Chapter 24
"Lost and Found"

    Wufei almost didn't hear the sound. The cock of a gun was so quiet in the woods he'd managed to get lost in during the team's mad flight from an unseen enemy, an ordinary man would never have heard it. He barely managed to duck behind a tree in time; the gunshot rang in the still air like a bomb, causing a few nearby birds to take to the air in fright. Splinters showered Wufei's shoulder from where the bullet had torn through bark, and he hissed in irritation, edging more behind the shelter of the trunk.
    Silently he cursed the names of those that had been on his team, though there was no real heat behind it. He couldn't really blame them for their panic. Most of them were newbies, unused to ambushes or any sort of guerilla attack. They hadn't deserved to die, but they had. He'd watched them get shot down one by one. The two that had managed to hit the dirt in time had gotten separated from him long ago, unable to keep up; they were most likely dead by now.
    Wufei tilted his blade, using it as a mirror to observe the other side of the tree. Whoever his attacker was, they were hidden well enough. He couldn't make out a face in the surrounding foliage. These men knew what they were doing. For once Wufei wished he'd listened to Sally's advice and accepted a gun. But he'd been fighting with sword in hand throughout the war, and it had served him well enough. He'd seen no reason to change tactics. He squashed the fleeting thought. True, with a gun he'd be able to pick off his attackers from a distance. But last time he'd checked, Sally hadn't been issuing silencers with the firearms for her men. A gunshot could give away his position. He would fight fire with fire. If these men wished to sneak through the brush and try to catch him off guard, he would play their little game.
    A fierce smile touched his lips as the old calm rage from the war crept up on him. They didn't know who they were dealing with.
    Let the bodycount begin.


    The jeeps were needed to move Sally's men, so Trowa and Heero accepted one of the dirtbikes. Within five minutes of receiving what they needed from Tank, they were gone; Heero driving like a bat out of hell and Trowa seated behind him, one arm wrapped around the waist in front of him for balance, a rifle cradled in his other arm.
    It was one of the better guns in their arsenal, complete with a state-of-the-art scope and laser sighting. The man Sally had ordered to give it up had argued with her until she'd rounded on him impatiently, still harried and trying to do half a dozen things at once.
    "If you ever want to see any of that team alive again," she'd snapped, "give them the goddamn gun, Peterson!"

    It soon became evident that Wufei and his team had been forced to deter from their prearranged path. The deep tire treads and bullet-ridden trees and rocks were evidence enough of where the jeep had been run off the road. Heero took the dirtbike into the grass with a jerk, following the tire tracks towards the woods.
    When Trowa deemed they were close enough, he slid his arm from Heero's waist and threw his other leg over the side of the bike so he was riding side-saddle. Any closer and they risked the enemy hearing the engine. He waited another instant, then threw himself from the bike. He hit the ground rolling to prevent breaking anything, but Heero had slowed down a fraction to lessen the blow. Trowa was on his feet the moment he regained his balance. He didn't look back as Heero roared off, finding an alternate route around the woods to meet him on the other side. He unslung the rifle from his shoulders and went into the woods at a dog-trot, calm eyes flicking left and right from underneath his bangs as he followed the path of broken branches and bullet-scarred bark.
    It didn't take him long to find the ruined jeep, wedged between the arched roots of an enormous oak from where it had crashed. A body nearby was proof that at least some of them had been thrown from the vehicle on impact. Trowa bent swiftly, checked for a pulse, and found none. He rose to his feet fluidly and scanned the ground for any hint of which way the survivors and their attackers had gone. A few moments of searching and he found another two bodies. They weren't dressed like Sally's men; they were garbed all in green, their faces smudged with camo paint. The effect was ruined by the blood that had spattered from the wounds that had killed them. Trowa spared them a quick glance and kept moving. Sword wounds. Slashes across the abdomen and throat. Wufei had made his stand, then disappeared into the woods to find his men. A few feet from the bodies a bush was smeared with the blood Wufei must have wiped from his blade; after that, there was no hint of the direction he'd gone. He'd slipped away into the trees like he'd been trained to do. It would be easier, Trowa decided after a moment, to track down the remaining members of the team. Wufei was sure to get out of the woods alive, where he would meet up with Heero. His main objective now was to bring back Sally's men. If any of them had survived, that is, he corrected himself with an impassive face as he came across the body of another of her mercenaries just minutes later, riddled with bullets.
    He didn't bother to check for a pulse. The man was dead, and he was wasting daylight. He set off deeper into the woods, senses on the alert.


    The hapless man never even saw him coming.
    Wufei slipped up behind him like a shadow, feet making no noise on the loam. He disarmed the man with a swift chop to the forearm and slapped a hand over his mouth to stifle the startled shout. He tugged the assassin back up against him and set his sword edge against a scruffy throat. Immediately the man froze, his breath coming fast and noisy over Wufei's hand.
    "How many of you are there?" Wufei murmured in his ear, glancing around to make sure there were no others in hiding nearby. "What do you people want?"
    The muffled reply sounded like an angry threat. Wufei responded by pressing the sword harder against the bobbing throat, not quite breaking the skin. "If you waste my time, I'm going to have to cut your throat and find another one of your friends," he informed the man coolly. "Answer my questions. Cry out and you're a dead man."
    He was in luck. The man couldn't see him over his shoulder, so wasn't sure how big or old his captor was. He obviously didn't savor the thought of losing his life, so after a moment he nodded jerkily. Wufei lifted his hand a fraction, just enough to allow a muffled answer.
    "There's fifteen of us," the man muttered a little sullenly, eyes glued to the blade just under his chin.
    "Eleven," Wufei corrected pointedly. "Why are you after us?"
    "Isn't it obvious?" the man growled defiantly, though his body continued to lean unconsciously away from the blade. "To kill you punks."
    "I hadn't guessed," Wufei jeered, giving the man a short, controlled shake and almost nicking him with the sword. "And why is that? Friends of that unbathed bastard Grinstaff?"
    "...Why should I tell you anything when you're just going to kill me anyway?" the man demanded after a moment, a thread of fear underneath his stubborn tone.
    "You tell me, I'll leave you here," Wufei swore. "You don't tell me, you're dead. Make a choice, and make it fast."
    The man was silent for too long. Wufei pressed the sword roughly to his throat as if he were about to behead him. The man went stiff as a board and stammered, "They're cousins. Cousins. Blood for blood or some shit like that. The boss is real pissed. He's out to kill all of you."
    Wufei's eyes narrowed. "'They'," he repeated. "Grinstaff is your leader's cousin? What's his name?"
    "Are you crazy?" the man demanded, his voice an octave higher than earlier. "I can't tell you that! He'll kill me!"
    "And I'm, what, going to tickle you to death?" Wufei growled. "Answer me."
    "I- I can't," the man protested desperately.
    A shot rang out in the distance, echoing in the woods. Some creature in the underbrush scrambled frantically for cover. Wufei turned his head in the direction of the shot, eyes narrowing in disbelief. That had sounded suspiciously like one of Sally's fancy-shmancy rifles. He didn't recall seeing any of the guirellas with anything more advanced than a shotgun. He hesitated, scowling down at the man in his grip. This was taking too long, and he had precious little time to spare. With an impatient shove, he pushed the man away from him and slammed the hilt of his sword across the man's temple. He collapsed in a heap, without a noise.
    Wufei dragged him closer to a nearby tree and tied him to it roughly. He might not have time to question him now, but that didn't mean he couldn't track the fool down later and question him more thoroughly. He untied his sash from his waist and gagged the unconscious man with it before setting off quickly through the trees once more, ducking low to make a smaller target, bloodied blade in hand.

    He made his way for another half hour without running into any more of his deadly hunters, though he knew they had to be close. Twice more he heard the rifle fire somewhere behind him. Had Sally sent men after him? Foolish idiot of a woman. She should be getting her people to safer ground, not sending out more people to look for him. Tank would have told her that much. He just hoped the shots weren't wild ones; if someone was back there picking off the men, all the better. It wouldn't be long until he was clear of the woods. From there he could double back, find the road, and come at his enemies from behind.
    A slight rustle in the bushes to his left was his only warning. He dove for the ground, and the shot aiming for his head missed him by inches. He rolled to his feet, but didn't have the chance to find cover.
    "Freeze!" his attacker barked.
    He hesitated, muscles coiled as he turned his head carefully to stare at the shooter.
    The tall guirella was breathing hard; he'd obviously been racing to cut Wufei off. He was aiming a handgun at Wufei's chest with an unwavering arm, a light of victory in his eyes. Too far away for a sword to reach. "That's as far as you go, kid," he sneered.
    Wufei stood frozen for all of five seconds. Then he darted to the side. The man fired instantly, and Wufei jerked up his sword in a hasty counter.
    The sound of the bullet striking the steel blade rang like out a bell. Wufei couldn't supress a short gasp of surprise and horror when the blade snapped, bits of razor-sharp metal scattering. A piece sliced his cheek, and another thudded home in his shoulder. He almost dropped the broken sword, hands numb from the blow. His grandfather's sword... destroyed...
    Shame and rage boiled in Wufei's stomach as he glared silently at his opponent.
    The man took a step towards him, baring his teeth. "That was stupid, kid," he growled. From behind him, three other men fought their way out of the bushes, panting from their run to catch up. The man sneered at Wufei. "Too bad, brat. You fought pretty good for a kid. Now... any last words?"
    Wufei held himself proudly, glaring at them all disdainfully. So this was how it ended. It wasn't what he'd been expecting at all. He had seen his death in the stars, hands clutching the controls of his beloved Shenlong, a scream of defiance on his lips. But it had not been. Instead it seemed he was destined to die like a dog, gunned down by thugs on a planet he had once fought to save. Funny how things turned out.
    The man lifted his gun a margin, aiming between Wufei's eyes. "Fine, have it your way." His finger tightened on the trigger, and Wufei felt his eyes fluttering shut in proud defeat.
    Then death came striding from his right, fire ripping from his hand and shattering the air like thunder.


    "It seems your friend is through the worst of it," the old man sighed, removing his spectacles and mopping beads of sweat from his brow. "He's lucky you caught it so fast. If it had been any longer..."
    Duo closed his eyes in a quick, silent prayer of thanks before he realized what he was doing. He offered the doctor a wide smile. "Thanks, doc. Sorry I had to scare the hell out of you to get you to help him."
    "Well, considering the circumstances..." Doctor O'Neil shook his head woefully. "I still don't understand why Rob would do such a thing."
    "He used to work for Quatre's father," Duo admitted. "Old grudge." He smiled disarmingly.
    "Hm." The doctor shook his head again, replacing his glasses. "As for the young Winner, I suggest you let him get some sleep. His body is exhausted from battling the poison, and it was already weak enough from lack of sleep and malnourishment." He eyed Duo sternly. "He says he's had no appetite. If he continues to tell you that, pay him no heed. He needs to eat, or his body will never recover. Spoon-feed him if you have to."
    Duo chuckled. "I'll even make airplane noises."
    The doctor gave the faintest hint of a smile. "I'll be back in the morning to check on him," he said, closing his medicine bag. "If his body seems to be recovering, we'll start the sessions to heal his mind."
    "Right. Thanks. Want me to show you out or something..?"
    O'Neil waved his hand dismissively as he shuffled downstairs. "Don't bother, I know the way out. Go to your friend. He's asking for you. But let him get some sleep."
    Duo nodded silently and entered his friend's room.

    Quatre woke slowly and unwillingly. His stomach felt as if it had been shredded by razors, and he felt weak and sick. He had to blink several times before the ceiling overhead became less blurry. Slowly he became aware of his surroundings, his eyes wandering slowly side to side. It was night. He must have slept quite awhile. He didn't see any of the nurses, and the lamp by his bed was set on its lowest flame. Finally he looked down, trying to discern the source of the warmth at his side.
    A small, affectionate smile pulled at his mouth. Duo must have come in to check on him after he'd fallen asleep. He'd probably started out sitting on the edge of the bed, but had dozed off. His head was propped against Quatre's shoulder, one long leg tucked up onto the bed, the other dangling over the edge. One arm was folded under his head, his other thrown across Quatre's waist. He was still clasping one of Quatre's hands loosely in his own.
    Quatre carefully lifted his free hand to run his fingertips down the length of the other boy's thick braid.
    Darkness and fear still crept around the edges of his mind, and he couldn't seem to focus on time or circumstances. They were in his room, right..? Or a safehouse? It certainly didn't look anything like the Peacemillion. Shouldn't Duo be keeping watch? Or doing battle, instead of playing nursemaid to him? He frowned, shaking his head slightly. No. No, concentrate. Duo had said something... he'd said he was safe.
    He'd said the war was over.
    That didn't make any sense. Quatre blinked slowly and swallowed hard, struggling to push back the rising panic and confusion. No. Don't think about it. Don't think about anything. Just... rest...
    He closed his eyes, taking several deep breaths. His hand clenched convulsively around the braid under his fingers. Duo was here. Duo had said he was safe. He had always trusted Duo before. He wasn't about to stop now. He was safe. He had Shinigami himself watching over him.
    He fell into a sleep mercifully free of darkness, one hand still clasped in Duo's, the other in possessive hold of the other pilot's braid.
    He dreamt of playful lips on his own, and a devil-may-care grin.


    Heero stood immovable as a statue, eyes as cold as Wing's as he fired without mercy into the small group that had surrounded Wufei.
    The first two went down within seconds of each other, too shocked to react. By the time the others thought to move, to focus their attention on the new threat, Heero was already mowing them down.
    They fell like wheat, and when the smoke and screams faded, Heero at last lowered his gun and turned his head to face the young man staring at him in stunned disbelief.
    A tense silence stretched for what felt like hours as they stood yards apart, staring each other down. Finally Heero spoke.
    "You," he stated calmly, "are a pain in the ass to find, Chang."
    The broken sword fell from Wufei's numb hands and clattered in the dirt, forgotten.

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 23
Chapter 25
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