Chapter Seventeen

by June

We took a weekend, drove to Provo.
The snow was white and fluffy.
But a weekend in Utah won't fix what's wrong with us.
The gray sky was vast and real cryptic above me.
-Mountain Goats, "The Mess Inside"

"Ugh, I am so sick of field rations, I'd take that slop they fed you dirt-side at this point."

He called this to me from the cockpit and I envisioned him leaning back in his chair--feet on the console, hand sticky with a protein bar--as clearly as if I were there with him. I glared at the punching bag in front of me. "Well, if we could land this thing without getting arrested, I'm sure we could find you something similar." I pictured him glowering and licking glue-like bits of puffed oats off his fingers. I glared a little harder at the punching bag and then pushed myself away from it, unable to take what I considered to be our collective frustration out upon it.

Duo had told me, when he'd calmed down a bit and after we'd left L2 behind, that just after he'd left Hilde and gone to live with Howard, Heero had given the bag to him, claiming that Duo wouldn't get enough exercise to keep up his war-time fighting abilities, traveling so much in Scythe. Duo had firmly told him that our 'war-time fighting abilities' were kept up by chemicals and a training regimen that would have killed anyone over 22, so he was glad to leave both behind him. We'd been grateful for the thing at first, when we'd been close enough to the moon to still have enough gravity to use it. But now, cooped up in a tiny ship for a week with only emergency rations, recycled water, each other and a sense of constant pursuit to keep us occupied, we'd both come to resent the stupid thing and how not useful it had become.

In Heero's absence, I'd tried to keep up with my rehabilitation exercises. The punching bag hadn't been ideal for training, especially not gradual muscle strengthening. My body needed to recover, not be tested. However, the ship's small living space wasn't big enough for the long form of my family's Chen style. And now, tumbling aimlessly through the small cabin, I couldn't have done it even had there been enough room. I thought that I was probably ready for all 81 forms and that going through the whole thing would have done wonders for my peace of mind, but even once we reached L4, I couldn't see myself attempting it with Duo so close by.

There was nothing inherently private about a fighting style. Indeed, a fighting style's purpose was to engage others. It was made to be used on enemies. But I didn't like the idea of Duo seeing it. I would have shown it to Heero if he'd asked, but it wasn't for a lover to see. I wasn't interested in protecting family secrets--my family was dead--I was just uncomfortable. About a great many things. So, I glared at the punching bag and did somersaults between the bunks and table.

And I complained.

"Tell me again how you know that the same thing isn't going to happen when we make contact with the Maganacs. How do you know that whoever's after us isn't already there ahead of us?"

I heard him moodily twist about in his seat. "My answer hasn't changed since the last time you asked me. I'm still not positive about anything."

I bumped up against the ceiling and shifted so my feet were flat against it. "Yes, but we've reached L4 territory." I tried crawling a few paces, but the force of my hands pressing on the ceiling pushed me back down again. "My question is becoming critical."

He appeared in the doorway, clinging to the side and digging the last sticky bite of protein bar out of the wrapper with his tongue. "You're just gonna have to trust me," he said between licks. "Or trust providence, or whatever, 'cause if we can't hook up with the Maganacs, then... well, then we gotta try to land another way. We're not stocked for deep space travel."

I pushed off the ceiling with my feet and caught myself on the floor with outstretched hands. My back twinged, letting me know it didn't like the way I was stretching and twisting, even though it didn't feel like I was putting any strain on it. "You're right. The answer hasn't gotten any better since you last said it."

Duo balled up the empty wrapper and threw it in a corner. It sailed slowly into the wall and stuck there. I glared at it and then up at him, only to find him giving me the kind of once-over that signified lascivious intentions. Considering he'd never looked at me like that before, not even when he had lascivious intentions, I figured he was trying to distract me.

"Hey, shirtless sweating guy." He said it with a sort of sarcastic admiration, though I knew that he did like the way I looked.

I glared up at him, still upside-down. "What. I'm not in the mood for--"

"Anyone ever tell ya you got a slammin' body?"

By reflex I looked down--or up or who the hell knew?--at my chest and torso, at my denim-covered legs and bare feet. I was still too thin by my standards, but I took the compliment, flipping myself upright to give him a better view of what he liked.

"Yes," I answered truthfully.

Duo grinned. "Well then, I should congratulate them on their fine taste." He made a show of dragging his eyes from toe to chest.

"That won't be necessary. Or possible at this point. You didn't like him very much anyway."

I felt like a child then, testing and pushing to see what I could get away with. Duo took my words like a slap in the face. He jerked back a little as though he had been struck and I fought to keep from looking away, frustrated and embarrassed. His initial shock gave way to embarrassment, too, then curiosity as he realized he'd stumbled into something private, something from that blanked out spot between his first efforts at friendship right after the wars and the closeness we now shared.

For my part, I remembered the feel of Karl's warm wet skin under my hands, his hips hard to grab onto under the spray of the showers. When I had been able to catch hold of him, he'd been wiry and slim. Those times were when he slept, when we broke the rules or when we were quarantined together with the flu. It was only then that I ever held him in any meaningful sense. I thought of him now as loose-jointed, bending himself in as many directions as he cared to, for reasons, if beyond bald self interest, I had yet to figure out.

Duo looked at me as though realizing and recognizing that all the places he'd touched had already belonged to someone, somewhere else. I wondered if he'd really thought that I'd never been with another person before, if he'd thought that what we'd done was the first encounter I'd had with sex. I was pretty certain I hadn't been his first, though I wasn't sure whether he'd been with someone of the same sex before me.

We looked each other over and my experience, however limited, was now a barrier--something else that'd he'd missed and that I wouldn't share. "We're not so different, though," I said, startling both him and myself. "Whatever it may look like, I don't think that we are." The little I knew about L2 led me to believe that he had grown up with the sorts of power games and cruelty I knew from RCNP.

He nodded, though I didn't get the sense it was because he agreed with me. Then he shook himself, lifting his eyes up from where they had been fixed on my chest. "No, probably not. And, uh, if it makes you feel any better about our chances, the Maganacs have also become outlaws of a sort."

That sentence ended much differently than I thought it would, given its beginning and what we'd just been discussing. So I jerked myself back to the more important task at hand and firmly pushed aside concern for any damage I might have just done to the new, still-fragile thing between Duo and me.

"The Maganacs have the same technology I do," he continued, "so they'll be a lot harder for the guys on our tail to find than Howard was."

"Haven't they always been like that, though? They've been on the outskirts for--"

"Yeah, well, I guess before Quatre died, they'd settled down a bit on L4 to look after him. After he was gone, they had no reason to stay."

Trying to remember the blur that had been my trial and conviction, I couldn't recall any of them hanging around when I'd been staying with Quatre.

"So anyway, they've been here, there and everywhere for the last three years, and if you wanna talk to 'em, they gotta find you."

"Which is why we've been sitting here waiting for the last 24 hours?"

"You got it. They know we're here; I'm betting they're waiting to see if anyone else's come along with us."

Now that I'd stopped exerting myself, tumbling around the ship, I shivered and hugged my arms. "I'd better make myself presentable then, just to be ready when they show up."

"...Yeah," Duo finally answered before turning back toward the cockpit.

When the proximity sensor finally whined above our heads, we were both sleeping or at least trying to. The alarm jolted me out of a fitful, unpleasant dream and sent Duo tumbling off the top bunk. He managed to right himself midair and then scrubbed his hands over his face as he forced himself to wake up.

"Is that the Maganacs or a carrier about to run us over?" I croaked, pulling myself upright by the handholds mounted into the wall.

On his way to the cockpit, he called back, "Should be them. I picked these coordinates as a meeting place to avoid the other thing."

I rolled my eyes, already aware of that, and reached for the flexible soft-shoes tucked under the mattress. Since yesterday, Duo had decided to ignore all my attempts at either humor or sarcasm. Making my way toward the cockpit, I heard an impressive string of curses and tensed up, readying myself for something similar to what had happened with Howard. But then I heard him laugh and realized he was relieved. I drifted into the cockpit to see him clinging to the console, grinning out at the stars just as, to our port, a mid-size ship materialized out of the blackness of space. A moment later the communicator chirped a request to open a line and Duo immediately accepted it, distractedly waving me back out of the room, just as the screen flickered to life. I hadn't caught who was on the other end of the line, but Duo answered that question before the person had time to speak.

"Shit, am I glad to see your face, Rashid. Sure took ya long enough; I been sittin' here with my thumb up my ass for two days."

"Just you, Duo?" Rashid asked warily.

"Just me, man," he answered. I rolled my eyes again. "Requesting permission to dock with your crew for a few days for some major restocking. In fact, you guys got anything fresh on that hunk-a-junk? I just want a goddamn orange."

Rashid's laugh rumbled through the whole ship. "Permission granted. It's good to see you again, Duo."

"Yeah, you too, man. All right, I'm comin' in. We can chat then."

I stuck my head around the corner to see us approaching the ship's belly, its hangar door sliding back. Duo guided us in with a steady hand, dropping the landing gear and following the tracks of yellow lines inside the bay to a spot near the door. We touched down just as the door closed behind us and the bay re-pressurized. Duo's hand hesitated over the console.

"No use keepin' the engine running, right? If this goes sour, we're stuck here anyway."

"Looks like," I answered.

"Alright then, fuck it." With a few quick commands, he powered down the computer, then pushed away from the console, stretching his arms over his head as though he'd been hunched forward in his chair for hours. He was nervous.

"I'm going out there with you, right?" I asked. "You haven't decided I should stay here as a stowaway until you've determined it's safe. Right?"

He huffed a quiet laugh and hugged his arms, rubbing them briskly against the chill. "I can't protect you. I was stupid to think I could. And if we are fucked, putting myself between you and them isn't gonna make a damn bit of difference."

I nodded, agreeing with him. "Let's go, then."

"Yeah," he confirmed, grabbing up his wrist remote and sliding it on. He lengthened the strap and pushed the thing further up his arm until it rested just below his elbow. Then he tugged his sleeve down to cover it. I let him lead the way to the hatch, but as he punched the release to lower the ramp I grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

"Thank you for bringing me this far and for giving me the opportunity to finish what I started," I said in a rush. He paused, waiting, and then frowned, opening his mouth to reply. "And thanks for wanting to finish it with me," I added.

His frown lightened and he flushed. I did too and he hit the release before either of us could say anything else, the floor dropping out from under us in a gradual ramp to the hangar. And even though he'd said it wouldn't do any good, he put himself between them and me anyway, taking the lead and emerging out to the bright lights of the hangar. We found the big room empty and so stayed close to Duo's ship, keeping it at our backs in case it turned out to be the only cover we had.

"Hello?" Duo finally called. "Anybody home? What the hell kinda welcome is this?"

We both tensed and edged closer together when a side door slid open and several figures filed in. They clung to the side ropes along the wall and then pushed off the floor, propelling themselves across the bay, towards Duo's ship. They expertly redirected themselves partway across, pushing off a raised maintenance platform in the middle of the hangar, and landed in front of us, steadying themselves before facing us directly. They were dressed traditionally, not for space travel, wearing loose-fitting pants tucked into boots, with sashes around their waists and open vests over loose, cream-colored shirts. One of them wore sunglasses, several of them red fezzes. Eventually Rashid pushed forward out of the small cluster of men, towering over all of us.

"Yo," Duo offered, stepping up to meet him.

"Duo," he greeted, eyes quickly traveling past him to me. He inclined his head in a small bow. "And Chang Wufei. It's good to see that you are actually joining us."

I returned the bow. "That's a relief."

"Yeah, no one else was hoping we'd join you, were they?" Duo asked peering around Rashid and the group of Maganacs behind him.

"You mean aside from the rest of us?" one of the men piped up, the one with the sun glasses.

"Aside from the rest of you," Duo confirmed.

"Well, anyone who's wanted to find us these last few years appears to be looking a little harder, if that's what you mean. Does that have anything to do with you?" Rashid was looking at me and not looking at me, his eyes focused just to my right. He was looking at my ear, I realized. I resisted the urge to cover it and instead scratched my hand through my hair, momentarily distracting myself with the feel of my palm against short hair and scalp.

"Oh, it surely does," Duo said, grinning. "And as long as none of them are stowed aboard this ship someplace, we promise not to get you guys too involved. We don't want trouble; we just want to get to L4."

"We're already involved, especially if we aid you in your effort to investigate Quatre's death." Rashid turned to me. "And we are happy to help you in this. Wufei, he cared for you a great deal at the end. His connection with you was one of the closest I'd ever seen."

I started a bit, instantly uncomfortable. "I fear it was the death of him," I murmured. I felt Duo's surprised gaze, but didn't return it. "I should never have burdened him with my problems when he was unwell."

"Nonsense!" one of the men shouted and Rashid nodded in agreement. "He chose to help you. Everything he did for you, he did because he wanted to. It means a lot to us that you would come back for him."

"I..." Without warning, my throat closed on emotions I hadn't acknowledged since before I entered RCNP. There had only been that one week for me to process and put away what had happened. Quatre was dead and I'd had seven days to deal with that before going to a place where I did not have the luxury of grieving. I finally met Duo's gaze and as I anticipated, he was looking right back at me with open confusion and curiosity. "We'll do our best," I finished, not looking away from him. Duo hesitated, then dipped his chin in a faint nod.

"We'll get you to L4 tomorrow, on one of our shuttles," Rashid finally said after the silence had grown heavy. "First, though, you should get some rest. It's the middle of night, whether you can tell or not. There are two spare bunks in the main cabin. We all sleep together, so we hope you don't mind a few snorers."

One of the men laughed and I smiled. Since my admittance to the hospital, I hadn't slept as well without the sounds of others around me breathing and shifting about. It would be comforting to know, to see, that Duo and I were no longer alone in space, with only a pocket of oxygen and a layer of steel between us and quick suffocation.

"We don't mind," Duo answered for me.

The commotion of meeting up and docking with the Maganacs made it difficult to go right to sleep, no matter how tired I was. Space travel, even though the physical demands appeared minimal, was actually quite draining. Lethargy and weakness went hand in hand. I lay in the bunk bolted to the wall, staring up at the bunk a few feet above me. It held someone I didn't know who'd already been asleep when I pulled myself into bed and patted down the velcro strips on the blanket edges. Duo's bunk was in the middle of the room, the third one up from the floor. He'd said only a terse good night when we parted.

He scared the shit out of me when his head suddenly appeared by my hand. He floated by the bed and hissed my name. "Hey, Wu, you awake?"

I took a steadying breath. "Yes, and I probably won't be sleeping for the rest of the night, thanks."

"Yeah, sorry," he whispered. "I didn't want to wake up anyone, calling up to you. Can I talk to you for a bit?"

I started to sit up. "Of course."

He was having trouble staying on the bunk. He hooked his legs underneath but that only tipped him forward. He grabbed hold of the blanket and tried to hold himself down, but he couldn't seem to get comfortable. Twice he squeezed my knee--I was sure--accidentally. I peeled back the blanket and winced as the velcro pulled apart, loud in the relative quiet of the cabin.

"Just lie down with me," I whispered.

He nodded--"Thanks"--sliding under the blanket beside me and then sealing us both in again. With the blanket tight over us, we could almost forget the complete absence of gravity. He stayed on his back, folding his hands behind his head and staring up at the bunk above us.

"What did you want to talk about?" I asked, though I could have ventured a guess.

"Why didn't you tell me Quatre was sick when he died?"

I closed my eyes. "He...wasn't really sick."

"But you said he was unwell." I heard his hair slide on the pillow as he turned to look at me.

"That's true; he wasn't well. His heart was weak. It made his body weak."

"His space heart?"

"Yeah. No one really knew what to do for him. His empathy was growing stronger all the time, for the people he cared about."

"So when you stayed with him during your trial..."

I nodded. "That's when it got really bad. He felt everything I felt; it made him...feverish and scattered. He couldn't stay still. But when I tried to leave him, to convince him that I could handle things on my own, he wouldn't let me. He grew even more agitated. It was like a feedback loop that only he could feel until I was able to accept his help, until I could control my own emotions. Then he was better."

Duo was silent beside me.

"Defending me... It wasn't something he should have done. Stressful emotional situations severely weakened him. But thinking that way, not wanting to burden him, I only made it worse."

"How were you able to accept his help?"

I swallowed hard. "I didn't really have any choice. Though, now, even after everything that happened, whatever part I may have had in it, I'm glad that I did."

"Quatre, I'm the one doing this to you; you're not well because of me! I won't be responsible for--just please sit down. You're only making it worse!"

Quatre had stripped down to his undershirt and the white fabric stuck to his pale shuddering chest. His white-blond hair clung to his face and he couldn't seem to catch his breath. He sank down into a chair and rubbed at his breastbone, his fingers shaking.

"I'm going to call for your doctor. Stay there. Try to relax. Breath through your nose." Wufei turned to leave the hotel room, reached for the door handle, and hesitated when he heard that desperate voice, gasping and reedy and full of holes.

"No, don't go. It''ll only get worse. Stay with me."

He turned back around. "Then where is your medicine? Is it in the bathroom? Why have you not taken any?"

Quatre leaned back in the chair, arms gripping the plush sides, expanding his ribs upward, trying to open up his airways. "They make me sleep," he gasped. "I don't want to sleep right now. I want to be awake. Just stay with me, Wufei. Share this with me."

"Share what?" Wufei shouted striding back into the room. "I don't know how to help you. And I certainly don't want your help if it does this to you!" He approached Quatre as though he were a skittish wild animal. Pale blue irises were almost entirely swallowed by dilated pupils. Wufei reached down to feel for the boy's pulse and found it thrumming under his fingers like a bird's. Quatre pushed his chest further up at Wufei's touch. Wufei jerked back and scowled. "Get a hold of yourself!"

Limp, moist fingers circled around his wrist and Quatre wheezed noisily as he struggled to sit up. "It's never been like this before. I feel...I feel like I'm and the others, Duo and Heero and Trowa. I'm all of you."

Wufei felt real fear then. Would Quatre's heart burst? Was he, after all this, about to die? He knelt down in front of him. "What do you need me to do if you don't want your doctor or your medicine?"

"Hold onto me. Touch me here." He pressed his hand over his heart and Wufei reached out to cover small bony fingers with his own. Quatre rested his other hand on Wufei's shoulder and drew him forward into a loose embrace. Wufei realized that Quatre was holding him with all his strength. Then he swallowed sixteen years of fierce, uncompromising upbringing and pulled Quatre tight against him. With one arm he held him close. He pressed his other hand over the fluttering, erratic heartbeat between them.

Quatre stilled in his arms with a shuddering sob. He was warm to the touch, warm and damp with sweat. He breathed hot little puffs of air against Wufei's neck. "I don't think I can do this for much longer. We have to act quickly."

I blinked and watched a tiny bead of moisture float away from my right eye. I blinked again and another lifted from my left cheek.

"He was more devastated than I was when the verdict didn't go our way. He went back to L4 to recover, to be away from me, and the next time I saw him, I was with you and he was dead. He was still warm. We'd missed him by maybe fifteen minutes." Duo knew that last part as well as I, but it was still difficult to accept.

I turned to see that Duo had rolled over onto his side, now directly facing me. "Wu--"

"If we hadn't eaten lunch before we went to see him, we wouldn't have missed him. We could have taken him to a hospital. They would have pumped his stomach."

"Wu, what kind of medication did he take?"

I met Duo's gaze. It was dark enough that I couldn't discern the color of his eyes. "They were basically sleeping pills."

"Were they what was in his system when we found him?"

I nodded.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because his health was a private matter."

"This changes everything. How could they have declared it a suicide, when accidental overdose would have meant something entirely different? Wouldn't that have been better than suicide? How could anyone know for sure?"

"The amount of the drug in his system essentially ruled out an accidental overdose. There was so much of it in him, it had to have been deliberate."

Duo shifted closer. His hand slid across the sheet to take hold of my wrist. "Did the others know? About his heart?"

"I don't know. We've managed to avoid talking about it this long."

He was silent for several seconds. "I don't know whether this makes the whole thing more or less tragic, knowing that he was already unhealthy."

"It's worse," I answered. "He wanted more than anything to be able to help me. But every time I saw him, he was nearly crippled. I had to be as invested in my case as he was in order for him to be able to function. I had to hope as hard as he did and believe in him as much as he believed in my innocence. Any unevenness in our emotions sent him into a fit. When he died, I was left alone with all those emotions, the ones that he had needed, the ones that I'd felt for him."

"You loved him," Duo murmured.

"I had to."

After the second Eve War, the Maganacs settled on Quatre's home colony to keep a closer eye on him. They were never taken on as Winner Security, but Rashid and the other men who'd stayed with him when the fighting stopped moved into the neighborhood and remained close friends of Quatre's. They didn't see each other as regularly, but they kept close watch on the Winner heir's activities and acquaintances. Quatre didn't mind their attention. As his empathic abilities grew more focused and powerful, and as his heart weakened over the span of only a few months, he was comforted and reassured by the presence of the men who'd adopted him as part of their family. In the final months of his life, they were a sort of shadow security for him. They kept watch and they kept track. They also kept a log of his scheduled appointments and meetings, which proved very useful to us.

"Oh, shit."

I looked up from Duo's laptop to find him flailing upright from where he'd been floating above the main table in the ship's galley, reading the Maganac's electronic log. "What is it? Did you find something?"

"Pull up Dilawar Said's file. You know, the L4, speak Arabic in the community, guy?"

From where I sat at the table, legs hooked under my chair, his pinwheeling arms looked rather comical. He didn't have anything to push off from, so I caught one of his wrists and pulled him down into an adjacent chair, saving him the trouble of figuring out how to create friction where there was none.

"Thanks, buddy," he grunted, settling himself into the chair and then slapping down the log he'd just been sifting through. In his excitement, he'd accidentally clicked it a few months ahead of where he wanted it, so before he could point out what he intended to show me, he had to get back to the correct month, which turned out to be July. Then he stabbed his finger at the day of Tuesday, July 6th.

I looked where he pointed and saw the entry 'Dilawar, 17:30.' "Yes, and? I feel relatively secure in saying that there is more than one Dilawar residing in the L4 colony cluster."

"Look at that date a little harder."

The day wasn't so important as the month and the year. July of AC 197 was a busy time for all of us. Heero and Trowa had passed their exams and had been instated as full Preventer agents. Duo was busy juggling a breakup with Hilde and regular trips to Earth. I was about to start my three-year sentence at RCNP and Quatre was contemplating suicide.

"This is where you want to start," I said, "a week before Quatre dies."

"And four days before Dilawar Said gets the shit kicked out of him and falls into a coma he never wakes up from."

"Seems as good a place to start as any."

"Seems better than most."

"You know, just because we were able to safely meet up with the Maganacs doesn't mean whoever's tailing us won't be waiting for us on L4. The chances of us getting into Quatre's old office, let alone his home, are very small."

Duo hadn't taken his eyes off the electronic planner. "That's probably true, but I bet they don't know about Dilawar."

I wasn't sure about even that, but I understood and shared the urgency Duo felt. We didn't have much time to figure out any of this. We could try to disappear on L4--it was a densely populated colony--but we didn't look like most of the people who lived there. And, where we were going, the similarities were even fewer beyond mere appearances. We wouldn't be able to stay hidden for long. But as much as we wanted to solve this thing we'd set out for ourselves, I knew that Duo was just as, if not more concerned with what would happen to me when we were caught. He was hoping that whatever light we could shed on this case would be enough to serve as a bargaining chip for my safety. If it wasn't, then everything he'd done would have only made my situation worse. And whatever the two of us shared now would not survive that.

"I really don't like leaving Scythe behind like this." Duo's shoulder brushed mine as we walked through the shuttle terminal, jammed in with hundreds of other travelers. He had his braid tucked down inside a hooded sweatshirt, and with the hood up, he looked like any number of moody teenagers annoyed by the crowd. With hunched posture and a pair of thick-framed glasses that Duo had procured from the seemingly endless depths of his duffel, I hoped that I looked similar. Fortunately, the lenses didn't have a prescription, but wearing them, I was still reminded of my schooling back on L5.

The forged documents Duo had handed over to the harried customs official--I didn't want to know where he got them, so I hadn't asked--had gotten us through without a hitch and with the crush of people all around us, it appeared that we would make it down to the main ring of the colony unhindered. Without knowing who exactly was looking for us, the concern of whether Preventers or some other government agents would be waiting for us at the terminal gate went back and forth between real fear and paranoia. We were both wanted criminals on Earth; however, it remained to be seen whether the people who--we assumed--were after us for escaping from the hospital were the same people who'd trailed Duo when he'd been preparing to spring me. If they were the same, then it was likely that nothing we could discover here on L4 would help us.

"It's not like we could have brought it along with us," I grumbled. "Your ship is much safer where it is."

Our successful entrance to the colony was doubtless aided by the fact that we'd arrived on the shuttle the Maganacs used for their above-ground business deals. They sold mining equipment to one of the Winner-owned resource satellites and it was to their company that Howard was finally able to wire the money Duo had cashed out from his accounts. That money would pay for our stay here, since we couldn't very well rely on the Maganacs to put us up in one of their homes in Quatre's neighborhood.

"Yeah, but the Maganac shuttle was a one-way ticket."

"Isn't that what we intended?" I pushed the glasses further up on my nose.

He shrugged. "Makes me nervous not havin' a real exit strategy."

"Our exit strategy is solving the case--proving that Dilawar Said, Quatre Winner, Benjamin Bennett, and Vasil Wasyliw were all killed as part of some planet and colony-wide conspiracy to eliminate dangerous war leaders--thereby proving, if not our innocence, then at least our usefulness to an intelligence organization like Preventers. We might even figure out who tried to kill me and who tailed you if we solve the first part."

Beside me, Duo laughed bitterly. "You're right. It's as clear as day to me now."

"Good. I'm glad. Is that the train station?"

Duo raised his head. "Yeah. Auda said it'd be down in the lower part of the terminal on the eastern side."

Not wanting to appear too obvious, Auda, our escort, had docked the Maganac shuttle the next quadrant down from where Quatre and Dilawar had lived. When we left the shuttle, Duo and I split from him, deciding to take the train through the lower ring of the colony. It was shorter than finding our way on the upper level and might buy us a bit of time against anyone waiting for us to turn up in Quatre's quadrant. When we did arrive, we would find our own accommodations so that if anyone questioned Auda as to our whereabouts, he wouldn't know.

As we settled into our seats for the three-hour ride, I could see Duo's hooded eyes sliding from one passenger to the next, assessing and memorizing each one. When the train started off down its track, we sagged against each other, affecting a loose, sleepy posture. But for the entire ride, our eyes stayed open to slits.

Find more of June at her Livejournal.

On to part eighteen. Back to part sixteen.