by Sunhawk

Dark Silences (cont)

I gave him a few seconds to move out of the way and then climbed up to follow him. Winner was right behind us, his bootlaces undone and tied together to allow him to pull the grate up behind us. I didn't breathe again until it was firmly in place. We moved a few feet away from the entrance and waited while Winner relaced his boots. Then I tapped Duo's foot to tell him we were ready. He began to crawl forward.

That was a somewhat nightmarish trip. Duo had neglected, or lacked the means of imparting to us, that the trip must have amounted to a damn mile. He tracked our progress through the mechanism of counting side shafts by feel alone, it was pitch black in there unless we passed a grate that let a little light seep in. Within ten minutes, I doubted if I could have found our way back to the starting point.

Going was slow, not only due to the need to be quiet in the metal shaft, but by Duo's injuries. The pain pills or whatever they had given him in the infirmary, had obviously worn off and I could tell from the way he dragged himself forward, that he was in a very lot of pain. It tore at me, but there wasn't a damn thing I could do except follow him and give his leg the occasional pat when he seemed to be flagging.

At long last, the light at the end of one of those dozens and dozens of tunnels seemed to have our name on it. Duo stopped his crawling some twenty feet from it and tried to turn to look back at me. I wasn't going to have him trying to go out that shaft first. I pushed against him gently, prodding him to roll up on his side and I began to inch my way forward, sliding up next to him. It was a fairly tight fit. It was a damn tight fit. It was... embarrassing. And... and... something else all together.

When I was nose to nose with him, I could see him a little bit from light coming through the grate. He looked done in.

I leaned even closer and barely breathed into his ear, "You going to make it?"

He hesitated for a moment before nodding and that told me more than his appearance how close he was to his limits.

"Hold on a little longer, brave-spirit," I murmured. "We've come too far to give up now."

He gave me an odd, wide-eyed look but only nodded faintly. I squeezed on by and was able to get in position to see out through the grate.

He had managed, somehow, to bring us right to where he had said he would, and I could clearly see that I was looking down on a motor pool full of vehicles. I had to shake my head in wonder; the base was a huge thing and those air shafts had to have been a virtual labyrinth. I still couldn't believe he'd memorized the whole thing on the off chance that it might come in handy. Though, I suppose it was a damn good thing he had.

I lay still as a stone and watched for signs of movement in the bay, but it seemed quiet. The room had small windows around the top edge, open to the outside air for ventilation and I was finally able to discern that it was nighttime. Which was all to the good. I gave it a full five minutes of watching before deciding there truly was no one working this shift. I edged forward and wrapped my fingers in the lattice of the grate and pushed. It took more effort than the one in the corridor had, but eventually, it did pop loose. I crept forward and eased it free, looking around one more time before daring to slide out of the shaft and drop to the ground. I turned to help Duo down but he didn't immediately appear. I waited; his injuries had probably stiffened up while he had lain still. I waited; perhaps Winner was trading places with him in the shaft so that we would both be on the ground to help him down.

Screw wait. I jumped for the edge of the opening and pulled myself up. Duo was out cold and Winner was having to shove his inert body forward from behind. Damn. I hauled myself up so that I was resting on my stomach on the edge of the shaft and caught hold of Duo's shirt, pulling him toward me to aid Winner's efforts. When we had him at the opening, his arms dangling down, Winner hissed, "I'll do my best not to drop him." Which was small comfort.

I squirmed backward and dropped to the ground, sparing another quick glance around. Then Winner began to push Duo over the edge and it took all my concentration to catch hold of his shoulders and try not to let him hit the floor as he came tumbling down. I feared what we had done to his injuries but could do nothing about it now. I stepped to the side and stretched him carefully out on the floor behind a truck while Winner jumped down. Then I did the stepping stool maneuver so that Winner could press the grate back in place. We regrouped behind the truck with Duo.

"Now what?" I wondered out loud.

Winner glanced around the bay doubtfully. "I had thought that we might sabotage the majority of the vehicles and then steal one, but..."

"Far too many, we don't have the time," I finished for him. "I can't believe we've come this far without them figuring out that we're missing."

He nodded his agreement, his eyes still scanning the area. "Maybe... those soldiers are loathe to report it because they know what kind of trouble they're going to be in when their part in it is found out."

It seemed the most likely source of our luck. Two or three green recruits, used to having someone tell them what to do, suddenly realizing that they had made a huge mistake and standing around arguing with each other over what to do next. It might have been funny if our lives weren't riding on them continuing to debate the best way to cover their butts.

"We have to move," he suddenly said. "Our luck is going to run out sooner or later." And he was up and moving. Since I didn't have a plan of my own, I scooped Duo up and followed.

He led me across the bay in a roundabout way, keeping to the edges and staying behind vehicles. His first goal turned out to be a pile of dirty coveralls and he liberated two pair. His next goal was a row of cars among all the military trucks and jeeps. I stood quietly in the shadows; cradling Duo's limp body in my arms and waited while he hunted down the line. He seemed to find what he was looking for and waved me over, opening the back door so I could ease Duo in and lay him on the seat.

"Put this on," he told me tersely and handed me a pair of the coveralls. It reeked of oil and gasoline and the sleeves were just a hair two long, but I rolled them up and it didn't fit half bad. Winner took a little more adjustment, as he had to fold up the pants legs as well.

Then I saw a thing I never dreamed I would ever witness; Quatre Raberba Winner hotwire a car.

I'm afraid I blinked at him in disbelief, and for a moment he smirked back. "Duo taught me," he said flippantly, but then pain started to fill those blue eyes. The smirk vanished and we were back to Winner the tactician. I climbed into the back seat and busied myself arranging the seatbelts to afford Duo a bit of protection if this should turn into a car chase, while Winner climbed behind the wheel and pulled sedately out of the hanger. No one saw us.

It was a relatively short drive to the front gate, less than a mile through a typical military base of Quonset huts and austere buildings. Winner drove as though sightseeing until he came within sight of the gatehouse.

"You have Duo's knives?" Winner suddenly questioned me, and when I grunted an affirmative, he held his hand out for them. I passed them forward.

"What are you planning?" I growled.

"Car trouble," he told me without elaboration. "Get ready to take over the driver's seat when I wave you forward."

Then he deliberately began to goose the accelerator, causing the car to jerk, killed the lights and then killed the engine.

He got out of the car, the very picture of a pissed off mechanic. He slammed the door and then kicked the front tire, cursing colorfully. I suppose he learned that from Duo as well. He had left the window down so that I could hear what was going on. He stood in the middle of the road for a minute, hands on hips and cursing resoundingly about damn senior officers pulling rank, and stupid cars that ought to be junked, and poor dumb mechanics who get called in on their off hours. He gave the tire another kick for good measure and then turned and started stalking toward the gatehouse. I pulled my gun and cautiously eased my head up between the headrest on the driver's seat and the side door, where I could see what was going on.

Waving his arms and ranting about poor enlisted men, he hollered toward the shack as he went. "Hey... can I use the damn phone to call for the tow-truck? I really don't wanna walk all the damn way back to the motor pool."

The guy in the shack stepped out with a rueful grin, confirming that there was just one. Winner continued to walk toward the man and I held my breath waiting for the guy to get suspicious. Winner was ranting about people pulling rank, still waving his arms around as he closed on the poor unsuspecting soldier. It suddenly came to me that he was... doing Maxwell. The gestures, the wording, the swearing. It was like I was watching Duo. I reflected, as I saw Winner follow the guy back inside the shack, that we were going to owe this whole damn escape to Duo in one form or another. I spared a glance down at my unconscious charge. "You really are amazing," I murmured fondly.

Then Winner was raising the gate and waving me forward. I flipped myself into the front seat and pulled the car carefully up to the gatehouse, pausing only long enough for him to climb in beside me. It took a great deal of will power not to floor it and take off like a bat out of hell. I kept expecting alarms to go off. I kept expecting someone to start shooting at us. That spot between my shoulder blades was itching creepily as we drove a sedate thirty-five miles an hour out of there. I don't think I caught a proper breath until we had switched cars two more times.

I wound us through the local town until we were both a hundred percent sure we were not being tailed, then I took us to the nearest secure emergency-contact point and we checked in with base. I gave the codes that got me directly through to Master O and I reported the possibility of a leak somewhere in the Alliance upper echelon. I unhappily reported the failed mission and then got somewhat insistent that I had wounded and needed to be allowed to meet up with the other pilots. I had a very bad feeling that not only were things going to get very ugly when Duo woke up, but Winner was on the edge of some kind of flaming break-down, and I wanted him in Barton's hands before that happened. And Yuy was Duo's best friend; if anyone could help me handle this mess, he could. I almost moaned with relief when permission was granted and Master O rattled off a set of encoded coordinates. I could have us there within the hour.

It was... a very quiet drive. Duo stirred once, which greatly relieved my mind, but he fell quickly back to sleep. Now that the job was done and we were out of that place, Winner seemed to be sinking into a silence as deep as Duo's. I kept stealing glances at him, but he just sat rubbing his hands together and staring out the window at nothing. I couldn't deal with either of them and drive... so I just drove.

I would have to judge that Master O contacted Dr. J, who in turn must have alerted Yuy; they were waiting for me when I pulled into the grounds. Yuy had the garage door open and ready for me, and Barton met me in the drive to guide me to it. I was so screamingly relieved to have finally reached help, that I really didn't care that it was my two passengers they were waiting for and probably couldn't have cared less if I had arrived in the trunk. I spared a glance in Winner's direction and found him still staring off into space, so I got out of the car and waved my two teammates off, not allowing them what they wanted, and I was graced with a matching set of glares.

I held up my hands in a placating manner and growled, "This is going to require a little more than iodine and Band-Aids this time, gentlemen."

"Where's Duo?" snapped Yuy, a hint of panic in his voice, though he would have denied it to his dying breath.

"Asleep in the back seat," I reassured him and saw him visibly relax, though his eyes kept flicking in that direction. Not for the first time, I wondered when he was going to admit to himself that he was in love. The man could give me lessons in denial. I almost smiled at him, the picture of my own face in the mirror in the morning, but thought better of it.

"What is going on?" Barton demanded and there was a warning edge to his voice.

I scrubbed my hands over suddenly very tired eyes and tried to think where to begin. "The mission went sour..." seemed to be a good place and I launched into the damn tale, hitting the highlights, telling the pertinent parts. Like Duo's being beat to hell and back and Winner having killed his first man in hand-to-hand combat. Duo's self-imposed mental block keeping him from speech and Winner having killed his second man in hand-to-hand combat. Duo being operated on by parties unknown and Winner doing nothing but staring at the dead bug on the windshield for the last hour. And Chang Wufei was pretty darn near the end of his endurance too.

"All in all," I concluded. "It's been a pretty crappy couple of days."

Barton had heard enough and started around the car after Winner.

"I think it might be best to keep them apart for a little bit," I called after him. "Winner seems to be very upset over Duo's... being quiet."

He nodded curtly and I had to sigh; I had the vague feeling that he felt I had handled this badly, for some reason. I watched while he opened the passenger door and knelt down beside his partner. He spoke, but got no immediate response. Then he reached to still those hands that had been rubbing together almost nonstop since the moment we had decided we were 'safe'. It had taken me five miles to figure out that he was trying to get the nonexistent blood off.

Winner seemed to focus for the first time in quite a while, and when his eyes came to register just who it was in front of him, he gave out with a little cry and pitched into Barton's arms like a drowning man after a life-raft. They began to murmur softly to each other and I turned away, feeling vaguely like a voyeur. Well, that was one thing out of my hands.

I turned back to Yuy when I felt a hand under my arm. He was looking at me strangely. "What?" I muttered.

"You were... swaying," he informed me gruffly and I almost laughed at the rouge thought that we had a lot in common.

"Maybe you should carry Duo then," I told him sheepishly and he only grunted. I moved to open the door for him and he climbed in to undo the makeshift harness I had made out of the three seat belts. "Watch his ribs and his right leg... at the very least." I muttered, realizing I honestly didn't know the extent of Duo's injuries. Yuy looked at me sharply and I couldn't help glaring at him. I was damn tired and between the two of them, my temper was starting to fray. "We were lucky to get the hell out of there alive... If you two think you could have done a better job..."

"No..." Yuy cut me off as he slid gentle arms under Duo's poor, battered self. "I didn't mean to... imply anything." He climbed awkwardly out of the car and stopped to look me in the eyes for a minute. "We were just... worried after I heard from Dr. J."

I could only grunt, too tired to deal with this oddly polite Heero Yuy. I shut the car door and walked ahead of him into the house, opening doors for him as we went. After the first couple of obvious direction choices, he guided me into a living room and up a flight of stairs. "I don't think we should leave him alone," I ventured half way up, and could almost feel his eyes boring into my back.

"I want some more details," he gritted after a moment and I nodded.

"I just want to look him over first, Yuy," I sighed. "I have never seen anything quite as... brutal as what was done to him."

"Third door," he directed me tersely, and I went in. It was a large room, with two double beds. Yuy's gear was sitting on the one bed, so I moved toward the other one, waiting for him to put our patient down. He did it... hesitantly, and again I had to stifle a smile. I remembered that feeling of not wanting to let go. Even when I had thought I couldn't carry Duo one more step, there had been the strangest desire to keep him close and protected. We made quite the pair, Yuy and I, two blundering, ungainly moths dancing around Duo's burning flame.

I bent to unlacing Duo's heavy boots and glanced up to find Yuy staring down at him. He was getting his first good look here in the light and was very unhappy with what he saw. "Help me get him undressed," I prodded gently and he bent to the task.

"Dear God," I muttered when we had him completely uncovered and I found Heero's hand under my arm again.

"Sit," he commanded sternly.

I shook my head, partly in the negative and partly to try and clear it. "I want those bandages off too... I want to see what they did to him."

"I'll see to it," I was told in no uncertain terms. "Sit down."

I complied, settling on the side of the bed, near the foot where I wouldn't be in Yuy's way. I couldn't stop looking at the dark bruises that littered the pale flesh. Duo is not a dark complexioned person, his skills have him out at night more often than not, and he typically wears long sleeves anyway. It just made things look worse. I felt, suddenly, very damn weary.

Yuy came back with the medical supplies and bent to carefully cutting away the gauze wrapped around Duo's rib cage.

"He told me they performed surgery and set some ribs," I informed him as he worked. "And they told him his right leg is fractured."

Yuy glanced at me, raising a quizzical eyebrow. "He told you? I thought you said..."

I waved my hands vaguely in the air. "He gestures... talks with his hands."

"He truly can't...?" he began, looking almost as shocked over the idea of a silent Duo Maxwell as anything else.

I sighed heavily and swept a hand through my hair. "Not... not so far. It's painful to watch him try."

He nodded, but then I caught him glancing at me and realized he'd been looking at me funny for some time.

"What is it?" I grumbled.

"I've just never seen you with your hair down before," he commented and left it hang in the air. A question if I didn't mind it, a statement if I didn't want to answer.

"For some reason, they unbraided Duo's hair when they had him in the infirmary," I told him and knew I was frowning darkly. "It seemed... too intimate of a thing for that miscreant Bellows to see. So, I tied it back for him."

"Thank you," he said, surprising me. "Duo is very... sensitive about his hair." He gave me a look that told me he might understand that I was a little sensitive about mine as well. I found my face flushing slightly and I turned back to look at the stitching we had uncovered.

"Three ribs, looks like," I said unnecessarily and watched while Yuy gently probed around the area.

"A decent enough job," he murmured almost to himself. "Not a hack job at least... though I imagine they would have spent more time on one of their own to minimize scarring. There really wasn't any need to make such a large incision."

" don't suppose..." I said on a sudden thought and saw him grunt in understanding. He went immediately to his pack and came back with one of the hand-held scanning devices and held it over the incision.

"No," he told me at last, since the device was turned where I couldn't see the display. "No electronic output at all... he's clean."

I sighed in relief at the same time I was berating myself for not thinking of it sooner. What the hell was wrong with me? It would have been the perfect way to plant a tracking device. I shivered almost convulsively, thinking about having to cut that incision open to get at the damn thing.

A warm hand came to rest on my arm and I looked up, startled, into Yuy's dark eyes. "It's all right," he told me. "You did fine." And he gave my arm a squeeze.

I nodded tiredly and was almost sorry when the hand shifted away. Yuy's fingers moved to brush over one of the places on Duo's leg where the shock rod had left a network of angry looking broken blood vessels below the skin.

"What caused these?" he asked with a dark frown, puzzling over them. They were everywhere.

I found myself growing angry all over again. "Shock rod." I ground out and watched him get angry right along with me. I saw his fingers twitch convulsively, clenching into tight fists. I recognized the sudden rush of desire for retribution.

"The bastard is dead," I told him. "Winner... executed him."

"How?" he wanted to know and so I told him. He looked faintly shocked. "Quatre did that?"

I only nodded. He looked at me again; a slightly appraising stare that I found made me uncomfortable.

"You look about done in yourself," he ventured and I snorted softly at the understatement. "You want to go get some sleep?"

I thought about it, thought about how sweet it would be to throw myself down on a flat surface somewhere and let all of this just go away for a little while. But then I heard the not-really-there whisper of Duo's voice, the last words he had tried to speak to me.

You didn't leave me.

"I...I'd rather be here when he wakes up," I mumbled to Yuy and knew I was blushing darkly. "I... promised."

I was expecting a certain amount of irritation over my infringement on his undeclared territory. I was expecting him to bristle like a wolf who finds another male skirting his boundaries. I was surprised by a gentle smile and a nod of understanding.

We decided we couldn't do a proper job of wrapping Duo's ribs again, until he woke up, so we just set the supplies by the bed for the time being. Yuy went and fetched a pair of his own soft, cotton workout shorts and we slipped those on Duo, not wanting him to wake up and find himself naked. He swam in the things, his waist a good three or four inches narrower than Yuy's, but they weren't going to bind on anything. Yuy checked him over otherwise, the best he could. Looking for signs of abnormal swelling, looking for sources of heat, checking his temperature in general. Then we tucked him in and sat back to wait.

I found myself wondering how Barton was doing with Winner, and felt a pang of guilt for just dumping the rattled pilot like that. I think Winner had just finally found that place inside where you locked your humanity sometimes, when you just had to get the job done. I don't think he'd ever had to find that place before... most of his battles had been at the controls of a Gundam. He'd never had to look his enemy in the eye before.

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