Chapter 23
"Old Grudges"

    Duo lifted his eyes to pin the pacing maid with a tolerant look. "Rita, do me a favor. Stop wearing a hole in the floor. You're making me nervous."
    "I'm sorry, sir," the young girl said quickly, stopping immediately. She began anxiously running a dishtowel through her hands. "But.. Do you think he'll be able to help?"
    Duo rubbed at tired eyes and gave a loud sigh. "For the trouble and money I went through to find someone in his field- on earth for crissakes -he'd better." He watched her for a moment, then reached out with a lanky leg and scooted another chair away from the table. "Take a load off. You look as tired as I feel."
    Rita hesitated, then sat down abruptly, still clutching the towel. She stared at the braided boy earnestly. "Maxwell-kun--"
    "Duo, Rita. Just Duo."
    "..Duo," she corrected carefully. "Duo, you care for Quatre-same, don't you?"
    Duo snorted with weary amusement, staring dully into his coffee mug. "If I didn't, you think I'd be here?"
    Rita reached out impulsively to clasp his hand. "He'll get through this, Duo. He's stronger than he looks."
    Duo offered a lop-sided smile. "Yeah. I know."
    Someone in the doorway cleared their throat. Duo got to his feet with a start to face the waiting man.
    It was the doctor's assistant, a middle-aged man with dark hair. Rob, Duo reminded himself belatedly. The man gestured over his shoulder. "Sir... Doctor O'Neil is waiting for you upstairs."
    Duo mumbled a thanks and hurried past him, taking the stairs two at a time. He found the aged doctor stepping out of Quatre's room, polishing his glasses. On spotting the anxious ex-pilot, he offered a reassuring smile and shut the door quietly behind himself.
    "Ah, Mr. Maxwell. Don't look so distressed. I think your friend is going to be just fine."
    "I was right, wasn't I?" Duo demanded, glancing towards the door. "PTSD?"
    "Yes. And it's not incurable. But you must remember, Mr. Maxwell, it's not something physical, like a flu. It's a mental and emotional condition." The doctor settled his glasses back on his nose and peered at Duo through them. "It's going to take time, and therapy. But if you're willing to be there for him, I'm confident he'll get through it all right."
    Duo let out his breath carefully. "Great. Thanks, doc. I was hoping you'd say that. Eh.. you think I can see him?"
    "Just for a few moments. I gave him something that should let him get some rest. He might be a little woozy. I'll be back same time tomorrow to start the sessions."
    "Thanks." Duo clapped the man's shoulder on passing, and entered the room quietly.
    Quatre stirred at the sound of the door opening. The large bed, combined with the stack of quilts and blankets on him, made him look even smaller than usual. Quatre's face was petulant as he peeked over the mound at his friend. "Duo," he murmured in recognition.
    Duo went to the side of the bed with a ready grin already in place. "Hey there, buddy. I hear you're a little tired."
    "Yeah... that man gave me some pills," Quatre said, his words a little slurred and his eyes drooping. "I'm so sick of being in bed..."
    Duo perched on the bed and fished a limp hand out from under the blankets. "Don't worry," he said confidently. "You'll be up in no time."
    Quatre smiled sleepily up at him, squeezing Duo's hand back. "Duo.. thank you for everything. I don't really understand what's going on... I'm really confused about everything... But I know you've always been here. Thank you."
    Duo laughed quietly, tweaking a lock of golden hair. "Hey, don't go getting all mushy on me, Winner. I've got a rep to keep."
    Quatre laughed quietly, then winced and reached up to rub his head.
    "What's wrong?" Duo asked quickly.
    "Jus' a headache," Quatre assured him. "The other one.. Rob.. gave me something for it. I'm fine."
    Duo nodded. "Well I can't keep back the mob any longer," he stated with a grimace. "Your sisters are coming to visit, come hell or high water. And I mean all of them."
    Quatre smiled sheepishly, blinking heavily. "The house will be crowded..." he mumbled. He blinked again. "I'm really sleepy..."
    "Right. Get some sleep. Those pills should be kicking in any minute."
    "Wish the painkiller would," Quatre muttered, wincing as he reached up once more to touch his forehead.
    Duo glanced around, then retrieved a bottle from the bedside table. "Are these them? Maybe it takes a little while for them to kick in.."
    "Sleeping pills," Quatre corrected breathily, eyes fluttering. He winced again, a little more violently. His hand slid from his head to his stomach. He clutched his shirt convulsively. "Nng-"
    Duo set the bottle back down and shifted, eyes darting over his friend anxiously. "Your stomach hurts too?"
    "Jus' now... Prob'ly jus' something I ate..."
    Duo touched the hand clutching the shirt, then on impulse turned the arm over. He stared at the small red dot on the inside of the other boy's forearm. "Morphine?" he asked, arching a brow.
    "Can't think of any normal painkillers off the top of my head that you inject, that's all," Duo said a little tightly. He took a deep breath when Quatre stirred and frowned at him quizzically. "Never mind. You know me. Mr. Paranoid..." He grabbed Quatre's shoulders when the boy gave a sudden jerk, face screwed up in pain. "Quatre??"
    Quatre's eyes were wild and unfocused with terror as he stared at something Duo couldn't see. "Duo-" he gasped, trying to curl in on himself. "They won't stop hurting me-- want me to talk--"
    "Sir?" The door creaked open, and one of the house nurses stuck her head in the door. "Just wanted to let you know the doctor is leaving now..." her voice trailed off, and she stared at the scene on the bed. "Quatre-sama??"
    Duo was on his feet and running for the door in the next second. "Watch him," he hissed over his shoulder. "Call the hospital."
    "But the doctor-"
    "Do it!" Duo growled, practically slamming the door behind him. He ran to the balcony and leaned over, craning to see around the corner. Doctor O'Neil and his assistant Rob were at the front door, shrugging on their coats. The doctor was speaking to the maid while Rob stood scowling behind him. The dark-haired man happened to glance up and spotted Duo staring at him. He turned abruptly and reached for the door. "Come on, doctor, let's get going," he said quickly.
    Duo didn't waste time with the stairs. He hitched himself up, threw his legs over the railing, and jumped.
    Below, Rita shrieked in shock as she saw his body hurtling from the second story-- then he was landing with a thump that echoed in the big house. His ankle throbbed in protest-- he'd sprained it --but he barely noticed. Rob was already wrenching the door open, while the doctor gaped at Duo stupidly.
    Duo wasn't the only paranoid one; he'd been given the grand tour before Quatre had really started to sink into his living nightmares. He knew Quatre kept his own senses of security scattered throughout the house. He wrenched a picture off the wall and jerked open the drawer concealed there. He snatched up the loaded Colt and had it aimed at the middle of Rob's back in the next instant. The sound of the hammer being cocked made Rita shriek and drop to the floor, and Rob go rigid, foot frozen halfway through the threshold.
    Doctor O'Neil backed off hastily and cowered against the wall, his eyes large and his hands in the air. "What is the meaning of this??" he demanded in hoarse fear.
    "That's what I'd like to know," Duo said coolly, glaring at Rob's stiff back. "Care to come back in and explain?"
    The doctor looked from him to Rob in confusion.
    Rob just sneered, though his eyes flicked nervously from the gun to Duo's grave face.
    Heavy footsteps in the hall announced Rashid's approach. "Maxwell-san," he started, "you've received mail from..." He froze as he took in the scene with a quick, startled look. His brows lowered as he shot Duo a suspicious glare. "Maxwell-san," he growled. "What's going on?"
    Duo didn't even glance his way. "Let me guess," he murmured, gaze still locked with Rob's. "Ex-Ozzie? Romefellar?"
    "Don't be stupid," Rob growled.
    Rashid did a double take, then blinked in surprise. "Alex?" he ventured.
    Rob's eyes shot to him quickly, instinctively, before he jerked his eyes back to Duo.
    Duo arched a brow. "You know this weasel?"
    Poor Doctor O'Neil looked lost.
    "A-aa.." Rashid answered after a moment, still staring at the doctor's assistant in confusion. "Alex Dervou. He worked for Quatre-sama's father years ago."
    Duo's eyes flicked towards O'Neil. "You know about this?"
    "Of course not!" the doctor sputtered. "What-"
    "Then get your butt upstairs. Your patient's just been poisoned."
    Doctor O'Neil gaped at him for a moment before he decided it would be unwise to argue with a man holding a gun. He scooted around Alex and hurried upstairs.
    "Winner-sama just wanted peace," Alex snarled, glaring furiously at Duo. "He preached about pacifism, and how war would solve nothing. But his own son--" He shook his head sharply. "That brat upstairs, you think he's just some innocent kid? I saw him! He was one of them! A Gundam pilot!" He made his declaration loudly, the words ringing in the silence. He stood, chest heaving, as he waited in righteous triumph for the words to sink in.
    "Ohh you don't say," Duo sang, lifting his brows in mock surprise.
    Alex's eyes narrowed, as he quickly began to notice the complete lack of reaction from both the maid and Rashid. "You knew?" he demanded incredulously. "You know that bastard was a terrorist, and you still protect--"
    Duo began to walk towards him, and Alex fell suddenly silent. "You seem to have some big respect for Winner Senior," Duo observed. "You say he preached about pacifism and spoke against violence. Tell me, Alex.. how do you think the big cheese would feel about you trying to kill his only son? Doesn't seem like pacifism to me."
    "You don't know anything," Alex shouted. "You're just a kid! You weren't there-- weren't fighting, dying, watching things go up in smoke. All because of that brat's private little piss contest against his father! He killed countless people, soldiers and civilians, in his stupid little war! He's just a cold-blooded killer-!"
    Cold-blooded killer. A strange laugh bubbled in Duo's throat, but never escaped.    Cold-blooded killer..
    Please surrender. I don't want to have to kill you.
    Duo's eyes flashed. He tossed the gun to his other hand-- Alex's eyes followed the movement, and in the next second, Duo had taken two quick steps forward. He cracked a fist across Alex's mouth; the man fell back against the doorframe with a grunt. He lost his balance at the awkward stumble and sagged down halfway, ending up in a shaky crouch. Rita gave a small shriek and scuttled behind the relative security of Rashid's bulky form.
    "Private piss contest?" Duo repeated scornfully. "Now who's blowing hot air? Don't talk about things you don't understand, you piece of trash." He placed a boot on Alex's shoulder and gave a rough kick that tumbled the man onto his back. "But trying to explain the way the world works to people like you is just a waste of time." He waved the gun at Rashid. "Hey, Jolly Green Giant. Call the cops and get this coward out of here."
    "Hai." Rashid came over and lifted the man easily in one hand by the back of his shirt. Rita hurried towards the phone.
    Duo replaced the gun where he'd gotten it from and headed back upstairs without a backwards look. With the adrenaline of anger starting to fade, fear rose up to replace it. He broke into a run, praying to his own god that the shaken doctor upstairs had reached his blond friend in time.


    Trowa reached up to push wayward bangs out of his face as the wind blew his hair in all directions. He glanced sideways at the young man beside him, arms crossed as he stared with an unreadable expression at the passing scenery. Heero's eyes weren't taking in the trees and roads, however. His gaze was unfocused, his mind wrapped around internal problems.
    The man who had picked them up glanced at them in the rearview mirror as the jeep went over another bump in the uneven ground. "We should be there in a few minutes," he called back. "I called ahead and let Miss Po know. She's expecting you. I have to warn you, though, things might be a little hectic when you arrive." He stopped himself awkwardly, obviously not sure that he should reveal too much to the strangely quiet teenagers in the back. He cleared his throat and returned his attention to the road.

    'A little hectic', indeed, Trowa thought dryly as he slid from the jeep and cast a quick glance around at the running, shouting men and women. Beside him, Heero's own cobalt eyes flicked left and right as he took in the scene.
    A couple trailers, half a dozen battered desert tents. Three jeeps, including the one they'd come in. One large transport on the edge of the camp, covered in camo netting. A couple dirt bikes. Several of the people wore old fatigues in one way or another, others made do with faded earth-toned pants and tee's. All of them seemed to be armed in some way, though the majority of them sported a small firearm in a holster or thrust in the back of their pants, while Trowa picked out only four with rifles.
    The man who had brought them was saying something, but Heero had already spotted his target and dismissed their guide as obsolete now that he had performed his function. His eyes focused on someone in the milling crowd, and he strode off to intercept his target. Trowa followed without a backwards glance at their flabbergasted driver.
    Either Sally had seen them coming, or she retained enough of a soldier's instincts to feel the danger at her back. She turned from giving orders to one of her men as they approached, a grim half-smile of greeting touching her face for an instant before flitting away again.
    "Trouble?" Heero asked bluntly, eyes darting sideways meaningfully to indicate the four men struggling to bring down one of the tents.
    "A bit," Sally admitted with a little sigh, looking harried. "I'm hoping we're overreacting, but..."
    Heero just stared at her expectantly, and she grimaced. "I don't really have time to explain everything.." she pointed out, eyes already drifting towards a few men and women impatiently awaiting her direction.
    "Where's Wufei?" Trowa demanded quietly. "He can tell us." He was already scanning the crowd in search of his old partner.
    "He's, ah.." Sally scratched her nose, already heading for the waiting group. Heero and Trowa followed stubbornly. "He's on a... I guess you guys still call them 'missions', though around here we call them--"
    "I don't care what you call them," Heero cut her off flatly. "Where is he?"
    Sally let out an explosive sigh of annoyance and spun on her heel to face them. She glared from one boy to the other, hands on her hips like a disapproving aunt. "I can see that neither of you is going to leave me alone until I tell you something. So here's the quick and dirty. I'll tell you more once things are a bit more secure around here."
    They nodded shortly, waiting expectantly.
    Sally's eyes flicked constantly around the site, taking in the progress of what seemed to be a site tear-down as she spoke quickly and impatiently, her voice low. "I'm assuming you know very little about our 'operations', as they are, but I'll let Wufei explain it all to you later. The run-down is this: one of the men we captured about a week ago apparently has dangerous friends we weren't aware of. Or rather, were aware of, but didn't expect to be quite so bold. Wufei was key in capturing that man and questioning him, so he's on the team that I sent out this morning. One of our men, missing, arrived around dawn. In a box." She winced. "Actually, in several boxes."
    Heero, undisturbed, nodded for her to continue.
    She took a deep breath, running her hand fretfully through tight curls. "Right. So I sent out a patrol immediately. Someone had to have dropped it off, I figured they would still be around here. Unfortunately, I haven't heard from the team since. No radio contact for hours, nothing."
    "So you're relocating," Trowa surmised, sidestepping deftly as a woman jogged by with a stack of tent poles perched precariously on her shoulder. He exchanged a quick glance with Heero. "And Wufei and his team are missing."
    "I know Wufei can look after himself," Sally said fiercely, as if daring them to contradict her faith in him. "I know that. Some of these men know that, now. But that doesn't mean the rest of the team isn't dead, or captured, or god knows what. And that doesn't mean Wufei didn't take a shot in the back from an unseen enemy."
    "What do they want?" Heero demanded shortly. "The return of their man?"
    Sally winced. "If they have demands, they didn't bother to send a note with the.. remains. Right now we're just steeling ourselves for the worst. We'll relocate and get ourselves ready for whatever's coming."
    Heero grunted in acknowledgement. "Where was the team headed?"
    Sally's smile was fleeting. "Somehow I was expecting that," she admitted. She gestured to a big bull of a man roaring orders in the middle of all the scrambling haste. "Ask Hank, he'll hook you up. He's got all the info you'll need. If he gives you a hard time, tell him I sent you. I've got to get back to work." She started to turn away, then hesitated and looked them both in the eye solemnly. She opened her mouth to say something, seemed to think better of it on meeting their unflinching gazes, and hurried off to direct her people.

    Hank-- or the Tank, as Trowa heard several of the people calling him as he bellowed out orders --looked like he could take on a Leo bare-handed. He towered over the two teenagers at nearly six foot eight, and was built like a house. His graying hair, cropped in a bristling flat-top, and his parade-ground voice indicated a background in the military that set off subtle alarm bells in Trowa's subconscious before he shrugged his initial wariness off with a firm reminder to himself that the war was over.
    They had to stand and wait for him to notice them for a few minutes, as any attempt to out-shout him would have been pitiful, and neither boy was quite foolish enough to reach out and touch him. So they waited silently just out of reach of flailing arms, ears ringing at his booming voice, as mercenaries and ex-soldiers scurried to and fro, following his bidding.
    Finally he seemed to notice them, and turned on them with a glare that Trowa suspected had caused many privates and recruits to wet themselves in sudden animalistic fear.
    "Don't just stand there, maggots," Tank roared. "Get your arse in gear, move it! We got a situation here! Go help Johnson and the others tear down that tent!" He turned away, already assuming his order would be followed, and took in a large breath to roar out anew to the crowd.
    "Tell us where Chang's team was headed this morning," Heero interrupted, his voice not nearly as loud as the large man's, though the steel in his tone spoke of a person used to being obeyed just as readily. This coming from a boy who had directed similar demands from behind the barrel of a gun, Trowa could not blame him for this.
    Tank turned to stare at them incredulously for a moment, obviously thrown for a loop at the command and lack of respect in Heero's voice. His beady eyes narrowed dangerously, but before he could retort in a volume sure to shake the dust from their clothes, his eyes flickered to the side and took in Trowa.
    He shut his mouth with a snap of teeth, straightening abruptly. He squinted down at Trowa in such intense, suspicious scrutiny that Trowa began to feel claustrophobic. His hand twitched, longing for the comforting feel of his gun, tucked safely in an inner pocket in his jacket.
    "I know you.." Tank muttered from behind his crisp mustache. "Seen you afore..." He leaned forward suddenly, face mere inches from Trowa's as he glared right into his eyes, as if searching his soul. Trowa remained immobile, though he saw Heero tense warningly out of the corner of his eye. "Seen you afore," Tank repeated in a dour mutter. "Would remember a face like yours, face like a wall of rock. Like it was carved, not even alive. Not even when you mowed them all down, you twisted sonofabitch."
    Not good. Trowa didn't budge, though he did tense internally in preparation for a quick dodge, a grab for his gun.. Heero would back him up, he just had to stay out of the other boy's line of sight. Heero tended to shoot first and ask questions later, and already he could see the other pilot's hand sliding for his gun. All his nerve endings shrieked at such close proximity, such a sudden violation of his personal space by a stranger-- a space he allowed no one to enter but a certain red-headed circus performer and two dark-eyed ex-terrorists.
    Abruptly the hulking man straightened, giving a little "harrumph" sound. "Goddamn cocksuckers deserved it, too," he said with utter conviction and no trace of remorse. "Would've been there right with you mowin' 'em down if I hadn't been locked up in infirmary with a busted leg and all that day."
    Trowa slowly relaxed his tightened muscles; he caught Heero lowering his hand from his gun, a slight frown of uneasy surprise tightening on his features.
    "Right," Hank said shortly, bringing himself back to the present with a bump. He scowled down at the two of them. "What can I do for you? And make it quick, I've got a pack of tit-suckling wannabes to move out."
    Heero met the fierce gaze with a cold stare of his own. "We're going after Chang's team. We need a equipment and directions."
    Tank didn't even hesitate. "Done. Gimmie a sec to get these slackers movin', and I'll point you in the right direction."

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 24
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