by Sunhawk

Dark Silences (cont)

"Yes!" he hissed in victory and took the cuff to jam the mechanism the way he had with the first one, so the lock wouldn't reengage.

I swiftly stripped myself of the other one and he looked up at me wide eyed. "What... what the hell are you doing?" he blurted.

"Taking a very small chance," I told him gruffly. "I'm not watching you drag yourself across the damn floor again."

He reached for my hand, and tried to sit up, thinking I meant to help him to his feet. "Idiot," I murmured and shifted around to slip my arms under him, carefully lifting him. He gasped and I hesitated, "Am I hurting you?" But he only shook his head.

I took him swiftly across the cell and settled him beside Winner, showing him how to sit so that Duo could use his leg to support his head. Once I verified that he had his lock pick safely in his hand, I started to go back to my own side of the room, but Duo stopped me with a look.

"Listen to me, both of you," he said intently. "No matter what happens... we can not make our move until all three of us are completely free." He tried to temper the lecture with a small grin. "We'd just be throwing all my hard work away." He had said both of you, but somehow I knew this was mostly for Winner's benefit.

To back him up, I solemnly told them, "Of course, Maxwell. Do you take me for an idiot?"

He flashed me a grin and a wink; it surprised me to see the private message and to be able to read it so plainly. His assurance that he knew I was only enforcing his message to Winner and wasn't really angry with him. It was all I could do not to return the grin. I grunted and went back to my shackles, feeling strangely flustered.

After that, I could only watch them from across the room, not able to hear any of their whispered conversation. I felt like I was going to explode with frustration. I began to feel a bit more sympathy for Winner, who had been over there all by himself all this time, enduring.

I could see Duo struggling even from here; I could see Winner's worried expression. I could feel time moving past us like a physical thing. I wanted to yell at him to hurry the damn hell up! It took him almost an hour to get the first cuff off of Winner's arm. I knew it had given way when Winner's face flashed with a grin and Duo all but collapsed on the floor. I had a moment of panic, thinking that he had fainted with the job half done, but Winner leaned down and spoke to him and Duo rose to make the adjustment that would let the cuff go back on without locking. He barely got it done before we heard footsteps in the hall.

Panic welled up in my chest. I saw the lock pick exchange hands and Duo, with some last reserve of strength, pitched himself out of Winner's lap, managing to make it several feet away before the door opened.

I knew things had gone from bad to worse when I realized that the much-maligned General Bellows was actually with the squad of goons this time. I glanced at Duo and saw true unease written in his eyes. He was... a little afraid of this man. I wanted to curse out loud; one damn restraining cuff away from our shot at freedom. There was only Bellows and three men; we might have managed to overpower them if we had been free.

There was a long, still-as-death moment while Duo stared at Bellows, I stared at Bellows, Quatre stared at Bellows, and Bellows... took in the whole damn scene.

"Bring that one," he suddenly commanded, and pointed at Winner.

My blood turned to ice in my veins. If they found the open cuff, we were as good as dead. I tried to think of something to do, but didn't dare draw any attention to myself either. Then, the unthinkable happened.

Duo grinned cheerfully up at his tormentor and quipped lightly, "Bellows sweetie, I think I'm hurt! You're giving up on me so easily?"

The General's face suffused with rage, just that fast. In the short time Duo had been in this man's company, he had learned all the buttons to push and he was pushing them now with wild abandon.

I wanted to close my eyes, I truly did, but it seemed a cowardly thing to do. If Duo could endure what was going to happen to him next, in order to save our escape plans, how could I not at least bear witness to his courage? I suspected that Duo had given Winner the same 'don't watch' advice he had given me, because I saw our partner squeeze his eyes shut, his face looking as white as chalk even from where I sat.

Bellows reared back and lashed out at Duo with a booted foot. I thought I was about to see him die. Duo did indeed know something about 'rolling with the punches', if he hadn't, Bellows would have caved the side of his head in, I have no doubt of it.

My muscles were bunched and taunt as a bowstring, wanting to spring across the cell and throttle the life from that bull of a man. But... Duo had been right. Alone, against armed men, I would stand no chance and we would be right back to square one, minus the lock pick Duo had bought with his own blood. Sitting there, knowing my hands were free, and also knowing I didn't dare do a thing... was the hardest damn thing I have ever done. Bar nothing.

The General continued to rain kicks at Duo's writhing body, some of them were evaded and some of them were not. Within minutes, the big man was sweating profusely and cursing like a longshoreman. But there wasn't a damn sound from Duo, a thing that seemed to be driving Bellows insane.

"I'll hear you scream you little piece of shit!" he snarled, landing a blow to Duo's back that made me bite my own tongue to keep from crying out in sympathy. I glanced at Winner and was relieved as all hell to find him with his eyes still tightly shut; at least he knew his own limits. Then I noticed something else; Bellows' own men were starting to look uncomfortable with the actions of their commanding officer. I started to feel a bit of hope when the two nearest the door exchanged a few whispered words. Duo was weakening rapidly, his evasive tactics working less and less well; Bellows had stopped for a moment, standing in the center of the room panting like a marathon runner, looking like he was contemplating a killing blow when one of his underlings spoke up.

"Sir!" the soldier called hesitantly. "Smith says that Commander Stark is on his way down!"

Bellows cursed resoundingly, but turned abruptly away from his handiwork, obviously not wanting to be found here. I had no doubt that this Stark was the man who had 'pulled rank' on Bellows during the last 'session'.

I forced myself to stay where I was for a full count of twenty after the door shut, then stripped the damn cuffs off and flung myself across the room. I could hear the soft sound of weeping and it tore at my gut, but when I knelt by Duo's side I realized the sound wasn't coming from where I had thought. I spared Winner a glance, but he still had his eyes shut.

"Pull yourself together," I snapped at him. "They're gone!"

"Oh Allah... they killed him didn't they?" he whispered and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Perhaps my decision to watch had been the better one; obviously, only listening to it had been far worse.

"No," I told him firmly. "They did not." I turned Duo gently over and was surprised to find those outrageously colored eyes of his open and looking for me. I found myself compelled to smile down at him. "He is very much alive... though I doubt he is altogether happy about that fact right now."

The small joke won me a dazzling, but wavering smile. I was moved to stroke his hair from his face and he gave me that look I couldn't quite fathom again.

"Damn it, Maxwell," I scolded him. "Just cry out... just once, and the son of a bitch will quit."

His expression darkened and he rolled his eyes toward Winner's end of the room. "I... I almost did. But I'm afraid to now... I'm afraid he'll..." He left the sentence hang, but I didn't need him to say it out loud. He was afraid they would haul Winner out of here next. "I'm afraid I kinda have him worked into a feeding frenzy... I'm scared what he might do." To Winner.

I sighed, but saw the bed he had made for himself between the rock and the hard place. "Do I dare move you?" I asked him softly, more than aware of the time ticking away from us.

"Don't have much choice, do we?" he grinned up at me and couldn't even raise his arm to aid me in lifting him. I had to adjust my grip three times before I could pick him up without him wincing in pain. "Just do it!" he finally ground out and I did.

We did our best to make him comfortable when I got him there and he set to immediate work, though his hand shook so badly I doubted he would be able to do the job. I reluctantly left him there and went back to my own place, feeling isolated and helpless. I desperately wanted him where I could get him medical attention and could only sit and imagine what those vicious kicks had done to him. If he'd had fractured ribs before, I had little doubt that he had broken ones now. We'd be damn lucky if that was all the damage that had been done. I vowed that if I found myself in the same room with General Bellows and a gun, I would shoot the motherless bastard right between the eyes. Every time I let myself replay the scene in my mind, icy rage consumed a little more of my heart. How dare that slimy, God forsaken, son of a bitch lay his hands on Duo? Yes; I would kill him and it would only be a quick death because I didn't have the time to make sure it was a lingering one.

"Wufei?" the uncertain, almost timid tone of Winner's voice brought me out of my reverie. "He's... he's passed out."

"Shit!" I snarled, cold fear kicking me with another burst of adrenaline that was doing me no damn good at all. "Can you wake him?"

"Not... not so far," he murmured.

"Keep trying," I commanded, afraid to chance leaving my spot. As long as it had been, our captors could be back any moment. Though... my heart wanted nothing more than to go to him.

I watched Winner whisper urgently to the limp form next to him. I saw him stroke tentative fingers over a bruised cheek. I watched him shake ineffectively at a shoulder.

Those wide blue eyes came up to meet mine again, and he looked completely shaken. Without Duo's... abilities, we were... as he would say, 'screwed'.

I found myself staring at the suddenly fragile seeming figure on the floor as though I could make him hear my thoughts, Don't give up brave-spirit. I know you have the strength for this... I know you can do it. Wake up... come back to us. Don't let that bastard win!

What answered me was the sound of footsteps in the hall.

I saw, with a certain amount of relief, Winner scrabble after the pick and shove it into his pocket. But there was nothing to be done with Duo.

The door swung open and I tried to adopt an uninterested expression and could only hope I didn't look as panicked as I felt.

It was, of course, Bellows again, with his three goons in attendance. Though the man who had lied about the imminent arrival of Stark earlier, was not among them.

I watched Bellows taking in the picture of Duo with his head lying in Winner's lap and winced. The man... smirked. It was an expression that reeked of... smug malice.

He gestured to his new henchman and the man walked over to haul Duo up by the front of his shirt, dangling him like a rag doll. He dragged him over and dumped him at Bellows feet, like any good trained dog would do. I sensed that there would be no help from that quarter and could only hope that the other two were as squeamish as their missing teammate had been.

I looked them over again; but four to one odds were still too damn stacked, and I was too far away. They would gun me down before I even got close enough to Bellows to do any good. And that would leave Duo without my meager assistance. Though Duo was not a huge person, he was still taller than Winner, and I doubted the Arabian could even begin to be able to carry him out of here. I had figured out some time ago that Duo wouldn't be walking out under his own power.

Bellows toed at Duo's inert form almost gently, his grin widening slightly as he got a little movement. He poked again and waited for that precise moment of awakening, the one before you have truly registered where you are, while you are still trying to remember what in the hell happened to you. Then he reared back and kicked Duo ruthlessly in the hip. The only sound was the rush of harshly exhaled air. I saw the General's smirk turn to a snarl.

He squatted down and grabbed a handful of Duo's hair, wrenching his head up sharply and backhanding him.

"Wake up you little piece of filth!" he growled low and menacing, before letting go. Duo dropped back to the floor, but made an effort to lever himself up to a sitting position.

"Where are the funny remarks now, Gundam-pilot?" The name was a curse on the man's lips. "That bleeding-heart Stark is gone off to dinner... he won't be showing up to save your ass this time!"

He stepped away from Duo and moved over near Winner. We all froze, watching the man to see what in the hell he was going to do now. I had no doubt that Winner would not hold up to half what Duo had endured. He didn't know the tricks; the movements of the body that would help minimize the damage. I would fare better, with my training in the martial arts. Duo probably knew more than I did, from a life steeped in street fighting. But Winner... his forte was tactics and the grand scale, troop movements and the tediousness of equipment and supplies. He didn't know hand-to-hand combat. Particularly not at this... level.

But, as Duo had feared, the enemy finding the two of them together had offered Bellows a wedge to attack Duo's control with.

"You're so resolved not to cry out," Bellows said, his voice suddenly a sickening purr. "Think you can hold to that?" He drew his sidearm and pointed it directly at Winner's head. "One sound, my little piece of shit, and your... playmate here gets a bullet between the eyes. One cry. One moan. The slightest little sound."

The General really was a sick son of a bitch. I wondered that we had ever thought that he could possibly have anything to do with the Treize faction. Treize would spit on this man.

Duo couldn't contain a sudden shudder and the General grinned ferally at him, looking like a man about to enjoy a sumptuous meal.

My eyes sought Winner's and I held his gaze, doing my best to bolster his courage. There was no color in his face at all and it crossed my mind that now would, perhaps, not be a bad time for him to faint.

Then Bellows gave a curt nod to his new lapdog and the beating began. This man, at least, seemed to be a little more familiar with how easily one could break ones toys. His blows were designed for pain more than damage, unlike Bellows uneducated, ruthless, near insane attacks.

After a very few minutes of this, Quatre again closed his eyes and I was free to turn my attention to Duo. Which was not necessarily a good thing. I was shaking with the need to put an end to this. I might well have turned over my Gundam to buy even a moments respite for Duo. I bit down on a string of curses that my brain told me would do no good, but my gut was churning to deliver.

Duo's tormentor picked him up and delivered a series of stinging blows to his face before dropping him again. For a precious few seconds he lay still while his attacker circled his helpless body, and his eyes sought mine. Sought desperately for mine.

Our gaze locked for the space of a handful of pounding heartbeats.

"Don't watch," he mouthed at me.

"Won't leave you," I mouthed back, shocked to find my sight of him wavering before me.

He graced me with a soft smile until the next blow washed it away.

I thought it would never end. The slaps, the punches, the kicks; it seemed to go on forever. Bellows seemed only to be getting angrier, and he continued to taunt Duo with the gun to Winner's head. Daring him to so much as breathe too loud.

"Sooner or later you're going to break, you little prick, and when you do... your friend here will eat a bullet for it! One sound, punk, that's all it'll take to make me pull the trigger! One whimper... one scream... How much can you take? How long can you last? His life is measured in your silence!" There was more, much more. Constant mocking, sneering taunts. I was ready to scream in frustration myself just from listening to it.

This was absolutely a no-win situation; if Duo caved and gave the man what he wanted... he had promised to kill Winner. I had no doubt the man would carry through with it. But Duo not giving him what he wanted, despite the man's making it impossible as long as Duo had any control left at all... was driving the man to a blood frenzy.

I spared a glance at the other two guards and was surprised to find only one of them standing there. I reevaluated the odds, but realized that with a gun to Winner's head, I was as good as hamstrung.

Then Bellows gave out with a nasty string of epithets and pulled something out of his pocket. "Let's see how you hold up to this, you shit," he snarled and tossed what proved to be a shock rod to his hired-thug.

Duo's wide, horrified eyes came around to meet mine under the cover of his sweat-soaked hair. His expression was pleading and for a moment I couldn't tell if it was for my help, or for my continued stillness.

"Just hold on, I'm here." Faint comfort, but all I had.

But it did seem to comfort; his eyes hardened in the split second before he squeezed them shut in preparation.

I knew in the next half hour what hell was going to be like. I have never had to exert so much control in my entire life. If someone had handed me a gun and told me it would all stop if I blew my brains out, I would not have hesitated. Anything... anything at all; they could have my life if it would stop this brutal insanity. If it would just shut Bellows the hell up.

"All you have to do to make it stop is scream, piece of shit. That's all... cry out... beg me and I'll stop." He laughed cruelly, tapping the barrel of the gun against Winner's forehead. "Of course... that means your little buddy here buys the big one... but we'll stop." Winner flinched when the gun touched him but held his tongue.

I wouldn't let myself look away, watching intently, so that I could meet Duo's eyes whenever possible. He made it happen more than once, that look, at the cost of taking a blow he might otherwise have evaded. It made my heart clench in my chest to realize how much he was relying on something he saw in my eyes, to get himself through this.

The shock rod was... devastating. His whole body would jerk and leap, his muscles wrenching themselves in painful contortions. The rod's wielder was... inventive. I swear by all my ancestors... I truly thought I would break down and weep.

But through it all, Duo held his voice. Kept his silence. Held on to that scrap of dignity with all his will. Bought Winner's life with his iron endurance. I felt that strange, twisted thrill of pride run through me again. But, dear God... what was it costing him? How was he managing?

So focused was I on Duo, that I missed it when that third man returned to his guard position by the door. He was just suddenly there again, looking vaguely green around the gills. Bellows never even noticed that he had been gone. The returning soldier exchanged a glance with his equally unhappy looking partner. I wanted to scream at them to put a damn stop to this madness. This was nothing but plain, pure viciousness. This was a vendetta, a personal attack on Duo, simply because he had defied this man.

The shock rod fell again and again, but not a whimper escaped Duo's clamped jaw. Then I happened to look up at Bellows just in time to see something truly wicked cross his face. I saw him shift his aim and he suddenly fired his gun just past Winner's ear. I had seen his intentions, but hadn't had the time to warn them. Winner, already wound as tight as a main spring, let out with a straggled cry. Bits of flying concrete flew like shrapnel and cut his cheek. I couldn't believe the moron had fired a sidearm in a concrete bunker like this... it was a damn miracle that the ricochet hadn't hit someone.

Bellows objective had been to trick Duo into thinking he had shot Winner anyway. Then when Duo cried out against the action, the bastard would have shot Winner for real and then gloated in Duo's face that he had broken, and caused his teammate's death. I felt faintly ill that I could actually follow the devil's own thinking.

But Duo didn't fall for it; his body jerked as though he himself had taken that bullet, but there wasn't a sound... not a blessed sound. That... failure seemed to push Bellows over some edge. His eyes lost all trace of sanity, his face twisting in a sadistic mask, a parody of something human. This was it... he was going to kill Duo; I could feel it like an electric current in the air. I felt my own muscles bunching and tensing, knew that I could not sit here and watch any more of this. I would not make it; they would shoot me long before I got across the damn cell... but at that point, I didn't care any more. I'd rather die with Duo than survive a few more days without him, knowing I'd sat by and only watched. I knew he would curse me... but I didn't care.

"Bellows! Stand down!" A new voice suddenly commanded. "What the hell is going on here?"

The entire scene froze, and we made quite the picture, I'm sure. The General, smoking gun still pointed unerringly at Winner's head. Winner, eyes squeezed shut and visibly shaking. Duo sprawled on the floor, his entire body twitching violently. Bellows' lapdog standing over him, shock rod dangling from his fingers and a look on his face like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. The two guards by the door, looking oddly pleased and desperately trying to hide it. And me... I'm sure I looked as insane as the rest of them. Apparently chained to the wall, but crouching to make a leap straight into the face of the devil's own court.

It had to be the infamous Stark. Bellows' obvious nemesis and all around thorn in the side. I could have kissed the man. I could have shouted with joy. It was a difficult thing to remember that he, too, was our enemy. He seemed very like a white knight in that moment. The disgust on his face was plain.

"Holster your weapon, Mister!" snapped Stark when Bellows just continued to stand there, and I found myself afraid to breathe waiting to see if the General would comply.

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