By Misanagi

Rating: R/ M
Pairings: Gen (maybe hints of 3+4)

Warnings: Angst, violence, language.Summary: Years after the war, the world is still wondering about the identities of the mysterious Gundam pilots. Now they have an answer.
Disclaimer: I don't own Gundam Wing or the characters used in this fic.
Archives: Gundanium Line

Thanks a lot to Anne for the beta.

Chapter Eight

The men outside had been ridiculously easy to out maneuver. Not that many people could out smart a Gundam pilot but Duo had expected a little more resistance. There were only two of them guarding the perimeter and Duo and Wufei had managed to knock them out easily without the use of any weapons. If these people had been organized enough to kidnap Quatre from a house filled with Preventer agents, Duo hoped that they would at least put up a good fight. Apparently he had overestimated them.

Heero and Trowa had already climbed to the windows on the side of the small building. Wufei was behind Duo, covering him. "There's three of them," Heero's voice sounded on the comm link.

"I'm moving in," Duo announced, and kicked the wooden door open. "Just give me a reason to shoot. I assure you I won't miss."

The men in the room were frozen for a moment. One of them started to move his hand to his side, but Trowa fired a warning shot. The men's eyes moved away from Duo to look up at the window where Trowa was aiming at them with a rifle. In the opposite window, Heero had a hand gun pointed at the men.

"I suggest you raise your hands," said Duo, walking slowly into the room. "We tend to get trigger happy when people kidnap our friends."

The two younger men paled, while the older one's eyes widened slightly. They all raised their arms. Apparently they were smart enough to know they were outnumbered.

Wufei entered the room and stood beside Duo. At the same time both Trowa and Heero jumped down from the windows, landing behind the men, surrounding them.

"Four of you," the older man said. "I knew this could happen but I never expected you to find us this fast."

"We are the best, and we don't like it when you mess with one of us." Duo's voice was cold and deadly. He still kept the machine guns trained on the men. He could probably relax now; the men weren't going anywhere, but Duo got a weird pleasure at seeing them cringe every time they looked his way.

Heero put his gun on his waistband and took out a set of cuffs from his pocket. Trowa kept his rifle pointed at the men, making sure they wouldn't try anything while Heero cuffed them.

Duo handed one of the machine guns to Wufei. "I'm gonna look for Q," he said, and walked towards one of the younger men. He pointed his weapon at the man's neck and asked, "Where is he?"

The man gulped. He shifted his eyes away from Duo to look at the older man. Duo moved away from the nervous young man and approached the older one, who was apparently the leader. "Where is he?" Duo repeated.

After looking at Duo in the eyes for a few seconds, the man lowered his gaze and answered, "In the basement."

Not sparing him a second glance, Duo walked right past the man, heading to the corridor. The first door Duo passed was opened and led to a room with two cots. Duo walked inside and did a quick search. There could be more men in the building, and if they were, Duo intended to find them. The room was empty.

The next one was an office of some sorts. The room had no windows and only a desk and two chairs. Duo walked inside and glanced at the old phone on the desk. The men had obviously been in contact with someone, probably the person really responsible for Quatre's kidnapping. The phone might help them figure out who this person was.

"This isn't the basement." Wufei stood at the door, machine gun in hand.

"I know." Duo walked out from behind the desk. "They've been in contact with someone. We should take the phone."

Wufei walked into the room. "Go find Winner," he said, "I'll take care of this."

"Heero and Trowa?" Duo wondered.

"They are securing the five prisoners outside."

Duo raised an eyebrow but walked out of the room. Securing, in Heero's and Trowa's vocabulary, meant getting answers out of the men in whatever way possible. They might not need the phone after all.

The next two rooms were bedrooms; the first with one cot and the other with two. Going by the bed count, there were only five men guarding Quatre. According to the Preventers' report Duo had read, there had definitely been more than five men involved in Quatre's kidnapping. Guns for hire, probably; paid for one job and not involved with whatever agenda was behind the kidnapping.

The last door in the hall was metallic, instead of wooden like the rest, and it was locked. It took Duo less than a minute to get it opened. It was pitch black inside. The light from the corridor illuminated only the first steps and Duo descended slowly, touching the walls and looking for a switch. He found it on the third step. There was a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling and below it, tied to a metallic chair and blindfolded, was Quatre Winner.

Duo ran down the stairs. Quatre's head was raised and tilted in the direction of Duo's steps. There were visible cuts and bruises in his face, his shirt was dirty and bloodied and he looked pale, too pale. "Oh God, Cat."

"Duo?" he asked, his voice sounding tired and raspy.

"Yeah, buddy," Duo said, putting a hand on Quatre's shoulder, in a reassuring gesture.

Quatre hissed softly and Duo moved his hand away immediately. There were a few drops of blood on the shirt. "Shit, man! What happened?"

"They wanted something I couldn't give them."

Duo clenched his fists and silently hoped that Heero and Trowa were using one of their less savory methods to make sure the men cooperated. He put the machine gun on the floor and crouched behind Quatre. The cuffs around Quatre's wrists were definitely too tight, and the skin was torn. "I'm taking these off," Duo warned, knowing that the friction might hurt Quatre.

When the cuffs were off, Quatre flexed his fingers slowly. Duo didn't miss the wince he made as the blood returned to his hands. "At least you can move them," Duo said.

"Yeah," Quatre agreed.

Duo swallowed a lump and started to work in removing the restrains on Quatre's feet. He wanted to get Quatre out of the room before any of the others saw him like this, especially Trowa. As soon as the restrains were off Quatre stretched his legs and then stood up. Duo managed to rise from his crouch on the floor just in time to prevent Quatre from falling. "Take it easy, Q," he said, and helped Quatre back to the seat.

Quatre let out a frustrated sigh but didn't try to stand up again. He moved his hands up to touch the blindfold and the electric tape covering his eyes and part of his forehead. "Get this off!"

Gently pushing Quatre's hands down, Duo said, "I will. Don't worry." Even though he had never been blindfolded, Oz's cells had always been dark and Duo remembered very clearly just how disconcerting it was to live in darkness for days. Using a pocket knife, he very carefully cut the electric tape. The kidnappers had tied a rag over Quatre's eyes and secured it with the tape, which thankfully protected most of Quatre's skin and hair but not all.

"Do it quickly," Quatre whispered.

Duo grabbed one corner of the tape and mumbled an apology before pulling it off in one quick movement.

"Fucking hell!" Quatre cursed under his breath before opening his eyes. He squinted, closed them and then opened them again, this time slower. He blinked for a few seconds and then looked at Duo. He sighed and a small smile graced his lips. "It's good to see you, Duo."

A soft hiss escaped Quatre's lips. He was biting his lower lip, obviously trying to keep the sounds to a minimum. Again, for what was probably the twelfth time, Trowa looked at Quatre up and down, making a mental list of the injuries Heero was currently treating. They were all flesh wounds, made to cause pain, not to incapacitate; torn lip, bruises over Quatre's face and chest and shallow cuts – obviously made deliberately with a knife – in both arms and shoulders.

It made Trowa wish that the leader, a man who had identified himself as Sebastian Culler, hadn't answered their questions so easily. Trowa and Heero had roughed him and his men up a bit, but it was nothing compared to the state Quatre was in, and it was a lot less than what those men deserved.

They had kidnapped Quatre and tortured him for three days. Tortured him!

Trowa growled and diverted his eyes away from Quatre; it was already obvious how angry he was with had happened and he didn't want to make it even more evident. When Duo had helped Quatre out and Trowa had seen him for the first time, he couldn't stop the string of curses that slipped angrily out of his mouth. The others had given him weird looks but right then, Trowa didn't care. He was upset, and he wanted someone to pay for what had been done to Quatre. He had managed to land two punches on Culler's face before Heero and Wufei pulled him away.

It had been a good thing, since in that moment Trowa could have killed the man. He certainly wanted to. But it couldn't be. They had already broken enough laws without killing one of the suspects. Wufei had called Lady Une and informed her of the location of the men so she could arrest them. They had left them there, cuffed and locked in the same basement they had used to hold Quatre.

After that, they had driven to a motel a couple of hours away and checked into one of the suites. Duo had brought an instant soup which he had given to Quatre and he ate two bowls before Heero started treating his wounds.

Duo was talking, telling Quatre how they had found him and silly stories about the last couple of days. However, he kept away from mentioning the newscast, or the letter they had found in Quatre's hidden safe. They had all kept away from the important issues, of asking Quatre why he had cut them off, why he had acted they way he did. Trowa wanted to ask all those questions, he wanted to demand answers, but he remained quiet. He hadn't spoken much since they'd found Quatre, and he felt that the moment he opened his mouth he would say horrible things he would regret.

"… so I decided to bring the phone, maybe it can help." Duo pointed at the machine lying on the floor by one of the beds.

"It won't," Heero said, disinfecting the wounds on Quatre's arms. "It's an old model. It doesn't have a memory, not even a redial button. The numbers are never recorded."

"Fuck!" Duo said. "So we can't track her that way."

It hadn't taken long for one of the nervous men to admit that they were working for someone else: a woman. She had never given them their name. At first Trowa hadn't believed them but after a while, when Culler himself gave them the account numbers they used for the transactions with her, Trowa decided they were telling the truth.

"No," Heero confirmed. He put the last bandage on Quatre's arm and put the first aid kit away. "But I can hack into the bank's records and find out who's been transferring money into Culler's accounts." Heero got his laptop from one of the packs, sat on the floor against the wall and began to work.

A beep sounded and Wufei answered his cellphone. He talked quietly and Trowa turned his eyes away. If it was important, then Wufei would tell them when he hung up. Duo had stood up to get Quatre a glass of water and was now sitting next to Quatre on the couch.

Their suite wasn't too big. It was just one room with a very tiny kitchen. There was a large couch, two chairs, one double bed and one single. They hadn't discussed sleeping arrangements yet, but Trowa would make sure Quatre took the single bed. He was in no condition to share or to sleep on the couch or the floor.

"Une has the suspects in custody," announced Wufei, slipping the phone back into his pocket.

Heero raised his eyes from the computer screen, but he was still typing. "She didn't ask about us or Quatre?"

"I told her Quatre was safe." He paused a moment and then added, "I also informed her that we are not turning him in."

"Are you in trouble?" Quatre's voice was stronger now. He hadn't spoken much before either. He had thanked them all for rescuing him and answered a few questions about his condition but that was it. "I don't want you to get into trouble because of me."

"Stop it, Quatre." Trowa's voice was low and cold. "We are not discussing this now." He didn't have the patience to even listen to Quatre suggest that they turned him in. It was simply not happening. If he had to tie Quatre to a chair and shake some sense into him, he would, but there was no way he would let Quatre play martyr again.

Quatre held Trowa's gaze for a moment but in the end lowered his eyes. The room was filled with uncomfortable silence.

"You can still go back, Wufei," said Duo, breaking the silence. "It's not too late."

Wufei shook his head once. "My place is here," he said, simply.

For a few minutes, the only sound was the click of the keys as Heero typed. Wufei was standing, leaning on the wall with his eyes closed. Duo had stood up from the couch and walked to the window. Quatre was looking down at his hands, and Trowa was looking at Quatre.

Quatre sighed, raised his eyes and looked at each of them, finally resting his eyes on Trowa. "It's not polite to keep someone waiting." His voice was soft and resigned. "Just kick my ass already and be done with it."

Heero stopped typing. "Someone already did that for us."

A sigh escaped Quatre's lips and he lowered his head in acceptance.

"You haven't apologized." Duo turned away from the window and focused his attention to what was happening inside the room. "Instead of coming to us, you cut us off completely. That's a pretty shitty thing to do." Quatre opened his mouth to protest but Duo held out a hand and continued, "Don't say you were trying to protect us, Q. We never asked you to. We aren't innocents to protect, we're your comrades, your fellow pilots, your friends, hell, I'll even go as far as saying family!"

"I was taught to protect those I care about," Quatre said, very softly.

"We don't need protection. We are above that." Somehow, Wufei managed not to sound smug.

"Was this said to you by the same person who made you think that everything in the fucking universe is your responsibility?" Duo had done a great job at hiding his anger, but now it was coming out of him in waves. "You aren't almighty, Quatre. You can't control everything around you, as much as you want to, and not everything that happens is because of you." He walked closer to Quatre. "As the t-shirt says, shit happens, and when it does, we are here for you, if only you would remember that."

There was a sad look on Quatre's face. "I'm sorry," he said softly, then he raised his chin and repeated it loudly. "I'm sorry."

Duo grinned and sat again on the couch, next to Quatre. "I can't speak for these guys, but I forgive you, man."

"I accept your apology," Wufei said and bowed his head slightly in acceptance.

"You acted recklessly," said Heero, the laptop forgotten for a moment and his eyes on Quatre. "Some risks are acceptable, others are not. You need to learn the difference."

Quatre only nodded once. He looked disappointed. Then, he turned to Trowa and asked, "What about you?"

Trowa held Quatre's stare. "You say you are sorry and I believe you." But he also wondered if Quatre would do it again. Probably yes. He could forgive Quatre but he was still hurt and afraid that it would happen again.

Quatre accepted Trowa's words with a nod. Things weren't resolved, but for now they were on even ground.

"Do you think this chick has a big army at her disposal?" wondered Duo, changing the subject slightly. "She sure has means, if she's talking about rebuilding Zero, but I wonder how many people are behind her."

"I don't know." Quatre shrugged. "He, Culler, suggested that they wanted a new war, but didn't say much else."

"Their group of followers is limited," Wufei said. "They have enough resources to bribe a Preventer and buy mercenaries for a job, but apparently the only people committed to the cause who took part on the kidnapping were the five we captured."

Duo grinned slightly. "If we find the mystery woman then the situation might be contained." He looked at Heero. "How are you doing there?"

Heero didn't reply immediately. He kept his eyes on the screen and his fingers on the keys. After a moment he looked up, a frown on his face. "I found her."

"What's wrong?" Duo's grinned diapered. "Who is it?"

Heero shifted his eyes to Quatre. The expression softened a bit. "The account is registered to Mahtob Winner."

Lady Une watched as her agents took the men from the van and into the Preventers' holding cells. The five kidnappers had been found in the basement of an old building, tied up and most of them quite scared. Wufei had only said that the kidnappers were all alive and waiting for her to take them in to custody but he hadn't said anything about their condition. All the way to Warsaw Une had worried about in which state she would find the men, but apparently the pilots had exercised some restraint. The kidnappers had been roughened up a little but there were no broken bones and they were mostly unharmed. Wufei hadn't said much about Quatre's condition except that he was alive and injured but the small stains of dried blood in the basement's floor made her wonder.

The kidnappers hadn't talked on the drive to Preventers' HQ. Une had deliberately remained silent. She would have to treat this situation with care. Many people would be angery that Quatre Winner hadn't been found and she wanted to keep her department away from any suspicion. While Preventers had become a highly respected organization, any of that could change if the politicians willed it so. Most civilians weren't aware of just how necessary the Preventers were to their way of life and to peace and Une was going to make sure that the organization would keep afloat, running as it was, no matter what.

"Excuse me, director?" An agent was standing by her. He was staring at the floor and looking clearly uncomfortable.

"What is it, Miller?"

Miller raised his eyes. "Ma'am, Senator Anillievich's secretary has been calling. He's very eager to know about the status of the investigation."

Une sighed. She disliked the man profoundly and after the day, actually the week, she'd had she wasn't looking forward to talking to him. "Thank you, Miller. Dismissed."

The agent scampered off and headed to her office. She needed to decide how she was going to approach this problem. She wasn't going to turn in the pilots or even breathe a word that she was aware at all of their involvement; they trusted her and she wasn't going to break that trust, not for a government who insisted on persecuting war heroes.

Stopping at her secretary's desk, Une told her to find Mark Johansen and tell him to meet her at the holding cells in five minutes, and the she turned around. The sooner she dealt with this the better and Mark had proved to be an intelligent and capable young man. Une wanted to have someone she trusted witness the interrogation and with Sally and Wufei away she decided to test Johansen. Her judgment was rarely wrong and she didn't think she would be disappointed now.

Mark didn't take long to join Une at the door of the holding cells. He saluted as soon as he saw her and waited for her instructions.

"I'm going to question Mister Winner's kidnapers, Johansen. I'm giving you the chance to be there and witness. Afterwards, you'll write a report to compliment mine and file on the case's archive. Is this clear?"

"Yes, Ma'am," he replied.

"Good. Then follow me."

They entered the holding cells area, the agents at the door snapping into attention the moment they saw Une. The kidnappers had been placed in five different single cells to keep them on the edge. They still seemed to be affected by their encounter with the pilots and Une was ready to take advantage of that. If their testimony was a little distorted and any accurate descriptions of the men that freed Quatre were lost then so be it.

She had watched them in the van, studied them. They didn't need to tell her who the leader was, it was obvious by his posture and the way he carried himself. He had looked calm but resigned and he wouldn't help her purpose now; she would question him later. Now she wanted to start with the one who had identified himself as Francis Broome, he looked no older than eighteen, young and frightened.

"Be quiet and observe," Une told Mark and opened the door to Francis' cell.

The boy was sitting on the cot, elbows on his knees and his head buried in his hands.

"Mr. Broome," Une said as she walked inside the cell. She gestured for Mark to close the door behind him and then stood in front of Francis.

The boy lifted his head and looked at Une warily. He bit his lower lip and Une could see that he was trying to keep from crying.

"It's quite a predicament that you are in. Kidnapping Quatre Winner, killing Preventer officers… I must say the future doesn't look very bright for you." She gave him a disapproving look.

"I didn't kill anyone," the boy stuttered. "I was the driver, I only drove. Culler said I didn't have to join in the fight. I stayed in the car. I didn't kill anyone."

Une resisted the urge to smile. She had picked a good first subject. "You were still part of the organization and that has consequences," she announced gravely. "That will be decided later on by a jury, but for now your cooperation could save you a lot of trouble."

"Cooperation?" There was a hopeful look in the boy's eyes.

"Yes, Mr. Broome. You talk to us. Tell us about your organization, its plans, about the kidnapping and your backers and we might be able you get a deal. If it's true and you didn't take part in the killing of twelve Preventer agents then there might still be hope for you to get a life after you've served your sentence. However, that depends entirely on your cooperation."

Francis's leg started twitching. "But I don't know anything about that woman. I told those men already."

"Then tell me about the rest," Une said. "And tell me about those men."

Twenty minutes later Une walked out of the room with a confession, the names of the involved and the description of the five men that rescued Quatre and captured the kidnappers. According to the testimony they were all more than six foot tall, their eyes screamed murder, they were rough and dangerous and it was easy to tell they had been soldiers. Francis hadn't specified an age and Une didn't ask. The pilots' features had been lost behind the fear in Francis' eyes and Une was gong to make sure that this was the description left of file.

"Follow me, Johansen," she said as they exited the holding cells. "I have one more job for you."

She headed again to her office, Mark quietly following her. He had held his tongue and followed orders perfectly. Une could see he was curious but he wouldn't question her. When they reached her office she asked him to close the door and then stand behind her desk. She wanted to have a witness for the call she needed to make. It was always safer that way, even if she recorded them too.

Sitting down, she buzzed her secretary and asked her to get Senator Anilievich on the line. When the call was connected she skipped the formalities and started giving her report.

"Senator, we have successfully apprehended the men responsible for Quatre Winner's kidnapping. After receiving an anonymous tip we located the men in a small abandoned building in Warsaw. I've personally questioned one of them and I can safely assure you that these are the men we were looking for. We have a confession and blood evidence that Quatre Winner was held in that building. However, by the time we got there Mr. Winner was no longer at the location. I'm afraid to say we don't know where he is."