by girl starfish
Wufei put down his distance glasses. He had to admit it was worrying--the Sweeper fort was usually a hive of activity. The radio beside him beeped and he answered it.
Wufei swore. The worst that could happen to the Sweepers had--and although not a member of the Sweepers himself, Wufei knew he'd lost a lot. Howard was a fair man, and his gang had kept the area inside their territory safe to live in. Moreover, two-thirds of his customers were brought to him through Howard's network--to say nothing of the friends he'd made among the Sweeper's ranks. And Duo--Howard was like a father to him.
"Is there nothing--"
"There's too many of them. This isn't a raid, Wufei. It's too organised for that."
The main bay slid open then. Wufei could see the coppers leaving, the officers herding cuffed Sweepers onto a transport shuttle. Wufei swore but there was nothing he could do.
He slid off the fire escape that had been his shelter, working his way through the shadows to get closer to the fort. He made it into the main bay at last, hiding himself behind a pile of crates as he scanned the crowd. If Duo was here then he had to find him--
Wufei stared as he caught sight of the two men apparently leading the operation. Treize Kushrenada stood by the side of one of the shuttles, as elegantly attired as the last time Wufei had seen him, sipping at wine at one of his parents' dinner parties. The other--Wufei glared at J. He'd felt no compunction at all at sending Duo to rob the old scientist--J he'd always disliked. But this served only to confirm his fears--If J and Treize were involved, things did not bode well for the Sweepers.
At least Duo's not here, Wufei thought, as he sent a data message to Trowa, watching on the other side of the fort, to let him know what he'd found out. At least he and Heero are safe somewhere--
He stopped cold as Heero was carried out by two men, held fast by a magnet. The Chinese youth just stared. He didn't have to doubt that Heero was human after this--not after the evident pain he saw displayed on his face. His expression--Wufei was chilled.
There was still no sign of Duo.
Wufei decided to take the chance. He waited until the first transport was ready to take off then slipped round the crates to another lot further a long. Glancing back to see if he'd been spotted, he froze--Heero was looking directly at him.
His lips moved--he whispered something--
"A capital exercise, J," Treize said, clapping the scientist on the back. "What do you say to drinks afterwards?"
"I must decline," J patted the magnet. "Heero and I must work out some new ground rules."
"Now," mouthed Heero and Wufei made another burst for it--reaching the corridor undetected. He slid through the deserted corridors like a shadow, wary for any remaining officers. He heard none, reaching the main hall without incident.
"No!" Wufei could not help the cry that was torn from him. He recognised the figure on the floor instantly--"Duo!"
He crossed the gap between them instantly, kneeling to gather his friend into his arms. "Don't be dead, don't be dead--"
A moan indicated that his request was granted. Wufei pulled out his radio, entering another data message telling Trowa to fetch Sally immediately.
"Hold on Duo--Sally will be here soon," Wufei said urgently. "Please don't die."
"--m trying not to."
Wufei froze. Had he imagined--? "Duo?"
Duo coughed weakly.
Wufei helped him sit. "Try not to move. Just sit there--Let me take care of you--"
Duo leaned against his shoulder weakly. Wufei babbled to him, as he undid Duo's shirt, and tried to halt the flow of blood with the fabric. Duo seemed to drift in and out of awareness, the effort of speaking apparently too much to repeat. Except once--
"It'll be okay, I'm sure it is. I've seen Sweepers recover from wounds worse than this--Sally's one of a kind when it comes to patching people up," Wufei prattled, hoping to reassure himself. He had to keep talking to Duo, keep Duo with him.
"Don't move," Wufei said urgently. "Rest against me--you'll need all your strength."
Wufei wrapped his arms around Duo. "I'm sorry," he said. "J took him away--"
Duo shut his eyes. Wufei held him until Sally came.
I don't really know what happened next. Pain and losing considerable amounts of blood does that to people, I guess. I have some rather blurred memories of Wufei and Trowa hovering by my side worriedly with Sally being grim. I even think I remember Quatre bathing my wound once--
I didn't die though. It was touch and go for a while, and I wanted to die--Heero was gone and I was living most of the time in this dream where Heero was gone and J was turning him into a machine. No matter how much I tried to get through to him I couldn't reach him. When I woke I felt dead and drained.
Wufei sat with me whenever I was awake. He talked to me as he brushed my hair out and made me stay in bed. He read books to me, what books, I'm not sure--he was gentle though, his touch soft, his patience unending. He didn't seem to care that I did not talk, did not want to do anything--Sally told me off many times for my sulky behaviour. Trowa respected it and gave me distance, Quatre, although I'm sure he had many questions, followed his lead. But Wufei--once I told him about my dreams he brought a blanket in to sleep by my side on the floor. That's how much he cared, you see. It was as blunt and clear as the gash in my heart. Wufei loved me--and I only felt cold.
Eventually Sally said I could get out of bed. She had to help me down the crooked stairs to the heart of the Circus, the big old pub in the remains of an old apartment building. Cathy had done her best to fix the place up but it still looked disreputable.
The effort tired me and I had to sit down. Wufei brought me a drink and a blanket, I ignored both. Trowa came in with Quatre as always by his side--though now attired in a roughly made jacket and pants--Trowa was doing his best to make him fit in, even to taking a pair of scissors to Quatre's nicely cut hair. That effort cost Trowa more than it did Quatre--he seemed to like his uneven fringe. He was still far too tanned to pass for a native downsider on close inspection, but on seeing Trowa hovering protectively by him, few people would go for that close inspection. Especially not if Cathy was somewhere in the background--
But Trowa, after a glance in my direction, sat down beside Wufei and began talking to him in an urgent whisper.
Quatre sat by me. "It's good to see you out of bed," he said. "How are you feeling?"
He didn't seem to mind. Somewhere during the course of my illness, he'd decided I was no longer the enemy--I think J shooting me was the deciding factor. Instead, he now viewed me as a friend. As dissuading him of this would have taken more energy than I had, I didn't bother and Quatre was happy enough, I guess.
"We managed to track down the Sweepers. They're being held in a labour camp, section 3. We didn't get to see everybody but Howard was there and he said--"
"Howard's all right?" I said. "And the guys?"
"I wouldn't say they're happy where they are but it could be a lot worse," Quatre told me. "They looked reasonably fit. Trowa was optimistic when we left, he said it shouldn't be too difficult finding a way to get them out--"
"We're going to spring 'em?" I asked, interested in something for the first time since I'd been shot. "What's the plan?"
"Forget it," Trowa told me. "You're in no condition to participate. You need to rest."
"Like hell," I said. "You're thirty people short--you need me."
"Don't be ridiculous. You must rest and that is all there is to it--"
"Oh, and who put you in charge?"
"Stop this!" Wufei cut in firmly. "We will get nowhere with you two squabbling like this. I think this falls under my jurisdiction--Howard has supported our activities time and time again. Will the two of you follow my lead on this?"
Trowa and I nodded. You could trust Wufei to be fair.
"Good," Wufei said. "Now, Trowa will explain the situation to us all, and all of us can work on the plan. Which of us will take part in the actual rescue will depend on whether or not Duo--and Quatre--are in shape in time."
There's a lot you can say about Wufei, but you have to say he's dead cunning. See by adding that condition he kept me in line and by bringing Quatre in, ensured that Trowa wouldn't argue. Ya gotta admire the guy.
Of course then Sally and Cathy got angry at him for overlooking them. Wufei was trying to argue that he wasn't being sexist, they just weren't employed by him and somewhere during the resulting fight I fell asleep. I guess you could say I wasn't fully recovered.
So it was that a week later, with Sally and Catherine, we drove into Section 3 in a large if somewhat battered transport shuttle. She was not a patch on Sheila, but I'd tweaked her so that, although not the most aerodynamically inclined of vehicles, she would pull a fair bit of speed in an emergency, and make us a reasonable get away.
Catherine was driving. We'd agreed to this only after much reluctance. Cathy was an okay pilot, but her habit of taking death drops and fast corners with the same sort of calm she used when throwing knives at her brother unnerved all of us. The rest of us were needed in the actual operation.
We'd done a lot of preparation for this, Cathy having talked her way into the surveillance tower and planted a bug the week before. Downside detention centres are pretty low on maintenance, so our bug hadn't been discovered. From what it picked up we'd garnered quite a lot of knowledge on what went on inside the centre.
Quatre and I changed into our uniforms and joined Wufei by the shuttle door. "Are you ready?" he asked.
I gave him the slightly bored look I always did when he asked me stupid questions. "Wufei, I was born ready."
To my surprise he hugged me. "It's good to have you back, Duo." He pulled away from me to key in the code to unlock the doors. "Are you sure you can handle this, Quatre?"
The blond nodded. He seemed to be taking this all with surprising calm. "Let's go."
We stepped out of the shuttle and wandered through the streets to gates where the uniformed guards were coming out at the end of the shift. Ah, the power of the uniform. We walked right in without so much as a murmur from the guide at the desk--then again, he was there to stop people from getting out, not from getting in.
Once inside we picked up several boxes of files each from an empty storeroom and followed the corridor to the surveillance tower.
"I can't believe this worked," Quatre whispered behind me. "My father's corporation would never have--"
"Shush," I told him. "We got company."
Up ahead a self-important looking man was lounging against the wall. He stood up as we approached. "Can I see your--"
"Dude!" I greeted him enthusiastically. "Hey, long time no see. How've you been?"
He blinked. "Ah, pretty good. I haven't seen you--"
"Since that party--whose was it? Someone got promoted? I can't remember, but man, those were good times. It's been a while since we were strollin' these halls on guard duty together--"
"Yes, yes it has been," the man said.
I continued on the subject of 'those good times' for a while, before going to search for my badge. "Aw, shit, I think I left it at home--well, you know me, always forgetful." I sighed. "Guess I'll have to go back to the office and let them know I've lost another one--" I brightened hopefully as a thought occurred to me. "Unless you want to be a pal, and overlook it?"
"Nah, go right ahead," the man waved me through. "I know you."
What can I say? I'm brilliant.
"My card's in my inside pocket," Quatre said, wobbling his boxes precariously. "I'll have to get it out--"
"New recruit," I told the guard. "I'm showing him the ropes."
"Quatre," Quatre said, wobbling the boxes as he tried to free a hand in order to shake hands. "It's nice to meet you--oh dear--"
"Go on through before you drop those boxes," the guard said, holding the door open for us. "See you later!"
We'd made it. A short lift ride and we would be in the communications room in the surveillance tower. I pulled my gun from my pocket and dropped it in the box of folders I carried, Quatre did the same. "Quatre?" I asked.
"You told him your real name?"
Quatre blushed. "Well, it's not as if anyone would expect the Winners' lost heir to be breaking into a prison," he said. "Most people think I'm dead."
"Lucky for us," I said as the lift stopped. "Hey guys!" I said cheerily, stepping into the communications room. "We've got some files we need you to take a look at. Where do you want them?"
The two radio operators stood. "The store room should be good. This way--"
"Perfect!" I plonked the folders down, picking up my gun as I turned around. "Hands in the air, please gentlemen."
They stared. "But--how--"
They collapsed to the floor in a pile. Quatre, smirking, put down the heavy file he was holding. "I think I like being on the wrong side of the law."
"According to Wufei," I said as we barred the door and then tied up the unconscious radio operators up, "All upsiders are natural criminals. He says it was refreshing to come to the downside where if someone wants to rob you blind, they will do so, rather than pretending to be your friend and sympathise."
"It's not that bad," Quatre said.
I snickered. "I'll tell you one thing--he didn't say that when I robbed him."
"You robbed Wufei?"
"Oh yeah. That's how we met. Course I didn't know then that he was proficient in five forms of martial arts," I winced at the memory.
"Oh dear," said Quatre.
"Yes. We better hurry--we have a show to put on."
Not much longer after that we were ready for action. There was just one last thing we had to do. I grinned as I picked up the microphone. "Attention, everyone. Superintendent Wallis is a pompous self-serving git with the sex appeal of a gumboot and the common sense of a flea. Thank-you."
Quatre choked. "Duo!"
"What better way to get said pompous git out of his office and up here?" I asked. "Besides, now the Sweepers will be aware of our presence."
Quatre shook his head at me and tried to look grim. It was spoiled, however, by the wave of laughter that announced the arrival of our target.
Quatre unbarred the door smoothly as he arrived.
"What is the meaning of that--that--outrageous--and totally unprovoked, not to mention untrue attack? How dare you--" What do you know. Superintendent Wallis was a pompous git.
"My mistake," I said. "I guess I forgot to mention you were stupid too."
He kind of stuttered in pure shock until Quatre put the poor guy out of his misery with another well placed file.
"Much as I was itching to do the same thing myself, Q, you do realise we need him conscious?"
"Oops," Quatre said, nudging the body at his feet with his foot. "I guess I got carried away."
I rolled my eyes. "Ah well, let's just get on with it, huh?
Startled guards all over the compound looked up as their screens crackled into life.
"Attention all officers! We have a suspected uprising in area 4b," the Superintendent said, sweating nervously (we'd managed to wake him up and now had a gun at his head). "A special crew is coming straight from above to deal with it. Stay at your posts and ensure that none of the others join the revolt--we suspect this is a carefully planned attempt that may have sympathisers throughout the prison."
I flipped the radio off. "Not bad. You can hit him again, Q."
So Superintendent Wallis hadn't made the best of impressions on us. I am sensitive about my weight and no one can blame Quatre for reacting like he did to the out of place suggestion concerning his parentage. While Quatre fielded concerned phonecalls from other stations, I made a few changes to the coppers' programming and activated the big machines--now ordered to hunt the officers.
I never said I was nice.
A call from the docking centre came in. "Hello Roger--You're not Roger."
"Roger was called away to handle the disturbance in area 4b," Quatre said smoothly. "May I help?"
"Roger--that cowardly desk ornament has never even seen active duty--what's he going to do?"
"I believe he's co-ordinating the efforts of the various teams dealing with the uprising," the upsider continued smoothly without a hint of panic.
"Sounds like him, the sly beggar. So, do you have authority to clear a vessel--serial number DX-2203--that wants admission?"
"A moment. I'll check with Wilson." Wilson was the other unconscious radio operator. "Quatre blacked the screen, then turned it on again. "Yes, that's quite all right. It's the back-up we were expecting."
"Thanks for that. Docking bay, out."
I leaned over Quatre's shoulder as he turned off his screen. "And there's the cavalry."
"Do you think they'll be all right?"
"Trowa will be fine," I said, rightly translating 'they' as my green-eyed friend, judging by Quatre's blush. "All we gotta do now is wait."
While Quatre cut all communications out of the base, I rewired a jug so as to bypass the turning off once the water had boiled function and set it up by the abandoned desks. Quatre hit the operators and Superintendent a couple more times with the files (he seemed almost too enthusiastic about that part of our mission) and then I added the last ingredient in this extremely cunning plan to the jug and we turned out the lights.
"Popcorn?" Quatre said.
"Ssh," I told him. "You'll see."
He got the idea once the jug heated and kernels started bursting. "I get it--it sounds like gunfire."
"Right. Anyone trying to get in contact with the office will think they've been overrun. No one will be able to find the superintendent who should be giving orders and the coppers running around there won't help any." I grabbed a handful of popcorn. "Wufei and the others will be able to march Howard and the Sweepers out of there without any difficulty and then we can blow this joint without anyone even realising a jailbreak has taken place. Want some?"
Quatre accepted a handful of popcorn with a smile. "So now we just wait for Wufei and the others to pick us up?"
"Why wait?" I picked up my gun. "This lot aren't going anywhere--not after the way you wielded those files--you're a force to be reckoned with when you've got a file in your hands, Q-man."
Quatre blushed. "Are you sure Wufei won't mind if we just turn up?"
"Probably," I said. "But that's never stopped me before."
The blond hesitated. "I don't know--what if something went wrong?"
"You're probably right," I said. "I've got a better idea. How about you stay here and I see if I can't find where all the Sweepers' equipment was taken?"
Quatre didn't disapprove of that idea. "Be careful, Duo."
"Thanks," I said. "I won't be long."
It wasn't hard at all to find the Sweepers' stuff or to get to it amidst all the chaos in the prison. It was all packed up in crates ready to go to--I raised an eyebrow. J thought he could not only steal my Heero, but my buddies' equipment too? Still that was easily dealt with. I smirked as I wiped J's address from the data pads on the outside of the containers and replaced it with that of one of the upside apartments Wufei had taken for when he was scouting the upside for likely targets.
There was something else though--I dug around in one of the trailers that looked as though it contained my stuff until I found my gloves, climbing hooks and bungee cord. A sack nearby made a handy backpack and I was back in the surveillance tower before Quatre had had time to get worried.
"I'm glad you're back," he said. "I'm having trouble keeping up with the popcorn."
"You don't have to eat it all," I said.
"But we can't leave it on the floor--think of the mess! If it gets trampled into the carpet--"
"Quatre--you have repeatedly beaten three officers--and you're worried about their carpet?"
"I guess you're right--that doesn't make sense," Quatre admitted, but continued to eat the popcorn. Finally our communicators beeped.
"Wufei?" Quatre said. "Jump out the window? Are you sure?"
I pulled back the curtains to reveal the shuttle outside. "Come on Quatre--you don't want to miss our ride."
Quatre looked at the jump from the window to the shuttle top. "There is no way I'm doing that."
"Aw, go on. Do it for Trowa," I said.
I blinked. That was easy.
Quatre, still somewhat dubious, made the jump from window to shuttle with only a little hesitation. He was hauled into the hovering shuttle by waiting hands immediately and I was beckoned to do the same. I grinned as I jumped off the windowsill--so I'm an adrenaline junkie. So what?
Too soon I was on the shuttle, getting pulled inside by dozens of hands. No sooner was I inside then I was crushed in a huge hug.
"Duo--oh Duo!" Howard was--crying? "We thought you were dead--you--you--lucky devil! How on earth did you survive? Let me look at you!" Howard lessened his grip enough for me to take a breath and reply to him.
"Wufei found me--fetched Sally. I'm glad you're okay Howard--"
"Shut up you," Howard hugged me again. "Never ever scare me like that again, Duo." He sniffed letting go of me. "Off with you, you young scamp before I ground you for life for scaring me like that."
"Duo! Good to have you back!"
"We missed ya, kid."
"Loved the intercom message."
I was enthusiastically greeted by the Sweepers as a returning hero. I was sincerely glad to see them too--my second family. Not even Wufei grumbling about how bad this would be for my already over-large ego could dampen our reunion. Cathy's driving didn't faze us in the slightest.
We convened to the Circus for drinks and stayed up till all hours. Or at least they did. Sally marched me off to bed pretty quickly and to tell you the truth I wasn't up to protesting. I fell asleep happy for the first time in ages.
I woke up before anyone else. I came downstairs to smile fondly at the sight of Howard and most of the Sweepers stretched out more or less unconscious in the bar area. Seems like they'd done a bit too much celebrating. I smiled at them all, and then quietly slipped out the back door.
The darkness of the underside enveloped me. Didn't matter whether it was late or early--it's all the same down here. I took the tunnels and alleys across city and up until I found myself at the foot of one of the huge skyscrapers that led to the upside. I tipped my climbing equipment out of my bag and put it on. I'd gone as far as I could on foot--now I'd have to test my recovered strength to its limits.
It would be worth it. If I could just get to the top--
By the time I reached J's balcony I was exhausted, every muscle in my body ached, and I wanted to sleep for a week. I barely had enough energy to blow the lock and sneak inside.
Heero's room was empty. I forced myself not to despair. I would look everywhere in the apartment, and if he wasn't there I would track him through J's computer. I bypassed the room where J snored and slipped into the lounge. I found the trigger for the hidden workroom behind the entertainment unit just as Heero had shown me. It was dark inside but I thought I detected--steady breathing?
I pressed the light pad by the side of the room. The workroom had been converted into a bedroom--Heero slept in the bed in the middle of the room. He was attached to the wall by a chain. I tested it--Gundanium. My explosives would not be much use on it--and it looked like it had been fused solid to negate any chance of picking the lock. J wasn't taking any chances on his precious charge this time around. Still I'd been prepared for as much.
I lifted the sheet, snuggling in beside Heero. He murmured in his sleep, throwing one arm around me. I smiled as I shut my eyes. Finally, I was back where I belonged.