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


A/N: Quick Explanation. This chapter breezes past a lot, namely Wufei's talk with the police and Quatre's meeting with his family. I did this mainly because I wanted to convey how isolated the boys' lives have been throughout the course of the story. They've only had each other to rely on for information. Occasionally they venture out to the library to do a little research, but they don't have TV; they don't have their own car; they don't have cell phones and the only internet they have is on Heero's laptop and he doesn't share (or even use it beyond his hacking programs). This is exemplified also in the conversation between Heero and Wufei below. The boys, especially Heero and Duo, live pretty much free of the outside world, existing within their own universe, which mainly consists of one crisis after the next (Yay angst!). Anyway, if details are fuzzy, it's because the reader's world is as limited as theirs. They know what they perceive and feel and don't get much input beyond that. That's why their location (city, state, country, etc) was irrelevant. Their lives didn't need a specific context other than the specific events and people that shaped them. Hopefully that came across.

ps. Listen to happy music during this chapter. (There's sap/fluff here (I think)) Try "Can't Hardly Wait" by the Replacements for instance - it's, like, my favorite song EVER

Through the Furnace, Unshrinking + Part 33
Can't Hardly Wait

33a. Heero

I'll write you a letter tomorrow
Tonight I can't hold a pen
Someone's got a stamp that I can borrow
I promise not to blow the address again

- "Can't Hardly Wait" The Replacements

Heero floated in a pleasant fuzzy haze, not really able to feel anything below his shoulders. His body was heavy, sunk deep into the mattress. He lifted his hand and held it in front of his face, thinking that it didn't look or feel like his own. He reached the hand under his blankets and ran his fingers over the swell of gauze cushioning his abdomen. He pressed gently and felt nothing. He may as well have been touching someone else's body.

The room was mostly silent, the sound of his breathing and the soft whir of the machines monitoring his vital signs making the only sounds. They were a gentle lullaby, those machines -- his breathing too, as though someone else were here, filling his head with white noise. Those sounds were trying to convince him that he could, that he wanted to close his eyes and sleep for a week. He had the vague feeling that he'd already been asleep for a while, that he'd already slept too long. There were things he needed to see to, people he needed to check on.

He blinked sleepily and tried to focus on this itching sense of urgency. He tried to remember exactly how he got to this room and into this bed. Well, that part was a bit fuzzy, but his trip to the hospital and everything prior to it he could recall in chilling and bloody detail. He turned his head and looked out the window. The sun shown in on him him -- the mid-morning sun he realized. Stark, frightening images crowded his mind, chasing away the fog of wherever his mind had been the last several hours.

Gael with a gun pressed underneath Duo's braid, Wufei dazed and swaying on his feet, himself trying to keep his balance as his abdominal muscles screamed at him. All of them bathed in the red glow of generator lights. Heero's desperate bargain, foolish words spoken in an effort to keep Gael from pulling the trigger, Wufei's wide, uncomprehending eyes.

Quatre had materialized like a phantom, a will o' the wisp, only visible by his bright hair. He was just as dangerous as those ghostly lights that led careless travelers to their deaths in treacherous swamps and forests. Heero hadn't been able to see the daggers cutting the air and punching through Gael's chest. He had only seen Wufei hurling his sword at Gael's exposed back and then he'd acted without thinking, doing whatever he could to just get Duo away from the dying man with the gun. He'd felt muscles pulling further apart, felt his insides shifting.

Then it was over and Wufei was apologizing to him again, for something they'd already worked out. The pain of knowing that Wufei and Duo had been together was insignificant compared to what they'd just done, what the four of them had accomplished. Really, he didn't see why Wufei was even concerned, though of course he couldn't let Chang know that. Keeping the dragon on edge was one of Heero's favorite hobbies as of late. Though he'd had to put that on hold when the police arrived and he found that the numbness in his gut was spreading to his legs. He'd been quite surprised when his friends had stood up to go with the officers and he could not.

Everything got a little fuzzy after that. His clear recollection of events dissolved into vague images of figures hovering over him, gently prodding hands, needles sliding into his skin and a mask covering his nose and mouth. He remembered staring at the back of Wufei's head as the dragon walked ahead of Heero's stretcher. And he remembered Duo beside him, holding onto his hand as they traveled down to the ambulance. Duo had sat next to him on the ride to the hospital, keeping him more or less awake with dozens of questions that he in no way remembered. But he remembered that it'd been important for him to stay awake. He remembered Wufei leaning back with his eyes closed, a pack of ice on his jaw. Quatre was there too somewhere, silent, eyes downcast.

Whatever they'd put in his IV had kept him quiet and mostly comfortable until they'd gotten to the hospital and he'd been wheeled away and the others hadn't come with him. He'd gone through so many doors, turned down so many halls, he couldn't keep track of them all, couldn't remember how to get back out, and what if they were actually working for Gael and were taking him somewhere to be executed? He didn't even know who "they" were anymore. What if after all this, all that the five of them had accomplished, Gael could still beat them, even when he was dead? And he couldn't warn the others, didn't even know if they were safe and fuck, he had to get off this gurney -- he was done for if he didn't. And he had to find-

His eyes snapped open and he sucked in a sharp breath. His limbs were tingling faintly and his heart was rushing in his ears. He blinked a few times and every time he opened his eyes he found himself in the same white room, in the same bed, with same amount of sunshine coming in his window. He didn't know when his memories had turned into a nightmare. He wasn't sure he'd even been asleep. He looked over at the bedside clock and saw that only a few minutes had passed. His belly ached slightly, and he could tell that his body had tensed up during the dream. However, he hesitated to press the button for more pain killers. The drugs were probably the reason for his confusion.

He lifted his hand in front of his eyes and again stared at it, trying to figure out just how with it he was at the moment. If only someone else were here. If he could just talk to someone, maybe he could...

He turned his head toward the door and gave a soft huff of surprise. "Oh, look," he murmured dazedly. A cot had been wheeled into the room, and on it he found his two best friends, his partners. He smiled and spent the next several minutes going over the familiar lines of their bodies, making absolutely certain that they were alive and whole and breathing and safe. Duo lay curled on his side, injured arm in a more official looking sling that kept the arm immobilized against his chest. His hair had seen better days, but most of it was still in the braid. His ripped and bloody jogging clothes had been replaced by hospital pants and a clean white t-shirt. Heero thought he looked a little cold curled up like that. But he was also fast asleep and so he hesitated to disturb him by bringing a nurse into to ask for a blanket. Heero had two; maybe he could get one of them over to the cot...

He nixed that idea when he realized he'd have to move and disrupt the Heero-shaped pocket of heavy, soft warmth currently keeping him very comfortable. Maybe Wufei could- He realized the dragon was awake and watching him though half-lidded eyes. He leaned against the wall, sitting on the cot with Duo's head pillowed in his lap, the fingers of one hand idly running through the sleeping man's bangs. They watched each other for awhile, Heero finding that he could think of nothing particularly pressing to say. The sunlit silence of the room was all he thought he'd ever need; that, and the two people on the cot next to him. In fact, he found he couldn't take his eyes away from them. He stared openly at Wufei's gold-tinged skin, especially where the skin turned an angry purple and blue. It was a spectacular bruise, as bruises went -- deep and dark like a thunder cloud. Not much skin had been torn; most of the damage was internal. Heero had seen the amount of blood the dragon had spit out. And he'd seen how Wufei had been unable to focus on him when they spoke after the fight was over. He couldn't see his pupils now, and even if he could, they wouldn't have been much of an indication of his well-being since the irises were essentially the same color.

He couldn't tell how long the two of them looked at each other. It may have only been a few minutes or half an hour. The pain killers had his brain in a bit of a time warp and he didn't want to look away to check the clock. The time really didn't matter anyway.

"Are they keeping you awake because of the concussion?" Heero finally asked. Both of them blinked at the sound of his voice. It was gruff and pitched lower than normal. He tried to clear his throat and wasn't very successful; his abdominal muscles didn't want to cooperate. Wufei was carefully watching this struggle and didn't answer until Heero swallowed and took a few steadying breaths.

"I'm not allowed to sleep for more than an hour at a time. Kind of a pain," he murmured.

"You could use the rest, too. I know I could sleep for days."

Wufei shrugged. "Someone needed to look out for the two of you."

Heero's nightmare instantly rushed back. He tensed, and Wufei immediately noticed the change, fingers freezing in Duo's hair, black eyes darting around the room, looking for the threat.

"Chang, did something happen while I was out? Are we not safe here? What happened.?" He didn't want to try and get his body moving quite yet. He really didn't. But he would if they were in danger.

Wufei relaxed again, shaking his head. "No, we're okay for the moment. The officer who helped us... what's her name..." His eyes narrowed as he concentrated, fighting to come up with the name.

"Elsa Gustaffson," Heero supplied quickly, not liking the look of consternation on his partner's face.

"Right," he said softly. "You'd be impressed just how many uniforms she's got sitting outside this room, making sure the same nurse and doctor come in. She didn't want to take any chances. Apparently the city's night time labor force has rioted with Gael's death. It's a mad grab for the power vacuum he created."

Heero found himself nodding and not really caring in the least. The two most important pieces of his life were already in the room. And the others... Oh.

"What about Quatre and Trowa?"

Wufei rubbed his temples, brow drawing downward in a pained line. Heero frowned; the dragon really needed to rest.

"It's the same for them as for us, though Trowa hasn't woken up yet. And when he does, he won't be going anywhere where for awhile."

"What happened?" Heero asked softly.

"Shot in the back and kicked around a bit. Duo told me it happened after Trowa stopped Gael from executing him. Said he owes Trowa his life." They looked down at their sleeping friend and lapsed into silence. Duo had born the brunt of Gael's cruelty and wrath, and not once, had he given up. He'd been a target but not a victim. Heero had never been so proud of him. And he couldn't wait to tell him that. He couldn't wait to tell him many things, and to keep telling him.

"Quatre's okay, too," Wufei finally murmured. "Though the Winners were waiting for him when we got here. They grabbed him up and took him to some private room, crying and making a fuss and saying they were so glad to see him, so glad that he was safe."

Heero tore his gaze away from Duo's slightly twitching eyelids, and looked up. "That doesn't make much sense. Do they think he doesn't know why he's been living with us for the past year?"

Wufei shrugged. "Beats me, but honestly, I think I'd rather be in Trowa's position -- unconscious and drugged to my eyeballs."

Heero snorted softly. "Agreed."

"The Dragon Clan is a few thousand kilometers away, exactly where they should stay. Ties of kinship are over-rated."

Their eyes met and Heero smirked. "Who needs family."

One painfully obvious statement went unsaid and Heero felt it hanging between them until Wufei dropped his gaze and looked down at Duo again, his cheeks slightly flushed.

"Is he okay?" Heero asked, eager to move past the awkward but appropriate moment when either one of them could have mentioned the sort of tie that bound the three of them together. But as they'd already discovered, neither was any good at communicating that sort of thing verbally anyway. Best to avoid it altogether.

Wufei was nodding. "His arm's not broken or permanently damaged. They x-rayed it just be sure. Mainly muscles and tendon trauma. They gave him plenty of pain killers and something to help him sleep, which is why he's not waking up while we're talking."

"He trusted you to look after him," Heero murmured.

Wufei looked up and Heero could still see some residual haze in the dragon's dark stare. "I tried," he said. "Before... I tried to keep him safe, keep Gael away from him. But I failed. The least I can do is watch him sleep."

Heero rubbed his abdomen through the blanket and bandages. "We all failed. But we all lived."

Wufei gave him a slight nod. "What do you think will happen now? ...To us, I mean." He struggled to string words together, constructing his sentence before he said it. Heero watched his effort silently. "We need to find a lawyer, I think; we need to talk to someone who knows how to deal with... someone who can help us."

The dragon looked awkward, forcing those words out. Heero thought that it wasn't just the concussion causing his partner's hesitation. He knew this assessment was correct because his own body was quietly rebelling against the idea of some third party swooping in to take care of them, using words they didn't recognize or understand, telling them their options, talking to them like they were children. Quate and Wufei might, but Heero and Duo didn't know the first thing about the legal process beyond avoiding it wherever possible. He didn't want someone he didn't know or trust coming through that door and he didn't want either of his partners leaving the room without him on his own two feet beside them. He wanted them to stay together -- the three of them definitely, the five of them hopefully -- never leaving each other, never growing apart, never allowing anyone else in. If they stayed together they could protect each other and they wouldn't even need help from anyone else, even if that person really did have their best interests at heart.

His muscles tensed and ached, and he forced himself to loosen up. For most of his life, he'd only had Duo. Expanding that number by three had been extremely difficult, though necessary and, he thought, for the better. Adding anyone else at this point in the game, after everything that had happened, everything they'd done -- Heero didn't think he could stretch that far. He was probably being pig-headed and selfish, but there it was.

He realized Wufei was still looking at him, expecting some sort of answer.

"Do you think we messed up, getting the police involved?" he asked instead.

Wufei blinked a few times and tilted his head further back to look up at the ceiling. "I didn't want to go to them at first, knowing how many worked for him. And then Duo ran into some of them, of course, but..." He lowered his gaze. "I think we encountered way less resistance because of their presence in Gael's mansion. Officer Guster- Gustaf- whatever it is, told me that they were able to detain a significant number of his employees, but that many got away, escaping when we cut the power. So they definitely made our hunt for Gael easier. We have them to thank, at least partially, for the empty hallways."

Heero nodded. "I'm sure Duo will be glad to know that a fair number of Gael's employees got away. They were not to blame for our situation, and we weren't out to punish them."

"He was glad," Wufei said.

"I don't want any lawyers," Heero said suddenly, jerking their conversation back a few steps. "I want to get out of here as soon as possible." He could see Wufei sifting back over what they'd said before, bullying his brain into remembering, while at the same time watching Heero for some indication of why he'd made such an abrupt comment. Heero tried to convey 'why' through expression alone, a task he knew to be impossible. But it had been Wufei's hesitant and awkward broaching of the lawyer question that had made him think about their future in the first place, so he should have known that his partner would understand.

Wufei took a deep breath. "I need to sleep first," he said with a weary shrug of stiff shoulders. "And you need to heal for longer than one morning. Then we need to make sure Winner can be or wants to be extracted from his family." He gave Heero a familiar smirk. "Then let's see what we can come up with."

Heero felt his insides give a tentative flutter of anticipation. Had he not been so doped up on pain killers, the sensation flickering in his belly would have been a full-blown adrenalin rush. He closed his eyes for a moment and saw his partner's dangerous body twisting and bending in the dark, his sword glinting red, and recalled in vivid detail the times that body had been twisting and bending under him. He hungered for a future when his body was not limited by injury. He hungered for the freedom that he had to believe would come when they left everything and everyone in this city behind. He longed for unknown territory and unknown challenges that he and his partners could meet together.

By the looks of it, so did Wufei.


33b.Quatre

Lights that flash in the evening,
Through a crack in the drapes

- The Replacements

He waved goodbye as his family pulled away in the limousine. He kept his smile firmly in place until they turned the corner and then he sagged down onto the bench outside the hospital's main entrance. He dropped his head into one hand and let out a slow breath. That had gone... pretty well, all things considered. No threats, no screaming, no violence, only a few tears... not bad. And he'd gotten to see his father, though he didn't get in more than a few words. But apparently the old man's wishes still held some sway because his sisters had brought him along to see his youngest child, and despite their efforts to keep him quiet, his father had told him that he loved him very much and that he needed to be written back into the will.

Quatre was glad to hear the first part and shuddered at the second. Right then, sitting with his sisters and father in that cramped conference room, the Winner fortune meant very little compared to the urgent tugging in his belly that told him he needed to get back to Trowa, to be there when he woke up. He'd tried to explain this to his sisters; he'd even tried begging off the discussion they really needed to have with the excuse that his arm was hurting him. Which it was; both when he'd first seen them and now. It throbbed with a dull ache that was dragging down the rest of his body and reminding him that he hadn't slept in about 24 hours.

He straightened when he heard the doors slide open behind him. There was a nurse waiting for him in the front entrance, along with two officers. He wearily looked them over before raising an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"You need to rest, Mr. Winner," the nurse said sharply. "You've lost a fair amount of blood and done substantial damage to your bicep."

"I know," he retorted, sounding for all the world like he was addressing a subordinate. He winced and thought that it hadn't taken long for his sisters' mannerisms -- for his -- to come back to him. "What do they want?" he asked in a similar tone, jerking his chin toward the officers.

The nurse glanced at the men on either side of her. "The city's in a bit of an uproar right now. They're going to look after you." He eyed them suspiciously. "You and Mr. Barton, who's woken up."

Quatre's haggard face split into a wide grin and he fairly bounded back through the automatic doors, pausing only briefly to take the nurses hand and kiss her knuckles. She smiled at him and followed them all inside.

+

Trowa's dazed green eyes glanced from Quatre's mouth to his eyes, to his hair, down to his arm and back to his eyes. Quatre stood in the doorway, hesitant to act on the nearly overwhelming desire to leap onto the bed like he used to when he was a boy, and bury himself under the covers. He used to build forts with pillows and blankets and the backs of chairs, playing inside for hours until a servant had to drag him out to feed him. He had the ridiculous urge to do this now, on Trowa's bed, hiding him away from the world under that mustard colored blanket.

He restrained himself with some difficulty. Then he saw the effort it took Trowa to lift the fingers of his right hand and his feet were carrying him forward even as the nurse warned him to be gentle. 'Of course,' he thought distantly. 'Who does she think this man is?' He wrapped both hands around the fingers that were still reaching for him and pressed his lips to Trowa's in a chaste kiss.

"In my whole life, I have never been so happy to see anyone," he said, voice sharp and childlike to his own ears. He leaned back to see that Trowa was still examining him carefully, if not a little fuzzily.

"What happened to your arm?" he asked, voice a bit hoarse.

Quatre glanced down at his bandaged bicep and shrugged. "It doesn't matter in the least. It's fine." He turned back to Trowa and smiled. "And you're fine." Er, well. "Are you fine? You look wonderful. Do you need more pillows?"

Trowa looked silently up at him, mouth turning up at the corners, and shook his head, no. Then he looked away, gaze drifting around the room, seeking Quatre wasn't sure what exactly. Finally, dazed green eyes rested on him again. "Tell me what happened. Did you find them?"

Quatre smiled reassuringly, glancing over his shoulder to make certain they were alone. When he turned back, he found Trowa entirely focused on him, eager and mostly with it.

"I did find them. You should have seen Duo fight; he was beautiful... and frightening. "

"I knew Gael had lied about that," Trowa said to himself.

It took Quatre a moment to follow, but then he nodded. "Duo was very much alive. They all were."

"I wish I could have seen it. Is Gael-"

Quatre squeezed his hand in a gentle warning and leaned in close. "It's finished. Wufei and I finished it."

Trowa regard him silently for a moment as that knowledge sank in. "How finished is it, really?" he finally asked.

Quatre's emotionally draining meeting with his family came rushing back, and he groaned, leaning his head on Trowa's shoulder. "Not nearly," he murmured with a small sad smile. He straightened and took a deep breath. "The Winners have returned and apparently, they're not opposed to me reclaiming a place in the family. I can have my old room back for the summer and attend university in the fall. I'll inherit a portion of the money too."

Trowa's eyes had gone wide when Quatre had mentioned his family. And because Trowa's reaction time was rather reduced at the moment, Quatre could see the progression of those reactions. Surprise, suspicion, anger, acceptance, resignation, and sadness -- then a forced return to anger on his behalf. Quatre saw it all and felt it squeeze his heart.

"Part of the Winner fortune?" Trowa repeated. "Do they realize the trouble they're in now that you're back and you know what they did? They tried to rob you of your future! They nearly succeeded."

Quatre could see the effort it was costing Trowa to convince him that the Winner's doings mattered in the least bit to the Frenchman. Quatre could see Trowa smothering a gut reaction to the very real possibility that he was about to be left behind. He wanted to reassure his lover, but the words weren't there yet. He had to get the rest of his story out before he could talk about any sort of future.

"I- don't think my sisters know whether I am aware of their involvement in my kidnapping and captivity." He spoke haltingly, not entirely sure he believed it himself. "They were waiting here at the hospital. They cried and hugged me as though they had no idea that they were the ones who'd struck up that deal with Gael last summer."

It didn't look like this was computing for Trowa. "Are you serious? They didn't think you'd know the situation?"

Quatre shrugged. "I guess Gael wasn't supposed to tell." Then he laughed. "And he didn't. He told Heero, and Heero told you and you both told me. But regardless, if I wasn't supposed to know..."

"And it makes perfect sense that your siblings wouldn't want you to..."

"...you'd think he'd have kept that tidbit of information away from my flat mates."

Trowa smiled. "You'd think. But then, Gael was never good with secrets, especially juicy ones like that. He was always a gossip and he never liked the Winners."

"Heero told me once that he could be a cold, scary drug lord one minute and an excited teenager the next."

"He was right." Trowa watched him carefully, waiting. Quatre hesitated. Finally Trowa asked the question hanging in the air between them. "So, did you tell them that you knew what they'd done?"

Quatre looked down at his hands. "No," he whispered. "I couldn't."

Trowa let out a breath and grabbed Quatre's chin, jerking his eyes up. "Why not, Quatre? They took what was yours."

Quatre felt his weariness breaking him down. His voice cracked. "And if I told them I knew, if I took them to court and dragged them through the mud and took back everything they took from me, they would still win, because I'd lose you! You can't stay here Trowa. It's too dangerous. And I would have to stay. I would be fighting for a life here, in this city, a life that is supposedly owed to me. But it's not even my money; I did nothing to earn it. Working as a hustler and then as a bounty hunter... that was the first money I'd ever earned for myself. My older sisters have been working for Dad since before I was born. They have more right to it than I do."

Trowa was looking at him very strangely, raw emotion ravaging his already tired features. "But Quatre, what they did to you-"

"They handed me over to you! What they did brought me to you. I am the most grateful brother and son the Winners have ever had!"

He tried one more time. "But you're sick. You need treatment, no matter what you say. Even though what you have is asymptomatic, you need treatment."

"And they're paying for it. Wherever we go, Trowa, when we get there, they'll pay for the treatment."

"I'm not changing your mind on any of this, am I."

Quatre shook his head, smiling tentatively.

"Well, thank god," Trowa murmured before reaching a shaky hand up to grab the back of Quatre's neck and drag him down into a hard kiss.

Quatre laughed and wriggled away from him, but only so that he could slide under the covers, pulling the mustard yellow blanket over both their heads. It cast Trowa in a strange light, turning his skin dark and his hair darker. "I'd like to go somewhere with lots of water," Quatre said, wrapping one arm very carefully around his lover's bandaged middle.

"I'd like to go some place where I can touch you any time I want."

"I like that even better."


33c. Heero

Hurry up, hurry up, ain't you had enough of this stuff
Ashtray floors, dirty clothes, and filthy jokes

Lights that flash in the evening,
Through a hole in the drapes
I'll be home when I'm sleeping
I can't hardly wait!

I can't wait. Hardly wait.

- The Replacements

He was sweating as Wufei helped him into the spare set of clothes. His fingers trembled just a little as his partner tugged the sleeves of the shirt over his hands, and his legs shook just a little bit more as he gently pulled the loose-fitting sweats up over his hips. Wufei checked the bandage one more time, making sure that the drawstring waistband rested below the knife wound. His hand was warm and dry on Heero's abdomen.

"How do you feel?" he asked softly.

"Good."

"You sure?"

"Yeah."

"Okay. Lean on me." He grunted low in his throat as his weight came to rest across Wufei's shoulders, the dragon anchoring his arm with a hand around his wrist. They made their way to the door slowly and carefully, Heero's sneakered feet treading silently across the tile floor. Wufei grabbed the doorknob, turning at the last second to examine his partner. "Are you afraid?"

Heero breathed in, smelling Wufei's clean hair as well as the tang of tension radiating from him. He brought his nose closer to that scent, almost touching the shadows just below the dragon's ear. "Are you?"

He heard Wufei swallow. "No."

His lips and his words ghosted over Wufei's neck and his lover shivered just slightly. "Neither am I." He laid his hand over the one gripping the knob and turned it for him. "Duo's waiting for us." And he was.

As they emerged from Heero's hospital room, he materialized out of the shadows, falling into step with them as they made slow progress down the hallway. "We're all set," he murmured, slipping Heero's other arm over his shoulders, allowing them to pick up the pace a bit. Heero noticed that Duo's left hand was shoved in his pants pocket, braced well enough. The sling would have made for easy identification, and for what they were about to pull off, that would have been very bad. The braid was also hidden. In the few days since they'd arrived at the hospital, Wufei's bruise had darkened and then begun to fade. It was now a very attractive greenish yellow color. He kept his chin tucked against his shoulder and his favorite cap over his black hair. If any of their nurses showed up right then, they'd surely be recognized and caught, but Trowa and Quatre were hopefully seeing to that risk with the ruckus they were raising on the floor above them.

"The police should be done with their sweep of the hospital parking lots and courtyard by now," Duo whispered as they entered the stairwell. "And Quatre will be demanding that they do a walk-through of the entire facility to make sure that none of the 'suspicious characters' that Trowa 'saw' are threatening any of the patients."

"Won't they head straight to my room?" Heero asked.

This had been his major concern from the beginning, when Duo and Wufei had wheeled him into Trowa's room so they could discuss their escape plan. Quatre had looked down his nose at Heero and said, "The police will go where I tell them to. Have you forgotten who I am?" His mouth was twisted upward in a haughty smirk and Heero had nearly flinched backward.

"Apparently, " he'd murmured before Duo had rested his hand on the back of his neck and reassured him. "The nurses Quatre's gonna call to Trowa's room will have just done rounds and can tell them that you were fine and there was no one around. It should buy us enough time to get out."

"Yes, do try to make it work." Quatre's voice had been cool, but not icy. "We're getting tired of covering for you while you make daring escapes into the night."

"Yeah, well, so we owe you guys two daring escapes now. Big deal." Duo had been smiling and so had Quatre. So had they all.

Heero was not smiling now as he shuffled down the stairs. He took them one at a time and still his stitches pulled. He grimaced and again felt Wufei's palm on his belly. "We should have taken the elevator," the dragon hissed. "He's not well enough for this."

"He's fine," Heero muttered in irritation, never liking it when his two lovers spoke like the invalid couldn't hear them.

"Just a few more, Ro," Duo whispered. Overhead they heard Quatre's voice, pitched to sound like a spoiled child. Heero guessed it wasn't too difficult an act to pull off. He glanced upward and Duo caught his eye.

"We'll see them again," Duo assured him. "Once Trowa's up and around and Quatre's got things sorted out with his family, they'll find us."

"Maybe we should stay," Heero murmured, distracted by the shouting above them. "There's a lot of legal stuff to deal with over what happened at the mansion. Quatre shouldn't have to face it alone."

"Trowa will be there with him... and he didn't kill anybody," Duo reminded him. "The three of us put together..." He trailed off.

"If we stayed to deal with it, we'd never be able to leave," Wufei said softly.

"Not after what we did," Duo finished.

"What we had to do," Wufei shot back.

"...Right."

Heero glanced between them and then sagged a bit in relief when they came to the ground floor. Wufei shoved the door open and Duo propped it open with his foot as Heero carefully stepped outside. He looked up at the night sky, unable to to make out many stars in the glare of the parking lot lights.

"The car's over there," Duo said. "I got all our shit from the locker before I brought it here. We can go straight to the station."

"Good," Wufei nodded, gently tugging Heero forward. "Come on."

It appeared that his partners had everything worked out. As they approached the small Volkswagen, Duo ducked out from underneath his arm and unlocked the door to the back seat. Heero leaned heavily against Wufei's side as their friend disappeared inside for a moment, reappearing with a blanket in his arms.

"Get in from this side, okay? I put some pillows against the other door so you'll have something to lean on."

He grunted a reply and sank gratefully onto the worn, slightly lumpy seat. "Do I want to know where you got this car?" he asked tiredly.

"No, you do not," Wufei said briskly, preempting any remark Duo was about to make. Their partner flicked them both off before handing the blanket off to Wufei and vaulting over the hood of the car to slide into the driver's seat.

As Heero laid down in the back seat and took the blanket from Wufei, he cast a worried glance toward Duo when he turned the ignition and the car coughed to life. "Duo... do you even know how to drive stick?"

"Do
I!" he said enthusiastically.

"I'd really like to live through this if at all possible," Wufei deadpanned as he slid into the front seat, and very carefully buckled his seatbelt.

"Oh, psh. You both worry too much," Duo said with a grin, throwing one arm behind Wufei's head rest to look over his shoulder as he reversed out of the parking space. Apparently his arm was feeling better. Heero braced himself against his seat and the back of Duo's and let a smile slide across his face as Duo put the car into gear and drove very responsibly out of the empty lot.

[part 32] [epilogue 1] [back to Singles a-k]