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"Anarchism has but one infallible, unchangeable motto, 'Freedom.' Freedom to discover any truth, freedom to develop, to live naturally and fully."
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 take any chances.
His internal map of Freeport told him they were also giving a wide berth to the sectors near Kropotkin. He saw no signs of damage in the zones they crossed, but graffiti had spread over the sector walls, argumentative in its typical Freeport way. Painted cries of 'Morgenstern was right!', 'The enemy is 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 the influence 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 give him time to meditate and help him over the inevitable psychological fallout from the battle, 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 mechanics, 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' crudely stenciled 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 grids 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 Euclid 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, I suppose. At least they're not letting any of the Preventer troops on board. Oh wait, they already have, haven't they. 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 respond to any baiting, "that's what he said about you."
"It just goes to show what a bit of fear and authority can do, even here. 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 was off again.
But we don't control it, Wufei thought wearily, tuning the anarchist out. We don't have to. The media control themselves, and feed the people what the ratings say they want, which is saccharine forgetfulness...
"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, and show you the way. I still hoped that, with your past, I could have won you over- oh, speak of the devil, look who's here. Now I never would 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, citizen, 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! It's not been damaged, at least I don't think so, this crack in the lacquer looks old already-"
Wufei gently brushed the sword aside and gripped Duo's shoulder, interrupting him. "Are you okay?" he asked, checking him over for injuries. Duo looked dead 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 the sling and bandages peeping from behind 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 judged that he'd gotten off lightly. When he'd seen his ID posted up on that building back in Kropotkin, he'd fully expected to be dead by now.
"I'm okay," Wufei said, his voice hoarse and uneven. 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 at a loss. "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 later; 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?"
"Oh, 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 was 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 take care of their own. No, I really don't know how they got your sword back or where. This Outer Troll just showed up, 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 brother's body out of the 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, she'd wanted justice. Carver could have gotten himself killed at any point in the last few hours of fighting if Wufei hadn't done the honors. 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 was now 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 for closure. An investigation and a court of law were supposed to produce those answers Outside, though they were far from infallible; in Freeport, those answers might never materialize at all, or they'd trickle down the grapevine lost in the middle of rumors and fallacies.
Wufei looked down at his ancestor's sword and hoped Lesley at least had found her answers.
Duo watched him loop the sword's strap over his good shoulder. "Well..." His 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 humor. "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 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 plenty of exposure. Maybe Space will listen, even if Freeport didn't. He still has his network of terrorist and agitators on the Outside. We'll have to keep an eye on him..."
"Hmmyeah, that sounds more plausible than him rolling over and playing dead."
"I know how his kind thinks," Wufei admitted, almost to himself. "Treize was like that too. Some people will fight and die for what they believe in, but his kind will go one step further: they'll murder, subvert, manipulate, cheat and destroy for their cause. With eyes wide open, counting each death, each stain on the soul. The absolute faith in their beliefs is frightening, and gives them a strange sort of honor that somehow cannot be stained whatever their actions. They don't care that history will remember them as monsters as long as they can shape the future." 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 said, a deadly promise in his eyes. "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...The irony was bitter, but Wufei focused 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 Euclid... ?
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, 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 nothing new. Most citizens are happy I poked around, 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 at the same time as the Euclid-"
"Nah, Duo Maxwell don't turn tail and run. 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, like a parting gift, bittersweet.
"Yes. I'm glad we were able to walk the same path for a while. You honored 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, 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's 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.
"Let's go," muttered Wufei.
The hatch of the Euclides opened 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. Ah yes, Wufei reminded himself, the air: the Freeport atmosphere, rich and vivifying. It could probably wake the dead.
Morgenstern sailed past the two officers with a well-sculpted sneer on 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.
The sloop's airlock and corridor were so clean they looked aseptic. Wufei 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 us-"
"Mandelson, Himura, holding cell One. Charge him as soon as we leave Freeport space," Trowa said without even glancing his way.
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.
Trowa was the only one to nod a greeting, Heero and Sally were too busy examining him head to toe.
"Oh my god, he's gone native," Sally said weakly.
Wufei became excruciatingly conscious of his general appearance, his clothes and the blasted collar he'd completely forgotten to remove. "Snap out of it, Po," he grumbled, trying not to flush with embarrassment. "You've seen me undercover before."
"Never quite so dirty, though," Heero noted with what might have been a trace of humor. Or maybe not. He'd stopped looking at Wufei's clothes after that first once-over, his eyes were now on Wufei's arm, assessing the extent of the injury from the sling, the bandages and Wufei's posture.
"You have a point." Wufei scratched his loose hair. It felt like something was breeding in there. 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. Just how bad is it?"
Sally glanced at Heero and Trowa. Wufei noted that she looked almost as tired as he was. "No more than usual. There's that mess on L2 with 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?" 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 said, 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 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 cannon, breaking the law - and bones as well - to pursue his own vigilante version of Justice. These were good men, and they'd see this as no more than the opportunity 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 said 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 found 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 for dragging their CEO away from his desk," 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 favor 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 variety 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, 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 around the metal hull. "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, and now his silence was getting strange. Wufei tried to meet his gaze, gauge how much his old friend was furious at him. But Trowa wasn't even looking at him, he was staring over Wufei's shoulder. Puzzled, the latter glanced around, but there was nothing there; just the gleaming steel corridor leading out of the inner bay, the open airlock at the end of it....
Wufei felt as if the air inside the bay had become thinner, making his lungs labor 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 feasible to address them yet...? Wufei was quite aware that, if Morgenstern and his allies managed to snare him, he could spend the next decade 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. That was the price of freedom.
There was freedom outside that airlock, and Duo, and a lot of trouble, and Duo, and some really hard choices to make. And Duo.
Wufei looked back at Trowa. "I have 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 as he finally met Wufei's eyes, "you never take the easy way out. Where there's a battle to be fought, you're there. Even if you have to go looking for one."
Wufei frowned, unsure of what that might mean.
"That's a very unpopular attitude these days," Trowa added. "Our society has no more room for unbending fools who can only fight for justice without compromise."
"Barton!" Sally said, 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 really were different in the end.
"Mandelson and Himura? What about them?" Trowa said 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."
"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 had the intuition that Trowa must have discussed this potential 'solution' with Heero and Sally beforehand, alongside talk of lawyers and relocation programs, which was why Sally had been arguing so fiercely for the other options 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 controlled.
"This solution has many advantages," Heero said. "Sooner or later, you were going to end up in the stockade for a long stretch. 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 of 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 charges are likely to follow. I wouldn't be counting on a pension either, if I were you."
"It wouldn't have amounted to much anyway."
Trowa smiled, a bare lift of the corners of his mouth as 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...but then it was Captain Barton speaking again. "I'm not putting you out on a permanent holiday here. We'll need you again. 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 to Heero, who stuck out his hand.
"I'm sorry to lose you, Chang," Heero said, with all the emotion of a computer readout. "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 in 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 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...Then he had an armful of Sally to contend with as she gave him a careful hug.
"That injury looks serious, get it taken care of," she said sternly. "If I had the time, I'd haul you into the medical bay, but we have to get out of Freeport airspace in the next hour. 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 evasively.
Sally's eyes on him were troubled. "I hope you'll be safe here. Trowa said you should be, but if you have any doubts, get out on Scythe and to the Preventer ship Allouette on the embargo line. Talk 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 ever want 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, propriety and personal space be damned. He would miss her. He would miss them all.
The Euclid's rockets puffed frozen mix into the icy oblivion of space, maneuvering the sloop out of its berth and into the space lanes. Duo stood at the view port, watching its departure. Since he thought he was alone, his expression was unguarded. Wufei noted the fatigue etched deep onto Duo's features, as well as traces of physical pain the smuggler had hid until now, and something like sadness blended with fatalistic resignation. The look didn't suit him.
Then he caught sight of Wufei in the star port's reflection.
Duo spun around, and Wufei was treated to the rare sight of a totally astounded Maxwell. For all of three seconds, and then the smuggler recovered and rubbed his forehead in his 'oh my god I am surrounded by idiots' pose.
"Wu, I got to tell you, this is not the smartest decision you ever made."
That was probably the case, but if Duo really thought so, then 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 nothing new," Wufei said sarcastically.
Duo wandered up to him, grinning like a loon. "Aaaaah, no sweat. 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 sore and abused, his head was spinning as if he could feel Freeport's rotation in his inner ear, yet 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. It certifies that I am not being expelled, 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 to go, then.
Duo snatched Braun's paper from his hands and started reading it in an astonished mumble.
Wufei rubbed his eyes with his freed fingers. Outside the view port, the Euclid was a metallic blob the size of a raised fist. Wufei glanced down and after a couple of tries he managed to focus on the numbers on his watch. "If that's not enough, there will be a warrant out for my arrest in roughly two hours. Will that be an adequate introduction?"
Duo looked up sharply. "Warrant? Man, they don't dick around out there. What the hell is that about?"
Wufei took a deep breath- and released it with a shake of his head. "There are circumstances. They no longer matter."
Duo chewed his inner lip for a couple of seconds, 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
Part 35 (Epilogue)