Guardian Spirits (cont)

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‘Unca Duo?’ Carrie was saying, and I was vaguely aware that she had called me more than once. ‘What happened then, Unca Duo?’

I struggled to collect my thoughts and bring them back to the story. Where the hell had I left off? ‘Uhmmmm… Then the bear, hawk, wolf and panther spirits had to… they had to…’

She huffed at me a little indignantly. ‘They have to learn to work together so they can find the next pothole and free the d’agon spirit.’

Oh, how could I have been so dumb? Of course.

In my pocket, my cell phone rang again and I had to squelch down the urge to scream. I knew it was Heero and I wanted the sound of his voice so badly I could have burst into tears. I really wasn’t sure I was going to make it. This wasn’t supposed to happen to Carrie. This was the stuff of life-long nightmares. I should know; I had enough of my own.

The war was over and shit like watching people you cared for die in the dark was not something my Godchild was ever intended to experience. I forced my arm across the floor again and got Carrie to push the button on my watch and read me the numbers. It was six. Heero had resorted to calling on the hour. Gods, how I wished I could get my hand down there to get hold of that damned phone.

‘Unca Duo, I’m thirsty.’ The voice was plaintive.

‘In the other cave, honey,’ I was rather proud of the fact that I could answer that simple need. Though it took both of us and everything I had to get one of the bottles open for her.

Gods, I wished someone would come; I didn’t want her trying to climb out of here on her own, but I didn’t want her down here when I died.

 

It was a nightmare landing in the high winds. It took the both of us, working in concert to wrestle the plane to the ground and even then we damaged the front landing gear. I didn’t care, I would pay for repairs myself if need be.

We had gotten a call bare minutes before touchdown from Sally with the address. As soon as he was able to relinquish his hold on the co-pilot’s yoke, Wufei pulled out his phone again and called Trowa back with the information. He and Quatre were still fifteen or twenty minutes away from the Willowhills area; roads were closed all over the place.

We were running for Wufei’s car, left in the parking garage when we departed from here just yesterday, even as he finished the call. I let him drive again, because I was not going to attempt to dispute the fact that I was in no shape to do it. My chest had been tight and aching for the last hour. It was after seven, and I called the cell phone again, hoping beyond hope that I would hear Duo’s voice this time. But, again, it simply rang until the voice mail kicked in. I bit back on a helpless moan. I’m coming, Duo, I willed at the phone; just hang on.

I tried the emergency number again, now that I had an address, but ended up being put on hold. Wufei switched on the radio, and we discovered that part of the downtown area was an inferno; broken gas lines had caused an explosion. I suspected we were pretty much on our own.

‘Faster,’ I growled, not able to help myself. I was surprised when his hand closed over mine where it had fallen to the seat, still clutching the damned, useless cell phone. I glanced up at him, and he dared take his eyes off the road for the second it took to meet mine. He squeezed my hand hard. Neither of us spoke and after a moment, he had to have both hands to drive again.

We were starting to enter into the path the tornado had taken, and the damage was unbelievable. Trees were the first things we noticed, uprooted and tossed around like some giant, mad gardener had been weeding. Wufei had to slow and ease the car around obstacles, and twice we had to back up to take an alternate route. In his pocket, Wufei’s phone rang, and we both jumped as though shots had been fired at us. He tossed it to me, not wanting to take his hand off the wheel.

‘Yuy,’ I barked into the thing, knowing my voice was far from steady.

‘Heero… it’s Quatre.’ I could tell from his voice that he would have preferred Wufei.

‘Where are you?’ I wanted to know, and there was a hesitation in his voice.

‘We’re… not sure,’ I heard another voice in the background, Trowa’s. ‘There’s no way to tell what the address’s… were.’

That chilled me. That word; were. I thought furiously, I had only been to the place a couple of times.

‘Do you see… any signs of a large church?’

‘Not yet,’ I was told.

‘It was south of the church a couple of blocks.’ I thought desperately for landmarks that might have survived. ‘There was a small strip mall to the north… maybe four blocks.’ There was nothing to the east and west but more houses. I couldn’t narrow it down any more than that. ‘We’re getting close as well. Wufei’s car.’

There was a lingering silence and I knew that Quatre was struggling for something reassuring to say, so I filled the silence with an abrupt, ‘watch for us,’ and hung up. I didn’t feel like dealing with it.

There was nothing else moving out here but us. We had to make a serious detour when we found our way blocked by some downed power lines not long after. I was starting to feel like I was going to throw up. The pictures running through my head were all of Duo in his worst moments. I saw him on that torture rack on the station. I saw him in the hospital bed after his surgery. I saw him battered. I saw him bruised. I saw him bleeding. But most of all, I kept hearing his soft voice whispering to me, ‘You’re always there to catch me when I fall.’ I scrubbed my hands across tired eyes.

‘Keep it together, Yuy,’ Wufei’s voice came to me, firm and strong. ‘He needs you. We’ll find him.’

We were getting close, and it was all I could do not to bail out of the car. It felt like I could run faster than we were moving.

 

‘…and the five Guardian… spirits… finally together again after a thousand… years… opened the final portal…’ I had to stop again; I just couldn’t get enough air. ‘Sorry… sweetie…’ I was taken with a harsh cough then and couldn’t bite back an agonized moan. My hand, when I removed it from my mouth was spattered with blood. Over all…this had turned into a pretty crappy weekend.

‘Unca Duo?’ came Carrie’s worried voice. ‘You don’t have to tell me stories no more.’

‘S’ok honey…’ I tried to smile for her, thinking to wipe my hand across my mouth just in case I got blood on my face. ‘Just… give me… a minute.’

When I thought about it too hard, I realized I had to have a collapsed lung. There was just no way in hell that whatever was impaling me went in here and came out there without going right through my left lung. And if I’d had any doubts, the blood pretty well confirmed it. Beyond that, I‘m not sure what all else was wrong with me. I felt pretty chilled, and wondered if I was bleeding somewhere under all the debris.

‘You… warm… enough…?’ I managed to gasp out.

‘Uh-huh,’ Carrie smiled and patted my hand; she’d been doing that a lot lately. ‘I gots my blanky.’

She was wearing a jacket, was wrapped in her quilt and cuddled up with Bernie. While I was glad she was comfortable, it didn’t tell me if it was cold down here or not. I guess it really didn’t matter; there wasn’t anything I could do about it anyway. If I was bleeding to death, I was bleeding to death.

Then Bernie, who had been cowering in the back of the cave since his world had fallen apart, did something he hadn’t done yet. He poked his nose out, sniffing around, and gave a tiny little thump of a wag with his tail.

‘Hold his… leash, punkin,’ I told her, daring to let myself hope, and listened hard.

 

We passed Trowa and Quatre within the next five minutes, and they fell in behind us as we wove through the empty streets. It was unbelievably difficult to navigate through the neighborhood, but we finally found the remains of the church, and I was oriented at last.

‘This way!’ I fairly shouted, heart in my throat, and pointed the way.

We had to stop a block from where we needed to be, the street was just impassable. I finally gave in to the urge and leapt from the car, running the last block, hurdling over debris as I went. The pounding feet behind me barely registered.

Why was finding Misty’s house such a shock? I don’t know. The entire area was decimated for a good half mile. There had been absolutely no hope of finding that house still intact. Had there been anything still standing, we would have seen it from blocks away. But somehow, when I finally stumbled into what was once the front yard, I was stopped cold. Stopped as though I had run into an unseen brick wall.

It looked like a damned war zone. There was nothing left standing for blocks and blocks. Frame or brick, it didn’t matter, the storm had taken it all down to the ground. I couldn’t have done a better job with my Gundam and a beam cannon.

‘Duo?’ I breathed, and it registered that the twisted blue metal thing on the far side of the… house, was our car. ‘Duo!’ I shouted, and I know it was just a little bit hysterical.

 

I wasn’t sure at first if I had really heard it. Heero’s voice. I had been wanting to hear it for so long. A couple of times, drifting on the edge of consciousness, I had sworn I had heard him, breathing in my ear, ‘Hang on, love. Just hang on.’

But Bernie heard him too. He wiggled and waggled and finally poked his nose out of the cave.

‘It’s Unca Heero!’ Carrie squealed, and clapped her hands.

‘Told… ya…’ I grinned. I could hear other voices not long after that, Quatre’s for sure and I thought maybe Wufei’s. Relief flooded through me like a damned drug. My family was here. They had come for me. I didn’t have the breath to answer them, but I could have cried listening to them call my name.

‘Can you… answer them…?’ I asked Carrie, and should have known better than to ask such a stupid question of a four year old. She almost seemed to smirk at me.

‘Unca Heero!’ she shrieked, and even the dog ducked his head and tucked his tail.

If I tilted my head until I thought I would blackout, I could just see the stairs out of the corner of my eye. They looked intact.

‘Listen… sweetie… I need you… to do something…’ She leaned down close so she could hear, her face solemn.

 

It was faint, but we heard Carrie’s shrill voice answer us, and converged quickly on the spot where we had heard it the loudest.

My hands were shaking so badly I had to keep them at my sides to hide it. Why didn’t Duo answer?

As if reading my mind, Quatre gently interjected, ‘She doesn’t sound scared. She would be it she were… alone.’

It was logical, but it didn’t explain why Duo didn’t answer. It did, of course, if I let myself think about it. He was hurt. He had to be hurt or he would have called out to me. How in the hell were we going to find them in this mess?

‘Heero,’ Trowa was next to me, his hand suddenly warm and squeezing firmly on my elbow. ‘They would have gone to the basement. Do you know the lay-out of the house?’

I had to get myself together. Duo needed me.

I turned back to the street to get my orientation. The front door would have been roughly… there. The living room…the kitchen beyond…the basement door would have been… I paced it out in my head and shifted, finding where I was fairly certain the stairs would have been.

‘Here,’ I told him. ‘Roughly,’ I added unnecessarily.

Behind me, I heard Wufei speaking on the phone again. He was making another attempt to get through on the emergency number. We had an address and a little girl in trouble, maybe this time he would get somewhere.

Quatre turned toward the place I had indicated and yelled for Carrie.

There was an answer and we bent to carefully shifting debris. The small stuff, the shingles, the pieces of two-by-four studs, the siding, moved fairly easily, but it wasn’t long before we encountered beams that we couldn’t move by hand. There were spaces underneath and behind those beams, but we couldn’t see.

Trowa and Quatre exchanged a look, and Quatre ran off toward the cars.

‘Call her again, Heero,’ Trowa bade me. ‘She knows your voice.’

I did, and I managed it without my voice breaking.

 

‘….All set… Princess…?’ I was reduced now to a near pant, and had to turn my head every few minutes when a cough wracked me until I saw stars. I needed to get her out of here. I was pretty sure I was running out of time.

Somewhere above us, I heard Heero call Carrie again, and his voice sounded a little clearer. They must be digging for us.

‘Yep,’ she assured me in her best, tough Princess voice.

‘Ok… get a hold… of Bernie…’ I watched her wrap the leash tight around her little hand. ‘Now… tell Unca Heero… to call…Bernie.’

She sat and looked at me for a minute, kind of scared to leave me, to go off in the dark.

‘S’ok… Princess,’ I told her, suppressing the cough that wanted to take hold of me. ‘The brave… and loyal… guard dog… will lead you… to Unca Heero…’

‘I’s scared,’ she breathed, leaning down and kissing me softly on the side of my face.

‘Me too… baby,’ I was able to pat her knee. ‘Heero… will get… your Mommy…’

That set a light in her eyes and she finally sat up and shouted for all she was worth, ‘Unca Heero! Call Bernie!’

There was a stone, cold silence for a minute, and I imagined Heero having to process the command. I smiled, thinking about the look on his face and then heard his voice again, hesitant at first and then more firmly, ‘Bernie! Come here, Bernie!’

Beside us, Bernie began to wag his tail.

‘Come on, boy! Good dog! Come on Bernie!’

Heero was warming to it, and finally Bernie couldn’t take it anymore and lunged for the stairs, dragging Carrie after him. I stuffed my wrist in my mouth, trying to prepare myself for what I knew was coming next. The only way to the stairs was over the pile of timber that was on top of me.

The pain took me under; the sound of Heero’s voice calling for Bernie was the last thing I heard.

 

Quatre came running back from the cars, and when I turned to see what he had gone after, I saw another car pulling in near ours, stopped as we had been by the debris. I saw Misty bail out of the car almost before it stopped, Justin right behind her as soon as he shut off the engine.

Quatre was beside us, a flashlight in his hands.

Then we heard the piping sound of Carrie’s voice again, ‘Unca Heero! Call Bernie!’

It took me a minute. What? Why in the hell…? Of course… Bernie would lead Carrie to us.

I didn’t want to. Carrie was the only link I had to Duo.

Then Wufei was beside me. ‘Call the dog, Heero.’ I don’t know if he could tell what was going through my head; maybe, because he put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed hard.

Behind me I heard the sound of Misty sobbing uncontrollably and Quatre talking to her in his soft, calm way.

‘Bernie! Come here, Bernie!’ The words felt strange in my mouth, and Wufei’s hand squeezed encouragement. ‘Come on, boy! Good dog! Come on Bernie!’

Trowa was kneeling near where we thought the stairs were, shining the flashlight through a space under a heavy support beam.

Justin moved up beside him, and took over calling for Bernie.

‘I see her!’ Trowa suddenly exclaimed, and seconds later I saw the furry brown and white head of Bernie poke out from under the beam. Carrie was right behind him, and they both had to squirm and wiggle to get out.

‘Daddy!’ she squealed, and Justin scooped her up in a bear hug, hurrying over to where Quatre had Misty restrained.

I had to turn my back on the reunion. Wufei wrapped his arm around me, and I found that my heart was thudding painfully in my ears.

‘I have to get down there,’ I told him.

‘The fire crew is on the way,’ he soothed. ‘As soon as we have the equipment… we’ll get him out.’

Quatre had left Misty to her husband and daughter and was back with Trowa. They were conversing in low tones, but I couldn’t focus enough to pay any attention. Behind me, I heard Carrie prattling along to her parents.

‘Unca Duo said Unca Heero would come, and he did!’ she babbled happily and it hit me like a blow.

I think I would have fallen to my knees if Wufei hadn’t been half supporting me already.

‘We’ll get him,’ he told me fiercely. ‘We’ll get him out; I swear.’

Quatre was suddenly beside us, tugging his jacket off and with his mission face on.

‘Come on,’ he commanded and we followed.

I saw Trowa standing just down from the hole that Carrie and Bernie had crawled out of, far too small for us to get through. He didn’t look happy.

‘If you guys can left this beam just a couple of inches,’ Quatre was saying. ‘I think I can get through there.’

I looked at him. He hadn’t changed a lot since the war. He had always been the smallest among us. Had retained, over the years, his lithe, slight frame. I looked dubiously at the hole he was intending to crawl through, and I doubted he could manage it, but could have hugged him for wanting to try.

The three of us moved into position, getting the best grip we could on the huge beam, while Quatre went and lay down on the ground in front of the hole. We waited for his signal and then did our damnedest to raise it up the little bit he was asking for. The thing might have been set in concrete. We pulled and tugged for all we were worth, and it shifted, but wouldn’t come up quite far enough.

‘Little more, guys!’ Quatre called encouragement and I started to fear that he was going to make a try for it and get caught under the damned thing.

Then suddenly, the beam gave a little and raised that extra inch. There was an ecstatic cry from Quatre and after a few long moments of feeling the beam vibrate in our hands as he squirmed under it, he yelled, ‘I’m clear!’ and we let it back down with a collective groan. A groan from four voices. I turned to find Justin straightening from the position he had taken behind Trowa. I nodded. He nodded back and went to rejoin his family.

Trowa was quickly beside the entrance that Quatre had just ventured through, and we moved beside him. We could see the glow of the flashlight as it bobbed down through the debris, fading from our sight.

I had to remind myself to breathe. Someone was rubbing my back in small circles. I’m not even sure if it was Wufei or Trowa.

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