Pins and Needles
// Will you take the path of the pins or the path of needles?
The path of pins, because the way may be longer, but it is safer, away from
prying eyes and dangerous desires.
Then I shall take the path of needles and get there before you.
That will be all right, because I am wearing a paper dress and I am cold and
That will be all right, because I am a wolf and I shall make you warm.
I was alone in that basement, shackled and lonely for so long, but my mother
finally came to me and told me to go forth and become an adult.
I was alone in this forest, hunted and hungry for so long, but you came my way
at the fork of the road to offer me salvation.
Can a wolf and a human truly find something in each other?
Yes, because even though we take different paths, we are headed the same way.
But you’re only going there so that you can kill me.
Yes, but can you blame me? I am but a wolf and it is my nature.
Shall I see you then, at the end of the path? Will you wait for me there?
Yes, because all I want is you. //
It was cold. The wind had a bite to it, leaving little marks of frost upon exposed skin, sending shivers down the spine and solidifying puffed out breaths. The cold compounded its misery because it had not yet become winter, leaving the small cluster of men huddled by the meager heat stove in the middle of the forest to curse the downturn in autumn weather silently. The frost was thick on the ground that the heating unit could not reach, crunching sharply every time a person shifted positions to get more comfortable, leaving tell tale marks of boot prints and knee impressions on the trodden, white grass. The trees fared no better, for they were weighted down with the too early frost, unprepared for the harshness of the winter swishing in the air, their orange and mauve leaves freeze dried before their time. The moon with its lifeless silver glare did nothing to soothe the cold, only making it worse by illuminating the whiteness of the surroundings. The weak, orange gleam of the heat stove paled under the weight of all the cold, from the ground and the sky, and failed to warm anyone within its short, frail range.
There were three men crowded around the portable stove, all dressed in blacks and fatigue greens, their gloved hands out towards the stove, rubbing palms against each other in an effort to generate some warmth. They looked grim, faces devoid of smiles, as they felt the cold seep deep into their bones, bypassing the thick sweaters and thermal bodysuits underneath with uncanny ease. Usually, the cold would not have bothered any of them in the least; they were used to inclement weather and other unpleasant things. Yet, for some reason, on this particular night, all felt the penetrating cold keenly. It did not bode well for the upcoming mission, not when all three of them were on edge enough to feel something so trivial as the weather.
The three men made an incongruous trio, even though they were all dressed in the same drab military issue uniforms of uninspired colors that blended into the surroundings. Surely, they were all in top shape, defined muscles born of hardships and training underneath their clothes, but that was where the resemblance ended. One was a blond, not the soft platinum of spring and butterflies, but golden like the warm heat of the summer sun, and they brushed ever so slightly against the turtleneck collar of his thermal suit, baby fine and wispy. The sunny color of his hair matched well with his abruptly green eyes, the shade of meadows and forests in high season, made more startling by the almost translucent quality of his skin that seemed even more pale against his dark shaded clothes. If not for the guns and knives strapped to his body, he would look like an innocent boy from a distance, filled with dreams and poetry. Next to this fairy like blond crouched a taller man, and though he also had green eyes, they were hard glints of cold, precise emeralds rather than fields in summer, their jade depths practically hidden by a wealth of light brown hair that hovered over his face. His face was delicately constructed, all fine lines and bones of long forgotten aristocrats of Europe, with full lips that seemed out of place with the rest of his features. Between the angelic blond and the delicate brunette sat a man who seemed to be built out of solid granite and cold marble. His features were harsh, as if they had been hacked out of the stone with unforgiving strokes of a chisel, cheeks hollowing to the jutting chin. His eyes were classifiable as blue, but that would not come close to describing the true nature of the color of his eyes. Some would say cobalt blue, a brilliant, vibrant blue that glass makers of Venice used to spend months perfecting, or perhaps even a cerulean blue, the color of skies worshipped by the ancient Greeks. But neither classification of blue really fit him, for it seemed that he owned the color of his eyes and there was no name for it. These marvelous eyes were hard to see, however, for he had his head bent forward, letting the longer strands of his wild and spiky hair of deep, earthy brown to shadow his eyes. All in all, the three were different in shading and looks, but none could deny that they were all alluring in some fashion. The blond was beautiful, the brunette refined, and the dark haired blue eyed one.. escaped conventional words.
The three men, of course, had names to go along with their faces, as well as distinct personalities that set each apart even further. However, none of that mattered in the face of the mission that kept them from talking to each other even in silent glances. They all knew what the mission was, what their part of it was. It was unnecessary to talk about it in the middle of the cold, bitter night and waste precious amounts of body heat already escaping through their suits and skin. There would be plenty of time to converse after the mission, after the objective they sought came to a satisfactory completion.
Life was unfair. In fact, life stunk like a heap of manure left out to compost in the middle of the summer at this particular point. Thus was the thought processes of one skinny man dodging between the shadows of buildings, trying to outrun a particularly persistent group of soldiers. How it came to this, he had no idea. The plan had been flawed, but it should not have led to this kind of catastrophe where he was running for his life from the most celebrated and deadly group of government soldiers. Yes, life was unfair.
The man crouched carefully in the middle of a rubble pile that once was a busy hotel, breathing shallowly as he listened for telltale footfalls of chase. In his hand he clutched a pistol that he did not like firing, his finger around the trigger too tense. He had lost his knives long ago, having used them liberally in his attempt to avoid capture, and the hated gun was all he had left to defend himself if, that is, when, the three men on his tail caught up to him.
It would be his luck that he would end up being chased through this shell of a town by the Trio. Three men who had a reputation for never failing in a mission assigned to them, deadly skills and brilliant minds housed in compact, masculine bodies. Many thought of them as a pack of wolves, vicious and cunning, graceful and majestic, all dressed in the colors of death and inexorability. Yes, that was his luck and once again, life was most definitely unfair.
Making sure that his long braid was still tucked into his shirt, he scampered off from his cover, knowing that he had to get away and find a way to get back to the base. His team would have already made it back, thank the gods, because he had been the one who drew the fire and the attention when they had been caught in the act. They had been so close to being finished, almost had all the charges set for an impressive explosion, when the doors had been battered down. Now, the plan was a grievous failure, his team had scattered and he was running for his life.
As he ran, he wondered about the Trio on his trail. He knew, as everyone else did, that they were the most efficient team and were only sent out for top missions that no one else could perform. They were legendary in their own right, inspiring awe even in those who had a cause to hate them, raising fear even in those who followed them. And they were after him, one scrawny rebel with a gun that only had half a clip of bullets.
Perhaps he should feel honored that they thought highly enough of him to send the Trio after him, but it really was an overkill. The leader of their small rebel group was his best friend and master strategist, known to the outside as the Dragon, but as Chang Wufei to him and his followers. If anything, the government should have sent the Trio after him, not that he wished that, gods no, instead of him, the small, agile right hand man with the silly hair and the inhuman eyes. No, Duo Maxwell had nothing to offer the Trio except an aggravating night of chase that would end with no capture. Or so he hoped desperately as he made his way through the familiar streets strewn with concrete blocks and random wires.
“He’s good, too damned good.”
Whether it was a compliment or a complaint, no one really knew. As the Trio, they had to capture this rebel – their reputation and personal pride were staked on it. However, this one man had evaded capture most effectively so far and the trail was growing colder by the minute.
Heero trained his indescribably blue eyes covered by the infrared goggles on a faint foot print that could have belonged to the rebel and silently agreed with Quatre’s statement. Heero knew that the blond leader of the Trio would never have spoken that thought aloud had he not been unduly frustrated and right now, there was just cause to be frustrated. Three hours they had been chasing this elusive rebel and still, no capture. It was unacceptable, practically impossible. It grated on his nerves, enough so that his facial muscles contracted into a frown beneath his mask.
Their mission had been a simple one, or at least, it had sounded damned simple. When their commanding officer Lieutenant General Marquise had handed down the orders, none of the three had thought it would be a problem. A simple capture mission which called for only one capture. And here they were, chasing and losing. The government had set up the trap exclusively for the capture, leaking information about a top secret mission to build devastating weapons to select channels to funnel out the rebels from hiding. The said weapon was pure fiction to lure out the right hand man to the rebellion, the one referred to as Death. There had been no pictures of him, making the identification hard, but when they had broken into the building of the set trap, they had discerned who it was rather quickly. One man had stood out to all three of them, a man dressed in black with a cap of the same color squashed onto his head and over his face. He had drawn their fire, ordered others out in various routes, and Heero had known then, as did the others of his team, that the man with the hat was the key figure.
And the said key figure was no where to be found.
“I knew something like this would happen,” said Quatre, his voice angry. He had known, damn it, when they were sitting around the thrice damned stove in the woods. He had gotten that feeling, a sense of impending badness for a lack of a better phrasing, that something would go wrong on the mission. Before, he had chalked it up to the unnatural cold and the strange silence that had surrounded them. Now, he knew his instincts had been trying to tell him that the mission would end in failure.
“No wonder they sent us after one man. I thought it was too much, but now it seems it wasn’t nearly enough.”
Quatre nodded in grim agreement with Trowa who had his guns trained on an empty space before him, his one visible green eye radiating a bitter look of consternation and wounded ego through the red lens of his goggles. He did not bother looking at Heero, knowing that he would be holding a scary look in his eyes. This was the first time that the Trio could actually admit defeat and it sat uncomfortably on all of them.
“We don’t even know what he looks like. Damn the darkness and the hat.”
If Quatre could curse, however mild it was, the situation did not bode well.
“True, but I’m sure he has no idea what we look like either. These goggles and masks do serve a purpose.”
That was the only silver lining that the mission had offered and surprisingly, it had come from Heero’s mouth. Heero was never one to look for silver linings; if anything, he searched for the dark cracks beneath his feet even on the most successful of missions.
“Tonight is a lost cause,” Quatre told his two friends and comrades, “so we will go back to the base and wait for further instructions.”
The three turned and headed back to base in short order, the posture of their bodies ramrod straight and tense from their first taste of defeat. However, they knew one thing for sure. This transgression against them would not be forgiven or forgotten. They would eventually get that rebel and make him pay.
Duo collapsed on his bed spread eagle, not caring that he was dirty and sweaty from the running and the stress. The sun would rise soon and he would have to get up soon to report everything to Wufei, but for now, he wanted to lay on his bed and cajole his heart that had beat itself out of his chest back where it belonged.
He had outrun the Trio. That was unbelievable. He had been so sure that they would catch him, that they would drag him back to the government base kicking and screaming to torture him on the rack. But somehow, Lady Luck had smiled upon him and here he was, back in the safety of the rebel base, breathing oxygen and the slightly musty scent of his room.
“God, I thought I was dead.” He said aloud, his voice muffled in the sheets beneath his mouth. For a long moment, after the discovery of their team by the Trio and their cohorts, he had thought for sure that the night would be his very last. No one survived the Trio, no one. But he had, somehow.
The rapping on his door startled him out of thanking the gods for his good fortune, but not enough to make him move to open it. He did not have to, for shortly thereafter, he heard footsteps nearing him.
“Duo, good job.”
Duo snorted. He knew that had he not been Wufei’s best friend, he would have gotten a scathing lecture. There were some fringe benefits having a best friend who was also the leader of their rag tag group.
“Thanks, Wufei,” Duo slurred, his mouth still impeded by the sheets, “but we didn’t do shit. The building’s still standing, the weapon’s still being made and I made it back with only the skin on my back.”
Had Duo turned to face Wufei, he would have caught the sour expression on his face, marring the gently sloped eyes and causing his thin lips to thin even further. But Duo was tired, the adrenaline rush of the night fading away quickly, and he had no energy to even turn his head towards his friend.
“Didn’t it seem odd,” Wufei said as he took a seat on the bed next to Duo’s prone body, “that they were on you and your team so quickly? Especially when the alarms had been disabled?”
Groaning audibly, Duo turned over, training his baleful violet eyes onto Wufei’s contemplative face. He knew that tone of voice, the thoughtful yet sharp enunciation of words. Wufei was thinking that he and his team had walked into a trap.
“So, no weapons, huh.”
Gently patting Duo on the arm, Wufei nodded and conveyed his apologies wordlessly, his brown eyes looking on the floor with shame. Whenever something went wrong with a mission against the government, whenever someone died, Wufei would get the melancholic, ashamed look that said as plain as day that he was the one at fault. Duo could only sigh and let Wufei blame himself. Too many times in the past, Duo had tried to get his friend to loosen up, to convince him that not everything that went wrong was his fault. They had been led into a trap this time, masterfully orchestrated by the cunning men of the government. In reality, it was none of their faults that the mission had failed, that the Trio had chased Duo down like the proverbial dog all over town. Still, Wufei would feel the guilt for not seeing through the ruse and Duo would let him. There was nothing he could do to assuage the guilt.
“Duo, I want you to lay low,” Wufei said suddenly, turning his head sharply to face his best friend and confidante. He had thought about it for a while, as soon as he had heard from the team members who had made it back earlier than Duo. It had occurred to him, perhaps a little too belatedly, that Duo had been at this far too long. His friend had suffered too much, holding his life still for a cause that he had only adopted at Wufei’s insistence, filtering out all that was him in an effort to be a better soldier for the rebellion. Duo didn’t do this consciously, not at all, but Wufei knew that the day he had invited Duo into the rebellion, that had been the day Duo had put everything that was sparkling and beautiful within him away so that he could be the person that Wufei needed him to be. It was a bitter thing to swallow, knowing finally how much his best friend had sacrificed for his cause. Perhaps, it was time to rectify that by giving Duo a break, a way out, from this almost hopeless fight. As a friend, Wufei needed to give Duo the time to become the person he might have been if not for the rebellion. It was long past due.
The rebellion against the government was now in its fifth year and Duo had been a front line soldier the entire time, ever since he had stumbled into their barely fledgling organization by accident on his thirteenth birth year. It had been a sight, a too skinny boy in clothes too large on him trying to steal food away from a group of heavily armed men wanted by the government, and he had nearly succeeded. Wufei had met Duo then, in the ruddy light of the abandoned warehouse surrounded by his men and weapons, and had somehow convinced the boy to be a part of the rebellion. He might have used lures of happier times when the government finally folded, or even promises of regular food in order to net Duo into the fight, but he could never remember. All he knew was that after that fateful night, Duo had joined and the younger boy had become his best friend, always listening to him gripe about the inequities of the current government and the ways he wanted to change the world. Five years.. a long time for someone to have put himself on hold.
Wufei, on the other hand, had been a leader behind the lines, having never gone out on missions, never having to face down a group of soldiers pointing semi-automatic weapons at him, running for his life, or watching others die in a fiery blaze of the flame thrower. No, he had always been the planner, his body keeping him from the front lines of the rebellion that he had helped to start. There was stress and the constant guilt about the men he sent out to die, but it could not really be as bad as what Duo went through. Because he was behind the lines, Wufei had been given the privilege to grow as a person, not afraid to form attachments with others. Even though he knew any of them could die at any time and the deaths weighed heavily on his soul, because he never witnessed their deaths, he could still find it in himself to interact with others. But not Duo. He had never formed any connections of a personal nature, except with him, and even that was a limited thing.
There was no response from Duo, but Wufei had expected that. It was a surprise move on his part, to try to send his best and most capable agent out of the game, even for a short time. Five years Duo had been by his side, always out in front of the danger, leading men older than him into field of battle. At thirteen, he had been unexpectedly good because he had spent all his life in his memory on the streets, his survival instincts better than anyone else in the rebellion. Now, at the tender age of eighteen, Duo was invaluable, his leadership on the field unparalleled by any other, his skills with weapons and stealth almost too good to be human. But he was wearing down and Wufei could see it. He could see how his friend had more scars on his body than anyone had a right to, how the stress was grinding his nerves to raw edges. Not for the first time, Wufei fervently wished that he had not lost the use of his right arm all those years ago, if only to take Duo’s place in the rebellion. It was unfair to the man, to make him responsible for everything that was physically draining and emotionally deadly.
“Duo, please. I want you to take time away from the rebellion. Get yourself an apartment in the city, get a job, something. Just.. be away from here.”
Twirling his braid with his left hand, Duo pondered the words being spoken to him. It was odd, having those words come from Wufei’s mouth. Wufei was so damned dedicated to the cause, recruiting people constantly and never letting any small detail fall to the wayside. Never in a million years would Duo have thought that Wufei would suggest that he get out of the game to live in the world, the world that he was fighting desperately to free from the hands of the government. Yet, it sounded good. To sleep through the night without worrying about a mission, to walk the streets in broad daylight without worrying about being too obvious. To live normally, even if for a short while.
What would that be like, Duo thought, to live among the normal people? He had never known that type of peace, not when he was a street rat in his younger years wandering from alley to alley, not when he had joined up with Wufei’s rebellion.
“Can you afford to let me go like that Wufei?” Duo asked, knowing full well that the rebellion could not allow men to go off on a merry jaunt.
“That matters not,” Wufei replied, his voice laden with regret, “you need to rest. Rejuvenate, I suppose. Hell, you were chased by the Trio last night and you lived! If that doesn’t deserve some vacation time, I don’t know what would.”
Duo laughed as he sat up, resting his restless hands on Wufei’s shoulders in a friendly gesture.
“God, I was so fucking sure I was dead. I’ve got the devil’s luck, you know?”
Wufei laughed right along with him, his face finally losing that terribly sorrowful look. It had been a while since either of them had laughed like this, days, weeks, months. It felt good and Wufei was sure, damned sure, that Duo needed the time away. This wasn’t his cause, his dream, his mission in life.
“So, will you go?”
“Yeah,” Duo softly intoned, “I’ll go to New Edwards, set up shop. We should set up some communication so I won’t lose track of you guys and so you can find me if you need me.”
That was all that needed to be said. It was time for Duo to pack.