It took Heero a little longer to find somewhere to land than I think I would have liked. That was pretty much my fault, really, considering that I was the reason the landing strip looked like someone had smashed all of the concrete up with a hammer. I stood a safe distance away while he landed Wing on the best patch of ground he could find, then approached once the engines has slowed down enough that the wind they created didn't threaten to knock me over.
I could have just about cried when I saw the familiar figure of Posture King Yuy on Wing's ramp. I ran toward him like a starving man that just spotted an all you can eat buffet. Heero actually took a step back, his eyes wide with shock, as I lunged at him and wrapped my arms around his shoulders.
"Duo..." he started, his hands held up in surprise.
"Just shut up," I said into his shirt. I actually was crying. I couldn't fucking believe it. But just touching Heero after so many weeks in the dark... deep in my mind, I guess I'd thought I was never going to see him or the rest of the guys again. So much for my optimism. "Don't say a fucking thing."
Heero was a wise man; he shut up. Hesitantly, like he expected me to attack or run at any moment, he rested his hands on my bare shoulders. When I didn't do anything, he wrapped his arms around me, though everything about it felt wooden and uncertain.
He didn't ask anything or even try to say anything again. He just held on to me as I cried a few pathetic, silent tears, then still kept holding on when I just didn't get around to pushing him away. The adrenalin that had given me the strength to run and keep to my feet slowly drained out of me, and he had to support more and more of my weight. It probably didn't help that my wrist was still bleeding.
I don't know how long we would have stayed like that if the radio hadn't crackled to life with Quatre's concerned voice. "Zero-one, are you there? Status, please."
Instead of dropping me like I half expected, Heero muscled me around so he could loop my arm around his neck, and walked me into Wing. His eyes narrowed as he finally caught sight of the bloody mess that was my wrist, not to mention the nice puddle it had made on the floor. Without comment, he dropped me into the pilot's chair and flipped on the radio as he tore a generous strip off the bottom of his shirt. "I have Zero-two. Objective accomplished. Returning to rendezvous point now."
Even over the static of an encrypted radio frequency, Quatre sounded so relieved it hurt. "Affirmative. Maintain radio silence. Out."
Heero knelt in front of me and wrapped the makeshift bandage around my wrist. I just watched him; just having someone there, just being free was enough for me. My heart was singing with joy; Quatre and Trowa would get Milliard and Wufei, and the nightmare would be over. We could start working on the revenge once we'd all had a shower and a bowl of hot soup. It was a nice thought.
First aide done, Heero walked behind me for a moment, dragging a blanket out of a cabinet. He wrapped it around my shoulders, then lifted me up so he could sit down. I ended up draped across his lap and the arms of the chair; there really wasn't anywhere else for me to go. And it wasn't like I was going to complain anyway.
Lift off was so gentle I almost didn't feel it; I hadn't realized that Heero was that delicate of a touch at the controls. He'd also just been very straight forward and kind of overpowered. Not a hotdog, exactly, but someone that really didn't give a shit about his own personal comfort. I just sat and listened to the sound of his breathing as we flew to whatever the rendezvous point was. It was enough to just remember that I was alive. That it was going to be okay. Who needed to talk when you had that?
"What do you mean, you didn't see them?" I demanded.
Heero frowned, a sure sign that he was getting irritated. I was way beyond that point myself, so I really didn't give a shit. "Our approach was from the south. The base was well fortified, so the attack was drawn out by necessity. If Wufei and the prisoner - "
" – Milliard," I interrupted firmly.
" - Milliard were loaded on to trucks for transport, they were gone before I completed my sweep north."
"That's no excuse!" I half rose from my chair, only to be yanked back down by Quatre, who was attempting to bandage my wrist. My increasingly erratic movement wasn't making his job any easier.
Heero glanced around, an automatic response to see if someone had noticed my outburst. In this case, it was a useless and silly gesture, since we were safe in the top floor of an apartment building at the edges of Nagoya that was still under construction. Trowa had found it, and they'd used it as their staging point for the rescue mission. The floors were still bare concrete, but the electricity and water worked, which was the important part. Heero lowered his voice to a dangerous level. "You know the way the Gundam HUDs work. I was unaware that there would be a reason to recalibrate them to register such small targets."
"You were going in to an unknown situation!"
Trowa, leaning against the far wall with his arms crossed, looked up. "Which is precisely why it would have been unwise to clutter the HUDs with unnecessary targets." He narrowed his eyes. "Please think rationally."
I wasn't feeling very rational, that was the problem. The gnawing in my belly was growing worse with each passing moment, twisting my bowels and cramping my muscles. The fire had started to spread through my nerves, making every joint ache. It was only a matter of time before I wouldn't even be able to breathe without pain, I knew. But that was the point. I knew, and they didn't, and I had my last few shreds of pride to think of.
With a wooden but passable placating gesture, Heero continued. "I have already sent messages to our contacts. We're awaiting response."
Emotion went off in me like a gun shot, infusing me with rage that had no rational explanation. "That's not good enough!" I shouted, then tore my hand from Quatre's grasp and slammed it down on the empty crate that was serving as a table. The glasses of water and cups of coffee jumped, while one lonely spoon went skittering to the floor. The half finished bandage came loose, and even better, my nose started bleeding again.
Quatre scrambled to his feet, shoving a wad of gauze into my hand so I could stop dripping blood on the once clean shirt they'd given me. He planted a knee on my forearm, holding me still so he could finish his bandage. My fingers jittered and jerked, even though I tried to hold them still. He yanked the tails of the bandage into a knot, a little harder than he really needed to. Even Quatre was starting to lose patience. "Be reasonable, Duo," he said.
"Reasonable? How the hell can I be reasonable? No one gets left behind. We all agreed to it. And now I'm free and they're still with those fucking...PSYCHOPATHS!" The last word was almost a howl, not so much because I was that upset, but because I needed to give voice to the pain somehow, before it drove me mad.
Of maybe it already had. It was really starting to look that way.
The corners of Heero's eyes were tight, like he was in pain himself when he spoke. "Do you have any better ideas, then?"
I stopped, trying to think. I couldn't. My thoughts were jumbled, confused with the screaming of every nerve ending in my body. The only idea I really had was to lay on the floor and scream for a while, but that definitely wasn't a helpful one. Bitter anger filled my heart; how could my body and mind betray everyone like this, when clear thinking was most needed? Milliard and Wufei trapped, and the best we were doing was seeing if someone at the spaceport noticed anything.
"Do you?" Heero asked.
"Give me a minute," I mumbled, rubbing my temples with shaking fingers. When I looked up, all three of them were watching me with a sort of fascinated horror. I realized that I'd dropped the wad of gauze and was bleeding down the front of my shirt again. I fumbled for it on the floor, only succeeding in banging my head on the crate.
"Duo..." Quatre began.
"Just give me a minute, would you?!" I yelled, lurching to my feet. I limped across the cold concrete to the apartment's bedroom, the only place that had its door yet. No one followed me. "I just need a minute to think." I shut and locked the door behind me. It wouldn't stop anyone if they wanted in, but it made a point.
They weren't watching any more, so I didn't have to pretend. I stumbled to the nearest wall and slid down it, curling into a ball around the agony in my stomach. Tears squeezed out of my eyes, and my breath was a hiss through clenched teeth. I wanted to die, and it could probably be easily arranged - but first I had to hang on. I had to find Milliard and Wufei. But I also had to think for that, and when I tried to think there was the pain, over and over and over.
The black case that I'd taken from Dr. Schbeiker's bloody lab coat appeared in my hand; that was the only way I could describe it. There was no thought on my part. The sight of it made me want to vomit. I knew what was inside - long, silver needles; vials of pale amber liquid; a waiting glass syringe; peace; the end of pain; euphoria. And I wanted it, oh God how I wanted it.
"No," I whispered. With all my strength, I threw the case away.
Someone knocked on the door. "Give me a minute!" I yelled.
"Duo," Heero began.
"Goddamnit, Yuy, I said give me a fucking minute!"
Silence, and then another voice, much calmer. Trowa. "Duo, I'm coming in." The lock on the door clicked off. He didn't give me a chance to tell him to fuck off; the moment he was done speaking, he opened the door just far enough for him to slip in. Considering how skinny Trowa was, it didn't leave any space for peeking in. He locked the door behind him, then took in the lovely little scene without a comment or so much as an eyebrow twitch. The black case was at his feet; he picked it up and walked over to me.
"No..." I moaned, shutting my eyes tightly so I wouldn't have to look at it.
Cool fingers brushed the sweaty, stringy locks of hair away from my forehead. The shock made me look. I hadn't been imagining it; Trowa knelt beside me, the dreaded black case in one hand, smoothing my hair with the other.
"I can't, Trowa. I just can't."
He didn't ask what I meant. Somehow, he knew the five million contradicting things I absolutely could not do. "I understand, Duo," he murmured, "more than you'll ever know. I've felt this pain before."
"I want..." I started, then the words choked off as I clutched at my stomach.
"Listen, Duo. You know in your heart what you need to do now."
I shook my head. "I don't want to... I can't!"
"You can, and will. You know what's at stake."
And God help me, I did want it. With a shaking hand, I pulled the sleeve of my shirt up. "Before I change my mind, hurry." I gasped out.
He opened the case and put the syringe together with practiced ease. "How much?"
"Full dose is too much...leaves me comatose," I said, trying to remain calm. "A third. In the muscle."
He nodded once, then drew the amber drug into the syringe. I barely felt the poke of the needle; all I knew was the wave of heat that washed through me, miraculously stilling my screaming nerves. "Better?" He asked after I'd had a moment.
I sat up, wiggling my fingers to ease the cramps in my hands. I didn't want to look him in the eye. "It depends on how you mean."
"Able to perform the necessary function for mission completion?"
I snorted. "You sound like Heero."
"There are worse things."
I reached out and took the syringe from him, and the vial. I stared at them for a long time, wanting so many things that I couldn't even begin to articulate. Then I threw them onto the concrete floor. They made a satisfying smash. "Never again. This was the last time."
Trowa wasn't the least bit surprised. "Then it would behoove us to find Wufei and Milliard quickly."
"Yeah." I nodded. Before we reached the door, I grabbed his sleeve. "Trowa..."
"Don't... don't tell them, okay?"
He raised an eyebrow. "I think they already know, Duo. They have eyes."
"But it's one thing... to think. I don't want to hear it said. I can't stand it."
Trowa nodded. "I understand. I will say nothing."
Quatre and Heero were smart; they didn't say anything either when I preceded Trowa out of the room, a bounce in my step and a sparkle in my eye. Maybe they really believed the act. Maybe they did know what was going on but were trying to help me with my lie. Either way, it was fine with me. Quatre handed me a kleenex, which I tore in two and stuffed up my nose.
"So," I said, "I have an idea. Just like I said I would - I needed a minute to think, was all." And the hell of it was, I wasn't really lying about it.
"What is the plan?" Heero asked.
"You got your laptop with you?"
He just pointed back to one corner, where the slim little computer sat in a nest of wires. "The network connection in this building has been temporarily enabled," he said, his lips twitching just a little.
Maybe if my brain hadn't been going into weirdness overdrive, I would have found it cute. "Great." Without asking for permission, I walked over and sat down in front of the mini-beast, cracking my knuckles in my best theatrical fashion. A small corner of my mind was amused to notice that Heero's background was a technical schematic for a mobile suit gyro. The rest of my brain was buzzing along and didn't give a shit as I opened up the network connection and got to work.
I had to be insane. It had been months since the last time I'd hacked into a defense net, and even then I'd had my defense progs to back me up. And now here I was, thinking I could outfox the best programmers in the world while injured, sleep-deprived, and - best of all - drugged out of my gourd.
What the hell, you only live once.
Everything seemed slow and a little surreal, like I was watching from high above in omnipotent glory. I half expected for the numbers to start flowing out of the screen so I could play with them and twist them with my fingers. The scariest part of it all was how easy it seemed.
I whipped through the lower level secure networks like a ghost; they probably didn't even register I was there. Security got pushed aside and I started skating across the ice, looking for weak places to drill through. The experience became more and more real in my mind, until it was actually me dodging through the network, not just typing on a computer.
The next instant, I was on top of a wall of military red ice, and the utter simplicity of it made me laugh. I twisted the code around until it became a meaningless series of numbers and the wall shattered, throwing me right into the Oz defense nets. Somewhere, in a tiny base dug into the side of a mountain, alarms were probably going off like crazy. The image of little hacker geeks, shoved into ill-fitting uniforms, running around and poking at buttons that no longer worked while klaxons sounded was highly amusing.
I remembered where to go next from my last hack job; they kept their satellite data feeds bundled and secure, and I knew where they were out of.
"Duo," Heero said, breaking through my concentration, "They know you're there."
"Yeah, and it doesn't matter. They're too slow. I'll be out and gone before they have a chance to sic a tracer on me. Time is of the essence; delicacy takes too long." I began to hammer my way through the veritable glacier that surrounded the satellite feeds, ripping and tearing at the ice until all at once, it shattered.
Quatre was leaning over my shoulder now, his eyes fixed on the screen. "Amazing..." he breathed. He wasn't much of a computer guy, himself. He seemed to find geeks in action to be absolutely fascinating because of that fact.
I laughed. "Dude, lemme show you my progs sometime. This might be quick, but they're damn pretty. Art is subtle. I'm a fucking sledge hammer." I selected the data stream I wanted and hitched a ride on a packet, right up to the satellite's computer. "What time did you guys pick me up?"
"1917." Quatre said.
"Excellent." The satellite still had the pictures from then stored; I grabbed them all. The moment they were done downloading, I reached around the laptop and yanked the network cord out of the wall. Messy, yeah, but quick. "Okay, then. Quatre, you're the best with maps. Get looking."
I walked away without another word, heading over to the crate that wanted to be a table. There was a paper bag sitting next to it that I could have sworn was calling my name. The rest of the guys stayed huddled around the laptop, watching as Quatre put the pictures together and started searching. Trowa was pretty good at making minute adjustments, and Heero needed to pay attention since he was the only one that had a natural idea of what shit looked like from the sky.
The paper bag was full of instant noodle cups. Not exactly gourmet, but I wasn't going to complain. I picked a spicy shrimp one and yanked the tab; it was hot in about two minutes, and I wolfed it down while it was still steaming. It scalded my tongue, but damn it felt good. I had another one heating up before I'd even discarded my empty.
I was halfway through pork and egg when Quatre shut the laptop. "We've found them. They went off the satellite's view about an hour ago, but if they're trying to run, there's only one place they could be going."
"Oh?" I slurped up some more noodles.
"Remember the independent airstrip about forty Ks south? That's the best bet, in my mind. No one will ask questions." Quatre combed his hair back with his fingers. "From what I remember of the layout, this is going to have to be a foot mission; we can't really operate with the Gundams since we'd face a real risk of taking out Wufei and... Milliard."
"Here's what I'm thinking," I said, the battle plan already forming up in my head. "We call Noin, and we call Johannes. We have their culprits, and both sides promised to give us any aide we would require. So we bring them in, and we let them do the dirty work. Or most of it, at least."
Quatre nodded, but he didn't look happy. "It would certainly make things easier and up our chances of succeeding. If you're certain we can depend upon them."
I chewed on a rubber bit of reconstituted egg. Just what a growing boy needs. "Certainty has nothing to do with this. It's a hope and a prayer. I don't trust vampires, but I'm at the next best thing to trusting how utterly pissed off these two were that their people got fucked with."
"It's...feasible," Heero said. His expression said very clearly that he didn't like the idea one bit, but he could suck it up and deal. I'd said that no one got left behind. I had no intention of becoming a promise breaker now, or ever.
I finished the noodle cup in one gulp, then tossed it over my shoulder. I felt like a million bucks, like I could run forever and never get winded. I could hate myself for it later. "Then let's get going. We have work to do."