that night, ended the lives of over a dozen men. Duo had fought beside them with equal skill and grace... but he hadn't killed. Wufei remembered running away as their attackers called after them, unable to give chase because of sliced up knees or broken legs or collar bones. Duo had been exceptionally careful. But Wufei guessed that he'd been forced to kill tonight, to save his own life, perhaps to save Quatre's or Trowa's as well.

Heero held the flashlight loosely, the beam aimed at the tile floor. Duo spit a few more times and leaned back on his knees, hands on his thighs. His breathing was a bit off and Wufei felt an urge - most likely quite similar to Heero's - to run his hand along that knobby spine and offer some form of reassurance.

Instead, clumsy words fell from his mouth. "It's okay... the first time I took another person's life I couldn't sleep for-"

"Fuck you. This wasn't my first time." He kept his head down, and remained perfectly still, most likely in an effort to keep his stomach under control. But his words cut the dark air, measured and steady, and not entirely voluntary. "Happened just like last time. Seeing the body... it was a thing, not a person. I saw the life I took, and did the same thing - tossed my lunch all over Heero's pants." Heero didn't react to that, but Duo shifted his weight, sliding carefully backward and drawing his knees up to his chest. He rested his chin on his fist and spoke softly. "I know you're planning on killing Gael. I'm assuming that's why we're not running away right now. And that's fine. If we're going to live; he has to die. I get that. But most of these people... they're just like us, and I can't-" He shook his head sharply and then winced, scrubbing his hand through his bangs. "It's just like that other time, the only other time."

Wufei realized Duo was staring at Heero, and Heero was staring right back. Their eyes and thoughts were locked in memory as again Duo spoke. "Those kids were our age, maybe a little older, all starving, all driven out of their minds by the cold and the pain in their bellies, all twisted and angry at us, the wrong people. But we were the only ones they could beat. We were smaller and younger and healthier, and there were so many of them."

"Wufei knows about them," Heero murmured, eyes still wide and staring as Duo continued like he hadn't heard him speak.

"I remember looking at them blankly... like they weren't real when they filed into our squat in a neat little line, like soldiers, like they'd planned it. They had pieces of metal and wood and glass in their hands. I was sitting there in my sleeping bag, stuck. I just watched when they dragged you out and stood you on your feet and demanded everything we had. Clothes, blankets, sleeping bags, the radio, our pots and cook stove, my paints and pencils, our books, and our shoes... our skateboards. I remember you didn't say anything, just shook your head, no. Like they were going to listen to you. They should have, right?"

Heero's mouth twitched, though he shuddered as Duo described what happened next. "It was so cold and fast and ugly, what you did. It was that sound, hearing their necks break that finally got me out of my stupid sleeping bag. I saw you go down underneath them. I saw them hitting you and suddenly everything was very clear. I could see their clumsy frozen fingers coming at me and I could dodge them, and I didn't slip even though I didn't have any shoes on, just my wool socks that I'd stolen from one of those expensive outdoor stores. I climbed over them to get to you, and that wire that you always said was stupid, that I always carried around in my hair, thinking I'd have the guts to use it some day - I pulled it out of my hair as I shoved them off you. You were on the floor, bleeding all over the place with pieces of glass stuck in your arms and your back. I remember thinking that this was probably what insanity felt like when I stood over you and grabbed this kid by his shirt and spun him around so I could get my wire around his neck. I was looking him right in the eye. He didn't even know what was happening, didn't know what he had around his neck - that wire's so thin. I pulled hard and his eyes got really big and I pulled again, and there wasn't a lot of blood or anything, just choking and clawing and panic and then he was dead. I pulled the wire free and watched him drop and then puked my guts out all over you as they dragged me away. When I saw you watching them break both my arms, I thought for sure that this was one of those insane moments that you forget right after it's over, because it's just that fucked up. I thought, well, at least I won't remember what I just did and what they're doing to us. But I did remember. Every second of it, exactly what it felt like to kill that kid. There was no 'zone' or 'battle lust' or whatever. I did it all with a very clear head, just like I gutted that guy today. I shot a kid too. He was probably another one of those bodies under the sheet." He took a deep shuddering breath. "So, Heero, we can kill Gael. I could even do it, but I can't-"

Heero lunged forward, shoving Duo backwards and almost upsetting his balance. But Duo caught himself and Heero held him up in a frightening embrace. He clung to his partner and they didn't say anything. Wufei, finally feeling like he could move again, breathed out and ran a hand through his hair, tugging on the short ends so they stood up. So, that was exactly how it'd happened. He'd wondered after hearing the abbreviated version from Heero.

He watched them for another few seconds, listening to their breathing, thinking about how truly amazing it would be to lead a normal quiet life with the two of them beside him, not terrified, not injured, not stuck in memories of brutal fights that had scarred them irreparably. He hadn't really thought about the prospect of this future too much up until then for several reasons. First, he'd only been 'with' the two of them in a more serious manner for a few days. And those few days had been pretty intense. Before that, he'd not considered his relationship with Duo to be feasible in the long term. There had been Heero to consider, as well as the fact that they were all hustlers by trade and, therefore, not really able to maintain serious, exclusive relationships. And finally, in his nineteen years of living, and especially in the last two years, the idea of any 'happy,' 'normal' future seemed absurd. No matter what he did to try to get himself turned around, his soul had always pushed against what everyone around him did. Despite every effort, he couldn't be like other people. And he couldn't really be like the two young men in front of him, kneeling together on the floor, but he could be with them. He could go with them. He watched them for those few seconds and decided that he would make sure that they got their chance at 'happy' and 'normal.' And if he fit into that picture, all the better.

+

"Stop!"

Wufei had never heard Heero's voice raised to such a volume.

"Don't run away from me! If you don't stop running, I swear to god this knife is going between your shoulder blades."

Wufei and Duo ran to catch up with him, following the jagged beam of the flashlight as he raced down the hall. They nearly piled into him as he stopped suddenly, shining the light on a figure clad in bright white. The figure was slowly turning, one hand in the air, the other clutching her side. Wufei saw that the white fabric was stained dark red. Pale skin and bright hair shown briefly as Heero searched her features with the light, his blade in hand.

Wufei had not been anticipating this fight. But judging by Heero's posture and tone, they weren't going anywhere until he'd sorted things out with her. And Wufei guessed this wouldn't be accomplished over coffee.

"Wouldn't be very honorable of you to kill a girl when she's running away, would it Heero?" Cecile said softly.

"Why do you think I asked you to turn around? I'm not like you. I don't hurt people when they're helpless."

Cecile limped forward. "You've never been helpless," she murmured. "Even when I had you on the ground, with you skin in my hands, when I sliced you up like paper, you still had power."

Heero took a few more steps forward, blade held in a steady grip, ready to tear downward. They now stood only a few paces apart.

She ran a hand through her hair and brought a slim long knife from somewhere along her spine when her hand came back into view. Judging by the growl rumbling in Heero's chest, he was very familiar with that blade. "Our master wanted you so badly, Heero," she continued. "Especially when I had you like that. It was when I hurt you that you had the most power over him. I hated you for it, but loved that I could make him feel that way just by drawing your blood."

"My emotions were not nearly so complicated," Heero muttered. "I've always hated you both."

She glanced down at her side, removing her palm to check the wound. Apparently satisfied, she looked back up and sighed. "I know that, love. I tried to tell him, too. But he didn't listen to me." She looked over her shoulder into the dark. "Have you seen him recently?" she asked, sounding a little put out.

"Not since he tried blowing my head off," Duo piped up, voice spitting venom.

"Ah, yes, Mr. Barton paid dearly for putting off the inevitable there."

"He came so close to strangling the life out of old Bossman, I could almost taste it. Gael was no match for him. It took some coward with a gun to bring Trowa down and if that hadn't happened we'd-"

She lunged forward, darting to the side, trying to get past Heero to come at Duo. "He would be so happy with me if I gutted you right now," she snarled, fine features suddenly twisted with loathing. "You're nothing to him, nothi-" She grunted as she hit the wall, Heero's full body weight behind the elbow and hip that threw her off course.

"Fight me. Stay the hell away from him," He growled.

She pushed herself to her feet and leaned against the wall. "Is this a fair fight, Heero? I'm not exactly in top form."

He didn't say anything, but raised his blade and stepped into the downward stroke. She dodged to the side but found his fist and the flashlight buried under her ribs.

Wufei heard the air leave her lungs and beside him, Duo winced. Heero struck her again, a blow to the jaw that sent her sprawling. She coughed, trying and failing to breath. Heero approached her as she got to her hands and knees. He raised his blade again and brought it down, aiming for the back of her neck. But she spun, catching the blow on her own blade. Wufei could see her throat working to make some noise, this effort distracting Heero enough that he couldn't step out of the way quick enough as she kicked sharply at his shins. He stumbled back and Wufei automatically surged forward to steady him, but Duo grabbed his arm, jerking him to a halt.

"Heero can handle this," he murmured.

And Duo was right. Heero regained his balance and went at her again. Wufei's eyes widened as her body bent and twisted, one hand planted on the floor, feet kicking back over her head, landing a safe distance from her attacker. Heero forced her back again, taking several swipes at her throat and middle. She spun away from him, knife arcing through the air as she went, catching Heero's arm, slicing through fabric and skin. He hissed in pain and then ducked as her heel flew past his chin. He went the rest of the way down and, one hand on the carpet, hit her ankle with his heel. She shouted, landing hard and finally sucking in a gasping breath, blade raised in defense as Heero swung downward. The serrated edge grated along the knife's narrow length. He pressed down harder and twisted, jerking her hand to the side. He kicked the wound in her side and she started screaming at him, cursing both in French and in English.

Wufei watched their battle, measuring each strike for skill and precision. Heero clearly had the upper hand, but that was only because Cecile didn't have her full range of movement. Her side and her leg were steadily bleeding. He tracked the progress of the wounds as the stains on her clothes grew larger. She had more training than Heero and she was considerably more graceful, but Heero was ruthless, and he wasn't giving any ground.

Beside him, Duo's brow had drawn together in a worried frown. He was squeezing his injured shoulder in a white-knuckled fist.

She managed to twist away from him again, sinuously regaining her feet, steel striking steel as he pushed her back. He landed another punch in her wounded side and she lashed out with a violent cry, kicking the flashlight he held in his fist, across the hall. Wufei suddenly could not make out the details of their battle and he stepped forward, Duo right with him.

"He's gonna kill her, Wu."

"Yes."

"He shouldn't... "

They heard a strangled cry and a thump. One silhouette disappeared. Wufei could make out Heero's wild hair in the darkness, so he knew Cecile was the one on the ground. They both saw the knife go up and then begin its arc downward. Wufei sucked in a breath. Duo made a noise of indecision and then shouted.

"No, Heero, don't kill her!"

Heero's silhouette hesitated, frozen. They heard a strange noise, slippery and quick. Heero's body jerked once and then his blade slashed downward. Cecile's voice was strangled and messy, gurgling out a few final unintelligible syllables before everything went quiet except for Duo's ragged breathing.

For several moments no one moved. Finally, Wufei forced himself forward, grabbing up the flashlight in slightly trembling fingers. That noise... He had to see what that sound had been. He turned the beam on his partner and felt his heart collapse in on itself. Heero stood very still, one fist gripping his serrated blade, the other tentatively touching the razor-sharp edge of Cecile's long knife where it stuck straight out of his abdomen. But his eyes weren't on the wound. They were locked with Duo's.

"It's okay, Duo," he murmured. "It's not bad."

+

"You should stay with him, Duo. I'll find Gael. I'm the only one who's in any shape to fight." Duo was shaking his head, but Wufei insisted. "I'll take care of it, and then I'll find you."

"No, absolutely not. We're not splitting up," he gritted. He pressed a wad of bandages to Heero's belly with his uninjured arm. Heero'd had the presence of mind to bring a first aid kit in the event that they'd found Duo in need of it. The roles of bandages were coming in handy now. Heero tried to help, propped up in a sitting position, hand lightly resting on top of Duo's. Duo could barely look at him. "We can't afford to split up," he said again. "We lost Trowa and Quatre. We have no idea where they are, and I can't do that with you. I won't. I fucked it up enough already."

"Duo, if Gael finds us like this, he'll go right for the both of you, and I might not be able to defend you. It'd be better if I took the fight to him."

"No way, Chang."

"I agree with Duo," Heero murmured, keeping his voice low. "You can't go off in the dark alone."

"But you're barely mobile!"

"I already said it wasn't bad."

"You have a hole punched in you!"

"It's not very big."

"How big would it have to be for you to sit still and let your partner handle things?"

"Half dollar size at least."

Wufei snorted and then sobered when he saw Duo's expression. His rueful grin faded and he was reaching for Duo before his brain fully registered the utterly stricken look in dry violet eyes.

"It shouldn't even be possible that this kind of thing is happening to us again. And it's my fault. It's all my fault. Neither of you should be here. I shouldn't have been caught. We weren't supposed to rush this plan. We had it all figured out and we're right back where we were six years ago."

"Duo," Heero started.

"I want to forget all this. I want it to be over, so I can forget it ever happened. I want this to be just another scar, one more that doesn't hurt at all, one that I don't know where it came from, because I won't remember this."

Wufei hesitated to actually touch his lover and, in the end, decided not to. He probably would not have reacted well anyway. Gone were all of Duo's considerable talents at smoothing over the trouble, at negotiating, at smiling and putting on a good face, at giving his clients exactly what they wanted. Duo was stripped raw and nothing Wufei did was going to help that situation - nothing short of finishing what they came here to do and then getting Heero to a doctor so that Duo could finally believe them when they claimed that the wound was not life-threatening.

"We need to get moving if we're all going together. No sense waiting for him to find us first." He got to his feet. "Maybe we can find an officer or two along the way who'll get Heero down to an ambulance."

"Oh, let's just keep this in the family. Let's keep it between the four of us."

Wufei turned to see his employer standing behind him, holding Cecile's bloody knife. The man looked perfectly calm, though his shirt was undone at the collar and his sleeves were rolled up. He looked as handsome and as dangerous as ever.

If Wufei was honest with himself - and moments like this required brutal honestly - his first thought was one of utter relief. At last he could do what they came to do. Finally, he could prove himself worthy of the two young men behind him. They were depending on him and finally he could show them his way without fear or guilt or uncertainty. He looked Gael up and down and gave him a satisfied smirk, taking in the natural way the man held the knife.

"Is that your weapon of choice?"

Gael glanced down at the blade in his hand. "For the moment."

Wufei stepped forward and drew his sword. "Good."

+

Just as Cecile had done, Gael rushed his opponent, trying to outflank him and reach the two young men he protected. Their blades clashed and slid together as Wufei kept pace with him. Then he planted his feet and shoved back, sending Gael staggering back a pace.

"Fight me," Wufei said simply.

"Ah, but I told your friends that Duo was dead. I was hoping my employees had succeeded in their orders. Alas, I have to fulfill my own request."

"Don't go near them."

"Or, what, exactly? You'll murder me in cold blood?"

"What do you think?"

When Gael next spoke, Wufei could tell that he was smiling, though in the darkness he couldn't quite make out his features. "I don't actually want to fight you, Wufei, and I certainly don't want to kill you."

"Then wh-what do you want?" He stuttered and glanced around in surprise as dim red lights clicked on in the corners of the hall.

Gael was really smiling at him now. "My idiot electrician finally got the generator going. I was was quite tired of wandering around in the dark."

"What do you want?" Wufei asked again.

"What I've always wanted from you - service, loyalty, skill... happiness even."

"He wants you and Heero as his personal bodyguards. He wants to own you even more than he does now." Duo spat this out with weary anger. Wufei got the distinct impression his lover had already heard Gael's proposal.

Their employer turned an irritated stare on Duo. "I told Quatre you'd been shot in the back of the head. I plan on doing that myself in a moment."

"That's an excellent way to persuade us to work for you," Wufei sneered.

"As a matter of fact, it is," he said thoughtfully. "Especially knowing what I know about him... and about you, Wufei; about what the two of you did, together."

Wufei's eyes narrowed in suspicion. This conversation was getting them nowhere. He knew how this fight would end and he knew he could win if he could just focus. His sword came up and he darted forward. Their blades met and Gael stepped nimbly back, avoiding a full-on confrontation.

"I know that Duo betrayed Heero, with you. I learned this very interesting piece of information from Mr. Barton, who's been filling me in since the beginning of your sordid relationship." Wufei growled and felt his face grow hot. He didn't dare look over his shoulder at his partners. He had to keep a level head. Gael was only saying things like that to throw him off. His blade darted forward again, and again met steel and was shoved to the side.

"It's true that I want you to serve me - the two of you and perhaps the Winner brat if he can sort out his liver problems and keep his head down. Mr. Barton outlived his usefulness and showed me that his strength of character, his loyalty, was severely lacking. And you, Duo, you've never been anything but the least interesting of the five. A talented and skillful worker to be sure, a moneymaker, but nothing more than a compromised and filthy who-"

Wufei cut off the man's poisonous words with a swift attack, his body and his blade moving as one lethal unit. He kept his lips tightly shut, not wanting to distract himself with a sharp retort defending Duo's honor. What this man thought of them had never really mattered anyway.

"But I can save you, Chang," Gael managed to gasp as he parried each of Wufei's skillful strikes. "Help you tread the righteous path your clan originally meant for you."

"Go to hell," he gritted, spinning and landing a sharp kick to Gael's middle, the side of his foot firmly taking him in the gut. The man staggered back, laughing. He recovered quickly.

"Your clan left you in my care as punishment, but that never really sat right with me. The life I gave you should never have been punitive. You've become stronger than you ever would have been, married off and impregnating your cute little wife. The life I am offering you and Heero now is the warrior's path. And I know you can see that."

As a button-pusher, Gael was indeed skilled. Wufei didn't want to hear about his clan, he didn't want Gael referring to Meiran as his "cute little wife," and he didn't want to think about what a warrior's path would look like as Gael's sword. Nothing he was offering were viable options for him. Wufei could not - was far beyond the point of being able to - walk the path Gael had laid out for him the last two years. He doubted very much that any new path would have been acceptable. But Gael wasn't done yet.

"What you and Duo did to Heero was wrong. You know that. I could help you. I could help you purge the weakness Duo polluted you with. I could make you strong again."

Gael was not convincing him of anything. He wasn't. He wasn't. He. Wasn't.

Wufei shouted his anger and surged forward. Gael spun away from him and he followed. But Cecile's knife was quick and it bit into his arm, the arm that had been injured in the fight to keep Duo from being abducted by the men who'd hit him with their car. The wound had been wide, and Heero hadn't been able to stitch it up. The gash was just beginning to knit back together, fragile tissue reconnecting under an ugly scab. The blade sliced through his shirt and right along the healing bullet wound. He flinched and dropped his shoulder and Gael followed through in his spin, the handle of Cecile's knife crashing into Wufei's jaw. His head snapped back as he staggered and fell, keeping a hold of his sword even as black blotches flooded his vision and blood filled his mouth. Dimly, vaguely, he heard someone shout his name, but he couldn't be sure who leapt up to take his place in the fight to finish what he started. Probably Duo. He tried to focus and thought he saw a long braid swinging out behind a slim figure, but he couldn't be certain. He had an instant, splitting headache, and his stomach lurched when he tried to sit up. His balance was completely off. He spat out a mouthful of blood and closed his eyes to try and regroup. He didn't open them again.

+

"I know everything they did, Heero, every time they betrayed you. They went off together any time they could; sometimes you were even there in the flat. It happened under your nose. They locked themselves in the bathroom and humped like dogs. Duo had to have known how much it would hurt you if you discovered what they were doing."

Wufei heard these words, but they weren't computing. Why was Gael telling Heero this? What was he hoping to accomplish? He didn't try to open his eyes. Something told him doing so wouldn't help. He couldn't get his head around any of it, and more importantly, as he shoved himself up on his elbows, he realized he could barely sit up. He spit out another mouthful of blood and felt around his mouth, ascertaining that all his teeth were still there. His tongue caught on a chipped molar.

Duo was shouting, flinging himself at Gael. "Shut up! You don't know anything!"

He cracked one eye and found dim silhouettes dancing in front of him. He had to be seeing things. His vision was blurred and painful, but he was sure he saw Duo flipping into one of his stupid cartwheels - one handed this time - pulling out of it half way and striking Gael full in the chest with both feet. How could he... he must be hallucinating. They both crashed to the floor and Duo was on his feet in a second, powerful legs striking their fallen employer again and again."

"They probably fucked in your room while you were out getting groceries." A grunt of pain. "Or worse. While you were working, letting another man have your body for an hour, they were together, in your room."

Wufei squinted and saw Heero crawling towards Duo and Gael, face set and grim.

"For months, Heero, they lied to you."

"Shut up!" Duo shouted again, pressing his foot down on Gael's chest, raising his short sword. Wufei blinked, or at least he thought he blinked, but maybe he blacked out again, because when he next opened his eyes, Gael was standing up and Duo had a hand wrapped around a slice in his leg. Wufei struggled into a sitting position, pulling himself up with the help of his sword. His vision refused to come into focus, and he knew that his brain must have had a pretty nasty run-in with his skull if he still couldn't see straight. A few paces away, Heero was engaged in a similar struggle, though he'd retreated to the wall and was now using it to lever himself to his feet. Wufei must have blacked out if Heero had given up trying to get to Duo on hands and knees, and had crawled back to the wall to hoist himself up that way. He couldn't have done that in one blink.

Wufei realized that neither of them would be much use to Duo at this rate. His gaze swung sluggishly back to the fight in the dimly lit hall. He smiled grimly. Duo was winning.

Even with one arm tucked uselessly in a sling, he was beating Gael. Their employer fell back under the onslaught of quick slashes and probing strikes. Wufei admired Duo's seemingly chaotic fighting style, as his lover very systematically drove Gael closer and closer to the wall. As Wufei finally managed to get himself to his feet, leaning heavily on his sword, he watched, holding his breath as, again, Duo's long legs kicked out, knocking the blade from Gael's hand. Duo's mouth twisted in a feral grin as he twisted gracefully, coiling his body for one last vicious strike that would free them all. He drove the blade upward and in, feet firmly planted.

The events transpiring in front of Wufei were shuddering forward at an odd pace, rimmed in black, as though shuffling through a viewfinder that he held in front of his eyes. Again, he swore that he only blinked once, but suddenly Duo cried out, harsh and surprised. Gael had him by the braid and had somehow managed to get his injured arm tangled up in the thick rope of hair. Duo dropped to his knees, helpless, as Gael jerked on the braid, twisting the arm upward at a frightening angle. Wufei took a hesitant step forward as Duo's forehead touched the carpet, chin resting on his knees, mouth open, breathing ragged, arm held up, twisted in his own hair. Wufei's eyes drifted slowly up to see a gun aimed at the base of Duo's braid.

Where had that come from... Oh. His brain stumbled backward.

..."Is that your weapon of choice?"

..."For the moment."

Gael was watching Wufei draw nearer. "I am not a person you can beat. Three of you could not take me down. Duo certainly can not." He jerked on Duo's arm, and the tension holding the young man's body rigid suddenly loosened. He'd passed out. "The two of you are injured, but you will recover. This is your last chance. Let me help you, shelter you, and provide for you. Serve me and you will never have to service another john, never have to fight for another meal, never have to freeze through another winter. The three of us can rebuild after this disaster. With the both of you at my side, we will own this city."

His jaw hurt far too much to try and formulate a response, but Heero was not speechless. He shuffled forward, serrated blade held loosely in his right hand, his left clutching his middle.

"Drop the knife, Heero," Gael warned, resting the gun on the back of Duo's head. Instantly, Heero dropped the knife.

"Yes," he said softly. "Just let him go. Don't hurt him anymore. We'll come with you."

If he could have moved it, Wufei's jaw would have fallen open.

"If you hurt him more than you just have, we will never follow you. If you kill him, we will find you in your sleep and rip your throat open. But if you let him go right now, we'll go with you. We'll serve you."

Wufei watched Gael watching Heero, his dark eyes roaming up and down Heero's lean form. "And all I needed to do was put a gun to Duo's head?"

"His life for ours. I swear it."

Wufei wondered whether what he was hearing could be accurate. Perhaps his ears were messed up too.

"And you, Heero. What will you do for me? You killed my Cecile, and she did many things for me."

Heero swallowed several times. Though Wufei couldn't see much of anything right the moment, he could see Duo's death in Heero's eyes. He could see that his partner had already weighed his own life against their lover's. It hadn't taken him long to figure it out.

"I will serve you in whatever way you require, if you let him go free. Wufei will, as well."

"But-" Wufei's tongue was sluggish.

Heero turned to him. "He's going to kill him, Chang."

Wufei took another step forward, apologizing to his sword and his ancestors for using his weapon as a walking stick. Gael's finger tightened on the trigger.

"Chang!"

"... I can't..." He didn't know how to finish his sentence. He couldn't keep doing this. "This" was over. He stared at Heero, or at least the blur that he knew was Heero, and tried to convey the futility of the bargain he was seeking to strike. But he didn't know exactly how to tell Heero that he had reached the very end of what he could do. He could not serve Gael any more, even if it meant that Duo... even if Heero... "He's going to kill him anyway," he finally managed to whisper. "I'm sorry He-"

He caught a blur of movement to his left and carefully turning his head, he saw a flash of bright color, turned red in the dim light of the backup bulbs. Gael caught it too and swung the gun around, dragging Duo with him. Their lover was still unconscious, though his features were pinched and pale. The gun fired twice, hurting Wufei's ears. He heard it before he saw it, and his sword left his fingers before he had time to think, before he'd really had enough time to center his scattered balance over his own feet. But his blade traveled straight and true. In nearly the same second, Heero scooped up his knife and surged forward. Even as Gael fell, pierced through by two of Quatre's knives and Wufei's sword, Heero brought his weapon down with terrible force, slicing the hand that still gripped Duo's braid clean through at the wrist. Their employer was dead before he hit the ground.

Wufei stared and breathed. And didn't believe that what had just happened was the truth. He blinked and found himself on his knees. He sought the body in the middle of the hall and found that it was still there.

A few paces away, Heero was dragging Duo away from Gael, tugging on his uninjured arm and breathing heavily. Wufei heard him collapse. Finally, he dragged his eyes away from the grisly sight - beginning to believe that his blurred vision was not in fact tricking him - to see Quatre swaying slightly on his feet, right arm hanging limply at his side, left poised over another dagger. Blood dripped from his fingers onto the floor, and it was smeared across both his cheeks like warpaint. Wufei raised an eyebrow but thought better of any snide comment about the boy's appearance. His face hurt too much. Without his sword for balance, even on his knees, a wave of dizziness swept through him, and he dropped willingly to the floor before it could come up and smack him in his already bruised chin. Heero rolled onto his side and let out a pained breath.

"Fuck, that hurt."

"Bit of overkill, slicing off his hand," Quatre murmured by way of greeting, wandering over to them.

Wufei thought it an odd thing to say. But then, speech was beyond him at the moment.

Heero shrugged and protectively draped an arm across Duo's middle. "I didn't know if he'd be able to..."

"Bight like the wolf whose head was cut off?" A small smile played at the scarred corner of Quatre's mouth, lessening the severity of his features.

Heero hesitated. "...Yeah."

"Fair enough."

Wufei's ears perked up when he heard Duo groan and then curse skillfully in Spanish, French, and Chinese. He recognized the few expletives he'd taught his lover, back when they'd still been locking themselves in the bathroom and hiding in the empty stacks at the library in an effort to find time to be alone. That time was distant and shrouded in fog. Had it even happened? He looked now at his two lovers and he felt that the bond between them had surely been forged in one of the great furnaces that had given birth to the rest of the world.

But, no, the fog probably only existed in his brain. The memories he had of Duo and his secretive relationship were real, if not as immediate as what he now faced with both young men. At these memories, he turned guiltily to Heero. Wufei had no idea how Gael knew that he and Duo had been together all those months, avoiding Heero, excluding him so they could be with each other. They'd been selfish and foolish and cruel, but they'd also been desperate. And then they'd been happy. And while Wufei regretted letting it go on so long before finally cluing Heero in - or rather, letting the whole thing slip to him - he didn't want to take back a single day that he'd spent with Duo. But he still felt some form of apology was in order. He crawled closer to the them just as Heero helped Duo into a sitting position, gently putting his abused arm back in the sling.

Duo looked up at him as he approached and his pained expression instantly softened. "Hey, Wu." Then he spotted Quatre and his eyes widened as the boy dropped down onto the carpet with the rest of them, sitting cross-legged and holding his arm.

"Q! Where'd you come from?" His eyes dropped to the blood oozing between pale fingers. "And what the hell happened to your arm?"

Quatre gestured vaguely behind him. "I came from... that way. And I got shot at some point before that, though I can't exactly remember..."

"Where's Trowa? Is he okay?"

At the mention of that name, Quatre seemed to come out of his daze. He glanced over his shoulder, as though to make sure that Gael was well and truly dead, and then turned back. "I don't- actually know. He should be at the hospital now. I watched them take him away. He asked me to stay to finish all this, and..." He looked up at Duo, hesitating slightly. "And Gael said you'd been killed, shot in the back of the head. But, clearly you're not. Dead, that is."

Duo shrugged one shoulder. "Wishful thinking on his part."

"Trowa told me to tell you something before he left, and I can't remember all of it, but mainly he said he was sorry. He never told Gael about our plan for escape. He said that secret was safe, but he did tell Gael everything about you and Wu-" He stopped abruptly and looked at the floor.

If Wufei's face hadn't already been red and swollen, he would have been blushing fiercely.

"It's okay," Heero said, not looking at any of them. "You're not giving anything away."

"Well, he said he was sorry about that," Quatre finished, looking rather uncomfortable.

Wufei gave his jaw an experimental nudge with his thumb and forefinger and found that he could move it a bit without excruciating pain.

"I'm sorry, too, Heero," he said, not much above a whisper.

His partner eyed him a bit warily and his heart sank. He didn't know what that look meant; whether Gael rubbing his and Duo's clandestine relationship in Heero's face had ruined whatever chance the three of them had together, or whether he was just tired and hurt and not looking at anyone with a kind eye right then. Just because their bonds had been forged in some ancient furnace didn't mean that Heero couldn't hate his guts.

"Tell me that again when I won't feel guilty for punching you in the chin." Heero said it gruffly but without anger, and Wufei relaxed slightly. A physical fight he could handle... later. Much later. But there was one question still bothering him, and he needed to ask it regardless of the repercussions for his jaw.

"...Did you see Quatre coming when you offered our lives for Duo's? I mean, were you just buying him some time to get within range? Or... were you serious about what you said?"

Duo glanced between them, eyes wide. "Heero, you did what?"

Quatre looked on with great interest.

"Which answer would you prefer?" Heero asked with at tired smile.

"Which one do you think I'd prefer, Yuy?" Wufei gritted.

They all turned at the sound of several people approaching. None of the four of them considered getting up to run. They wouldn't have gotten far. As the first officers entered the room, Heero glanced at Wufei, looking relieved that he didn't have to answer. "Oh, look. It's the police."

 [part 31] [part 33] [back to Singles a-k]