Part 6

"Heero, please don't. I don't want you to go after Smoke. I don't want to think about him. I just want us to get on with our lives." Duo pleaded with Heero as they drove home from the hospital. After a few days, Duo had been released. He had several broken ribs and some internal bruising, but he would be all right. Heero had been most concerned about Duo's mental and emotional well-being, but the new improved Duo wasn't going away. Heero's care over the last two years had turned Duo from a neurotic mess into a well-adjusted person.

Duo pleaded with Heero until he broke down and agreed to let things be. Duo wasn't worried that Heero would get hurt by going after Smoke. He remembered how easily Heero had taken care of Bob that night. Rather, he didn't want his Heero-koi to end up in jail. Having to live without Heero would be true hell.

Heero spent the rest of the day waiting on Duo hand and foot. Duo felt silly but loved as Heero refused to let him do anything for himself. That night, Heero held Duo while they slept. Though careful of Duo's healing ribs and bruises, a crowbar would have been needed to break Heero's hold on the violet-eyed boy.

Heero took off work the next few days to take care of Duo. Finally, Duo told Heero to go to work or he would strangle him. Heero's overprotectiveness, while appreciated, was getting a bit stifling. After making Duo promise to take it easy, Heero reluctantly went to work. Duo had no intentions of staying home all day. He'd been cooped up first in the hospital and then in the apartment for over a week. He decided to pack a lunch and spend the afternoon in the park.

Duo would later curse himself for his lack of attentiveness. After two years of living with Heero he'd gone soft, else he would have seen Smoke follow him to the park. After attacking Duo in the alley, Smoke had initially left him for dead. But then he remembered that Duo had the devil's own luck and went back to make sure Duo was indeed done for. Sure enough, when he reached the alley, he saw the same man who'd stolen Duo from him two years ago pick Duo up and put him in his car. Smoke made note of the license plate number and called an old girlfriend who worked at the DMV. She gave him Heero's name and address and Smoke spent the next week staking out the apartment.

When he saw Heero leave that morning to go to work, Smoke knew that his chance had come. He was trying to figure out the best way to break in without causing too much commotion when Duo suddenly left the apartment and walked away. Smoke followed Duo to the park and waited for the perfect opportunity. He found it when Duo stopped in a copse of trees to admire a couple of squirrels playing in the branches.

Duo smiled at the squirrels' antics. 'How great it must be to just be able to run around all day and not have to worry about ex-pimps trying to kill you.' Duo was about to move on when he heard a noise behind him. He turned just in time to see Smoke approach him with his gun drawn. Duo cursed at his own foolishness. He should have known that Smoke wouldn't give up that easily. Duo had just made it easy for him by leaving the apartment and walking through this isolated bit of woods. 'I should have listened to Heero,' he thought as he met Smoke's gaze.

"So, we meet again. I always said that you were tougher than you looked. Not many would have survived that beating I gave you." He gave Duo a slimy smile. Duo considered how he could get away from Smoke but had to discard all ideas. If he'd been in perfect health, he may have been able to outmaneuver Smoke. However, he was still injured from before and knew he wouldn't have a chance.

"I tried to decide the best way to get back at you and your stupid boyfriend. I knew I wanted to kill you but what could I do to him? Then it hit me. I kidnap you and get him to pay a ransom. Then when he comes to collect you, I kill you while he watches. You'll be dead, I'll have the money you two owe me, and he'll have to live with the pain."

Duo tried not to show his fear. "You're a sick bastard, you know that right?" Smoke just smiled and Duo knew he was in trouble. All he could do was hope Heero wouldn't take the bait. But he knew that wish was in vain. Heero would come after him no matter what. All Duo could do was try to be ready to help him when the time came.

**~~**

"I'm home, Duo-koi," Heero called as he opened the door to their apartment. When Duo didn't answer immediately, Heero went to the bedroom to see if he was sleeping. 'Where is he now,' Heero thought as he looked at the empty bed. 'Maybe he went to work.' He was headed to the videophone to call Howard when it began to ring.

"Hello," Heero answered, hoping it would be Duo. His hopes were dashed when Smoke's ugly face appeared on the screen.

"I've got something you want, tough guy." Smoke moved aside enough for Heero to be able to see Duo behind him, sitting tied to a chair and gagged. He clenched his jaw and glared at Smoke as he moved back into view.

"What do you want, you fucking bastard," Heero growled.

"Now, now, be nice, else you'll never see this little bitch alive again." Smoke smirked at Heero. "What I want is what you owe me for taking Duo out of my employ. In three hours, I want you to bring $100,000 dollars to the apartment on South and River. That's Duo's old place when he was still working for me. Don't ya just love it?"

Smoke laughed and disconnected the call. Heero damped down his fear for Duo and got to work. Within two hours, he had the money, withdrawn from his considerable savings, and was speeding down the highway on his way to the South Dock neighborhood. As Heero made his way through the slummy streets he swore that neither he nor Duo would ever step foot in that neighborhood again.

Heero reached the address he'd been given and took a look at the run down building. He shook his head in sadness at the thought of Duo ever living in such a place. Coming back to the present, Heero took the bag of money out of his car and walked around to the back of the building. He was nearly an hour earlier than the time Smoke had told him. He wanted to reconnoiter the building and try to figure out a way to get Duo out without playing Smoke's game. He didn't for a minute think that Smoke would just let Duo walk away.

Heero found a small window near ground level. He got down on his stomach and looked through it. Sure enough it led to the basement and Heero could see Duo still sitting tied to the chair. He pushed against the window and it opened. Thanking whatever god that had allowed the window to be unlocked, Heero slipped into the basement.

Duo turned toward the sound of something hitting the ground lightly. His eyes widened as he saw Heero stand and walk cautiously towards him. 'I must be dreaming,' Duo thought. His brief joy turned to fear as he remembered that Smoke was right upstairs. When Heero removed his gag, Duo said, "Be careful. Smoke is right at the top of the stairs and he has a gun." Heero nodded and worked on Duo's binding. He got Duo's right arm undone and had just finished with his feet when the basement door opened. Heero froze for a moment and then slowly turned.

Smoke stood there in surprise. Heero wasn't supposed to be there for another hour. 'Figures he would try to screw me again, even when I'm holding all of the cards.' Smoke raised his gun and pointed it at Heero. "Where's my money, tough guy?" He followed Heero's gaze to the bag sitting on the floor. "You're not a dumb as you look. Now move away from my merchandise." When Heero moved away from the bag but remained beside Duo, Smoke shook his head. "No, you don't understand. Both the money and Duo are mine. But Duo's ruined goods now. So I'm going to kill him and let you watch him die."

Heero moved so quickly that even Duo couldn't follow. In the blink of an eye, Heero had managed to kick Smoke's gun out of his hand. Smoke yelped in surprise and held his injured hand. "You little punk," he shouted as he charged Heero. Heero easily avoided him and with a little kick sent him flying across the basement floor. Heero was turning back to help Duo when Duo shouted, "Look out! He has another gun!"

Heero whirled back around in time to see Smoke pull another gun from an ankle holster. 'I'm sorry Duo,' Heero thought as he helplessly watched Smoke aim at him and begin to pull the trigger. A shot rang out and Heero shut his eyes. He opened them in the next second as he realized that he felt no pain. He looked over at Smoke and saw him lying on the ground with a hole right through the chest. His eyes were open, staring sightlessly at the ceiling. He was clearly dead.

Heero turned around and saw Duo standing there with Smoke's first gun in his hand. The gun was still smoking. Duo had managed to free his left hand and went for the gun while Heero was fighting Smoke. When Smoke went for his reserve gun, Duo was ready.

Heero walked toward Duo who was staring at Smoke. He reached out and gently took the gun from Duo's hand. Duo blinked and turned toward Heero. "It's okay," Duo said. "It's finally okay." He smiled. Heero exhaled in relief and grabbed Duo to him in an unbreakable embrace. He'd been worried that Duo would be permanently traumatized by the events of the past weeks. But like Smoke was fond of saying, Duo was a lot tougher than he looked.

Heero's love had helped Duo gain a sense of himself. Never would he go back to being the scared little boy he'd been when he'd first met Heero. They knew they'd have to call the police, though they weren't worried. A clearer case of third person self-defense had never existed. But before they did, they stood their holding each other and thought of how they would finally be able to get on with their lives and look forward to a bright future.

~owari~

© January 2