by Maldoror


Chapter thirty-four:

Title: Freeport 34/34
Author: Maldoror
Genre: Action, investigations, my usual strange humour, tiny touch of angst, some weird politics and a bit o' romance (yes, I still know how to write those - just don't expect anything majorly fluffy)
Pairings: 2x5
Rated: NC17 - for language, violence, sexual content
Archived: and GWAddiction under the pen-name Maldoror
Feedback: Please! Particularly what you like/don't like about the fic.
Spoilers: Some, for series and episode zero.
Disclaimer: Gundam Wing belongs to its owners (Bandai, Sunset, and a whole host of others, none of which are me) and I'm not making any money off of them. The very idea is laughable. See? This is me laughing. Ha ha. The songs/quotes used in the chapter heads don't belong to me either.
Author's Note: Dedicated to Dacia!
Huge thanks to my beta, Anaitis ^_^

"Anarchism has but one infallible, unchangeable motto, 'Freedom.' Freedom to discover any truth, freedom to develop, to live naturally and fully."

---Lucy Parsons

Freeport by Maldoror
Part Thirty-Four

The two Red Bands took Wufei around to the docks the long way, through sectors on their night cycles. Wufei didn't know if they were just being prudent, or if he really might get lynched if recognized. Better all around not to chance it.

His internal map of Freeport indicated they were also giving a wide berth to the sectors near Kropotkin. He saw no signs of damage in the zones they crossed. But on the sector walls, graffiti had spread, argumentative as it could only be in this colony. Painted cries of 'Morgenstern was right!', 'They're coming!' and 'Breakers are Anarchy!' were interspersed with condemnation and refutations. Wufei absently wondered when the word 'Breaker' had become known and adopted for Morgenstern's group. Was this a sign that Duo had been talking to people in this sector... ? More likely it was a mark of the Troll King who had originally given them that name.

Wufei shifted his arm in its sling as they climbed a ramp to the docking bays. His injury ached, a throbbing pain worming its way past the analgesics. He didn't know what the next few days would hold, but hopefully he'd be able to get some regen-unit time for his injury. That would set it to rights. And a bit of meditation while the regen unit worked would help him get over the inevitable psychological fallout from this latest mission, though it'd probably be some time before Wufei would be able to walk into a slaughterhouse or even a butcher's shop without some pretty nasty flashbacks.

There was nobody around in the docking ring when they arrived, no dockhands, customs or engineer teams. Nothing but a dozen of Red Bands scattered at various entry points into the docking bay area. Two of them were standing on either side of Morgenstern.

The man looked uninjured. The strict, utilitarian grey of the plain Freeport citizen he customarily wore was rumpled, no more. He looked older than before, he'd obviously not slept since Wufei had seen him last. But the blue eyes were still bright and combative as they fixed scornfully on Wufei.

"Chang. I bet this is quite the victory for you."

"Come along," was all Wufei said, grabbing Morgenstern by the upper arm and nudging him towards a corridor with 'Bays 40-60' roughly stencilled on its side.

"Thank you, gentlemen," Morgenstern amiably told his previous escort. The two burly Red Bands shifted and looked uncomfortable.

Then Morgenstern was looking at Wufei again.

"What, no cuffs?" he asked in apparent consternation.

Wufei had no intentions of playing the Breaker's little mind games all the way back to Earth. He just marched him off in the direction of Bay 49.

They passed boxes and crates stacked haphazardly - and against all spaceport security conventions - on either side of the corridor. These docks were reserved for small official trade ships with cargo necessary for Freeport's survival, so they weren't quite as gloomy as the dock where Duo had berthed Scythe. They were well lit and an effort had been made to paint them. Unfortunately this only highlighted the bared electrical wiring, the hissing, leaking pipes running beneath grills under their feet, the tinge of age and the dinginess of neglect, which an army of overworked volunteers was constantly battling against.

"I overheard one of my jailors mention that the Euclides is docking right now," Morgenstern said, matching Wufei's stride without a shadow of hesitation. "I'm surprised the Elders allowed it. Too scared to think it through, I suppose. At least they're not letting any of the Preventer troops on board. Oh wait, they already have; isn't that right, Chang? I was surprised to hear Braun was involved with your presence here. I would never have thought it of the man."

"Funny," Wufei muttered, despite his best intentions not to let Morgenstern bait him, "that's what he said about you."

"It just goes to show what a bit of fear and authority can do. Even here," Morgenstern said shortly. "That's how you people always win: fear, and being the lesser of two evils. Order and Security. Isn't that right, Chang? Why do I even bother; the system owns you. You're the one telling the people what to do and what to think, in exchange for your protection."

"No, Morgenstern, I don't." Wufei could hear the own bitterness in his voice and didn't bother to hide it; he had too many other concerns. "It's a democracy out there. I don't tell them what to do or think; television does."

"Hah, your media, controlled by the state and their higher interests-" Morgenstern started to scoff.

But we don't control it, Wufei thought wearily. We don't have to. The media control themselves, and feed the people what the ratings say they want, and that's saccharine oblivion...

"I had hopes for you, Chang. And for Maxwell. I wanted you both on my side." Morgenstern was still talking as they made their way through a loading area. "Oh, I was pretty sure I knew why you were here. But I tried talking to you, to show you the rightness of our cause. I still hoped that, with your past, I could have won you over- oh, speak of the devil, look who's here. Now I would never have thought he was capable of betraying Freeport. I am-"

Wufei didn't hear the rest. He'd followed Morgenstern's glance in time to see Duo dodge a grab by an irritated Red Band near one of the far entrances to the docking ring.

Wufei felt dizzy with relief, though that might have been the cocktail of painkillers, fatigue, injury and release from tension. He shoved Morgenstern into a corner even as the man was saying something sarcastic and completely unimportant about Duo and his choice of sides.

"Stay here," Wufei ordered him absently. The Breaker huffed behind him, but Wufei paid him no mind as he made a beeline towards Duo.

"-just going to say bye to my friend there, don't worry, yeah, no, I know I'm armed but I need that- look, he knows me, right? He's coming over to say hi, so thanks for being watchful, mate, but we're fine." Duo detached himself from the Red Band and ran up a ramp to meet Wufei on the docking ring.

"Ta-da!" he warbled just as Wufei reached him.

Wufei blinked. He was looking straight at his own sword, thrust in front of his face.

"Bet ya didn't think you'd see this again! I don't think it's been damaged- this crack in the lacquer looks old already-"

Duo interrupted himself as Wufei gently brushed the sword aside and stared at the smuggler.

"Are you okay?" Wufei asked, eyes scrutinizing his friend for any trace of injury. Duo looked bone-tired, but otherwise unharmed. Then again, he could operate a Gundam with a couple of broken bones, so it was hard to tell.

"Me? Better than you, buddy." Duo had been running the same check, eyes going over Wufei's face, and then the sling and bandages nearly hidden by the fall of the jacket Wufei had slipped over his shoulder, unable to put his injured arm through the sleeve. Wufei knew he looked like death warmed over, but he personally thought he'd escaped lightly. When he'd seen his ID posted over a building back in Kropotkin, he'd fully expected to be dead by now.

"I'm okay," Wufei said hoarsely. His mind had been so full of concern for Duo, wondering how to get a fix on him and his status before he had to leave, that he felt suddenly empty. "I'm glad to see you. Was it bad?"

"Nah!" Duo answered with an expansive gesture and a tired smirk. Wufei translated that as 'yeah, pretty bad, but it could have been a lot worse'. That seemed to be everybody's opinion.

Wufei found the fingers of his good hand closing over his sword as Duo poked it at him. The sheath felt familiar, its weight a part of his body. A small knot of regret loosened in Wufei's mind. He'd been infinitely more worried about Duo, but he'd have mourned the loss of his sword; they'd been through a lot together.

"I'd written it off," he said softly, staring down at the dark red lacquer. "Even if someone had found it in the under-sector or the sewers, I assumed they'd keep it. Where did you find it?"

"Ah, I didn't." Duo rubbed the back of his neck with a rueful smile. "Sorry, I didn't have time to look for it. But a Troll dropped it off just as I was heading back to the clinic to see where you were."

"Fred?" Wufei asked hopefully. Though the panicking Troll had left him for the Breakers, Wufei could hardly blame him, and he didn't like to think he had another innocent death on his head.

"No, Fred's disappeared. I haven't seen him since I left him in a tunnel to draw a Breaker patrol away from his location. He'd gone by the time I doubled back. But since no Troll has come to ask me any questions about him, I'm pretty sure they found him. They care for their own. No, I really don't know how they got your sword back or where. This Outer Troll just showed up and handed it to me and said: 'For your friend. Lesley says thanks.'"

"Lesley... ?" Ah, the Troll who'd hidden her brother, Herb Spasson. Wufei remembered her as he'd seen her last, face tight with grief and directionless anger, pushing her the body out of the Troll's morgue and into the rendering room. She must have heard of Carver's death. She'd been asking for revenge-...

No, actually Lesley's primary concern had been 'why', Wufei remembered. She'd wanted answers as well as justice. Carver could have gotten himself killed at any point in the last few hours of fighting, if Wufei hadn't done the honours. A wise woman would recognize that a dead body was just a dead body; particularly when she worked with them all day. But thanks to Wufei and Duo's interference, the reason why this had happened would now be known ... Wufei hoped she realized now how deep the Breaker conspiracy ran, and that, instead of condemning her brother to death, her actions had, in fact, given him a few more days of life. His end had been inevitable once he'd helped Ferret get away. Knowing the reason behind his death might help her. Someone who hadn't lost a loved one to a crime could not easily measure how important that ‘why' was. Unfortunately, citizens in Freeport might not always get their answers, unless the grapevine produced it, lost among the rumours and fallacies.

Wufei stared down at his ancestral sword and hoped Lesley had found her answers.

He looped the sword's leather strap over his good shoulder and looked at Duo.

"Well... " Duo's eyes drifted away from Wufei's face. "So, there he is, heh?"

Wufei glanced behind him, following Duo's gaze, to see Morgenstern where he'd left him, arms crossed bad-temperedly.

"You just parked him there?" Duo asked, with faint humour. "What if he wanders off?"

"Where would he go?" Wufei answered. "There isn't any place in Freeport who'll have him right now, except perhaps Kropotkin. Or maybe those friends in Mooncurse and Bakunin he'd deny having, the ones who did his dirty work. But he'll not run away; this is his choice."

"Yeah, I heard that. That's how I figured out where you'd be. Funny, never would have pegged him for a coward who'd give up rather than fight and face the threat of getting spaced." Duo looked puzzled.

"I don't think that's why he decided to surrender himself."

Duo gave him a questioning look.

"He wants a forum."

Duo tilted his head to one side as if to hear better. "No, still not getting it..." he mused.

"He's failed here," Wufei elaborated with a last glance back at Morgenstern. "Freeport didn't follow him. So he'll try again during his trial in Luxemburg. He'll give the same speech; he'll be a martyr, a flag-bearer for Anarchy and the freedom of Space, fighting against Earth's oppression. His lawyers will make sure he's given the opportunity for many a pretty speech. Maybe Space will listen, since Freeport didn't. He still has his network of terrorist and agitators on the Outside...we'll have to keep an eye on him."

Wufei's eyes wandered away from Morgenstern and fixed themselves onto a star port nearby; he could see a sloop in one of the berths, probably the Euclides.

"I know how his kind thinks," he admitted, almost to himself. "Treize was a bit like that too. Some people will fight and die for what they believe in, but he will go one step further: he'll murder, subvert, manipulate, destroy and cheat for his cause. Yet with eyes wide open, counting each death, each stain on his soul. The absolute faith in their beliefs is frightening, and gives them a strange sort of honour that somehow cannot be broken. They don't care that history will remember them as monsters as long as they can shape the future in their image." Wufei shrugged, but he didn't feel that casual about it, and he couldn't dismiss the memories evoked that easily.

Duo smiled like a wolf.

"If he wants to be a martyr, I'm all for it. I hope he ends up doing twenty in a jail in Luxemburg with a cell-mate named Big Marty who likes 'em old and respectable."

"He's got money on the Outside," Wufei said caustically. "He'll never see prison bars, or anything more rigorous than a holding cell. He'll be in and out of courtrooms until he dies. And that's only if the Preventers are lucky, because let's face it; it'll be hard to make much stick legally. Overall he's guilty as sin, but the lawyers will rip us apart on the details. What do we have to pin on him? He's never left Freeport, we lost Carver- do you know where Ferret went?"

"No, but I'll be keeping my eyes open, and not just for Ferret," Duo murmured, a deadly promise. "The info is out there, Chang. You guys will find it. Me and the other rat-catchers will help with the Freeport end, and he'll end up in that cell. You'll see."

Strange, the anarchist had more faith in the system than the Preventer did... Wufei smiled bitterly, but his mind fixed on something that was, to him, much more important than the ultimate dying ground of a would-be Liberator.

"I don't think you should look into this matter anymore. You should concentrate on keeping your head low. I...Duo, just tell me, yes-or-no answer-"

"Oh, for Christ's sake-"

"-yes-or-no answer, are you really going to be okay here? You could-... "

What? Join Wufei on the Euclides... ?

Duo smiled, the small, honest one that Wufei was one of the rare people to see.

"Well, to tell you straight, it's been dodgy, and it will be for a few weeks to come. But Ravachol and Braun have spilled everything they know, so that's diffused the situation a bit. I'll have a few people who'll want to stick a knife in my back, but hey, that's not anything new. Most citizens seemed happy I poked around and stirred the shit and blew the cover off this thing. I'll be telling my pals in Makhno the truth. They'll be the judges. If they decide that they'd rather not know me anymore, then Ravachol said he'd put me up in Mooncurse. I got buddies over there. They're smugglers; they know what it's like living in that grey zone where things aren't as clear-cut as your proper anarchist likes to think it is. But... oh well, we'll see. I'm unkillable, though, so don't worry."

"Pardon me if I do worry," Wufei muttered. "Look, maybe you should take off for a few weeks in Scythe. You could go to the docks right now and wait there half a day so you aren't seen leaving with the Euclides-"

"Nah, Duo Maxwell don't turn tail and run," Duo said with a feral grin. "This is my home. Stop worrying about me; I don't need a Preventer escort any more than I need a nanny."

Wufei looked at the wide smirk on Duo's face and knew he would not be able to change his lover's mind.

In the silence that followed, the grating hum of a cranky ventilation unit sounded overly loud and intrusive. The Red Band at the bottom of the ramp was still glaring up at Duo with suspicion, and Wufei knew he had to leave.

He felt nothing but resignation. He'd known this was going to happen sooner or later. So had Duo. They'd never lied to each other, or made promises they couldn't keep.

"So, this is where the road splits," Duo said with a crooked smile. He didn't try to hide the regret that darkened his eyes; Wufei would never be able to repay him for that.

"Yes. I'm glad we were able to walk the same path for a while. You honoured me," Wufei said simply, and wondered slightly at himself. This was not something he'd have been able to say three months ago.

"Oh bullshit," Duo laughed quickly, making horrified hand motions which he didn't mean.

There really wasn't much else to say. They might meet up again in the future, but that was too uncertain to make any plans or promises once more. The possibility was there, in the lines of fate and duty. Maybe their paths would cross again.

"The Red Band is getting hot down there," Duo said, scratching the back of his neck. He reached out and gave Wufei's good shoulder a gentle punch.

"Take care," he said gruffly, without looking.

"Stay safe," Wufei told him as Duo turned and walked back down the ramp.

He watched Duo stride away without looking back, and Wufei wished he was at liberty to say what he felt. Once he'd fully figured it out... Probably best this way.

He turned back to Morgenstern, who was glaring at Duo's retreating back as if he couldn't believe that the man who'd helped bring him down couldn't even be bothered to come over and gloat at him.

"Let's go," Wufei muttered.


The hatch of the Euclides swished open with a puff of expelled air as they approached it. Two Preventers, crisp uniforms discreetly covered by white freighter-pilot jackets, stood at the entrance. They both wrinkled their noses and coughed. Wufei looked at them in surprise, and then remembered the air. Ah yes, the Freeport atmosphere; rich and vivifying. It could probably wake the dead.

Morgenstern sailed past the two officers with a beautiful sneer carved onto his patrician features. He was going to get a lot of practice doing that in the coming weeks and months. That look on his face would make a good background for a news bite between two advertisements on TV.

Wufei's feet rang solidly against the clean steel of the sloop's airlock and corridor floors. He led Morgenstern without a word to the inner bay, and stopped.

"Ah, I see you have a reception committee ready," Morgenstern said. "Mr Yuy, we meet again. And this must be Mr Barton. I see you've all rallied to the call of your new masters. I should have realized. We never stood a chance, when the weapons we created to defend Space turned against her-"

"Mandelson, Himura; holding cell One. Charge him as soon as we leave Freeport space," Trowa murmured without even looking at Morgenstern.

The Breaker's jaw moved with helpless fury as he was hauled away by two Preventers without anybody looking all that interested. Wufei didn't watch him leave. Morgenstern would have his day, whatever good he thought it would do him.

"I'm glad to see you," Wufei said, smiling at his friends.

Sally was gaping at him, which reminded Wufei of his clothes, collar and bruises. Heero was clinically examining his arm and his exhausted slump, and Trowa was nodding a greeting, looking only into Wufei's eyes.

"Oh my god, he's gone native," Sally said weakly.

"Snap out of it, Po," Wufei snorted. "You've seen me undercover before."

"Never quite so dirty, though," Heero noted. He'd concluded his once-over and was now looking at Wufei as if profoundly intrigued.

"You have a point." Wufei scratched his loose hair; there was probably something breeding in there by now. He hadn't washed in two days, and he'd been dragged through the sewers..."Do you think I could take a long shower on board, before you arrest me?"

Sally's face went from incredulous to hurt. Wufei regretted his bluntness, but he was too tired to dance around the truth.

"I assume that's why you three are here," he added, more seriously. "Just how bad is it?"

Sally glanced at Heero and Trowa. "No more than usual," she said dully, and Wufei noted that she looked almost as tired as he was. "There's that mess on L2. The governor. And a human rights group has made a complaint to the Regulations Committee in regards to the attack on the rioters' HQ. But you've weathered worse, we'll get this cleaned up in no time."

Wufei glanced at Heero.

"Internal Affairs are going to have a review on your dossier," his partner said without any attempt to soften the blow. "They didn't buy the 'holiday' excuse this time."

"Do they ever, except when it's to their advantage?" Wufei asked sarcastically. So that meant a charge of Dereliction of Duty at the least. Internal Affairs wouldn't have to dig very far into his records to unearth worse charges than that.

"You have absolutely nothing to worry about, Wufei," Sally ground out, and her eyes were hot and angry, a departure from the calm, levelheaded agent he was used to. I must really be in trouble, Wufei thought. "Une will do her usual juggling; she owes you that much and more. And if they need a straw trial, fine! I talked to Quatre on the way here. He wanted to come with us, but he's working with Une to track down this Morgenstern's money, and make sure we're not looking at a rash of riots and terrorism by the end of next week. But he told me- he has the best lawyers in the solar system on retinue, and if those upper crust ex-Romefeller bastards decide to try to attack you for doing your job, they won't know what hit them."

Some of those 'bastards' were actually well meaning Preventers who saw this whole thing as just one more crazy stunt by Une's notorious loose canon, breaking the law - and bones as well - to pursue his own vigilante version of Justice. These were good men, hoping to finally put an end to an unstable element in their midst. But that wasn't how Sally was about to look at it.

"It's the politics behind this that's infuriating," Sally added, fingers tapping her holstered gun as if she really wanted to shoot someone right now. "Une and Relena managed to take some of the fangs out of the L2 governor, that bloated opportunist cockroach. But he's formed some kind of clique in the senate that's been applying internal pressure, and you know how they just love to take the Preventers down a rung or two, especially around budget time. But they haven't heard about the arrests yet. We've been charging people all over the colonies - some pretty high-up too- working from the information you sent us before you went under deep cover. And now we have the head of the whole thing in holding cell One. Morgenstern, right? The whole thing is going to come out, and Internal affairs can sit on it and spin, you'll be a hero-"

"No!" Wufei barked quickly, glancing at Sally and then at Trowa in alarm. "Keep me out of Morgenstern's trial. Don't link our two names in any way."

Sally gave him a Look. She knew exactly why he'd said that. Wufei would make a very unreliable arrest officer, and any evidence from him could easily be compromised by a clever lawyer. Sally knew that Wufei was risking his future so that the Morgenstern conviction had a chance of going through. Agent Po might see the logic behind this, so she didn't say anything, but she had the same look in her eyes as Duo had when he'd said ‘Always for the greater good...'

Heero crossed his arms over his chest and looked at Wufei through his bangs. For Heero, the greater good was never in any doubt. "We've been finding other ways to get this man convicted; ways that do not involve any of your stay in Freeport. We have some evidence against Morgenstern that we've gathered, and Quatre thinks there's more, now that we know what we're looking for."

"Mr Winner's board of directors must be very angry at these damned revolutionaries who are dragging their CEO away from his desk and back onto the battle lines, once again," Wufei said with a smile. He hoped he'd get to see Quatre between here and the stockade.

Heero made a curt gesture that sent all of Quatre's board of directors to hell, and continued speaking in his monotone. "We have been trying to keep your name out of the evidence files, but you know this Morgenstern's lawyers will probably call you in as a witness."

"A hostile witness," Wufei grumbled, rubbing his forehead until the skin ached. "Just do me a favour when you arrest me, Yuy, and don't put me and Morgenstern in the same cell. The man talks too much. I'd gag him before we hit the embargo lines and he'd call it Preventer brutality."

Heero was of course correct. Morgenstern didn't care about winning or losing his eventual trial. He just wanted to create a scandal that would shake the Peacecraft democracy to its foundations. He wanted Space to wonder if the price of peace with Earth had been too high. If he couldn't do it with weapons and war, he'd do it in courts and using the media. Wufei didn't think he'd succeed, not when people preferred the latest show to the news, but Morgenstern would try.

That attempt would drag Wufei down in his wake. What a beautiful piece of anti-PR. One of the notorious Gundam Pilots, shown to be working for the Preventers. A violent hothead with multiple reprimands, protected by the Establishment who needed their strong-armed tactics...oh, Wufei could see the headlines already...

He just hoped that Une would pull her usual magic and make him disappear again, even if it would be in the stockade for a few months. Morgenstern knew who he was, and so did Morgenstern's allies in politics and the business world...even in the higher ranks of the Preventers. But that didn't mean they'd be able to prove that the agent who'd been on Freeport was really Chang Wufei, ex-Pilot. Hopefully. But it was still going to take a lot of doing.

"Sorry, Barton. I really blew it this time," Wufei said tiredly.

"How?" Sally snapped, making echoes chime in the metal hull around them. "By stopping a revolution before it could drag us all into an Earth/Space war? Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that our job? Barton, say something."

Trowa had yet to open his mouth, or look away from Wufei. As Wufei glanced at him, though, the green eyes drifted to a point over Wufei's shoulder.

Wufei, startled, turned around. There was nothing there; just the gleaming steel corridor leading out of the inner bay and the open airlock at the end of it.

Wufei felt as if the air inside the bay had become thinner, making his lungs labour and his head spin.

"This is all ridiculous," Sally was saying firmly. "You should be getting a medal, not an enquiry. We were talking it over on the way here, Wufei. Une refused to make any promises, but the three of us will make them in her stead. We will not see you badgered over this. I guess we can't make it all disappear this time, but we always have that option we discussed before: putting you through the witness protection program as a smoke screen and making you vanish. You could rejoin another unit with a brand-new past - I mean, look at you, you're only twenty, the age most people are first hired into the Preventers. Then we can move you back into our unit once we shuffle some personnel around. Give us six months. A year, tops, and this Morgenstern will be fighting for his sorry hide in the courts in Luxemburg and you'll be back where you belong. Then we can forget all this idiocy and things can get back to normal."

Her well-meaning words sent a chill through Wufei. Back to normal? Back to being Peacecraft's running dog? Or even just a normal Preventer, working on some crimes and ignoring the greater ones right outside the door because it wasn't politically expedient to address them yet...? Wufei was quite aware that, if Morgenstern and his allies managed to snare him, he could be spending the next few decades in jail. Yet returning to defend a Peace that was slowly crushing something inside of him, inch by inch, wasn't any more attractive.

But that had always been his path. His duty. He'd accepted all the consequences years ago. He no longer had a choice.

Wufei stared at the open airlock and thought, strangely enough, of Carver. He never had learned the man's name. Maybe he could ask Morgenstern, if they ever had the mutual misfortune of sharing the same cell.

He remembered Carver picking up that meat hook like a soulless automaton, because the unnamed Blade knew only how to follow the road he'd chosen, unable to look aside and see the choices that might still be there. Choices were, after all, terrifying. They could lead to mistakes. So could freedom.

There was freedom outside that airlock, and a lot of trouble, and Duo, and hard choices to make. And Duo.

He looked back over his shoulder at Trowa.

"I've never sought to escape from the consequences of my actions." It was his voice, yet it sounded like someone else speaking those words.

"No," Trowa answered, face unreadable, "you never take the easy way out. When there's a battle to fight, you're there. Even if you have to go looking for it."

Wufei frowned, unsure of what that might mean.

"That's a very unpopular attitude these days," Trowa added. "This society has no more room for unbending fools who can only fight for justice without compromise."

"Barton," Sally said sharply, visibly scandalized.

Okay, okay, I get it, Wufei thought, a strange smile twisting his face.

"What about the two Preventers who saw me come in?"

Just like that, the choice was made. Well, well, well... he and Carver were truly different in the end.

"Mandelson and Himura? What about them?" Trowa asked calmly. "We're still in Freeport space. The leaders of this colony were very exact in their conditions when they permitted us to dock. We're not even allowed to arrest Morgenstern until we reach the embargo lines, and we've not been given authority to restrain anybody."

"Ah... "

"Wufei, if you do this, we won't be able to defend you. You'll be outlawed." Sally was looking at the airlock too, voice tight and urgent. Wufei realized that the three of them must have had this 'solution' in mind from the start, which was why she'd been arguing so fiercely before Wufei had even had time to sit down, put his feet up and get himself arrested.

Yes, if he walked away now, he'd be sunk for good. But that would make the Morgenstern trial so much easier to handle, without the potential embarrassment of Preventer Chang Wufei being dragged in as a witness by either side.

Wufei glanced at Heero, his friend and partner. The blue eyes studied him, calm and emotionless.

"This solution has many advantages. Sooner or later, you were going to end up in the stockade for a long stretch, Chang. This way, you will always be active and available to us if we need you."

Sally made a small noise of exasperation and rubbed the bridge of her nose, obviously not pleased with Heero for his perfectly logical argument. Wufei smiled crookedly. Heero was the Preventer's poster boy, but that was only the picture that Relena and Trowa had painted on him; the real Heero would consider any means justified, as long as he could remain a weapon ready to fight for Peace; even moving outside of the law to do so.

"Agent Chang." Trowa's voice became officious and deliberate. "We request that you accompany us outside Freeport territorial space at this time. If you do not comply, you will be suspended from the force pending enquiry. Criminal pursuits are likely to follow. I wouldn't be counting on my pension either, if I were you."

"It wouldn't have amounted to much anyway," Wufei pointed out.

Trowa smiled, a bare lift of the corners of his mouth, and he stuck out his hand.

"Good luck," he said calmly. "Take care of yourself, and get back in touch with us in a few months, when things have calmed down. Use our private drop-box and codes."

"Why? So you can get my help dealing with Preventer issues inside of Freeport?" Wufei asked sardonically, his hand firm in Trowa's.

"So we know you're all right," Trowa said softly, and for a bare instant the mask slipped- but then it was Captain Barton speaking again. "And because I'm not putting you out on a permanent holiday here. The Preventers may decide they no longer need you, but you and I know that there might always be the need for someone who can cut through legalities and stifling procedures to get to the truth. Every person in this room was at one point or the other on the wrong side of the law so that they could do what was right. I expect you to be available to do the same in the coming years. I know I'm sending you into an environment where your sword won't get rusty from too many compromises," Trowa added, releasing his hand.

Wufei examined him, intrigued by those last words. Had Trowa guessed the extent of the damage that the last few years had done to Wufei's soul? Wufei was curious, but he no longer had the luxury of discussing it with his friend; one door opening closed others. He turned instead towards Heero, who slowly stuck out his hand.

"I'm sorry to lose you," Heero said, with all the emotion of a computer printout. "You were the best partner I could hope to have."

"Same," Wufei answered, wondering if he'd ever shaken Heero's hand before...

Heero made to move away- Wufei gripped the strong, scarred hand in both of his, moving his injured arm in the sling to do so despite the sudden twinge up and down his left side.

"Partners and friends," he said stiffly. "I'm worried about you, Yuy. So is Duo. The war is over. We are no longer required to be weapons. I...hope you realize that soon. It won't be safe for you on Freeport, but maybe Duo and I can meet up with you somewhere. If you want to talk one day."

Heero stared at him as if Wufei had gone clinically insane, and maybe he had. Wufei really wished Duo could have been here for this, because the smuggler would have been able to phrase that much better. But Wufei had managed to say it, even though it violated every civilized line they'd drawn between them, and he was glad of it.

Heero detached his hand carefully from Wufei's without a comment. Wufei caught a strange smile from Trowa over Heero's shoulder- before he could get more than a glimpse, he had an armful of Sally to contend with as she gave him a careful hug.

"That looks serious; get it taken care of," she said sternly, leaning back to look pointedly at his injured arm. "I don't have time to right now, or I'd haul you into the medical bay- but we have to get out of Freeport airspace in the next two hours. I hope they know what they're doing on this tin can's hospital. They do have a regen unit here, right?"

"I'll check," Wufei said carefully.

Sally's eyes on him were troubled. "I hope you'll be safe here," she said softly. "Trowa said you should be, but if you have any doubt, try to get out on Scythe and to the Preventer ship Allouette on the embargo line. Talk direct to Captain Nilu; he's from my old unit and he has a direct line to me. He'll have to arrest you, but he'll make sure you're safe and that the first person you talk to is one of Quatre's lawyers and the next person you talk to after that is me. Okay? You can change your mind. We have options."

"Thanks, Sally." Wufei didn't think he'd want to take those options, but he was not going to scorn someone who was giving him a choice. Especially out of friendship. He returned her hug as well he could with one arm. He would miss her. He would miss them all.


The Euclides' rockets puffed frozen mix into the icy oblivion of space, manoeuvring the sloop out of its berth and into the space lanes.

Duo was standing at the view port, turning his head to follow its departure. Since he thought he was alone, he wasn't watching his expression. Wufei noted the fatigue etched onto Duo's features, as well as traces of physical pain the smuggler had hid until now, and something like fatalistic resignation. It didn't suit him.

Then the blue eyes widened as he caught sight of Wufei in the star port's reflection.

He spun around, and Wufei was treated to the rare sight of a totally astounded Maxwell. For all of three seconds, and then the smuggler had recovered, and was looking at him and rubbing his head in his 'oh my god why am I surrounded by idiots' pose.

"Wu. I got to tell you. not the smartest decision you ever made."

That was probably the case, but then, if Duo really thought so, why couldn't he seem to stop smiling?

"I'll have a few people who'll want to stick a knife in my back, but that's not anything new," Wufei said sarcastically.

Duo wandered up to him, grinning like a loon.

"It'll take some fancy footwork, but we'll manage. We'll take in any refugee in Freeport! Um, you did cut the ties, right? Because popping over to the Red Band over there and saying 'Hi, I'm a Preventer-'"

Wufei reached into his pocket. Every muscle was feeling sore and abused, and his head was spinning as if he could feel Freeport's rotation in his inner ear. But he felt oddly calm for someone who'd just thrown his former life away.

He took out a slightly rumpled and folded piece of medical script with a scribbled note on the back.

"I have a paper here," he said, unfolding it one-handed, "from a Freeport Elder, no less, that says that I am leaving now of my own free will and with the approval of Freeport, to deal with some matters Outside; I am not being expelled. It certifies that I have committed no crimes against Freeport, and that I am a probationary citizen with three months of quarantine accomplished already; if I wish to return, those will be counted against my total." Only nine more or so to go, then.

"If that's not enough," Wufei added, "there will be a warrant out for my arrest in roughly two hours. Will that be an adequate introduction?"

Duo had snatched Braun's paper from his hand and was looking at it, blue eyes wide, but at that latter titbit of information his head shot up and there was anger behind the twisted grin. "Man, they don't dick around out there. What the fuck is that about?"

Wufei took a deep breath- and released it with a shake of his head. "There are circumstances. But they no longer matter."

Duo looked at him steadily, and then he carefully folded up Braun's paper and put it into Wufei's good hand. "No, I guess they don't. Come on," he added, an arm slipping around Wufei's shoulder. "Let's go home."


End Part 34

"I build no system. I ask an end to privilege, the abolition of slavery, equality of rights, and the reign of law. Justice, nothing else. That is the alpha and omega of my argument."

---Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Freeport by Maldoror

"Yuck. This looks like the mother of all ugly. I think it's time for that trip to the clinic."

"It's fine," Wufei grunted, with barely a glance at the hideous purple mess that was his upper left arm. "It's getting better; the swelling's gone down, there's no sign of infection. It'll heal."

"Yeah, it'll heal and leave a hole the size of my fist in your muscle, Chang," Duo growled, but he grabbed the bandages and applied a fresh dressing without insisting further. It had become something of a daily ritual between them.

Wufei was willing to concede that the damage would be a bit more permanent now, without that regen unit and proper surgery. He'd always be a bit weaker in that arm, though a strenuous training regimen would compensate for the injury. But he didn't think the Freeport Clinic could do much more for him, and he refused to monopolize the time of the overworked medical staff who still had their hands full with the injured, three days after the internal strife had finally died down.

Duo's field dressing in place, Wufei carefully pulled on his shirt and top, with that faint prickle of strangeness he felt every time he dressed. Duo had gotten him some new clothes from the commissary, to replace those that had been ripped and bloodied by the Breakers. Wufei was now wearing the traditional grey woolly jumper, crafted by an army of volunteers that you could see in groups at every street corner, park or window, applying knitting needles for the good of Freeport and to keep its citizens clothed.

Wufei would have worn this without a second thought a week ago. But now, when he pulled on the jumper or his leather jacket, it seemed to bring home the knowledge that this was his clothing from now on. He would never wear a Preventer uniform again. Before, the attire had been part of a disguise. Now, they were his clothes, the ones he'd probably be sent to Recyc in, whether that happened in a few decades or tomorrow.

Wufei did not feel resentment or regret as he smoothed down the coarse wool; it was more a surge of bewilderment at how radically his life had changed three days ago. For some reason, the big truths of what he'd done were easier to get used to than the oddness of the little details.

"Okay, take a nap. I'll be back in a few hours." Duo washed his hands at the sink, then pulled on his prosthetic glove and long coat. "Or meditate, or read, or play a shoot-em-up on my laptop one-handed if that's your thing, but absolutely no physical effort that could bust those stitches. It looks bad enough as it is."

"Yes, mother."

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, just try to take care of this guy and this is the thanks you get," Duo said with the kind of over-the-top theatrics that, along with his roguish charm, would land him a job on any daytime soap opera he'd care to audition for. "Gotta go; be back in two hours, tops. See ya soon, handsome!"

"Watch your back," Wufei grumbled at the door, wishing he could go too. But it was still too dangerous for one Chang Wufei, ex-Preventer, to go wandering around the streets of Freeport.

In his opinion, it was too dangerous for Duo as well, but the smuggler would hear none of that. He'd pointed out that one of them had to get around and manage the fall-out; or was Wufei suggesting they both stay holed up in their room for a couple of months, eating Babka's cooking, washing in the sink and pretending no-one was home? When Wufei had said that sounded like a good idea, Duo had declared he'd rather go down fighting than die of sodium and cooked cabbage overdose, and to leave it at that.

Wufei looked at the bed. He could use a nap. He wasn't sleeping all that well.

But he had to get out of here. Three days locked in Duo's single room, or the junkyard outside...he was going stir crazy.

Ten rather painful minutes later, Wufei was sitting on the roof of their building, watching Makhno spreading out at his feet. His sector. Everybody in Freeport was identified by the sector they lived in, and so was Wufei now. Just one more of those little details that brought home to him how much his life had changed when he'd walked out that airlock three days ago.

They'd come clean to their friends in Makhno shortly after they'd returned back to the sector from Bay 49. Duo wanted to make sure Wufei would be safe here, and for that they had to be able to count on their friends, if they still could. Duo had gathered the people from his building, his pals and work-partners, a few notables of the sector, and then others had shown up out of curiosity in the Commissary cafeteria, the only place in Makhno where you could hold a meeting of that size.

It had been, incidentally, one of the hardest things Wufei had done in his life, to stand before honest people who'd believed in him and admit that his whole existence here had been a lie. Duo had done the talking, of course, since Wufei was still officially his Blade - or rather, like the clothes, the disguise was now truly his identity. It must have been even harder for Duo. Or maybe not. Duo, like Braun, must have known his deals with the Preventers might come to light one day, and would have already thought through and accepted the consequences before he'd even started.

The revelation didn't go as Wufei expected. People were angry, of course. But the bent of the long discussion that followed, around bad coffee and worst sandwiches provided by the commissary, was how bad this was going to look in the other sectors. Friends and strangers would question their judgment and the integrity of Makhno once this was known. There was a certain air of having passively participated in Wufei's infiltration here; a serious loss of face in Freeport.

They weren't happy, but nobody asked the two men to leave the sector.

In retrospect, using his knowledge of Freeport, Wufei could see this through their eyes. He'd stood before them with a bloodied bandage on his arm, still dirty and bruised, face pale and worn with pain and growing exhaustion. He looked more like a harried refugee than a Preventer. They also knew why he was looking like that. By now everyone knew, either first hand or by account, of his fight with Carver. Though Wufei's contribution to ending the Breakers hadn't been as crucial or far-reaching as Ravachol's and Duo's, it had been spectacular.

Duo had then played up Wufei's past perfectly: he'd weighed Wufei's history as a Preventer against his record as a Gundam Pilot. That had a certain crazy cachet in this place. And of course, to top it all off, Wufei really was a refugee now. He had chosen Freeport over the Outside, and had been outlawed for it. That made him 'one of us' automatically, whatever his past. Wufei caught Marci, Ivanova and a few of the other younger female citizens looking at him with wide, admiring eyes as if they thought this was all rather romantic, instead of the result of some sordid politics and a desperate choice.

It had been Babka's reaction which probably summed it up best. She'd been very quiet while listening to Duo. Wufei had realized that even if the consensus let him stay in Makhno, he'd have to move out if Babka didn't forgive him, even though he'd spend the rest of his quarantine slaving in a mining satellite as a result.

Finally, while people were still loudly arguing, Babka had stood up, walked over and patted him on the good arm.

"You were very young when you joined Them, and I am well placed to know that young men make some very stupid mistakes. I've had enough sons to learn that."

It had taken Wufei a second to realize she'd just described his entire Preventer career as some kind of growing pain, best forgotten.

"But of course an upstanding young man such as yourself would choose Freedom over Tyranny," Babka had sniffed. "What stupid people, to have sent you here. I am in no way surprised you stayed. I forgive you - and that scamp Duo - for the lies; I think it was for what you both thought was a good cause. And if you hadn't been here..."

A rare flicker of anxiety, of unease had crossed Babka's wise old face. Wufei and Duo hadn't actually tracked down the Breakers single-handedly; it would be fairer to say they'd been the hapless triggers for a succession of events that led to Morgenstern's downfall. Nonetheless, Wufei's presence here had been the necessary element for that succession of events; if he and Duo hadn't infiltrated Freeport, hadn't dug around, hadn't alarmed Morgenstern and awakened Ravachol's curiosity...Morgenstern would have had time to complete his plans, start a real revolution in Space, and convert enough key people to his cause to drag Freeport down into the abyss.

Babka truly believed in her version of anarchy and in Freeport's self-regulation. The necessity of Wufei's presence here - the necessity for rat-catchers in general, perhaps - proved that that belief had sprung a leak. Wufei had been willing to risk his life to bring down Morgenstern because that was his duty, his battle; but he only really hated the man when he saw the brief wounded look in an elderly lady's eyes.

Then Babka had shaken herself and looked at him severely.

"Become a good citizen," she'd barked, "make us proud." And then she'd walked out, back straight, and gone home. Yesterday, Duo had found a pot full of borsht on the front step; two portions.

Said it all, really.

But that left Wufei with a very big question.

Duo hadn't commented on his silence these past three days. He just carried on as if he didn't notice Wufei's lack of response to his comments and questions and muttered imprecations against a reluctant rotor that refused to let him fix it. Maybe Duo thought Wufei needed to get over the shock; that he was belabouring under the anger and regret of having had his career cut short, dumping him in Freeport, the infamous last stop, as low as you could get without ending up in Recyc.

But that wasn't why Wufei had been quiet, meditating for long hours, or staring at the ceiling during restless nights at Duo's side, his arm aching mutely.

Wufei had been exploring his own beliefs and motivations, now stripped from the clutter of duty and necessity. His obligations had deserted him. The Peace would have to get on without him now. He was staring his freedom in the teeth and trying to figure out which of many choices he should make, guided, for once, only by what he had inside. For someone who'd been driven by familial duty, revenge, obligations or his own pride for his entire life, the trip of self-discovery had not been a comfortable one.

And the choice he had to make now was not one he was happy with at all. Wufei knew he had the chance to start with a clean slate, to find his own faith in the future and truly respect it, and if he didn't follow it now - whatever the cost - he would never be whole. But the cost of this choice was bigger than giving up his career. This choice could cost him Duo.

That had been something else he'd found within himself during these three days of self-examination. How much room Duo had now taken up in his soul. For someone who'd been alone all his life, in a very fundamental way, that discovery had been disturbing.

It went further than that TV-drama emotion called 'love', which Wufei had never been sure he fully understood. It went way further than sex, which was pretty much where all his other relationships had started and ended. His feelings for Duo started in bewildered and grudging respect. In the pleasure of having that respect returned in kind. In mutual trust; in finding someone who was his dark and twisted mirror, who knew the joys of battle, the cutting-edge necessity of choices, the wild, frightening reach of freedom. Wufei had found an aspect of himself in Duo, a part Wufei himself had not recognized until now. Yet they were very different too; different in mesmerizing, sometimes annoying or antagonistic but ultimately fascinating ways that drew him in like the paths of a maze.

Whether they remained lovers - once Wufei's body was healed enough to even think about stuff like that - or went back to being friends and comrades, Duo was now a part of his life in a way nobody had ever been before; at least, nobody living. Wufei was astounded and almost affronted that something so important, so central, had happened over the months and he hadn't even noticed it until now.

But now his choice could cost him that. Duo might not want to remain his friend; might not, in fact, be able to afford to.

Wufei had known from the start that choices would bring pain. Some choices were almost impossible to make; it was what pushed men to take Carver's path. Blind obedience in a cause was easier. But Wufei was not so weak or so brittle. He'd make his choice with his eyes open, like Duo and Braun had when they'd let Wufei infiltrate this place, and incidentally find his future.

And the time was now. He'd made up his mind a couple of days ago; he'd just been putting details together in his head. And putting it off. But he wasn't a coward; he had to accept the consequences of his choice. And now was as good a time as any, with Duo standing over him and fuming.

"Chang..." Duo's voice was a menacing purr. "Which part of 'no physical effort' did you not get?"

"I can climb a ladder with two legs and a good arm," Wufei said, with a dismissive half-shrug.

"Several stories worth?" Duo growled. "If you had the sense God gave a sparrow, you would-"

"Duo, I've been thinking. We need to talk."

There was a heavy silence behind him, and then Duo sat down next to him on the parapet without further ranting.

"Yeah, I gathered we'd have to think about the future at some point," Duo said. "It's not like you can stay my Blade forever. I mean, in theory you can, but that's just not your style. The collar looks cute on you and all, but I don't see you wearing it when you're old and grey. And of course, the reason I'd need a Blade is to watch my back while I smuggle or do Scissorman stuff. But I'm not dumb enough to think you'd go for that. I know you'd never be a smuggler or break the law, even if the Johnny Lawboys put you on their Wanted posters out there."

Wufei nodded.

Duo spoke quickly, staring out over the darkness of Makhno around them. "I know grease monkey's a bit of a come-down for you, but you know, I've been busy these past three days. I started talking to people, just a bit. Just feeling around. The people who can get you work on the deep space explorers. How would that grab you? Was that what you were thinking of?"

"...No. But it's a good idea; thank you," Wufei answered honestly.

Duo kicked his heels into the parapet, looking almost faintly bashful, as much as Duo Maxwell could approach such an unlikely emotion. "Yeah, I remembered the look on your face three months ago, when we went through the shipyards. And that time in the Lunar prison, when you talked about deep space. I think that'd be something you could really get into. You certainly have the mechanical chops for it. Oh man, they'd drool all over you; they're always looking for space-savvy personnel who can use a construction mecha. And the mechs who work on those deep-space beauties might be the ones selected to crew them when they leave, in AC 210 or whenever they're ready. Well, that might not be possible, but just working on them..."

"That'd be something," Wufei agreed, eyes on the darkened sector ceiling above their heads, faint warning lights twinkling like distant stars. "I think I would like that. Not full time, but helping out on those shipyards could be my second job. Since everybody in this joint has more than one, and I can't knit worth a damn."

Duo didn't laugh at Wufei's lame attempt at lightening the mood. He bit his lip and scowled.

"Chang, I think I know what you're hoping your main job will be, and I have to tell you, it's not going to be possible. Even if it would be right down your alley."

Wufei looked at him interrogatingly.

"Even I can't be a rat-catcher anymore," Duo said heavily, staring out at the buildings boxing them in. "And I'm not liking it, but it's the way it goes. Rat-catchers are the guardrails of this place; the shit-stirrers who do the stupid, unpopular dangerous job that gets you into loads of fights. So that makes it a perfect-fit job for an ex-Gundam Pilot, I grant ya. But I'm gonna be known far and wide now as the rat-catcher who brought down the Breakers."

Wufei was very conscious of this. It was why he was glad to remain Duo's Blade for as long as he could, for as long as Duo would allow him to. Freeport was still reeling from the disorder that had shaken the colony. But the full truth and the damning details, or some twisted, rumour-laden version of such, were slowly creeping out into the populace. When people finally came to terms with it all and started looking for answers, Wufei expected to have quite a lot of fights and duels on his hands, protecting his friend's back from those knives that might want to find a home there.

"And there's even less chance you can make it as a 'catcher." Duo snorted with laughter, a sound without much humour in it. "Ex-Pilots like us don't tend to think about the future further than next Tuesday, but chances are you'll still be in this tin can in ten years' time. Maybe more. And you know what? They'll still be calling you ‘The Preventer' behind your back, down in Bakunin and in Mooncurse and other less reputable sectors. People'll accept you if you work hard at it, but if you ask a question, discreet-like, like a rat-catcher does, they'll see you coming a mile away. That...well, it just wouldn't work. You see that, right?"

"Yes, you are undoubtedly right. I wasn't thinking of becoming a rat-catcher."

"Oh?" Duo looked away from Makhno to scrutinize him, an eyebrow arched dubiously. "So, what job were you thinking of?"


Duo stared at him for a long, frozen minute, then he hunched himself into a knot on the parapet with his head sunk in his hands and clutched his bangs.

"Whaaat?" He groaned, then he lifted his head and barked: "There's no such thing as a c- as that in Freeport!"

"There will be," Wufei stated, staring out into the eternal night. "It will take years, probably, but-"

"Are you out of your mind?!"


"Hello! Anarchy! We don't have cops!"

"Anarchy? You told me once that Freeport has no system, not even anarchy. It's built on the needs of survival and what people make of their lives, and this non-system changes and evolves with each new migrant."

"It don't change that fucking much!" Duo was clutching his bangs again.

"Of course I don't mean a cop as in a representative of a higher authority," Wufei told him tiredly. "I don't mean a cop at all, since Freeport doesn't have that kind of legal structure. But that's what they'll be saying behind my back in Bakunin and Mooncurse, and probably elsewhere as well. 'The Preventer' might actually be a step up from that, but I bet they'll be calling me 'The Cop', or a lot worse."

The only answer he got was a plaintive whine.

"It's what I want to do," Wufei explained, his words already rehearsed over the last two days. He'd expected this reaction. "It's what I have to do. Justice was the fundamental tenet of my clan. Maybe I should move beyond that concept imposed to me in my youth. But I have chosen not to. It's changed from what I initially believed in at the start of the war." It had had to evolve when he'd met Treize, when he'd found out that Justice was hardly as simple a notion as he'd held as a child. "My Justice has learned to compromise, to wait, to measure. I want to work with it now, without the trappings imposed by others. I want to make it truly my own. To live by it."

"To die by it," Duo growled into his hands.

"Maybe. If that's where it leads me."

Another groan was his only answer.

"But I think I'm needed here," Wufei added.

"No you're not." Duo's voice was muffled and grumpy.

"Really? Tell that to Lesley Spasson. To Marta Bernstein. To Elder Braun."

Duo suddenly lifted his face from his hands and looked at him, eyes serious and considerably more attentive and measuring than his theatrics had made it appear.

"There's something missing on this colony, Duo. It's clarity. There's no justice here, only revenge, and that's if you're lucky. Freeport works on rumours and evaluations of character and a hundred different degrees of honour, connections and saving face. My reason tells me this shouldn't work as well as it does; yet it actually spins along fairly well. But when someone close to you is lying dead in Recyc, murdered, that's not good enough. It's not good enough to have a rough idea of why it happened. Not having that kills you inside. I've worked with enough bereaved families these past five years to know that. Justice is exposing the mechanics of a crime and bringing the perpetrators to answer for it. Their victims need to know why it happened to them. Society needs to know, so that it can stop it from happening again, if possible.

"I want to be a tool for that justice. I'll have to work hard to get this accepted, I know. I'll have to start by persuading the Elders and the Red Bands, since I'll need some cooperation from Freeport's infrastructure. But I won't be acting on the behalf of authority, and they won't be the ones to call on me. It will be the friends and families of those wronged. If they want someone who has experience reading a crime scene, who can outthink a criminal - a criminal by Freeport standards, a murderer, someone who broke the inner rules and will not come clean about it - they'll be able to call upon me."

"And what the hell will you do?" Duo challenged in an exasperated growl.

"Basic forensics, since that's virtually nonexistent here. Fingerprints, if I can persuade the Elders that this would help- maybe too unpopular to start with, but I can still determine a lot from the scene, and then ask questions-"

"You can't interrogate people. Who will answer you?" Duo asked coldly.

"Those who want justice. Who have nothing to hide."

Duo blinked, and then his eyes narrowed. The intelligence and cunning that lurked behind the easy-going façade was seizing upon Wufei's full meaning now, and actually weighing his words and the intent behind them. Duo had been there when Braun had had no other choice but to call in an undercover cop to find out what had happened to Joshua Brindlow. The rat-catcher had seen the pain in Lesley's eyes, the mourning in Marta's. He knew what Wufei was talking about.

If Wufei could do this, if he could insert himself into Freeport society, then he'd become a part of the colony's self-regulation, like the Elders and the rat-catchers and the people who witnessed duels. Victims could choose to come to him, or not. The ones he questioned could choose to answer him, or not. But if they didn't talk to him, their friends might wonder what they were hiding. Popular pressure was what kept a lot of people honest in Freeport, and if Wufei could become an instrument of that pressure...of course, people could lie to him, and probably would if they had something to hide. But a good citizen of Freeport could tell lies from truth, especially one with Wufei's previous experience, and then the lie would be very informative.

"So..." Duo said, after almost five minutes of silence. "It's not really like a cop at all. More like a detective. A PI." He rolled the words around his mouth as if tasting them for possibilities.

"They can call me what they want," Wufei said with a shrug, his injury echoing the movement with a distant twinge. "They can see me as a rat-catcher who does things openly instead of ferreting around in the shadows. I don't care. I'm ready to bet I'll be ‘The Cop' if this ever works at all."

"And you'll wear the name with pride," Duo said acidly.

"Yes, I imagine I will."

"You're fucking nuts."

"I probably am."

"This will never work."

"There are strong chances that it won't."

"Can you please stop agreeing with me?!" Duo ground out, twisting towards him on the parapet, fists clenched at his sides and bangs and braid almost bristling.

Wufei looked at him closely, and with growing surprise. Because this was an aggravated and worried Duo. Not...

"...You're not angry. I thought you'd be furious. I expected you to..." He'd expected Duo to try to stop Wufei a lot more actively, not just bitch about it.

Duo looked at him blankly, and then something quite amazing happened. He blushed, faintly. He glared as Wufei stared at him incredulously, and then he turned away in a huff, propping an elbow against one knee and his chin in his hand in a 'see if I care' position.

"I guess..." The words slipped out as if he couldn't stop them but didn't feel like acknowledging them for all that. "I guess it's just been a long time since I saw you...I determined and sure about something...almost enthusiastic, in that cold-fish way of yours. You really want this."

And that was why Duo was the person who was taking up so much room in his soul.

Wufei licked his lips, and the cold, chemical-scented air bit at the slight humidity as he tried to find the words for what to say next. The hard part. The part he'd never said to anybody before.

"I don't mind gambling my life on this, or risking general censure, but the one thing that...bothers me the most is that I-...We both realize that your best move, in nine months time, would be to cut all connections between us and leave me to my own devices, because the stigma that this might carry could really harm you. I...I don't want to lose...a good friend. Over this.'s...I have a choice and I have to accept that this might be a consequence. If I don't choose this, I'll be a shadow of myself. I wouldn't consider myself worthy of you. I'd be losing you either way."

"Oh for fuck's sake," Duo growled. From the sound of it, he'd just slapped his forehead as if he could force some patience into his mental makeup that way. But Wufei kept his eyes fixed on the darkened buildings around them.

"I know this is not fair to you, especially since you have already risked your reputation to keep me safe here, in your sector." Wufei hated how his own voice sounded stiff and formal. He'd never made this sort of admission before. He thought Duo would know him well enough to read beyond the stilted words and the awkward unspoken parts. "You see, I don't think that my becoming a smuggler or a mechanic would buy us a real future. Though I would be...almost tempted to try if...But I have made my choice. If you want to severe all ties with me, even send me to quarantine right now instead of keeping me as your Blade, I understand-"

"Shut up, Chang. Just shut up. You're giving me a headache. Man, you're selfish, you know that?" Duo growled.

That really hurt, because of course, it was true. "Yes, I am."

"You fucking well are! I can't believe you're thinking of cutting me out on the action here!"

"I apologize." Wufei was rubbing his bandaged arm, because it was itching, and because the flickers of pain were a welcome distraction. "It's bad repayment for all you've done for me, but-..."

Wait a minute.

Wufei blinked at Makhno, then he twisted on the parapet to stare at the smuggler. He must have misunderstood- he hoped he'd misunderstood!

"What? What did you say? What action? What are you talking about?"

Duo was giving him a fine glare. "What are you talking about! This is gonna be huge if it works! And tons of fighting and screwing people over to get it to work! You know the one thing I fear is boredom-"

"No!" Wufei's voice rang like a shot, and it was fortunate that it was the sector's day-cycle because he didn't give a damn right now about disturbing the top-floor neighbours. "You- have you gone out of your mind?!"

"Didn't we have this conversation already?"

"I absolutely, categorically refuse to drag you into-"

"Oy, think I can't cut it?"

"That has nothing to do with it!" Wufei bellowed, quite aware he could be heard down into the street now and not giving a fuck about it. "Why should you want to do this?!"

"Oh, it's not for your beautiful black eyes, if that's what's worrying you."

Wufei was silent, breath rattling in his throat as he stared at Duo.

"You're not thinking, Chang," Duo sniffed, his eyes flashing with his own short temper, but his voice still calm, almost icily so. "Why'd you think I became a rat-catcher in the first place? Why d'you think I let Preventers onto Freeport? For the money?"

Wufei's head was spinning so badly he was wondering if it was quite safe to remain on the parapet. "...No. I knew it wasn't for the money," he whispered.

"Fuckin' 10-10 on that. Though I like being able to keep Scythe afloat... hmmm."

Duo rubbed his chin, eyes clever and calculating as they contemplated a clothesline stringed across a roof on the other side of the street.

"I'm gonna break Monique Desjean's heart. If she has one. Hmf, you might be boning up on your forensic skills using my dead carcass, Chang, when she finds out I have to give up on a lot of the grease monkey stuff. But I'm gonna have to fly freetrading more often. I'll need the dough, and we'll need to get more contacts on the Outside, now that the Preventer backdoor is mostly closed to us. As much as people hate it, Freeport and Outside are as connected as Recyc and the water in the faucet. A lot of the crimes in Freeport are born from the rot in the scum-ends of Space. We'll need our sources if we want to get anywhere.

"Don't give me that look," he added, "I won't involve you in the trade. I know your bright, shiny principles won't stoop to smuggling. On a practical side, you shouldn't set foot outside of Freeport for another ten years, at the least. You are outlawed and a runaway Preventer, and all that."

That hadn't been why Wufei had been looking at his friend with a wide-eyed expression.

"Duo...are you sure?"

"No," Duo answered straight away, without his mask of breezy self-confidence. "It's a bit too soon to be sure. I gotta think about this long and hard...I won't claim to do it for the same reasons you are. I don't give a rat's arse about Justice. You know that. But this is my turf, and I defend it. If I can't be a rat-catcher...then maybe you hit upon the next best thing. I'll think about it. It just struck me, listening to you talk about it, that even if we'll be the most unpopular bruisers onboard, it won't be a bad thing we're doing. Huh, just like old times, hm?" Duo grinned at him, and despite all the worried thoughts going through his mind, Wufei couldn't help but return that dark, battle-hungry grin.

"And if I'm there to help, you'll have the rat-catcher network behind you," Duo added, making a gun sign with his fingers and aiming it at Wufei. "That is a considerable power, my friend. Most of them will be very happy that they have someone who can do the footwork openly. Who can talk to the Elders, follow leads up front and shame those close-mouthed spacers into talking. Who can just run a fucking simple test to see if a guy was poisoned or strangled or whatnot or if he just died from too much bad booze in a hooch parlour. Yeah," Duo added, looking away, face suddenly serious. "Maybe you're right, Chang...maybe there's a hole here waiting to be filled up."

Then Duo's contemplative expression was suddenly replaced by a lunatic grin.

"Or maybe we'll be Enemy Number One in short order. But either way, it wont' be boring!"


"Plus, this way we can continue wearing out the mattress springs together, without having to sneak around to do it."

Wufei's mouth stayed open around his objection as he realized what Duo was saying.

"Idiot," Duo growled, a propos of nothing that had been spoken out loud; he reached out, grabbed Wufei by the grey woolly jumper and dragged him into a kiss, nearly unbalancing them both off the parapet and down onto the roof.

Wufei felt breathless; lighter caresses brushed his lips, and at the back of his mind, a little voice speculated about his present level of fitness and if he wasn't recovered enough for- but Chang Wufei was made of sterner stuff and wasn't that easily distracted.

He leaned back and violently shook his head to clear it.

"Think about this, Duo," he said harshly.

"I will!" The answer was accompanied by a saucy grin.

"We got nine months," Duo added more seriously, looping his arm around Wufei's shoulders, and pulling them together, taking care not to put pressure on Wufei's injured arm. "I'll think about it, I promise. You think about it too. The details, I mean, and how you'll ram this down everybody's throats; I'm not asking you to think about giving up on your idea, because I know you wouldn't change your mind if God himself came down into this dead-end colony and told you to, you stubborn son of a bitch."

"You're probably right. Of course, if I'm a stubborn son of a bitch, what does that make you?" The riposte was automatic and rather weak. Wufei felt dazed as he watched his future violently change once more, leaving yet more choices and consequences ahead for both of them.

"A daring son of Space," Duo quipped.

"An adrenaline junky. You know I'll spend the next nine months trying to talk you out of this. Right?"

"Good luck with that. I am an ex-Gundam pilot, after all. You know what that means!"

"It means you are a suicidal moron."

"Love you too."

They stayed out for another hour, watching Freeport's darkness and blinking lights spread out before them. Then it got too cold, so they went back down again to talk over the details some more.


The End


Back to Chapter thirty-three

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