Maldoror (maldoror_gw) wrote,

GW Fic: Freeport, part 35 - the end! (Rewrite)

This is the end...beautiful friend, the end... - no, wait, that's too depressing.

This is the end of the world as we know it! And I feel fiiiiiiiine!

Or something like that ^__^ Enjoy the last chapter of Freeport, y'all. I'm going to write a LJ post with all the chapters linked together for ease of use.

Link to all chapters

"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

Part 35

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

"It's fine," Wufei grunted with barely a glance at the hideous black and blue 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 grumbled, but he grabbed the bandages and applied a fresh dressing without insisting further. The exchange 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 the army of volunteers seen 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 resulting from his choice 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 workable plan, Duo had declared he'd rather go down fighting than die of sodium and cooked cabbage overdose, and that had been 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, was driving him 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 a meeting of that size could be held.

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. But like Braun, the smuggler 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 most of the long discussion that followed over bad coffee and worse 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. 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 and it was obvious it had nearly cost him his life.

Duo had played up Wufei's past, weighing 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 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 if he had to 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," she'd said (it took 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. If you hadn't been here..." Babka had broken off at that point, looking upset.

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 catalyst 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, then 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. Acknowledging the necessity of Wufei's presence here - the necessity for rat-catchers in general, perhaps - was a sign this 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. 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.

Wufei now had a place to live. That just left him with the next big question about his future...His self-imposed confinement came in handy at that point. He had many long hours to meditate, or stare at the ceiling as he lay next to Duo, arm aching too much to sleep. Duo, true to form, called him 'a grouch' and then carried on as if he hadn't noticed Wufei's lack of response to his comments and questions and muttered imprecations against a reluctant rotor that refused to let him fix it, leaving Wufei time and space to think.

Time gave Wufei an opportunity to explore his 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 face 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 now, armed with that knowledge, he had to make a choice. A lot of choices, but one in particular, and he wasn't all that happy with it. Wufei 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 a loner all his life, 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 breadth 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, 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, a change so fundamental, 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 were painful. 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 path.

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, up here on the roof with Duo standing over him, fuming.

"Chang, 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? 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, and 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. Putting out feelers. I've been chatting to the folk 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, almost 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.

"Wufei, 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, frowning at the buildings boxing them in. "And I'm not liking it, but that'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. It's gotta be the 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 let him. Freeport was still reeling from the disorder that had shaken the colony. But the full truth and the damning details, or some twisted, rumor-laden version of such, were seeping out into the populace. When people finally came to terms with it all and started looking for answers, Wufei expected to have a lot of fights 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 ratter." Duo snorted with laughter, a sound without much humor 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 and integrate, 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 hitched a curious eyebrow in Wufei's direction. "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 judicial 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'd been forced 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 and live by it."

"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 lifted his face from his hands and studied Wufei's expression. After a pause, he folded his arms over his chest and appeared ready to listen at least.

"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 rumors and evaluations of character and a hundred different degrees of honor, 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. Not knowing why, not having kills you inside. I've worked with enough bereaved families these past five years to know that. Justice is not revenge, it's exposing the mechanics of a crime as well as bringing the perpetrators to answer for it. The victims need to know why, to understand why this happened to them, and so does everyone in their society.

"I want to be a tool for that justice. It's going to require a lot of groundwork, 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 victims, or their friends and families. 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.

"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-"

Duo made an exasperated noise. "You can't interrogate people. Who will answer you?"

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

Duo was silent at that. The cunning that lurked behind the easy-going façade was seizing upon Wufei's full meaning now, 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. He'd 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 fights. 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 underlining the movement with a twinge. "They can see me as a rat-catcher who works openly instead of ferreting around in the shadows, or an aide to the forensics department who goes just that little bit further into the inquest. 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."

"Will you stop agreeing with me?!" Duo snapped, fists clenched at his sides and bangs and braid almost bristling.

Wufei looked at him 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 in disbelief, 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. 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 trace of 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, will 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. But it'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 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 sever all ties with me, even send me to quarantine right now instead of keeping me as your Blade, I understand-"

Duo's palm hit the concrete of the parapet an inch from Wufei's leg. "Shut up, Chang. Fuck. You're selfish, you know that?"

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 rubbed his bandaged arm, to soothe an itch 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's skyline, then he twisted on the parapet to face Duo. 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 plan of yours 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 neighbors. "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 was quite aware he could be heard down into the street now and did not give a damn about it. "What possible reason do you have to take such a risk?!"

"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 re-evaluated Duo's intent.

"You're not thinking, Chang," Duo sniffed, his eyes flashing with his own short temper. "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?"

"...No. I knew it wasn't for the money," Wufei had to admit in a mutter.

"Fuckin' 10-10 on that. Though I like being able to keep Scythe afloat...hmmm." Duo rubbed his chin, eyes calculating as they contemplated a clothesline strung 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 as an example 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 searching 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, hmm?" Duo grinned at him, and despite all the worried thoughts going through his mind, Wufei couldn't help but answer in kind.

"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. A lot of them will be happy to have someone who can do the footwork openly. Who can talk to the Elders, follow leads up front and shame a close-mouthed spacer into talking. Someone 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 parlor. Yeah," Duo added, looking away, face suddenly serious. "Maybe you're right, Chang...maybe there's a hole here waiting to be filled."

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

"Or maybe we'll be Enemy Number One in short order. But either way, it won't 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 next objection. "You still-..."

"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. Then he looped his arm around Wufei's shoulder and pulled them together, taking care not to put pressure on Wufei's injured arm. "We've got nine months. 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 weak. Wufei felt dazed as he watched his future violently change once more, leaving yet more choices and consequences ahead for both of them. It was scary to think he'd have a partner on this insane trip. It was also inspiring and heartwarming to know he wouldn't be walking alone.

"Me? I'm 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!"

"That you're a suicidal moron."

"Love you too."

They stayed side by side on the roof 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

*gets all misty-eyed* Ahh, this was a fond trip down memory lane, and a nice revisit of one of the better structured and complex stories I wrote to date. I hope you all enjoyed the re-read and bumming around with me in Freeport's dry and dirty alleyways. Thanks to all who commented, enjoyed, encouraged, and spotted those typos! That'll spare me pain in the future when I reread a chapter and wince at an error I hadn't noticed until now.

And now onto more original fiction...


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