"I know." He said
tersely and stopped so suddenly I plowed into him. The sound of our mingled
panting was screamingly loud in my ears and I took a couple of huge gulps
of air; trying to force my breathing to slow. The thin mountain air sure
as hell wasn't helping. I could feel Trowa doing pretty much the same
and it only took us a minute before I was able to concentrate past our
own sounds to listen for our pursuers.
"Listen." I told him, having figured out that somehow my hearing
had become more acute than it had been and I was hearing things he couldn't,
"They've spread out."
A plan was forming in my head but I knew it was going to take some convincing
on my part to get Trowa to go along with it.
I drew closer to him and spoke in low tones, "You understand that
I'm dead without you?"
He surprised me by throwing his arm around my waist as though he were
afraid I was planning on breaking away from him, "Duo... " He
began but I cut him off.
"No damn time for this." I growled, "Without you, I can't
get off this mountain. If you shoot the guy coming up behind us, we'll
have the whole damn squad on our asses in two seconds."
"I know that... " He began again and began to edge us toward
I resisted, "Leave me right here. Hide. I think... "
It was his turn to cut me off, "I told you, I'm not leaving you."
"Damn it, Trowa. I'm not planning on staying behind. Just fucking
There was a long minute of nothing, during which I imagined him searching
my face and I kept my blind gaze level in his direction, willing him to
do as I said. I could hear our soldier boy getting closer.
"Trust me." I said again and finally felt his arm slide away.
"I'll shoot if I have to." He hissed at me and then he was gone.
I dropped to the ground, sprawling myself artfully, lying so that my gun
was hidden from sight. I pulled my knife and tucked it up close to my
body, holding my right arm with my left hand as though injured. I began
to moan piteously.
"H... help me... somebody... please... "
If I'd had more time, I would have unbound my hair.
My hunter, who had no idea he had just become the hunted; hesitated in
his crashing through the trees and began to home in on the sounds I was
"Please... is there someone there?" I let my voice wobble and
rise and was rewarded with the sounds of soldier boy heading my way. I
listened hard for any sign that he was calling for backup and didn't hear
I whimpered... I cried... if there's one thing the streets will teach
you, it's how to act convincingly. He stopped not ten yards away, I could
hear him and imagined him looking me over.
"Help me... somebody... please... " I cried out, deliberately
not letting him see that I knew he was there. I pulled my legs up a little,
making myself look smaller and began to rock to and fro. I heard him take
a step toward me and I began to mindlessly moan to myself. The hook was
The sadistic bastard didn't say a word until he was right on top of me,
"What are you doing out here, boy?"
I jumped and yelped realistically, "Who's there?" I whimpered,
my head turning wildly in all the wrong directions and he finally leaned
down to grab me by the front of my shirt. I said a little prayer that
he didn't have a gun to my head and lashed out, slitting his throat.
I let out a gust of breath when he only fell across me and died in gurgling
I heard Trowa coming back, his steps skittering frantically across the
rocks, "Gods... Gods... Gods... " He was panting and he hauled
me out from under the body of my fallen prey with hands that were shaking,
"Don't ask me to sit by and watch you do that again!" He snapped
pulling me away.
"Close your eyes next time." I drawled and it stopped him in
his tracks, "Help me clean my knife off." I grinned at him and
got an agitated grunt in return. But he took the minute to wipe my blade
clean so I could put it away without worrying about getting it stuck in
I listened hard while he worked and didn't hear anybody else as close
on our track as this guy had been.
"Can we hide the body?" I queried.
"Not quick enough." He told me tersely, "And we can't hide
I grunted this time and then we were back to his moving me with an arm
around my waist. I tried to do that thing that Heero does for me sometimes...
tried to imagine Trowa lying out on the rocks and myself in hiding while
an Oz thug descended on him. I suppose it had been a little nerve
"You knew I was acting... right?" I ventured after a bit, keeping
my voice low, "I heard him coming from twenty yards off."
He didn't say anything for the longest time, just kept us moving up the
hill, kept me tucked in close to his side.
"I... wasn't sure." He admitted at last, "I don't know
what you're capable of."
"Everything but sight." I grinned.
"You're damned convincing; you know that?" He growled and I
realized that I really had scared him, "It was all I could do not
to come running back to your rescue."
I found myself wishing I could see his face, wondered at the tightness
of the arm around me, "Trowa," I ventured, "I'm slowing
us down again... "
"Duo... " He warned, his voice sounding weary and almost irritated.
I sighed, "Just let me go." I told him softly, "Let me
keep my own balance. We went faster when I could."
He did let me go then, with an almost sheepish apology and I took hold
of his shirttail once more. We ran as well as we could and I could tell
from the feel of the wind that we were getting fairly high.
Trowa slowed us soon after that, "We're getting close." He told
me and I knew that meant we would soon be losing the trees. The ground
was getting rockier and I was starting to have more trouble. The very
real fear of turning my ankle or twisting my knee was coming back with
He slowed further and the skin on the back of my neck felt prickly, "What's
wrong?" I whispered.
"We're losing cover."
I tried to picture the ground up here. The trees thinned and the ground
went to rock almost completely, there was some cover from the boulders
and a very small amount of scrub brush but we would have to stay very
low. Anybody in just the right position below us would be able to spot
us with ease. Damn it; we were so close.
I was becoming a rather large liability. We stopped moving almost all
together and Trowa pulled me down to a crouch.
"Trowa... " I knew there was just no arguing with him and I'm
not sure what kept compelling me to try but my stomach was twisted up
in knots thinking about it, "I won't get you killed, damn it. Please...
please don't let it come to that. Get yourself the hell out of
He was quiet and it almost surprised me; I had expected another angry
curse, "It hasn't gotten that far yet." He finally said, voice
It wasn't much but oddly it made me feel a little better; knowing that
he was at least allowing himself to finally think about it. I nodded sharply.
"Ok." I asked, "Now what?"
"We have to stay down." His voice was troubled, "I'm not
sure how to guide you."
I thought about it; this was going to get difficult. I couldn't see the
cover to stay under it. Needed to follow someone but Trowa needed to see
me to make sure I was staying out of sight. "Damn." I muttered.
"My way for a while then." He murmured and his arm came back
around me and we were moving side by side, going on hands and knees. His
arm kept me low and guided me but it had to be making his forward movement
difficult, because mine with both hands was killing me. We scrabbled over
the rocks like a couple of lost crabs; I wanted to laugh with the mental
picture I had of us. But the armed soldiers at our backs kind of took
the humor out of it. That and Trowa's knee coming down on my hand more
than once. He muttered apologies and I just bit my lip and didn't tell
him that it was nothing compared to the pain in my bad knee.
Our progress was ridiculously slow and I opened my mouth more than once
to tell him to go on without me but I knew he didn't have that kind of
provocation yet. I just concentrated on not letting my knee slow us down
any more than we already were.
"Gods, Trowa... aren't we freaking there yet?" I finally couldn't
keep from asking after it seemed like we had been crawling over the rocks
"Close." He whispered back, "I was just thinking about
making a break for it."
We slowed to a stop while he looked the ground over and I was just getting
set to ask him for the lay of the land when I heard it. There was someone
I gave the hand signal to alert him and he pulled me against him and hunched
us nearer to the rocks. We were silent while we listened hard. I heard
it again; a boot heel on rock. I gestured in the right direction and Trowa
drew us back a little. Then I heard another sound, the brush of cloth
against cloth, very close... and not in the same position. I raised my
hand and signaled the second presence and felt Trowa drawing his gun.
They didn't have us flanked but the two sounds were fairly far apart;
no way in hell Trowa could get them both. I felt him tensing beside me,
his arm almost cutting off my air; I could feel his indecision in the
air like a tangible thing. Then I was struck with sudden inspiration.
I leaned in close until my lips were almost brushing his ear and I told
I knew he understood me and I knew he didn't like it; but it was a plan.
The seeds of which I had planted just in time. One of our pursuers spotted
us and Trowa followed my lead for lack of a better idea. It all rode on
whether these guys gave a flying fuck if a civilian got creamed in their
There was a shout to our right and Trowa stood and pulled me in front
of him, his grip on me turning rough and menacing.
I yelped in terror and babbled pleadingly for him not to hurt me.
Left soldier yelled for Trowa to put his gun down and the mere fact that
the man hesitated and didn't just shoot us both outright seemed to give
Trowa a little confidence in my idea. He jerked me higher, giving me a
shake and snapped at me to shut up.
For my part, I tried to sag in his grasp without really putting my weight
where it would throw him off balance, while keeping my body turned so
they couldn't see my gun. It was an awkward, twisted position.
"Help me!" I sobbed out to my would be rescuers and Trowa gave
me another shake.
"Shut the fuck up!" He snarled and I had to bite down on the
hysterical bubble that suddenly filled the back of my throat.
Right soldier must have come out of hiding then, because Trowa began shifting
the gun slightly from side to side. I heard no more sounds, so there was
just the two of them.
I whimpered pathetically again, just for good measure.
Left soldier took a step and I felt Trowa concentrate in that direction.
We had to speed this up; they would just hold us here until re-enforcements
arrived and then overpower us with sheer numbers.
I let my head drop down and brought my hand up to my face; the one that
didn't have a knife strapped to it and whimpering some more.
"We have to draw them in." I hissed to Trowa behind the cover
of my hand, "Work with me... I'm going to attack you."
I felt him stiffen but he couldn't argue. I started a keening wail and
did my best to look like a man who had just reached his breaking point.
I hadn't given him much time to get ready, so I think the surprised yelp
was at least partially genuine. I turned on him, as though going for his
gun and he let us tumble to the ground. I had to work very hard to keep
myself turned so that they couldn't get a shot off at him, couldn't see
my weapons and couldn't see that not only wasn't I actually grappling
for his gun... I was working mine out under the cover of
Trowa cursed me for all he was worth and I really think that was genuine
as well. He was shaking like a leaf under my hands.
Behind me, little soldier right and little soldier left moved in like
tigers to the meat.
"I'm left." I hissed next to Trowa's ear and then shut up to
listen hard for my quarry. It was difficult over the pounding in my ears.
"Now." Trowa breathed and we rolled apart firing as we separated.
I didn't think I would get my hit before soldier left got off a shot and
tried my best to keep myself between him and Trowa. Soldier boy helped
me with a surprised yell when he saw the gun in my hands and I just fired
until the clip was empty. It vaguely registered that Trowa fired a single
shot and one of the two Oz guns went off.
The silence was deafening.
"Trowa?" I ventured into the stillness and the panic in my voice
wasn't fake this time.
"Here." He answered me gruffly and took the gun out of my trembling
hands to shove back into the holster, "Come on."
We forgot stealth. We forgot caution. There wasn't much point anymore.
It was a footrace now. We had to do it his way; the ground was too rough
and full of pitfalls for me to make my own way. I gave over control to
him completely, letting him drag me along, doing my best to run with him.
"Almost there." He panted after a bit and it gave me the strength
to redouble my efforts. I just ran; shoving down the fear of falling and
crushing it underneath the fear of getting shot. I trusted Trowa's arm
not to let me go hurtling over a cliff or step where I would end up breaking
a leg. We were both panting like drowning men by the time we came stumbling
up to Heavyarms.
Trowa had the remote out almost before we were there and I heard the unmistakable
hissing sound of pressurized air as the hatch popped open above us. I
could have wept with relief.
"Hang on to me." He told me fiercely, "I need both hands
for the winch cable."
I heard it coming down and wrapped my trembling arms around his neck,
feeling him let go of me to grab hold of it.
"Ready?" He asked.
"Go!" I snapped, thinking about what sitting ducks we were out
here, like some kind of bizarre carnival game; shoot the swinging Gundam
pilot and win a prize! The hairs on the back of my neck were standing
on end again and goose flesh was prickling between my shoulder blades.
Then we were inside and Trowa was sealing the hatch. There wasn't a thing
that a foot soldier could carry that was going to touch us in here but
we couldn't discount that they had called for some sort of backup, so
the pressure was still on.
I hunched myself up into a ball where Trowa had shoved me and tried to
stay out of his way. Listened to the sounds of him bringing a Gundam to
life. Imagined a chorus of surprised 'Holy shit's!' coming from the handful
of soldiers that had been stalking us up the mountain.
Trowa was in his element here; I could feel the tension in the air going
down by degrees as he ran through the familiar routines. I wondered if
piloting made him feel as confident and in-control as it did me. Somehow,
it seemed so. I hoped he remembered to do something with me before he
took off; I didn't relish the idea of bouncing all over the cockpit like
a stinking ping-pong ball.
As if hearing my thoughts, hands found mine and he pulled me up, "If
I get you behind the pilots seat, do you think you can hang on?"
I was tired to the bone and honestly wasn't sure I could. I must have
hesitated because he had a chance to think about it, "How does Heero...
I almost laughed. Heero had taken me aboard his Gundam on a couple of
occasions now but I was not about to suggest to Trowa Barton that he give
me a ride out of here on his damned lap.
"Behind the seat is fine." I reassured him and if he wondered
what I was blushing about, he didn't mention it.
We found some straps that I was able to hold on to and I braced myself
with my legs wrapped around the base of the seat. It would have to do.
I sat and said a little prayer to whatever Gods might be listening while
Trowa belted down and then we were blasting clear of that place. I imagined
Heavyarms coursing skywards, wrapped in the camo netting and dropping
tree branches as he went.
It was one hell of a ride and I don't recommend it in any way, shape or
form. Imagine riding in the worst roller coaster you've ever been on;
blindfolded... without the safety bar.
I heard Trowa contacting base on the emergency channel, hands tapping
over the keyboard, sending the encrypted codes that reported our safe
house had been compromised. I heard him scrolling through the encrypted
instructions when they finally came back. Then there was just a hard,
rolling, gut-wrenching ride. I think Trowa kind of forgot I was in there
with him and I would have paid somebody to tell me where we were and where
we were headed and just what was going on as the Gundam pitched and dove.
By the time he brought us in, I would have collapsed on the damn floor
of the Gundam if I could have uncurled my cramped fingers from around
the leather strap I had been clinging too for the last few hours. I hurt
all over and just wanted to lie down somewhere that didn't have bolts
sticking me in the ass. My right knee was swollen and twitching and I
figured that as soon as I got my hands worked off the strap, I would have
to use them to force my leg out straight again. It crossed my mind that
if I just stayed quiet maybe he'd forget I was there.
I only got the few minutes it took him to run through his shutdown sequence
and pop the hatch. His voice held concern when it finally came, "Duo...
? Are you all right?"
"Ducky." I grunted and really, really tried to convince myself
to put some effort into getting out of the cockpit.
There was the sound of a quiet chuckle and I heard him getting down to
squirm close enough to get to me.
"I'll wash your Gundam if you just let me lie here." I whined
and only got another chuckle. His hands came to rest on mine and began
working the stiff fingers free. There was a stinging pain and I realized
that I had cut my palms on the leather.
His breath hissed through his teeth.
"I'm serious." I told him, just to keep up the banter, "I'll
wax it too... top to bottom."
He only grunted, getting my hands free and turning to work on my legs,
"You'd do a crappy job... wouldn't be able to see if it was streaked."
He said drolly and won a sharp laugh from me.
Behind him I heard the sound of a shocked gasp and Quatre's horrified,
I grinned in the general direction I thought Trowa was in, "Was that
the sound of the Easter bunny dying?" I asked quietly.
He laughed outright and I joined with him; it felt good.
"Relax, Sunshine!" I called to Quatre and began to crawl out
from behind the pilot's seat, letting Trowa guide me through the maze
of equipment. At last he had me mostly on my feet in the hatchway and
I heard another gasp from Quatre, "Oh Gods; Duo! Trowa what happened
to him?" His hands were clutching at my free arm on the opposite
side from Trowa and I could feel him shaking.
"Quatre... " I couldn't figure out what was wrong with him,
"What is it? What's the matter?"
"It's all right." Trowa told him gently, "It's not his
Ah. I should have remembered; I must be covered in the stuff.
"Can we get the hell out of here?" I asked and my voice sounded
tired even to me.
"Of course, Duo." Quatre told me and I sighed. There was that
damned pitying tone of voice. He meant it to be gentle but I could 'hear'
that look I had known he would give me.
Quatre went down first and while Trowa was running the winch cable back
up, he leaned in close and whispered, "I'll talk to him."
"Thanks, man." I murmured and we shared a grin. At least I think
we did; I was grinning anyway.
I took the line from his hands when it was back up and he didn't even
make me ask to ride it down alone. My landing wasn't all that graceful;
Quatre didn't think to warn me when the ground came up. I hit a little
hard and my knee threatened to buckle under me. I hollered my all clear
and stepped away. Quatre was right there with his hand on my arm, trying
to maneuver me. I sighed again and just endured it. I made sure not to
let him see my hands; he would have smacked Trowa for letting me ride
the cable down alone.
The air felt crisp and cool; I suspected a higher altitude. There was
the faint smell of pine and car exhaust. I wondered where we were going
to be heading and how we were getting there. I truly was bone tired and
just wanted a bed somewhere; anywhere. I opened my mouth to ask Quatre
where we were but was interrupted by the sound of Trowa touching down
next to us.
"Here, Quatre," Trowa was saying, "Let go of him."
I could feel that same electric current in the air that I had felt when
Heero and Trowa had tried to talk around me without words. I sighed softly
to myself and decided there was just no getting around some things.
Trowa took my hand and guided it to his shoulder, letting me stand just
off to his left and behind a pace.
"There's a car down the path." He told me, "gravel pathway,
narrow but well tended. Slight incline. Maybe a hundred yards."
I imagined the look he was getting from Quatre who was probably half expecting
him to carry me and grinned.
"After you." I smirked and he chuckled in return.
We headed out and things would have been fine if I had done a better job
of hiding the limp.
"Duo?" Trowa questioned, his tone all worry and concern and
then full of sudden realization, "Damn. Your knee."
"Just a little swollen." I reassured them but knew I was in
trouble when they stopped walking.
I jumped at the sudden feel of Quatre's hands on my knee; it had to be
Quatre because I still had my hand on Trowa's shoulder.
"A little swollen?" He growled at me and then to Trowa,
"Get him off of it."
"Come on, you guys!" I snapped but it did me no good. The next
thing I knew, Trowa had me swept up in his arms and he carried me the
rest of the way to the car.
"You're allowed to lean sometimes, Duo." Trowa murmured to me
and mentally, I just threw my hands up in disgust. The hell with it. I
let them do with me as they pleased. What they pleased consisted of loading
me into the back seat of a car I didn't recognize and driving me to a
safe house I didn't know. I was taken to an unfamiliar bathroom and left
blessedly alone for a half an hour to shower. I was given strange clothes
to change into and eventually carried to a room that had a bed in it.
Aspirin was administered and my knee was packed in ice.
I didn't argue; I was just too damn tired. I declined food and just burrowed
into a set of sheets I could only guess the color of on a bed I had never
The imp in my head, who had been relatively quiet for the last week, was
back with a vengeance. I fell asleep listening to the sounds of him chortling
happily in my head.
I woke. I had no idea what time it was. My bladder told me it had been
a long while. I tried to think what time it might have been when we had
arrived here. Where ever the hell 'here' was. Probably late afternoon
or early evening. So it was most likely some Gods awful hour of the morning.
I had no idea where I was in relation to anything else in the house. I
thought hard, remembering the previous evening. We had gone up some stairs
after my shower. So I was on the second floor but the bathroom was on
the first. Bloody hell. I found myself wishing to be back in that damn
little cabin and almost laughed at myself.
"Son of a bitch." I muttered in disgust and reached to throw
the covers off. Wandering around a damn strange house trying to find the
bathroom without waking up the whole rest of the world was going to suck.
"You're awake." Came a quiet voice and I jumped so hard I cracked
an elbow on the wall.
"Shit!" I growled and would have glared at Wufei if I'd had
more than a general idea where he was.
"Sorry, Maxwell." And he really did sound contrite.
It took me a heartbeat to get over the irritation enough that it really
sank in that Wufei was there with me. I rose unsteadily from the bed with
every intention of finding him.
"Fei? Where are you?" I hadn't seen him since the crash. Hadn't
gotten to talk to him since he saved my stinking hide.
I heard the creak of bedsprings and realized the room was a double, "Here."
He said. But then he came to me, not making me find him in the dark.
"I'm right here." He said when he was near and his fingers came
to touch me arm.
Once he was there, I didn't know what the hell to say and I probably looked
like a damn carp gaping at him. I was moved to reach for him but found
I couldn't bring myself to without being able to see his face; without
being able to judge his frame of mind. I wanted to impart to him more
things than I had the words to say.
There was the ghostly feel of his fingertips brushing across my bandaged
eyes and soft as a sigh, his voice sounding pained, "Oh, Duo... "
Then he shocked the holy-ass hell out of me by embracing me.
Something unlocked inside me and I threw my arms around him to return
the tight hug, "Thank you." I breathed, "Gods... I couldn't
have... I never would have been able... "
"You're welcome." He stopped my flow of words brusquely and
gently slid away from me, "What are you doing awake?"
I grinned sheepishly and ducked my head, "I have to go the bathroom...
and I don't have a clue where it is."
He chuckled lightly, "They just dumped you in here?"
I let the grin quirk wider, "Dumped in foreign territory without
a bloody map."
He took my arm, "I'll lead you down." And his voice sounded
I started to follow but hesitated on a sudden thought, "Let's get
one thing straight first." I told him firmly, "I am going to
limp. My knee hurts. But if you even hint that you are thinking
of trying to carry me, I'm going to throw the biggest temper tantrum that
you have ever seen."
I won an almost chuckle, "Understood."
He led me then and I did limp like hell but no comment was forth coming.
We made our way slowly, Wufei letting me feel my way so I could learn
it and giving me concise descriptions as we went. We were in the mountains
somewhere in Colorado in a house belonging to one of Quatre's sisters.
Said sister was not in residence. It was as big as any of the Winner estate
houses we had stayed in however and I groaned thinking about how long
it was going to take me to learn my way around.
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