Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
Duo dropped into the chair beside Heero's, eyed the networked pair of mobile computers and then rolled his eyes. "Man, you guys are such geeks!" He warbled. Heero laughed softly, forced his attention from the machines and kissed Duo firmly.
"I will let you watch!"
"That's gonna be satisfying?"
Heero looked to the screen. He could see everything on Quick's machine. "Let's put it this way. You get to see me satisfied."
"Heero, show me yours!"
Heero typed the command that allowed reciprocal access.
"Magnificent. You pick such cryptic names, but everything is always so highly organized."
"Man, she's totally turned on by your neurotic logic," Duo mumbled.
"This is Duo."
"Oui. Duo, are you still living with Hilde Schbeiker..." She went on to recite his home address, place of business, and several contact numbers.
Duo straightened in his chair. "I feel... violated."
"Duo, this is Quick."
"Yeah, hardly a hello and you're having sex." Again that warble.
"Been keeping tabs on me," Heero said, noting the graphics and video clips as well as text files full of notes.
"That is not a new thing," Quick said plainly. They had met because she had discovered that his true identity was even more interesting than his online persona, which Heero tried to keep secret and unassociated with his history as a Gundam pilot. She glanced up at Duo. "I like your shirt."
Heero peered around the computers and bothered to look. The black t-shirt had white lettering on it that read: Would you celebrate if I freed all our political prisoners in penal camps today? "Irreverent fashion statement," Heero noted. He went back to looking for files and programs on Quick's computer that he lacked.
"Do you smoke?" Quick asked Duo. She produced a silver cigarette case as she asked this. It sprang open as she touched a button.
Duo leaned across the table to look into the case. "You've got all kinds."
"Oui, it is a crutch." She meant, she used cigarettes as a tool to be social, regardless of whether she had formed a habit. "These are Mary's Haloes. Do you know them? I do not recommend you try them if you are not used to them."
"Are they legal here?"
Heero saw a French-Russian conversion and translation utility that he did not have and selected it.
"They are legal in America. We are all citizens of one nation now, so that would be my defense."
"Yeah, legal by prescription. Are they all like that?"
"Oh, no. These are just tobacco." Quick was pointing out the brands. "All these are French. These with the dark paper are Djarum clove cigarettes. Here, Israeli. And these are Russian."
"Can I have one of the cloves?" Duo asked.
"You do not smoke," Heero reminded Duo.
"It's all right. Trust me." Duo took the cigarette from Quick's case.
Heero was aware that those cigarettes were supposed to make lips taste sweet and that Duo likely wanted Heero to experience this, but he was not sure it was worth the side effects. If it became a habit, then Heero would complain.
"I will smoke the Russian," Quick said as she took another cigarette.
Duo chuckled. "He could not appreciate it properly. You got a light?"
"But of course."
"Your accent is amazing!"
Quick laughed. It was not a ladylike giggle, but something uninhibited. "You sound exactly American Colonial." Quick arched her back to dig a lighter from a front pocket.
Duo put the clove cigarette to his mouth. The lighter hissed and flamed. Quick and Duo puffed lightly on the cigarettes and the paper and leaves burned. Quick sat back and pocketed the lighter and case as Duo coughed.
"Breathing smoke into the lungs is not exactly reflex," he said.
Quick drew smoke and exhaled with apparent practice. "So, I know you are not casual enough to just use me for sex, Heero. Why are you here?"
"I like how she says your name," Duo said, leaning into Heero's arm with one hand.
"How should it be? 'Heero.'"
"You say his name like it's proper romaji, like with a double 'e.' That's not how Heero says it."
"Say your name to me."
Heero said his name.
"Yes, but not slow like that. Just Heero."
"You should have corrected me."
"I do not really find it offensive. It... entertains me to hear different pronunciations. I only corrected you when you asked. You should know why we are here. Not that it is unusual for us to go to a nightclub when on vacation."
"I thought if you were going to get involved, you would have contacted me earlier."
"I only found out that Romeo was dead today. I was not keeping up with the European news. It was not my choice to get involved, but this evening, someone involved us."
"I did not actually find where you were staying."
"We are staying in Lapin's flat. It was coincidence. Today someone, at least one person, broke in and ransacked the place, apparently looking for something, or possibly clues to someone's location. They stole Duo's computer. So, being involved, we came here to look for help. It seems they came here sometimes."
"Yes, many of us did. I do not see anyone tonight... maybe they are avoiding me, just to avoid association with others who may be watched."
"Do you know anything? Tell me."
Quick shrugged as she typed with one hand and held her cigarette in the other. "I know what all of us in Paris or who were associated with Romeo know. He did something incredibly stupid. He did a bank account."
"A bank? They usually have very good security."
"Oh, it was very impressive, technically. Not just any bank, one of the Swiss banks. It was a numbered account, but he knew it belonged to a drug cartel. He figured that out himself, too: who the account belonged to. Romeo was like that, technically brilliant but sometimes also very stupid. I do not claim to be most adept at social engineering, but I am not the one making enemies of French drug cartels."
"How did they know he did it?"
"Ah, that is the really stupid and tragic thing. Romeo told us, many of us, that he had done this. And, you know, some of us use. Mind alteration is a tempting thing. Some people become dependant..."
"You're saying someone traded his name for a fix? They would never have known who hacked the account otherwise?"
"Oui. That is correct. I think that Romeo had something also brilliant planned for the money, but I do not know if he ever did this clever thing. He only hinted at his plan. So, though I do not know for certain, I think that Lapin has access to the money. I think that whatever Romeo actually did with the money, made it cash, or transferred to another account, it is in Lapin's control."
"I would have skipped town too!" Duo said.
"I saw her before she left, but she said nothing to me about the money herself. She did not tell me about Romeo; I found that out later. She must have known he was dead, I think. She must have come to me just after packing. She gave me her server and took only one bag and her mobile. I looked all through the server, of course, but I looked again, when I heard about Romeo. I thought maybe she would leave me a clue, and had been afraid to speak before. But, no. There was nothing. Only the files she usually keeps available for others to download. You know that is her thing."
"Her apartment was searched and we know it was not the police, so the cartel must know of her, that she has the money."
"I have no idea what happened that night Romeo died. I did the airport. Did you hear about that?"
"She asked me to do that. She did not tell me about Romeo or the money, but she told me she had to get out of the city. It was a diversion for her. She told me the time to do it, so I think she was doing something herself at the same time. I have not heard from her since. I have not been able to find her yet, but I will keep looking."
"So, you were friends?"
"Not really," Quick said casually, "sort of like competition except when faced with a common enemy. I certainly did not sell them out. That is appalling behavior. I want to find out who did sell them out; perhaps she knows. Or, perhaps she knows what Romeo's plan was. I would like to know what his last great trick was going to be."
"How much money was it?" Heero asked.
"I do not know exactly. The news does not report that, about the money or the cartel. They only know about the murder, or that is what they say."
"You know Lapin's real name?"
"I do also. I do not think the police know, but they know they are looking for a hacker named Lapin. I wonder what sort of information they have."
"Preventer IT is on it," Duo said.
"So maybe they are not on it just because there is a hacker to be found, maybe they were called in because the victim was a hacker, to search his system. Maybe they found that Lapin had the money, or some information that was not at Romeo's."
"It is speculation. We need to know for sure. I want to find her," Heero said.
"I told you everything I know."
"We have not told you everything we know. We do not know more about Lapin's whereabouts, but we might know someone that she would contact in the future. Also, we may be able to get information on the ones who stole Duo's mobile. They are probably the ones who killed Romeo. That may help to find Lapin, at least, there is a slight possibility we can track their efforts." Heero took the digital pad from his satchel. He offered it to Quick. "There is a log on this. We remote accessed Duo's mobile and this is what we got from his tracker. Whoever used it shortly after it was taken was not very wary of using it or thinking about security. They do know it is Duo's computer, and they believe he is assigned to the case by Preventers. This would lead them to believe that the authorities do know their target's identity and may force them to alter their plans. There are at least two addys there. I have not tried any checks on them yet, but doing so may bring us more information."
"Did you read all this?" Quick asked. "He composed some mail, in French."
"I only recognized some words and did not have time to run translation. I thought you could look at it."
"Did you know the hardline was bugged?"
"Yes. Both of them." Quick looked down and did not speak. Maybe she was thinking on the log, but Heero could not tell. He could not read all people as easily as he could Duo. Heero was not sure what else to say. He had come to the club to find help, but now he was not sure of the next step.
"Mmmn, can we take her home with us, Heero?" Duo asked.
"Hn. Sure, but we are not having sex with her."
Duo huffed and turned to look toward the stage. Quick then began relaying a rough translation of the French text to Heero.
"Did he actually say he hacked the bank or did he just say he accessed the account?" Duo asked, without even looking back at the table.
Heero was not sure, so he looked to Quick. She ground her cigarette out on the tabletop and seemed not to have heard the question. "Did Romeo specifically say he did that bank, or did you infer that from his accessing the account?"
"He told us he'd accessed an account in a certain bank."
Duo turned around, but he looked more at the column of ash balanced on the clove than Heero or Quick. "Maybe Romeo didn't even hack a bank. I can think of a way he could have done it, that might have been more impressive but less obvious. See, the ESUN's surprisingly anti-terrorist considering how the war was ended. They have been since before the recent attacks, since the nation was founded. They have pretty shady legislature in place. I know that where I live it's often reported when they make pass new laws and people go about asking others to lobby for our rights and privacy."
"Very American of them," Heero said, smiling.
"Yeah, anyway, big industry and banking is required to have certain policies in place so as to aid the government in tracking terrorists or large criminal organization and seizing their funds. Well, hate to say it but, banks are in the business to make money and laws like that just invade everyone's privacy. So, the banks do not screen their own clients or even keep their own client databases, if they did, they would loose many big accounts from people who required privacy. They contract out to these big data corporations. And since these companies are not legally banks themselves, they are not obligated to report certain information to the government. They are staffed with every kind of lawyer and always claim privilege. So, if you wanted to learn where some big crime lord or terrorist leader was keeping his money, you wouldn't even go through the bank, you'd go through the company that maintained their data for them. And, I'm sure Heero at least knows this: The Alliance was like a federation of nations, not a single nation. Up until the end of the war, the various nations still had their own intelligence organizations, in addition to what OZ or the Alliance had. Preventers could only take in so many ex-military and ex-intelligence personnel. The rest went into other forms of IT work, trading information or getting consultant positions with large corporations."
"So, Romeo did not do a bank. He did the database of a company in the business of keeping information secure and confidential."
"One made up of ex-intelligence personnel," Heero added. "I would have thought of that eventually."
Duo grinned and took a last drag off his cigarette.
"That does sound impressive... but couldn't he have done the bank?"
Duo shrugged. "Banking industry isn't really my area of knowledge, but I know who is for or against terrorism and freedom of information."
"I think Duo's idea sounds likely," Heero said. "This is why we do work well together." He saw Duo smile at him. "We do not think in the same way."
"I figure you guys would know a bit more than me about this, but I figure that this would be more the sort of challenge that your kind would enjoy, being they should know all the tricks. And, investigators would probably not think of it at first, like you didn't. I mean... he wouldn't have even had to go through the bank at all. He could have identified an account holder who was in a business he wanted, taken the personal info in the file and used that to just guess what kind of PIN or password he would put on his accounts. He could have arranged the transfer from a computer, or even walked up to one of those bank machines."
"Bank machines have cameras," Quick noted.
"Computer then. He should have known a way to cover his work, right?"
"No one's going to prove that he did a bank and no one's going to admit that he did one of these data corporations. I really don't wonder why the Rabbit's on the run. Certain parties want to know who killed Romeo, but maybe the others want to make sure no one can repeat Romeo's stunt."
"But..." Heero started.
"Hey..." Duo glanced around so casually, laughing as he did it so that he did not seem to be looking around for spies. "I know I was the one who suggested they could help. Maybe they mean well, though I know you don't like them. But, maybe they don't know they are being used by someone else."
Heero thought about this. "Then, who tore up the place?" Was it the murderers or the data corporation? For that matter, had the ones Romeo stole the money from definitely been the ones that killed him. "Shit!"
"Yeah, kinda my thoughts," Duo said. He did not have to be telepathic to know they were thinking the same thing.
"We have to find her. There's absolutely no question. We have to find her before anyone else does." Government conspiracy was one thing. The world had experienced that before. Duo was correct in that 'Big Brother is watching' sort of way, yet it was not legitimate or current government that worried Heero now, but those in the private sector with government intelligence experience. The industry was not bad as a whole, but it did tend to cultivate a certain disregard for individual life when weighed against the security of a group. Heero knew that too well.
"Drug dealers and cops is one thing..." Quick said. She disconnected the computers; the transfers had all been completed. She closed down her machine and slipped it into the bag at her feet.
"It may be dangerous. You do not have to help us," Heero said.
Duo's agitated movement said he did not think Heero should have said that, but then he slumped slightly in his chair and shrugged. Duo was often willing to take the dangerous tasks unto himself.
"I will help you," Quick said. "It is just I thought it foolish enough to anger a cartel. Angering those who used to work in national security... well, I suppose if I am any good, I will find out."
"Guess that means we should get out of here," Duo suggested.
"No, not yet," Heero warned. "We should attempt to look casual, against the chance that we are being watched. We can stay until this set is over."
"I guess I'll go check out this band," Duo said.
"I will buy Quick a drink," Heero said as he put his mobile into his satchel.
"That'd be normal," Duo murmured. He stood, made a slight bow to Quick, then turned and walked into the crowd.
"May I buy you a drink?"
"No alcohol tonight, if we will be working."
Heero stood and shouldered his satchel again. He saw Quick stand and sling the strap of her bag across her chest. He offered an arm, but quick seemed unaccustomed to such treatment or did not recognize the gesture. She just stood looking toward the bar.
"I think they have other drinks."
"They do." Heero saw that she was moving to the bar, so he matched pace with Quick. "He seems intelligent."
"But you probably like him more because of your shared experiences in the past."
"It is not only the experiences, or I would feel the same for Relena or Trowa. I think two people can be attracted to each other for very basic reasons and then build a relationship of shared experiences." That was how it had happened. Heero had pondered this before.
They had not liked each other in the beginning, probably it was truer they had annoyed each other, yet, their goals, beliefs and pasts had a lot of similarity. The moment those Gundams had risen from the ocean Heero had known. It took Duo a few more seconds, but he had also known it for certain then. It was not just being the Gundam pilots that made them similar, because only a certain kind of person would have become a Gundam pilot. They had known then: they were the same kind of people.
And so, they were drawn to save each other's lives time after time. There was a sort of honor code in it, in repaying the debt, or passing it back and forth. But after a while...
Well if Duo happened to save his life tonight, Heero was not going to feel driven to save Duo's life just to repay the favor. He was just going to be grateful to have one more night with Duo. Maybe that night would be payment in turn. But maybe Duo would not feel he needed payment. Maybe it was enough for him to know Heero was alive.
If it happened inversely, if Heero had to save Duo again, he knew that he would be thankful that Duo was alive. He knew that his only motivation would be to save Duo, and that there would be no gloating involved.
Heero ordered Quick a Coke and then looked into the slowly dancing crowd before the stage. He had a feeling of synchronicity, as if Duo was thinking that he was grateful Heero was alive.
Heero then noticed Johnny eyeing him from his place further down the bar. Perhaps he wondered why Heero now had a girl with him. Heero pressed his lips together in annoyance and waved to Johnny. A half-minute later, he had made his way over to them.
"Claudia," she said.
"Yes, my friend Claudia." Heero turned to Quick. "This is Johnny Vasquez, the American actor, he may be shooting a new series near where Duo will be working." Introduction complete, Heero stepped in to the bar again and ordered another Coke for himself.
Quick and Johnny began making small talk. Johnny was leading the conversation. Heero drank his soda and listened to them talk about Maudlin Manic as he looked toward the stage. There were four of them, one singer with green hair who sometimes played guitar, a bass guitar player, and two others operating various synthesizers, one whom occasionally played violin.
When their set was over, Johnny invited them both to meet the band.
"We have to find Duo," Heero told him.
"Cary's probably found him by now. I am sure they will be with the band. They would love to meet you, I am sure."
Heero frowned slightly. Duo had seemed interested in meeting the one called Midori. "OK, but only for a little while. Duo and I have plans for tomorrow and we need to rest."
Quick and Johnny both laughed. "Rest!" they said, "Who needs rest?"
It had only been an excuse, so Heero followed them up one of the metal staircases to the second floor, where Johnny said the dressing rooms were located. The band would reach the rooms through a private staircase, but they should be able to get inside.
There was a man guarding the entry. It was just beside the music mixer's booth and she could access the rooms behind from within. Johnny spoke to the doorman in French, explained, from what Heero understood, that Midori would expect them.
He asked Heero and Quick to open their large bags. Heero complied. The doorman barely glanced at the contents and did not bother to search every pocket, but perhaps his responsibility was taken care of in his mind. He waved Heero inside. Quick passed in the same way.
They passed through a hall, which lead, it seemed, to various rooms used by the staff and entertainers. They followed the sounds of conversation to a lounge and found a fairly large group within. Duo and Atashi were not among them. Heero saw that Midori was posing for a photo with a girl and another girl of a similar age was holding the camera. Their bass player was making out with some guy in a suit. The other two band members were drinking water and generally seemed to eye the three other guys in suits disdainfully.
Actually, those three did not seem as excited to meet the band as their friend.
"Midori! This is Heero Yuy!" Johnny said. His voice carried quite clearly in the small room, as the music from the main room was only a muffled thumping here.
Everyone in the room looked up toward the door and those suits reached tensely into their jackets. The pair that had been sucking at each other's faces stopped. The bass player said, "Aubrey?"
Shit, Heero thought, just my luck that members of the cartel are shock rock fans. Brey was certainly not police, IT, or corporate intelligence agent. None of them would wear such expensive suits.
Heero knew that much about fashion; these guess dressed like gangsters.
He did not much resemble an assassin or a Gundam pilot today. He was not even armed.
The hands reached toward guns, but none were drawn. What would Duo do, Heero wondered.
Heero cocked his head and smiled at Midori. "That was an interesting show you put on. I had only known of your voice acting before tonight. It is nice to meet you."
"It is my pleasure."
"My partner and I just happened to be in Paris on vacation, so it was chance we happened to see your performance," Heero said quite loudly. He wished Duo would show up. He glanced to the others in the band. "I did like the show."
The other three were moving toward Heero, and putting themselves between him and the suits. "This is Mires," Midori said of the tall bass player. "And Ryuhou and Kazuma." The one that was called Ryuhou had green hair as well, though it was a lighter shade.
Heero tried to look past the musicians to be sure no weapons had been drawn, but he could not get a clear line of sight on all four men. He could see that Aubrey was attempting to conceal something about the shape of a mobile computer beneath his jacket. Heero knew he was correct; this was the man that had broken into Lapin's apartment. He still had the machine.
Heero hoped his lame announcement that he was just on vacation had appeased the men in suits. He looked at Mires, the European in the band. "So, who are your friends?"
"That's just Mires's boyfriend," Midori said dismissively.
Heero noticed the two girls looking at him. He wondered what age one had to be to get into a club in Paris. He knew that in most places, one had to be at least seventeen to drink legally, but they might let younger teenagers into a club.
Rather suddenly Quick sidled up to Heero. "Are they...?" She whispered.
"Yes, this is my friend Claudia," Heero said, giving Quick her answer as he introduced her.
"It is a pleasure to meet you all, but we cannot stay long. We are expecting a friend of ours soon."
"Is it Duo?" asked one of the younger girls, in an accent alike to Quick's.
"Yes, I expect he will walk in here at any moment," Heero said.
At that moment, he heard the distinct sound of two shots fired from somewhere beyond the door. He knew the others would be compelled to draw, if only to defend themselves against possible threats. Heero pushed Quick gently toward the door and then bowed toward the men at the back of the room.
As the members of the band were wondering why Heero had looked so intently past them, Heero backed up to the door and slowly opened it. He checked the hall and saw it clear in the direction he was able to view, the direction they had come from. Quick understood the situation and moved past Heero with only a nod to cue her.
"You girls should come with me," Heero told them.
They moved into the hall quickly enough. By then, the suits had drawn weapons and Mires and Johnny at least had taken notice. Heero slipped into the hall, quickly looked toward the end of the hall he had not been able to view before, and saw it was clear.
"This way, there must be access to the stage from here." The music had decreased in volume and there were enough people screaming or shouting at something that Heero could hear them above the music. There might even be a back exit to the street." Heero wished he had studied the plans of this building, but he had never expected to need to.
Quick urged the girls before her; they were beginning to realize there was something serious going on.
The door to the lounge opened and Heero turned to put himself between the girls and the doorway, though he had no weapon. Johnny ran out, looking confused. Heero heard shouts from within the room as the door swung shut again.
"Johnny!" Heero hissed quickly.
The actor spotted them and rushed after them. "Those guys all had guns and that one pistol whipped Mires! Why did you leave us? What is going on?"
Heero pushed Johnny toward a wall. He could tell Johnny was stunned, but it had been a protective gesture more than it was aggressive. Johnny would be shielded by the cabinet against the wall, while Heero was in the open. "Quiet. They are likely defensive now. It was safest I leave. I got as many people out as I could."
"Do you have a gun?" Johnny whispered as they began moving again, toward the door at the end of the hall. There was another sound that Heero was certain was gunfire, though the walls around them made it muffled and slightly echoed, so he could not tell its exact direction.
"Heero," Quick said.
He turned to look at her and saw she held a gun in one hand, she was offering it to him, her hand on the barrel. Heero took the weapon. Later he would ask what Quick was doing with it. Now he got a better look at it, Heero thought it was something that belonged in a collector's case. He had memorized all makes and models of currently manufactured firearms, but he only vaguely recognized that this was one of the old Walther models.
Heero tipped his head toward the end of the hall to tell the others to move, even as he continued to look over the gun. It was loaded. Heero flipped the small lever to release the clip. 20 bullets; it was fully loaded. He pushed it back into place. The chamber was empty, but he took care of that.
"Its aim is accurate?"
"I never used it except to practice or imply a threat."
"I think so," Quick said reaching for the door.
Heero put his hand on the door to prevent it opening, then he stepped up to the knob, opened the door himself and peered into the stairwell. It was dimly lit, but it seemed clear. "Go!" Heero commanded.
The girls screamed as Heero also noticed the four suits now moving toward them.
Johnny dragged them into the stairwell as Heero put weight on Quick's shoulder, to force her to walk through the doorway at a stoop. He took aim at Aubrey's left hip. "I did not come here to start trouble with you. I have nothing that is yours, though I know you have something that belongs to a friend of mine."
"You make trouble with us if you are protecting those hacker kids, like that girl you are with," One of them said in accented English.
Heero would like to settle things with Aubrey. He might have some chance against them, one gun to four, but not so long as he had civilians to protect.
But, you are a civilian now, Heero told himself.
Yes, but we have peace because civilians demanded it. It is my responsibility to protect them if I have the ability and they do not.
"Heero!" Quick called.
They fired first.
Heero took cover behind the thick metal door. He fired once from around the edge of the door; the bullet grazed Aubrey's arm, passed through his clothing and lodged in the computer tucked under his arm as it slipped from his side. "Go! Down!" Heero called to the four on the staircase.
He could hear the music die as a new voice was amplified above the crowd to demand order. Local security forces had arrived on the scene. There was a pane of wire-reinforced glass in the door; as Heero moved onto the stairs, he saw Mires throwing shoes at the thugs from the cartel. He bounded down to catch up to the others, listening for footsteps above.
They came to a room Heero estimated to be on the ground floor, with one door marked as an exit only and another door labeled as leading to the stage. From the sounds through the door, Heero knew the main room was controlled by police. He may be able to pull rank, but they might not believe he was not the cause of the trouble.
Heero did not know who had started shooting within the club. He hoped Duo was all right. Maybe it was just some random fight over a girl, but then maybe it was something more. Duo and Atashi had not shown up to meet them.
"Where do we go? What is going on?" asked the girls.
"I cannot explain, but I know that you will be safer if…" Heero stopped as he heard footfalls on the stairs. He put his back to the brick pillar near the stairs and waved the others around the corner. He pressed the length of the gun barrel against his forehead and then turned to look to the stairs.
"All our gear!" someone was complaining. Kazuma or Ryuhou, they had a Japanese accent, though they were speaking English.
"We can come back for it. They will owe us after this, but I am not going to stay around to try to explain to these gendarmes that we had no idea Mires' Paris boyfriend was going to assault a particularly famous Preventer agent! They will probably hold me on suspicion of trafficking drugs to the Colonies!"
"I knew he always had stuff and he carried the gun…but I never even met those other guys before!" Mires protested weakly.
Heero saw that it was only the four members of Maudlin Manic and that no one else followed. He took a step away from the pillar. "They became defensive because they knew they had stolen something from my rooms here in Paris," Heero said. Midori jumped when he noticed Heero there. "That is it, there."
Kazuma surrendered Duo's mobile. "I think it is broken."
"Where is Aubrey now?" Heero asked sternly, as he used one hand to put the computer in his satchel.
"They left by a window," Ryuhou said.
That meant they might be waiting outside, if they had gotten past the police.
"Have you seen Atashi at all?" Johnny asked from behind Heero.
"I glimpsed him in the crowd during our set, but I don't know what happened to him after that," Midori said.
"We cannot just stay here. If the police have done their jobs at all well, they will be watching this door as well. You can leave," Heero said, glancing to the two young girls. "Go. It is a fire exit, it will open from the inside. No one will be after you."
"Tell me your addys. You stay kewl and go now and I will send you something nice," Quick told them.
The girls shakily told Quick how to contact them. They let her press them toward the door.
"No one will be after you, so just open the door and tell us what you see out there," she said.
One girl pushed open the door. There was excited screaming from the space beyond. The four musicians cringed and moved away from the door. That answered Heero's question. Fans who had already left the club or who had not been allowed inside were waiting outside to see the band leave.
Heero signaled Midori with a sharp nod.
"We'll send you autographed photos or something, so just make your way home and keep all this trouble between us."
The girls nodded, opened the door wider and then stepped outside. The screams came again, and cheers for the band to come outside, but the sounds was muffled and then silenced as the door closed automatically.
"We need another exit."
"The cops must be upstairs by now," Quick said.
"Would there be an exit from the basement?" Johnny asked.
"You know a way to a basement level?" Heero asked.
Johnny pointed to the other side of the pillar. "I saw it when we took cover."
Heero walked sideways to the opening in the floor. He glanced to the walls and floor then. "What do you think? Some old buildings in cities such as Paris do have access to the underground, but access could be closed off by current residents, even if it was once available."
"It's either the cops or us all being recognized in the alley," Midori sighed.
"Or roof or windows," Kazuma said.
"Easier for the police to watch," Quick said.
Heero moved onto the first step to the basement, the weapon pointed down into the darkness. If there was anyone down there, then they already knew he was here. If there was no exit, it would be a hassle working things out with local security, but Heero had only fired the shot that killed the computer. They had no reason to detain him.
Heero trained his eyes on the space before him and descended the stairs slowly. As he walked into the basement Heero heard a voice whisper to him. "Enemies following?" It was Duo.
"Six civilians with me." He could still not see Duo, though his voice came from close to Heero's right side. Heero supposed Duo was crouched beside the steps.
"One with me. Basement seems clear. No exit secured just yet."
Heero turned back. Quick and Johnny were at the top of the stairs. "It seems clear for now. All of you hurry down and stay quiet."
"Johnny! It's me!" Atashi called from somewhere ahead of Heero.
Heero stepped onto the basement floor and quickly moved to the side of the stairs. Duo stood and slipped an arm around Heero's waist. Heero kept the gun at his side and put his left arm around Duo's neck.
"You hurt?" Duo whispered at his ear.
"Just grazed the left arm."
"Duo." Heero lifted his right hand and felt the fabric tied about Duo's arm, just above the elbow, with the back of his thumb.
"Would have been our favorite porn star if I had not grabbed him. I am sure they thought he was you." Heero felt Duo's arm pressing against his back and walked farther into the darkness with Duo. "Are you absolutely sure whose side Quick is on? Spooks. Two that I saw, but I think there were more. They were targeting the one they thought was you."
Behind Heero Atashi was telling the others what had happened. "This bullet flew right past us and hit one of the speaker arrays. Duo went to the rail and I went after him. The spear fell to the dance floor. It almost hit someone, but it didn't. Then another shooter fired and Duo got hit. He grabbed me and we ran then. One of them caught up with us again downstairs, when we were trying to hide. We had to. They were shooting at us and we didn't have any weapon. Duo pushed me so hard I fell on the floor, but the bullet hit the wall just where we had been standing. We managed to slip behind the stage and get down here. Duo thinks they stopped following when the cops showed up."
There was something off about that story, besides Atashi not realizing he was the target and that Duo had been risking his life to save him. The first shot had hit a speaker array. Anyone prepared to shoot at Duo or Heero was a fool or confident neither would live to report the matter. They simply would not be such poor shots as to completely miss their target and hit the spear arrays suspended from the ceiling when they had the element of surprise.
Duo must have detected the bullet with no time to move and deflected it by will alone. That explained his rushing to the rail as well, as Duo would have wanted to make sure he was not responsible for the speakers crushing anyone below. He had to go to the rail, and remain in the open, long enough to direct the speaker array away from people in the crowd below. Atashi not knowing any better than to stay in the open with him had given Duo no choice but to take a bullet and hope to move as far from its path as possible. The third shot had also nearly hit its target, but Duo had been expecting a shot then, and he was fast.
"It is all right," Heero whispered to Duo as the others were telling Atashi what had happened to them.
"Duo, it was not her. I do not believe that. Whoever they worked for, they could have been monitoring the club all night and seen that Quick and I exchanged information. Maybe in the crowd, they lost us when we separated."
Duo's hold on Heero tightened. He seemed to be listening to the others. "Maybe taking out the bouncer near the booth would be too visible an action for them. Why wouldn't they try to follow Quick and you…if you are right?"
"We can only speculate, but the ones upstairs knew about Quick."
"The arrests suggest that all the parties involved know a hacker was involved."
"So they are after all of you now."
"If they are ex-Intelligence, they might know about me. Not my other name; that Heero Yuy had the ability."
"So, which hacker are you, anyway?" Duo whispered.
Heero shook his head. "We have to get out of here," he said loudly enough for the others to hear.
"I started to look around, but then Atashi warned me that he heard voices. I came over and listened. I was not sure you were all friendly."
"There is a light?" Midori asked. They were clustered in the pool of dim light from above. It was stupid.
"Sure. I've found several, but using them would make it more difficult to move around secretly," Duo said, quietly and sarcastically at the same time.
"I really think he can see in the dark," Atashi whispered.
"He's from a colony at LaGrange Point 2," Quick said, "They get less sunlight there so, children raised there are better adapted to seeing in low-level light."
"So ka?" Ryuhou asked quietly.
"So," Midori answered.
"I know Quick has a light if Heero doesn't," Duo said softly. He lowered his arm and slipped away from Heero. There's some boxes of plastic cups, napkins, drink concentrates here. There's crates of wine and liquor over that way. If we find a way out, I can't see them missing a few bottles." He laughed.
Heero felt inside the pocket of his satchel and found he did have his penlight. He switched it on and swept the walls. "If they have such large boxes and crates, I would expect there is some delivery entrance apart from the stage door above."
"That's what I thought," Duo said, "But I can't actually see in total darkness and I didn't have time to look very carefully."
"Split up and look," Heero whispered, seeing Quick and Mires had lighters. "And be quiet.
"No casualties, right? The ones upstairs?" Duo asked.
"Correct," Heero whispered, "shots fired but no casualties."
"So even with the reported gunfire, local security won't be too motivated to search the whole building. It's be different if they had bodies."
This was true, whether one wanted to view it as positive or negative. Law enforcement officers were not lazy, it was just that they often had so many serious cases that when a call turned up no major theft, injuries or death, they felt that matters could be considered resolved for the most part and that they could afford to keep their manpower on other cases.
"Here," Midori called, "There is a door, but it has an electronic lock."
"Is that one Midori?" Duo whispered to Heero as they walked.
"He sounds like you. Even more than when he is Akairo."
"Hn. We are both Japanese Colonial is all."
"I think his voice is even the same pitch and like…sort of nasal, I guess. You sound like that. Not that it's a bad thing. I like how you sound."
They came to the doors. Quick was examining the lock by the flame of her lighter.
"I'll do it?" Duo told her.
"Yeah, just back up to give me space to work."
"How will you…?"
Duo already had the doors unlocked. Heero frowned at the use of telekinetic ability. Saving lives was one thing, but this was just raising questions.
"Let us say the colony where he grew up also left him streetwise," Heero suggested.
Quick did not seem satisfied, but she dropped the subject.
Duo opened one door slightly and peered outside. "We should be facing the back of the building here," Heero said.
"Put out the lights," Duo hissed quietly.
Heero switched off his light and the lighters were released.
Duo lifted the door open further. He drew the black-bladed knife from his boot and stood to have a look around. He looked to either side and then upward. "Looks clear," he whispered, "Not sure of our orientation in the city, but there's a dead end to the right and some fire escape above. I can see through a fence to some kind of outdoor eating area. There's a street to the left, traffics moving and I can't see any cops from here."
"Can we get into the restaurant?" Heero asked.
"Yeah, if we climb onto the trash bin behind the next building. We'd probably be seen though."
"Yes, but we would be leaving right away. The point is not to risk being seen coming from the alley right now."
"There's also a grating on the ground."
"What shape is it?" Quick whispered.
"Rectangle. Tight metal grill."
"It probably goes to part of the Metro," Quick said.
"Too risky with so many people," Heero said. "We can go over the fence and just walk out of the restaurant before they become offended enough to call the police."
"Lead on, then, I'll stay behind and lock up."
"Not inside?" Atashi asked.
"I'll lock their door again from outside, don't worry."
Heero shrugged and moved past. The alley looked as Duo had described. Heero crossed the alley quickly and leapt easily to the top of the dumpster. They sent Quick next. She took a moment to look to either side unnecessarily and then came quietly across the alleyway. She could not jump onto the trash bin, but managed to place her hands on the edge and vault up. She crouched behind Heero. He saw her look toward the sign on the back of the adjacent building.
"It is a public accountant office. I wonder if they have anything goo din here."
"Another time," Heero growled, but she was already opening one side of the large bin. They sent Atashi and Midori next. Both scrambled up onto the dumpster. "You can drop down easily. It is not very crowded. If you wait until the waiter goes in you might sit down at an empty table and go unnoticed for a short while."
Midori went first, slipped down between the potted trees and then turned to help Atashi down. Ryuhou and Kazuma came next Ryuhou was carrying a violin case and passed it to Heero before he vaulted up.
When they had dropped over the fence, Johnny and Duo came from the club, carrying bottles. Heero cursed them softly. Quick was still digging around in the dumpster.
"I got us some Chambourd," Duo said, grinning.
"We could have bought some."
"Yeah. You are going to put that thing away before you swoop down on innocent diners?"
Heero lifted his right hand and looked at the gun he was holding.
Duo laughed as Johnny was passing bottles over the fence. "Is that a movie prop?"
"Quick had it."
"It looks like an old James Bond gun."
"I think it is a Walther." Heero had played some of the video games. "I think it might be a P99. Extended barrel possibly. It is quite functional, though the grip is small on this one."
"Eh, customized for a girl."
Heero put the safety on and then tucked the weapon in the back of his pants, pulling his snug shirt over it as best he could.
Quick turned, her arms loaded with three mobile computers. She smiled. "If I only manage to fix one I will be up on computer, I can always use more. I could sell them."
"Heero's like that with old video game machines," Duo said. He helped Quick pass the computers over the fence. She climbed over then, someone on the other side helping her down.
"You go first," Duo said.
"If there was a sniper, they would have shot me already."
"Go," Duo said harshly.
Heero jumped the fence and landed neatly before the shrubs. The others were at tables, pretending they belonged. Duo dropped silently to the paving stones. His fingers touched Heero's arm as he moved to settle up with Johnny over the stolen alcohol. The touch was shockingly erotic.
Heero saw Duo smile and walked to join the others. He noticed two waiters near the doors to the inside dining room pointing toward them and arguing. They did not seem to notice that they had come over the fence, but were arguing about whether the host should have seated them all at the tables assigned to one waiter.
"We are going to get a cab to our hotel," Midori said. "Do you all have a safe place to stay?"
"I want to go with you," Atashi said quietly to Midori.
Midori nodded and Heero wondered if anyone else had even heard.
"Claudia?" Johnny asked.
Duo huffed and raised his brow. He had never been given that name.
"I am going to go where Heero goes. There is something I was going to help him with."
"Aa. It is possible she is in danger. I know Duo will agree we should keep her close."
Duo's smile acknowledged Heero's understanding that he did not trust Quick. Heero was just unsure whether this was professional suspicion or a boyfriend's jealousy.
"They you have a place to stay?" Johnny asked.
"That Aubrey person knows you are staying there," Quick told Heero, "They could be waiting for you to return!"
"Koi!" Heero said, voice wavering involuntarily. His hand automatically went to the weapon tucked in his waistband and he just started walking.
Heero did not wait or listen. He walked through the restaurant with the gun held at his side and Duo calling after him.