by Sunhawk

Dark Silences (cont)

Stark acted just as though he assumed that Bellows would do as he was told and turned his attention to the soldier who had been doing the actual... interrogation.

"Bross! You're on report!" he barked. "Return to your unit and I expect to see you in my office at oh-eight hundred hours tomorrow!"

The soldier, Bross, visibly wilted, mumbled a "yes, sir", and headed for the door. It seemed to signal something to Bellows and I remembered to breathe when he finally holstered his weapon.

Stark spared him a scathing glance, but only said, "Out!" and the good General stalked from the room.

The two remaining guards visibly relaxed as soon as he was completely gone from both sight and hearing.

"Good job, Pierce," Stark said when there was no doubt the other two were long gone. "This should finally be enough to make some charges stick."

"Yes, sir," Pierce said dutifully, though a touch of satisfaction tinged his voice.

The Commander moved closer to Duo, and just stood looking down for a minute, sighing in irritation and shaking his head. I lost a little bit of that 'white knight' feeling.

"Take him down to the infirmary and have him treated," he said brusquely, his mind already on the next phase of his case against Bellows. "Be sure they document the damage."

I was seething, and could only sit quietly in my unlocked cuffs and watch as they took Duo away for the third time.

I looked across at Winner and found him rocking gently to and fro, his eyes staring straight ahead but not really seeming to see much of anything.

"Winner?" I called softly and got nothing in response. I was truly afraid to risk slipping the cuffs off at this point. There was too much of a possibility that they could come back at any moment. We still stood a faint chance, if they brought Duo back to the cell. If he was still capable of using his hands, he might still get that last cuff off. We might still pull this off, especially now that Bellows wouldn't be targeting us any more. We might actually get more than an hour to get ourselves out of here. I glanced at the door, wondering about a lock, wondering if Duo could pick that too, given the time.

"Quatre?" I called again but his eyes just seemed to be focused on that place on the floor where Duo had last been.

"Oh-four... report!" I snapped and was finally rewarded with a flick of those eyes in my direction.

"That animal is dead," he ground out, in a voice that sent a shiver up my spine. "I will see to it."

I couldn't contain a bark of dark laughter. "Stand in line," I told him and his gaze finally focused and met mine. He gave me a tight nod.

The waiting wasn't quite so bad this time, knowing that he wasn't out there being tortured. Knowing that someone was actually helping him in some way. But I still felt like I was going to crawl out of my own skin with frustration. I had never been in a position before where I had to sit back and rely completely on someone else to get me out of a bad situation. I consoled myself with formulating plans for once Duo had us free from our restraints. It would be my turn then; mine and Winner's. Duo would be in no shape to handle whatever came next. Getting the cuffs off wasn't even half the battle; we still had to get out of the cell and off the damn base undetected. It would have to be done with stealth. Brute force would get us nowhere, we would be outnumbered several hundred to one if the base was put on alert and the troops mobilized. I did not allow myself to think about the possibility that Duo wouldn't be able to finish his part.

I wondered idly how long it took for one to develop an ulcer.

I came out of my thoughts and looked again at our partner. "You need to get your head together, Winner," I said gruffly. "When we make our move, I'll have to help Duo out of here. I'm going to need you."

He gave me an odd look, almost shocked. "You think, after all that... you still think Duo is going to be able to help us?"

"I have no doubt of it," I told him firmly. "If he is conscious at all... he'll do whatever has to be done."

He stared across at me and didn't speak for the longest time. "You have a lot of faith," he said doubtfully.

I snorted. "How can you have witnessed what we just did, and not have faith in him?"

He had stopped rocking and was looking at me intently. His eyes seeming to measure and weigh me where I sat. It was making me incredibly uncomfortable. "He's my best friend, you know?" he suddenly said and all I could do was blink at him. What was he on about, now?

"I am aware of the fact that the two of you are... close," I said carefully, not sure where he was going, and not liking the scrutiny I was suddenly under. He didn't speak for such a long time; I thought the conversation had ended.

"He's... lost a lot in his lifetime," he said softly, his eyes never leaving mine. "Don't you hurt him... don't you dare hurt him."

"Never!" I ground out before I had a chance to think about it. Heat instantly flooded my face and I found myself almost angry. What the hell business was it of his? An oddly satisfied expression came over his face. I blushed all the harder."It will be a moot point if we don't live to get out of here," I snarled. "Now mind your own damn business!"

He did shut up then, and we went back to waiting. It felt like forever, but was probably only a little over two hours. I was so tangled up in thought, that I never heard them coming. I jumped nervously when the door swung open and watched in silence as the two guards from earlier carried Duo back into the cell. I was surprised to see them almost gently lay him down on the floor before retreating and shutting the door behind them.

Again, I counted out a slow twenty before letting myself go to him.

His hair was loose; that was the first thing I noticed for some stupid reason, and his clothes were rumpled and twisted as though he had not put them on himself. His shirt hadn't even been buttoned and I noted that his rib cage was tightly bound. I gently brushed the hair away from his face and called to him.

"Duo? Come on... wake up... can you hear me?" I checked his hands, and finding them without obvious signs of injury, took one in mine and squeezed gently. After a moment or two, there was a faint response. "That's it... I know you're in there." Eyes blinked open and sought mine, and I felt a shiver of fear; I could see the signs of drugs in his fevered look. I smiled warmly down at him though, pushing that aside for later, letting my fingers brush stray strands of hair from his brow. "Wake up, my fearless little idiot," I teased and was gifted with a cross-eyed look, and the ghost of his cocky grin.

"Do you know what they found?" I asked him, letting my eyes search over him. "What did they do? How badly are you hurt?" I could see dark bruises all over the place, wherever his clothing didn't cover it, and felt that cold rage building in me again. My eyes finished their sweep and returned to his face, only to find it contorted with a dark frown. I thought at first that he was overcome with the pain, but then I watched as he parted his lips and I realized he was trying to answer my questions. Was trying to speak and finding himself struggling with it. The impossible, desperate need to maintain absolute silence through... that, had left blocks in its wake. His conscious mind could not convince his sub-conscious mind that sound was all right now. "Never mind," I hastily assured him, hating to see that look on his face. "I'll figure it out." I smiled again, trying to reassure and turned to the obvious things first. "Ribs... broken?" I asked and he nodded, the pained frown fading from his face. "Did they actually do surgery to reposition them?" Another nod and I muttered a curse. "They did that damn fast! Did they... did they put you under?" He hesitated and I'm afraid my face must have taken on a horrified expression, because he quickly reached to pat my arm and then gestured around what must be the site of the incision under all the bandages, with a vague sweep of his hand. "Local?" I guessed and he nodded vigorously. I couldn't contain the heartfelt sigh of relief.

"What is going on?" Winner finally called in exasperation and I threw him a quick look.

"I'm still trying to evaluate. He seems to be... mildly sedated."

There was a tight growl from Winner's quarter and I suppose I could understand his agitation. He was still staked to the wall like a gazelle at the watering hole.

I turned back to Duo to find him looking up at me with heavy-lidded eyes. I wanted to be able to sit here and just offer him some respite, let him sleep, but I knew we didn't dare. "Your legs?" I questioned, remembering how he was favoring the right one. "Anything broken?" He frowned for a second, puzzling out a response, before raising one hand and wobbling it back and forth in that 'maybe' gesture. "Fractured?" I guessed and got a tired nod. Damn. I felt the weight of time leaning on my shoulders and had to ask him; "If I move you over near Quatre can you get that last cuff off him?"

He gave me a somewhat wan attempt at a feral grin and I snorted at him. "We'll see," I muttered as I bent to lift him in my arms, but his fingers touched my hand and stayed me a moment. I watched his face contort again as he struggled against his own mental defenses to force sound past his lips. I watched him swallow convulsively and squeeze his eyes tight shut, and I leaned close lest I miss whatever message he was working so hard to deliver. When it came, it was simply mouthed, but there was no real sound behind it.

"You didn't leave me."

My heart felt like it swelled in my chest and I couldn't help easing my arms around his shoulders. For the space of a handful of seconds, he allowed himself to press his face into my shoulder.

"Of course not," I whispered gruffly, but then he started to feel heavy against my arm. "Come on," I had to tell him, feeling like a total jerk, but knowing we had to get started or this could all come to naught.

He nodded and let me lift him from the floor. Winner looked vastly relieved to finally see us moving in his direction. I had to be careful when I knelt to settle him against Winner, not to get tangled in that train of hair of his.

"Oh Duo, I was so worried," Winner told him softly when Duo's head was resting in his lap. "Are you all right?"

Duo only held out his hand, wiggling his fingers in that universal 'give me' gesture. Winner dutifully pulled the pick out of its hiding place, but gave me a questioning look.

"Don't... don't push him to talk, Quatre," I said gently and hoped I didn't need to explain more. Winner looked blank for only a second before I saw comprehension dawn in his eyes. Then he just looked down at Duo working as best he could on the locks, like he just might cry.

"Oh Duo..." he breathed. He got a dark glare for his trouble and then that glare snapped in my direction. Duo caught my eye and very deliberately jerked his head in the direction of my own place by the far wall.

I did need to get back there; it very definitely would not do to get caught out of my restraints. I looked at him for just a second, trying to assure myself that I had made him as comfortable as possible until I could get him the hell out of here. I brushed back an errant lock of his hair, and then on a sudden impulse, knowing how I would feel with my own hair down in front of strangers, smoothed my hands over the length of it and gathered it into a tail. I hesitated then, searching for something to tie it back with. Finding nothing, I slipped the tie from my own hair and bound his back with it.

He twisted painfully to look back at me with a watery expression that made me feel like we'd just exchanged rings. Oddly... I felt warmed. "Get back to work fearless baka," I chided and went quickly back to my lonely seat by the far wall.

I could read how the work was progressing by the level of anxiety on Winner's face. Duo was obviously struggling, either with the drugs in his body, the residual effects of the shock rod on his nervous system, or just plain exhaustion. I suppose it didn't really matter. I had just started to try to tell myself that we might have to change our half-baked plans, discounting Duo's active participation, when there was a sound at the door. I saw Winner stiffen and grab the lock pick from Duo's hand. I saw Duo slump in utter defeat. The door opened and damned if it wasn't Bellows again. In a mood that can only be described as homicidal, and... alone. Which absolutely could not be a good thing.

I was caught between exultant and... really angry. On the one hand, I did not want that motherless animal in the same damn room with Duo. But on the other... if he had truly snuck down here on his own, he might well have handed us the other half of our escape on a silver platter. If we could manage to overpower him.

I saw Winner murmuring quietly to Duo, his eyes never leaving the General. I saw Bellows advancing on the two of them. I saw his hand slip into a pocket and out came that damn shock rod. I saw Duo register from Winner's words that it was just Bellows, and he rolled away, trying to get between the Arabian and their attacker.

I slipped out of the first cuff, quiet as a ghost while Bellows had his attention on Duo. I was cursing in my head, having to move cautiously... having to make absolutely sure that Bellows didn't know I was free until I was right on top of him. He hit Duo with the rod three times while I was slipping out of the second cuff. There wasn't a sound from Duo, only Winner's hoarse cries and Bellows maniacal taunting. Duo tried to kick out at the man, tried to force him back, but only succeeded in leaving Bellows an opening to shove the shock rod viciously into his crotch. I thought Duo would surely scream out at long last, his body was convulsed up off the floor, every muscle standing out in harsh relief. But there wasn't a sound. Not a damn whimper. It was Bellows own curses that covered the sound of my movements as I came in behind him and took the bastard down.

There was nothing about this man that demanded mercy from me. And everything about him that demanded extreme caution. I approached him from his blind spot, but at the last minute swung around and hit him squarely in the side of the knee. I was gratified to hear bones snap. I was even more gratified to hear the son of a bitch scream like a baby. He went down like a sack of potatoes and I leaped instantly to kick the shock rod out of his reach. Duo was completely incapacitated, and Winner was still chained. I needed to leave the room to find the damn keys... find weapons, but I couldn't leave Bellows where he might get at them. It wouldn't hurt to shut him the hell up either. I struck him sharply in a pressure point on the back of the neck and he went limp, and just as important... he went silent.

I forgot him in the next heartbeat, moving to Duo's shuddering form, curled into a fetal position on the floor. I knelt beside him and took him by the shoulders, intending to try to get him to uncurl, needing to evaluate his condition. But he shoved at me with a hand that was shaking like he had palsy, and he pointed toward the door, pantomiming the gesture for 'key'. I didn't need any more prompting to do what I knew I should be doing anyway.

The guard station area was, obviously, empty or we would have had company long before now. I could only assume that Bellows had bribed or gotten men loyal to him to go take a smoke break while he had made his little visit. I moved to the single desk and rummaged through the drawers. Two of them were locked but it didn't take much to force them open. I was surprised to find the cache of our own personal items that had been stripped from us when we had been captured. Our three hand guns and Duo's two throwing knives. I scooped them up with a delighted grin. The second locked drawer proved to hold a ring of keys. I took them and darted back into the cell, intent on freeing Winner and getting the hell out of there. I came through the door and stopped dead at the sight in front of me. Bellows was awake... more than awake; he had Duo by the throat and was trying to throttle the life out of him. But it was the sight of Winner that froze me in my tracks. He had slipped free of the manacle that Duo had gotten open and somehow retrieved the shock rod. He had it pressed to Bellows temple... and he wasn't letting off the switch. His face... was a frightening, near-insane mask that I haven't seen the like of since... the Zero System. It was Duo's frantic clawing that broke my paralysis. I ran forward and broke Bellows grip on him with a harsh, downward blow to his forearms. I caught Duo before he hit the floor, lifting him and turning us away from the sight of Winner delivering his own brand of justice. The electric hiss of the rod continued for an eternity. My arms tingled with the lingering feel of it, where I had come in contact with Bellows. I imagined that Duo felt far more than that and I couldn't help whispering softly, "It'll be over in a minute. That spineless bastard will never lay a hand on you again. Not ever."

The shock rod would fry his damn brain given enough time... and Winner was giving it amble time. He held it in place until I heard the body hit the floor and then some. I waited, hoping he would stop on his own, but when I turned back to face the scene, he didn't look... all together there.

"Winner," I spoke levelly and tried to sound authoritative. "That's enough. Turn it off now."

He did it, just like that. Turned the rod off and looked right at me with the most God awful blank look. "Make sure he's dead," he said flatly.

I eased Duo down on the floor, where he could lean against the wall and went to check Bellows for a pulse. Not surprisingly, he didn't have one.

"Dead," I confirmed.

"You are positive?" Winner questioned, his voice still utterly emotionless.

"Absolutely," I told him, watching him warily.

"Get this cuff off me," he commanded and I moved to do so. I saw his eyes take note of the pistols I had stuck in the waistband of my pants and he reached to take one without a word, once I had his hand free. He automatically checked the load and moved toward the door. "Bring Duo," he told me tersely and I wondered when I had lost control of this situation. But one look at his face brooked no argument.

I stepped over Bellows with just a touch of regret; so much for the idea of using him for a hostage. I bent down for Duo and he, at least, used gestures to ask for his gun back. I let him have it, though I made sure the safety was on. He was shaking so badly still, that I doubted he would hit anything he was aiming at anyway. I quickly took his own cuffs off him, having to resist the urge to hurl them across the room. Then, as gently as I could, I lifted him in my arms. He frowned up at me suddenly, his eyes seeming to come clear of his fog bred of pain, drugs and trauma and he gestured for me to put him down.

"Don't be ridiculous," I growled at him, following Winner through the guard station. "You can't even walk."

He shook his head emphatically and gestured again. I got it that time and I snapped at him angrily. "I'm not leaving you. Period... so just shut the hell..." I broke that off with a sudden blush. His eyes sparkled with a hint of amusement for a split second but he subsided.

"Cut the chatter," Winner hissed at us.

We slipped silently down the only corridor leading out of the cellblock, Winner in the point position. I wondered where Bellows had sent the guards. I wondered how long he had instructed them to stay gone. I imagined he had bought at least a little while; the man had acted as though he had every intention of killing Duo slowly with that shock rod. The guards would be in less trouble for leaving their post than they would be for witnessing a murder and doing nothing about it. I was getting furious again, just thinking about that asshole and what he had done to Duo. I realized, when Duo shifted uncomfortably against my chest, that I had unconsciously tightened my arms around him. I eased off instantly and breathed a tiny apology next to his ear. He shivered and his arm around my neck tightened.

We reached an intersection and Winner signaled a moment's halt. I eased Duo to the ground while Winner came to squat next to us.

"Do either of you remember the floor plan for this part of the base?" he prompted in hushed tones.

I had memorized the areas in the officer's building, where our supposed, original goal had been, and the surrounding sections. I was vaguely aware that the detention center was on the west side and that was it. I imparted that knowledge and got a grimace from Winner indicating that he knew nothing more.

"I don't know which way to go from here," Winner growled, looking around as though he might find signs on the wall showing him his route out of here.

"It won't be long before the guards come back," I warned him. "Bellows might have gotten the favor of a little quality time with us... but he couldn't have bought much."

Duo touched my hand to get my attention, and I saw him wrestling with getting words out again. His lips were trembling and his face was as white as chalk, but no sound was forth coming. He looked about to rupture something in his frustration.

"Stop it," I chided gently. "It's all right... later for that. We'll worry with it later. Tell me with your hands."

He stopped fighting and looked at me with the most confused mixture of gratitude and humiliation in his eyes. But his trembling hands began to move.

He pointed upward, over our heads and looked that way. I turned my eyes in that direction and saw an air vent shaft. He gestured with his fingers spread like a labyrinth of interconnecting lines and pointed to the side of his head. He stopped for a second and then made another gesture like a little kid driving a toy car.

"This is ridiculous!" Winner huffed in exasperation. "We don't have time to be playing charades! Damn it Duo... you have to..."

Duo's face did something awful. Guilt and pain rose up and I thought they would eat him whole. It was like watching him locked away behind a glass wall, through which sound only passed one way.

"Leave him alone," I snarled and got the first spark of reaction I had seen from Winner since he'd killed Bellows. "I understood exactly what he meant. The airshaft leads from here down to the motor pool, and he knows the way. He obviously came on this mission better prepared than either of us... he memorized the whole damn base."

Winner looked to Duo for confirmation and got a tiny little, sheepish grin in answer.

"We don't have much choice," I told him and got a curt nod in return. I bent over under the shaft and Winner climbed up on my back to work the cover open. It was a simple pressure fit and pulled loose in his hands without a lot of trouble. He hopped down and we turned our attention to Duo.

"How in the devil...?" Winner began, but Duo stretched his hand out to me, his face set in firm resolve. I helped him to his feet.

"You sure you can do this?" I asked him gently. "We can find another way."

He glared at me and pointed for me to re-assume the position of stepping stool. I shook my head and turned to Winner.

"You brace, so I can hold him," I commanded and he complied. I helped Duo climb unsteadily up and held his legs as gently as I could while he pulled himself into the dark shaft. I could feel him trembling with the effort. But he did it.

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