They were ready to go in when two figures came out from the trees next to them.
Heero's gun was up before Wufei's or Duo's, but all of them had the guns aimed at the hearts of the oncoming silhouettes.
Only when they heard that familiar chuckle did Wufei and Heero lower their guns. Only Duo, remembering how the bald one had
momentarily sounded like Trowa, kept his gun up.
When Trowa was confirmed, Duo lowered his gun. A smaller form stepped out from behind Trowa with a huff. “I can take
care of myself,” the small blond murmured, glaring at Trowa. The taller man only grinned, rather unrepentant, and shrugged.
“What are you two doing here?” Wufei asked, bewildered. Duo took a short moment to note that Trowa and Quatre
got quite a warmer welcome than he had.
“We got the message from Lady Une to watch out for danger,” Quatre began.
“Which of course meant that you two managed to get in trouble,” Trowa interjected dryly.
“We checked on Duo and found out he wasn't at home.” Quatre took the chance to glare at Duo. He, unlike Trowa,
looked away. Quatre was silent for a moment before continuing. “We came to find you all.”
“It was unnecessary,” Heero began.
“Obviously.” Duo saw Trowa looking at him and knew Trowa was subtly commenting on his condition. “Besides,
us pilots have to stick together.”
There was a double innuendo there that Duo studiously ignored.
“What's happened?” Quatre asked, getting into his Leader Mode. Duo watched as Quatre shifted into a firmer stance.
He was reminded of Quatre in the final battles of the war – the leader who had taken them through to victory with the
Heero briefed him tersely on the key points – Jocker, the clones, and Diana's capture. They both listened intently,
but Quatre's eyes were, as usual, more expressive than Trowa's. His blue orbs were wide and filled with horror. Trowa's expressions
were less obvious but still included a small widening of his green eyes and a thinning of his lips.
The run-down cost the team their easy entrance when the guards walked nearby. They had to wait a few minutes to resume their
conversation. They all quickly noted that, if one group was walking around, other groups were walking around. There were probably
others that were standing watch at various points. It was what Duo had long-ago termed a 'double-guard', because sometimes
the places watched were watched by two separate sets of guards. It made taking them out or sneaking past them difficult.
Teams were divided, with Heero going alone (Duo had to swallow his words of protest, lodging them in his throat and making
him have to merely nod when they were all asked if they were ready to go), Duo and Wufei together, and Trowa and Quatre together.
Wufei warned Trowa and Quatre to beware of their fighting patterns and then they parted.
Duo and Wufei's job was to run in and find Diana – Heero to gain data and radio it in to the others, setting crude bombs
during the search for the data, Trowa and Quatre to draw attention to themselves. The clones would know immediately that they
were decoys and would set after Duo, Heero, and Wufei. Trowa and Quatre would only have to deal with the bastards that swarmed
them until Heero's bombs went off. Then they would enter the building and join Heero. The three of them would search for Jocker.
Duo and Wufei entered after Heero, Duo watching the posts and Wufei watching the walkers. They slipped inside by skirting
into a window – one Duo conveniently knew exactly how to open. Wufei watched Duo's hands, steady despite the fear and
worry hammering through him. Duo had a feeling Wufei noticed how he was biting the inside of his lip to bleeding to accomplish
this task. The need for silence was most likely the only reason Wufei made no comment.
They slipped easily inside. Duo's internal clock told him they had another four and a half minutes until Quatre and Trowa
would begin their part of the plan. They were able to slip past most of the guards without a problem, but Wufei had to take
a few out. Duo was always pushed back, which would have pissed him off if he could breath without fearing it would be too
loud. Damn but his ribs were really starting to hurt.
The corridors were thin and bare – no where to hide. The lighting was bright, all the rooms locked. The guards in the
corridors were thin, meaning they were no where close to where they had to be. Duo unlocked another door and they slipped
inside. They had two more minutes.
When Duo closed the door, he nodded to the skinny, tiny little grate on the side of the wall. “We have to go higher,”
he said, and Wufei nodded. Wufei hesitated for a moment, and Duo knew he was considering who should go first. If Duo went
first here, he could enter into enemy territory alone. If Wufei went first and someone interrupted them, Duo would have to
face the enemy alone for a while.
Finally, Duo answered Wufei's question for him. “If I don't go first, I don't know if I'll be able to pull myself up.”
Wufei looked... pained. “Duo...”
“Look, we're here and we have to finish it,” Duo hissed. “Let's just go.”
Wufei hesitated for another moment, then gently lifted Duo up into the grate. Duo tasted blood on his lip from biting down
his moan. He moved forward, checking the structure to find exactly where he could expect to fins himself if he followed each
of the grates. The place was huge, practically a skyscraper. They needed to get up to the next level quickly. Unfortunately,
his wounds made it impossible.
Wufei came up behind him and Duo moved forward again, halting when a fork came. He wanted to go right, but he waited to feel
Wufei's touch on his right leg before he turned.
They managed to make it to the fourth level before their two minutes were up. Alarms went up quickly, muted within the strict
confines of the grate. Duo gritted his teeth and forced himself to move faster. It would not be good for them to be caught
in the grate, by the bomb or by something even more serious. He heard Wufei on his heels.
It took them far too long to get to the higher floors, and even then they didn't know exactly which floor to be on. Duo stopped
on the eighth floor and approached a dark room – not impossible for a guard to be in there, but improbable. Especially
when another bomb was going off.
He hoped Quatre and Trowa were alright.
He couldn't allow himself to think about Heero.
He couldn't believe his luck when he dropped from the grate. There was no one in the room, which was good because his fall
jarred his ribs. He managed to get out of Wufei's way before he fell to one knee and clutched his ribs like he'd run forty
miles straight. His gasping was kept quiet, which meant it took him longer to settle.
Wufei's look was promptly ignored.
They both stared at the door for a moment, unable to move toward it. Finally Wufei grunted and grabbed the handle, carefully
twisting it. Duo fell in behind him, ever wary of approaching enemies.
They made it down the hall to the stairs, after which came a set of aerobics that had Duo gritting his teeth in agony. Wufei
ended up holding Duo's elbow, a movement that Duo hadn't noticed whatsoever until he almost fell and found himself supported
by Wufei's reassuring weight. Duo bit his wrist and used the distraction to regain control. Wufei's concerned gaze only sharpened.
“Diana,” was all Duo had to gasp out, however, and they were moving again.
Neither of them was surprised to find the tenth floor still guarded, nor were they shocked to see that the guards weren't
all the big and bulky variety. Still, seeing Baldy and the red-haired Quatre made Duo nervous.
“Ah, the quiet couple,” Duo noted for Wufei's benefit, holding himself up straight. Last thing he needed to do
was announce any louder just how fucked up he was. “What fortuitous luck to find you here.” Yeah, right.
“You live,” Baldy noted, but his voice wasn't angry or grim. No – it sounded amused. He wanted to fight
Duo again? “You truly are a worthy adversary.”
Okay, he really didn't need to be complimented by people who wanted to kill him. “I like the Trowa with hair more, personally.”
A chuckle. God, the man sounded a lot like the real Trowa. It was... eerie. Haunting.
“If you don't mind,” Wufei cut in, his tone dry, “I would like to kill you quickly and be on my way.”
His right hand lifted, his gun aimed at Baldy's head. Like lightning, Fake Quatre's gun was up, as well. Baldy and Duo lifted
theirs in the next second.
Baldy smiled slightly – creepily, disturbingly like Trowa himself. “I'm afraid you're outmatched.”
They all knew Baldy meant that Duo wasn't well enough to pose a true threat.
“Hey,” Duo said with mock affront, “my good looks count for something. I'm ahead of all of you in that department.”
“I can hardly see your face,” Trowa – Jesus, no, it wasn't Trowa, it was his clone – joked. The clone
joked – just like Trowa. Oh, God. This was just making it harder to take the man out.
“Shall we get started, gentlemen?” Fake Quatre spoke up, and then they were all moving at once.
They were only facing one enemy – one clone – so Duo and Wufei would be facing two, as would Heero. Trowa was
able to dodge the clone, but Quatre was the one who could truly understand any of the movements. They had Duo's clone –
thanks to Duo's quick physical explanation of what the clones looked like, they knew which one they were facing – and
Trowa wasn't as used to Duo's movements as Quatre was. Duo had been with Quatre after... after Heero had... after the colonies
were targeted. They had trained with one another – they had learned one another's movements. Trowa, on the other hand,
hadn't spent much time with Duo. Though the two knew the basics of one another, they had never spent as much time together
as Quatre and Duo had.
The idea of altering their fighting style was difficult, but it was easier with only the one enemy to take down. The clone
looked a little irritated, a little flushed – the grin would flicker fairly often. Quatre knew they would win this battle.
The only question was how long it would take – and whether their victory would come fast enough.
He was unprepared to meet both the clones of himself and Wufei when they stalked up behind him. He had just found the information
on where Diana is and had informed Wufei – the tenth floor, fifth door on the left. Then he'd turned to find Wufei's
clone and his own standing and looking at him, smiling.
“You have sent your partner to his grave,” Wufei's clone informed him.
“I doubt it,” he countered dryly.
“If not him, then certainly your lover.”
Heero stiffened. “What lover?” The last man he'd been with had only lasted about a week – and they hadn't
spoken to one another since.
“Your precious Maxwell.” The clone studied him with a gaze he knew all too well. “I am surprised that he
lived. Oh-Three took too much of a liking to him.”
Oh-Three. Trowa... Trowa's clone?
“Gentlemen, I would like to leave here in about five more minutes – can we hurry this up?” Shit. Shit. Now
he was worried about Duo. “And he's not my lover,” Heero added for good measure.
“Oh?” Wufei's clone bowed slightly. “Then I'm sorry to say you have wasted your chance at a moment of joy.
Now you will die with regrets.”
He didn't need to hear this. “Shut up!” he snapped, reining in his anger as he swiftly jumped for the clone's
Duo was clumsy. He fought Quatre's clone since he knew Quatre better than Wufei – or at least Wufei knew Trowa better
than Duo – but he was slow and only managing to injure himself more. At least Fake Quatre wasn't helping Baldy, who
seemed to be having a few difficulties.
Fake Quatre was wholly different from the real Quatre when it came to attitude. Quatre – the real Quatre – would
be speaking to him now, telling him that it would be better to give up – apologizing for what he had to do. Not this
guy. He may have a similar build, a similar attack pattern, but he was nothing like Quatre.
He was easier to fight.
His peripheral vision caught Wufei landing another hit on Baldy, a punch that met his stomach. Baldy twirled away and round-house
kicked, but the attack didn't meet Wufei's moves. Wufei seemed to be dancing. It was a complete change from his straight forward,
militaristic fighting style. It was probably a bit sloppier, but Baldy still couldn't see what he was about to do. It made
the fight more even.
Duo, on the other hand, didn't stand a chance. No matter how he moved, he was slower and infintely more sloppy than Wufei
could ever be. If Wufei started line dancing as his attacks, Duo would still look more pathetic.
Blocking hurt because of his bruises all over his arms. Every movement jarred his ribs. His bad arm was equal to useless.
All he had were his legs, which were the least injured of his body. But kicks were obvious after a while – he had to
mix up his routine, and that made things even more difficult.
He was winning.
It was obvious after his opponent, the one Duo called “Baldy”, stumbled slightly after somersaulting away from
him. He pressed his advantage.
Moving fluidly was not difficult, but attacking without his military precision was. When he was about to attack, he found
himself wanting to attack with straight precision – quick snaps, like a cobra. Instead he moved like a lynx mixed with
a peacock. He didn't like his fighting style being synonymous with a peacock, but there it was.
Duo, on the other hand, usually moved like a panther. Hiding in the bushes and coming in for a quick, graceful kill. Right
now he moved like an ox – testimony to his weariness. Wufei feared for his comrade. Duo was too injured – he shouldn't
even be here at all. Not because he wasn't a Preventer, not because he was an outcast, but because he was hurt.
The fact that the braided American hadn't spoken once of his injuries bothered him. They were no longer in a war. Through
trials of his own, Wufei had found that he was a man beyond the war. With his comrades, he had begun to heal. It bothered
him greatly that the one who had tried so very hard to make an alliance, the man who had seemed the most... normal... was
the one most struggling. In the war, he had not attempted to see Maxwell as anything other than a nuisance. He had not seen
how much the man had been hurting... how much he had been hiding.
He had to defeat his enemy and help Maxwell. They had to get this damn mission over with so that... issues... could be resolved.
He landed another hit on his enemy and hoped his other comrades were faring better than the one beside him.
Quatre was shocked that he even thought the word, but it was harder to change his fighting style than he had thought. And
he hadn't been fighting for a year... he was out of practice. Trowa, too, seemed a bit... frustrated.
Granted, they were winning. He just knew that the reason they were winning was not specifically because of him. After all,
whenever he got close enough to do damage to his opponent, he would see a flash of a smile, a glint in the eyes – and
he would see, for just that instant, the true Duo. Trowa had ended up taking a clip on the arm to drag him away when it first
It was difficult, though, for him to attack someone who acted so... similar to Duo. When Duo fought, he sometimes seemed possessed.
Duo never spoke of it, but Quatre feared he lost himself in battle and truly became Shinigami. Here, this man showed the same
style of fighting, minus the sanity that Duo owned. This man was probably the same off the battlefield, as well. Duo's clone
The thought that this man could be anything like Duo angered him. He knew well what Duo was like, though he hadn't seen his
friend for a long time before all this happened. Duo was not insane, nor was he someone who enjoyed fighting. He remembered
that time after Heero had... he remembered the time in the safehouse, Duo drunk most nights and going on possible suicide
missions on the others. One man pulling off an infiltration that looked like at least ten men were involved? He'd been so
worried about Duo. Whenever he was sober – even when he was drunk – he looked so in-control, so... normal. So
okay. But Quatre's heart had told him differently. Duo had been killing himself.
This man was not Duo.
With renewed focus, Quatre shot at the clone. Surprised, he couldn't quite dodge in time. The bullet clipped the man's shoulder.
Trowa, in an instant, was behind him – not above, where he would have probably gone to give his enemy one last bullet
– and was grabbing his arms, pulling them behind him. Quatre shot another bullet, this one aimed next to the man's heart.
A death wound that wound take a while to hear. Doubtless, the man had last words. Quatre would let him say them.
Trowa knew what Quatre was doing and stiffened. Quatre could sense his wariness, his displeasure at being the one to hear
this man's last words. The clone made it worth their while.
“You think I'm different, don't you?” There were gasps and struggles to say what he wanted. Trowa laid him down.
Quatre vaguely realized that the grunts weren't there. Many had been killed, but not all. Some must have either run away or
run back in. They had to hurry. “Well? You think that, since I'm a clone, I deserve death.”
“No,” Quatre heard himself responding. “I am not a true person, either. I'm a lab baby. I killed you because
I needed to protect something precious.”
The clone stared for a while, then laughed weakly. “Something precious? I wonder what that is...”
Quatre felt empathy then. He was so much like Duo now, even more than before. Here was the humanity that was taken away from
“Your precious something... will be killed. Most likely... by your own hands.” The clone smiled, but the smile
was lost behind the blood that ran and ran and ran down his face. “Either you or your clone... but you can protect nothing.
Duo couldn't protect anything.” Shock rendered Quatre immobile. “You are shocked that we have our originals' memories?
Why? The doctors... were very... exact in their experiments. How do you think we know how to fight you? We are you.”
“Shut up.” Trowa said quietly. “You are not us. We chose peace.”
“What peace?” the clone asked, then shut his eyes. “I see no peace.” And died.
There was a stagger in both of his enemies that gave Heero the opening he was looking for. His gun snapped up and fired three
bullets – one hit his clone's uninjured leg, the other two hit the other clone's legs. Neither of them cried out, but
both fell to the ground.
They quickly picked themselves up, but the reprieve was long enough for him to change his magazine. They would also be slower.
Maybe he could win this in time to help Duo. God, please let him be okay.
Yeah right he was gonna be able to do this.
He had fallen before his enemy and had thought he would be dead in the next second, but his enemy had staggered a bit and
gasped. He grabbed his heart slightly – the Universe Heart. Something had happened. To the real Quatre? Duo's heart
skittered painfully in his chest.
He raised himself back up and charged his enemy – an attack he would never do, an attack that went against all his instincts
from back when he was a street rat.
He hit his target.
They both fell backwards with him on top. He couldn't pin the clone's arms in time and dodged just as a bullet shot to the
He managed to stand and only swayed ominously once. Had he mentioned that a bullet had clipped his right leg? It hurt like
a son-of-a-bitch, too. Damn.
He was sweating up a river, his arm throbbed throbbed throbbed, his bruises were covered in bruises, his leg was shaky underneath
him, and his vision was starting to gray. He gave himself another two minutes. Wufei, on the other hand, was slowly but surely
beating down his enemy.
He thought back on what he'd told himself before – that it would be nice to die, but not before Diana Paisley was safely
retrieved. What if he amended that to couldn't die unless it was to help another save Diana? If he fought as long as he could,
he could give Wufei time to defeat his enemy. Just enough time... for as long as he could...
Well, it was what was going to happen, anyway. He might as well go out with honor – it would be expected of a true warrior.
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