Evasions (cont)

I wandered out of the back room yawning and stretching, and found Heero and Quatre sitting on the couch huddled over the laptop.

"Find something, guys?" I asked as I padded into the room.

Quatre grinned up at me, "We may have finally found a link between target B and the military."

I went around the couch and leaned where I could look over their shoulders. Heero was in control of the keyboard of course and was typing commands into a DOS window. I could see they had hacked into some web site and Heero was extracting some sort of data. His fingers flew over the keys and, not for the first time, I wondered what his damn typing speed was. I leaned closer to read some of the information as it scrolled by. I detected a break in the rhythm of the tapping of keys, Heero mistyped a simple command and his breath hissed in irritation. He faltered as he cleared and retyped. As an experiment, I straightened and moved away; his hands went back to their normal speed and pattern. I couldn't repress a sigh; God he must really hate me.

I wandered off to the kitchen and got some juice from the refrigerator. I leaned against the counter and drank it, watching my two partners where they worked. Quatre had finally found something he could do. Using his knowledge of legalese and the intricacies of red tape, he was guiding Heero through a myriad of layers of virtual camouflage, hunting for some proof that our suspicions were right. I felt glad for him; happy that he had found a way to contribute to the mission. It actually relieved me a little; I had been worrying that he was going to let the inactivity get to him and he was going to try to force the issue of leaving the house. I think if push came to shove, Heero would let him.

But at the same time, I was insanely envious of his ability to sit and work with Heero like that. I wanted to be able to do that; wanted to be able to sit side by side with him, working on a problem together. I wondered if I would ever know what it was about me that made him so... nuts.

I washed the glass and went to get cleaned up for my evening out. Helio made kissy faces at me in the mirror while I tried to brush my teeth.

"Kiss off, asshole," I muttered, spat in the sink and refused to look at him again.

Just to vary the theme, I braided my hair, but much looser than I normally did. I briefly toyed with the idea of not wearing my arm sheath but couldn't bring myself to leave it behind. I'm fairly certain I would have gotten my ass out of the frying pan the night before without it but it would have definitely come down to a fight. The knife had made my attackers think twice and had allowed me to end the situation without having to kill somebody. I really didn't need any dead bodies to have to hide right now.

It wouldn't go far to further my 'vulnerable and scared' routine if I managed to hook up with Mr. Military but I would just have to see to it that he didn't find out I was wearing it.

I retreated to Quatre's room with my MP3 player while I waited for it to get dark. I was having trouble working up to this again tonight; the proper mind-set seemed just slightly out of reach and I knew it was just because I was feeling sorry for myself. I used my music to drag myself through the emotional transformation that was required. Had to start out by getting a little pissed off to pull myself out of the depression and put my thoughts about Heero out of my head. I listened to a little hard rock 'battle music' until I could feel the harsh, metal beat thrumming through me. When I was angry enough that I was starting to feel almost claustrophobic, I changed it to some of my folk ballads. My 'defense of the innocent' music, I called it. Channelled the anger until it had a little purpose, refocused myself on just what the hell I was doing here. Helio's music I would have to play inside my head later. Damned if I'd make the segue into that here in front of Heero and Quatre.

I was standing in the middle of the room with my eyes closed, listening to 'Goodnight Saigon' when Quatre came to call me for dinner.

I switched the player off before the next song started and turned to look at him.

"What are you doing?" he asked curiously.

I flashed him a grin and was pleased that I was able to again. "Ya gotta have a theme song."

"What?" He just looked confused, of course and I laughed lightly.

"It's all attitude." I tapped the side of my head, "It helps to have... theme music running in your head."

He grinned at me but I could tell he didn't understand. "Dinner's ready." was all he said.

"I'm not eating," I informed him as I moved passed him to go get my jacket out of the living room.

"Why not?" He followed me as we went through the house. "You didn't eat any lunch
either... "

I repressed the urge to laugh out loud; he sounded so upset about it... like missing two meals in a row was an unthinkable thing. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I was probably ten years old before I had known that some people got three meals a day.

"Because... I look too well fed," was as much as I elaborated.

I saw him open his mouth out of the corner of my eye but then I saw him close it again. Well, somebody here was trying at least.

I was rushing and I knew it. I wanted to get out of the house before Heero popped up from wherever in the hell he was; two seconds with him could undo all the work I'd done over the last hour preparing myself for this. I really should have known better; when I turned toward the back of the house, intending to go out the back way again, he was standing in my path. I just stopped and looked at a point past his right ear and tried to keep my music in the front of my head, waiting for him to say whatever it was he was going to say.

"We came in spastic
Like untamed horses
We left in plastic
As numbered corpses
And we learned fast
To travel light
Our arms were heavy
But our bellies were tight.

And we would all go down together
We said we'd all go down together... "

Ok... maybe that wasn't the best song to be playing in my head right now but it's what I had and I clung to it and waited for the shot I figured he was getting ready to take. He never failed to somehow hit me below the belt.

We weren't really making eye contact, because I stubbornly refused to meet his icy gaze but by God he was the one who looked away first.

"Be careful," he growled in a voice so low I almost didn't catch it. I would have met his stare then, if he hadn't already turned away.

Damn. Below the belt again... just in an entirely unexpected way. All I could do was grunt and head out. He'll surprise me until the day I finally die and take that number nine bus straight to hell. I have a reserved seat you know.

I changed the song in my head as soon as I was out on the sidewalk heading back for the dreaded business district. Dance music, mostly; light and a little bubbly. Fluff stuff; that's Helio. 'Footloose', 'Safety Dance', junk like that. Yeah... I like the retro stuff; I can't stand the new music. It never has anything to say, all instrumental 'expressionism' crap. It's no wonder everybody is listening to stuff a hundred or more years old. By the time I made the strip, Helio was fairly dancing along, wiggling and swinging his hips. I really hate letting him out of the box.

God but it was cold tonight. Under the slashed denim, I might as well be stark naked; there is no insulation factor to spandex at all. I was damn near shivering by the time I made it to my destination.

I ran into Red pretty quick; she seemed to have forgotten that I was too stupid to talk to and introduced me to a couple of her friends. I stood around talking with them for a bit. There was a certain safety in the numbers, especially since I wasn't really interested in letting anybody pick me up.

I kept a sharp eye out for my friend from the bushes the other night but didn't see either him or dog-boy.

Red got a nibble and wandered off, her group soon broke up so I was back to walking around.

The night took a lovely turn when it started to snow. Damn; as if it hadn't been cold enough. Now I was cold and getting wet. It seemed to put a damper on things too; people started to disappear, making quick connections and going to seek shelter. I was left trolling the main drag with the other desperate ones. Great. I was just considering heading back toward the house when I saw him coming down the street.

He wore one of those long, dark, great coats. The kind that come down to the calves of your legs and make some guys look damned cool and other guys look damned stupid. He looked cool; striding out of the blowing snow like some dark specter. I didn't have to fake a shiver and I let myself hunch up against the cold and pretended I didn't see him. I waited until he was almost abreast of me and then I turned and deliberated plowed right into him. Of course, I acted like I didn't have a clue and even though I was prepared for it, I rebounded off him like I'd hit a brick wall and fell on my ass in the rapidly accumulating snow.

I let my eyes travel up the length of him until I was staring up into his down turned face. I let my eyes grow wide and my mouth fall open and I squeaked a shaky apology. It really wasn't hard to put a little bit of fear into my voice; running into the man had brought it home just how solid and strong he was. My little stiletto suddenly seemed woefully inadequate.

He smiled slightly at my position and stretched a hand down to help me up. My eyes flicked back and forth between the face and the hand as though I were afraid to take it. When I finally reached out, I let my own hand tremble.

The smile turned a little feral and I knew I had him.

"You should watch where you're going," he said with a touch of mockery in his voice.

He didn't let go of my hand even after I'd regained my feet. I spent a few seconds clearing my throat and blushing and finally murmured another apology.

"You've gotten yourself all wet," he purred and used the hand he was holding to turn me around; brushing snow off my butt with his free hand.

In my head, Solo was screaming for all he was worth, "Run, you fucking asshole! Run like hell and don't look back!"

The shiver that ran through me then was completely genuine.

I tried to pull my hand free and said, "I'm... ok," trying to sound defensive.

My hand stayed right where it was and he was suddenly leaning over me. "Am I mistaking what you're out here for, on a night like this?"

I shook my head and let it appear that he'd shocked me into looking up at him. I let my eyes lock with his and saw him register the color with another of those deceptive smiles. He knew he could scare me, now he wanted to charm me enough to agree to go with him.

"You aren't dressed for this weather," he observed dryly. "I have someplace warm... "He let it trail off with a raised eyebrow.

I swallowed and did my best to look like somebody getting their head together. "I... I don't come free," I blurted, sounding petulant and inexperienced.

He grinned again, from his great height. "I have no doubt, little pet."

He asked the price.

Without thinking, I popped out with the one I had been using to blow people off.

He never blinked, only let the smile widen and then he unbuttoned his coat and motioned for me to move in close enough that he could wrap it around me.

"I never buy without tasting the merchandize," he whispered next to my ear, once he had me tucked under his arm. "Will you let me taste you?"

I had seen him kissing the girl he had picked up last night but I hadn't seen this coming. I froze and he brought his hand down to raise my chin up and before I could think what to do, he was kissing me.

It was gentle and warm and... thorough. He invaded my mouth with a placidly exploring tongue. My damn knees went weak. I knew this was the velvet over the steel; this was what was meant to lure me into going with him where things would change into something... different. I let him think I was fooled.

"Oh... " he breathed into my ear when he released my lips, "I think you're going to be well worth the money."

He had us moving but not, I noted, back the way he had come.

"Where... "I let my voice start out a little high and cleared my throat to bring it down. "Where are we going?"

"I have a place out of the cold," he reassured me and I had to admit the guy was very good. If I were to meet this man in any other circumstances I would not hesitate to shake his hand and join him in conversation.

I really, really wished that I had seen the girl he had... employed last night around somewhere but I had never spotted her. And I had looked.

"Uhmmm... "I stole a glance up at him. "What do I call you?" I asked and did a bad job of trying to sound coy. It came across, of course, like false bravado.

He chuckled and his eyes when he looked down at me, glinted oddly. "I haven't decided yet." He had his arm around me, holding me inside the sweep of his coat. "What shall I call you?"

I opened my mouth to tell him but he suddenly stopped me with a finger to my lips.

"No... on second thought; I think I shall tell you what we shall call you."

I shrugged and dared another look upward.

"Little bird... "He sighed. "Pretty little bird... I think I'll call you my little Sparrow." He leaned down to nibble lightly at the top of my ear and I shivered, not by design this time. He chuckled lightly.

Solo kicked me in my memory and shouted, "And he's gonna pluck you like a God damn little bird if you don't get out before it's too late!"

I tried to act like I suddenly remembered I had a job to do and dared to slip an arm around him, letting my hip nudge against him as we walked.

"Why are we heading down Fifth Street?" I frowned up at him, even as I delivered the message to my backup. "There's nothing down here... "

He smiled and his arm tightened around my shoulders. "My... company... owns a building down here."

My heart skipped a beat. Could I get this lucky? The only commercial building down this way was target B. We walked on in silence for a bit.

"Those are neat boots," I said at length, as though trying to fill the awkward silence. "Where'd you get 'em? I got mine at that second hand store on Fourth... "

He laughed lightly and looked down at me, his eyes terribly amused. I maintained my innocent interest. He finally grinned and said, "They're... company issue."

Oh, that was good; the truth within the lie. To start with; he thought I was stupid, and that was a good thing. Next, he had just as much as admitted that he was military.

Could this get any better? Yeah... I could live through the encounter with my ass intact.

It was all I could do not to crow out loud when he did lead me right to target B. He let me step away from him while he fished out a key. I spared several glances over my shoulder, as though I were thinking of backing out. His eyes were getting... scarily bright the closer we got to his destination. He led me inside.

"Here?" I said, moving ahead of him by several paces while he took a minute to disarm an alarm system, getting a little distance between us. "It's a freaking warehouse. There's nothing in here but crates and boxes. And it's cold! I thought you said it was warm?" I wished I dared more of a description to pass back to the guys but I knew this man wasn't stupid.

Behind me, he laughed and the sound wasn't near as pleasant as it had been.

"Surely you're used to such... austere... bedroom arrangements."

I turned toward him and looked confused; he wouldn't expect me to understand the big words. "What?"

He looked smug. "Never mind." He smiled.

"Listen... uhmmm... "I ducked my head and blushed, it wasn't hard, imagining Heero and Quatre sitting back at the house listening to me. "I... gotta pee... the cold... is there a bathroom?"

He laughed out right and pointed to the side, "Through there, little Sparrow." He took a step toward me. "I'll be waiting."

I flashed an embarrassed grin and trotted off to do my business. Holy shit; I hoped I could get out of this in one piece.

As soon as the door was closed behind me, I had my stiletto out and was cutting at the seam in my shirt where the transmitter was currently hidden.

"Listen," I breathed into it, keeping my voice as low as possible. "I'm gonna try to get this thing on him. Don't panic; it's gonna get rough here in a minute but I think I can get myself out of this."

I slipped the knife away and went ahead and peed, just in case he was listening. Then I palmed the tiny transmitter, took a deep breath and headed back out of the bathroom.

He was indeed waiting for me, sitting on a packing crate with one leg swinging idly. I smiled and went toward him; he was still doing 'nice' and I needed to get the transmitter on him before that changed. I went right up to him, hoping that he thought I'd used my time in the bathroom to work myself up for the job. I slipped my arms around him, dipping my fingers into his back pockets and rubbing myself against him to distract him while the button-sized transmitter was being deposited in his hip pocket. I'm an excellent pickpocket and it works pretty much the same either taking or leaving; most of it is distraction. The rest is speed.

He chuckled at me and wrapped his arms around me, leaning down to kiss me but this time it was harsh and forceful. Here we went; he had gotten me where he wanted me and now he was going to change the rules. Things were going to get violent. The man freaking raped my mouth. I rode with whatever he did without protest and when he drew back from my bleeding lips to look at me, I grinned up at him.

"Oh... "I purred, "you didn't tell me you liked it rough."

It wasn't what he had expected, what he sought. He had wanted me to fight him; had wanted to see fear in my eyes. He frowned at me but I didn't give him time to speak. I slid out of his reach while he was busy reevaluating the situation. I turned off Duo and let Helio take complete control, cocking my head and planting my hands on my hips.

"Honey, you gotta tell me what you want," I sighed in exasperation, "I thought you wanted the innocent bit... now you're tellin' me you want somethin' rougher. Just what is your game?"

He was getting angry, starting to realize that all my earlier nervousness and hesitation had all been an act. He rose from the crate to his full height but I didn't give an inch.

"I can make you feel real good if you'll just tell me... " I began and I saw him go from angry to really pissed in the space of a heartbeat. Seeing it probably saved my ass because I was able to roll with the punch a little bit. He still knocked my butt a good ten feet and I ended up crashing into a packing crate. I came up instantly and had the stiletto out of its sheath before he had a chance to get to me. I knew at this point that survival depended on not showing even one more hint of fear.

I had all of three seconds to register what came spilling out of the crate when I crashed into it. Some damned sophisticated looking electronic parts. He didn't catch me looking.

"That's it!" I snarled at him, "I do not do S&M... no way; no how! Back off asshole!" I perhaps could have done without the asshole... but my mouth has never been the cleanest thing.

"I think... "He glared at me, advancing slowly, "That you are going to be... "

I cut him off with a roll of my eyes, "Oh cut the damned evil-villain posturing!" I growled, "there isn't much you could do to me that hasn't already been done!" I managed to make that last part come out sounding almost bored.

I continued to back slowly toward the door and he continued to pace me. Sexually; he was losing whatever rush he had been getting from toying with me. But he was still pissed and I was pretty sure the least he had on his mind was a good beating. If he had his way I wouldn't be walking out of here.

I spared a glance over my shoulder, partially to locate the door and partially to see if he would make a move. He did. He lunged toward me but his move assumed that I would make a break for the door or stand my ground. He didn't expect me to move toward him. I threw myself at him, dropping low at the last moment to duck under his swinging arm. I did not hesitate after that but shot across the floor of the warehouse and made straight for a pile of crates that were stacked under a window.

Now there is something that people assume about me that is true; I am a fast little son of a bitch. You learn to run on the street; run for your life. I was pretty sure I was running for it now. I could hear him behind me, cussing under his breath and I lunged for the first crate, scrambling up the pile like a damned alley cat with a junkyard dog on his tail. I didn't even hesitate when I got to the top but threw myself through the glass knowing that I was going to have a good eight foot drop on the outside of the building. I finished my alley cat act and managed to land without breaking anything and got the hell out of there as fast as I could run. I never heard him come out of the building. I think I finally just became more trouble than I was worth. I somehow had maintained my grip on my knife but couldn't make myself sheath it for a good two blocks. I just hoped like hell that Quatre didn't panic; I had gone to a lot of trouble to get that transmitter planted on Mr. Military and I didn't want to lose the opportunity it offered.

I didn't run straight back to the safe house but I didn't take the hour-long meandering route either. I burst in the back door with a panting sigh of relief and damn near collapsed on the floor right inside the door.

Quatre came running the minute he heard me, not even slowing down to make sure it was me. Heero's presence didn't even deter him from coming full tilt and throwing his arms tight around me.

"Duo!" he almost wailed, "you're all right!"

Behind him, I could see Heero standing with his arms folded over his chest and a frown on his face.

I returned Quatre's embrace, maybe a little harder than I should have, "S'ok little brother... everything went according to plan." I panted.

Something strange passed over Heero's face and the frown changed subtly, "Are you injured?" he asked in that clinical tone of voice. I opened my mouth with my standard smart-ass retort and then closed it. Hadn't we put some of this behind us earlier?

"I... "I blinked thinking about it, "I don't think so."

Quatre let go of me and drew back, looking up at me questioningly and his eyes widened a little. His fingers rose toward my face and then hesitated, "He really belted you a good one," he finally murmured.

I raised my own fingers and touched gingerly around my cheekbone, wincing slightly. "Guess he did, huh?" I sighed and all of a sudden the last couple of hours just rushed in and smacked me in the face. All I could think about was the feel of that bastard's tongue in my mouth. I shoved Quatre away and went storming into the bathroom, slamming the door behind me. If I had eaten that day it might have been easier, as it was all I could do was hang over the toilet with the dry heaves for the next five minutes and spit as best I could. When I was done, I stripped out of Helio's clothes as fast as I could get them off and threw them in the corner. I was pretty sure that was the last time I was going to be able to pull Helio out of his box. That was as close as I ever wanted to come. I couldn't make myself take the knife sheath off. I rinsed my mouth and washed my face and only almost lost it once when it came to me, all unbidden, that that had been my first kiss. I distracted myself by checking for injuries, finding only a couple of cuts from the window glass and some bruising on my hands and knees. And of course the rapidly swelling side of my face and my... lips.

Outside in the hall I could hear the faint sounds of Heero and Quatre arguing.

"... I said; give him a few minutes." Heero's voice was completely unyielding.

"Heero;" Quatre said in an angry tone, "he needs us... "

"He needs you to stop hovering for a minute." I was surprised at the calm quality to his voice.

"He just went through something... horrible," Quatre grated out and I could imagine them standing toe to toe in the hall. I found the clothes I had changed out of earlier and began dressing as fast as I could before things escalated into something ugly.

"And it is over," Heero replied and then shocked the hell out of me. "He is not... 'doing Helio'... again."

It got quiet then; Quatre didn't seem to have a reply. I finished dressing and pulled the door open. They turned as one and I came fairly steadily, I thought, out of the bathroom.

"That's good... "I confessed, the shock not having worn off yet. "Cause I don't think that I can."

Heero came and took hold of my face, turning me toward the light. I got that tiny grunt and then he asked, voice all business, "you have evaluated? Are you otherwise injured?"

I shook my head and he let go of me, turning to Quatre, "Get some ice on that." And then he turned back toward the living room.

Quatre and I just stood and stared at each other for a minute.

"Oh Duo... "he sighed and it made the backs of my eyes sting.

"Don't," I whispered and he saw and understood and just shut up.

In the other room, we suddenly heard a stranger's voice and we both jumped. Then Quatre's eyes flew wide. "The transmitter!"

We followed Heero into the living room. Quatre maneuvered me into the second chair they had sitting there and stood behind me.

"What's going on?" I asked as soon as we were there and Heero raised a hand to silence us while he listened.

"... hell have you been?" a totally strange voice said.

"None of your damn business!" came the reply and I had to suppress a shiver; it was Mr. Military.

Quatre laid a hand on my shoulder and leaned close, "This is the first thing we've heard in close to a half an hour." he whispered, "There was a lot of cussing and crashing around after you... got away." He smiled a little, "He was very mad; seemed to throw a lot of things."

I grinned, more than happy to have frustrated my little playmate.

I had missed something relatively unimportant but now the stranger was saying, "You didn't take another of your little 'conquests' over to the damn factory, did you?"

There was a moment's silence and then a sullen, "And what if I did?" I could tell that he had been surprised. He had not known that this other person knew of his nighttime habits.

"God damn it!" yelled the stranger, "You are jeopardizing this operation!"

"How so?" purred Military-man, "It's not like they ever tell anyone what they've seen."

On my shoulder, Quatre's fingers tightened so hard I almost flinched, I put my hand over his and squeezed reassuringly. "It's Ok, Qat." I whispered and felt eyes on me. I glanced up to meet Heero's appraising stare. This time, I broke first, looking down at my lap.

"You are a sick son of a bitch!" snapped Stranger-man, "How many does that make now? Four? Five?"

Military-man didn't reply and I chuckled, "He's not lying if he doesn't answer." I grinned ferally in appreciation of the tactic. He never did say and therefore never had to admit that he let one get away.

"The suits will be ready to ship at the end of the week." Stranger-man said in a dangerous tone of voice and I had to wonder what in the hell he looked like if he wasn't afraid of Mr. Freakin' Huge. "I am going to be so glad to get the hell away from you."

Mr. Military chuckled and there was the sound of a slamming door not long after that.

I glanced up. "When that crate broke open... there were electronic parts... mobile suit parts; like I've never seen. I couldn't get hold of one."

"They're building some kind of new mobile suit?" Quatre questioned and looked down at me.

"I don't know," I admitted, turning my face up to meet his gaze. "I think so... the building had a feel to it inside; like there was a lot more to it than I saw. I think... I think there might be a lot more underground."

"There wasn't anyone else there," Heero interjected.

Something hit me all of a sudden and I stiffened, looking past him and not really seeing anything. "Son of a bitch," I murmured without meaning to, piecing it together in my head.

"What's wrong, Duo?" Quatre asked softly.

"Last night... "I blurted, a sick feeling welling up in my chest. "When I went by there and saw the lights and thought... thought that there were people working there... "

That bastard had been in the process of torturing and killing that girl that I had watched him pick up. I had been within yards of the damn place. I remembered my unanswered urge to go look the building over. I raised my eyes to Quatre's and whispered, "I let her die... "

There wasn't any answer to that. I looked from the one of them to the other and neither of them could seem to speak.

"I was right there... if I had just gone on and checked the place out... "

A sudden voice on the receiver made us all three jump. "What's wrong, Jensen?" a brand new voice said, full of nasty amusement, "You act a little... frustrated."

"Tonight's... diversion... wasn't as... fulfilling as I had hoped," Mr. Military... no; Jensen said, his voice a little irritated. These two were kindred spirits.

The new voice got suddenly serious. "You didn't let one get away did you?"

There was a moment's hesitation and if the new guy didn't know Jensen was lying, he was an idiot. "Of course not!"

I shook myself suddenly; this was getting us nowhere. We pretty much had the information we needed, what in the hell were we doing sitting around listening to a couple of perverts for?

"Screw them," I exclaimed. "We have to blow that factory and we have to do it now. Sooner or later... Jensen is going to find that transmitter and they're going to know we're on to them."

I was looking at Heero, because it was his call after all and he gave me that tight nod.

"Pack your gear," he said tersely, "We won't be coming back here."

We scrambled to comply and were ready to go in under five minutes. Quatre made me take my black sweater back and I was grateful; I felt chilled to the bone from wandering around all night essentially half naked.

"We have to make the trip to the Gundams," Heero told us, "I don't have any explosives with me." He turned to me then. "I would rather not use the Gundams to do this but I'm not sure I have enough... "

I grinned. "Say no more. I have enough in Deathscythe to bring down a ten-story building."

I got the grunt and we took off out the back door, doing double time the whole two miles. Heero took point and I brought up the rear. The snow was piling up, three or four inches already but the wind was up enough that it was covering our tracks almost as fast as we made them.

We stowed our gear and unpacked our explosives, divvying them up amongst the three of us. Then it was double time back into town. Heero had kept the small receiver with him and called a halt while we squatted in the snow a half block from the factory and listened in to verify that the transmitter had gone undiscovered. There were a couple of scary moments of silence before we heard the sound of a television and then murmured conversation as our two perverts argued over what to watch.

Heero switched it off after a few minutes and gave the hand signals to move out.

Jensen had made only a half-hearted effort to board up the window I had crashed through. Quatre eyed the height and gave me an appraising glance. I just grinned.

Heero tapped for my attention and then signed to ask me about an alarm system. I nodded and then frowned; my going through that window should have set it off and screwed it to hell until they repaired the window. I tapped my chest and gestured upward; I wanted a closer look at the damage and the connections. Heero cupped his hands without hesitation and boosted me up until I could get hold of the window ledge and pull myself up.

I had to shake my head; the cocky son of a bitch had just shut the alarm system down rather than deal with it at two in the morning. His buddy with the morals was going to be severely pissed off. I turned back and gave them the thumbs up sign. Heero boosted Quatre up to me, I hauled him up and guided him through the window and then leaned down for Heero to jump for my hand.

Heero let me take point, since I'd been here before, and I led them straight to the broken crate. Now that I had a little more time, I looked the parts over. It seemed to be part of a guidance system. I couldn't figure it out with no more scrutiny than that; Hero had all three of us take one. I knew it was in case we didn't all make it out.

Then we spread out and began searching for what I was sure was there, a lower level. I was the one who found it and it was most definitely not supposed to be found. There was a dummy wall and an elevator. I waved the guys over and we stood staring at it, mulling over our options.

Heero glanced at me, asking with his gestures if I thought there was a secondary alarm system on it. I was surprised that he had asked my opinion and it gave me the incentive to think twice before answering. I finally shook my head with a crooked grin that let him know that I wasn't a hundred percent sure.

We opted to take the chance and pushed the button to open the elevator doors. Heero flipped on the receiver to see if there was any uproar at the Oz base. They seemed to be watching the news.

In the end, it turned out to be not all that difficult since our good friend Jensen had been kind enough to turn off the whole alarm system for us. Gotta love lazy.

There ended up being three floors below ground, one of them a huge bay where we found a batch of a couple hundred mobile dolls unlike anything we had ever seen before. Quatre had a small digital camera on him and took some pictures. I hacked into their system and downloaded what I could. Hero attempted to monitor the transmitter nestled next to Jensen's ass for a bit but discovered that the receiver couldn't pick up below ground. He then busied himself setting charges. When Quatre and I finished what we were doing, we went to join him. We set enough explosives to sink the whole place far enough into the ground that it might just end up in hell.

It took us just under an hour and we headed back upstairs feeling pretty damn smug. Until the elevator doors opened and we heard voices.

There isn't a military hand signal for 'shit!', but there should be.

I had just enough time to hear, "... fuck you; Moore!" and then they heard the elevator. We scattered.

"What the hell?" Jensen's pervert buddy yelped and then they were taking cover as well.

A shot was fired and I'm not sure from which side. Nobody seemed to be hit, because nobody yelled. I worked my way to the left, wishing I knew where Quatre and Heero were. I hoped all the crates contained suit parts; it was a pretty effective shield.

I glanced at my watch and had to bite down on a curse... we really needed to get out of here; we didn't have a ton of time left. A couple more shots were fired but nothing seemed to be finding its mark. I made a sudden decision. I knew where our three adversaries had gone to ground and I could only hope that they were still in that general area but I needed to know where Heero and Quatre were. I dug in my bag and pulled out one of the leftover explosive devices I had. I carefully removed about two thirds of the actual charge, set it and yelled, 'Position!' at the top of my voice. I heard two quick whistles in response, far enough away that they should be safe. I lobbed the thing at the last place I had seen Jensen and took off running.

There was a shot and I heard the whine of the bullet, seconds ahead of somebody shouting, "Oh crap!" And then all hell broke loose. The concussion knocked me to the floor and there were just a confused couple of minutes before I got myself moving again. Between one minute and the next, the room was peppered with flaming debris. I made for the window with all due speed and at the last minute saw Heero silhouetted there, half in and half out. I scrambled up the crates toward him, he was holding out his hand and I yelled, "Where's Quatre?"

He just shook his head and I froze. What the hell?

'Come on, Duo!' he hollered at me. 'We're almost out of time!'

I wasted almost three seconds gaping at him. One of the two whistles had been from this general area; I turned and began to scramble back toward where the second one had come from.

"Duo!" he shouted but I was too mad to judge if it was fear or anger in his voice.

"You never leave a man down, you bastard!" I yelled but I didn't even look back to see if he'd heard me. Down the crates I went and damn near fell at the bottom. I ran in the general direction of the door and found my way blocked by flaming wreckage. I had taken down part of the ceiling with my explosion. The smoke was starting to get thick. In the back of my mind, my internal clock was telling me just how much time I didn't have. Then I saw him; stretched out on the floor and not moving. There was a pile of flaming ceiling joists between him and me. I hesitated, looking for a way around and my clock told me we only had a couple of minutes left. I grabbed joists and just started throwing them. The pain was unbelievable, I let it fill me and gave vent to it with a piercing cry; "I got him! We're going out the door!" On the slim, faint, unlikely, off chance that Heero was waiting for us to come back.

Just as I got through, I saw Quatre stir and I thanked whatever God was listening for the small favor of not having to carry him. I swept through the rest of the debris and caught him under the armpit with the crook of my elbow and got him on his feet.

"Run!" I screamed at him and we did. I would not allow myself to look at my hands.

Quatre didn't seem to be hurt. He was disoriented but moving under his own power. We slammed through the door on the minute mark and started running for all we were worth. I was sobbingly relieved to see Heero come running from the other side of the building. He came in on Quatre's other side without being told to and we just concentrated on moving. We were almost half a block away when the explosion hit but it still threw us to the ground. I let my hands sink into the snow and bit back a cry as the pain lanced up my arms.

Heero was getting Quatre to his feet and my little brother seemed to be pulling himself together. I struggled up with my clenched hands full of snow and stuffed them in my jacket pockets while they were both otherwise occupied. I still wouldn't look... I knew damn well I had done some serious damage and as soon as I really looked at them the pain would hit me like a ton of bricks. I don't know if the cold of the snow made it better or worse but it made me feel as though I wasn't cooking any more.

We started to run again and since I'd had the rear position before, no one thought a thing of my taking it again. That way they didn't notice my running with my hands in my pockets. It made it difficult and I was falling behind but I just concentrated on movement. I had just had it seriously demonstrated to me what happened when a soldier fell in this outfit. Heero obviously didn't understand the code of the Marines or anybody else for that matter; it was every man for himself, apparently. I was damned if I was going to come all this way just to have Heero shoot me at the end because I was incapacitated.

They reached the hanger first and Quatre turned to find me, his eyes flying wide when he saw how far behind I had fallen. He moved to head back but Heero shoved him into the hanger and damned if he didn't start back himself.

"I'm coming!" I shouted at him, "Go ahead!" I couldn't afford for him to see my hands. I wasn't ready to see them myself. He hesitated, then disappeared inside.

When I finally staggered through the door, I found Deathscythe with his hatch open and the winch cable run down waiting for me, Heero and Quatre were already in their Gundams.

I stumbled toward the sanctuary of my Deathscythe and did something I don't often do; I caught the hook on the end of the cable in the treads of my boot but still had to finally pull my hands out of my pockets to hook the winch line with an elbow. Oh God... I looked away quickly and made my ascent.

I threw myself into take off procedures but I couldn't keep my eyes averted for long and as promised the pain came crashing down as soon as my eyes let my mind acknowledge what was going on at the end of my wrists. OhGodohGodohGodohGod...

Distantly, I heard Heero yelling at me and I croaked a reply.

"Did you receive the coordinates?" he snapped and I had to blink the screens into focus.

"Y... yeah; got it," I finally managed.

"What the hell is wrong?" he demanded and my stomach about turned to water.

"Nothing!" I yelled back, "let's get out of here!"

He took off, Quatre right behind him. I took a second to queue my music and jacked up the volume so I would have something to listen to besides my own screams and then forced my hands to close around the controls.

I do not really remember that flight. That scares the crap out of me when I think about it very hard. I apparently have an autopilot of my very own and it must have fully engaged. I ended up looping the 'March of Cambreadth' endlessly, letting the fierce music fill me; replacing whatever rational thought I had. It kept me moving; kept me doing what had to be done. My landing wasn't my best but apparently didn't attract too much attention. I would realize later that Nataku and Heavyarms were in the hanger as well but I was so far gone, I didn't even see them. I jammed my hands back in my pockets as soon as I touched ground. I felt oddly detached, was probably shocky. Trowa appeared to lead us up to the house and Quatre was, thankfully, otherwise occupied, as he always was when Trowa was around. Trowa had engaged Heero in conversation pretty quickly, asking questions about the mission. Heero was being fairly subdued himself, but it still served to keep their attention off me. I needed to get to a quiet, private place where I could deal with this. Nobody paid any attention to me, trailing along behind.

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