The Final Murder: Part 14
"Shit!" I screamed as I flew for cover. I could hear the bullets bounce and spark off of the various metal carts I was hiding behind. Instinctively I ducked, even though I consciously tried not to. Ducking continuously in situations like these will only make your neck muscles sore and fray your nerves. Take my word for it.
The men I shot dropped dead like a ton of bricks, but damnit to hell (as Duo would say) if their trigger fingers still worked. Bullets went flying everywhere. The heat from one of their bullets as it sang past my ear probably left a scorch mark, and most definitely knocked a good ten years off my life in scare value alone. I saw that they accidently shot two of their own trying to go down in glory though. Thanks guys!
The rest of the gang were behind the table and chairs that were pushed up in the corner. Yes, it did afford them slightly better coverage than we were getting, but at the same time they were trapped in that corner. Two tried to make a run for the east door (which was maybe six feet away, if that far) but were shot down in the process. The others haven't tried since.
"You okay?!" Hilde screamed before firing off another few shots. She was taking refuge behind what was once probably a cashier's counter space. Wufei was unhappily between her and the wall. He didn't appear to be injured.
"I'm fine!" I shouted back, frowning as I ducked another shot that wasn't even aimed in my direction. That was annoying me. "You and Tater okay?!" I grinned as Wufei's middle finger shot up at me like it was on a pop-up stand. Guess that answered that.
"Where the hell's Duo?!" Wufei screamed. Goodness. I wish shoot-outs weren't so noisy.
"In the office!" Hilde screamed, then cheered. "Woo hoo! I got another one!"
Wufei rolled his eyes at her.
Glancing around when I wasn't at risk of getting something shot off, I saw that Bad Teeth was sprawled at Duo's feet in a pool of blood. Duo was just inside the doorway of the office, using the wall for cover, and picked a few of the men off when the opportunity presented itself. He didn't seem to be injured, but that didn't mean a thing. He could have had his leg sawed off and he would still be fighting. "Duo!"
He didn't look at me, but aimed a thumbs up in my direction. Good enough.
"This is taking too long!" Wufei shouted at me. He and Hilde had exchanged places so that she could reload. I frowned. Wufei was right. A little known fact about shout-outs is that they are really supposed to last only a few seconds. Once it drags on into minutes, the risk of getting killed skyrockets. And when things are coming to an end, the risk increases even further because of stupid stunts born out of desperation.
"I'm coming over!" Wufei said, but I wasn't paying attention to him. Hilde started to return fire to cover Wufei as he flew from his cover to mine. Unprepared, I was knocked into the wall as he slammed into me, and we both went down in a tumble. "Damnit Wufei!"
"The police will be here any minute," he continued, as if he didn't almost get my head blown off. "If it is discovered that you were involved in this, the results would not be favorable."
"Tell me something I don't know ‘Fei!"
"Then get us the hell out of this Quatre!"
"I'm working on that. Duo!" I shouted over the noise. It's gotten worse. Hrncir's men were getting desperate. Not good. "Can you hear me?!" He pointed his gun up in the air and forward again. He was listening. "Where are your hand grenades?"
I wasn't encouraged by Duo's answer. "Could you be more specific?!"
"On shelf, when hiding!" he said.
Wufei started shooting to cover me, and I could see on the edge of the light from the single bulb was the corner of a shelf. I was guessing that was where Duo fell off. That shelf was a good eight feet up. I could make it if I had a good running start and didn't get shot there and back again. Duo's expletive was right. This wasn't going to be easy.
"Hell!" Wufei said when he ducked back down. "How the hell am I going to get there?"
"You?" I said, incredulous. "Wufei, you can't do that. I'm going to do it."
"Quatre, you can't jump that high!"
"If I get a running start I can! And you're too heavy. You'll fall off just like Duo, and we can't afford that to happen during crossfire! One of us or them will end up shooting you!"
He looked passed me. I turned to see what he was looking at. Hilde.
"No way," I said.
"She's the smallest of all of us."
"She can't see where she's going from that angle. She would need to be over here."
"Then I'll cover you two as you switch places."
"She's not dressed appropriately for this stunt!"
"She could go barefoot and hike her skirt up! Hell, Sally does it all the time!"
"But can she jump that high?"
He paused. "I don't know."
"Then let's not risk it," I said, closing the matter. "Here, take this." I handed him the Jati-Matic, and he gave me one of his glocks. I took a deep breath, and then another, mentally preparing myself to run out there in the middle of a shoot-out, run up a wall, and haul butt back without getting shot. Oh joy.
I saw out of the corner of my eye Wufei giving Hilde the hand signal to hold fire. She did. I squatted down and got into the position runner's take before charging off, whatever it's called. I'm sure it has a name. Anyway, I was ready. All Wufei needed to do was tell me when to--
I took off as Wufei started to fire. I could feel from the floor's slight tremble, the weight of a dead body hitting the ground and the sound of the others ducking down. I could see as I approached why Duo fell off in the first place; the screws holding the stupid shelf to the wall were rusted through and through, and were already somewhat separated from the wall. I was going to fall off. Guaranteed. But I couldn't stop now. So swinging my arms hard enough to propel me faster, I pushed myself forward, ran up the wall and barely made the shelf. It buckled under my weight and started to separate further, pitching me forward. I threw myself back instinctively, and that was all it took. The screws broke and both the shelf and I went down in flames.
"QUATRE!" It was a high-pitched scream. Hilde's.
I didn't think. I reacted. I picked myself up, grabbed Duo's bag and ran for cover like the devil was after me. The three of them covered me as best as they could without hitting me, but some determined idiot managed to shoot me. I think. All I knew was that I was running and then I dropped to the floor like a rock. Hard. I was too stunned to begin crawling right away. I was also afraid of getting shot in the butt when Hilde ran out, grabbed me under my arm and yanked me behind the counter with her. She propped me against the wall and started to examine me. Wufei was talking in what looked like a hand-held radio. Duo picked another guy off that was racing for the exit. I opened the duffelbag and pulled out a grenade.
"You have a graze across your left knee. No wonder you dropped like that!"
"Thank you Hilde," I said, then pushed her down on the floor. "Hey!" Duo and Wufei looked at me, saw what was in my hand and threw themselves on the floor simultaneously. Heh, synchronized ducking. I'll have to suggest that to the Olympics committee.
In one motion I pulled the pin, held it for a count, lopped it and threw myself over Hilde. I had counted to two when there was a small ‘boom' and flailing bodies were in the air. The explosion wasn't strong enough to blow off limps, but it was strong enough to toss you a few feet forward if you were right next to it. As anyone could guess, the grenade forced the men out of their hiding area and into the open. Wufei, Duo and I didn't waste any time. We nailed all of them before they even had a chance to gain their footing. Once the last shot was fired, Duo came out of the office and started checking pulses. Wufei helped, but was talking into the hand-held radio again. Hilde was with me, checking my knee again and doing a quick assessment. Now that the fight was over, my adrenaline was weaning. I couldn't tell what hurt worse: the shot or my fall. I think I might've belly-flopped on the floor.
"Bleeding sluggishly," she said without emotion. "Nothing serious, but Sally should look at it just to be sure."
"That would be a waste of her time," I said. "Heero should look at it. He's been shot so many times his expertise exceeds Sally's."
That made her laugh. It was too bad she thought I was joking.
"Okay, okay, I'll get them out of here," Wufei was saying to whomever on the radio as he approached me, Duo right on his heels. Wufei then stopped, threw the radio on the floor, jumped up and down on it a couple of times, then placed the broken radio in his pocket. Riiiight.
"That was Dorothy," he said tightly. "The police are less than a minute from here. Get gone."
I surged to my feet. Duo shot out the front door and I went through the east back door. This lead me to the alley. I paused to look around and saw one of my drawings on the wall. It was a fish and an arrow pointing left. Piranha street. I took off in that direction and ran across Piranha street, keeping to the shadows. The next street I crossed was Marshland Way, then Cemetery Gates Avenue. I continued to run across street after street, ducking and hiding whenever I heard police sirens or something other than the sound of my running feet. I had to take five and ten minute breaks every few minutes because my knee was ready to fall apart every time I moved or put weight on it. Worst yet, I felt absolutely hollow inside. Twenty two men died tonight because I decided that they should. That was a mind-altering position to be in. It felt so much like a dream. 
It was two hours and forty three minutes before I made it back to the trailer. I had only put my foot on the first step when the front door burst open and Duo reached down, yanking me inside. "Jesus Christ Quatre!" he shouted as he threw me on the couch. He sat down on the coffee table, opened the first aid kit and propped my left leg on top of his. "Where the hell were you?! I was looking everywhere, thinking you fell and couldn't get back up. You should've followed me since you were hurt."
"No Duo," I panted. "It would've been too risky to follow you because I was hurt. You could've gotten caught because I slowed you down."
"Oh yeah? And passing out in an alley where you could be mugged, raped or both was a much better option!" he snapped, and started to clean my knee.
"If it meant getting Hrncir and keeping everyone safe--"
"Shut up. Don't even talk like that."
The next twenty minutes were spent in silence as Duo cleaned my knee, examined the damage, and bandaged it closed. I was drifting off to sleep when I heard the sound of running water. Duo helped me strip and got me into the tub. After I bathed he helped me out, toweled me dry a bit and I was able to slip into another black T-shirt and jogging pants as Duo cleaned up the bathroom. I hopped back into the room I was in earlier and threw myself down to sprawl across the bed. I was completely worn out. All of the stress caused by Hrncir evaporated out of me, taking my strength and energy with it. I felt hollow all over again.
I didn't realize I fell asleep until I felt the bed indent. I abruptly woke up, and saw that it was only Duo. I must've been asleep for some time; he had apparently showered, washed his hair, dressed and possibly cooked. I thought I smelled lasagne. "How long was I out?"
"A while. Nearly three hours."
I sat up, surprised, and brushed my hair out of my face with my fingers. "That long, and no one tried to wake me?"
"I did," Duo said laughingly. "I tried to get you up to eat but you wouldn't budge. Hell, for a second we thought you were dead. Wufei, Dorothy and Hilde have been trompin' in and out all night and you haven't so much as twitched a muscle."
"That's not normal for me."
"No, it isn't. But knowing you, I bet you hadn't had a decent night's sleep since this whole fiasco started."
I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, feeling a great deal better than before. I wasn't happy about my three-hour nap, but it was time well spent. "Is that lasagne?"
He wiggled his eyebrows and said in a purr, "Yeeesssss...."
Taking another good whiff, I became hopeful. He didn't. "Is that the...vegetarian kind?" 
He smiled outright. "What do you think?"
He did! "Duo, I LOVE you!" I promptly crawled across the bed, leapt off...and fell flat on my face. "AH! Ow ow ow...."
"Quatre, take it easy," Duo said, laughing as he helped me up because I was cursing left and right. "You got a knee injury, remember? You can't put all of your body weight on it and expect to not fall, okay? Take it from us experienced shootees."
"Fine, oh wise and knowledgeable one. Take me to the damn table."
"Ah ah ah. Manners matter."
"Fine. Take me to the damn table, please."
"Quatre, sometimes I wonder how the hell you've managed to stay CEO. I really do."
I got from the bedroom to the kitchen without further incident, and was served a large cube of lasagne fit to feed the Maguanacs. Duo sat beside me as I stuffed my face, obviously wanting to talk but waiting until I was finished. Curious, I ate as fast as I could without choking. When I was done, I pushed the plate across the table, turned to him and waited. He jumped right in.
"I'm an asshole."
He smiled. "Shuddup." He punched my arm. "What I mean is, I shouldn't have said what I said. Earlier. When I said you smelled like Trowa...I was being an asshole. And I'm sorry."
I sighed. "That hurt like hell, you know."
"Yeah, I do. It was written all over your face. I don't know what possessed me to say that. It just blurted out of my mouth." He paused. "Can you forgive me?"
I took in his scared face, his wringing hands, and his hopeful eyes. As if he had to ask. "Duo, get real." I stood, he stood, and we both hugged. It was a typical guy's hug too; one arm embracing, the other pounding the hell out of your back. I pulled back to see his face, he smiled at me--
Whatever brought us together happened so fast there wasn't time to think. I was only aware of Duo's tongue against mine, the heat of his mouth, my arms around him and his hands in my hair. L2, our husbands, Hrncir, tonight's massacre...it all dissolved, leaving just us in this bubble outside of time. I pressed harder against him. He pulled me closer. We resisted this attraction all we could, but in the end it finally happened. So we just let go. Why'd it have to feel so good....
"Oh," said a whispered, masculine voice.
Our bubble popped.
Time ran ahead to catch up on the time missed. Duo and I jumped apart, and I fell against the wall. Wufei was standing there with Dorothy and Hilde at his sides. Hilde had her hands over her mouth, eyes full of unshed tears, while Dorothy had a slightly hungry look on her face. Someone obviously enjoyed the show. But Wufei...his eyebrows were drawn together and his black eyes were bright with hurt. His eyes kept darting back and forth between us, and he had his hands balled at his sides, as if he was stopping himself from beating us to pulps. I wished he would.
He gave me a pained glare. "I warned you Quatre," was all he said as he turned and left. I heard the sound of a car starting, then heard it drive away. Duo stomped off to the other end of the trailer to the room he and Hilde shared. Hilde followed a split second behind him, calling his name but not getting a response. I stood in the kitchen and stared at my dirty plate at a complete loss. Dorothy remained in her spot, watching me closely and keeping her expression carefully neutral. After a moment she spoke. "Quatre?"
I didn't answer.
"Quatre, you need to clean your plate. If you don't, we'll get roaches."
Not one to kill a roach if we got one, I went ahead and cleaned the dish, as well as the other dishes in the sink. After that Dorothy and I methodically went through our inventory to count what ammunition we had left, what was damaged and what was usable for another time. She then had me strip the place of fingerprints and evidence of our being here, pack what we were going to take, dispose of what we weren't, and four hours later she suggested we go to bed. Just like everything else she instructed, I did what was suggested without a word. In fact, I hadn't said a word all night.
I hadn't seen or heard Duo all night either.
I laid down while Dorothy turned off the lights, slid in next to me, and crawled under the covers. She put her arm across my shoulders in a comforting gesture, and slid her knee between my thighs. I adjusted myself a bit so that we were both comfortable, and finally I just pulled her close and put her head on my shoulder. It was going to kill my circulation otherwise. Finally, when I thought that all the damage done was done, I was given another reason to go AWOL.
"Quatre, you're not going to like what I have to tell you, and it's probably not the best time to tell you, but I'm going to. That's why Wufei came by, to tell you himself. He's been looking all night, but anyway...Hrncir didn't make it to the police station Quatre. He's gone missing."
I didn't respond.
"They don't know how it happened. He was being escorted to the station by two squad cars, then his driver suddenly swerved and crashed into the side of a building. The police checked the driver, but other than being unconscious they didn't find anything wrong with him. When they looked in the back seat of the limo, Hrncir was gone and they couldn't find any evidence of him escaping. But they did find evidence of a struggle, albeit a weak one...Quatre, I'm so sorry."
I didn't care right now. All I thought about was what kind of a husband I was to be kissing someone else. I fell asleep praying that Trowa would forgive me, and dreamed that Hrncir would never be found because Hell finally came and swallowed him up.
I woke when I felt a hand under my shirt. At first I thought it was Dorothy, but the cool fingertips danced across my skin in a way that was familiar but forgotten. Krahe. He was in the room, crouching next to me on my side of the bed in the dark. I kept my eyes closed and laid there to listen to whatever he said, but I was not going to give anything away.
"I'm sorry." His voice was calm, but sincere. "I know you don't believe me, but it's true. I don't want to hurt you. I never have. But you're too stubborn for words to do any good." His fingers rested on my stomach. "If it makes you feel better, know that I intended for things to go much further than they did. I didn't expect for you and Duo to resist so much, or that Wufei would return so soon. I figured he would wait until morning with news of Hrncir's disappearance."
I snorted. Wufei wouldn't have waited for morning even if his life depended on it.
"I need you two away from each other, emotionally and physically," Krahe continued, fingers circling my belly button. "He trapped both of us with his strength. Unfortunately, I don't think this will be enough to sever his hold on us. Now, I have additional work to do."
He leaned forward. I felt his chilled breath across my lip. "I missed you." Gently, he kissed me. I didn't respond. I felt a sudden absence in the room, and realized Krahe left. Dorothy hadn't stirred the entire time. Thank goodness. I needed every break I could get.
I stopped my mental recorder, rewound it and played his words. At the end of my tape I stopped, rewound it and replayed it again. When I put two and two together, I came up with an unknown number. I didn't care for riddles, and Krahe knew it and thrived on it. He had something else up his sleeve, and I had quite a few things to do to finish this business with Hrncir, missing or not. Krahe was going to catch me with my pants down. Not only that, I didn't quite understand what he was saying. I did have an idea though. There was only one person in the entire universe that ‘trapped' me with his ‘strength,' and that was Trowa. What bothered me was the fact that Trowa had ‘strength' over Krahe, which none of us were aware of except Krahe. So, if Krahe knew Trowa's hold over him, and Trowa's hold over me, then he knew one of the ways to break it.
 I had this experience recently in nursing school where we had no other choice but to watch a patient die. It's the most humbling experience, to watch someone take their last breath. I felt like I was in a dreamlike state. This had to be a nightmare, it couldn't be happening, etc. But at the same time I felt as though I was having an out--of--body experience because I was able to see everyone around me, including myself.
 Vegetarian lasagne is fantastic! I'd eat that over meat any day.