I almost rear-ended a truck that had slowed down to take an exit. I was
starting to panic, but even that wasn't helping. Do you have a limited
supply of adrenaline? I think I had run out.
In my head, I heard the voice of my child-hood protector, Solo. The one
who had taught me how to survive on the streets. "When everything
else is gone, you hold on to your pain and your rage, and that will get
I gripped the wheel tight in my good right hand, waited for a break in
the traffic, so I wouldn't veer and hit something, and then took my already
aching left hand and smashed it into the dash.
I heard Heero shout, "Duo! What the hell are you doing?"
Pain flared up my arm, tiny lights flashed before my eyes, and some blessed,
something flooded through my system, and I was in control again.
"Stayin' awake." I growled through a feral grin.
He just stared at me for a minute, then I could see, out of the corner
of my eye, all the signs of Heero getting really mad.
The radio, forgotten in his lap, chose that moment to flare to life. "Base,
this is Pronto Charlie seven seven, we have found the target vehicle."
I crowed with delight, "Gotcha!" Then what they were saying
sunk in. "Shit."
We were still twenty or thirty minutes out. There was some confirmation,
the information was relayed that the car was abandoned. They announced
a sweep of the area.
We drove in silence, ears tuned to the static of the radio, waiting to
hear the dreaded news that they knew what we were driving. The minutes
ticked on, while I was slowed by the increasing traffic. It took them
just over ten minutes, and we heard the description go out. Shit, once
It was well after one in the morning, and I could not believe the traffic.
Everything seemed to be conspiring to get in my way. I was getting back
into familiar territory though, and abruptly, after getting slowed down
to sixty for the third time, I made the decision to leave the highway.
I took an exit I knew came out in the Barrio district. A place you didn't
want to break down, but also, a place that did not get a lot of attention
from the law.
The last thing I wanted was to get pulled over by a legitimate cop just
trying to do his job.
The pick up point was out on the east edge of the city, behind a park,
a little patch of ground that had gone back to scrub growth. It offered
high ground with good cover.
I wove through the now well-known streets, going slow, trying not to attract
attention. I had made good time on the highway, if I continued, we would
be early to the drop.
The radio reported a sighting on the highway. A passing motorist who apparently
had objected to being passed at ninety-five had called us in. They had
us narrowed down to the city, which was still a very large place.
This time Heero said it, "Shit."
I cruised slowly through the streets, getting ever closer to the park.
My arms were goose flesh from the air conditioner running full blast,
but I didn't dare lose the cold. My left hand was limp and throbbing in
my lap, and I clung to that pain. We were so close. I had a new mantra;
pain and rage, pain and rage.
The radio crackled again and damned if somebody hadn't found our exit.
Some report of a sighting, I don't know how.
The park was right ahead of us; I followed the road around as close as
I could get to our destination. The park was closed for the night, of
course, gates shut to keep cars out. I didn't have the time to try them,
we would have to hike in, it wouldn't be far, but I doubted our ability
to make it.
I pulled over as far as possible and killed the engine. I got out, trying
to hurry around the car to Heero's side, feeling like the hounds of hell
themselves were baying at my heels. I guess I tried to go a little too
fast, and wound up on my face in the gravel, not really sure how I had
gotten there. My right leg was not much more than a dead weight. I starting
trying to lever myself up, shaking in every limb. I heard Heero call my
name. Damn it, he was counting on me, I couldn't quit now.
Pain and rage, pain and rage. Down the hand went on the pavement, this
time bringing a strangled cry along with the shock of the pain and the
spark of lights. But it drove me up and I staggered the last few feet
to the passenger side of the car. The door was already open and Heero
was trying to haul himself out.
I reached passed him and grabbed the radio, clipping it to the waist of
my pants, then I started trying to drag him out. His gun must have already
been stowed back where it came from, because I didn't see it. In the near
distance, I heard sirens, and I had no doubt they were connected with
the search for two wayward Gundam pilots.
There was a bit of a hill to get up, and after all we had been through,
I thought the damn thing would defeat us. I had my bad arm tight around
Heero's waist, not able to grip him with that hand and holding him up
by clamping him to my side. My ribs were hurting so bad it felt like I
couldn't breath. We made several attempts at it, it was more of a fucking
incline than a hill, but I just couldn't make it.
There was a small noise from Heero, and I looked at him. He had been talking
to me since the car. I couldn't have told you what he'd said, but he had
stopped a bit ago, after maybe the second assault on the hill. This tiny
sound drew my attention back and I kind of focused on him for the first
time in a bit. He was ghost pale, his skin looking waxy. I was suddenly
aware of how hot he was pressed against me. His eyes didn't really seem
to see me. We were so close, so damn close. I heard the sirens growing
nearer, or maybe there were just more of them. Something inside me just
snapped. You ever hear those stories about mothers picking cars up off
their kids? I guess they must be true. I turned and just sort of scooped
Heero up in my arms, turned back up that hill and just climbed it. The
leg that had been folding under me every time I tried to walk for the
past day somehow bore both our weight. I'm pretty sure Heero out weighs
me. I have no idea how I did it and I don't really remember getting through
the scrub and under cover. I kind of came to myself again with both of
us sprawled in the dirt and leaves in the under brush. Heero was staring
at me, wide eyed, and I'm afraid I probably hurt him getting him up there.
There was nobody to meet us. We were early by almost a half an hour.
I straightened Heero's sling as best I could and muttered apologies for
the hurts I knew I was causing, but he wouldn't admit to with so much
as a whimper.
"You got your gun?" I asked and he nodded as I unclipped the
radio and pressed it into his hands.
I don't think my intentions were clear in my own head until the moment
he asked me, with fear in his voice, "Duo, what are you doing?"
I was really rather calm as I told him, "The guys aren't going to
be here for twenty minutes or more." One of those circling sirens
wailed closer, as if to add impact to what I was saying. "We're going
to be found before then. I'm going to take the car and lead them away."
"No." his voice was cold and flat, trying to bully me like he
did so often.
"It is completely illogical for both of us to sit here and get caught."
I tried swaying him with some of his own rather calculated thinking. But
he wasn't having it.
Then he hit me where I didn't expect it from Heero.
"Duo, please, don't leave me... "
I resisted the urge to reach out to him; I wasn't stupid enough to get
within arms reach. "Heero, I'll be fine, I know the city. I'll ditch
the car. I'll meet up with you at the safe house." My voice was going
again, it was hard to talk so long at a stretch, and the aching ribs were
making it difficult to get the air needed anyway. I started to move off,
ears tuned to the sounds of our pursuers circling like sharks in the night.
"Swear!" he suddenly hissed at me, grim and hurting, "Swear
you'll come back!"
I hesitated, the sound of sirens nipping at me heals, "I swear."
I said solemnly, and then added at the bubble of a memory, "No 'black
water' Heero. I swear."
All that extra strength I had found getting up the hill was long gone,
and I stumbled and fell all over myself getting back down. I pulled myself
into the car and fired the engine to life. I was out to attract attention
now, not avoid it, and I roared off, seeing just how many seconds it took
for that little car to go zero to sixty.
They had been closing fast. I passed the first of them not four blocks
from the park. He was going the wrong way and lost time stopping and turning
around. I saw his blue lights in the mirror and grinned. I wished I still
had the radio so I could listen to them yell back and forth at each other.
But Heero needed it in case something went wrong and he needed to contact
Quatre. Of course, I realized all of a sudden, he was just using it to
follow my progress. I imagined him lying there in the dark listening to
the men who were trying to kill me. I shrugged it off and grinned as I
made a turn the police car behind me couldn't. That was going to cost
him some time. I quickly made several turns and looped back to streak
by behind him as he disentangled himself from the curb and a trash can.
I heard the sound of my own voice laughing.
Finally, I could feel battle mode coming over me. My sight was narrowing
to black and white. All my pains seemed to fade. I couldn't do this with
Heero sitting there beside me. Couldn't let the mask down. Couldn't give
myself over to the Duo who lived inside and only came out to play as Shinigami,
the God of Death.
Shinigami knew no fear and took the risks that paid off in the end. That
was the only way to fight. You couldn't care if you lived or died, you
had to be ready to take it to the limit. All the way. Pain and rage.
Shinigami would get me through, but Shinigami was horrifying and evil
and cold and ruthless. He was me.
I drove through somebody's yard and come out on Ellis street, a really
nice scenic drive once you got out of the area I was in. But down here,
in the Barrio, it was straight and ran right out of town on the east side.
I took it, heading for the coast. I laughed again, thinking that the coast
was where this had all started. The road trip to Hell.
There was space enough to run it up to a hundred again. The car I had
been toying with was dropping back a bit, hard pressed to maintain the
speed I set.
I was tired of the silence and hit the radio, keying in my favorite station
now that I was back in town. The sound of hammering drums and a bass guitar
filled the car and I grinned, turning up the volume.
I could see a second car coming up behind the first. This guy was a little
more adventurous, because he was gaining on my little cat and mouse buddy.
I punched down on the accelerator, and pushed it up to one ten. I had
about another twenty miles before the road turned out towards the coast
and got curvy. I meant to make the best of it. I glanced at the clock
in the dash and decided that Heero might have been picked up by now. That
helped. He's safe, I kept telling myself. The guys have him. He's safe.
My friend in the rear view was doing an admirable job of keeping up, so
I pushed it a little harder. Come on boys; let's play. Follow the leader.
In no time at all, I was running out of straight road and having to brake
like hell to make the first curve. Tires screamed and gravel went everywhere
as I skidded onto the shoulder. I noted with satisfaction that my friends
backed off as they slowed down a whole lot more than I had. The coastline
here curved around to the east, and I could actually see part of the road
where I would soon be, in front of me. There were blue lights up there.
I guess the part of me that was Shinigami had known when I turned onto
this road just what I had planned, but that part hadn't told the rest
of me and I felt a flash of fear even through the battle haze.
I was going to run the car off the cliff. It made absolute, perfect sense.
Lead them all out into the middle of no-where, as far away from Heero
as I could manage and then make them think they witnessed our fiery deaths.
Except for the part where little Duo survives. I'm not one hundred percent
that was part of the original plan. I think I was supposed to go over
the cliff with the car and maybe wash away all my sins in the ultimate
Not really sure. And this part is going to sound really hackneyed, and
I'm sorry, but it's the stinking, stupid truth. I had promised Heero 'no
black water'. No suicide. I swore I would come back. And now I had to
freaking manage it somehow.
I fought the car around another curve, swearing the right rear tire was
over air for a second. Might have been my imagination. Then the road curved
in for a small piece, and I was out of the line of sight of all the circling
sharks. I braked like hell and managed to get my speed down to fifty.
It was now or never. I bailed. Arms tucked up around my head, legs pulled
up tight, trying to roll. Kids, don't try this at home. Or away from home.
Or in your wildest dreams. Forget the movies, OK? They make that maneuver
look so easy; they roll for a couple of feet, and jump up in time to watch
the car hit the bottom. Forget about it. I didn't roll so much as I bounced.
My face hit the pavement despite my best efforts on about the third bounce.
I guess I did kind of roll, because I lost a large portion of the skin
off my back too. When I finally stopped, I was so disoriented, all I could
do was lie in the road and mutter my new mantra, "Shit! Shit! Shit!"
My vision cleared a little and I clung to the sure knowledge that I only
had a few minutes, no matter how much my hunters slowed down on the curves.
I started trying to get up and had to settle for crawling toward the edge
of the road. Somewhere in there, I heard the horrendous noise of the car
hitting the rocks below with a satisfying explosion. Thank all the Gods
for that, without it, they would have figured out a whole lot sooner that
there were no bodies in it.
I made the cover of the scrub growth on the side of the road bare minutes
before the cars converged on the site. I lay still as death and listened
to them argue about the best way to get down to the crash sight. Nobody
even considered searching the area. I guess they couldn't imagine anybody
stupid enough to jump out of a car going that fast. They finally settled
on going back down the way I had come up, to a water front road. I don't
think I breathed until they were gone.
Then began the slow trek inland. It took me two days. I was pretty much
over battle mode now, cold and in pain and tired to my soul. I thought
the act of breathing was going to kill me and I developed a cough that
last day. I'll spare you most of the gory details. I holed up a couple
of times in sewer drainpipes and managed to doze for an hour or so. I
ate a little out of a dumpster behind a fast food restaurant. Just flashed
right back to my roots. Felt right at home. Duo the street rat. I did
the stuff I had to; the kind of things I couldn't have done in front of
It was after dark that second night, when I finally arrived on the doorstep
of the safe house. The way I looked, I could only move after dark. I was
filthy and bloody and I'm sure I stunk to hell and back. Between the damage
to my throat and the cough, I didn't have much voice left. What was I
running on? I couldn't even name it any more. It was just a hard lump
of something sitting in my gut that made me keep putting one foot in front
of the other and keep going. I opened the front door and stepped inside
without fanfare, quietly shutting it behind me.
Yeah, there was a small feeling of having reached sanctuary, but the lump
in my gut wouldn't let go. It drove me to drag myself up the stairs to
seek out the source of the voices I heard faintly above me.
"Come in Lost Boy. This is Hawk's Nest. Do you read?"
I had to smile, just a tiny bit, as much as the scabs on my face would
let me. Never tiring Quatre; I swear, he'd call me back from hell one
I coughed then, and they came rushing out of the study, Quatre in the
lead, yelling "Duo!" at the top of his lungs, though how in
the hell he recognized me from a cough I could not tell you. I guess I
knew what I looked like, not that I really cared, but it was weird to
see it mirrored in their eyes. The left side of my face had to be making
a great effort at imitating hamburger, there wasn't much left of my shirt,
hanging in road-abraded shreds. My left hand was swollen and blackened.
I'm sure my throat was a real treat where Heero had tried to strangle
me. I was hunched into the pain, not really upright, listing like a sinking
ship. And filthy.
Wufei looked mad, stone cold and murderous and muttered something in Chinese
that I suppose had to be a curse word. Trowa just looked sad, kinda like
Trowa always looks, I guess. Quatre looked like he just might cry, but
only stopped rushing at me when greeted with my warning growl.
How do you know when not to touch a soldier? Ask another soldier.
"Heero?" I croaked out, first time I'd used my voice in days.
It was pretty rusty.
Quatre winced at the sound, but Wufei, picked up on it at once. The soldier
wanted to know if he had completed his mission. His self-appointed mission
to save Heero Yuy's stubborn hide.
"He's at the hospital, Duo. He's fine. Had to have surgery, but he's
I stared at him and waited for that knot in my stomach to let go, to let
me fall over. I felt it ease a bit, but it wouldn't go away and leave
me alone. Instead it turned my steps toward my room.
"Shower." I informed them, knowing how asinine that sounded,
"Then take me there." Bare words were all I could manage.
I guess I had to see for myself before that damn lump would release me
and let me quit. Behind me, Quatre started to object and Trowa shushed
him, "Leave be, Quatre. Just leave it be."
Yeah, just leave it be. Let it go.
I limped to my room and didn't even bother with the lights. I'd been in
the dark so long I didn't really want them. I stood in the bedroom and
pulled off what was left of the shirt, some of it stuck to my back. The
pants defeated me, and I finally managed to get my knife out of my boot
and cut them off. My knee was swollen like a melon. It took some work
to get the boots off and I was panting and dizzy by the time I managed
it. Finally, finally, I wobbled into the bathroom and stepped into the
shower, I turned the water on slow at first, and just let it run over
me, not moving. Let it run through my filthy hair. It felt so good where
it wasn't stinging. I let some run down my throat, swallowing thirstily
and instantly regretted it, throwing it right back up. There wasn't anything
else in my stomach to come up; just the water and it all went down the
drain. I thought at that point my ribs had self-destructed and I just
stood under the spray with my head hanging, braced one handed against
"Duo." It was Wufei, calm and cool. I hadn't heard the door
open, but then, I'm not sure I closed it.
I grunted and then almost giggled, lost in memory.
"He was in pretty bad shape when we got to him. He might have died
if you hadn't gotten him to us. You did a good job. You saved him."
I gasped as the knot began to unravel in my belly. He just kept talking
to me, like he was gentling an animal, and maybe he was.
"I spent the day sitting with him; he sleeps a lot with the medication
they have him on. But when he's awake, he talks about you. You know he
thinks you died in the car wreck? Why don't you let us take you there?"
He sounded like somebody trying to talk a jumper off a ledge, and I guess
I needed to be talked down, just from a different kind of height. I closed
my eyes and let his voice soothe away the chunk of whatever it was, and
slowly, slowly, it unwound. And left me cold and full of nothing but pain.
With a sigh, I let it all go, and they tell me I tried to drown myself
in the bathtub. I don't remember.
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