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

Through the Furnace, Unshrinking + Part 30
Jeopardy II

30a. Trowa

I'm alone for now but I'm waitin' on friends
And my civic duty
I got propriety and a place for this all
Sure I'm low on Plaster 'O Paris
Sure I'm low on gasoline

- "Salton City" Hot Snakes

"Trowa, wait. This is- Have you thought about what you're doing?"

"Yes."

They rounded a corner. The woman who'd come to fetch him was bustling ahead of them, posture straight and radiating tension. They were headed toward the recreation floors. They were headed for Duo, and everything he'd hoped to avoid. He'd hoped to be running away from this place as fast as he could go, even if he was on foot, not headed for a room where his captured flat mate lay injured, waiting to be executed.

"How do you know for sure that-"

"Quatre, you can't come with me." He said this loudly. The woman ahead of them glanced back at them. "Gael requested my presence, not yours."

"But-"

He turned quickly and his lover nearly plowed right into him. Trowa closed the space between them anyway, shuffling him into a doorway and placing both hands on the wall over his head. Quatre visibly swallowed, looking up at him with wide eyes. The Frenchman leaned back to see the woman staring at them. "Would you give us a moment? He gets a little nervous sometimes."

Her eyes narrowed. "We really need to hurry..."

He paid her no mind, leaned back in and pressed Quatre against the door, kissing him aggressively. His lover knew exactly what he was doing and remained stiff and somewhat hostile until they both knew that the woman had moved off a few paces, giving them some privacy.

"How do you know what Gael plans to do with Duo?" Quatre murmured against Trowa's lips.

"I know because I've been doing something for him for awhile now, and if he wants me there, he'll want to gloat. He'll use me, what I did for him, to hurt Duo. And if he does that... I don't think he has any intention of letting Duo leave here alive."

"What did you do?" Quatre whispered.

Trowa gently rubbed his nose against Quatre's forehead. "I don't want to tell you." He closed his eyes and wondered yet again at the fact that he could now touch the boy pressed against him any time he chose. For the last 24 hours, they'd barely let go of one another. "Promise me that when I tell you, you will run, Quatre."

"Run where? I won't condemn you, Trowa. What did you do?"

"With Duo. Go with him to find the others. I'll find you."

He was shaking his head, white-gold hair tickling Trowa's nose. "I'm not leaving you here. If we run, you're coming with us."

"Have your knives ready."

They both heard it then, eyes meeting, wide with shock. Duo's voice, crying out, hoarse and loud.

"Jesus…"

"Be ready, Quatre," he whispered, pressing a kiss to the boy's temple before striding quickly a way, trying not to break into a dead run as he followed the woman to where Duo was being held.

+

The amount of blood on the floor and on Duo was troubling, though Trowa guessed that not all of it was his. His braid was snarled and partially undone, matted with gravel and street dirt. His face was haggard and pale, drawn with pain. His shoulder was the biggest shock, the bone jutting outward in a large lump. Clearly dislocated - he would have seen that right away even if his escort hadn't informed him beforehand.

`Stupid Gael, stupid man, asking me to fix his arm, to heal him. Everything about Duo is dangerous. You're arming a weapon you went to great difficulty to dismantle.'

He watched Duo's body arch off the floor with a detached and distant expression held carefully in place. But his hands were gentle pulling his friend up and wrapping the arm in a sling made from his shirt. They were so gentle that he didn't think the young man even noticed the switchblade he slid between forearm and ribs. This was not the smartest thing Trowa could have done. In terms of his own safety, it was really quite stupid. But if Gael was going to use this moment to reveal Trowa's betrayal, Gael would suffer for it. Trowa could at least make sure of that. It was the least he could do for the friends he'd betrayed.

"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."

`Here we go,' he thought. He watched Duo's mouth fall open, eyes narrowed in disbelief and anger.

"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."

The look that Duo was giving him was strange. He looked utterly taken aback and lost. He looked as though his life were suddenly over. And not just his… Trowa realized in that instant what Duo was thinking, and he almost, almost, flinched. `No, Duo, I would never tell Gael about our plan, about the trap we have set for him. Never that. Heero's work is safe. It's only your trust that I've betrayed.' But he didn't have the luxury of expressing that to his friend. He could only watch the young man slump in defeat… and then tense just slightly as he realized what had been secreted inside his sling.

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

Trowa stood beside his employer, hands loose and ready at his sides. He watched Cecile, who was dividing her attention between Duo and Gael. She wasn't watching him. Her eyes had narrowed when Duo's shoulders shifted. Trowa could take Gael, perhaps, but he couldn't take them both unarmed, and Duo was at a distinct disadvantage. He hoped that Quatre was nearby, ready, waiting for his cue. He hoped that both exits to this room were not covered by Gael's bodyguards. Even though they were alone in this delightful room with its instruments of pleasure and pain and torture crowding the walls, he knew that reinforcements were not far off. They never were.

Gael brought the handgun from behind his back and trained it once again on Duo's hunched form, the hustler's head snapping up at the sudden movement. Violet eyes looked pleadingly to him once more, though he couldn't tell whether the emotion there was genuine or whether his fear was feigned. Trowa wondered briefly at his employer's ability to look a man in the eye, talk to him, know him, essentially raise him from adolescence on, and then murder him in cold blood. Trowa had taken many lives in his last career, and he'd not known any of them. He'd barely been able to look them in the eye. Perhaps he was the coward, not Gael. He hoped what was about to happen would atone for his weakness.

Cecile was now glancing between the three of them, looking increasingly uneasy. She looked down at his hands, then at Duo's rigid posture. As Gael's finger tightened on the trigger of the gun, her eyes widened.

Duo shouted as the gun went off, the desperate last shout of a frightened boy. The switchblade was open, glinting in his hand and then buried in Cecile's thigh before either of them seemed to realize that no one had been shot. Trowa held Gael's wrist in one hand - the gun now aimed above everyone's heads - and Gael's throat in the other. His employer stared at him for a moment, his strong, handsome features pinched in a small frown of annoyance. Then Cecile screamed in anger and Duo was on his feet, taking short vicious swipes at her with the blade, his body immediately compensating for the absent counterweight of his other arm. She limped backwards, dodging and bending away from his swift strikes. Trowa tightened his grip on Gael's throat and pinched a nerve in the man's wrist.

"Drop the gun," he murmured.

Gael's dark eyebrows twitched upward as if to say, `You dare ask me?'

Trowa brought his knee up, jamming it firmly into his employer's stomach. The air left Gael's lungs in an audible `whoosh,' and the gun went off again. Then it clattered to the floor as they both sank to the ground. More shots fired and Trowa feared that it was the same gun and that Duo had been hurt. He spun around to see a handful of Gael's bodyguards crowding through the doorway. In their midst, his small size and bright hair drawing the eye, was Quatre, fighting his way out of the pack of men entering the room.

Now. It had to be now.

"Run!" he shouted, clamping his fist even tighter around Gael's throat. He knew dozens of ways to kill a person with his bare hands. He hadn't used any of them in many years, but this one was coming back quickly. Not fast enough though. His fingers sought the points on his neck that would cut off blood supply to the brain. More gunshots, and now cries of pain, though none of them were from voices he knew. Except Cecile; he knew her voice and she didn't sound happy.

He had to make this quick. Their opportunity was passing them by. He released Gael's wrist and reached for the back of the man's head, readying himself for a swift, sharp jerk that would end it very quickly. He was focused and strong. He was brave. He could end this now and they could be free of all the violence and the cruelty this man had put them through. He met Gael's liquid dark eyes and saw quiet confidence there. Gael was not afraid.

Trowa felt the bullets thud into his back and thigh simultaneously. He didn't cry out, but the air left his lungs in a sharp breath. His grip loosened slightly, and his left leg wanted to give out under him, even though he was already kneeling. He had him, one hand at his chin, one at the back of his head; he applied the right amount of pressure, started to twist; he was so close. If he could just do this, his betrayal wouldn't even matter.

Something heavy struck the back of his head - he felt and heard it grating against his hair and skin and bone - and he lost his grip on Gael's chin. Strong hands wrapped around his arms and pulled him back. His head lolled backwards and his vision swam. Who held him? Quatre? Had they run?

"Trowa!"

He barely managed to get a look over his shoulder as he was pulled him away from Gael's prone form. Duo, jaw set firmly, eyes a murderous, bruised purple, slashed and snarled his way free, holding onto Quatre's sleeve with his injured arm. He was dragging him toward the door, trying to run. Trowa's first thought was that he shouldn't be using that arm for anything. His second thought didn't come out very loudly. "Please run, Quatre."

Their eyes locked just as Duo succeeded in getting them through the door, moving the fight outside. Quatre looked panicked, but Trowa couldn't muster the wherewithal to return an emotional response of similar strength. He watched the space where Quatre had been until he had to blink and then he looked around the room. Cecile slumped against the wall, one hand pressed firmly against the knife wound in her thigh. She held her side as well, blood trickling between her fingers. She was scowling fiercely. He rolled onto his back and saw Gael massaging his throat and getting carefully to his feet. Trowa's entire back was warm and sticky. He tried to sit up, but he couldn't seem to get his muscles working in the right order. He could only gasp and fall back. Gael stepped towards him, shaking his head.


30b. Duo

I'm the eyes, I'm the ears,
I'm the hands and the arms
Of the new Civic Guard
And I read up
And I'm set up
And you know that a man is hard to find

-- "Salton City" Hot Snakes

Duo's injured arm throbbed and burned as he stubbornly clung to Quatre's sleeve, dragging the boy toward the door. He held a gun in his other hand, finger on the trigger. He'd managed to stab the gun's owner in the gut, which was how the weapon came to be in his possession now. That man was on the floor, bleeding, curled into a ball, moaning softly. Another bodyguard was kneeling beside him, pressing a hand against the wound. Duo's stomach was churning as he kept one eye on the grisly damage he'd inflicted and focused the rest of his attention on the muscle standing around them. Every one of their weapons was aimed at his head. The gun he'd taken pointed right back at them, specifically at a beefy kid with red cheeks and bright blue eyes. Duo was watching this kid, thinking about what it would mean to pull the trigger. The two bits of drama he was watching put together made him want to throw up. This kind of violence he was not used to - lethal violence, violence involving gun powder and bullets and switchblades ripped through guts. He'd loosen a few teeth and break a bone here or there, but this...

Even though no one had died yet, the air stank of death. It reminded him of the last time - the only time - he'd killed a person: a boy about his age, a boy who'd been hurting Heero, stealing from them. Duo had taken the wire he kept in his braid and put it around that boy's neck so fast that-

"Trowa!"

Duo darted a glance in Trowa's direction and clenched his jaw. The Frenchman clung to Gael's body, fingers clawing at his neck. He was bleeding, his shirt soaked through with it. A second before he'd been throttling their boss, about to break his neck.

"Mother fucking hell," he muttered, once again sizing up the half-dozen men aiming their handguns at his head. "Quatre move!" He gave an enormous tug on Quatre's arm and strangled the curses he wanted to scream out as pain tore through his shoulder. Quatre stumbled into him and they both fell backwards. Their lost balance probably saved their lives as the red-cheeked kid suddenly fired. The gun was deafeningly loud, and the kid looked just as surprised as Duo felt that the gun had gone off. The hustler watched the kid correct his aim and prepare to fire again. But before he could pull the trigger, Duo raised his stolen weapon and fired, dragging Quatre through the doorway before either of them could see the kid falling. They were sprinting away in the next second, and Duo knew full well that the only reason no one was firing at them was because Quatre was blocking a clear shot at him. He couldn't be sure whether Quatre was doing this intentionally or not. His answer came pretty quickly.

"Duo, stop! We can't leave Trowa!" A sharp tug on his sleeve forced a hiss between clenched teeth.

"Shut up and run, Q," he gritted, pulling him around a corner, keeping the gun trained on the men following them until they were out of sight.

"Duo, he's hurt. I have to get back to him. I have to-"

"Q, they want me dead." He looked into Quatre's frantic eyes. "Gael is going to kill me if he can."

Their voices came closer. "They just went left down that hall; they couldn't have gotten far, but watch it, Maxwell's got Benchimol's gun." Duo heard feet thudding closer and felt fear and adrenalin kick through his system with renewed strength.

"We'll come back fro him. Promise. But I'm not dying for him today, buddy." He turned and ran, dragging Quatre with him.

"No, please, Duo! Stop!"

"There they are - they haven't gone anywhere yet."

Duo slammed through a door into an empty stairwell and his heart leapt at the sight of crisscrossing stairways and metal railings. Finally, some form of protection from all the bullets aimed at his head. He released Quatre's arm and grinned back at him, vaulting over the railing and practically flying down the cement stairs. He knew Quatre was behind him, following at a slightly slower pace and he glanced over his shoulder.

"Keep it movin', Q."

"Duo..." His steps slowed even further as the door slammed open again and harsh voices told them to stop running. Those voices assured them of safety they in no way had. Duo could see the lies in their words, and he bet Quatre could too, but that didn't stop him from going with them.

"I can't go with you, Duo."

Duo looked back up the stairwell to see Quatre crouching down, hands on the bars of the railing, face press against them, blue eyes regarding him soberly and with resignation.

"I'm going back with them."

Duo backed away from the railing, out of sight of the men who now surrounded Quatre. Arguing with Quatre was pointless; the kid was not flexible where Trowa was concerned. He began to slowly make his way down the stairs, footfalls silent, eyes searching above him for signs of pursuit.

"Good luck, Duo." Quatre's voice was soft and had it not been for the echoing walls, Duo probably would not have heard him. He kept up his silent retreat until those voices sounded again, like dogs who'd recovered a scent, and he jolted forward. He heard a short struggle above him, followed by, "Please don't hurt him. Why do you have to- why do you need guns? Don't-" The boy's voice abruptly cut off as a few muscle removed him from the stairwell, leaving Duo alone with the remainder.

His legs took him forward and down toward the first floor of the mansion. If he could just get to an exit, he could disappear and get back to the others. Quatre was a lost cause. Quatre and Trowa were both gone, and Duo's heart was divided on this. Apparently, Gael knew everything about their plan thanks to Trowa. Apparently they'd been betrayed by one of their few friends. But, Trowa had just now risked his life to prevent Duo's brains from splattering all over the floor. Trowa had been shot, was even now bleeding out on that same floor. That had to count for something. Regardless, Duo told himself, he had to get away from here, first to save his own hide, and second to warn Heero that the security of their plan was in jeopardy. Who knew what sort of reception they'd receive at the police station when they brought in what Heero had painstakingly gathered? Perhaps a firing squad.

But when he got to Heero and Wufei - what then? Mount a rescue effort for their two friends or hit the ground at a dead run and not look back over their shoulders until there was at least an ocean between them and their former employer? If Trowa really had betrayed them, if Gael really did know what they knew about him, then no amount of running could save them - not in the long run anyway. And coming back for Trowa and Quatre? Fuck that. They could-

He let out a sharp curse as the stairwell plunged into sudden and complete darkness, his feet continuing their descent, though he couldn't see his fingers right in front of his nose. He came to a landing, listening for the pounding feet in pursuit, grinning tightly at their muttered curses. They sounded as surprised as him. They shouted about power outages and blown fuses as he grabbed for the doorknob and found himself slipping halfway across the landing, his sneakers sliding out from under him. Throwing his uninjured arm down, he caught himself, fingers slipping in cold viscous fluid. Cursing quietly, he scrambled back to his feet, threw open the door and staggered through into a dim hallway. Through a window at the end of the corridor, he saw the darkening glow of dusk, and again, his heart sped up. If he could just get outside, he could disappear more thoroughly than a drop of rainwater in sewer drain.

He started forward down the hall. The power was definitely out; not a single light illuminated his path. He brought his hand up and found it coated in something dark and slimy. He sniffed tentatively and recoiled. Blood. Blood that, judging by its temperature and thickness, had been there for at least an hour.

He picked up his pace, fading into the shadows against the wall as the three remaining muscle after him emerged from the stairwell. One of them was on a phone, speaking softly, voice worried and distracted. Duo tried to listen and stay a safe distance away, but straining, he couldn't hear much. He backed around a corner and ducked down. Glancing around, he saw that he was on the dining floor in the corridor running behind the main ballroom. At the other end should be another staircase that went down to the kitchens and the basement, and between here and there was the first floor and the main exit.

Finally, he heard what he was after as he heard the cell phone click shut.

"The cameras are all down. A virus in the main computer. Someone cut the power, too. No intruders have been spotted, but there are three confirmed dead, which would probably explain that puddle we just slid through."

Duo didn't dare get too excited about what those words meant and he didn't get the time as a wandering employee caught his hunched figure in the beam of her flashlight. He turned sharply and held a finger to his lips, giving her a winning smile that was most likely ruined by the blood streaked between his mouth and nose. She knew exactly who he was.

"The boss is looking for you. You need to get back... hey!" He blew past her as the men following him shouted that they'd spotted him. Bolting for the opposite door, Duo's frown of concentration turned into a scowl of confusion as he registered the scream of a dozen sirens approaching the mansion. Cops? What the hell was-

He shouted his surprise and backpedaled away from the door as four officers emerged from the dark stairway, weapons drawn. He stumbled back and glanced quickly over his shoulder to see Gael's muscle hesitating as well. He looked back at the officers and cast a practiced eye over their uniforms, assessing their threat to him. Judging by posture and sheer number of bludgeoning objects strapped to their belts, they didn't look like friends.

Duo'd always had a very healthy suspicion of the law for a number of logical reasons, not the least of which was the known fact that Gael had a sizable fraction of the force under his thumb, making sure that none of his employees came into close contact with the cops he didn't control. And since prostitution wasn't really allowed and neither was stealing or squatting in abandoned buildings, Duo had lived pretty much his entire life on the wrong side of legal. Plus, he was just an ornery kid to begin with who didn't like it when what was "right" was backed up by force. He'd never been particularly convinced by that logic.

But glancing between the officers and the muscle, he figured it was worth a shot. Maybe these cops weren't Gael's.

"Officers! You gotta help me; these guys are after me, and they're waving guns around, and I've already been shot at many times today. I've been assaulted and brought here against my will and these guys are-"

"Shut it, Maxwell. We know what you're about."

"But-" Duo swallowed and once again found himself staring down the barrel of a gun, his fingers flexing over the reassuring grip of the gun hidden in his sling. But the officers were watching his movements.

"Keep you hands where we can see them."

Duo smiled a bit shakily. "Okay, sure. Just... please, you gotta help me out here. I didn't do anything wrong and-"

"For fucks sake, Maxwell, would you shut your filthy lying mouth? I don't give a shit about you or any of your faggot friends." He whirled to see one of Gael's muscle raising his gun. The man was eyeing the police with great unease. "I don't know what the fuzz is doing here, but I know these blokes won't mind me blowing that pretty head of yours off your shoulders."

Duo's smile turned razor sharp as he darted in front of the police officers just as Gael's muscle opened fire. He ducked low and heard bullets strike flesh over his head as two officers grunted and fell. Shouts and curses of anger and surprise echoed around him as he crawled between the officers legs and toward the sheltering darkness down the hall. But then large hands came down on his injured shoulder and he gritted his teeth against the grinding pain in the joint as those hands jerked him back. He collapsed to the floor, body arching away from the fingers digging into his shoulder, his other hand carefully reaching for the switchblade tucked into his sling. He sucked in a breath and turned quickly, blade slicing the officer's wrist. He snarled, teeth bared and took a few more swipes at the officer's retreating figure before struggling to his feet and stumbling away from the officers as they tried to help the two that had been wounded.

He nearly fell through the doors into the main ballroom, eyes searching for anyone likely to pull a gun on him. He held his aching arm and wandered through the empty tables and chairs. They were set for some grand affair, ornate crystal and silver shining dimly in the dark. He held his blade loosely, fatigue beginning to tug at his vision and his muscles. The room appeared to be empty, though his frazzled senses were clanging a distant fuzzy warning. He couldn't bring himself to get worked up about it. He dropped to all fours when he heard two men entered the ball room, shuffling along the floor as they stalked amongst the tables. He kept as much of his weight as he could on his uninjured arm, switching his knife to his other hand, though his fingers could barely grip it.

The men coming after him were not stupid. They were very carefully herding him into a corner, cutting off his exits. He could feel them closing in, even though they remained silent and their footsteps were relatively quiet. Behind him, he heard the unmistakable sound of a slide clicking back into place and then coming forward again. He doubled back, hoping to ghost between them without their knowledge and, if nothing else, take one of them out with the gun he still held against his chest.

He looked up at the one from underneath the table and readied himself for another death on his hands. But there was no way to get around it. Kill the bodyguard or let him live to alert others who would find him and-

A sleek, dark presence behind him suddenly filled his vision as he spun around, finger tightening on the trigger a moment before his uninjured arm was swept out from under him, and he fell onto his side. A gloved hand clamped firmly over his mouth before he could make any noise of surprise and then a familiar weight came down on his injured shoulder, pressing him to the floor. He sucked in a gasp and tasted blood on the glove in his mouth. He rolled onto his stomach, taking some of the pressure off his arm and he instantly felt a strong heartbeat thundering against his back. They lay like that for a few seconds, Duo's eyes darting about the room as sounds of a brutally brief struggle erupted to his left. A gun fired and he flinched. Then the fight moved to his right and he heard the sound of sliced vocal chords rattling with air a moment before everything was silent.

The hand came away from his mouth and the weight rolled off him as Duo struggled to sit up. He turned to see Wufei kneeling beside him, a hand outstretched to help him up. Duo grabbed it and jerked the dragon forward, clamping his good arm around his lover's shoulder.

"Good timing for a rescue," he murmured into Wufei's throat as the dragon reached hesitant arms around him to return the embrace. He remained silent as Heero came to their side, kneeling down and wiping his serrated blade on the table cloth.

Duo felt Heero's palm come to rest on his back, then warm breath on his neck. "We thought you were dead. Are you injured?"

Held tightly against Wufei and with Heero so close behind him, Duo felt his eyelids grow heavy even though they were far from safe, even though he heard enraged voices entering the ballroom.

"My arm got pulled apart," he whispered. "But Trowa put it back together. We need to get out of here. I've got cops and bodyguards after me. And they all want to kill me, I think."

"Okay," he whispered back. "This way."

Then they were moving again - before Duo even really had time to realize that his odds of survival had just increased significantly - slinking through the shadows toward the rear end of the ballroom as two police officers and one of Gael's muscle herded them forward. Beside him, Wufei suddenly pressed a familiar scabbard into his hands. Duo smiled his thanks and took the short sword.

"I didn't know whether I'd be able to give that back to you," Wufei murmured, keeping his eyes on Heero's back as he led them toward the rear exit.

"You should know I don't die easy. Someone like me never dies easy."

That morning's bitter fight replayed itself in fragments and, judging by Wufei's bitter expression, he was hearing his own harsh words again. "That's why we came for you," he said softly. "Whatever we found here, we came to finish it. And if you'd been..." Killed. If you'd been killed. The words hung in the air without needing to be said. "We would not have left until everyone who'd hurt you was dead."

"Then you probably wouldn't have ever left here."

"Probably not."

Heero shot an angry glance over his shoulder and then jerked his head toward the darkened exit. Duo swallowed his sharp retort and instead gave Wufei a tight smile as they heard the men following them encounter the two that Heero had taken down.

"You responsible for the virus, the power outage and the bodies?" he finally whispered as they neared the door.

Heero looked back again and his mouth twitched upward.

"Who else?" Wufei sniffed.


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