The Price 44

Betaed by Skippyscatt

Authors note: I have started using a period for the breaks as FF eats almost anything else. So if you see a random period, you're not nuts.

Relena worried. Wufei was so still that she actually put one hand on him to check that he was still breathing.

"I'm fine. Sorry if I seem rude, but they expect a certain attitude from me and I'm trying to give it to them. Zechs has heard every word we said and I think Duo and Heero will be here soon. At least I hope so. I really don't feel well."

Relena sighed softly. "I'm so sorry to have gotten everyone into this mess. If I'd only listened to my advisors. They said this was too dangerous ... can I get you anything?"

Wufei shifted uncomfortably. "I don't think so. I had some real pains about two weeks ago, but the medicine seemed to help. Now, that kick seems to have ... broken something loose or ... punctured something. I'm not sure. The pain is ... manageable but I really don't want to have to exert myself if I can get out of it."

Relena bit at her lip. "I'm not sure ... I ... I'm not a medical professional but some of the people I come in contact with..." Relena trailed off.

"Tell me." Wufei shifted again, his stomach was really hurting now.

"Ulcers. It sounds like ulcers to me. And if ... do you taste fresh blood? Like a cut in your mouth? Or ... um."

Wufei stiffened. "No, it tastes sour. Like bile or acid."

Relena shrugged her shoulders slightly. "Ok. No more silly girl act. I've put them off by acting like a feather head. This is bad. Very bad. If that ulcer perforates, you're in really big trouble."

"I know. We have to get this over with. Go stand in the window."

"What good will that do? Not that I mind." Relena went to stand in one of the big windows.

"If either Duo or Heero doesn't have some sort of surveillance air craft buzzing this place, I'm an Auntie. It'll hopefully lock in on your heat signature. They'll know exactly where we are."

Relena nodded. "I see. Is there anything that I can do to make sure that they see me?"

Wufei thought for a moment then said, "Take down your hair. Brush it or something."

Relena obediently pulled the band off her ponytail and started running her fingers through it, explaining that she wasn't allowed a hair brush since she'd tried to use it to jimmy a window. Wufei hurt himself trying not to laugh.

Zechs got Duo on his radio and asked for an ETA. Duo bit at his lip for a moment then asked Zechs if he thought it was a good idea to reveal the N-Gundams yet. Zechs replied that it was time. Heero seconded the opinion so they walked the machines to the HQ.

This caused a near riot as every deputy, his brother and their dog wanted to get close. Heero finally had to use his external speakers to get them to stand away until they powered down, set the gyros and made sure the machines were stable.

When the shut down process was finished, the N-Gundams were stable on their feet and hidden from casual notice from the prison. The Neo's, as Duo had finally started calling them, remarking that saying 'N-Gundam' was cumbersome at best, were just tall enough that they topped the trees by a few feet. This made it possible to see them from the tallest tower of the prison. Luckily, it was unoccupied.

Heero dropped to the ground and waited the second it took Duo to join him. They went in search of Zechs.

Zechs was in the com waiting for them.

"I don't know exactly what is wrong with Wufei but it's something very bad. He's in pain. And it has to be bad as he's admitted it to Relena. We have to get them out before they take them back to the basement. They're in the infirmary right now. How long they'll stay, I don't know."

Heero took the blue print Zechs handed him and they unrolled it on the table. Duo snorted, he wasn't used to having someone roll all the prints back up and put them away. This was nice, he'd have enjoyed it except that Wufei was in real trouble and his only internal backup was Relena Peacefuckingpacificstcraft. He only realized that he'd said that out loud when Zechs gave him an amused look and remarked. 'I'm a Peacecraft too, you know.'

"I thought you changed it to Merquise."

Zechs shrugged. "I did, but that doesn't change much except some print."

Heero, meanwhile, spread the blueprint out and started trying to figure out how to get into the place without giving the Rock Gang time to kill Wufei and Relena. It didn't take him long.

"We have flight capabilities, but it's not a good idea to try that. The trees are too close to the walls. We wouldn't be able to land quickly enough. I think a simple walk in is the best."

Duo looked at the plans and nodded. "Yeah, walk right over the wall opposite the infirmary, grab up the kids and head out. All we have to do ... some sort of diversion would be nice ... that would attract attention away from what we're doing and maybe take some of the heat off. I could blow something up ... or something."

Zechs bit at his lip. He wanted to pilot one of the Neos so badly he could taste it, but they were made for Heero and Duo. He couldn't even sit in Duo's chair, Heero's was better but the controls were in all the wrong places. He shrugged, "I'll be happy to provide something. All I have to do is ... hummmm." His gaze went blank as he thought.

Duo smirked at Heero and gave him a silent thumbs up. He'd fix Zechs up with some 'attention getters'.

Heero thought for a few moments. "We better decide who's going to carry who. I don't want to put both Relena and Wufei on the same Neo. I'll ..."

Duo shook his head. "We take who we take. Don't get fixated on who you're going to carry, just grab the first person in the window and let me take the next. You head straight for the hospital if you get Wufei. Right?" He cupped Heero's face in his hands. "Right?"

Heero nodded grudgingly. "All right. If I get Relena, I'll bring her here. We've got a field hospital set up but it'll only hold one person. If you get her, same thing. Wufei, we fly straight to the hospital. They'll need tests and such. Zechs can meet Relena here and do the public announcement. Then come to the hospital Ok?" Heero pinned Zechs with a hard stare.

Zechs grumbled a bit but knew his duty. "Ok. As long as you keep me posted every ten minutes. Got that? If I don't hear from you, I'll be down your neck like a rash."

Duo nodded once. "Got it. I'll be sure to. Heero, you better too, 'cause I'm not throwin' my tender person between you and him. All right?"

Heero smiled and nodded. "I understand. I think about how I'd feel if it was you, and all I want to do is ... kill someone."

Duo grinned. "That's my man."

Zechs gave them a small, sad smile. "I have a really bad feeling. Be careful."

Heero nodded. "Yes, Duo's right. This mission is cursed. We'll be careful. You do the same."

They each headed in a different direction. Zechs back to the radio to try to tell Wufei what was going on. Heero to speak with the sheriff and Duo to make an attention getter.

Heero stood in front of the sheriff's desk and saluted him. "Sheriff Haskins, I'd like a moment, if you don't mind."

The sheriff looked up wearily from a pile of papers that he obviously had been working on for quite some time, there was a pile of equal size in the out tray. "Sure thing, son. I'm not too thrilled with all this paperwork. I swear, next election, I'm goin' fishin'."

Heero smiled at the man. "I don't blame you. This has got to be a real mess for you. Um ... I need to know how much mess we can make. Particularly, how much damage can we do to the prison?"

"Well, I don't particularly care if you knock the whole thing down. It's outdated and the state has been promising us a new one for ... probably six or seven years. There's no prisoners in there that can escape. So have a ball."

Heero smirked gently. "Thanks, Levi. That's a relief. It's a lot easier to take care of people if you don't have to take care of property. We're going in soon. Wufei is in some sort of trouble. He's ill. Zechs is about to go tear down the wall bare handed. Duo thinks dusk is the best time. We're working on killing the electric. Zechs is in charge of that. Keep the med unit on stand by, just in case. Any questions?"

Levi looked at Heero for a moment. "Yeah. How the hell did you ... wind up ... um. Shit!"

Heero shrugged. "I was taken in, or stolen from my parents, when I was very young, by an assassin named Oden Lowe. After he died, I drifted around for a few months on my own. Then J got his hands on me. I was trained with the most stringent methods available to be a perfect soldier. I've learned to turn it on and off now. I'm sorry to be such a freak, but this mission is too important to mess up. We're going in hot and heavy and getting Relena and Wufei out. Damn the consequences. If those idiots want to start a fight, we're finishing it. Spectacularly. Got any complaints?"

Heero turned his best glare on Levi, who just held up a hand. "No. Not a one. Just take care of that boy. He's ... too tender for this sort of thing, no matter what he says. And take care of Duo and Zechs too. I don't need to tell you I'm gonna be highly ticked if I have to break out the black tape."

Heero raised one eyebrow. "Don't worry. I don't intend to get hurt, Duo would kill me. And Zechs will cut off things if Wufei isn't in hospital a-sap. So ... I'm going to go check on Duo. He's fixing up some attention getters. He gets carried away sometimes."

Heero stood up and turned to go. He turned back and said softly. "Thanks, sir. For things you did that you'll never know how much I appreciate."

The sheriff smiled and waved his hand in a shooing motion. "Go. Do your thing. And you're welcome. Scat!"

Heero left to see if Duo was usingdiscretion in explosives or planning on blowing up half the state.

Duo had gone to the armory and was happily making up flash-bangs, small bombs which produced a large flash of extremely bright light, massive amounts of smoke and a loud noise. He was also making shape charges to bring down part of the wall. They couldn't get to the main power plant in time for the operation or he'd try to shut down the power to the entire complex, as it was he was looking at shutting down the main building power.

Heero peeked in on him and smiled, Duo did like blowing things up. Too bad Zechs was going to do that part of the operation.

"How's it going, love?"

Duo turned to grin at Heero. "Zechs is going to love this. I've got him some nifty stuff." Heero mouthed 'nifty?' then just paid attention to Duo.

"See. This charge will penetrate the wall, attract all kinds of attention. Then all Zechs has to do is toss some of these flash-bangs around. That should confuse the con's enough that he can get to the wire from the power station to the main building."

Heero blinked. "Isn't that underground?"

Duo shrugged. "Yeah, but it's only under by about 16"." He showed Heero another shape charge. "This'll penetrate to about 22", just in case the cable is deeper than expected. And it's easy to find. It runs right along the edge of a sidewalk. Zechs will have to be able to find it in the dusk, smoke and confusion. Do you think he can?"

Heero nodded. "He's got a level head on his shoulders, despite past breakdowns. He'll manage easily."

Duo nodded his relief. "Good. I'll make up a nice batch of whizzers too."

Heero gave him a blank look. "Whizzers? What's that?"

Duo turned a manic grin on Heero. "You remember those screaming rockets I used in that raid on Intebi? That's a whizzer. It's just a small rocket with a disk siren on it. Just noise, but it'll add to the confusion."

Heero snickered. "I remember those. The Ozzies wasted lots of ammo trying to shoot them down. By the time they realized that they were just noise, they'd wasted half their ammo on them. Are they really just two disks of pierced metal?"

"Yup, been around for a thousand years or more. Little fins make them turn in opposition to each other. That's what makes the noise."

Heero picked up a sheet of metal. "This what you're going to use?"

"Yeah. Might have to put that on the back burner. I might not have time."

"Got a template?"

Duo pointed with his chin as both hands were busy. "There. Just a piece of cardboard that I cut out, but all you do is trace it on with a grease pencil and cut it with snips. Doesn't have to be real smooth. Just the center hole needs to be smooth so it'll spin easily. You got time?"

Heero shook his head. "Not really, but I'll find someone to do it."

Duo mock pouted at Heero then leaned to the side for a quick kiss.

Zechs was giving Wufei all the information he could. Wufei was whispering replies to the questions Zechs was asking. Zechs was doing his best not to completely lose it. It really was working, really.

Wufei whispered, "Relena thinks it's an ulcer. It hurts, really hurts. Zechs, I'll admit I'm scared. I've never hurt so bad in all my life. That kick broke something open. I'm tasting blood and sour bile. Love, you have to get us out. I don't think I've got much more time. Please."

Zechs transmitted, "We're on our way. I'm the diversion so either Heero or Duo is taking you directly to the hospital. Hang on. Don't you dare leave me."

"I'll try with all my might."

Heero sighed, making Zechs jump. He still couldn't get used to the way Heero could slip in under his radar.

"How bad is it?"

Zechs bit at his lip. "He says he's in a lot of pain. The stoic that he is, that means he's in agony. We have to get him out of there quickly. Really quickly. When does the mission start?"

Heero glanced at his watch. "About an hour. Sundown is at 6:43. You need to be in position a-sap. Duo's got some toys for you. He'll fill you in on all your mission parameters. I'm going to see if I can't review all the photos from the flitter. I'll get back to you in about twenty minutes. Can I plug in here?"

Heero sat down at a desk near the radio. Zechs just nodded and walked out, moving a bit more quickly than dignity dictated.

Heero settled to watch the pictures he'd downloaded from the flitter into his computer. He put the slide show on fast and settled into unblinking quintessence. It didn't take him long at 2/10 of a second a picture to see Relena standing in a window. He hit stop and clicked back to the picture.

After examining her, the background and the slant of the sun on the walls, he decided that everything added up to them being exactly where they thought they were, in the infirmary on the third floor, west wing, west side. Heero smirked happily, they were going to be coming in from out of the sun.

Zechs found Duo carefully packing a backpack with all sorts of interesting things. He settled one hip on a nearby table and listened as Duo explained exactly what each thing was and how to activate it. Zechs smiled, a rather sadistic expression that made his handsome face into a scary mask.

Duo grinned back. "Don't sweat it. 'Fei will be fine. We'll get him out and into the hospital before the smoke clears. Ok?"

Zechs nodded jerkily. "Ok. It better be ok."

"Got it in one. Now, remember, the first charge, the one for the wall is in the left-hand pocket when the pack is facing you. The charge for the electric cable is in the front. Access the situation, keep in contact with us and ... kick ass."

"I'd say Ninmo whatever it is, only my Japanese is ... limited."

Duo snickered at that and pointed out the door. "Get going."

"Gone!" Zechs picked up the pack and left, his long legs eating up ground.

Duo and Heero climbed into their mecha after an intense kiss.

"Take care of yourself."

Heero tugged at Duo's braid. "You too."

The soft whine of the winches carried them into their cockpits where they waited while Zechs made his way to his position. He was to set the charge on the wall first. The detonation was their signal to start their part of the mission.

Heero managed to maneuver Wing, he could never convince himself to prefix it with Neo, to where he could get Zechs on his external camera. He had to admit that the man was an expert at stealth, nearly as good as Duo.

He set his transmitter to transfer the signal to the central com unit and hoped against hope that no onehad messed with anything.

Zechs moved easily through the short brush growing too close to the wall. He set his charge and found a dip in the ground far enough way that he was protected from the expected blast. Settling in he watched the seconds as they changed in the face of his watch. He spoke softly into his mic. "Only, five ... four ... three ... two ... one. And ... shit!"

The blast scorched over his head, making him glad that he'd gotten as far away as he had. And glad that he'd braided his hair especially tightly and stuffed it down the back of his shirt. He scrambled to his feet and ran for the wall, tossing in a few flash-bangs on general principles.

He ran to the next blast location and set that charge and just kept on running. He only needed to get about ten feet away as this charge was aimed into the ground. The fountain of dirt and debris drove his first attackers back into the doorway.

Zechs made a long looping run, then headed straight back through the gap in the wall, tossing flash-bangs and gas grenades as he went. He was on the radio to Duo the whole time. Duo kept him posted on what they were doing while he was doing his best not to get shot.

While Zechs was blasting his way through the wall, Duo was tearing down the outer fence. This was in the way a bit so it wound up with a gaping hole in it. Both Neo's could step over it but why take the chance of getting entangled in it. Heero helped by dragging the section out of the way.

They had just walked around the perimeter and found their entry point opposite the infirmary. Tearing down the fence would ensure their retreat with Wufei and Relena.

They stalked into the yard and to the main building, crushing everything between them and the fence. Duo took a moment to stomp around making a good take off area for them both. That made it possible for Heero to make it to the windows first.

Heero drove his hand into the windows smashing them into bits. The bits flew all over the infirmary but didn't hurt Relena or Wufei. Wufei had insisted on wedging them both into a corner of the room under a mattress.

Relena immediately started dragging Wufei to his feet, he staggered slightly but made it to his feet, face white and sweaty.

"Heero, you've got to get him to the hospital quickly. I think he's got an ulcer and it's perforated. Hurry!"

Heero kicked the mic switch to transmit with his chin. "I'll take him. Duo's right behind me, he'll get you. Help Wufei into my hand. I'll hold him and be gone in a second."

Relena got Wufei into Wing's hand and settled as best she could. She touched him on the shoulder and said softly, "Thank you so much, Wufei, take care of yourself." She smiled a bit then stepped away.

Heero closed Wing's hand into a loose fist and pulled it out of the building. He walked away to stand in the open space Duo had created.

"I'm taking off. Relena's waiting for you, Duo. Hurry and get her, I want this over with now. Zechs is going to have fits. Wufei looks terrible."

"Ok. See if you can accomplish lift-offwhile I shield the windows from the blast of your verniers. If you can't, you'll have to walk farther off."

Heero revved his verniers until the back lash threatened to break the walls. No go. There was too much disturbance.

"Not happening. I'll walk off around the building and into the main yard. And will you please do something about those idiots shooting at me. I'm afraid they'll hit Wufei."

Duo grunted. "Will do."

Duo pulled his brand-new scythe weapon from its holster on N-Deathscythe's back and used it to cut a giant hole in the side of the building beside him. The main building was L-shaped and the terrorists had a good shot at the other leg from where they were. Duo's scythe convinced them that shooting at Wing as he took off wasn't that good an idea. In fact it got them to back off completely.

Duo watched as Heero walked off to the other side of the building to see if he could take off from there. He could and announced that he was heading straight for the hospital. Wufei was nearly unconscious and in obvious pain. Heero worked his controls carefully. He had a delicate balancing act to accomplish. He had to hold Wufei firmly enough that he was protected from backwash and wind blast as well as out of danger of being dropped, but he couldn't hold him too hard as he'd be crushed in the N-Gundam's massive fist. Heero fiddled until he was satisfied that he'd neither crush nor drop Wufei and he was safe from the rip of the wind.

Neo-Wing took off with a roar and disappeared into the night.

Duo turned to get Relena and swore. There were at least three men in the room with her. One had her by the arm and was dragging her to the door, another was shooting at Neo-Scythe with a small caliber handgun and the third was unbuckling his belt.

Duo snarled, "You fuck. You're dead meat." grabbed his rifle and opened the belly hatch. He didn't take long to get the shooter and Mr. Pants. The last one hid behind Relena.

"Fucking creep. Hide behind a woman, will you? Well, we'll see about that."

Duo grabbed his winch line and dropped so fast that it looked like he'd jumped. He landed in a feral crouch and glared at Relena, willing her to understand. His fingers twitched, he grimaced, she nodded.

Duo pointed his handgun at the two and snarled, "Let her go. Now! Move!"

"Yeah, I'm gonna let my ticket out of here go. Kid, ya lost it."

Relena stomped on his foot and dropped her weight on his arm. Duo shot him right between the eyes. Contrary to popular belief, if you're shot in the head that's it. There's no reflexive pull of the trigger, everything goes limp. The man dropped like a stone and fell on top of Relena. She squealed and writhed.

"Easy, be still. I can't get a grip on him with you bucking around like that." Duo hauled the man off Relena and pull her to her feet. "You ok? He didn't hurt you?"

"No, I'm fine, just ... ick! Let's go. There's more of them around. I heard the one with the gun say so."

Duo pushed Relena toward the window, putting himself between her and the door. "Get up the cable. Hurry! I don't want any nasty surprises."

Relena took one look out the window, glanced at the cable and whimpered. Duo poked her urgently. He could hear foot falls in the hallway.

"I can't. I just can't. Duo, I'm sorry, I'm afraid. I just can't do it."

Duo just reached out and grabbed the handle, put his foot on the foot rest and held out his other arm. "Come on. I'll hold you. Just put your foot on mine and we'll go up together. Ok?"

Relena hurried to Duo and did as he asked, careful to make sure not to grab his gun hand. He wrapped his arm around Relena with his pistol still in his hand, all it took was a thumb to the button on the remote on his belt to activate the winch.

Relena held on tight and hid her face in Duo's neck. Neither one of them noticed the men who rushed into the room behind them. Duo did notice the hand grenade that bounced off his back.

The grenade went off with a strangled pop and shrapnel flew all over. Duo jerked and Relena could hear his teeth grit.


"Caught a piece of shrapnel in my back. You ok?"

"Yes, I'm fine. But ... if you're wounded ..."

"We still go. Can't hang around here, literally?" The winch halted, as they were at the cockpit door. "Step in. Move it! I don't have much time. Got to get this wound plugged."

Relena scooted into the cockpit quickly and looked for first aid. Duo fell into the pilot's chair with a groan.

"This is not good. Not good at all. I ... Relena, I don't know if I can pilot, I can't feel my left foot."

Relena dragged the med kit from its cubby and opened it. "I got an 'Excellent' on my first aid test in school. I don't know if my skills are up to this but I'm going to try. First, don't you think you ought to shut the door?"

Duo nodded and activated the door lock. "Ok. That's done, what next?"

Relena snapped on a pair of gloves and turned to Duo. "Lean forward and let me see."

Relena gasped when she saw Duo's back, something was sticking out of it right next to his spine.

"Well, that sounded bad. What's up?"

"You've got something sticking out of your back. You shouldn't have sat down. I think you're adding to the damage. Stay leaned forward until I can figure out what to pad it with."

Duo rubbed his face with both hands. "Relena, you have to pull it out."

Relena gasped softly. "Duo, you can't, it's too near your spine. What ... if you ... but..."

Duo waited as Relena sorted out all the ramifications of pulling the shrapnel out and not pulling it out. She wound down and grumbled, "All right, but I don't like it."

Relena pulled the shard of what turned out to be glass from Duo's back while he bit down on a tongue depressor to keep from screaming. He didn't want to scare Relena into doing it wrong. He felt like his entire lower body was on fire.

"Ok. ... that went well. I can still feel my right leg. But I can't feel or move my left. You're going to have to work the control."

Duo flexed his leg, or tried to, nothing much happened. He was in real trouble and he knew it, but he still had to get Relena somewhere safe.

"Maxwell to control, control are you there?"

Relena pressed a thick pad of Quickclot against Duo's back and wrapped it tightly with an elastic bandage. Duo endured this stoically while he spoke with Zechs, who had returned to the com center when his diversion was accomplished. Zechs told him to come back to HQ as the closest medical facility.

Relena interrupted, "He ought to go to the hospital right away."

"Sister, are you going to pilot that machine?" he didn't give her time to reply. "Don't think so. Get him here. Quickly."

Duo settled back into the pilot's seat. "You're going to have to work the left foot control. I can't do it. I've got a little movement, but I'm too weak on that side to activate the contacts."

Relena bit at her lip. "Ok. I can do that. But how? I don't want to sit in your lap. One, it's not going to be good for your back and two, Heero will kill me. So ... what do I do?"

Duo bit back a whimper, it wouldn't do to scare Relena. "You put your foot under mine and when you feel me push on it, you push the foot pedal down. I'll scoot over in the chair enough that you can sort of sit on my knee, Heero will be a lot more liable to kill you if you let me die here. Not that I'm gonna or anything so don't go havin' a hissy. "

Relena stuck her nose in the air. "I'll have you know I don't have hissies. I'm much too dignified. I have a royal tizzy. Which I'll do later. Now, let's get this show on the road."

Duo snickered through his pain and checked the controls to make sure that they were going to compensate for the difference between the force of his leg and Relena's. He didn't want the mecha to stagger drunkenly, or worse, fall down.

It didn't take them long to make it to the camp, Relena was better at this than Duo had thought she'd be. She confessed that she had won a prize in three-legged race at school, with Dorothy Catalonia as her partner.

Duo laughed loudly, more Shinigami than not. He really was pissed at not getting to put the terrorists in their place. Now he'd settle for making it back to HQ before he passed out.

He did make it but just barely. Relena called on the radio, not knowing that she had to release the transmit button in order to hear, and nearly blew the circuits out, luckily she let go just as Zechs tried to talk to her again.

"Relena, don't do anything else to the mic, just listen. There's a red button on the left hand console just under the controls. Push it. And when you need to talk to me again let go of the mic button. I can't talk back until you do."

Relena bit her lip. Duo had tried to do something to that console but she had been in the way. He was now only semiconscious. She reached over and pushed the button, easing off Duo as she did so.

"Auto pilot engaged. Pilot biometric levels out of optimum parameters. Awaiting instructions."

Relena nearly jumped out of her skin. "Um ... hello? ... who are you?"

"This is the AI auto pilot. Which emergency do you wish addressed first?"

"Oh." Relena thought hard. She could do this. "I'm not sure. Can you ... triage the situation?"

"Yes. Please wait." Relena checked Duo, who batted at her hands and made a futile effort to haul himself out of the chair. She snarled at him to, 'Be still, idiot. You'll only make everything worse.' The AI made a sort of 'bip' noise and began to out line what needed to be done.

"Speak again so that I can determine if you are authorized to give me commands."

Relena dithered a bit then said, "I'm not. You should get orders from my brother, Zechs. He's right there." She didn't think about whether or not the AI had internal video.

"I cannot take orders from external personnel. ... speaker identified as Relena Peacecraft. Beginning triage."

"Well, could you hurry up. He's in bad shape and we have to get him down from here and into a MASH."

Duo moaned just then and Relena finally freaked. "Milliardo James Andrew never mind ... Get up here and get Duo down ... now!"

Zechs grimaced. He really hated his full name. He left the com unit to head for the N-Gundam, even thought it was extremely dangerous. The mecha hadn't been shut down yet and might take any approach as a threat.

Inside, Relena was working hard not to cry. She was afraid that Duo was dying on her. He looked like hell and blood was dripping onto the floor.

"Emergencies triaged. First priority, shut down external security. Second priority, shut down suit systems. Third priority, extract pilot and obtain medical aid."

"Isn't that the first priority?"

"No, the suit must be shut down properly or extraction will not be accomplished. Follow my instructions."

Relena sighed, her nervous breakdown was going to have to wait.

"Very well. What do I do?"

The AI gave her instructions on which buttons to punch and in what order. She was relieved when the cockpit door opened and Zechs stepped in.

"Relena, what the hell?"

Relena just threw herself into his arms and demanded that he 'Do something right now!' so he put her aside gently and checked Duo.

"Well, shit. We've got to get him out of here now. He's bleeding like a stuck pig. Shocky too. Don't like it."

"AI speaking. Please commence systems shut down."

Zechs didn't even blink. "Removal of pilot is recommended before systems shut down. On line systems stabilize the suit."

"Voice recognition check completed. Zechs Merquise recognized. Awaiting orders."

Zechs stuck his head out the door and yelled down to the medic crew to send up a basket and help.

"Pilots vitals."

The AI gave Zechs a rundown of Duo's vital signs from its sensors imbedded in the pilot's chair. They weren't good. His blood pressure was low and his heart beat was erratic. Zechs growled.

A medic stuck his head in the door and looked the situation over quickly. "Ok, pal, first thing; we need to clear out all extraneous personnel. The lady needs to go down now. Then you."

Zechs just nodded. "Yes, Relena needs to be out of here. Then we get Maxwell out. I have to stay to shut down the suit."

The medic thought for a second. "We'll send Miss Relena down the zip line, then we can bring up the basket. While that's getting done, I'll start getting him ready to go. Miss? If you would?"

Relena groaned. "I'm afraid if heights. I can't do this."

Zechs just snapped. "You will. Duo's at deaths doorstep and you're afraid of heights? Close your eyes then. Now get on that zip. No arguments."

Relena did as Zechs told her to do, sticking her foot in the stirrup and grabbing the line. She closed her eyes and clung to the line, only opening them when she felt hands on her arms.

She was hustled to the MASH unit and endured a quick down and dirty once over. When they were assured that there was nothing wrong with her, other than a few bruises, she was sent out of the way.

Relena didn't object she had other things to do.

Zechs, meanwhile, was helping the medic take care of Duo. The first thing he did was get the pilot's chair flat. Then he set the arms in the down position. The medic waited impatiently but he knew that this was better, he now had fairly unrestricted access to Duo.

"This is bad. He's got a gash in his back like he's been stabbed with a machete or something."

Zechs saw the piece of glass on the floor. "Or maybe this? If this was in his back, Relena would have had to remove it or he'd lay back on it and stab it deeper."

"Yeah, that looks like our 'weapon' shrapnel. Damn. Well, let's get him packed up and down to the MASH. We have to get him plugged up before he bleeds out. Here."

The medic handed Zechs another Quickclot and went to work. He'd removed the old bandages in order to check the wound now all he could do was rebandage it and get Duo down to the ground asap.

The basket came up with two more medics. They carefully got Duo from the pilot's chair into the basket and from there to the ground. Zechs stayed behind to shut down the suit.

While he was in the beginning stages of shut down the radio pinged. Zechs picked up the head set and put it on.

"Merquise here."

"Zechs, it's Heero. Wufei is giving me fits. He wants me to give you an up date."

"Go ahead."

"He's got a perforated ulcer. And it's infected, in fact, that's what kept him going. The infection acted like a plug incarceratingit. But that kick broke everything loose. He's in surgery right now. The doc says he's not in any danger. But he's going to be here for several days. They want to give him a course of antibiotics and steroids to make sure he cleans out all the infection and help him heal. I'll stay with him until you get here. Where's Duo?"

"Bad news. He's bad. I don't know exactly how bad yet, we just got him out of the suit and into MASH. I'll call you back on your cell as soon as I know anything. He caught a piece of shrapnel in the back. Fuck! Heero, I'm so sorry."

Heero's voice when he replied was cold and dead. "I see. I'll stay here until you get here. Then I'll go to Duo. Wufei will be fine, the doc said so. I'll wait for an update. Bye."

Zechs sighed, finished shutting down N-Deathscythe and rode the line down.

He stepped right into the middle of an ant's nest. Medics scurried about, some checking Duo's vitals others opening the MASH unit doors still others preparing to remove Duo to the surgical area.

Relena was surrounded by sheriff'sdeputies with a medic in attendance. Zechs decided to talk to Relena first.

"Relena, are you all right? Please be, please?"

Relena turned to Zechs and held out her arms, he snatched her into his and held on for a moment. Then he pushed her away, running his hands over her quickly. She batted gently at him.

"Stop. I'm fine, thanks to Duo. Listen. I am insisting on getting the first update. If things are as bad as I think they are, you're to do as I tell you and not argue. Please. Do this for me. Please?"

Zechs, still suffering from the shock of seeing his sister covered with Duo's blood, promised.

"Very well. I promise."

Relena pinned him with a look. "Swear."

"I swear. But why?"

Relena sighed. "You know you and Heero are interdicted from leaving Earth. I have been hearing rumblings that I don't like. I want you off Earth as soon as possible. If you do what I say, I can get you both off with a minimum of fuss. Do you understand me?"

Zechs thought of the vastness of open space and his longing for it. "Not really but I'll do what you say if it'll get me off this ball of mud. I admit that I don't trust the promises of ESUN any more than I did the ones of Oz. What about Heero?"

Relena winked. "Quatre has a plan for him. If we take this opportunity, you're off our plate. Go. See what they have to say."

Zechs started to go then turned back. "See what you can find out about Wufei, please."

Relena nodded. "Working on it. Go."

Zechs went to the MASH unit intake and asked to speak to anyone who knew anything about Duo. It didn't take long for someone to show.

"Excuse me. Are ... oh, you're the Lightning Count. Yes, well, we've got some problems. Mr ... or Major Maxwell's spine was partially severed by the shrapnel. They've repaired the tissue damage but we can't do much for the spinal cord here on Earth. Any treatment for that involves stem cells and nul gravity. So ... his papers list you, Commander Yuy, Commander Chang and Quatre Winner as possible responsible individuals. So since you're here, will you sign off on treatment?"

Zechs held out his hand for the paper work, read quickly and then signed. "I'll be accompanying him off planet. Make arrangements."

"Sir!" the man saluted and left to take care of arrangements. Zechs hurried back to Relena's side.

"I'm Duo's guardian. He's put my name on the list of responsible persons. I'm going off planet with him possibly within the hour. His spine is partially severed and he's to go to ... probably L4's medical station. It's the best so that's where I want to arrange for him to go. Do you have any word about Wufei? I'm really worried about him what's going on?"

Relena shook her head. "Not yet. I'm trying to get hold of Heero. And fend off hordes of reporters until I have some solid information. I'll let you know as soon as I do. Go stay with Duo, or as close as they'll let you." She pulled a cell phone out of her pocket and snarled, "First thing they do is hand me a damn phone. I haven't had a shower, I'm covered with blood and ... and stuff and all they want to do is jabber at me about the political ramifications of my 'situation'. Here. Talk to this idiot. I'm going to get a shower if I have to take it naked in the middle of this camp. Then I'm finding food. Keep me posted about Duo."

Relena stomped off as Zechs answered the phone.

"Merquise." He listened for a moment then snapped. "Catalonia, keep them off for at least 12 hours. There's to be no leaks, no intel of any sort until Relena has had a chance to clean up, eat and rest. Maxwell is in surgery right now and Chang is in the hospital in another location. There's no more info than that. When we have it, you'll get it. You do your job and we'll do ours."

Dorothy said that she'd keep the reporters off until noon the next day but that was probably the best she could do. Zechs thanked her and hung up.

Heero sat in the waiting room at the hospital and worried. He sat erect, feet flat on the floor, hands resting easily on his thighs still as a statue and worried until he felt slightly sick. Wufei had vomited blood as they carried him into the emergency room.

Something came into his field of vision and he flinched.

"Easy son. Thoughtyou might like some coffee."

Heero looked up at the man and tried to smile. "Yes, thank you." He took the cup and sipped gratefully.

"You want to talk about it? I'm a good listener."

Heero nodded. "My friend is in surgery. Perforated ulcer. They say he'll be ok, but it's hard to just wait."

The man nodded back. "Know what you mean. Just sitting around is ... difficult."

"I'm not good at inaction. I'm better with stuff I can ... shoot. Or blow up. Or ... I'm a soldier, not a sitter."

"I can tell. I was a chaplain in the Alliance. You look so young, but I can tell you were in combat. It's hard to just sit and wait. Um ... that your mecha out there?"

Heero just nodded. It was kind of hard to miss N-Wing. Heero turned to look at Wing and realized that a policeman was checking him out.

"Oh, shit. I better go see what he's doing. If he tries much the security system ... I set it. The alarm will scare the b-jesus out of people." For the first time in his life Heero dithered. "But ... Wufei."

The man smiled. "I'm Father Jackson. You go out and take care of that. I'll wait for your call. If they call you, I'll come get you. Now scoot."

Heero thanked Reverend Jackson and hurried out to see what was going on.

"Excuse me, can I help you officer?"

"Yup. Gotta move that thing. It's in a no parking zone."

Heero blinked for a second. "I ... a what?"

"No Parking Zone. See right there on that sign. No Parking. No stopping or standing at anytime. Emergency vehicles only. And while you can't say it's parked exactly, it sure is standing."

Heero looked at the officer as if he's lost his mind. "It's a mecha. And where exactly am I supposed to put it?"

"Don't get cute with me, young man. There's plenty of open parking right over there." The officer pointed to the back part of the lot. He even noted that it was clear of power lines and light poles.

Heero nodded to indicate his understanding and started to mount the N-Gundam. The officer stopped him.

"Wait a second there, sonny. Don't think your going to get out of a ticket just because your vehicle is unusual. Here." The officer handed Heero a slip of paper.

He looked at it and then just stared. The officer had given him a parking ticket. It even had a license number on it.

"Um ... where did you get a license number? I mean ... it doesn't have a plate."

The officer gave him the 'why do I get all the idiots' look. "Right there, bub."

Heero looked at the foot of N-Wing and sure enough there was a number neatly stenciled over the instep. 'Winner Enterprises MS-01' and it was neatly inscribed in the license plate box on the ticket.

Heero clutched the paper in his hand and started to laugh. He laughed until he sounded slightly hysterical. The cop flipped his ticket book shut and reached out very slowly to take him by one shoulder.

"Hey! Not that big a deal. It's $25 including court costs." Heero shivered and tried to get him self under control.

"I'm sorry. It's just that one of my friends is in the hospital with a perforated ulcer, I haven't heard from my boy friend nor anyone else and I'm really, really tired. I'll move Wing in a minute. Ok?"

"Sure thing, kid. Just take it easy. Move the ... thing in a few minutes. Mail in the ticket within 60 days."

Heero used his remote to open the cockpit door and activate the winch. He movedWing to the back of the parking lot and returned to the waiting room.

" What was that all about?"

Heero handed the priest the ticket. "Got a parking ticket."

Father Jackson examined the ticket and just sighed. "Sometimes that boy really worries me. I'll take care of it."

Heero took the ticket back and smiled. "No, I'll take it to the sheriffand let him take care of it."

Heero leaned his head back against the wall. "I'm going to close my eyes a bit. I'm going to have to take care of Chang. Something's happened to Duo, or Relena." Just then Heero's phone started to ring.

He pulled it from his pocket and listened intently. "I'll come at once." He listened again and his face fell. "All right, but I don't like it."

"What is it? Can I help?"

"My lover was wounded after I left to bring Wufei here. He's going up to L-4 Med a-sap. Spinal cord injury. I have to stay here and watch for Chang. Merquise is going with Duo." Heero just slumped where he sat. Thiswas beyond anything he'd expected.

"I'm sorry to hear that. This Merquise wouldn't be the Lightning Count by any chance?" Heero just nodded. "I know him, you're lover is in good hands. That man will put down his life if it's necessary."

Heero sighed and straightened up. "We were separated for a long time. We've been back together for a while and now ... he's going away and I'm stuck here. It's just not fair!" He banged his head on the wall.

"Easy son. You'll hurt yourself. Here, come here." Heero let the man ease him into a hug. "It'll be all right. Just relax for a bit. If the nurse comes in, I'll hear her. Put your head on my lap and get some sleep. Everything's better for a few z's."

Heero allowed himself to be settled on the uncomfortable bench with his head in Father Jackson's lap.

An hour later a nurse announced, "Family and friends of Chang Wufei?"

Heero sat up immediately and said, "Here."The nurse just opened the door and waited. "Thank you, sir. That was really nice of you. Here." Heero took a card out of his wallet and handed it to the Father. "That's my card. If there's anything I can ever do for you, call." Heero turned to the nurse and hurried through the door.

The doctor's interview was simple and straight forward. He told Heero that Wufei's ulcer had perforated at least 48 hours before he started the mission, but infection had actually plugged the perforation so nothing much had happened. The kick had broken the 'cap' and stomach acid had seeped into his abdominal cavity causing the pain. Wufei could have gone much longer without symptoms except for the kick. The doctor also said that Wufei would make a complete recovery and that Heero could sit with him in the recovery room. Heero left to find the room. The feeling of relief made him lean against the wall for a moment before he headed in the general direction of the elevators.

Zechs snapped his phone shut and sighed. Wufei would be fine after a few days in the hospital. Duo, on the other hand, needed to be in space as soon as possible. His spine had been stabilized with titanium rods and the stem cells injected, but they couldn't do their work on Earth. They only began to multiply and specialize in nul grav.

He held a quick conversation with Relena and agreed, reluctantly, that he was going to have to go with Duo whether he liked it or not. He'd already promised Relena that he'd go, but now he had to for Duo's sake. He grumbled sourly, "WhatI do for friendships sake and yours."

Relena patted him on the shoulder. "I know. But I really want you off planet, you'll never have a normal life here. Quatre will help get Heero off. Then all we have to do is figure out how to get Chang away. You all can have a real life out there."

So Zechs Merquise and Duo Maxwell were packed into an air evac taken to the nearest space station and sent into space on a column of fire. N-Deathscythe in the hold.

Relena walked into the hotel conference room. It had been 12 hours since she'd been rescued, checked out by the medic and let go. Now she had to sort out everything for a bunch of reporters.

"Miss Relena. Miss Relena."

"Over here. Please."

"Please, just one comment."

Relena stepped up to the podium and waited. The reporters continued to pelt her with questions. Questions she had no chance of answering because she couldn't understand them. She tapped the podium with a pencil, it didn't do any good. She sighed.

The sheriff stepped up to the podium and banged on it once with his fist. "All right you bunch of yahoos ... SHUT UP!" This stunned everyone silent. Relena turned to Sheriff Haskins and said, "Thank you Levi." Then she turned to the podium again and announced. "I have a very short statement to make and I will NOT take questions after."

She waited for a moment while the reporters made their feelings known. "Yes, that's enough now. I'm usually patient with you but for now my patience is at an end. Anyone causing any disturbance will be forcibly ejected. Now.

"I was not harmed in anyway by my captors.

"Chang Wufei was beaten severely enough that his ulcer perforated. He's in hospital, has been operated on and is expected to make a full recovery. Heero Yuy is with him.

"Duo Maxwell was hit in the back by some shrapnel caused by a grenade thrown at us. His spinal column was damaged. He's on his way to L-4 Med accompanied by my brother, Zechs Merquise.

"That is all there is to know for now. Other announcements will be made when anything new is known. That is all."

Relena started to leave but one reporter, braver than the others asked, "And that's it. Just like that?"

Relena held up a hand to stop the security men from throwing him out. "Yes, just like that. Why?"

"They're so young, and they have spent most of their lives fighting in wars. I'm not even sure what question I want to ask. Why do they do it? They ... they get wounded, they could be killed. I don't understand and neither do my readers." Relena took pity on the man.

"It's the price they paid and continue to pay. They fight so that others don't have to."

The end. (Sort of)


Information on the ulcer and its effects was obtained from my personal physician who says they regularly get 'old farmers' in with exactly the symptoms I describe. He said that he's had them say they had a 'bad bellyache' up to a week before coming in. I'm sure Wufei is as tough as a Missouri farmer.

This is the end of the first story in this arc. The next part is short, just a transitional piece, then I'll start Building a New Home.