Chapter 27: "Turning Off Fear"
When Wufei didn't follow him several minutes after his cowardly retreat, Heero backtracked. Wufei wasn't in the room with the church pictures, but there were three other visitors babbling nervously to a harried security guard. Heero paused, a bad feeling gnawing at his gut.
One of the women spotted him and pointed in his direction excitedly. Like the others, she was speaking excitedly in English, the language used primarily by L2 colonists. "There! That boy was with him earlier."
Heero strode over quickly, anxiety mounting. The security guard turned to him. "Sir? Is your friend with you?"
"The Asian kid," a man interrupted, holding his hand parellel to the floor close to his chest to indicate height. "Black hair pulled back, wet jacket..?"
Heero's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "I left him in here," he snapped, glancing around for his friend. "Where is he?"
They all began talking at once.
"Some soldiers came- rebels--"
"They grabbed him--"
"There were three, and they had tasers."
"He tried to put up a fight, but--"
"What were they doing here??"
"Was that boy a spy or something?"
Heero seized the security guard and hauled him forward so they were practically nose to nose. "When did this happen?" he snarled. "Where did they go?"
Heero was half the man's age and a full head shorter, but the guard swallowed back his initial angry retort after one look at the boy's dangerous expression. "They left the museum, I don't know know where they went," he protested hastily. "Though if they were the Lightning Count's men, he should be leaving L2 already. I think he was only here for some kind of meeting."
"They left about ten or fifteen minutes ago," the woman added nervously.
Heero shoved the guard away and took off running.
Why? Why was Milliardo interested in Wufei? Chances of him knowing anything about the boy were slim. Had he found out who Wufei's traveling companions were? He did still hold a grudge against himself and Duo. Had he taken him to use as some kind of leverage against Kushrenada?
He found Relena in the last room and grabbed the startled girl's arm. "We're leaving," he said shortly, dragging her along at a dead run.
"H-Heero, what's going on?" Relena gasped.
Heero took the nearest exit, which happened to be the fire door. The alarm began blaring throughout the building as he booted the door open and dashed out.
"Heero!" Relena cried, desperately trying to keep up. "What about Wufei? Where--"
"Ask your brother," Heero growled. "We'll be seeing him soon enough!"
He ignored the rest of her questions, intent only on finding the others. He had to stop once for a few moments to let Relena catch her breath, though the delay made him wild with impatience. Then they were off again, racing through the streets and ignoring the stares of the citizens.
Turning a sharp corner into Alliance Street, he almost ran slap-bang into Trowa.
"Heero--" Trowa grabbed him by the arms and steadied him, eyes widening slightly as he caught a glimpse of Heero's furious expression. "What are you doing?" He glanced quickly at Relena, then his eyes skipped back and forth with growing suspicion. "Where's Wufei?"
Heero dragged Relena forward and shoved her into Trowa, causing the other boy to stumble. "Your mech is still in repair," he said shortly without a word of explanation, his attention instantly on Quatre. "Watch Relena. Quatre, you come with me."
Quatre stared at him in bewilderment, even as he reached up to clutch at his chest in reaction to Heero's roiling emotions. "Heero, tell us what's happening!"
"Wufei's gone," Heero snarled, chopping the air with his hand impatiently. "Milliardo's men came and took him--"
"What??" Trowa and Relena said at the same time.
"By the time Howard gets all his men together and we take off, they could be completely out of reach," Heero interrupted sharply. He jabbed a finger in Quatre's direction. "You and I are going after them."
Trowa opened his mouth to protest, but Quatre nodded quickly, realizing the urgency of the situation. "I'll come," he said simply.
"Milliardo?" Relena cried in disbelief. "Why would he want anything to do with Chang? Heero-- Heero, wait!" she shouted as the two boys raced off. "He won't hurt Chang!"
Heero barely heard her. He and Quatre ran in tense silence all the way back to where the ship had docked. Howard had left a pair of men to watch the cargo, and they looked surprised to see the two boys running at them like two bats out of hell.
"Hey, slow down, now, what's the problem?" one protested, making as if to bar the way.
"Move," Heero barked.
The man recoiled on reflex, and by the time he thought to reach out and stop them, both boys had already bolted inside.
Heero ran through the hangar straight to Wing, not even bothering to remove the sheet as he stepped into the zip cord and ascended to the hatch. Quatre yanked the rope beside his own bulky mech, letting the sheet flutter to the floor to reveal his beloved Sandrock. By the time he was halfway up to the cockpit Heero had already fired up his Gundam and was ready for take-off.
Quatre winced, knowing an argument was useless but unable not to consider the consequences of their actions. Their Gundams were supposed to be a secret, but they were going to be seen just exiting the colony. Still, it couldn't be helped. Every minute they wasted was more time lost as Milliardo got farther and farther away. He slid into the cockpit, strapping in with one hand and flipping switches with the other. He gripped the controls tightly, gazing grimly at the main viewscreen. "We have to be fast, Sandrock," he breathed. "We have to get Wufei back."
The citizens of L2 stared in stupefied awe and terror as the mysterious Mobile Suits emerged from the beaten-down transport ship and shot off for the gates far above. The two guards who had been left behind to guard the ship watched slack-jawed, then looked at each other sourly.
"Howard's going to throw a shit fit."
Wufei paced his small cell for what felt like hours, working on soothing his nerves so that he didn't lose his temper and could think clearly. Heero would undoubtedly come and attempt some sort of foolish one-man rescue, he told himself. Like he had back on earth at Treize's mansion. They had been lucky, he thought grimly. The men hadn't been expecting an attack, and certainly not from both sides, with Heero coming through the yard and Wufei making his way through the house. Meeting at the door had helped. But this was a military ship; possibly part of a fleet. The men here were trained, armed, and dangerous. They would have no trouble shooting down a lone boy-- especially one that Milliardo seemed to hold such a grudge against.
No, it would be suicide. He wouldn't put it past Heero to be bull-headed enough to attempt to storm the ship with a gun in each hand. He would only get himself killed. That left Wufei with only one option: he was going to have to meet Heero halfway, as he had on earth.
Someone had delivered food and water earlier and removed his cuffs so that he could eat. That left him with two fists ready to fight, but a weapon would really be better as insurance. While hand-to-hand would mean a silent attack, it would leave him vulnerable to soldiers aiming at him with their own firearms far out of reach of his fists and legs.
Wufei ran a hand over his hair, trying to concentrate. First course of action: get out of the cell. Second: knock out the guard and take his firearm. Third: find a way to get out of this godforsaken place without getting caught. Fourth: make contact with Heero and the others.
"Easier said than done," Wufei muttered to himself, peering at the door handle once more. The lock was only on the outside; he could see no way to attempt to pick or disable the lock from inside the cell. Which meant someone from outside would have to open the door for him.
There had been a changing of the guards recently; he'd heard the large man who'd looked on him in such disgust warning his relief not to put up with "any of that terrorist brat's bullshit". Wufei tried to catch a glimpse of his new jailer through the barred window, but he was standing to the side. Wufei grunted in annoyance, retreating to the far side of the cell to think. He began to pace back and forth again, popping his neck and stretching his arms and legs. He would need to be fresh and limber if he was going to make a successful escape. He placed his hands on his lower back, but froze in the act of a back stretch. He'd inadvertedly placed his palm over his Mark, and even through the material of his shirt he'd felt it; a light tingling sensation. He jerked his hands away instinctively, then hesitantly reached back and placed his fingertips in the spot once more, still keeping the shirt in between his back and hand. He didn't have to search for it; it was as if he knew where it was without having to look, like reaching down to touch your knee with your eyes closed. There it was again, a light tingling, almost like when a limb had just fallen asleep. When Treize had touched the Mark it had brought almost unbearable pain. Heero's touch had been exhilarating, rushing energy through his body. This time was neither painful nor pleasant. It just... was. Almost, Wufei thought irrationally, as if the Mark was saying hello in its own way. "Hi, nice of you to notice me."
Disturbed, Wufei took his hand away, and the sensation immediately disappeared. He frowned to himself. What was it, anyway? he thought in frustration. No one had bothered to explain it to him, and despite the two very different reactions he'd gotten from two different people, he hadn't pursued the subject much. Partly because he hadn't expected any answers, and perhaps in part because he didn't really want to know the answer. A tattoo shouldn't do things like that. Which begged the question: if it wasn't a tattoo, what was it? What was it for? Why did he have it? Why did it react differently depending on who touched it?
Wufei let his back hit the wall and slid to the ground in a crouch, frowning at his feet. He mulled over the problem, grateful to have something else to occupy his mind with.
He'd always had it. His mother claimed he'd had it since she'd found him, and his four Guardians seemed to think it perfectly natural, saying he'd had it since very young. Could it have something to do with his family? Something like a coat of arms? If so, why make it so tiny that it would be next to impossible to discern? An accident? Or was it a deliberate attempt to keep it out of sight and obscure? That was plausible. It could obviously be used against him; Treize had proven that. But then, how had he known about it? He seemed to know a lot about Wufei and his family, but for some reason it disturbed Wufei more that the older man seemed to not only know of his Mark, but knew exactly how to use it against him.
Heero had used the Mark to "heal" him; give him back his energy and strength. Wait, backtrack, he ordered himself firmly. They hadn't been the only ones to touch it. Why had Heero had to heal him in the first place?
They'd shown off his Mark to each other like a brand on a bull to prove he was who they claimed he was. One of them had touched it, hadn't he? And Quatre-- or was it Duo? --had said something in the gas station where Heero had healed him. "Lucky it wasn't someone who knew what they were doing", or something to that effect. Wufei shuddered. Did that mean anyone could trigger its effects with just a casual touch? It certainly hadn't reacted as badly as Treize's deliberate touch, but then, Treize had seemed to know what he was doing. No... that couldn't be right. His mother had touched it plenty of times when he was small, and he hadn't suffered from that.
Wufei thumped his head against the wall in frustration. It didn't make any sense. It was impossible for him to have gotten through life without anyone accidentally touching it-- including himself. Yet it had only started to react to a person's touch when this whole insane journey had started. First one of the Suits, then Treize, then Heero. And now his own tentative touch even got some kind of reaction. Why? Why now? Why at all, for that matter?
Something was nagging at the back of his mind, and he dropped the mystery of the Mark in favor of the second thought demanding his attention. Remembering the Suits had brought on another puzzle. It wasn't only his Mark that they'd known of. Digging through his bag, Lin had discovered the strangely-etched stick and seemed to recognize it. In fact, she'd gloated over its find, seeming confident in the fact that it would be something Treize would love to get his hands on. So it wasn't just the Mark and his family that Treize knew about. Whatever that strange staff was, he apparently knew of its existence, as well. Perhaps he even knew how to use it.
Treize wanted it. Heero knew how to use it, and guarded it jealously. Duo seemed obsessed with it, and had gone so far as to claim it was his. It was just a stupid stick that his foster mother had given to him upon his departure. Though technically, he admitted to himself, it did belong to Heero. He had images in his mind from the past of Heero wearing it around his neck constantly. It was given to him to protect Wufei, no doubt. But now that they had those insane Mobile Suits-- the Gundams --the stick seemed pointless. Why not just give it back to Wufei? Or even let Duo hold it, since he seemed so eager to get his grubby little paws on it. Yet Heero refused to hand it over to either of them. Especially Duo. The way they'd argued about it, it had seemed like an old argument. Duo seemed to have asked for it multiple times in the past, and Heero seemed adamant about the fact that Duo would never hold it again. Why? What was the big damned deal, anyway?
The guard outside sneezed, and Wufei jerked his thoughts back to the present. He was asking himself questions he had no answers to; questions that probably would not be answered until they reached the end of their journey. Right now he had to concentrate on getting the hell out of Milliardo's flying fortress. He couldn't risk staying another day. While Milliardo seemed a rational, decent man, that didn't mean he couldn't turn around and order Wufei's death. He associated Wufei with two labeled terrorists, and whatever he had heard from or about Treize had made it worse. Wufei got to his feet smoothly and walked silently over to the door. He waited there for a moment, listening to the bored guard outside, then turned and kicked the small bench-- his sole piece of furniture --hard enough to send it flying across the room. It crashed against the wall loudly, and the guard outside came quickly to the door. Wufei faded back into the shadows out of sight, holding his breath.
"What's going on in there?" the guard called through the bars. He sounded young. Good, Wufei thought grimly. He was probably too green to know better than to listen to anything he said. He flattened himself against the wall to stay invisible and forced his voice to take on a pained tone.
"I fell," he called back. "I can't move my leg."
"You fell?" the guard repeated a little incredulously.
"The bench is old," Wufei snapped. "It's your fault for leaving faulty furniture in here. Now you've broken my damned leg. I can't even get up. I want to go to the medical ward now."
"Now hold on a minute," the guard interrupted hastily, obviously not wanting to explain how his apparent negligence had led to the injury of a POW. "It's probably not as bad you think. Just try getting up--"
"It's broken, you idiot," Wufei barked. "And it hurts like hell! You'd better get a doctor down here."
"Wait, wait," the guard snapped, and Wufei smirked to himself as he heard the fumble of keys against a lock. "You probably just sprained it. You don't need to go see the doc. I'll take a look at it, and if it's just a stupid sprain, you'll be sorry for making me--"
The guard stepped through the door, blinking in the dim light, gaze going automatically towards the bench. Wufei sprang from the shadows silently, both hands clenched together in a double fist. He swung down hard right against the back of the young soldier's head. It hurt his knuckles like hell, but the guard collapsed to the floor with hardly a grunt.
Wufei crouched beside him immediately and relieved him of his firearm, heart thumping in his ears with adrenaline. He was halfway to his feet, ready to bolt, when he caught himself up short.
Don't be stupid, he ordered himself fiercely. He would never get out of here alive if he didn't keep his head. He remained crouching and forced himself to take several deep breaths to calm himself down. Once he felt in control once more, he studied the guard for a moment. A firearm was good for protection, but initiating a firefight with every soldier he ran across would only bring the rest of them running. No, stealth was needed here. The 'walk in and mow down everyone' tactic may work for Heero, but he was hoping to be far out of reach before anyone realized he'd escaped.
He set the gun aside, peeked out into the hall to make sure no one was coming, and proceeded to strip the guard of his uniform. He changed quickly, then forced his own clothing onto the unconscious man. The soldier was slightly taller and bigger than he was, meaning the uniform was a little baggy on him, and his own clothes were a tight fit on the other man, but it would have to do. A cursory glance inside would lead someone to assume it was the prisoner asleep, and perhaps they would assume the guard had left for a bathroom break or something.
Wufei tucked his short ponytail under the hat, holstered the gun, and stepped out into the hall. He shut the door behind him, listening with satisfaction as the lock snapped into place. Straightening his back and pasting on an expression of determination, he set off at a brisk walk-- not too fast to attract attention, but just quickly enough to suggest that he had a purpose. He dumped the keys to the cell in the first trashcan he came across and moved unchallenged through the corridors of Milliardo's battleship.
"He did what??"
Relena winced at Duo's volume, reaching up to cover her ears in protest. "You heard me," she repeated. "He said something about going after my brother, and he and Quatre just left. I think they were planning on taking some of Howard's old MS's." She saw the look on Duo's face and shook her head anxiously. "I'm sure they'll be all right," she said, trying to convince herself as much as Duo. "Surely they won't do anything foolish..."
Duo didn't seem to hear her. He glared furiously at Trowa. "They went to take on Milliardo-fucking-Peacecraft and didn't take me??" he demanded indignantly. "I've been dying to give 'Scythe a proper workout, and those selfish prigs just run off to have all the fun by themselves??"
Relena's jaw dropped.
Hilde elbowed Duo in the ribs sharply. "Trowa," she said firmly, giving the taller boy a stern look, "what's going on? What would Relena's brother want with Wufei? I thought Kushrenada was the one after him for some reason or other."
Trowa gave her a narrow look. "Just how much did Wufei tell you?" he asked in quiet suspicion.
Hilde stamped a foot impatiently. "Never mind that," she snapped. "I want to know why the hell the Rebel of Space sent his men to kidnap my best friend! Is he going to hurt him like Kushrenada did? How do Yuy and Quatre expect to get him back??"
"They'll deal with it," Duo grunted sourly, still looking petulant. "They can handle whatever the Lightning Count throws at them, don't worry about that. As for what Milliardo wants with Wufei..." he shrugged. "Hell if I know. Even if he knows about Wufei's family, he shouldn't know who Wufei himself is. Maybe he knows Treize is interested in him, and that makes him suspicious."
"Or maybe he's still made at you," Trowa pointed out flatly.
Duo winced and attempted a harmless grin. "Aw, c'mon, for that?" he scoffed. "That was years ago. Like... years and years. Me 'n' Heero were only what, thirteen...?"
Hilde rounded on him, eyes blazing. "What are you talking about?" she demanded in a low, angry tone. "Are you suggesting that you and Yuy pulled some kind of prank on the damned Lightning Count of all people and now Wufei's going to pay for it??"
"Not in so many words," Trowa muttered, "but..."
"Hey, now," Duo cut him off hastily. "No way. Yeah, Milliardo has reason to want both mine and Heero's hides tacked on his wall, but he's not the kind of man to take it out on us through someone else. He's not the 'you made me look stupid, so I'm going to kill your family' type of guy. He wouldn't hurt Wufei to get at us. He'd have to believe Wufei was one of the 'bad guys'."
Trowa frowned. "He must know Wufei is in the company of you two. And if he's heard of Treize's Suits, it would undoubtedly make him suspicious."
"We need to get him back!" Hilde exclaimed. She turned to Relena, who had been listening with a look of disbelief. "Relena, he's your brother," she said desperately. "Can't you get ahold of him somehow and convince him to let Wufei go? Tell him Wufei isn't a bad person. He's not a part of this war at all."
Trowa arched a brow, but made no comment. Duo coughed.
Hilde looked from one boy to the other incredulously. "What?" she snapped. "He's not. Wufei hates war. He won't take anyone's side, and he certainly isn't going to fight for either cause. You know what his favorite rant is? That people should only fight to protect the ones they love. He would never have anything to do with a soldier's war."
Trowa continued to stare at her in calm silence, but Duo cocked his head with a slight frown, as if she'd spoken in a foreign tongue. "Fight to protect?" he repeated after a moment. "Where the hell did he pick up that garbage? Has Quatre been brainwashing him while we weren't looking?"
"I agree with Chang," Relena blurted, face set in stubborn lines. "One should only fight to protect oneself and the ones they love. While I don't agree with violence in any form, I still think it's a noble idea."
Duo only looked at her blankly, but Trowa's face seemed to lose a bit of its impassiveness. "Perhaps it is," he said so mildly that none of them could figure out if he was being sarcastic or sincere. He changed the subject abruptly, glancing at his watch. "They left almost forty-five minutes ago. We need to find Howard and get going if we're going to meet them. If they manage to get in, grab Wufei, and fight their way out again, it'd be best if they had back-up waiting for them."
"Your mech is still being repaired," Duo pointed out. "That's why Quatre went with him. That just leaves me." He let loose a toothy grin that made him look more than a little maniacal. "More for me."
"And me," Hilde snapped. "I want to help! Howard's men have been showing me how to fly a mech.."
But Trowa was shaking his head firmly. "No. You've never actually flown a mech into battle, much less had to kill someone before. And that's what all available MS's will be used for if we do have to play rearguard. We'll be fighting against trained military pilots. You'd be killed instantly."
Hilde looked crestfallen, and looked to Duo for support, but he frowned slightly at her. "No way, kiddo," he stated flatly.
Hilde grumbled some, but didn't bring it up again. However much she might want to help her friend, she knew Trowa was right.
Relena placed her hands on her hips suddenly and glared around at them all. "Now wait just a minute," she said loudly. "My brother is not some evil military maniac! He may be a little misguided and hot-headed sometimes, but he has no reason to hurt a random Terran high school student. Much less kidnap him! You've all been acting very strange and secretive, especially about Wufei, and I want to know what's going on. I seem to be a part of this motley crew, like it or not, and I think I deserve some kind of explanation for all of this!"
"The righteous rants and long-winded explanations can wait," Duo cut her off dryly. "Trowa's right; we need to get going." He looked back to Trowa, ignoring Relena's indignant sputtering. "I'll go find Howard. I know his haunts. He should be just about done with his transactions anyway. You and the girls get to the ship and round up the members of the crew that are hanging around there. Grab a couple and send 'em out to fetch the rest. I'll let Howard know how serious this is; if all goes well, we should be out of here in twenty minutes tops." He touched Hilde briefly on the shoulder, offering an encouraging smile. "If you really want to help," he added, "get ahold of Sally Po and make sure her office is ready. If we run into some bad juju, we'll need some stitching up."
"Sure," Hilde muttered, still looking a little down.
Trowa turned and started walking off briskly. Hilde hurried after him, and after a long moment, Relena reluctantly followed, looking more than a little put out.
Wufei was stopped only twice. Once to be asked directions by an obviously new and confused recruit-- whom he sent in a random direction with a false air of confidence --and another who asked him what the hell he was doing wandering around. As he was the only other one in the corridor, Wufei ended the conversation quickly with a brutal blow to the stomach that knocked the breath from the soldier, then a swift chop to the back of the neck to knock him unconscious. Dragging the limp form into the nearest empty office shaved off precious minutes of his time, but he wasn't about to blow his cover by leaving a body in the corridor for anyone to find.
In the end, he found the hangar by pure luck.
There were a handful of mechanics inside working on Mobile Suits, but thinking quickly, Wufei managed to get them out with a convincing act of breathless haste and a false order from Lt Noin to report immediately to the cockpit. They seemed confused and perhaps a little skeptic, but none of them were willing to risk the stern officer's wrath. They hurried out, leaving a rather smug Wufei all alone, surrounded by Mobile Suits already prepped for launch.
Which left him with yet another dilemma, as he quickly became aware of the simple fact that he had never even flown an MS.
Sure, he knew the basics. But Hilde's magazines and rambling, Heero's explanations of some of Wing's controls, and a few minutes' cheerful 'lectures' by Howard's bored mechanics didn't quite cut it. The only thing he really had going for him was that these were MS's built specifically for mass military pilot use, and should be fairly simple to control. Almost all of them seemed to be the sleek-looking Taurus models he'd heard so much of in the news and from Hilde's magazines.
He strode to the control panel by the door and quickly hit the close and lock buttons. As the large airtight door slid shut, he ran over to the Taurus closest to the back of the hangar. If they were ready to launch-- which, being military craft in the middle of a war, they should be --he should be able to open the hangar doors from the cockpit. The alarms would go off in the cockpit, but by the time the soldiers got to the hangar, got it open, and were in their Suits, Wufei hoped to have a good head start. If, of course, he could figure out to to pilot one of the damned things, he reminded himself sardonically.
There were no zipcords like Heero's Gundam had attached the ceiling nearby for easy access; the Taurus was barely half the size of Wing, and there was a walway around the hangar at hatch level. Taking the steps two at a time, newly-acquired boots clanging against the metal surface, he sprinted across the catwalk to the last Taurus. It took a bit of searching to find the hatch release, and when it opened with a hiss of air, he hesitated, gazing into the cockpit. Can I do this? The thought went through his head before he could squash it, and he took a deep deliberate breath and climbed in before his uncertainty could trigger fear. He needed a cool head and a confident attitude, or he really wouldn't be able to pull this off.
The cockpit wasn't quite as cramped as Wing's, and the instrument panel was different enough to give him a moment of complete confusion before he forced himself to concentrate. Here-- these toggle switches were in a different place, but unlike the Gundams, these were actually labeled. "Thank god for 'military intelligence',"(1) Wufei muttered as, looking around with a little relief, he saw that just about everything had a small label beneath it with the name or function of each switch and control. He punched the hatch button and quickly strapped himself in as the lid closed over him silently. Angrily shrugging off the momentary claustrophobia, he fumbled in the dark and flipped the light toggles, illuminating the cabin. Slowly and carefully, being sure to read the labels, he went about the process that had been explained distractedly in a monotone by a busy Heero when Wufei had been bored.
Careful as he went, it took only a few minutes to power the mech up. Once it was humming and waiting, control panels lit up ready to display information, he wrapped his hands around the directional controls and paused for a few moments, taking a deep calming breath.
"Chang Wufei," he said out loud, "this is probably one of the stupidest things you've ever done in your life."
With jaw clenched in determination, he reached up and yanked the lever to open the back hangar doors.
Author's Notes: The title comes from this quote: "The time to take counsel of your fears is before you make an important battle decision. That's the time to listen to every fear you can imagine! When you have collected all the facts and fears and made your decision, turn off all your fears and go ahead." (George Patton )
(1) Hey, shut up, I'm in the military so I have free reign to make fun of it ^^;;
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