Disclaimer: Gundam Wing is not mine. Duh.
There was another vid screen waiting. It flickered a bit before focusing. The picture – the secret something –
was immediately clear.
“Fuck!” I cursed.
Relena Peacecraft was seated before Jack Harlow, on the floor before his opulent chair. The reference to a throne was apparent.
“Oh? Reduced to three?” He smiled benignly. I wanted to jump through the screen and punch the hell out of him.
“Hm. I suppose that will have to do.” He gestured to Relena. “As you can see, I certainly still have the
My hands clenched into fists. “Let her go!” I demanded.
“A foolish order, Strike.” His smile brightened. “But if you would like to join my collection... you look
even better on the screen. How would you look in real person? Even with all that blood, you look simply marvelous. I like
you without your shirt.”
I fought down a shudder and sneered. Sicko. “Let her go. This is worse than anything else you've done, Harlow. You'll
get the death sentence for this.”
“What is the difference? If I let you take me, you will kill me.” His smile never faltered. His hand, his disgusting
tan hand, reached out to play with Relena's blond hair. She closed her eyes in disgust. She was gagged and bound. A thick
rope twined around her neck and wound up to tie around the arm of Harlow's chair.
“How about a trade?” I said with a smirk. “Me for her.”
Heero hissed from somewhere beside me.
Harlow's smirk widened. “Scared, Strike?”
It was my turn to hiss.
“You were all very careless. Your dear princess here was so very eager to stop this from turning into a battle.”
Harlow smiled so charmingly I wanted to spit. “She set up a meeting while you all hid from me.”
I turned to her. She looked properly ashamed, but still indignant and righteous. Her eyes were trained on Heero. I tried to
ignore that. Heero, I saw, was meeting her gaze. That... I couldn't manage to ignore.
“Let her go, Harlow,” I growled.
“No.” His hand stilled then, carefully encasing her head. “I do believe this is where we make negotiations.
You all surrender to me, and-”
“Mmf!” Relena mumbled.
His hand fisted in her hair and yanked. Heero took an instinctive step forward. Harlow smirked.
“That's not going to happen,” I said calmly. I carefully kept my hands unclenched at my sides.
“It's not negotiable. Be happy that two of you escaped such a calamity. Such a shame, though. The dear Winner boy was
important, too, wasn't he?”
He thought they were dead. Fine. That suited us perfectly. If he thought they were dead, he couldn't get to them until they
were in a safe place. “That's...” I let my voice waver for a second. “None of your fucking business.”
Harlow's smirk only grew. Relena's gaze fell then, her eyes obviously full. This, I knew, was what she'd been trying to help
avoid. Too bad she'd thrown herself to Harlow, thus making the situation a thousand times worse.
“I'm afraid we still have every intention of stopping you,” Wufei said calmly.
“I won't kill her, of course,” Harlow said. We already knew what that meant, but he felt he needed to say it,
anyway. “I'll just break her fingers. One by one. To start.”
What the hell were we going to do? Relena Peacecraft could not die. I wasn't fond of her – her naivete drove
me crazy – but she was absolutely necessary for the tenuous peace we'd risked our lives – our souls –
for. She needed to be rescued safe and sound.
“Let her go, and these two. You can torture me as you please.”
Heero's head turned sharply to me.
“Oh, but I would like to thank you, Strike.” Harlow chuckled. “After all, if it weren't for you,
none of this would be possible.”
Now my hands did clench into fists.
“Well, come on up,” Harlow said now. “I would love to see you in person, Strike. Could you possibly look
even more beautiful?”
The picture died out before I could respond.
It took a moment to regain my control. Heero turned sharply away as I breathed carefully. Wufei watched Heero with a wary
eye. “We can save her,” he said.
I breathed once more before trying to speak. “Yes. We would need someone to sneak through while we made our way up.
Whoever could move quickest, most silently. And, of course, if there are metal bars in the way or something, that person needs
to be able to bend them.” I cast a sardonic glance to Heero.
He could only nod once, sharply.
I sighed. “Heero, you're gonna have to be the one. He's looking for me. Wufei, I think, would be able to blend more,
since you had too obvious a reaction to Relena's-”
“I know.” His voice was tight.
“We'll get her out, Yuy,” Wufei murmured.
I turned away. Yeah, we would get her out. Somehow. I had no idea how to do it, or what the hell I was going to be able to
do to help. Harlow was after me; his wisecracks about my looks were either to egg me on or – God forbid – he actually
wanted to play with me before killing me. In any case, I would kill him. He wouldn't be able to do anything to anyone then.
Heero slipped away with nothing more than that.
Wufei and I watched him go. “All right, Duo,” Wufei sighed, “it's time for us to go.” He eyed me for
a minute. “Are you feeling well?”
“You're very badly wounded,” he noted.
I quirked an eyebrow at his arm, then sighed. “I'll worry about it later.”
Wufei frowned. “Maybe you should-”
“No,” I said firmly. “I'm seeing this through.”
Wufei nodded a bit reluctantly. He seemed to understand. “Duo, this isn't your fault.” He started down the empty
hall, and I cautiously followed. We heard nothing, but that didn't mean that there wasn't anyone waiting for us.
I said nothing.
Wufei sighed. “I'm sure Harlow would love to give you the blame for what he's doing. He wants to make it seem as if
you acted as an accomplice. But you went on Preventors' orders and took down four major crime rings.”
“Missing one,” I said sourly.
“More than we could have done.” Wufei seemed to have to choke out that admission. I found myself humbled. Wufei
hated admitting weakness, hated failings even more. This... had to take a lot. “Do not blame yourself for this, Duo.”
Okay, he was saying my first name. He was worried.
I blew it off with a careful shrug. “I'll just feel better when my mission is officially over.”
“Hm.” Wufei nodded, then quieted.
We headed through hall after hall until we found a stairwell. Heero had no doubt taken the grates, so we were stuck taking
the more conventional route. We carefully watched the elevator as we passed it. Then we were even more cautious entering the
stairwell, knowing we could easily be trapped or ambushed. But there was no one, and our footsteps, despite how quietly we
moved, echoed hollowly. I hated the sound we made.
We made it to the second floor, then cautiously checked the floor before hurrying to the third floor. We paused again once
we reached the third floor. There was another vid screen waiting for us.
I turned to Wufei. “One of us will need to hide,” I whispered. He nodded.
I grimaced, but it seemed more plausible that I would be in a rush to take a quicker route to him. I nodded my assent.
Carefully Wufei stepped out into the hall. He approached the screen with his gun cocked.
Then, without a sound, he fell.
“Wufei!” I hissed. I broke military rule and went after him.
The screen sparked to life.
“One down, Strike. That makes three.” Harlow's voice reached me, cocksure and arrogant. I ignored him and turned
to Wufei, carefully checking for spinal or cranial injuries. “And where is that angry one? Ah, yes, I know. Coming to
try to steal the dear Miss Peacecraft. I'll deal with him, as well.” That damn smile... I could hear it. I fearfully
checked for Wufei's pulse. I had to bite my lip from sighing from blessed relief. It was weak, but it was there.
I turned on Harlow fiercely. “What the fuck did you do?” I demanded.
“Now, now, Strike, is that the way to talk to me?” Harlow tugged Relena's little leash for emphasis. “Besides,
you should know better than to have friends. You're a bounty hunter. Any friend of yours will inevitably be killed.”
I froze. How dare he speak my fears. I felt my hands shake with rage. Carefully, carefully I calmed myself. For Wufei, for
Heero, I needed to get through this. “Just what the fuck are you planning, Harlow?”
He chuckled softly. “Why, I want to be the next Al Capone.” His grin widened. “But I want to own much more
than just Western USA.”
I snarled. “Dumbass, Al Capone wasn't completely bloodthirsty. And he didn't own Western USA.”
If anything, Harlow looked amused. “Hm? I suppose we can argue that... eventually. For now...” He looked pointedly
at Wufei. “Enjoy watching your comrades fall.”
The vid screen blinked off.
I waited a moment, making certain he was really off, before checking the thing for bombs or gases. Nothing. I ripped the wires
out and hurried back to Wufei, checking once more for a pulse. This time I gave my relief sound. “Wufei. Wufei, please
I checked his body. No blood. Gas? Poison? I couldn't smell anything, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. It could
But if that was the case, why wasn't I affected, as well? And how had it reacted so quickly, without any warning?
I looked around again, more carefully this time. The halls were white and bare, reminiscent of a hospital hallway. Smooth,
even walls, smooth ceiling. Only the vid screen broke the monotony-
I stared at the flooring before me, then trailed it down to below my feet. I cursed and snatched Wufei up. I was almost careless
with him, so desperate was I to reach the safety of the stairway.
A touch-sensitive flooring lay beneath us.
What the hell had it done? I gritted my teeth. My best guess was electrocution. Somehow Harlow had had the floor set with
weight or heat sensitizers. I thought of our decision, having me stay back... Harlow had been one step ahead. I cursed.
“Come on, Wufei, don't do this to me.” I carefully placed him down, ever watching his face. He didn't move or
change expression at all. I found I was having trouble breathing. “Wufei, Wufei, come on.” I wouldn't cry. He
was alive. There was still time.
I moved him to the side, keeping him lying down on his back. His chest rose and fell steadily. That, at least, was a good
I had to leave him. It hurt, deep like a knife to the chest, to leave him. But Harlow knew about Heero, and I had to
get to Harlow before Heero was found. I had to save him, if no one else.
“My fault,” I whispered. My hands trembled for a short second as I looked on Wufei's face. Asleep as he was now,
I was aware for the first time how very... mortal... my friend was. He somehow looked less severe, more welcoming. His eyebrows
weren't pulled over his face as they had been during the battles. I remembered him with a much more austere expression than
this; he could almost be dreaming. I hoped his dreams were good.
“Please don't die,” I whispered. Then I straightened, took one of his pistols – I had to leave him his weapons,
just in case... but I couldn't let myself think the worst – and left him alone and unconscious in enemy territory.
“Ah, Strike. We meet again.”
The fifth floor had been carefully checked – including the floor – before I stepped out to meet the vid screen
once again. I was afraid I would see Heero there, at his feet with Relena. Or worse... but there was nothing. My guard didn't
“Harlow,” I greeted warily.
“I see you left your dear friend behind. It must be hard.” His grin widened. “You should never have come
after me, Strike.”
“Oh, but you know me – conscientious killer all the way.”
“Hm.” He petted Relena while he spoke. “Yes, I suppose. It's almost attractive.”
Okay, this was getting ridiculous. “You have a problem there, Harlow?” If I couldn't get there first... just in
case... I would give Heero a chance.
“Nothing you couldn't take care of, Strike.” He smirked.
“Yeah, a bullet to the head solves a lot,” I shot back, snarling.
His smirk slipped away. “Careful, Strike.” He gripped Relena's hair as a warning. I bit my tongue. He smiled again,
this time in absolute triumph. “There now, that's better. Why don't you call off this game and just surrender to me,
Then he didn't have Heero yet. “No way, fucker.” I grinned. “I've beaten tougher than you.”
“Yes, but this time you don't have your dear Gundam with you.”
My grin turned into more a show of teeth. “I've beaten tougher than you without Deathscythe.”
“Oh? Then explain your sacrifices.”
I grimaced. Though it was true no one was dead – yet – it was still worse than usual. My mind flashed to that
awful moment when Heero...
No. Even then, in that impossible situation, we weren't as bad off as we were now. It just felt like that time had been worse
because... of my emotions. Because I'd thought that Heero had... died. In reality... we'd been better off.
But we'd also had our Gundams.
I smirked for my audience. Relena was trying to grab my eye – I wouldn't face her. I couldn't deal with her emotions,
her fears. Not if I was going to be able to do this. “It's pretty simple: it wasn't you we were fighting.”
Harlow's eyes took on a hard edge, and I knew I'd hit a nerve. Hopefully he would lose just that little bit more control.
That would do me good. Better, it would do Heero good. “You won't win, Strike.”
“Yeah, I think I've heard that one somewhere before.” I pointed my pistol negligently at the screen. “But
I will win, Harlow. And you'll die.” I let Shinigami's grin steal over my face. “Bang.”
“We shall see, Strike.” Harlow's face composed itself back into it's calm, assured face just before the screen
Fifth floor. Two to go. Heero was most likely either close to the top level or... or he was already there.
I needed to hurry up.
I turned from the screen and raced as quietly as I could to the next level. I checked the level again, careful for any sudden
enemies. There was no one so far, but that could just be to lure me into a false sense of security. I wouldn't let that happen.
The place was white and completely unadorned. One had to wonder just why the hell the man got such a huge building. There
was nothing in it. What a waste of construction. It reminded me a bit uncomfortably of G's training fields. There were plenty
of buildings like this, white and empty and haunting. There was nothing. The nothingness had seemed to close in on me. I trained
like hell for no other reason then to escape the white sometimes. I was used to gray and black and... different tones of color.
Even on the streets, there were colors.
I checked every single room before going to the top level.
I checked the stairs one by one for traps. Harlow was up here; there was no where else he could be hiding – right?
I hissed. That had better be right – I was getting tired of this damn game.
In any case, he was close. I could practically taste my revenge. I thought of Quatre, of Wufei. I would get revenge for them,
too. I wouldn't let Harlow walk away from this.
I reached the door and stood in the hallway, listening, my ear practically glued to the door. There were voices. I thought
of Relena – her mouth gagged – and knew without a doubt that Heero had beaten me to the punch.
So he'd only arrived shortly before me. That was... unnerving.
Heero sounded pissed.
“You've managed to beat Strike here. I must commend you. I thought for sure my traps would stop you.”
“You underestimated us.”
“Oh, not quite.”
There was a quick movement, then an ear-piercing shot. Relena's muffled scream followed in the echoing silence.
I felt my heart seize.
“I'm not so easy to take down.”
I almost gasped with relief. He was okay.
I silently unholstered my pistol and held it up in my left hand. My shoulder and side burned. My earlier injuries couldn't
even make themselves heard over the newer ones. I ignored them all and waited for the one perfect moment.
“But I'm not so easy, either.”
A whirring sound. Relena made a horrified garbling noise.
I heard the sound of something powering up.
Without thinking, I burst into the room.
There was a large machine behind Harlow. He had Relena before him, his personal human shield. Her eyes were wild and pleading.
I didn't know if it was for her sake or Heero's that her eyes were so pathetic, so wide and blue and helpless. I hoped it
was for Heero. I didn't think she was self-centered...
Harlow turned to me in that instant. He took in my bared teeth and cold eyes with no hint of fear.
I raced toward the machine. Harlow adjusted to keep me away, but my concentration wasn't on him at that moment.
Heero was on the other side of the room. He was already dodging to the side as I made my way toward the machine.
Something was wrong.
I shot the hell out of the machine, aiming for the small wire I saw closely embedded on its side. Three bullets – my
gun's ammo was gone – took care of it.
It whirred around to face me for a haunting second before tipping over-
It overheated, I could see it. I turned instinctively, even as it fell. Its target focused beyond me, to my side-
Harlow's face still didn't show fear, but it did show anger. He shoved Relena forward, blocking himself from his own beam
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