10-25-2001

Title: A Shifting of Fortune
Author: Karen, The Huntress
Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Wing or its characters.
Pairing: 1x2, 3x4, 5 x no one
Warning: YAOI-LEMON, violence, language, adult situations

 

A SHIFTING OF FORTUNE

Prologue:

A sleek black car pulled up to the plain office building. The driver came around and opened the back door. Offering his hand he helped a tall, willowy woman step from the expensive vehicle.

She was in her mid-twenties and dressed entirely in black which made her slender height seem even taller. In one black-gloved hand she loosely carried a leather riding crop.

The driver escorted the woman to the front door, opened it and moved aside to let her go in first.

As she walked into the small reception area the Lady turned slightly, "That will be all now. You can wait in the car."

"Yes, Madam." the driver bowed and left.

"Ah, Lady Noin." a voice called from a side door. "I am so glad to see you." the chubby man with the ruddy face announced. "I think I have found just what you are looking for." he continued motioning towards a second door.

Noin again walked ahead. It was clear by her commanding presence and confident movements the Lady was used to going first and generally being treated with the respect her title and considerable wealth afforded her. "You have not disappointed me in the past, Rogers, and I do not expect you will this time."

Once inside, the somewhat nervous man closed the door for privacy. "Please have a seat." he motioned at an arrangement of richly textured chairs and a flowered sofa. "Would you like something to drink, some wine perhaps?"

Noin settled her long frame onto the sofa and made herself comfortable, "No thank you." she answered, "I am a bit pressed for time."

"Then we will get right to the business at hand." Rogers said taking a seat behind a large polished desk. "As I said when we spoke this morning, I have several candidates that fit your specifications." he declared waving his hand to one of his associates.

A door at the office's rear was opened and four young men, between the ages of seventeen and twenty, were led in and lined up shoulder to shoulder against the opposite wall.

Each had their hands handcuffed in front and each had been stripped from the waist up to display some, if not all, of their best features.

Noin straightened her relaxed posture leaning forward to study the handsome quartet set out before her.

"Yes, Rogers, I would say you have outdone yourself this time." she praised.

Bringing her long legs beneath her, the Lady stood and strolled, with delighted anticipation, across the room. She paused a few feet from the young men taking another long moment to drink in their muscular physiques. Then slowly she moved down the line, pausing at each one to closely examine the "merchandise".

"Hum." her silky voice purred as Lady Noin retraced her steps back to the second in line. A heavy braid hanging down one boy's back, almost to his knees, caught her attention.

"This one is particularly interesting." she commented leaning forward for a more focused inspection running the riding crop's tip over a gold cross hanging against smooth creamy skin.

Sliding the leather crop up under the man's chin to position his face at a better viewing angle, she let out a quite contented sigh.

The chestnut haired youth lifted his head and, with undaunted daring, locked his deep-set violet eyes with the Lady's centered sight. Noin saw a spark flash in the young man's intense glare, felt a certain excitement as his piercing gaze enkindled a quite unexpected fire inside the Lady.

"Oh, yes." Noin told herself, "This is the one."

"How much?" she inquired of the price even though she had already decided the beautiful Boy would be going home with her.

Rogers smiled knowing by Madam Noin's perfectly clear body language that he had made the sale. "Four thousand. But he has had no pervious owners." Rogers added to qualify his asking price.

Noin narrowed her eyes as she contemplated the amount. "Well it is a bit steep considering he is green and will need some "breaking in." she declared.

"But then he is fresh. I wouldn't have to retrain him. I so hate to have to undo some other Mistress's conditioning." she confessed.

The prideful youth kept up his steely stare growing angrier by the second as Lady Noin and Rogers continued their discussion as if he wasn't even there. As if they were bargaining over some prize stallion offered for stud service.

"What is his name?" she inquired letting the riding crop slid down the youth's neck and nude chest before it dropped away.

Rogers flipped through several sheets of paper until he located the right page, then quickly ran a beefy finger down a list of names.

"Let's see, " he murmured under his breath, "Yes, here it is. Duo Maxwell." he announced to his obviously pleased customer.

Noin took a moment repeating the name in her mind. "Duo Maxwell." she repeated once more lowly, "Yes, I believe he will do quite nicely." she proclaimed turning back to Rogers. "Charge him to my account."

"Excellent choice, Lady Noin." Rogers agreed. "Take him back and get him ready to go." he instructed his associate who wasted no time complying with his Boss' wishes.

 

Part One:

As Lady Noin finished signing the sales contract and received her receipt, the American youth was presented to his new owner. A black jacket matching his trim fitting pants now covered his firm chest. In his, still bound, hands he carried a small duffle bag containing his meager possessions. The few personal items he had been allowed to keep.

"I know you will be very satisfied with this one." Rogers declared pleased with himself and his quite profitable sale. "And of course, as usual, if you have my problems please let me know."

"Thank you I will." the Lady promised, "But I don't anticipate any problems." she added letting her sight run over her newly acquired "property's" full length.

The dutiful driver met his employer at the curb again offering an assisting hand as Noin gracefully lower her statuesque height into the car. Duo was seated in front, the duffle bag set at his feet and his seat belt fastened securely. After all Lady Noin wouldn't want her new "pet" damaged in any way.

Maxwell remained silent on the long ride back to Lady Noin's country estate. The grim and smog was left behind as more and more green fields and tree lined fencerows replaced the city's gloomy environment.

Fresh air and a cleaner, more brilliant, sky should have lifted Duo's spirits, but he knew, even though he had been liberated from the city's stark darkness and unforgiving streets, he had only traded his place of imprisonment.

Whether in the city or on some rich Lady's estate, he still was not free. No, a golden cage, although it might be more comfortable and safer, was still just as much a prison.

He cursed under his breath making sure his hard oaths were not overheard by either the driver or his new Mistress. But most of the swearing, however, was not directed at the elegant, obviously well-bred, woman even though she was a stone-cold bitch or his new situation, but at Duo himself.

He alone was to blame for his current predicament. He should have known when he made the deal with that Pimp he had made a terrible mistake.

Thinking back, Duo closed his eyes recalling the stupidity of his past choices. The pain and degradation that had degenerated his existence to this sorry state be now called his life.

***********************************

Flashback:

At the time, though. trading hustling and turning tricks on the streets just to eat for joining Treize Khushrenada's stable seemed like a good idea.

After all Khushrenada owned a first-class operation. All his clientele were wealthy and demanded only the best. They were willing to pay well, often contracting their escorts for days or weeks at a time.

Yeah, there was good money to be made, you got to travel and you didn't have to put with the average street "john" and their common behavior. Most of the clients were a little eccentric and a couple of dates turned out to be rougher than Duo liked, but, hell, that went with the territory.

But if a customer didn't shape up and continued their aggressive behavior, no matter how well they paid, Treize would cut them loose. His studs and gigolos were too valuable to risk getting put out of commission by someone into too extreme fetishes. Yeah, at the time it seemed Duo had it made.

And when Treize expressed an interest in the erotic boy, Duo thought that he had reached another level. After all occasionally sharing the Boss's bed had its privileges.

In return for a good night's entertainment, Treize would give Duo expensive gifts and his choice of the top customers. Maxwell viewed his rise from a mere prostitute to a high class escort as just rewards for being so good at what he did.

Again, however, Duo was just trading one kind of hell for another, he still was not free. Only later did be begin to find out what kind of dark pit he had fallen into. Soon things began to go from good to not so good.

Treize soon got bored and turned him out of his bed. Duo handled that easily enough because he had known from the start Khushrenada never stuck with one lover for very long.

But Maxwell's casual attitude towards their parting didn't sit well with Treize's egotistical nature. Duo reckoned Treize thought himself to be such an excellent lover that he should have pined away over the separation. Instead Duo's indifference only put Khushrenada's unstable physiological balance that much more out of sync.

The fateful night that set in motion Maxwell's final downwards spiral to his present circumstances began when Treize "requested" that Duo go with him to a club Khushrenada frequented.

Duo really didn't want to go but, Treize had been so hostile and moody, he was afraid turning him down might trigger one of the violent temper fits Treize's volatile personality often produced.

When he and Treize arrived they were taken to one of the private rooms available for the club's preferred customers. Duo didn't think twice about the arrangement, he had had his share of private dates in many such rooms.

Three of Khushrenada's male friends soon joined them and, at that point, Duo began to feel a tad uncomfortable. Drinks were served and again Duo went along.

Suddenly Maxwell found himself becoming sleepy. To late did he realize he had been drugged.

In his drugged stupor Duo wasn't aware of his trip from the club to Treize's friend's home. He didn't know anything until he began to come around and found himself in what he supposed was the basement.

Panic gripped him thoroughly as he realized he had been stripped and tied down in an overextended spread eagle posture on a rough wooden frame. His panic turned into pure soul-gripping terror as he saw all manner of torturous implements scattered about the damp stone floor and hanging from the walls.

Treize's eyes, wild with maniacal insanity, stared down into Duo's horror-widened pupils. Standing on either side of the madman, his three friends displayed the exact maddened gleam ready to share the same pleasure from Khushrenada's twisted, bizarre and sexual fascination with pain.

"I will teach you proper respect you whore." Treize growled out his horrific promise. "You will learn who is your Master."

After the first half an hour Duo remembered little about the hours of agonizing torment. Maxwell's next coherence was three days later when he awoke in a strange bedroom.

In his pain dazed state, Duo could only lay on his back and try to control his labored panting as broken ribs painfully restricted each attempt at a deep breath. Arms and legs were covered with bandages.

Large blue-black bruises caused even the soft sheet surrounding his battered body to hurt as they rubbed over every inch of his sensitive skin.

Mercifully that harrowing night's most excruciating memories were still buried deeply in his subconsciousness. But the night terror demons did, from time to time, rear their ugly heads ripping into his mind with razor talons. Groping and scraping the horrid recollections to the surface again and again.

Duo would jerk awake screaming and thrashing striking out blindly at the macabre faces hovering over him Reliving every moment of anguish and finding himself helpless to stop the frightening recalling.

But when the heart pounding episodes had played themselves out to their physically and mentally exhausting conclusions, Maxwell could feel the results but not recall the source.

Perhaps it would be better if Duo did remember then he could deal with the demons and either exorcise the beguiling devils or go mad in the attempt. Either way he would be free from the recurring dark dreaming.

When Maxwell would question the people caring for him concerning his situation they either couldn't or wouldn't tell him anything.

At the end of two weeks, when Duo was able to get out of bed and move, however slowly, about the room, a stout man with a nervous disposition and constantly sweaty hands named Peter Rogers came to visit.

Without so much of a hint of remorse in his husky voice, Rogers informed Duo that he had been sold to him by Khushrenada since he was now considered "damaged goods".

Two days later Maxwell was transferred to the downtown office building and put on a regiment to recover his health and get both his strength and body back into "selling" condition.

He shared his forced confinement with eight other men but Duo kept to himself, constantly avoiding two of the older men's advances and each day planned his escape.

Before Duo's plan could be put into motion, one of the other men beat him to the punch. One night the man overcame one of the guards and took off. At first Maxwell was envious as it seemed the man would make it out.

But the shape crack of a pistol shot and the sight of the man jerking and going down dashed Maxwell's hopes for his freedom. He then and there reconciled himself to his fate and hoped the next phase of his pitiful life would be more bearable.

Now he had a new owner but had yet to see how he would be treated.

***********************************

A slight jerk as the car braked to slow down caused Duo to open his eyes ending his past remembrances. They had turned off the main road, down a private lane towards a large two story house sitting among acres of green lawns and gardens.

"So this is it." Duo said to himself leaning forward to see the full extent of the massive mansion.

The car passed under a wrought iron arch supported on either side by a massive stone pillar. On each column the name, VIXEN'S LAIR had been chiseled with a flourish of sweeping letters and flower covered vines into the smooth stone.

"That name certainly suits her." Duo thought to himself.

Each gray column also held a heavy wrought iron gate at least eight feet in height. Each gate's curved top matched the arch's flowing line and fit seamlessly together as the gates closed behind the entering vehicle.

A tall wall of the same gray stone stretched out to the left and right of the archway. The wall's length ran out of sight well before Duo could see where it might end.

The tree lined lane divided into a circular path bending around to the house's front and keeping on around to connect back and lead out again.

In the circle's grassy center a grand iron fountain spat out water sending the forced stream up to cascade over some half-naked Amazonian woman holding a sword in one hand and a decapitated serpent in the other. The limp snake's body trailed down the women's leg, its severed head laid at her feet.

Lining the fountain's scalloped edge, lion heads, mouths opened wide and fangs exposed, spat water back into the deep bowl.

The car hadn't traveled more than fifty yards before Duo saw two armed men walking side by side.

A third man leading a particularly muscular and, quite vicious looking, dog joined the guards as they as they continued across the green, well manicured, lawn.

There was no doubt in Duo's mind the patrolling sentries were but several members of a larger and well trained Security Staff. No one in Lady Noin's position would have anything less than a small army guarding her sprawling estate.

The car followed the circle's bending until it pulled parallel to a semi-circle tile porch extending from wide double front doors. The dark wooden doors were carved with another splash of flowers and vines intermingled with lions in various poses. Some of the ferocious felines devoured their fallen prey in quite graphic death scenes.

It was all to clear the Lady's abode reflected her dominant personality. And that she surely was one person not to be crossed in any way.

Duo leaned forward again taking in the full, magnificent magnitude of the great house.

"A cage no matter how grand is still a cage." he reminded himself once more.

The driver hurried to open the car door and offered his usual helping hand to the Lady of Vixen's Lair. She stepped lithely onto the first step and turned to wait for the driver to extract her new "property" from the front seat.

Duo stood up, duffle bag in hand, to face his new Mistress and "home".

The driver proceeded his employer opening the right-side front door standing aside as Lady Noin walked inside. Maxwell quietly came next.

The driver stayed on the porch, bowed slightly then closed the door behind, no doubt, to deposit the car in the garage area with Noin's other personal vehicles, another grand sedan, several SUVs and two motorcycles that made up her extensive automotive collection.

Passing through a large foyer, Duo let his eyes wander over the grand entranceway with its marble floor, high ceiling and deep textured wallpaper. Straight ahead the foyer ran seamlessly into a second reception hall with archways leading to other rooms flowing down on either side.

But the most grand appointment of all was the wide marble twin staircases raising gracefully to the second story. The steps swept up in a gradual curve, each side connecting at an upper walkway to complete the same semi-circle design that seemed to be consistent with the overall layout of the house and grounds.

Under the stair's elevated center another room, occupying the entire back section could be seen. Noin moved ahead under the walkway. Duo, not sure if he should follow, kept his place in the hall.

Noin checked her stride turning on her heels, "Well come on." she ordered before resuming her pace.

Dutifully Maxwell obeyed making sure to keep a proper, respectful distant behind her new Mistress. As Duo made his made into the equally plush room it was obvious, by the functional design, it was the Lady's office.

Noin sat down behind a wide dark wood desk leaning back in the leather covered chair with a soft sigh. The riding crop was dropped on the nearly arranged desktop within easy reach should she decide its stinging persuasiveness was needed.

Pulling off her gloves, the Lady glanced quickly at a folder taking a moment to read the cover. Then, just as nonchalantly, redirected her attention to the beautiful young man standing before her.

"Sit down." she motioned to one of four crimson and gold fabric chairs sitting in another semi-circle before the desk.

Duo slipped into the thickly padded seat setting his bag down at his feet. He didn't know all the rules of his forced inclusion into the Lady's household but he did know enough not to speak without permission.

Pushing a button on an intercom box, Noin spoke with her usual, clearly authoritative, bluntness. "Winner, I need you in my office now." she barked out the order.

Then a second button was depressed, "Security." a voice announced over the opened channel.

"Is Chang there?" Noin inquired.

"Not right now, Madam, he is out by the East Border supervising the new trainees. Do you want me to find him?"

Noin paused with another light sigh, "No. Is Yuy available?"

"Yes, Madam."

"He will do. Send him to my office."

"Yes, Madam, right away."

Duo's Mistress leaned forward resting one elbow on the desk, "I will have those off in a few minutes." she declared nodding at the steel rings encircling Maxwell's wrists.

Duo let his eyes settle momentarily on the restrictive rings, then raised them to study Noin's delicate facial features.

As creamy as her skin glowed in the muted sunlight streaming through the rear wall's lace curtained French Doors. As smoothly as her high cheekbones curved below her deep blue, almost purple, eyes, there was an ever-so-slight hardness to the Lady's face. An underlying harshness in the Lady's gaze.

Yes, clearly there was more to this strangely alluring Lady than merely observed on the surface. A carefully regulated inner reserve and, Duo believed, an inner sadness.

But everyone was affected by the total of life's experiences. Duo knew, by the painful lessons he had learned the hard way, no one was ever exactly who or what they seemed to be. And he was certain Lady Noin's life lessons were no exception to the rules.

 

Part Two:

Maxwell's discrete observation of his new Mistress was abruptly brought to an end by the arrival of a slender young man not more than two or three years older than Duo.

A thick crop of blond hair cascaded in silky wisps over his forehead almost obscuring his wide sparkling indigo eyes. He seemed to float into the room on light easy strides. His arms were overloaded with a rainbow of colorful folders and what appeared to be a large, and probably heavy, ledger book.

The blond stopped for a moment to catch his breath before carefully laying the large book well up on the desk's edge to be sure it would not tumble off. The folders were, just as carefully, stacked on top.

"You called me?" he asked between short intakes of air casting a sideways glance at Maxwell.

Duo got the impression by the young man's overall hurried demeanor that he was one of those people who were always rushing from one project or task to another. Always busily and efficiently "getting the job done".

Noin let a thin smile cross her lips, "Slow down, Winner." she advised shaking her head at the man's rushed, somewhat flighty, behavior.

"Yes, Madam." he replied taking a seat beside Duo.

The blond glanced once more at Maxwell then did a "double take" as he noticed Duo's handcuffed wrists.

"Oh!" the single word sounded faintly, probably so low Noin could not hear the surprised exclamation.

Duo narrowed his eyes at the startled Winner deliberately giving him the most threatening glare he could. Then Maxwell let his own thin smile show his pleasure at causing the already jumpy young man to flinch and shrink back from his menacing scowl.

If Noin took notice of Duo's purposeful attempt at intimidation of her employee she gave no indication in either her stoic blue sight or body language.

Winner pushed back more deeply into the chair's thick cushions hoping to find some measure of refuge from the American man's narrowed violet eyes and sinister statement.

Noin ran a finger down the riding crop flicking the leather loop at the end, "Winner," she began then paused noticing the blond's cowardliness.

Her eyes rested on Duo before a slight smirk graced her lips as the affects of his centered glare became apparent.

"Good." she thought to herself, "He hasn't lost his spirit. He might just be the challenge I need."

"Winner." she began again raising her voice to gain his attention.

Silky hair swished over one eye as the young man straightened feeling a bit braver knowing he was under his Mistress's protective watch. "Yes, Madam."

"This is Duo Maxwell." Noin announced putting a name to the imposing figure seated by Mr. Winner. "He is my newest acquisition. You will need to add him to the budget and purchase some suitable clothing." she instructed, "I am sure he doesn't have anything befitting my standards." the Lady added looking down at the faded duffle bag.

Maxwell tilted his head now casting the same hardened glare at his new Mistress. She might have bought him, but he would be damned if she would ever own him.

Noin leaned forward her own narrowed sight matching Duo's steely stare. "This is Mr. Winner, he is my Household Manager. Most of the time he will be relaying my orders so you might as well decide to, at least, tolerate his limited authority." she advised, "I don't believe you want to alienate the one person you will have to count on for any form of comfort here."

Duo glanced at the blond then at Lady Noin.

"Well? You can talk, can't you?"

"Yes." Duo replied coldly not lessening the harsh degree of his malice-induced glare.

"It is fine with me if you don't talk much, I like my "pets" silent and obedient." Noin declared her voice's raised pitch accenting the blunt statement. "but you WILL address me as Madam." she ordered.

"There aren't many conditions here. You will show me respect, do as I say and speak only when I give you permission. You will not leave the sleeping area or the house unescorted. Take my orders and follow these rules and you will remain healthy and as happy as I want you to be. Is that clear?"

Deciding, for the time being anyway, that he would be better off to go along with "Madam's" game, Maxwell lower his sight, "Yes, Madam."

Lady Noin smiled relaxing back in her chair, satisfied that in time, her new boy-toy would be broken in properly.

The arrival of yet another staff-member eased the tension. The person was dressed entirely in black. A circular crimson patch with "SECURITY" embroidered in bold gold letters was the only hint of color on the dark uniform similar in style to those worn by the patrolling guards Duo had seen earlier.

Again, in keeping with Noin's habit of surrounding herself with fine young males, the man was about Duo's age.

His most noticeable feature was a thick crop of brown hair that seemed to be in a constant state of tousled confusion. Narrow cobalt eyes surveyed the room and its occupants as he paused inside the archway.

"Yuy." Noin acknowledged the new arrival with a sweeping motion of her hand.

With light, graceful strides Yuy approached the desk stopping a few feet from the American youth. A grin tugged at his mouth's corners but it was clear he was deliberately not letting it break out into a full smile.

Noin lifted the riding crop using it as a pointer, "Take those off." she motioned at the handcuffs.

The Security employee knelt in front of Duo pulling a key from his jacket pocket. In seconds the cuffs sprang open and were removed. The young man gave Duo a quick wink making sure it was hidden from Noin's view then stood up taking the restrains with him before moving back to the desk.

Noin stretched out her arm, the riding crop held firmly in her long fingers, "This is Yuy." she proclaimed brushing the crop's end over the young man's flat abdomen shone off nicely by his tight shirt.

"He is second-in-command of my Personal Security Unit." she stated letting the leather loop slip down until it rested on Yuy's crotch. With teasingly firm strokes the looped end pressed harder.

"If you are entertaining any ideas of starting trouble or leaving, think twice, Mr. Yuy here is quite efficient at dissuading any unruly behavior. And he is very good at what he does, are you?" Noin cooed tapping Yuy's tight pant's frontal region.

"Yes, Madam." he replied seemingly not affected by the Lady's insistence attention to his considerable natural endowments.

Noin reluctantly averted her lustful gaze returning it to Duo, "You go with Yuy, he will show you to your room. Again I will advise that you don't make him your enemy" Noin instructed, "That would not be a wise or healthy choice."

Maxwell looked up into Yuy's eyes not seeing anything threatening in their shimmering centers but he knew from experience you couldn't judge a person or their abilities by what was viewed on the outside.

Duo rose gathering his bag in his freed hands. "Yes, Madam."

"Winner will bring you some clothes and personal items later." Noin informed, "Maxwell, abide by my few simple rules and there will be no problems." she declared, "Winner, you stay, I need to talk with you."

"Yuy escort Maxwell downstairs." the Lady ordered giving one longing look at the handsome young man with the seductively sexy eyes.

***********************************

Duo followed Yuy and his nice rear end across the hall, to the right and downstairs to the basement area. When they reached the bottom, the Security man paused glancing from side to side. Seeing that the corridor was vacant he flopped down on the last step.

"That bitch is hard as nails." he proclaimed reaching into his pocket for a cigarette, "Want one?" he offered.

Duo shook his head, "No thank you." he answered with a sigh. He felt like he had been holding his breath since he arrived.

Yuy lit the cigarette inhaling lightly then, with his own soft sigh, let the smoke drift from his nostrils. "My name is Heero." he introduced himself, "What do you like to be called, Maxwell or Duo?"

The American man rested his shoulder against the stone wall wondering why the Lady's employee want to make small talk. Finally deciding the conversation was innocent enough he answered. "Duo will be all right."

"Okay, Duo it is then." the Japanese Boy smiled flicking gray ashes on the floor.

Heero stretched and stood up, "Come on I'll show you to your bedroom."

They made another right turn into a wide hall. Doors lined either side. Some were storage areas, one the laundry room. About midway four opened doors lining the left side showed the bedrooms. The first was unused. The second was occupied judging by the made up bed and items covering the dresser.

Heero stopped at the third, "You can use this one." he declared walking into the square room.

Clean linens were folded on the bed that sat against the left wall. At the back wall a mirrored dresser took up most of the space. To the right a wooden table and chair sat to itself in front of a built-in closet.

There were no windows and the single overhead light barely lit Maxwell's new abode. "I'll tell Quatre to get you a lamp with a decent wattage bulb." Heero promised sitting on the unmade bed.

Duo set his bag on the table taking a seat on the wooden chair. "Quatre?" he wondered at the new name.

"Winner." Heero explained, "That's Winner's first name. He can get you just about anything you want, legal or not. If you want a bottle or joint, that's fine but don't get caught drunk or stoned the Lady frowns on that."

"Am I down here alone?" Duo asked hoping that wouldn't be the case.

Yuy drew in on the cigarette drawing the reddish end to almost nothing, "Nope, that's Trowa's room next to this one." he said blowing out the last of the smoke before crushing the smothering end on the wall, "But you might as well be alone with him around. He's won't be much company. Likes to keep to himself and hardly ever talks." Heero informed, "Except when Quatre comes down."

Heero leaned back on the bed resting his weight on his elbows, "I might as well tell you now, you'll probably find out anyway, but Trowa and Quatre sort of have a relationship going, if you know what I mean?"

Duo nodded, "Yeah I know something about that subject myself." he admitted figuring since Noin knew about his past, the information would become common knowledge sooner or later.

Heero raised an eyebrow but didn't seem that surprised. "Figures, the Lady," he grinned putting a sarcastic tone in his voice, "seems to pick guys that prefer guys, she sees it as a challenge to get them to love her.

Guess she likes to see if their twig bends both ways." the grin blossomed into a full smile. "I guess you will have to watch yourself, Maxwell, you might have both Noin and some of the men around here after you at the same time. If nothing else that braid of yours is fetching."

"Should I watch out for you?" Duo smiled back remembering the wink Heero had given him earlier.

"I can take it or leave it." Heero stated standing up, "The bathroom with showers is down the hall and that is a small kitchen area around the corner. You will have to fix your own meals most of the time, except when the Madam requests your company at dinner." he stated more mockery ringing in his words.

Heero paused at the door, "Like Noin said play by the rules and there won't be any trouble. I like you well enough, Duo Maxwell, but don't mistake my being friendly with not doing my job. If I have to choose between you and Chang, believe me, you will lose every time."

"Chang?"

"Oh yeah, I should warn you about him. He is Head Of Security and is one mean bastard. You DO NOT want to get on his bad side." Heero warned out of genuine concern, "Stay clear of him as much as you can and whatever you do don't go upstairs or outside without permission."

Heero looked passed Duo as a tall, slender figure paused by the door.

"Here's your neighbor now. I'll see you later."

The tall man, Duo judged to be about twenty, gave only passing acknowledgement of Yuy's exit as he peered through wild bangs, studying the "new boy on the block". In fact Duo wasn't even sure the odd stranger would speak to him at all. Stopping short, Trowa studied the American newcomer with an air of impassive indifference.

Duo chose to make the first move, "My name is Duo Maxwell." he said deliberately keeping the sentence short recalling Heero saying the man was quiet by nature and probably not very receptive to lengthy conversations.

"Trowa." the man answered softly.

Duo waited for further words but when none were forthcoming he asked, "Just Trowa?"

A stoic green-eyed gaze and an affirmative nod was all the reply offered.

"This living arrangement is going to be really exciting." Duo thought to himself. But then decided it would be just as well. He really didn't need a new best friend.

He didn't plan to get too close to anyone and certainly would not be staying long enough to foster any friendships. No, at the first opportunity he would be gone.

Despite Yuy's stern warning, one way or the other, Duo Maxwell was not going to become a permanent resident of Noin's quite grand hellhole.

Trowa seemed to read Duo's thoughts, "You had better resign yourself to this place." he advised before going into his room and closing the door.

***********************************

In about an hour, Quatre knocked timidly on Duo's door. A posture of uncertainty was apparent in his overall demeanor as the door opened and Noin's household Manager stood face to face with the "new man".

Remembering Winner's reaction to his solid glare in the Mistress' office Duo was ever so tempted to take a deep breath and yell "BOO!" just to see if the blond boy would wet himself or, maybe, faint.

But then Duo recalled that this mild natured young man would be his only lifeline in his forsaken position. No, it might be best not to alienate him.

Besides he seemed like a nice enough fellow and something told Duo he was going to need all the help he could get if he ever wanted to escape his gilded cage.

Duo displayed his most endearing grin and offered his hand, "Hi, I'm Duo." he announced.

Realizing Winner's hands were occupied with the large box he was carrying Duo lowered his hand and stepped aside. "Come on in." he invited.

Quatre hesitated peeking over the carton's top with eyes graced with the longest eyelashes Duo had ever seen.

"Come on, I promise I won't bite."

Quatre made a wide circle around the braided boy stopping at the table to deposit the carton.

"I suppose we weren't really introduced." he stated offering his hand with more surety, "I'm Quatre Raberba Winner."

Duo grinned, "Three names, well you must be important."

Quatre lowered his eyes studying the floor, "No not important or indispensable," he admitted, "and neither are you. Please remember that." he urged.

"Here are the clothes Madam wants you to have and some personal hygiene items. Heero said you needed this, too." he stated sitting a lamp on the table, "Bright bulb just like you wanted." he smiled happy to do his part to help Duo settle in.

"I hope everything fits, I'm usually pretty good at estimating sizes. Let me know if you need anything else." he said turning to leave.

"Quatre," Duo called after, "can I ask you something?"

"You may ask but I can't guarantee an answer."

"How many others have there been here under these circumstances?"

Quatre raised his wide indigo eyes until they met Duo's concerned sight, "I really don't know, I have been here only two years. What happened before that I couldn't tell."

"How many have been here since you arrived?"

Quatre again lowered his eyes. A soft sigh flowed over his lips, "I guess twenty or so." he answered lifting his eyes to watch Duo's reaction.

"Twenty!" Duo exclaimed not bothering to hide his surprise.

Quatre nodded.

Now Duo seemed more anxious than curious. "What happened? Where are they?" he asked in quick succession.

"Lady Noin grew tired of most of them and sold them to other people. But four or five, they..........." Winner paused swallowing hard.

"They." Duo repeated trying to prompt Quatre to finish.

This time when Quatre's wide eyes focused on Duo's face fear was quite evident in their enlarged pupils. "They disappeared." he whispered.

"Define disappeared." Duo responded not at all comfortable with the fright in Winner's eyes.

Quatre leaned closer lowering his voice, "Disappeared, just vanished." he shook the head. "One would be here at bedtime and the next morning he be gone."

Not wanting to think the worse Duo replied. "Maybe they were shipped off in the middle of the night." he suggested.

"If they were," Quatre answered the fear still strong in his indigo gaze, "they didn't take anything with them. All their personal items were left here. Then later in the morning someone would come and clean out their rooms."

"Do you think this Chang fellow had anything to do with these vanishing acts?"

The mention of Noin's Head of Security caused Quatre to nervously glance back at the opened door as if the beast himself would sudden materialize from thin air at the calling of his name.

"I assume Heero warned you about Chang Wufei?"

Duo nodded his braid swinging across his back.

"Believe me you had better take that warning seriously. Chang is one man you do not want coming after you." Quatre declared. "Just last week he beat one of his own staff half to death because the man got back from town fifteen minutes after curfew."

Quatre placed his hand on Duo's arm, "Please, Duo, stay away from him if you can." he begged.

"I will." Maxwell promised sincerely, "I don't want any trouble."

Quatre smiled, "Good. I have to get back to work. If you need anything let me know." Winner paused in the doorway, "Duo try to make the best of this." he advised the smile disappearing altogether.

Duo own smile faded at Quatre's sadness, "Hey, Winner." he called as Quatre stepped into the hall, "Thanks."

Duo went to the door watching Quatre walk up the hall. As he approached Trowa's room the tall, quiet man was leaning in the doorframe. Without a word he reached out snagging Winner around the waist.

Trowa leaned nearer whispering something that brought a rosy blush to Winner's pale cheeks. A bashful smile lit up his face as Quatre stood up on his tiptoes to place a firm kiss on his lover's mouth.

Trowa tightened his hold pulling the smaller boy off the floor. One more kiss then Quatre was lowered gently to his feet.

A few more tenderly whispered words were exchanged before Winner started off again looking over his shoulder at the emerald gaze following after him.

Soon Quatre moved out of sight as he ascended the stairs. Trowa went back into his room with only a bare glance in Duo's direction.

Duo shut his door with a heavy exhalation. The sound of its closing echoed with a hollow ring declaring a certain finality. The ending of one chapter was the beginning of another.

Standing in the center of his dim home Duo fought the urge to give into his loneliness and despair. To either scream out loud or sink to his knees in heartsick sobs.

 

Part Three:

After sitting on his bed staring at the bare wall for at least a half-an-hour Duo decided to see what his new Mistress had chosen for his wardrobe. Carefully he extracted the neatly folded clothes from the box Quatre had left on the table. Opening the closet he took out plastic coat hangers and with the same care began arranging his outfits on the closet's wooden rod.

All in all the clothing was not too bad although Duo did take exception to one shirt and pants set made from some slinky material. The steel-gray color was bearable but the looser, more free-flowing style was a bit too feminine for his taste.

Now on the other hand the tight black leather pants, the matching vest studded over with silver trim and a black form-fitting silk shirt was much more to Duo's liking.

Two suits that must have easily cost five hundred or more dollars a piece were cut to fit his slender frame perfectly as if each had been tailor-made just for him. Two shirts and ties in complementary colors rounded out the suits.

The rest of his pre-chosen attire consisted of two more black shirts and two in varying shades of gray ranging from slate to charcoal. Matching pants finished out the collection that, in its darker hues, reflected Lady Noin's shadowy personality.

A dozen satiny boxers, cotton tee shirts and socks were also provided. There was even a box of cloth-covered elastic hair ties and several lengths of shiny black ribbon.

"The Mistress of Vixen's Lair thought of everything, didn't she?" Duo proclaimed lifting out one ribbon and twirling it between his fingers.

Finally a black leather jacket with silver buckles was the ideal fashion finale. Knee-high black boots, a pair of dress shoes and running shoes sat in the box's bottom.

His hanging job completed, Duo stood back taking stock of his selected apparel. "They will do." he sighed out loud.

"They are better than what you have on now." Duo's inner voice declared reminding the American of his present shabby state.

Walking to the dresser's mirror Duo studied his reflection for a long moment. Most of the color has returned to his cheeks although there was still a hint of tired circles under his eyes.

The painful workout sessions following Duo's abuse at Treize's hands had been worth it. His firm muscular form was well defined without looking bulked-up lending an overall athletic quality to his trim physique.

"Not bad Maxwell." he smiled then a frown pulled at his eyebrows as he realized all the hell he had, for the most part, brought on himself had certainly taken its toll.

"You are going to need to be as strong as you can be if you hope to get out of here." he told himself leaning forward for another inspection.

A solid rap at his door encouraged Duo back from his self-scrutiny. The opened door revealed a man dressed in the Security Unit's ebony uniform.

"You are to shower and dress for dinner." he announced in a gruff tone, "Be ready in hour. Someone will come to get you." he finished relaying the order before turning around without so much as another word.

Less than forty-five minutes later Duo stood once more in front of the mirror making sure his tie was straight. Adding the suit jacket he checked again to be certain he was in a presentable state, one up to the Lady's standards.

His hair sparkled in the improved lamplight's brighter bulb. The braded chestnut rope was smoother, shinier than it had been in a long time. The lingering scent of the strawberry shampoo and conditioner that was included in his toiletry items completed his totally polished package.

Even if he was shortly to be paraded for his new Mistress Duo knew a well-groomed appearance was necessary to keep the Lady happy and if the Lady was happy things would go a lot easier for Duo.

He was no fool. No, Duo had been in the "business" long enough to know how to please and tempt both of the sexes. If necessary using his manly attributes would be put to good use to satisfy the Lady even though the thought of sharing the bitch's bed made his stomach churn. But Duo had long ago learned how to separate business and pleasure. He was a pro and damn good at his job.

"Just like any other night." he grinned, "Yeah turn on the charm Maxwell."

***********************************

Right on schedule Mr. Winner came to collect the newest member of the Noin's household. Trowa was already waiting in the hall looking handsome in tan slacks and a light brown turtleneck. Winner was also quite appropriately attired in a navy blue suit and a light blue shirt that made his indigo eyes seems that much bluer.

Trowa acknowledged his hall mate's presence with a silent nod before taking up a matching pace at his lover's side. Duo fell in behind as they climbed the stairs.

A rather large member of the Security Staff joined them at the top letting it be known by his no-nonsense attitude that he would be their escort the rest of the way.

After several turns through vaulted archways Duo came to realize one could easily become lost in the great mansion. He knew if he hoped to have any hope for escape he would have to become completely familiar with every inch of the house and ground's layout.

Duo began drawing out a mental map inside his head, noting each turn, each window and exit. Beginning tomorrow he would ask that he be allowed outside every day so he could run as part of staying in shape for his lustful Mistress. She couldn't turn down that request not as much as she obviously liked her men toned, tanned and overflowing with testosterone.

When he had properly surveyed his surroundings, had learned of the Security Force's strength and weaknesses and lulled Noin into believing he had accepted his role as her paramour then Duo would put a carefully considered plan into action.

And if Quatre and Trowa were willing to share in the risks, he would take them with him. But they would have to decided if the reward of freedom with worth the risk.

"First things first." Duo told himself as the trio trailed the Security Unit's watcher, "Let's see what comes of tonight."

Four gold and crystal chandeliers hung in a straight line across the opulent dining room's high ceiling. Each of the hundreds of faceted prisms reflected the light scattering a multi-colored rainbow over the entire room.

Heavy satin material covered the walls in a gold and crimson floral pattern. The same scarlet was copied in the ten red crushed velvet cushioned chairs encircling the long mahogany table that occupied the grand room's center.

Of course as to be expected a deep red tablecloth provided a backdrop for a full display of fine porcelain china, delicate stemware and silver place settings. However only five places were set.

A huge fresh flower arrangement in the same bloody hues graced the table's middle. Crimson cloth napkins enfolded in golden napkin rings lay on each creamy toned plate.

Noin had already taken her place at the table's head. She was encased in a tight and very shiny black pantsuit. Her choice of the mono-toned outfit was not surprising considering that was the only color or lack of color that Duo had seen adorning her slender frame. And even though her favorite accessory seemed a bit out of place, the riding crop rested by her plate.

Motioning to her "guests" she directed Duo to sit closest on her right and for Quatre and Trowa to take their seats on the left. The chair beside Duo remained vacant but Duo guessed it would not be that way for much longer.

Even though he had not idea who would eventually share his side; Duo dared to hope that his dinner companion would be the strangely interesting Heero Yuy.

Heero had provoked a certain fascination. Duo could not deny the man was handsome. Yet Duo also had to remind himself of Heero's warning concerning his loyalty should be ever be put in the position to have to choose.

"Still, Duo entertained the notion of getting to know Heero better even though he might one day find himself on opposing sides when his plan of escape was put into force.

Duo also briefly let the notion that Heero might be as unhappy with his state of employment as Duo was with his state of forced confinement enter his thoughts. That was something worth checking out in a subtle way of course.

No, Duo would take no chances, trust no one. Only his street-smart instincts would be trusted to get him out. They had been good enough in the past and they would serve him well now.

Duo thoughts of his notions and Heero were abruptly halted as Lady Noin's voice floated over the table. "Chang." she called with a wave of her hand, "Join us." she ordered in her usual forceful tone.

At the mere mention of the name Duo saw both Quatre and Trowa visibly stiffened and quickly directed their sight at their plates. Not taking the hint, Duo in a most causal fashion glanced over at the archway leading into the dining room.

Dressed in a flowing white robe worn over loose white pants Noin's Head of Security looked far different than he did dressed his stark and imposing black uniform. But the change in color was the only difference.

Chang's cold ebony eyes still locked intently on everyone he viewed as if the brooding orbs were trying to bore straight into their souls. His equally black hair was pulled back into his usual ponytail showing off the rounded curve of his high cheekbones. But his golden skin was enhanced by the paler garments making it seem that he gave off a glimmer as he walked sternly to the table.

Duo knew he should also avert his blatant curiosity but until that moment Duo had only caught a glimpse of Chang as he made his way through the basement shortly after Duo was taken down. He had had but a brief look at the man he had been warned to stay away from.

Duo had always been able to judge how much care he should take around strangers. His whoring, especially on the streets, had quickly developed a keen sense of who people were and what they might be capable of doing.

On the streets this sizing up of potential clients could be a matter of life or death. Duo had once let his instincts be clouded, let down his guard just one time and Treize had taken full advantage of his lapse of vigilance.

Never again would anyone have that power over Duo. If checking out Chang was dangerous so be it. At least he would know his opponent and what to watch for if Chang should take offense. Duo tilted his head never lessening his study of the Chinese man as he took his seat beside the newcomer.

If Chang was annoyed by Maxwell's obvious interest he didn't let it show. Perhaps it was out of respect for his surroundings and his employer that he did not respond although Duo doubted that Chang respected or showed deference to anyone.

The more plausible explanation for his lack of any visible retort was that Chang was himself sizing up the Lady's new "pet". He, too, no doubt had a high degree of "street smarts" or he would not have survived in his line of work. And Duo further had no doubt that Noin's henchman was as ruthless and cunning as Quatre supposed him to be.

Silently the Asian man studied Duo letting his icy sight run the entire length of Noin's newly acquired whore. Then without a change in his hardened glare or his stiff-assed posture Chang redirected his eyes purposely letting them lingering on the Quatre fair face.

Winner continued his eye's downward cast while drawing up his whole body. With his compact body language he showed he was indeed aware of Chang's clearly unwanted attention.

Trowa did let his eyes shift under his long bang's concealment just enough to see Chang's focused gaze then promptly began to become infuriated by his lustful ogling of his lover. Under the tablecloth's edge Trowa slipped his hand into Quatre's entwining his fingers, doing his best to comfort his frightened partner while trying his best to keep his increasingly hot anger from boiling to the surface.

"One day Chang I am going to kill you." Trowa promised himself, "One day soon."

Noin leaned forward signaling to her Head Butler to begin dinner. After the first course was served and the staff, save for the Butler, had retreated to the kitchen Noin raised her wineglass.

"I want to welcome Duo to our little family." she stated with uncharacteristic coyness. "I hope you prove to be a valuable asset." she continued with a certain sensual sparkle in her liquid blue eyes.

Everyone lifted they glasses nodding in agreement to the Lady's wishes.

Duo offered his best, most sincere smile to his Mistress' toast never taking his eyes from her face as he took a small sip. If the wine was drugged he didn't want to ingest too much. Better to see what affect the "kiss of the grape" had before imbibing further.

There seemed to be no residual influence from the wine as Duo settled into a pleasant dining experience, as pleasant as could be expected under the circumstances.

Noin carried on the majority of the conversation asking Duo questions about his past. Duo, although he never lied outright, did color the truth in most cases. He knew Noin was fully aware of his past connections with Khrushrenada and probably all the sorted details of his being bought by Rogers. Noin was too shrewd a businesswoman to not check out the prior owners and the history of her "merchandise".

Throughout the mainly one-sided exchange Chang silently concentrated on his meal. It didn't take long before Duo was well aware that a knife was an implement with which the Chinese man was very skilled. The Asian man's expert welding of the sharp utensil left no double has to his proficiency and his ability to do a good deal of damage if he wished.

Likewise Duo made no mistake that Chang was as equally handy with a gun. And there was no uncertainty in Duo's mind that Noin's Security Chief was strong and agile enough to pull your arm on of its socket and beat you to death with the amputated limb.

Quatre's recalling of Chang's harsh punishment of the tardy man quickly came into focus and the warning of staying away from the Lady's madman was put once again to memory. Yes Chang was one mean bastard of that Duo was certain.

Poor Quatre totally unnerved by the entire tense situation picked at his food avoiding even so much as a stray glance in Chang's direction. Trowa continued his stealthy peeks making sure his display of protection was obvious to everyone.

Finally the gentle manager could no longer stand the strain. He whispered something to Trowa who nodded in agreement. Waiting for a break in the conversation Quatre politely asked to be excused stating he had a terrible headache and wished to go to his room.

Noin nodded, "You may go."

As Quatre started to stand his employer added in a quiet tone, "If you don't feel better later called the house physician. If he gives you any trouble tell him I gave my permission."

"Thank you." Quatre replied wobbling beside his seat.

Steadying himself on the tabletop he paused to shore up his unsteady legs. Without a similar polite request Trowa stood, too, sliding his arm about his lover's waist. "I going to make sure he gets to his room all right." he stated his tone clearly relaying that he was not asking for Noin's consent.

"Very well." she responded with a sigh.

Once the troubled duet was out of sight, Noin leaned back in her chair. "It seems it is just the three of us. Oh well let's make the best of it shall we?" she said then gave orders to have their brandy and desert served in the main sitting room.

Duo playing the dutiful "pet" for all it was worth pulled out his Lady's chair then fell in walking slightly at her side but careful to keep a little to her back.

Chang scooted back his chair with a curt puff putting his employer and her plaything on notice that he did not intend to join them for sweets. "I have to supervise the shift change." he announced tossing his napkin on his plate.

Noin tiled her head in acknowledgement but did not reply. It wasn't until she had eased herself onto a sofa's plush cushions and pulled Duo down beside her that she spoke.

"Now it seems it is just the two of us." she purred stroking Duo's cheek with that damned riding crop she had to bring along. "What do you suppose we can do to pass the time?"

Duo settled back once more calling up his old practiced smile. "Whatever Madam wishes to do." he grinned putting himself into his "business" mode.

 

Part Four:

Much to his relief the situation with Noin had not heated up beyond Duo's tolerance level. For now the Lady seemed content to take her time getting to know her most recent acquisition.

Ms. Lucrezia, as she was called behind her back by the snickering servants, had let your hands wander as she and Duo engaged in a mutual petting session. Thankfully Duo had not been called on to deliver the goods at least not then anyway. But he knew it was only a matter of time before he would be required to fully service the Madam.

It was near midnight when Duo was dismissed and escorted to the basement sleeping area. Trowa's door was slightly ajar. Duo knocked then receiving no answer pushed it back enough to see inside.

The empty room told Duo that the stoic man must have stayed in his lover's quarters located at the end of the first floor hallway. Quatre's position as Manager afforded him a two-room suite near the main kitchen.

Duo wondered if Torwa, with his lowly status, would be punished if he was found in the upper part of the house especially so late. Then he reasoned that Noin was aware of his going back with Quatre so it might be all right. Still Duo was smart enough to know nothing could be assumed, not at Vixen's Lair.

Neatly hanging up his suit Duo stripped down to his boxes and tee shirt. Undoing his braid he gave the freed tresses a few quick swipes with a brush then slipped wearily into bed.

If Duo had not been so exhausted he would have showered to wash off the Lady's scent. Even though her probably quite expensive perfume was pleasant to the nose, Duo acquainted its lingering fragrance with a sort of marking of her territory and that was unacceptable.

"You might as well get use to it" he told himself knowing that before it was all over more than just her perfume would leave its mark on her property.

Switching off the light he lay in the enfold darkness suddenly aware of the dense silence. Turning on his side Duo bent his knees bringing them to his chest.

Tucking the sheet and blanket under his chin Duo tried to put his mind into a perfect state of nothingness. Soon sleep traveled over numbing his body as well as his rent spirit.

***********************************

The aroma of freshly brewed coffee drifted down the hall. The enticing scent added an extra incentive for Duo to wake up.

Stretching to relax the kinks that had gathered in his back overnight Duo let the wafting smell further encourage him to get up and face the first of hopefully not too many days in the Lady's keep. Duo dressed but didn't bother to put on his shoes wanting to be as comfortable as he could while he fixed his breakfast.

Combing out his hair Duo decided to forego the braiding again for comfort's sake. Instead his lengthy cinnamon mane was gathered into a loose ponytail to keep it from his eyes. After a bathroom stop he made his way to the kitchen.

Trowa stood by a small stove gradually adding instant oatmeal to a pot of boiling water. He partially tuned his head as Duo entered not wanting to divide his attention too much.

"Good morning." Duo called as he opened the wall-mounted cabinet over the sink.

Trowa nodded as the last of the dehydrated oats sank beneath the hot water. "Good morning." he answered in kind, "Did you sleep well?"

"Wow," Duo thought to himself as he took down a mug and helped himself to the coffee, "that's more words than I have heard Trowa say since I arrived. Maybe he won't be too bad to live with after all."

"I slept well enough I suppose." Duo finally addressed the taller man's question.

"Do you want some of this?" Trowa asked tilting his head at the pot, "I can add some more if you like." he offered.

"If it is not too much trouble."

More oatmeal slid into the rolling water and was given a hearty mixing.

"Is Quatre all right?" Duo inquired sincerely interested in Winner's well being. "He didn't look at all well last night."

Trowa reduced the heat leaving the oatmeal to simmer. Filling a mug for himself Trowa joined Duo at the table. "It took awhile but I finally got him to settle down."

"Did you stay with him all night?

Trowa sighed spooning in some sugar, "I left about four this morning. Noin allowed my challenge to her authority last night but I didn't want to press my luck. It would break Quatre's heart if I got into trouble by taking up for him."

"Quatre warned me about Chang but I didn't think he would be that bad to deal with." Duo stated recalling the unnerving affect the Lady's Security Chief had on everyone. And if Duo allowed himself to admit it, the clearly unstable Asian had the same chilling affect on him, too.

Trowa nodded standing to fill two bowls then sat down handing one to Maxwell, "The man is insane." he stated in an almost hushed whisper as if he was afraid his statement might be overheard.

"I thought Noin was stone cold," Duo proclaimed, "but Chang is purely ruthless. I mean he must be frigid right through to his soul."

"Chang has no soul." Trowa declared as anger lent a brittle tone to his words. "He is the devil himself and twice as dangerous."

"So what is it with Quatre? I mean Chang certainly couldn't feel threatened by Quatre not as gentle as he is." Duo wondered but figured he already knew the answer.

"Chang does what he does because he knows he can get by with it. Intimidation is a game, something done solely for that damned bastard's amusement."

"But why is he interested in Quatre? Surely someone less timid would give him a better run for his money." Duo reckoned.

Duo paused, then gasped as a frightening thought hit hard, "Oh, please don't tell me Chang wants his sexually."

Trowa shrugged, "I don't know what he wants. Like I said before the man is crazy and absolutely unpredictable. It will do you no good to try to get inside his head.

I believe Chang bothers Quatre just because he can and to try to provoke me. He would like nothing better to have an excuse to kill me." Trowa replied the acidic tone resurfacing once again.

"But Noin wouldn't stand for that, would she?" Duo shook his head not believing she would let it go that far.

"Even our Mistress doesn't know everything that goes on here." Trowa stated with certainty, "In the past when people have disappeared she didn't ask questions. Frankly I believe she is afraid of Chang as well."

"Then why doesn't she get rid of him?" Duo asked the obvious question blowing on a spoonful of oatmeal to cool it down.

"Chang has too many men loyal to him." Trowa answered quietly, "He keeps an elite force under his control by buying their souls. He provides liquor and drugs and their choice of whores. In return they do what he orders without question.

Even if Chang loses his temper and half kills one of them they still stay with him. I suppose when you get down to the bottom line they are as afraid of him as everyone else is."

"Listen," Duo whispered leaning forward to insure a private exchange, "I am going to get out of here make no mistake about that and Chang is not going to stand in my way."

"But....." Trowa began before he was cut off by a wave of Duo's hand.

"But nothing!" Duo exclaimed more than a hint of anger in his hissing voice, "There is no way I am staying in this hellhole. If I make it out fine, if I die in the attempt, well, that's fine, too, either way I will be free. I can put a workable plan together, I know I can. When the time comes and it will be soon, would you and Quatre be willing to risk coming with me?"

"I don't know if I could put Quatre in such danger." Trowa answered honestly.

"Can you stay here and watch him be put through hell everyday?" Duo growled hoping to spur Trowa's anger at his lover's unjust treatment past his fear and uncertainty.

"I will talk to Quatre." Trowa replied as his narrowed stare focused on Maxwell. Duo swore he saw green sparks flash in their widened centers.

"That is fair enough." Duo sighed, "But don't take too long. Like I said I am not going to be here one minute more than I have to be."

***********************************

Breakfast finished and kitchen cleaned up, Trowa headed out to begin his daily chores. Duo showered, made his bed then sat on the taut bedspread wondering what his assignment would be.

While he didn't want to be sentenced to the "dungeon" all day Duo didn't particularly want to be Noin's pet either. Duo preference was to be given enough to keep him busy and make the hours go by faster without having to have too much interaction with the staff or the Lady.

He did admit he would not mind seeing Yuy again but that, too, was contingent on the circumstance of their meeting. Again if the Madam or Chang were to be involved Duo would gladly settle for remaining in the basement's solitary confinement.

Maxwell's thoughtful supposing was brought to an end as Quatre's dull eyes and weary-worn face appeared at his opened door. Winner looked tired and, Duo believed, paler than usual. It was clearly apparent that Noin's manager had not had proper sleep and most likely not much, if any, breakfast.

"Good morning." Duo smiled motioning for Quatre to step inside. "Shut the door." he urged noticing how jumpy the young man was as he kept peering back towards the stairs.

Quatre sat beside Duo pushing his blond bangs from his eyes, "How was your first night?" he inquired softly glancing anxiously at the door.

It was as if Quatre fully expected Chang to materialize from thin air or walk in an apparitional fashion through the closed door. Nervously Quatre's hands kneaded the woven bedspread pinching up points of fabric and rolling them between his fingers.

Duo leaned closer studying Quatre's ashen features, "A better night than you had." he stated without a doubt of his gentle friend's fractured rest.

"I was all right until Trowa had to leave early this morning." Quatre readily confessed knowing that Trowa had probably said something to that affect since Duo didn't seem surprised by his poor condition.

"I didn't sleep after that." he sighed realizing how he was twisting up the bedcovering. With quick jerky motions he smoothed out the wrinkled material then clasped his hands together in his lap to keep from starting the edgy activity again.

"If I ever catch Chang alone, "Duo began placing a hand on Winner's slender arm, "I will give him a permanent attitude adjustment." he pledged sincerely wanting to comfort and protect his newly found friend.

Quatre tensed turning to face Duo, "Please promise me you will stay away from him." he begged his voice trembling and his eyes bordering on panic.

"Please Duo. If he were to hurt you or............" Quatre's voice broke as tears welled in his indigo eyes threatening to spilled over his lower eyelashes.

"Hey take it easy." Duo urged tightening his grasp, "I didn't mean to upset you more. Look," he said as shimmering tears made ragged tracks over Quatre's pallid cheeks. "I won't do anything unless he forces me, okay?"

"You don't understand," Quatre replied wiping off the teary wetness gathering on his chin, "Chang doesn't need an excuse to hurt you and he doesn't need Madam's permission. If that fiend believes you would oppose him in any way, he would come after you. Duo, oh god, I don't want you to disappear, too. It would kill me, destroy what little soul I have left. Please swear you will keep away, please."

"All right I swear." Duo declared slipping an arm about Winner's quivering body, "Now try to calm down before you make yourself sick."

Several deep breaths eased Quatre's catching pants for air warding off a fit of hyperventilation. Duo went to the bathroom bringing back a wet cloth then insisted that Quatre lay down. He folded the cloth and laid it across Winner's weak eyes hoping the cool moisture would relieve the reddened puffiness.

Duo didn't want any unnecessary questions from Trowa and certainly no questions or notice from Noin or Chang. After fifteen minutes or so Quatre felt well enough to tell Duo the reason had come to his room in the first place.

"Noin told me I could take you outside. She said you may have the morning to exercise or run but you are not to go beyond the garage area or the stables. Then she wants you to have lunch with her."

"And what does she want after lunch." Duo wondered out loud then cursed under his breath at the thought of having to spend "quality time" with the possessive bitch.

But strangely Duo's ire at the Lady was tempered with a pang of pity. That same sadness that he had caught a glimpse of in her office had surfaced once again behind her carefully maintained facade the night before. Noin, even in the midst of her pretended passion, seemed lost and alone as if she was clinging to Duo out of fear and not lust as he first believed.

But he could not allow the least bit of compassion to cloud his thinking. He couldn't afford to care not if he had any hope of escaping the dangerous circumstances he had been plunged into.

Now Duo's leaving was more than a desire to be free from Noin's imprisonment. It was one of survival should Chang decide Duo was a threat or that he had set his sights on one day winning the Lady's trust and therefore gaining some favor or privilege.

No his freedom was now a matter of life or death and he knew with unmistakable clarity that his time to act was running out faster than he might possibility be able to catch up. Duo had to put a plan into action quickly or all would be lost.

 

Part Five:

A crisp breeze hit Duo's face as he and a now much more composed Quatre stepped into the morning light. The pink layers of dawn had given way to a clear sapphire sky speckled with wispy clouds. The smell of recently mowed grass and the multi-mingled scents of garden flowers were a fitting compliment to the mansion's grandeur.

The pleasant environment, however, was immediately spoiled by the rough- hewn and heavily armed Security Force employees that were conspicuously visible everywhere. Their black uniforms lent a foreboding gloominess to the otherwise immaculate ground's and garden's beautiful appointments.

A large swimming pool and glass-enclosed hot tub was located in a side alcove that was almost hidden by a dense stand of pine trees. Again two guards standing nearby ruined the invitingly pleasurable surroundings. One burly man puffed on an odd-smelling cigarette while his partner kept a short rein on a surly canine that appeared to be the crossbred hybrid between a German Shepherd and a wolf.

Quatre with Duo close behind made a wide swing skirting around the guards and the dog as its narrowed eyes locked on the passing strangers. A throaty growl and a bristling of sliver-gray hair gave the snarling cur an even move menacing presence as his muzzle curled back in a sneering "smile".

Duo couldn't help be cast a apprehensive glance as they walked uncomfortable near to the guard holding back the clearly aggressive animal, not at all trusting Chang's watcher to control the beast. Soon the imposing pair and the dog were out of sight, only then did both Winner and Maxwell breathe easier.

"Do you ever get use to all this security?" Duo asked as he spotted a lone guard sporting a machine pistol patrolling the inner wall's perimeter.

Quatre shrugged in a noncommittal posture, "You never get use to it but you somehow come to accept it."

Without warning several consecutive pistol shots rang out their echoes bouncing over the ground. The sharp sounds seemed to vibrate through the trees before ending with a deafening pop.

Involuntarily Duo flinched drawing in a stabbing breath. Then in quick succession another round of gunplay, this time sounding like larger caliber weapons, exploded causing Duo to freeze in mid-stride.

"Damn what was that!" he exclaimed checking to see if he had been hit. But the lack of pain told him he had been spared the gunfire's fury.

"It is all right," Quatre replied with that same irritating bearing of his shoulders, "that is just fire from the practice range. Chang has some part of his squad out there everyday." he explained, "Just wait until he takes the notion to have a night session, no one gets any sleep then." he added with the slightest hint of a grin.

"I could never get use to this madness." Duo declared wiping cold sweat from his brow.

"And I am sure as hell not going to stick around long enough to try." Duo told himself once more falling in behind the youthful blond.

***********************************

"Well this is where I leave you." Quatre proclaimed as the reached the mansion's rear section. "Stay within your boundaries and you will be safe." he reminded.

"How long can I stay?" Duo asked still not sure he wanted to be left alone in the middle of the mayhem. Images of guards and guns and dogs made their way with undaunted speed through the mind.

"Madam Noin is expecting you for lunch at noon so I will come for you a eleven, will that give you enough time to shower and get ready?"

"Yeah that should be fine."

"Then I will see you at eleven." Quatre confirmed.

"Steady there Maxwell." Duo whispered aloud as the distance between Winner and himself grew wider. "Keep your mind on finding a good escape route and don't let anything else interfere with your goal."

"In fact," he continued his self-discussion, "the best place to start is the garage. If you want to cover a lot of miles in a short time some form of speedy transportation is necessary. Yeah begin at the garage."

Duo stretched a few times to limber up his muscles then began a slow jog. He did have to admit the spacious grounds were a beautiful place for a soul cleansing run. But he was not be lulled into believing his grand prison was somehow different than any other he had had in his short, hellish life.

With a pretended nonchalant glancing about as he ran, Duo tried not to look as though he had heading for the garage. His steady but leisurely pace soon took him to the building's side and, with quickening steps, he casually disappeared around the side.

Pulling up by a window Duo paused and listened. Hearing no sound from inside he cautiously peered over the sill. The dusty pane clouded his observation but he could still see through the hazy film well enough to get a good view.

Three expensive cars and two SUVs were parked in two neat rows in front of the closed doors. Two large motorcycles occupied the back corner.

"Interesting." Duo thought to himself.

While any one for the cars or SUVs would offered better protection their usefulness as escape vehicles would be limited to the main road. That would involve probably "crashing" the front gates and that move could prove neither wise nor healthy.

No, a motorcycle would his best bet for a quick and efficient departure. One of the smaller, less guarded, side exits could be used and the bike's easier maneuverability would allow the escapees, should Quatre and Trowa come along, to make good use of the surrounding forest's and back road's shelter.

Now all Duo had to do was arrange to get a key, sneak out one night, avoid the always present contingency of very aggressive guards and steal one of the two-wheeled machines.

And if Trowa and Winner chose to join him, then there would be an even larger group to hide in the shadows all the while dodging the spotlights that constantly surveyed the estate.

If they took the machines out of gear and silently pushed them through a side gate maybe, just maybe, they could get far enough into the wood's concealment that the firing up of the engines would be muffled and the getting away somewhat less dangerous.

But how Duo looked at the escape attempt, no matter how well planned, it would be a most hazardous undertaking.

"Sounds like a plan to me." Duo grinned to himself. But he was not in any way deluding himself of his chances of success.

"You sure you want to try this?" Duo's inner voice wondered knowing the odds were not at all in his favor.

Duo shook his head answering under his breath, "Like I told Trowa one way or the other I WILL be free."

"You are going to need some help" the voice advised in a somber tone.

Duo nodded again, "I know." he confirmed, "I need Winner's help." he decided.

His private council spoke once more, this time, an even graver tone asked, "Can you risk Quatre's life for your own freedom."

"No." Duo whispered with a heavy sigh. "I will only involve him if that is his wish."

"And Trowa?"

"Not one without the other. I couldn't do that." Duo replied shakily leaning against the garage's cool siding, "One could not live without the other."

***********************************

Quatre took another less crowded route on his return trip to the mansion. Thoughts of his daily duties occupied his mind, his eyes boring down at his feet as they kicked up dusty clouds. He had already begun to figure how long it would take him to complete his work seeing how he had gotten such a late start.

"Madam will understand." he assured himself knowing as long as the work was done in a reasonable time period Noin never complained.

So intense was Quatre's attention to his task he failed to notice a bluish outline fall across his face as his walking intercepted the elongated shadow. Nor, in his preoccupation, did Winner's eyes focus on the black-clad form now blocking his path.

It wasn't until a near collision with the solid obstruction redirected his line of sight did Quatre look up. He drew in a hard gasp of air as his widened indigo eyes locked with a set of deep onyx orbs offering a narrowed menacing stare.

Chilled fingers of fear inched up Quatre's spine and it took all of his control not to give into the faintness the icy tentacles evoked. The trembling tendrils twined tightly adhering in a smothering fashion threatening to undermine his support and balance.

Chang stood still seeming to tower over the slender blond. A stubby cigar held between his teeth sent up a wafting smoky swirl into the light breeze. An ever so slight grin tugged at the Chinese man's lips at the rattled boy's expected response to his sudden appearance.

"Out for a morning stroll?" Noin's Head of Security asked in a low husky tone that only served to further compromise Winner's rapidly failing composure.

A rough breath did nothing to ease the hard pounding in Quatre's chest. A second, more forceful, blow chased away enough tightness to finally find his voice.

"Move aside." Quatre replied with no vigor or fortitude to back up his feeble demand.

At that moment all he wanted was to be left alone. Quatre wanted no unnecessary contact with or attention from the unstable Security Chief.

Chang leaned forward casing a thicker shadow over Winner's paling features. "Now why would I want to do that?" he hissed with a leering sneer.

Quatre took a step backwards trying to maintain a guarded separation. Chang copied Quatre's movement stepping forward at a faster rate quickly closing the gap until the quaking blond could feel Chang's hot odorous breath on his face. The cigar's sickly smell invaded Quatre's nose causing his already nervous stomach to become even queasier.

"Madam Noin is expecting me for a meeting." Winner lied as he put all he had into sounding truthful.

Chang lifted an eyebrow as the sneer grew into a thin-lipped smile. "Is she?" he declared taking another step, "I believe that would be quite a trick considering I saw her leave not more than fifteen minutes ago." he stated glaring down at his intended prey.

Quatre backtracked once more but only a half-a-step was taken before his back came into hard contact with a broad oak's trunk. The bump and forceful expelling of air it caused was the last straw finally destroying Quatre's brittle equanimity.

Now a stout quivering struck at Quatre's knees making them wobble. Only the tree's support kept the slim blond upright and on his feet. He closed his eyes as his sight jerked and the overhead leaves swam in circling blurs of color.

A brushing on his arm then his chest brought Quatre's eyes opened with a start. Chang had placed a hand on either side of Quatre's head leaning his weight against the tree and trapping Winner's slender frame between himself and the oak's rough bark.

Quatre's panicked sight darted from side to side trying desperately to find someone who would intervene on his behalf. But he knew that there would be no forthcoming help, not from Chang's totally intimidated employees. No interference at all, not if they wanted to avoid an injurious beating that possibly could prove terminal.

A wisp of foul smoke was blown out through the gap the slimy cigar made in Chang's teeth. The mixture of the rank smoke and the complete upheaval of Quatre's nerves sent a nauseous wave crashing around his churning insides.

But Quatre dared not give into the sinking sensations. As long as he had some semblance of wits about him there was a chance, no matter how slim, that he could still persuade Chang to let him go. Fighting back with all he could muster Winner used the trunk to shore up his knees. Slowly he pushed away and straightened his quivering legs.

That move, however, only placed Quatre's fair face that much closer to Chang who seemed to enjoy the narrowing of the gap.

"You want to leave?" Chang asked spitting out the soggy cigar to free up his mouth.

All Quatre could do was nod in the affirmative as he averted his eyes from Chang's centered and quite lustful gaze.

"Then show me how much you are willing do to convince me to let you leave." Chang demanded letting his fingers stroke down Quatre's sweat-moist cheek.

The trailing fingers didn't stop until they folding under Quatre's chin. At first Quatre's stiffened against the bruising digit's efforts to lift his chin and align his mouth with Chang's, but the fingernails dug deeper until Quatre was given on choice.

As Chang mouth parted for the dreaded kiss Quatre' pursed his lips tightly. Chang might force a kiss but Winner would be damned if he would give an inch or respond in any way.

Then Quatre's entire body flinched as he felt Chang's free hand close over his crotch. "No." Quatre whimpered placing both hands on Chang's pressing chest, pushing back against the Security Chief's unwanted advances. "Oh God, Trowa." he called for his lover's rescue even though he knew that it would not come.

At the calling of Trowa's name Chang momentarily froze, this brief pause gave Quatre an opportunity to push again this time widening the gap a bit further.

It didn't take long for Chang to note the opening space. While his one hand kept its firm grip on Quatre's groin, the other pulled away from his chin scraping the nails all the way and leaving behind redden streaks on the soft flesh.

The freed hand moved up folding around a fistful of blond locks using the secured tresses to sharply jerk back Quatre's head. The resulting crash into the oak's trunk sent dizzy dots swirling over Quartre's eyes and again produced a sickening faintness.

"So you want your lover little boy?" Chang growled pulling harder to keep Quatre's head steady, "I don't usually go in for this gay shit but I think I will find out what you have that makes that sorry homo keep coming back for more." he hissed leaning closer.

"You must really be good to give impotent bastard a hard on." Chang declared accenting his statement with a searing kiss.

Quatre struggled in vain under the larger, stronger man's crushing weight as Chang's knee moved up between his legs further holding him in place. All Winner could do was shut his eyes and pray that the fates would not be so cruel as to let Chang take him as Quatre's would be rapist's fingers tore at his waistband.

Finally breaking the bruising kiss Chang put all his effort into wrestling his resisting quarry to the ground. In the undergrowth's dense concealment Chang's horrific deed would be easily accomplished and no one would be the wiser. Even Quatre's pitiful screams and pleading would be muffled making them barely audible above all the other noises produced by the estate's normal activity.

Not appreciating Quatre's thrashing about and his generally uncooperative mind-set Chang decided that some form of punishment should be employed as an attitude adjustment. Chang's hand flew free delivering a swift strike on Winner's jaw line. Then the solid slap was followed with a punch to the stomach which effectively brought his soon-to-be victim's flailing to an abrupt halt.

Quatre became limp in Chang's lustful embrace and offered no further resistance as he was lowed to the ground. As blood seeped from his busted lip and he panted to regain his labored breathing Quatre's tearful pleas fell on deaf ears. Chang ignored his prey's imploring, his begging to be spared from the pain and humiliation.

"At least he won't take my virginity." Quatre told himself finding a small measure of peace in knowing that Trowa had been his first and only lover. "Oh Trowa forgive me." he whispered bracing as best he could for what was about to happen.

From some hidden place Chang pulled out a pistol waving it in front of Quatre's ashen face, "You play nice and I won't have to use this." he proclaimed before laying the weapon on the ground within easy reach should his latest conquest decide not to comply with his wishes.

Quatre closed his eyes as a tearing sound filled his hearing. He involuntarily drew up as he felt the waistband's button release and the zipper begin to come undone.

Chang fumbled with his own pants but trying to control the quite fetching blond and free his excitement-taut erection at the same time was proving to be an challenge to even his superb manual dexterity.

Finally he knew he had to release Quatre if he was going to get anywhere fast. Letting go he gave Winner a glare intended to put him on notice that his patience was all but used up and that the lithe boy with the inviting body had better stay still.

Quatre knew exactly what the fierce look was meant to convey but he also knew this might be his last chance to stop Chang's impending invasion. Not considering the painful consequences should he fail, but concentrating on his escape Quatre pulled up all his courage and made his move.

Clenched fists came up and with power borne of desperation Winner plowed both fright-curled hands into Chang's mid-section. The weakened blows did nothing, however, but cause Chang to briefly jerk then without warning, too swift to even see, the enraged Chinese man cocked his elbow ready to give the brash boy a thorough beating.

Now satisfying his carnal desires would not be as pleasing as pummeling Noin's smart-assed manager into a bloody pulp. As the tension built up in knotted muscles the drawn back fist quivered in mid-air awaiting its orders to turn Quatre's beautiful face into mush.

As the fist started down on its punishing path Quatre braced for the forthcoming pain. The coiled tension let go but the flying hand's forward progress was suddenly brought to a surprising halt by the unmistakable feel of cold steel pressing into the back of Chang's head.

"Don't even think about it." a voice hissed, the order being reinforced with a jab of the pistol's business end further into Chang's ebony head.

Slowly Chang turned and look up to find a pair of violet eyes staring staunchly back. In their deep centers sparks jumped and sparkled putting Chang on notice that this was the end of his game.

The pistol had been retrieved, unnoticed in Chang's anxiousness to begin his beating. Keeping its watch near Chang's right eye, the up-close view of the barrel's blackened hollow was one that was not at all pleasant.

"Duo Maxwell, isn't it?" Chang inquired hoarsely getting cautiously to his feet. He had excellent reflexes but even Chang knew he could not win a fight with an already targeted weapon.

"Noin's newest whore." he finished hoping to goad Maxwell into doing something foolish so he could again gain the upper hand.

"Yeah that's me." Duo answered with an alert tilt of his head and a no-nonsense tone to his voice. "Guilty as charged." he grinned as if to add injury to insult.

"Quatre are you all right?" Duo asked disturbed by the blood still oozing from his friend's swollen lips and the raised welt running his jaw's entire length.

Quatre nodded as he pushed against the ground and stood on shaky limbs. With an uncoordinated stagger Winner moved around the furious Security Chief joining Duo a safe distance away.

Duo took a chance for a quick glance at Quatre's eyes to tell if they were clear enough to send him on alone. "Go back to the house and find Trowa." Duo instructed, "Let him take care of you." he added not certain how coherent Winner's thinking was at the moment. "Go on." he urged using his free hand to start Quatre off in the right direction.

When Quatre was well on his way and it seemed he would have no trouble getting back, Duo turned his full attention on the obviously angry Chinese man shaking with rage before him.

"What to do now." Duo began leveling the pistol at Chang's face, "Do we go and tell the Lady you have been a bad boy or do I just shoot you here?" he wondered steadying up his aim, "I really don't believe Noin would be that upset, do you?"

Chang remained silent but Duo could tell by the increased quivering all over his body that his taunting had hit Chang pretty hard.

"Don't press your luck with this one." Duo's inner voice advised.

Duo shook his head in answer to his inaudible council.

"I suppose if I don't shoot you I will have to watch my back from now on." Maxwell stated with certainty strongly considering pulling the trigger and ending his and everyone else's misery then and there.

Chang nodded in a strongly reaffirming gesture as his hands curled into hard fists at his sides.

"Why not shoot him?" Duo's inner voice sincerely inquired.

"Because I am not a murderer." Duo offered his mental reply.

"Okay, back to the house." Duo ordered using the pistol as a pointer.

Chang sighed heavily locking his stone cold black eyes on Maxwell. "You had better do it while you have the chance." he warned daring Duo to pull the trigger.

"No, not my decision." Duo answered, "Now move."

 

Part Six:

Duo kept to the outer fringes making sure he and his pistol-coerced companion were not easily seen. The thick foliage and shrubbery did a perfect job forming a leafy barrier for an unobserved journey.

So far none of Chang's hirelings were aware of their boss' plight. Duo reckoned, though, that if anyone did see them they might choose to look the other way as long as they believed their disregard would not be found out.

Duo would have liked a more exposed path. Under normal circumstances, as normal as his life had ever been, a crowd would have been a simpler way to encourage Chang to move alone peacefully because he would have not wanted his embarrassing situation to be known.

The private surroundings provided Chang with more opportunities to challenge Maxwell's infringement on his authority. Duo was certain if he let his alertness slip for even a fraction of a second Chang would not hesitate to attack. With that surety in mind, Duo made the Security Chief walk well ahead maintaining a good reaction distance.

Duo also knew, at the first chance, Chang would try to gain his lackey's attention and demand their intervention in his capture.

A little over halfway to the house Chang slowed his pace hoping that Duo would not see that the separation was narrowing. But Duo would have no part in the delaying tactics.

"Keep moving or I swear I will fertilize the flowers with you blood and leave your sorry corpse for bird fodder." Duo promised with wholehearted sincerity.

A couple of hundred yards, almost there.

"What do you think Noin will do?" the little voice whispered inside Duo's mind, "Do you think she will back you up?" it asked becoming more annoying by the minute.

Duo decided not to give into any doubt knowing he had to have his full presence of mind as sharp as ever. One moment that was all Chang needed.

As both Duo and his reluctant detainee rounded the semi-circle path that followed the main driveway Maxwell glanced quickly to see if their continued trek was still overlooked.

"I can't believe we got this far." Duo told himself as his commanding facade was fooling only Chang.

Suddenly something struck hard at the juncture where Duo's neck and shoulders came together. For a split second he wondered how Chang from his frontal placement could have delivered the stinging blow.

As the solid strike accomplished its desired affect Duo's eyes dimmed and it felt as though his head had be severed from his neck. His rapidly failing sight caught a glimpse of Chang turning about with a surprised look, no doubt matching Duo's exactly, clearly visible in his widened eyes.

"What the hell?" was all Duo's rattled brain could think as he realized he was going down hard and fast.

Just short of a nasty meeting with the paved path Duo's arms were grabbed and he was roughly hauled upright. His legs had, in the brief time span between his going down and being pulled back up, determined that their cooperation was no longer required.

Now the only thing keeping Maxwell's thoroughly woozy mind and completely unsupportive body from falling apart altogether was the pair Security Unit employees supporting him on either side.

With a totally lethargic response Duo could do nothing more than slump in the watcher's painfully firm grasp. As Duo's overtaxed system was about to surrender to the encompassing darkness. Just as the dim veil clouding both sight and senses quickly lulled him into nothingness a fist plowing into his diaphragm jarred him back from the infringing void.

All breath expelled at once leaving behind a cramped cavity that moments before had been with air. A catching seizure caused Duo to fold in half at the waist. The convulsive spasm tore through every part of his being as racking razor talons of sharp pain assaulted his ribcage and raced deep inside his gut.

Gasping for the elusive breaths that would not return, Duo wheezed and sputtered. Then fear lanced along with the pain as he wondered, with a force so hard, if there had been any internal damage.

Chang with a devilish grin plastered on his golden face stepped to one side reaching down to snag Duo's chestnut braid at the nape of his neck. Using the thick rope of hair as leverage the clearly elated man jerked with sufficient strength to cause a loud pop as Duo's head snapped backwards.

The resulting hot waves traveled with sickening speed in a straightway route from the base of Duo's skull to his brain without a merciful second before the pain exploded in his head.

All the while the guards kept a secure hold on the failing posture of the man they now feared might be killed in their very grasp. But they dared not question their insane leader's motives or intensions not if they, too, wanted to draw another breath.

Chang leaned over until black eyes met the clouded windowpanes of dulled violet washed over in tears and the cold sweat dripping from Duo's forehead.

"So you rescued your friend," he hissed applying more pressure on the braid entangled in his curled fist, "but who is going to rescue you, you pathetic slut."

A gurgle of sour fluid rose in Duo's distended throat shutting off both his air and his voice. With eyelids sluggish with weakness and body so heavy he couldn't feel anything anymore, Duo gazed helplessly back into the most evil stare he had ever encountered.

Even Khushrenada in the throes of his most wicked rages had never looked so dangerous. The very look alone chilled Duo to his innermost core. Fear raced at a pace so shocking that Duo could not control even his basic instincts.

"Well answer me!" Chang shouted crashing a fist into Duo's cheek right below his eye. The stretched flesh split open at once emitting a steady surge of crimson.

Duo managed to mumble something that even he could not understand the reply seeming to break into indistinguishable bits of sound and noise before ever reaching his ringing ears.

The jumbled answer did nothing to appease Chang's fury and the bloodlust that sparked in his black eyes.

Another fist sent Duo's head in the opposite direction then threatened a good case of whiplash as Chang's hold on the braid abruptly stopped the sideways motion.

Chang dropped to one knee so as to get a better look at the battered boy being held fast by his braid. A delighted smile twisted on his face as he bend over licking at the free flow of blood trailing down Duo's swollen cheek.

"Now you cocky bastard I am going to see how good you are." Chang announced with much enthusiasm, "What I was going to do to your pretty blond boy will be nothing compared to the hurting that I am going to put on you."

Then in a totally unpredicted move, Noin's Head of Security centered his mad sight on the two guards shaking from their own dread of what they were about to witness. Then an even stranger order was issued.

"Leave us!" he growled with a throaty tone that left no room for misinterpretation of the curt statement.

Unwisely, however, one watcher didn't heed the warning glare. "Sir, leave?" his voice questioned as he was not certain he had truly understood the order.

With lightning quick reflexes Chang scooped up the gun that Duo had dropped with the first punch and in an equally swift movement had the pistol pointed dead-center at the guard's forehead.

"Are you questioning my orders?"

The pistol quivered and the trigger tensed.

The petrified staff member stammered choking on his words, "No.....sir. Never." Each syllable came with a halting catch as every nerve shattered under his skin.

Chang let a thin-lipped grin slide into place as his eyes flashed in a firestorm of rage. "You will not question me again."

A loud bang bounced over the ground resounding over and over again until it faded into the wail of a high-pitched scream.

The foolish guard's grasp on Duo's arm disappeared as he grabbed at his shoulder. Scarlet billows of blood gathered between his clutching fingers as they tried to stop the tide of anguish spilling from a gaping bullet hole.

The wounded watcher's partner also let go giving up his hold on Duo's other side. The freeing of his sagging body sent Duo down hard his knees hitting first then with a lopping tilt his shoulder collided with the ground.

As the wounded guard clawed at the ragged fabric and the torn flesh beneath all color washed from his face and only his partner's shoring him up kept him from joining Duo on the sandy soil.

Not wanting to give Chang a chance to shoot again knowing the next shot would most likely be fatal, the terrified guard supported and guided his fallen comrade away from the madman that was now tottering on the brink of totally losing control.

Holding the gun in both hands Chang leveled the pistol at Duo's right leg. Duo's blurred sight could not offer a clear picture for his equally hazy brain but something inbred told him that his pain had only begun.

"I am in no mood to pound you until you give up," Chang declared drawing in at an imaginary bull's-eye as his squinted eyes closed halfway, "so I think a bullet in the leg should persuade you to cooperate." he stated coldly, "And if that is not enough I will put one in the other leg and then one in each arm if you still don't get the message."

"No.....please." Duo begged as Chang's announcement of his hellish intensions suddenly made his mind clearer and his words freer.

"So you are going to give up?" Chang smirked at the thought that he had finally beaten Noin's little whore into submission.

Duo nodded trying to push up on elbows that would not support his nearly dead weight. "Anything you want."

He had resigned himself to being used and abused once more. But why did he believe this time and place would be any different? This was, after all, his lot in life to forever be the willing whore for the pleasure of the world.

Every fiber of his being throbbed. Each nerve ending cried out in agony.

Memories of that night in Treize's friend's basement came into full, frightening focus. The recollection of the months of recovery in that awful downtown office building while constantly avoiding the other men's passes, the reaching out, the fondling. The shock as he watch that escaping man go down felled by a single shot.

"This is as it should be." Duo told himself. "Punishment for all his many sins without any hope of redemption."

"I won't fight you." Duo promised hoping he could at least put himself in the usual mind-numbing fog that he let overtake him every time he performed his whoring duties.

He could do this, he had to. His only expectation of good from what was about to happen was that maybe Chang's despicable deeds would be the final push that Noin needed to kick Chang out. If going through the torture meant that Quatre and Trowa would also be free from the Chinese madman then all the pain would be worth the price.

With trembling fingers now not so much from fear but from sore tenderness Duo began to unbutton his bloody shirt. The usual golden gleam of his cross was now tarnished with reddened stains. The dulled metal stuck in a tacky adhesion on his creamy skin.

As his firm chest was exposed for Chang's lecherous viewing made even more desirable by the bloodletting, Duo prayed that his surrender would not be in vain.

And even though the knowledge that Chang would probably kill him anyway once he was sated, if only to improve the afterglow, was set resolutely in his mind, Duo reminded himself of his belief that one way or the other he would be free.

"A cross," Chang announced as he noticed the symbolic charm, "how hypocritical." he sneered. But I don't think this will save you now." he proclaimed reaching for the chain.

Duo flattened his hand over his last link with any hope of salvation. "Don't touch that." he hissed daring to push Chang's tolerance to the limit.

The Chinese Security Chief stayed his hand deciding claiming his prize was more interesting than some unimportant piece of jewelry.

Chang straddled the yielding boy licking his lips in anticipation of his victory reward. To reinforce his warning concerning Duo's total capitulation Chang let the pistol's end rest lightly on Duo's inner thigh to exhort a further promise to have his way.

"You know it would be so easy to just squeeze the trigger." Chang teased tracing a line straight up Duo's leg until the muzzle touched again ever so lightly on Duo's groin.

"I said I would do it," Duo confirmed his commitment to give Chang a good time. "and I never lie." he dared to hiss out the words.

"The pants and hurry up." Chang ordered impatience lending a tense tone to his husky voice.

Again Duo's stiff fingers pulled at the waistband of his warm-up pants. This time no button or zipper would waste Chang's time getting to his goal.

Duo had one more consolation as the waistband cleared his bellybutton and was pushed lower on his hips. While he knew Quatre or Trowa could not be virgins since they shared a relationship, he was certain that neither of them had had much pervious experience and had definitely been true to each other.

On the other hand Duo was, in Treize's words, most definitely damaged goods. Chang could do nothing more to him than had been done before. And unlike Quatre or Trowa and their basically still in tact innocence, Duo was a street-hardened hustler and so jaded that whatever Chang would do did not matter at all. No, Duo Maxwell was a whore, pure and simple and that was all he would ever be.

Chang laid the pistol between Duo's legs replacing the rubbing on his crotch with rough strokes of his hand. Bracing his weight with his knees Chang leaned over until his face was inches from his beautiful and admittedly exotic prize.

"I am really going to enjoy this." Chang proclaimed almost purring in lustful ecstasy.

Duo closed his eyes and sealed up his mind ready to deliver what had been promised because Duo Maxwell might be a wanton slut but he didn't go back on his word.

"Do what you want to." Duo sighed offering himself now without regret.

 

Part Seven:

Chang wasted no time in his endeavor to feed his bodily appetite. Roughly his hand grabbed Duo's almost completely lowered waistband finishing the unveiling with one downward tug.

Despite Duo's weakened condition he managed to display the beginnings of a firm erection. The shutting down of his mind often actually freed his body to react naturally to any well applied outside stimulant.

Chang once more was swift in his quite focused pursuit of pure genital pleasures and the eventual release of his own pent up sexual energy.

He captured Duo's puffy lips sliding his tongue inside for a taste of his agreeable paramour. Duo didn't return the call for a tongue tag match. He had consented under duress and he would not interfere with whatever Chang wanted to do but that didn't mean he had to favorably respond or enjoy the experience.

As Chang's tongue explored the hot wetness leaving a lingering taste of the foul cigar he had been smoking his other hand began an upward sliding that commenced on Duo's inner thigh soon finding its way to the radiating heat of Duo's manhood.

Without further foreplay Chang's hand closed about the hot member so tightly that Duo's flinched in spite of his determination not to react. With rakish delight the hand moved to the dewy head wiping over the tip with a still rougher thumb. Once more Duo jerked silently cursing himself for giving the lecherous Chinese man the slightest satisfaction.

Maxwell's indifferent attitude was not what Chang had in mind when he imagined the sensual nature of their sex session. The object of his lust was supposed to return his eagerness. After all he was promised a good lay and he would be damned if he would settle for anything less.

Removing his tongue so he could speak Chang locked his brooding sight with the beautiful boy's wide amethyst eyes. All that was reflected in their dull glazed surface was his reflection. There was no light beaming from within, no sign that any emotion had been stirred or that any kind of feedback would be forthcoming.

Chang squeezed Duo's penis as hard as he could. If pain was necessary to get some reaction so be it. "You had better give me more than that." he warned as his stormy face showed that his willingness to be patience was quickly running out.

Duo raised one hand placing it beneath Chang's ponytail and with one fluid motion pulled off the hair tie. Heavy black hair slid free falling onto Chang's shoulders. A few tresses covered his sweat-damp cheeks clinging to the moisture.

Then keeping his eyes fixed in an unemotional stare, not caring whether his lover like it or not, Duo guided Chang's anxious mouth to his parting lips to resume the battle of the tongues.

Now Chang's chest heaved as the sexual tension began to build at an accelerated rate. He loosed his grip on Duo's throbbing member relishing the feel of its pulsing against his hand.

"That is being a good boy." he cooed the words vibrating against Duo's mouth. "Now roll over." he instructed, "I want to take you from behind."

Straightening up enough to allow Duo to begin the required rearrangement Chang also release the manhood that had grown larger despite the painful punishment it had endured.

Without pause Duo complied climbing to his knees and offering an unobstructed path for Chang's rock hard member.

Maneuvering himself in a more efficient alignment Chang grabbed on either side of Duo's hips to steady his entry point. "If you are waiting for some sort of preparation think again," he declared pressing his engorged manhood against Duo's rear, "I want you tight and if you bleed, well, that is even better."

Duo closed his eyes taking in a breath and holding it as he readied himself for the coming impalement. In spite of his best efforts to shut down both physically and mentally, Duo knew he could not totally negate the searing burn that would send hot ribbons of pain down both legs and through his entrails.

For a second Duo considered saying a prayer, concentrating on some almost forgotten verse of comfort he had once learned.

But no entreatment would come to mind. None of his prayers could be recalled as he was certain every angel above and probably the devil himself had turned away from the pitiful sight laid out before them.

With a throaty growl Chang pressed harder as the puckered opening fought back against the invasion. Duo tensed although he knew that was the worse thing he could do.

"Relax." the ordered himself.

But the white light never flashed behind his eyes. The lancing pain and seeping blood that would have surely followed never materialized. Suddenly Chang's heaviness lessened as his white knuckled grip on Duo's hips became quite unexpectedly undone.

Duo's mind took a moment to study the strange occurrence. It took another, longer moment, to get up the nerve to twist his head around to try to find the source of his sudden freedom.

As Duo's pivoted at the waist easing one naked hip onto the feathery grass all he could see was someone's back. Chang's shirtfront was caught up and the gathered fistfuls of material were used to jerk the surprised Security Chief to his feet.

Duo gasped as he realized the blocking body and the hauling hands belonged to none other than Heero Yuy. He further stared in astonishment as Chang's employee release one hand cocking and firing a tightly curled fist squarely into Chang's chin.

Still keeping a solid hold with the other hand, Heero repeated the punch this time coming into just as hard contact somewhere in the vicinity of Chang's exposed penis. As the Chinese man yelped in pain, Yuy pushed back then let go at the last minute to send Chang down for a jolting landing on his ass.

With expeditious speed Heero plowed a black boot, matching his uniform, into Chang's gut causing a rapid expulsion of breath. A winded wheeze could be heard well above the hissing of escaping air.

From somewhere among the rattling gasps a strong string of quite loathsome expletives seethed forth from Chang's raspy coughs as he clutched his aching groin.

Yuy grinned with a sense of amusement ignoring the sincere threats by Chang to reach down and pull Heero's intestines up through his throat. He gave no mind to Chang's further swearing to use the afore mentioned guts to form a garrotte and hang Yuy from the highest tree on the estate.

The odd smile spread across Heero's face flushed scarlet with anger. Heero had witness many atrocities at the Fire Dragon's hands. He has until that morning looked the other way refusing to allow any feelings to get in the way of his cold detached training.

Heero Yuy had been in the military before becoming a hired mercenary offering his services to the highest bidder. He had seen a lot of horrors in his limited life enough to make him older than his years and forever ruin any hope of reclaiming his shattered humanity. But the first day he knelt by Duo Maxwell and unlatched his handcuffs Heero knew the beautiful boy could not be dismissed.

And despite the pervious warnings of his loyalty to Noin and his tense tenure of employment under Chang's iron hand, Yuy was now willing to risk everything to save this whore with the heart of an angel.

Momentarily forgetting his attentive watch on Chang who continued to spout out his attempts at intimidation, Heero turned to offered a hand to Duo who was too dumbfounded to react to Yuy's helpful gesture.

Finally Duo timidly lifted trembling fingers inching them towards his champion's waiting hand. He pulled up slowly taking time to restore his shaky balance before letting go of Heero's hand and covering up his nakedness.

For the first time since he could remember Duo was ashamed of his nudity. Anytime before he had blatantly displayed all his charms for whoever was willing to pay. No more than a few times had he freely giving himself for the fulfillment of his own needs. And never had he felt the least bit of guilt for either act.

Duo lowered his eyes as an unaccustomed blush burned over his face. He was actually embarrassed and he didn't know what to do about it.

"At least you can thank Heero." he told himself taking in a quivering sigh. "But how, I only know one way." he chided his inability to show his true emotions to his savior without some attached sexual connotation.

"Just simply say thank you." his inner council advised with gentle prodding.

As Duo raised his sight a blur of movement raced at the corner of his eye. Chang was springing to his feet for a swift and no doubt brutal attack and Heero had left himself completely exposed.

"HEERO! LOOK OUT!" Duo screamed out the warning.

At the last minute Heero jumped aside avoiding the brunt of Chang's malicious assault directed at the decapitation of his disloyal staff member. Nothing short of death would appease the Fire Dragon's wrath. Only the shredding of Yuy's body and the scattering of his mortal remains would cool Chang's boiling blood.

Yuy and Chang suddenly became an entanglement of arms and legs as they tumbled to the ground. Twisting and grappling for any advantage they were caught up in an unyielding embrace that would only be severed by one or the other's demise.

Panic flooded through Duo as he stood in helpless terror. His heart pounded as if the same solid striking fists that bruised both combatants were battering it.

By Duo's feet a stream of sunlight filtering through the overhead branches glinted off a silver surface. Chang's pistol shone pale against the lush green grass. It polished finish glistened in the reflective rays plainly calling for Duo's attention.

Without hesitation Duo picked up the beckoning weapon. With a double grip he pointed the blackened hollow end at the thrashing entwinement of body parts slithering in unison like a serpent along the ground.

But Duo could find no clear target. Every time he had Chang's golden body in his sights the battling pair would reshuffle putting Heero and not the murderous Chinese man in the front sight. Duo's hands shook as he cautioned himself not of let his nervousness accidental shoot the wrong person.

With heartsick exasperation Duo lowered the gun knowing he had no business pointing it at anyone in the first place. "Hell you might shoot yourself." he admitted his ignorance of firearms.

Heero using all the power he could muster slid his arm under Chang's chin and shoved as hard as he could. Gradually the jostling pressure worked it way passed Chang's defensive hold. Heero took the offered opportunity to get in a short but concrete jab.

Chang's head snapped back with the same pop that Duo had heard ringing in his ear when he had been similarly struck. Heero took note of the immediate haze forming over his attacker's sight. A second, better aimed, punch made Chang's enfolding arms go slack giving Heero a welcomed escape route.

Yuy wiggled free and wasted no time in punching and kicking his now more docile opponent. One last downward stomp and Chang fell into a state of near unconsciousness. Only low groans and a slight twitching told Heero that his bested rival was barely hanging onto his alertness.

With Heero standing aside the Chinese man was now a perfect target. Duo stepped forward sighting the pistol and this time very sure of his aim. His finger tensed on the trigger as stabbing breaths were slowed until the steadiness returned to his hand.

"You will pay you Son of Satan." Duo growled recalling Chang's unholy lasciviousness and the pleasure he had derived from Duo's pain and humiliation.

Heero straightened folding a supporting arm across his throbbing ribcage. With extra effort he kept his pain-lanced vision from dimming too much to find his way to Duo. With halting steps he moved to the side once more putting up a fleshy barrier between Duo and Chang.

Duo tilted his head curiously at Heero's unexpected move. Yuy could not be making good on his warning that if he was forced to choose sides that Duo would lose? Why would he intervene only to stand on Chang's side once more?

"Heero?" Duo voice questioned Yuy's motives.

"I can't let you kill him." Heero replied softly.

Something in his manner, the tone of his voice, told Duo that Yuy was having difficulty with the decision to protect the murdering bastard. Nothing made sense but nothing had since Maxwell's arrival at Vixen's Lair.

"Damn it Heero move or I swear I will shoot through you." Duo declared but his words lacked conviction as they rang with hollow resonance in his throat.

"I'm sorry, Duo, I can't" Heero sighed as determination sparked in his cobalt eyes.

Duo felt the gun twitch in his hand as his trigger finger tightened again. "Please Heero." he begged afraid he might not be able to control his thirst for revenge.

Heero's statement changed as he locked his brooding sight on Maxwell. "Duo," he whispered with another sigh, "have you ever kill anyone before?"

Duo tensed at the question. A punching breath caught in his chest. Slowing he shook his head negatively as the weight of his answer defeated his voice.

Heero moved closer never unlocking his steely stare from Duo's misty eyes. "I have." he stated in a matter of fact tone as if he and Duo were talking about some sports event.

"I can not let you carry that burden on your heart or it will tear you to pieces." he declared, "This is not for my sake, the damage to me has already been done, but I won't let you lose your soul to the kill as I have."

One single step put Heero directly in front of the pistol quivering in Duo's grasp. Again keeping his eyes centered Yuy reached out taking hold of the gun giving a gentle tug.

Duo relinquished without protest. Then as everything that had happened hit him with full force he collapsed into Heero's waiting arms. Sobs shook his body as Duo gave into his misery and pain.

Heero gently rubbed Duo's back offering reassuring words and promises of his protection and guidance through the hell that would surely be visited on them with Chang's recovery.

Duo pulled back seeing for the first time how battered Heero's face was. "You look awful." he tried to smile but his own injured face would not play along.

Heero did manage a slight smile wincing at the effort as he pushed stringy chestnut locks from Duo's eyes.

Duo took Heero's hand running a finger over his scraped and bruised knuckles which were crusted with blood. "I am so sorry." Duo declared as remorseful tears pooled again.

"For what?" Heero wondered not understanding how Duo could possible believe any of this mess was his fault.

Duo swallowed hard as he fought back returning tears, "There is always trouble wherever I go. I didn't mean to get you involved."

"You have no reason for this self-condemnation. I got involved because I chose to." Heero stated knowing full well the consequences of his actions and not caring what the outcome might be."

Let's get back to the house before Chang comes around and I might have to shoot him myself." Heero suggested wrapping an arm about Duo's waist.

Duo returned the favor, as neither of them was too steady on their feet.

"You know we make a good pair." Duo announced as they started towards the house with tottering paces.

"We do?" Heero asked pushing Chang's pistol into his belt.

Duo grinned and a hint of that sparkle flashed. "Yeah right now neither of us is worth a damn."

 

Part Eight:

Heero and Duo found no blockade either human or canine on their slow but steady journey back to the Lady's home. Some twenty yards from the basement's outside entrance Duo involuntarily began to cough. His natural defenses, trying to clear his windpipe of the blood tinted saliva building with each swallow, took over violently and with enough strength to cause his knees to buckle.

Disregarding the sore stiffness across his ribs Heero scooped up Duo's feeble form carrying him the rest of the way. He only set Maxwell down when they reached the entrance but still kept a secure hold as he opened the door.

The racking coughs had subsided but Heero did not at all like the raspy tones Duo's chest produced.

"I can walk to my room." Duo insisted even though he was using Heero for most of his support.

Heero didn't argue with Duo's assessment of his obviously weakened state deciding to let Duo try the short walk down the hall. Trowa's door was closed. If he and Quatre were inside they were quiet for Heero could detect no noise or voices.

Kicking the bedroom door shut behind them Heero leaned his hip against Duo while he pulled back the bedcovers. Easing Duo down into a seated position Heero winced at the grabbing pain traveling from one side of this ribcage to the other.

Pulling off Duo's running shoes added to his torment but soon the job was done. "I hope nothing is broken." Heero thought to himself hoping Duo was not aware of his awkward movements.

Duo began to remove his blood stiff shirt but gave up, as the discomfort was not worth the effort. "I must look like a mess." he sighed. In his own state of pain Maxwell carefully laid back thankful the mattress was firm.

Heero shook his head as if to acknowledge the comment but offered no personal opinion of his unexpected ally's appearance.

"Lay quietly while I get some water to clean you up." Heero urged moving with difficulty from the bed. "There is a first aide kit in the bathroom." he muttered as he disappeared through the door.

Suddenly aware of his solitary surroundings Duo's breaths quickened. Afraid that Chang would materialize from thin air with fiery malice exploding from his ebony eyes and bearing frothy fangs, he clutched up handfuls of the sheet fighting to keep from screaming Heero's name.

Not soon enough Yuy returned carrying a bowl of water and the first aide kit. A towel was draped over his shoulder. Seeing Duo's widened eyes, the renewed bout of sweating soaking his bangs, he leaned over for a closer inspection. "Are you all right?" he asked moving quickly to pry Duo's hands from the sheet.

Duo nodded against the pillow trying to push up on his elbows. "Stay still." Heero ordered then went to work wiping away the horrid leftovers of Duo's assault.

Speaking in a muted calming tone and using gentle touches Heero carefully cleaned Duo's face then rinsed out the tainted towel. The water turned deep pink. The odor of stale blood hung heavily in the air.

Duo lay limply doing nothing to either help or hinder Heero's care. The face cleaning finished, Heero moved on to Duo's neck and down his chest. "Let me help you sit up and get that nasty shirt off." he instructed taking Duo's arm.

Duo sat up enough for Heero to slid the sticky material over his shoulders the he propped up on the pillow to stay in the semi-upright posture.

Duo's cross stuck on his chest held fast by dried blood. Heero reached down towards the cross but Duo quickly laid a shielding hand on top.

"All right I won't touch it if you don't want me to." Heero promised withdrawing his hand.

Duo lowered his eyes, "Someone who once cared deeply about me gave me this. It is all I have left."

Heero nodded as he returned to his cleaning. The remainder of the washing went smoothly. Soon Duo was clean if not totally comfortable.

Heero set the bowl and towel on the floor before retrieving the first aide kit. He tore open a packet removing a disinfectant wipe. Now it was Duo's turn to wince as the antiseptic burned in his cuts and scrapes.

Heero knew the healing liquid stung but there was no point in apologizing since it was a necessary part of Duo's treatment. All he could do was be as gentle as possible and try to finish as fast as he could.

After six pads were soiled and discarded the job was about done. Several cuts were deep enough to bandage; the rest were left to heal on their own.

A puffy welt ran along Duo's jaw line becoming sorer by the minute. But the bruised discoloration that concerned Heero the most was the wide expanse across Duo's stomach.

"Oh Duo." he sigh touching lightly the bluish patterns left behind by Chang's fist.

Duo drew in a breath at the raw contact. Heero jerked back his hand whispering his regrets at the pain he caused.

"It's all right." Duo replied taking Heero's hand laying it back on his stomach. "The heat from your hand feels good."

Heero began a series of circular strokes being sure to keep them light. Gradually he widened the range of his nimble finger's path. Duo sighed relaxing for the first time in the pure comfort of Yuy's warm massage.

"Does that feel better?" Heero asked watching Duo's eyes droop as he allowed himself to slowly wind down.

Duo shook his head but said nothing. The only sound was another contented sigh. He turned slightly on his side facing Heero but the twisting about caused his sagging eyelids to fly open as he flinched.

"Duo?" Heero questioned Maxwell's obvious painful reaction.

Duo eased closer, "My shoulder and neck are stiff," he answered "and my head hurts." he added bringing a shaky hand to his temple.

"Let me see." Heero proclaimed turning his attention to Duo's shoulder.

"Here? And here?" he asked letting his fingers caress the knotted muscles along Duo's shoulder and neck.

"What about here?" he asked again trailing two fingers up until they rested lightly on Duo's temple. "Let me undo your braid that should help."

Duo nodded with a half-closing of his eyes. Once more with gentle care Heero freed Duo's ratty braid combing his fingers through the tangled tresses that, despite their unkempt condition, still felt like silk.

"How?" Duo whispered growing sudden sleepy from the stroking of his hair.

Heero continued his expert manipulation concentrating on the nape of Duo's neck, "How?" he repeated the question.

"How did you know where to find me?"

"I saw Trowa and Quatre in the basement as they were going to Trowa's room. Quatre told me what happened and said he thought you would need my help."

Duo sighed as Heero's hands kept up their marvelous maneuvers. "Why?"

Now it was Heero's turn to sigh at the disjointed, hard to follow pace of their conversation. "Why what, Duo?"

"Why did you come?"

"Because I know Chang and what he is capable of doing. I knew you could not handle the madman." he stated with certainty, "That you would be foolish to try." he added letting a slight smile tug at his mouth.

"So now I am a fool as well as a whore." Duo announced drawing his knees to his chest, as he again felt vulnerable.

The sudden withdrawal of Heero's fingers made Duo look up through his stringy bangs straight into the deep cobalt of Yuy's eyes. Their piercing glare made him wish he could burrow into the mattress and pull the bedcovers over him.

But Heero's next action was unpredictable catching Duo completely off guard. Placing his thumb under Duo's chin Heero leaned over lifting Duo's face until their noses were inches apart.

"I don't ever want to hear you use that word again." Heero ordered in a surprisingly tender tone.

Duo blinked in confusion, "What word?"

"Whore."

"But that is what I am, a street-gutter whore."

"Not anymore." Heero declared. "Your heart had already turned away from that life before you came here."

Now Duo's eyes were wide as he stared in amazement, "What do you know about my heart or anything else about my fucking life?" he hissed in anger at Heero's blatant presumption to know anything at all about him.

Heero didn't react to Maxwell's verbal attack but kept his eyes glued to Duo's flushed face. "I saw it in your body language as Chang began to take you." he stated leaning further until his mouth brushed over Duo's quivering lips.

Duo pulled back at Yuy's unexpected move continuing to stare in an astonished state of bewilderment.

"What's wrong can't deny I am right?" Heero challenged Duo to refute the truth.

Tears welled in Duo's eyes. Squeezing them tightly the stinging moisture spilled in shimmering streams over his pale cheeks, "I don't know any other way." he whispered what he believed to be the truth.

Heero's finger intercepted a crystal droplet bringing the shed wetness to his lips. Tasting its salty tang immediately spurred him to want to taste more of the beautiful boy.

Heero touched Duo's lips breathing out what he knew to be the truth.

"You can learn. I will help you." he promised as his tongue slipped inside Duo's slackened mouth.

This time Duo didn't pull away but melted in Heero's embrace as his comforting arms enfolded about Duo's trembling body. The kiss was laced with more tears as their tongues danced together in perfect rhythm.

Just as Duo was about to become lost in Heero's sensual warmth, just as he was about to surrender to the temptation, the realization that his tainted soul would ruin anyone who loved him hit with full force.

"No!" he exclaimed pushing back against Heero's arm's enfoldment. "I won't hurt you too." he declared trying desperately to turn away. He couldn't stand to see the longing in Heero's eyes anymore.

Heero held tightly not giving up an inch. "Please." Duo begged as his strength all but gave out.

A soon as Duo stopped fighting Heero eased up on his gentle but firm grip. "You won't hurt me," he whispered seeing the terror in Duo's widened sight. "You could never do that."

Duo covered his face with his hands to hide from Heero's loving gaze. "I lost my only love because of my selfish attitude." he stated the words muffled by his hands.

"Damn it, Heero, he is dead because of me!" Duo almost screamed as the pain of remembrance lanced through his heart. "Because....of.....me." he choked out the words letting his tears flow freely once more.

When Heero didn't respond, when silence was all that answered his anguished declaration, Duo parted his fingers just enough to search for Heero's face dreading what he would find.

But to his surprise Heero was crying, weeping unashamedly as now his heart was breaking, too.

Duo reached up tentatively touching Heero's wet cheek. Heero laid his hand on Duo's intertwining his fingers, "Tell me." he demanded the whole story, "Please Duo I have to know."

Duo took in a steadying breath and began to recall the most wretched time in his life. "I had my first true lover two years ago. His name was Solo.

Solo knew what I was when we met but he accepted me anyway. Still he pleaded with me daily to stop, he was afraid I would get hurt or worse."

Duo took in another shaky breath wiping his face with the back of his hand, "I promised I would stop and I did for awhile, but the street always called me back. After the third time I broke my word Solo finally gave me an ultimatum that I either quit or he would leave. He said he couldn't bear to have his heart torn again.

Looking back on that night I realized Solo was acting out of desperation, not knowing what else to do. Of course when he confronted me in such a severe manner I immediately went on the defensive.

We had an awful fight. Solo stormed out declaring that I would never see him again. Angry and hurt I left shortly afterwards and picked up the first guy that would go home with me. I would show Solo, yeah, he would know exactly where he and his demands stood with me.

Solo had second thoughts and decided to come back to try to work things out. He walked in on the man and me in bed, our bed. I swear that was the first and only time I ever turned a trick in our bed.

Solo stood silently staring at the defilement I had committed. As his heart finally was rent in two he began yelling, ordering the man to leave, crying and begging me to kick him out. All I could do was pull the tangled sheet around me and weep bitter tears of remorse at what I had done.

The man became enraged at Solo's actions stating he had not received his "money's worth" then threw my infidelity in his face suggesting that Solo stay to watch me do what I did best.

Still, with the evidence clearly before him, Solo refused to believe I would betray him. He staunchly held to his beliefs that he could save me. Solo charged the man cursing and punching, once more begging me to stop not for his sake but mine.

All I saw was a glint of silver before Solo clawed at his middle, before he crumpled to the floor. The man grabbed his cloths and ran leaving his knife behind in Solo's stomach.

Sitting in the middle of my private hell, holding my dying lover, I promised on my own life that if Solo would not leave me I would change.

As my only true love's life flowed out between my clutching fingers, as his pain-racked body convulsed, his voice grew weaker and weaker. Responding to my pitiful plea that he could not die Solo said something that I will never forget.

"Duo my love," he whispered his feeble voice fighting through gurgling fluid flooding his throat as he was drowning in his own blood, "You will always be an angel in my eyes, pure and spotless. Promise me you will always be my angel."

Duo shuddered suddenly feeling cold, "That night the only person who ever believed in me died in my arms all because I was too selfish to care about anything but what I wanted. Because of my damned egotistical pride, my weakness for the wanton sensations of this world, I killed my lover."

Heero began to speak but Duo's raised hand kept him quiet. He nodded silently telling Duo to continue.

"After Solo died I lost my reason for living. I no longer cared what happened. I was no angel but a demon with a soul so damned there was no hope of redemption.

I took to the streets where I believed I belonged. Night after night I tried to exorcise the demon, doing anything that might ease the unbearable torment if only for a short time. Drinking, drugs, sex; always sex. Anything to escape my self-imposed prison. But the nights grew darker until I lost the last of Solo's loving light.

A few months later I met a man named Treize Khushrenada who took full advantage of my depressed state of mind and soul. In my complete self-loathing I went willingly to his bed trading one misery for another.

With more tears catching in his voice Duo finished the sorted tale of his life. How he became one of Treize's prized prostitutes and, for a time, his lover. Duo broke down further as he told of his torturous ordeal, his eventual recovery and how he then came to be purchased by Lady Noin.

Throughout the painful recalling Heero remained silent letting Duo take his time until his entire pathetic life story was laid out in all it's sinful glory.

Finally when all of Duo's tears had run out, when nothing but total fatigue had sapped his last bit of fortitude, Heero decided to speak.

"You are not the same person." he proclaimed focusing his cobalt sight directly into Duo's red, puffy eyes.

"I know your heart has changed. You can change your life."

Duo flopped his head against the pillow. His energy was spent. He was now too exhausted to raise his voice higher than a sighed whisper.

"Haven't you heard anything I said? How can you be so certain? I have failed.....so many......times."

The words drifted off as Duo's strength gave out, "How?" was the last thing said before a thorough faintness took his last thoughts and crumpled them inside his weary mind.

"Solo gave you this cross, didn't he?" Heero asked running a finger over the blood tainted symbol of Duo's and Solo's loving union.

"Yes." came the choked reply.

"If you are so sinful then why do you still wear it?"

Duo shrugged redirecting his swollen sight at the far wall, "Out of love." he whispered lowly, "And out of guilt." he finally admitted the whole truth.

"You will always be connected to Solo and his love. Use that love to help you find the strength to change." Heero declared, "Let me help you." Yuy leaned down pulling the bedcovers over his new partner's slender frame. With love's lucid understanding he now saw Duo as his true self. Despite his life of whoredom, one borne from loneliness and despair, Duo was an angel. His soul was still pure, if not, he would not be hurting so badly.

"Heero." Duo began again.

"Shhhh." he answered wanting Duo to sleep. "We will talk later."

Duo pressed to be heard. "We have to leave. Chang will come for us."

"Let him and it will be the last thing he will ever do." Heero declared with no doubt whatsoever in his mind.

"Quatre and Trowa must go, too." Duo stated with the same surety as Heero that none of them were safe.

Duo pushed up on his elbows. The resulting dizziness caused the color to drain from his face as a wave of cold sweat and terror washed over. "Today. We have to leave today."

"We will but we have to make a plan." Heero advised.

"Sleep now. Give me a chance to think."

"But Chang...." Duo began before giving into the encompassing faintness.

Heero lifted Chang's pistol eyeing the weapon with cold calculation, "Like I said before let him come. He has ruined his last life. NO MORE!"

***********************************

As Heero held his clammy hand Duo settled into a restless sleep. He tightened his hold lying back beside Duo. There were a lot of things that would have to come together if they were to have any hope of escape. A lot of careful planning and not much time.

"Why hasn't Chang come already?" Heero's mind asked, "He is waiting for the right moment." Heero answered aloud knowing all too well Chang's predatory nature.

The hunt was as much a thrill as the kill. No Chang would be patient choosing his own time and place, picking them off one by one. Heero was absolutely certain that Chang would come after him last. After he had killed everyone else, taken all he could, then the bloodthirsty Fire Dragon would come for him.

"Come on you son of a bitch I'm ready." Heero swore.

A soft knock at the door jarred Heero from his thoughts and planning. Raising the gun at the ready beside his cheek, he eased up to the door standing to one side. "Who is it?"

"Duo, its Quatre and Trowa." Winner called not recognizing Heero's voice through the door's thickness.

Quatre eyes widened in surprise as the opening door revealed the enemy. Trowa stepped quickly between his lover and the man he believed to be a threat. "Where is Duo?" he demanded trying to see around Heero, "What did you do to him?"

Heero could not take offense at Trowa's reaction. Neither he nor Quatre had any means to know how the situation had been altered. "Come in." he said moving aside, "Duo is all right, he is sleeping." he assured Maxwell's worried friends.

"I don't understand." Quatre stated going to the bed to see for himself if Duo was indeed all right.

Heero quickly scanned the vacant hall closing the door's fragile blockade against any intrusion knowing, if Chang really wanted any of them, that there would not be anywhere on the estate they could hide. Nowhere Noin's Security Chief and his murdering horde could not find them.

"It's a long story and we don't have time for explanations. You will have to trust me." Heero replied.

Trowa folded his arms across his chest studying Duo as he slept seemingly content with Heero presence. "I suppose Duo trusts you." he stated looking over at Quatre for some sign he was correct in his assumption.

Quatre shook his head affirmatively as he mopped back damp bangs for his own observation of Maxwell's sleeping form.

Tense silence hung in the air in a dense saturation that made even the act of breathing a challenge. They all knew time was running out. They had to move and quickly if they had any hope of surviving Chang's horrific hunting.

"What do you want?" Heero asked as time pressed for some immediate action.

"This is the last time that Chinese bastard will ever hurt anyone." Trowa declared, "We want to join you and Duo."

Trowa walked to Quatre putting an arm around his partner's shoulders.

"The last time." he swore under his breath pulling his own perfect angel nearer.

 

Part Nine:

As Duo continued in a state of dream-plagued restless moaning and moving in his sleep, Heero, Quatre and Trowa huddled around the table. Heads nodded in agreement and, sometimes, disagreement as they attempted to construct a suitable plan of action.

Trowa still insisted that Chang's elimination was their only hope of escape. While Heero could not deny that his boss being sent to hell was a desirable and most satisfying idea, he believed their best bet for an unscathed withdrawal was to do it as quickly and quietly as possible.

Wasting time trying to catch Chang alone especially in the Chief's heightened state of alertness would be both time consuming and downright stupid. As experienced as Heero was he still had no desire to put himself or the others in peril just for the sake of revenge.

"You have to remember that if we take on Chang we might be taking on the entire Security Unit." Heero cautioned. "Even though his men might hate him they fear him more."

Trowa offered a thin lipped smile as green sparks bounced in his eyes, "I was thinking more along the lines of a sneak attack. One of us doing the necessary deed while the others created a diversion. The method need not be fancy just effective."

Another bout of fireworks exploded in Trowa's narrowed sight, "I am not opposed to a bullet in the back." he honestly announced as visions of Chang's body jerking as a single deadly projectile impacted with his spine played out in his mind.

The sight of the Fire Dragon dropping heavily to the ground in death's icy grip caused the thin smile to enlarge, "No I am not opposed at all." he declared with delight having no qualms about not being honorable in the fight.

Quatre placed a hand on his lover's arm, "There will be no individual heroics. We work as a team or not at all." he stated in a tone that put everyone on notice that he was quite serious.

Trowa leaned over giving his stormy partner a brushing kiss, "What's wrong don't think I can take Chang out?"

"I have no doubts of your abilities to take care of yourself or me for that matter." Winner replied, "But I will not risk your life or any other for that damned Son of Sheol." he stated with uncharacteristic swearing.

Quatre's cursing gave both Trowa and Heero a moment's pleasure. They exchanged sly glances that caused Quatre to blush slightly at his own surprising strong verbal reaction.

"Well he is made of piss and fire after all." a faint voice acknowledged from across the room.

Heero went to the bed helping the still drowsy Duo to sit up. "I sorry we didn't mean to wake you. But since you are awake you might as well join in the planning."

Duo frowned at the thought of being left out, "You mean you weren't going to include me in your little mission session?" he snapped leaning around Heero to address everyone at once.

"We were just getting the preliminary stages in order, we would certainly not exclude you." Quatre promised.

"Damn straight." Duo announced with that devilish grin he always displayed when thoughts of a most roguish nature were spawned.

A knock at the door froze everyone in place. "Chang?" Duo breathed out the fear-laced name his cocky attitude quickly vanishing.

An equally terrorized wave swept over Quatre as he reached for Trowa.

"No," Heero whispered back. "he wouldn't knock first. Stay quiet."

Heero again took up the pistol telling Duo to stay still, "Pretend you are asleep." he said while motioning for Trowa and Quatre to hide in the closet.

This time the pistol was hidden behind his back as Heero approached the door. The knock sounded again with a more demanding soundness.

"Yeah what do you want?" Heero responded adding a no nonsense bearing to his words in order to convince whoever was on the other side that he was not happy.

"Open up Maxwell!" the phantom voice ordered.

Heero threw back the door achieving the unnerving affect he had intended. In the hall a black unformed guard stood wide-eyed at the unexpected revelation as he found Heero glaring back.

"WHAT!" Heero asked curtly keeping a firm hold on the gun as it rested against his waistband.

"I was sent to get Maxwell he is late for lunch with Madam Noin."

"You tell the Madam that Duo is sick. He got overheated this morning while he was running. Evidently he is not in as good a shape as Noin thought." Heero lied with certainty he would be believed. "If she has any questions let me know and I will speak with her." he added as he began to shut the door.

The guard was either brave or stupid because he put his foot in the door to prevent its closing. "I was told to check on him and that is what I am going to do."

Heero knew when to cause a scene and when to play along, "All right but don't disturb him or you will answer to me." he promised.

Noin's watcher walked halfway to the bed leaning forward. Duo had curled up drawing the sheet and blanket close about his neck leaving only his head in sight.

The guard studied the sleeping boy for a long moment watching the steady rise and fall of the covers. Finally he moved back to the door. "I'll tell her you will be by with a report later."

Heero nodded as the guard exited into the hall. The black-clad man gave another hasty glance over his shoulder then turn partly towards Heero. "You wouldn't be entertaining the idea of going after that one, would you? I don't think Noin would like that." he advised with a cheeky grin. "Can't say I would blame you though, he looks good and I hear he is ever better."

"What I do is none of your business." Heero growled, "If you don't want to have to worry about a tragic accident the next time we are on the shooting range I suggest you keep your nose out of my affairs." he sincerely warned with sufficient force in his voice to leave no doubt.

The guard offered a strained smile having no doubt at all Yuy would carry out his threat without a moment's hesitation. "Whatever." he sighed as he made his way down the hall.

Heero's hand shook as he closed the door. Leaning his body against the wooden panels he took in a deep breath to steady his pounding heart.

"You have never reacted like this before." his inner voice whispered.

"There has never been a time like this." he answered under his breath.

"It is all clear, come on out." he called to the hiding pair.

Heero returned to his seat on the bed just as Duo stirred under the covers. "That was close." he announced pushing to sit up. "What do we do now?"

Duo, Quatre and Trowa, knowing Yuy was far better trained and had a more accurate knowledge of Chang's ways, didn't object to him becoming their leader.

"As I see it," Heero began, "our mission is threefold. The Security System alarms have to be overridden otherwise reaching the gate undetected will be useless.

"That can be done through the main computer." Quatre advised this time using his knowledge of the estate setup.

Heero nodded his acknowledgement, "Secondly we have to have a means to get away once we are off the property."

This time it was Duo's turn to contribute, "There are two motorcycles in the garage that would be perfect. That is what I was doing this morning when I took my pretend run. I was going to use one to make good my escape when I believed I was alone in this hellish situation." he confessed.

Heero took Duo's hand firming up his grip. "You are not alone and never will be if I have anything to say about it."

Duo lifted up his newly found comrade, and perhaps, lover's hand kissing the scrapes and bruises covering each training-hardened rough knuckle. "Oh you will have a lot to say and do if I have my way."

As much as Trowa and Quatre were pleased with the obvious attraction between Yuy and Maxwell the pair's blossoming affections would have to wait until a more suitable time. Right then getting out in one piece, with minimal damage was top priority.

"You said threefold." Trowa reminded in a tactful tone understanding how Heero and Duo's newly discovered feelings for each other could transcend the tenseness of their hazardous circumstances.

Heero blushed slightly as totally unaccustomed emotions vied for his attention despite he need to fully concentrate on the task at hand. "Yes." he mumbled then cleared his throat of the emotional knot swelling inside.

Duo's grin widened at the sight of Heero Yuy being made so uncomfortable by the breaking down of his previously stoic and quite guarded nature. It widened further as he realized he had a lot to do with the tearing away of Yuy's detachment.

If Heero took notice of Duo's delight he did not make it plain as he continued to address Trowa's question. "Finally we have to be absolutely certain that no one has even the slightest hint about what we are doing.

One slipup, one mistake in judgment or inattention to detail and we all might as well take Chang's pistol and end it now." he stated laying the Security Chief's weapon on the table.

Quatre reached out running a slender finger across the pistol's silver finish. The metal was as cold and unforgiving as it's owner that fact he knew without question.

"We won't fail, we can't." he whispered the shiver in his voice speaking volumes of the grave consequences should they not succeed.

With a determination borne from his love for Trowa and his respect for Heero and Duo Quatre raised his voice with more confidence, "WE WILL NOT FAIL!"

All the others nodded each in turn giving their pledge that they would do everything humanly possible to protect each other and be victorious.

Then Quatre solely locked his sight on Trowa. As long as Trowa had known his perfect angel, with all they had shared, the gaze now directed at him was something new. That was a connection being made that was different but somehow familiar, as familiar as breathing itself.

"Promise me," Quatre requested with all his heart and soul, "that if we should fail you won't let Chang take you or me. Promise you will help me find the courage to send you and I into eternity together. I don't believe Allah would condemn such an act of love."

Trowa wrapped his arms about his lover's trembling body pulling him as close as physically possible. "I won't come to that." he swore on his love of his Little One.

"But it could we all know that." Quatre proclaimed knowing the odds were not stacked in their favor. Knowing that they could indeed be brought to that deadly decision. "Please Trowa I need your solemn oath." he begged, Please."

"I promise." Trowa whispered but deep inside he momentarily wondered if he had the courage himself.

He looked again into Quatre's pleading eyes so full of fear yet comforted by love. He then knew without a shred of doubt that if the decision was forced on them he would do anything to save his innocent lover from the torturous repercussions of Chang's capture.

Heero slid an arm about Duo's shoulders equally aware of their slim chances of success but just as resolute that they would not fail. "We will do this." he stated firming up his reassuring hug. "Now let's put our doubts to rest and get busy."

***********************************

The first obstacle to overcome was the Security System. Despite Trowa's objections that Quatre handle that assignment he was finally convinced.

When faced with the reality that Winner was the only one that knew the necessary override codes, he reluctantly gave in but only after extracting a promise from Heero that he would see Quatre safely to the computer room and stand guard. No one would question their wandering about since they both had upper floor privileges.

The matter of the override decided they moved to the next phase, the motorcycles. That assignment fell to Duo and Trowa. Once more Heero's ability to move about the estate without arousing much interest would have to be utilized.

He would have to secure the keys to their motorized means of freedom. After that it would be Trowa and Duo's job to get to the garage and roll the motorcycles to the ground's perimeter.

The plan sounded simple enough but all their scheming would have to be carried out while completely evading Chang and his henchmen. That in itself was a monumental task.

The cover of darkness, waiting until most of the estate had settled in for the night was the best time to move. Until then the resolute quartet would stay together and hope Chang's driving need for revenge would be put off a few more hours. Maybe Chang, too, believed that his hunting was best left to the night's concealment.

With each new realization of the danger fear tried to worm its way into each teammate's mind. Only their solidarity of spirit and the sure knowledge that Chang would sooner or later come for them made fighting off the invading misgivings easier to master.

Now each brother-in-arms drew from the other's strength of will and their fortitude of spirit. And as Trowa and Quatre had often used their love as a powerful agent against the world's fickleness, now Duo and Heero employed the same love on their behalf.

Together they could overcome anything the bitter forces of fate would hurl in their direction. Together they would be unstoppable.

***********************************

The household staff had retired for the evening. The corridors were vacant except for a occasional guard checking the outside door's locks, Quatre had excused himself from dinner that evening by convincing his Mistress that he wanted to stay with Duo who was still sick.

He didn't know whether or not Chang would be in attendance for the evening meal but he did know his nervousness could not be hidden from Noin. He had been in her employment too long to keep up the pretense that everything was all right.

Heero was seldom invited to the Lady's table so there would be no concern about where he was or what he was doing. What Yuy was doing during that dinnertime hour was slipping the garage key and the motorcycle keys from their hook in the otherwise locked key cabinet in Chang's office.

Earlier as he lurked in the shadows outside the Security Office Heero had seen Chang and a few of his Captains leave to go to the staff dining hall. Most probably the Fire Dragon, with his trusted inner band of men, meant to devise the plan of their extermination while sharing a meal and a bottle of wine.

Chang never let duty interfere with his pleasures whether they were eating, drinking, fighting or, as rumor had it, even bedding down a local prostitute from time to time. Whether the whore was female or male was left to his particular notions that evening.

With the keys burrowed in his pocket Heero returned to Duo's room to collect Quatre for the override phase of their plan. Trowa gave his koi a good luck kiss before reminding Yuy of his promise of protection.

"Everything will be all right." Quatre assured his worry lover as he and Heero stepped into the hall.

Trowa flopped into the chair by the table running his hands over his face, "I know this is necessary but I don't have to like it." he muttered mostly to himself.

Duo who had taken the chance to fetch something to eat from the small kitchen munched on a sandwich. "Heero knows what he is doing. We have to be patient now and be ready to go when they get back."

***********************************

Heero and Quatre made their way quickly up the stairs turning left at the top. Two sentries met the pair was they walked in as natural manner as they could down the long carpeted hallway leading to the mansion's main section.

A head nod from the guards was exchanged as they didn't think twice about Yuy or Winner. As they moved further away one turned to his staff member, "I heard that Yuy beat the shit out of Chang this morning and that the foolish bastard's days are numbers."

"Yeah too bad he didn't kill the madman." the other answered having himself been on the receiving end of one of Chang's fits of rage.

"Maybe he will." the first wished for the Fire Dragon's death, "If anyone can do it Yuy can."

Heero produced the pistol holding it against his chest in a double grip. With the toe of his boot he eased opened the door to the room housing the main system for the entire estate. The alarms could be controlled from both this location and the Security Office.

The trick Quatre had to pull off was rerouting the codes so that the alarm to the eastern side gate was disable while making it appear that the system had not been compromised. The few minutes while the switchover was made was critical as that was the when the hacking could be discovered.

Quatre did have partial access to some programs. Some by Noin's permission and some from his own reworking of certain sites so he could better keep an eye on what exactly was going on from day to day. But his range was limited making the computer deception more risky than he would have liked.

"All clear." Heero whispered but even the softness of his voice caused Quatre to flinch.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Heero asked seeing Winner's frazzled reaction. "We can find another way if we have to." Heero offered giving Quatre another option.

"No this is the only way." Noin's manager replied, "You just watch my back and I'll do the rest."

"Do it right but don't waste time." Heero urged, "The guards will be back around in twenty minutes and they don't need to wonder why I am still hanging around."

The door closed with a soft click behind Winner. Taking Heero's advice to heart he wasted to time in seating himself in front of the main computer console. He switched it on and as the screen came to life it cast a bluish tint over Quatre's fair features.

"Well here I go." he sighed entering his access code and waiting for the letters and numbers to be scanned and confirmed.

Nervously he fiddled with the corner of a folder lying nearby willing the slow machine to go faster. Finally the code was validated opening up the main menu.

"Good." he whispered to himself. "Let's see if you will cooperate." he once again willed the machine to respond favorably to his typed-in orders.

He moved rapidly through the menu using several more codes to reach his electronic destination. His fingers flew over the keyboard typing as fast as he could without making too many time consuming errors.

"Here we are." Winner continued his conversation with himself as he found talking through each entry made him calmer.

He was about to begin entering the last set of codes when a voice from somewhere behind him sent a surge of fright up his spine.

"Winner." it called seeming to come from everywhere at once and then from nowhere at all. "What are you doing?" it asked in a strangely familiar manner and quality.

Taking in a deep breath Quatre pivoted in his seat. The voice didn't belong to Chang he was certain of that and, while its tone and resonance was common, his fear would not allow his brain to make a positive identification.

Turning fully around Quatre's eyes met Lady Noin's blue orbs as they picked up the light from the activated screen making them even bluer still.

"I said what are you doing? Noin asked again displaying an odd statement as if she was not totally surprised to see him there.

Quatre had to think fast, to quickly call up some reasonable explanation for his presence. Some plausible clarification for his actions. But none of any believable substance came immediately to mind.

Then Quatre made a decision that might or might not mean the end of his and his friend's lives. Something told him the truth was the only words that would have any power in saving his lover and his comrades.

"Well Madam," Quatre began looking his Mistress straight in the eye, "I will not lie." he proclaimed ready to give her the whole story.

He had to trust his feelings, hope and pray that whatever deity held fate's reins and controlled its ever-changing whims would smile on him that night. That his instincts concerning the Lady's willingness to hear him out were not a deathly miscalculation on his part.

 

Part Ten:

"Please Madam sit down." Quatre implored his Mistress to take a seat across from him.

He didn't bother to turn off the computer because one way or the other he was going to finish his assignment even if it meant calling Heero in for backup.

Noin quietly slipped her slender frame into a plush chair crossing her long legs and leaning back as she displayed a surprisingly comfortable demeanor. "Well let's hear all of it." she requested lowly.

Quatre turned his chair around creating a blue aura shadow from the backwash of the screen. The filtered glow graced his pale skin and surrounded his blond tresses until he resembled some form of a mythological aquatic creature freshly risen from the sea.

But despite his peculiar transformation Noin's household manager presented a clearly and quite direct picture of one determined individual. His back was straight, his eyes centered. Every fiber of his being told Noin unequivocally that he would not be dissuaded from his job.

Noin had never seen Winner show such conviction before. Not that he had been overly meek but, at the same time, Quatre had never been one to stir the waters. He had always followed the rules not so much for fear of what the consequences of his disobedience might be but from respect for his Mistress.

***********************************

Quatre was the only ranking staff member that had found his way into Vixen's Liar by his own consent. The sole person not in her employment because he had been bought and paid for, so his loyalty had been prized about all the others. For this Noin had always been grateful even if she had not told him so.

But she had known for some time that Quatre had been unhappy. At first she was at a lost to know the reason. Lucrezia had given him all the comforts of her home. Free passage anywhere on the estate and a car at his disposal to come and go as he pleased.

He earned an excellent wage but Noin knew deep within her heart that it was not the position or the money that dissatisfied Winner. The unhealthy, sometimes volatile, atmosphere that had taken over her home since she had made the unwise choice of hiring Chang as her Chief of Security had taken its toll on everyone.

Quatre's altered deportment changed once more as he and Trowa became more involved. It didn't take a genius to see how much they cared for each other so Noin was not shocked the first time she walked in on Quatre and Trowa kissing in Quatre's office.

Quatre had later that same evening come to her afraid Noin was displeased by his actions and would either give or sell Trowa to someone else. Winner was not anxious for his possible dismissal only for his new lover's well being. The dear soul even went so far as to promise he would no longer see Trowa romantically if only he be allowed to stay.

Noin had for the first time in her recent memory come close to tears that night as Quatre begged her not to send Trowa away. Her heart ached for Quatre's fearful desperation and for her own sake at the lives she had ruined along the way in acquiring the rights to Vixen's Lair.

She had pledge that as long as she was his Mistress Quatre and Trowa would always be together. All she had asked was that her dear manger stay with her because he was one of a handful of people she could trust.

But she had known the time for their parting was coming quickly. Chang had become more and more powerful until he commanded the estate as if it was his own. He had threatened and used force to have his way. As much as she dreaded the truth, Noin knew her Head of Security had been personally responsible for the disappearance of many of her pets.

Lucrezia Noin knew by her selfishness, her pride in the things she owned and the status they had afforded her that she had been, however indirectly, the means of other human's deaths. Now like her treasures, both of material possessions and of flesh and bone, she was as much a prisoner in her own home as all those she egoistically claimed.

Then why had she committed yet another awful act by buying Duo Maxwell? Why had she once more taken away someone's freedom especially someone who had suffered such horrible things before coming to her?

At the time she told herself Duo's purchase was not for her pleasure but because he was one of the few who dared to stare her down. Noin remembered well how his eyes had locked with hers, how he never coward or shrunk from her power or the fact she literally held his life in her hands.

In the days that followed she tried to convince herself that Maxwell's defiance stemmed from not caring anymore, that he had decided his life was no longer worth the effort of living. That she had done him a favor by delivering him from his painful life and given him a stable place to live.

But the longer she watched him, how he still retained that special spark, she grew more heavyhearted every day. Oddly just the night before she had made the decision to give everyone under her sway his or her freedom. She knew Chang would not so readily leave so she had further decided that if Vixen's Lair was what he fancied then he was welcomed to it.

She now knew, without any doubt, that no matter how grant the cage it is still a cage. That no matter how well she treated her employees or her "pets" they were all still in bondage. It had to stop tonight. One moment more was too long. With certainty she knew, like the others, her burdened soul would not survive anymore delay.

She would not be left without any resources at all, she would still have enough to go somewhere else, start a new life and hopefully in time be able, if not to forget the wrong she had done, at least forgive herself. Yes in time maybe the Lady of Vixen's Lair could finally find the peace that all her possessions could not give her. Maybe, someday.

***********************************

Quatre's lowered voice brought her back from her recalling. His words, however, did not register in her muddled mind. Forcibly Noin centered her attention on the gentle soul sitting, with more confidence than ever before, just beyond her reach.

Interrupting his sentence by raising her hand, Winner paused but let it be known by his body language that he would not be silenced for long.

"I don't need to know your reasons." she declared leaning forward to touch Quatre's hand.

"I have sensed for some time that you wanted your freedom not only for yourself but your lover as well. I also know of the trouble between you and Chang this morning and of his appalling barbaric behavior with Maxwell and how Mr. Yuy came to his aide.

I know Chang's ways of dealing with any threat. I fear this morning's events have unleashed a devil that no one can stop." she sighed as tears brimmed under her long eyelashes.

"Please I beg you take your lover and your friends and leave here tonight. I know I do not hold much influence over Chang but I can at least make certain is he occupied as your make good your escape."

Quatre patted Noin's hand, "We already have a plan. That is why I am here to override the security alarm. We have also arranged transportation. Now I employ you to make your own way out tonight. Let Chang have this hellhole, you do not need it any longer. Please for my sake because of your caring for me, for your genuine concern, go now and let us take care of the rest." Quatre begged kissing his Mistress' trembling hand.

"Go." he urged helping her to stand. "Don't worry for me or my friends we will be all right. I promise once we all find a safe haven I will contact you and let you know we are well. Thank you, my dear Mistress, for your kindness over the years and your wishes for our safety. Please now, go."

Heero had pressed his ear to the door trying to figure if he heard voices coming from inside. He was growing more uneasy as the time for Quatre to complete his assignment had gone on too long. Something wasn't right, he could feel it, sense it in his insightfully trained instincts.

Without any warning Heero threw open the door snapping immediately into a ready stance. The pistol was held in a double grip as the weapon became a natural extension of his outstretched arm.

With focused accuracy he leveled the pistol's hollow end at Noin's middle. "Move away." he ordered sliding forward until the gap was narrow to almost nothing.

Quatre stepped forward waving his hand in protest. "No Heero, she is on our side."

"Sure." Heero replied never relinquishing his sure aim.

"And I just bet she wants to bid us a fond farewell, too." he announced not bothering to hide his sarcasm.

"Please Heero," Quatre urged, "you asked me before to trust your judgment now you need to trust mine. My Mistress knows the whole story and had offered to help by creating some diversion to keep Chang busy."

"And how do you know that she won't send Chang after us? I know she is afraid of him has been for some time." Heero proclaimed.

"Tell me Mistress," he said as he shored up his aim, "do you have the guts to stand up to Chang when he finds out the particulars of your betrayal? What will you do then? Tell me you self-centered bitch, what will you do then?"

"Heero don't talk to her like that." Quatre hissed coming to his Mistress' defense.

"No it is all right Quatre," Noin answered, "Heero is right I am selfish and cruel. I want to make amends for the lives I have ruined. If you will trust me this one time I swear I will not betray that trust. This is all I can offer for the wrongs that I have done, please let me try to help."

Heero studied Noin's face for a long time, more time than they had, but he needed to let his inner council guide him in the right choice. All their lives depended on him knowing the right path. He looked from Noin to Quatre. He knew Quatre's love for Trowa would not do anything that might put his lover in danger. He would sooner die himself.

"All right," Heero answered lowering the pistol, "I hope you are being truthful." he said centering one of his best Death Glares on Noin, "If you don't keep your word and I do survive there will nowhere on this earth or the realms beyond that you will be able to hide. Understand me well, Mistress Noin." he warned sincerely.

Noin nodded as the tears flowed freely. She opened her mouth to speak but her tears choked her words back.

"Until we see each other again," Quatre declared, "may Allah protect you from all harm." he wished leaning forward to place a quick kiss on his Lady's cheek.

***********************************

Quatre quickly typed in the last code, waited for conformation, then shut down the computer.

As soon as he and Heero closed the door behind them, Noin picked up the phone.

"Security." a voice answered on the other end.

"Let me speak to Chang." Noin demanded.

"Just a minute I will transfer your call."

In a few moments Chang's husky voice sounded on the line, "Chang here."

"Chang this is Noin I need you to take some men and check out the Western border. I was out for a walk earlier and saw strange lights shining from behind the wall."

"Now?" Chang asked not wanting his plans for the elimination for his unfaithful employee and the bastard's upstart friends interrupted.

Noin put all the courage she had into her voice as she wiped away sorrowful tears, "Yes, now." she ordered.

"All right." Chang replied curtly not bothering to hide his displeasure.

"That ought to do it." Noin told herself knowing Quatre and the others had planned to use the opposite gate, "Have a nice time chasing nothing you murdering son of a bitch." she smiled turning off the lights and heading for her room.

***********************************

When Chang returned to the table his men knew he was not happy.

"Trouble?" one asked reading well his boss' mood.

"That was Noin on the phone now the crazy bitch is seeing lights beyond the Western wall. She wants me to go out there and check." he announced taking up his black uniform jacket, "And guess who is going with me?" he glared around the table.

"It shouldn't take much time then we can finalize our plans to put Yuy and his unfortunate cronies out of MY misery." Chang laughed taking pleasure in his plot to make all his betrayers suffer hard before they begged him to release them in death.

***********************************

Noin had already packed her suitcases and called for her driver to bring her favorite car to the main entrance. While Chang was busy at the house's rear she would leave through the front gates and never look back.

"Safe journey my dear Quatre Raberba Winner." she whispered as the driver loaded the trunk then helped her into the back seat.

The car's headlights flickered over the front entrance as they lost some of their luster in the curve of the driveway. The great fountain, its cascading water reflecting the taillight's reddish hues, sparkled and sprayed as if nothing had changed. The Amazonian stature, the proud representation of Noin's grand estate, suddenly seemed so inappropriate, so bizarre in its pretentious bearings.

As the double iron gates swung open permitting the Lady her first true freedom for the longest time, Lucrezia Noin, the proud Mistress of Vixen's Liar, took her last look as the estate's name etched in the massive stone pillars was swallowed up by the enfolding darkness.

"No regrets." she told herself.

"Plenty of regrets." she answered with a heavy sigh. "And never complete peace."

***********************************

Dressed entirely in black from head to toe Duo braided his hair The leather pants, silky shirt, knee-high boots and leather jacket, he felt, were quite appropriate attire for he and his comrade's upcoming escape.

Pacing impatiently as he awaited Quatre and Heero's return Duo checked his watch for the fourth or fifth time. He glanced anxiously at the door. "Come on, hurry up." he willed his friend to make hast in their coming back

Trowa had briefly returned to his room filling a small backpack with what few possessions he could not bear to leave behind. Now he, too, waited with edgy apprehension.

Most of the gathered trinkets were of no great monetary worth but their sentimental value was priceless. He had managed to retain several material links with his past, long ago penned letters and keepsakes, those were his only remaining lifeline to who he really was.

But his most prized treasures were gifts that Quatre had given him. Those he absolutely could not part with especially the Book of Prayers that Quatre had hoped would offer some measure of peace for his lover's forlorn soul.

As Trowa had shut his bedroom door behind him for the last time he close forever that part of his sad life. One way or the other, tonight, he and his koi would be free.

Whether riding out into the night together or lying down side by side in death he and his precious lover would be free.

Duo didn't bother to keep anything. There was no fond memories or dear bonds only painful reminders of his wasted past and not much of anything else to guide his future.

There was nothing there that held any meaning for him accept Solo's cross radiating encouraging warmth against his chest. Now that holy symbol did have new meaning. It represented Solo's strength, his unconditional love.

With its help Duo knew he could begin a new life. He would leave that hellish cage the way he had come, empty handed but, now, not alone. He would have Solo's guidance and Heero's caring concern and. perhaps soon, his love.

For a brief measure of time Duo Maxwell allowed himself to believe everything would work out. Like Trowa he knew his freedom was assured one way or the other. And if fate dealt death instead of that promised freedom, he would not make the journey into the afterlife alone.

Duo drew in a steadying breath taking comfort in that knowledge, thankful for the love and support of a past lover and the help of his present comrades who were willing to pay the ultimate price for their independence.

 

Part Eleven:

Duo's frazzled nerves tensed as the bedroom door rattled. He involuntarily flinched when all the taut nerve fibers recoiled at once. Only when the opened door showed his returning comrades did his system return to some state of normalcy, whatever that was.

"Damn, it's about time." he announced rising from the bed, "What took so long?"

"We were worried." Trowa readily admitted wrapping his arms around Quatre for a much-needed hug.

Heero leaned his back on the wall, the pistol held against his chest. He took a moment for a long, cleansing breath. "We ran into the Mistress." he stated with another long sigh.

"Damn!" Duo exclaimed shaking his head in disbelief. "Here we were worried about avoiding Chang and it was Noin who caught us."

Quatre leaned into his lover's embrace his silky hair tickling under Trowa's chin, "It is all right Madam Noin is going to help us." he stated sure of his Mistress's pledge of alliance.

Duo's eyes widened at Winner's declaration of the Lady's apparent cooperation. "Is that so and how did you manger that?"

"I didn't realize she was already in the computer room when I began hacking into the system." Quatre began to explain, "I decided not to lie and told her of our plans."

"What were you thinking?" Trowa wondered with a clearly upset edge to his voice.

"I know the Madam she has been unhappy with her life here for quite some time." Quatre declared, "She is also afraid of Chang. She wanted to help for my sake, for us all.

Her need to rescue her soul, to make atonement for past sins, is more powerful than her fear of Chang. I know we can trust her I feel it in my heart."

"Well I hope your heart is right." Trowa replied placing a chaste kiss on his koi's forehead.

Quatre locked his wide sight with Trowa's green gaze, "You know my heart would never mislead me. Now let's not waste anymore time. We need to leave now."

Heero peered into the hall then move toward the basement exit. Each newly found friend followed closely on his heels. Again the side door was eased open. Everyone stood back as Yuy checked to make sure the way was clear.

The sun had almost completed its gradual descent enlarging like a fiery dragon's eye above the hazy horizon. Evening shadows elongated in the setting sun's waning light spreading out in bluish streaks.

***********************************

The shadowy purple "tag-a-longs" copied perfectly their host's movements as the fleeing quartet kept to the garden's edge for cover. The spotlights amber pools were becoming brighter as the sun's influence lessened.

Heero hoped, at that hour, the majority of the guards were at dinner in the staff dining hall. The few left on patrol were shattered their smaller number not nearly sufficient to cover the estate's massive grounds or the stone walls sealing up the borders.

Keeping to the concealing fringes the snaking line of humanity soon traversed the main section. They turned east towards the garage and the lesser gate setting just beyond a maintenance building.

There was one guard station they had to pass before reaching their desired goal. Heero knelt by a hedgerow skirting the path within sight of their final obstacle.

A wide window showed at least two watchers moving about inside. Another manned one of the communications links. If there were more Security Unit members besides the plainly viewed trio they were not visible.

Yuy wished he had been able to secure more weapons. Having everyone armed would have increased their chances of success.

"But then," he reminded himself, "Quatre didn't like guns they made him nervous. Duo, who had no previous experience, would be just as likely to shoot himself or someone else as the "bad guys". Trowa was primed for revenge and would probably prove to be trigger-happy."

"No," Heero reasoned to himself, "maybe it was better to have the one pistol in the hands of someone who knew how to use it."

Carefully employing his eyes and ears to pick out movement or voices in the immediate area Heero scanned for any stray watchers. Holding the pistol a little ahead of his body he slid along the grassy edges moving closer for a better look.

"What are you going to do if they see you?" Heero's inner voice inquired, "You can't shoot it would make too much noise." It informed in a most irritating fashion.

Heero shrugged to himself. "They won't see us." he answered knowing the group's undetected passage was the only option.

Satisfied that the way was clear Heero motioned for the other's to fall directly in line. "Stay close I don't want any stragglers." he whispered.

Trowa took Quatre's hand; Duo closed up the gap. Staying low they started forward as one solid unit. The sinking sun lent its support spreading out a dusky blanket to veil the fleeing silhouettes.

***********************************

One guard paused by the window leaning his weight on the sill. His eyes narrowed as he surveyed the range expanse outside as it grew dimmer in the gathering night. His particular interest was centered on a swathe of ground outside the nearest spotlight's illuminated circle.

"What's wrong?" one of his counterparts asked as he noticed the other's increased scrutiny.

"I thought I saw some movement along the hedge."

"Do you think we should check it out?"

"I don't know. It was probably just the shadows playing tricks on my eyes." The guard responded straining to see through the thickening twilight.

***********************************

Just as Duo cleared the hedge's end a large shaggy battle-scared tomcat let out a loud mew then hissed at the intruders invading his territory. The sudden noise combined with the feline's darting from its hiding place caused Duo to lose his balance sitting down with some force on his trim rear end.

"Shoo you stupid cat." Duo hissed back picking up a small pebble and throwing it in the retreating cat's direction. The stone struck along the paved walkway striking up sparks in the encroaching darkness.

"Duo be still." Quatre called lowly over his shoulder.

"But that cat....." Duo began to explain his actions.

Heero raised up just enough to see past the pair to his side, "Forget the damn cat Maxwell. Shut up and come on."

Duo cast once last glance as the cat reappeared on the path's opposite side then caught up with his friends. With a most ghostly aspect they melted into the screening gloom beyond the spotlight's reach.

***********************************

"Maybe we should have a look." the guard decided, "It's probably nothing but I don't want to have to answer to Chang if we miss something that does turn out to be important."

"I'll go with you." his partner stated picking up a semi-automatic assault rifle.

As they pushed back the door and prepared to step outside the afore mentioned tom scurried from the shadows. Pulling up it arched its back bristling long fur in a most impressive defense display. Its threatening response was reinforced by another loud spitting hiss.

Both watchers peered down at the cat's fighting form with a certain brand of amusement.

"There is your intruder." one man laughed stomping his foot at the fierce feline. The cat spat once more ending the show with a high-pitched yowl before scrambling for more suitable cover.

"Yeah I guess. Let's go back in it's chilly out here." the other declared as a dew-damp breeze swept in from the North.

***********************************

"There is the garage." Heero whispered as the building materialize from the darkness. No lights showed from inside but Heero hadn't expected to find anyone there at that hour.

"Trowa you and Duo get the bikes." he instructed tossing Trowa three separate key rings. One key unlocked the garage door. The others were to the motorcycles.

"Kick them out of gear and roll them to the gate. Quatre use your code card to bypass the lock. I think we might just pull this off after all." Heero dared to believe that freedom was only minutes away.

***********************************

Trowa fiddled with the garage key finding it difficult in the dim light to line it up with the keyhole.

"Can you hurry up?" Duo sighed glancing anxiously around the immediate area.

"You want to try?" Trowa glared put off by Duo's lack of patience.

Duo nodded "no" keeping up his apprehensive vigilance.

Finally the key cooperated freeing the lock. With a soft click the latch came loose. The doorknob turned easily in Trowa's hand. Quickly the trespassing pair moved inside noticing that Noin's favor black car was missing from her expensive collection.

"I hope she got out all right." Duo wished moving towards the motorcycles.

Trowa nodded pulling a protective tarp from one of the motorized steeds. "Yeah if she didn't turn us in before she took off." he stated as the dusty covering slipped off. "Let's get these out of here."

***********************************

Heero walked with Quatre the first fifty yards stopping at the maintenance building's corner. Quatre ran the next fifty or so yards to the gate extracting a plastic code card from his pocket.

He paused before inserting it in the slot praying his hacking had been done correctly, that his electronic intrusion had not been discovered. Briefly the thought of Noin getting caught and being forced to give up her knowledge of their plan entered his mind. Just as quickly he pushed the question aside.

"If she had been found out," he reasoned, "we would not have gotten this far."

"Here it goes." he whispered holding his breath that alarm sirens would not sheik out their blaring call-to-arms.

The card slid effortlessly through the slot. A red lock-down light flickered as the code was read and confirmed then mercifully the light turned green. The lock unlatched with a pop. Tugging on the iron gate caused the seldom used hinges to groan in protest at the unwelcome disturbance.

All was silence. No alarms screamed out into the night. No border lights flared on. No voices raised in agitation yelled out the call to investigate. There were no growling dogs straining at their master's leads as they were spurred on by the thought of pouncing on any unlucky person who got in their way.

"Thanks be to Allah." Quatre offered a prayer of thanksgiving as he pulled back the gate as wide as it would go.

Leaving the opened portal he started back to help the others in their united bid for freedom.

***********************************

Heero tensely watched Quatre from a distance as he, too, held his breath that Winner's hacking had been successful. He let out the breath only after the night's silence was not disturbed by any activated alarms.

"Good job." Heero praised as Quatre joined him by the maintenance building.

The smile Quatre offered spoke volumes of his relief that all had gone well so far. "Thank you." he replied softly with his usual humility.

"Well what do we have here?" A husky voice inquired its bone-chilling tone shattering the night-borne silence.

Heero pivoted quickly bringing the pistol about at the same speed. But his searching sight found no one where the voice should have been. Only a blank expanse could be seen through the diffused twilight.

Yet Heero knew the phantom voice was not a product of his imagination or alert-heighten stress. The calling had caused Quatre to react the same way offering further proof of its reality as Winner stood wide-eyed and obviously shaken beside Yuy.

The voice didn't belong to Trowa or Duo that was certain. Besides they both knew of their tedious situation and even Duo would not play around in such tense and dangerous circumstances. No someone else was lurking out there in the darkness and Heero had an awful sinking feeling he knew exactly who that someone was.

"Chang." he breathed out the terrifying name as the implications of it struck like lightning.

"What's wrong, Yuy, not glad to see me?" the apparitional voice asked with a hauntingly familiar sneer ringing in its hollow tone.

"Show yourself Chang!" Heero yelled rapidly shifting his eyes, trying to see everywhere at once.

The stomach-wrenching click of a weapon being cocked sounded uncomfortable near Heero's ears. A sudden intake of breath from Quatre caused Yuy to spin about.

A man armed with an automatic pistol pressed the large caliber weapon to Quatre's temple while his other arm wrapped tightly around the frightened boy's neck.

It was immediately clear that Quatre was turning pale partly from fear but mostly from the decreased airflow brought on by the guard's crushing hold.

Winner remained still not fighting against the narrowing of his windpipe. It was as if he entire body was paralyzed by the unyielding encompassment.

"I said show yourself!" Heero demanded knowing the guard holding Quatre would not act without orders from his commander.

Chang walked slowly from the shadows where his black uniform had acted as perfect camouflage allowing him to keep up his stealthy observation until he knew he had the upper hand.

His ebony eyes flashed in the limited light adding a horrible gleam to their piercing sight. He held no visible weapon but Heero was not so foolish to believe the madly cunning Chinese man had come unarmed.

"You weren't going to leave without saying goodbye?" Chang inquired moving forward with the predatory grace of a great cat ready to pounce on its intended victim.

"Now if you would drop that pistol before my man breaks Winner's scrawny neck." he motioned to Heero's hand holding the "borrowed" weapon. "I do so hate to have my own gun pointed at me."

Heero loosened his grip letting the gun fall, with a slight thud, onto the thick carpet of grass. Yuy centered his best glare even though he knew his steely sight would have no affect on the insane Security Chief. Nothing had any affect on Chang for he had no emotions, no sense of fair play or what was right and good.

Chang Wufei was the devil incarnate with no mortal soul to interfere with his special brand of vengeance. No reasonable argument would dissuade the pure evil that possessed Chang or perhaps it was Chang that embraced that evil as his one true confidant.

Whichever way the wickedness had taken control only blood and pain would quench the madman's insatiable thirst. Only death would appease his utter lunacy.

"Get hold of yourself." Heero whispered under his breath shaking off the invading terror.

"Chang is human just like you and he can be beaten as any other human can be." Heero's inner council reminded with calming guidance.

Suddenly through his mounting fright the thought of Noin's betrayal stabbed through Yuy's guts. How else would Chang know where to find them?

"How did you know we were here, did that betraying bitch tell you?" he hissed as the anger gnawed inside.

Chang cocked his head at a curious angle momentarily taken aback by the out-of-the-blue question. Gradually a thin-lipped smile pulled at his mouth's corners.

"Noin?" he stated in a questioning tone, "Don't tell me that she is involved in this mutiny also?" The smile widened, "So that is why it was so important that I check out the Western border. Why I wouldn't have thought that mundane creature had the nerve to lead me astray. I suppose that proves you can't trust anyone."

Chang's heavy black eyebrows pulled together until they almost touched, "No your secret was not violated by that deceitful woman. It was by pure luck that I discovered you here. A simply decision to return by another route can be blamed for the failure of your escape. Yes it seems as though destiny and not the dear Madam has sealed your fate.

But I will have to compliment the Lady Noin on her intestinal fortitude when I see her again. Yes, I will have to be sure to give her due praise before I slit her pretty throat."

Another strangled gasp flowed from Quatre's throat. His ashen pallor was more clearly apparent as he struggled to breathe. The guard smiled seemingly delighted with his captured prey's slow suffocation.

Chang, too, displayed a certain satisfaction at the meek manager's suffering. But he still did not want Winner's life to be snuffed out, not quite yet anyway.

"Easy Captain, I don't want this to end too quickly." Chang ordered. "I think we both deserve a little playtime before we send these traitors to their final reward."

The constricting grasp was loosened but not removed altogether. Quatre coughed and sputtered as much needed air filled his starving lungs. Still his color did not improve as his face remained chalky and his eyes glazed over in a fixed glassy gaze.

"I have a question and you had better answer truthfully." Chang warned with still no visible means to back up his threat causing Heero to guess that his lackey's hold on Quatre was all the leverage Chang felt he needed.

When Heero offered no acknowledgment of the statement Chang continued. "I know you all run in a pack. Where is this milksop's lover and that smart-assed Maxwell?"

Heero took in a slow breath hoping Chang wouldn't notice as he prepared for his completely false reply, "They are not here." he lied doubting that Chang would believe the deception but feeling he had try anyway.

Chang smiled once more but this time Heero couldn't read its underlying meaning. "You are brave Yuy I will grant you that. I might be inclined to believe Maxwell would not have the stones to go along with this foolishness, but I know Winner would not leave his homo-lover behind.

Now do I get the truth or would you prefer Winner's prone body laid out at your feet?" the deceptively composed Chinese man offered the deadly ultimatum.

"He.....he doesn't know we.....are doing this." Quatre choked out the words between hard catching wheezes.

"I was afraid Trowa would get hurt so I decided to sneak out." he declared taking in a steadying breath, "I knew if he was aware of our plan he would insist on coming along but I couldn't take that chance so I didn't tell him.

After we were safely away Noin was going to arrange to send Trowa to me. You have to believe me Trowa has no part in this." Quatre finished as his voice trailed off in another battering breath.

Chang shook his head, "I don't really care where the others are. When I am finished here I will hunt them down and take care of them. I suppose you could say they are guilty by association. After all I can't allow any ideas of disobedience to develop, just too much trouble to deal with.

Don't worry, though, they will die much easier than you two will. I have a very good sense of my enemies," he bragged, "and neither of them have the potential to cause much harm."

I will admit I am looking forward to completing my claiming of Maxwell before I do him in. Yes it seems as though you went to the trouble of saving him for nothing, right Yuy? But then I heard through reliable sources that the braided fool has taken a fancy to you but I can't see that. No he couldn't possibly choose you over me there is no contest at all to that."

Chang stepped closer leaning forward in a cocky manner, "You wouldn't happen to feel the same way, would you? That would be interesting. Perhaps I should spare you long enough to let you watch when I take the gutter-slut, would you like that?"

Heero offer no rely to Chang's taunting. Nothing he could say would help matters now, only give the madman the satisfaction of believing he had won. No, silence in this case, was the best way to go.

"No matter." Chang declared, " One way or the other this minor annoyance will be over soon."

Suddenly Heero hit upon an idea one that might just give him the advantage he needed. "You mentioned contest," he reminded Chang of his words, "Then I purpose a contest, just you and me, man to man.

I know a warrior like you would not turn down a challenge." Heero proclaimed knowing Chang could not decline. That he would do anything to save face in front of his employee.

"Yes why not make this a contest with the spoils going to the victor."

"You can not trust Chang!" Heero's inner voice proclaimed with urgency.

Heero ignored the stern proclamation pushing the invading voice aside.

"Spoils?" Chang inquired for further explanation.

"If you win I will surrender my life." Heero boldly proclaimed hoping his promise of unconditional surrender was strong enough to make Chang take the bait.

"And Winner?" the clearly interested Security Chief wondered.

"That will be up to you. But if I win you will not harm any of us, Trowa and Maxwell included, and you will leave the estate forever." Heero set up the rules of engagement.

Chang took a long moment to consider Yuy's words too long as far as Heero was concerned. Had Heero misjudged Chang and he fondness for the fight? Had all this been for nothing? Would it end here with no hope of redemption?

"Like I said before Heero Yuy you are brave but I fear quite foolish as well. If you think you are man enough to defeat me then we will fight. But I warn you now you will fail and, with that failure, carry the responsible of your friend's deaths with you to your grave."

"Move back so we will have room for the contest." Chang instructed his henchman. Pulling Quatre back with him the field of combat was opened up.

"Heero! No!" Quatre pleaded finding in the fear of losing his comrade the strength to fight his assailant.

Chang focused a narrowed frown in the Winner's direction as he struggled in the larger guard's firm grasp, "Perhaps you would not care to witness you friend's slaughter, perhaps I should silence you now."

Heero, too, focused his glaring attention on Quatre. "Be quiet Winner!" he growled not wanting Chang to have any reason to harm blond boy.

"Heero." Quatre called again not willing to give up.

"Winner I said shut up!" Heero shouted out of desperation to save his friend, "I said shut the hell up now!"

"Are you ready?" Yuy inquired of Chang turning away from the hurt in Quatre's as the pain nearly broke his heart.

"I am going to enjoy beating your pompous ass." Chang announced with the surety of an easy victory. "When I finish there will be nothing left."

"We will see." Heero answered as he squared off for the fight for not only his life but his friend's as well.

 

Part Twelve:

Chang removed his jacket. A sleeveless shirt bared his broad shoulders and bugling upper arms. Chang made a grand performance of flexing his muscles, which Heero had to admit, were well developed. But there had never been any doubt of the Security Chief's physical conditioning.

Heero, during his lengthy term in Noin's employment, had many opportunities to observe the Chinese man in action both in training sessions and "down and dirty" brawling. Yuy didn't need his inner council's advice on Chang's fighting techniques or its warning about his lack of scruples.

Yuy hoped his knowledge of his opponent's attack methods would give him the necessary edge to keep Chang's fist from his face and his head from a nasty separation from his neck.

As Chang swaggered in his usual self-assured manner, Heero used the interval to plan his strategy and shore up his nerve that now seemed very inclined to be swamped in its own tide of hesitation.

Once Heero glanced over at Quatre. The fleeting look was enough to caused Winner to again strain at his watcher's grip.

Heero narrowed his sight emphatically shaking his head. "No." he mouthed out the word. Quatre stilled at the silent order but the anger did not lessen in his widened indigo eyes.

Finally Chang shrove into the glassy spot opened up by the guard and his captive moving aside. The maintenance building formed a barrier on one side; a thick stand of trees was equally confining on the other side. The building also blocked the view of anyone coming from the garage or the main driveway.

Heero slid into a defensive stance keeping his body relaxed but ready as he waited for Chang to make the first move. An achy soreness still plagued Heero's ribcage reminding him that was one area he would have to guard closely.

"I am going to enjoy this." Chang reminded his challenger.

A curt snort was all Heero offered in response to the verbal taunting.

Chang often did engaged in haughty posturing. But Heero knew, although to some degree the boastful behavior did stem from arrogance, it was not simply Chang's need for exhibitionism but a display of the madman's actual substantive fighting potency.

"You know," Chang continued a sneer tugging at his mouth, "I believe I would have enjoyed the opportunity to examine your sexual prowess," he declared eyeing Yuy's trim form and muscles hardened in readiness, "to find out if you are as good as you look but I suppose I will have to test your stamina in another, less satisfying, way.

Maybe that is something Maxwell can tell me about once you are go longer a hindrance. Perhaps he will even show me what you do to get him hot. Show me all the places to touch. Tell me does he like it rough? I hope so."

"Enough talk," Heero hissed growing tired of the boring rhetoric, "or are you having second thoughts?" he wondered engaging in some taunting of his own.

Chang centered his weight. Yuy did the same. The combatants squared off.

Yuy was absolutely sure of one fact there would be no rules, no sense of fair play. There would be no congenial combat of tag and retreat. Chang would use every means to win because nothing short of total mastery of his opponent would quench his thirst of victory.

Suddenly the sneer disappeared. A stone cold statement of pure hatred was Yuy's only warning before Chang made the initial charge.

Heero ducked under a right cross then dodged a powerful left jab. When neither of Chang's blows made contact his failure did nothing to improve his mood or lessen his resolve to tear the Japanese boy from limb to limb.

Heero's returning sharp thrust glancing off Chang's shoulder only increased his frustration. The bouncing tag, although not delivered with much force, did unbalance Chang.

Heero put his attacker's wobbly stance to good use launching a sideways hook punch. Chang started down but caught himself as one knee landed just inside a flowerbed's mulched border.

Chang's trembling fingers went to his mouth, their withdrawal smeared with fresh blood oozing from his cracked lip. He touched the tip of one redden digit to his tongue tasting the warm slick fluid.

This bloodletting only heightened the crazed man's maniacal rage. "You will pay for this." he growled locking his ebony sight on Heero.

Heero's retreated back a few steps allowing more maneuvering room. He wanted to study Chang's body language, to read his thoughts through his eyes and hopefully anticipate the Chinese man's next move.

A stiffness had already begun to ease itself across his midsection. The bruises left from his previous encounter had become inflamed. Heero wrapped a supporting arm about the intensifying tenderness trying to take in a deep breath despite the pain. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he struggled to suck in one good gulp of air.

Chang's jaw muscles tightened. A hissing puff accented his outrage at Yuy outwitting his advances. Also Heero striking the first blow added further insult to Chang's already injured egotism.

Using his grounded knee for cover Chang reached down beside his leg then straightening quickly flinging up a handful of gritty soil. The grainy particles hit Heero's chest with enough strength to sting his face and eyes. Heero dropped his guard, his hands going to his watery eyes as he attempted to wipe away the invading irritants.

Chang wasted to time charging forward. His forearm struck swiftly under Heero's chin snapping back his head. With his arm centered and his wrist across Yuy's throat, Chang dug his boots into the ground using the gathered momentum to drive Heero backward hard into a stout tree trunk.

Chang eased slightly but only enough to allow himself to twist around before plowing his shoulder into Heero's middle. Heero wasn't the only one who could read body language. Chang had taken full notice of Heero's supporting arm and sagging posture learning exactly the most efficient place to strike to do the most damage.

A stabbing pain exploded through Heero's ribs threatening to take his breath completely away. White light flashed as a searing blindness traveled from behind his eyes to his brain with shocking speed.

Stunned and winded, his eyes still clouded by grit and tearing, Heero struck out wildly at his assailant as Chang planted his feet and shoved once more. This time the force expelled what air remained causing Heero to choke and sputter.

Mad with blood lust Chang cocked back his fist. Leading with his right, following with his left, he attacked with a vicious volley for alternating punches aimed at Heero's head.

Heero weakly threw up his arms blocking the first two punches but the third strike caught him along the cheekbone. Another burst of white light blurred his already compromised vision.

The jolting connection sent more sharps pains from Heero's face to his head making it feel as though his brain slipped off-center. Dots swam before merging into a single dimming mass of gray shadows.

Blood seeped from one nostril. A gash opened above one eyebrow the crimson gush threatening to blind him further. With the temporary stunning of his senses, Heero never saw Chang's left fist before it plowed into his jaw line.

The impact threw Heero's head back once more slamming it into the tree trunk's rough bark. More black dots danced over his eyesight as he felt his legs grow rubbery beneath him.

More free-floating blood joined the stream inching over his temple. Increasing in its speed as it mixed with sweat, the salty moisture stung inside numerous cuts and scratches.

Like a wild animal closing in for the kill Chang moved forward muscles tensed in a stalking posture. He approached his quarry with stealthy cunning ready to deliver the fatal strike that would assure his victory.

Chang's annihilative goal: To make extinct his inferior foe. To end Heero and his comrade's worthless existence forever. The Japanese traitor's cessation would rid the Security Chief of one more interference in his destined rise to command Vixen's Lair.

Heero fought to suck air into his deflated lungs. His chest heaved with each seizing breath. His ribs burned until the pain wrapped so tightly around his middle it bent him over at the waist.

Right then, at that agonizing moment, Heero's battle was not with Chang but with himself. The fight was mental as well as physical. It had never been in Heero's nature to give up and he would be damned if he was going to resign now.

Clenching his teeth Heero called up every last ounce of energy he could muster. Pushing against the tree he summoned up the last of his strength praying it would be enough.

Shaking his head to dislodge the fuzzy images swirling inside, Heero Yuy sucked in a single strong inhalation breaking the binding constrictions in spite of the terrible cost of pain. The improved oxygen flow gave him the second wind he needed to straighten completely.

The upright placement came just in time as Chang lunged with crazed determination. Heero knew he couldn't count alone on his training as his addle mind was still plagued by the confusing images.

Mentally measuring the decreasing space between himself and the charging Chang Heero waited until the last possible moment then compensated for his lack of upper-body flexibility with a high sidekick. Heeo's swiftly rising boot returned the favor plowing into Chang's ribs sending him sprawling, in a strictly unceremonious fashion, on his black clad backside.

But Heero's battered body wouldn't let him take advantage of the downing of his enemy. Heero panted, his breaths catching in his throbbing chest. Sweat, dirt and congealing blood settled into the folds of his face. With his thumb Heero wiped back a reddish stream of sweat-diluted blood before more of the seepage eased its way into his eyes.

Holding up his sticky fluid covered fingers for a closer inspection Heero was now enraged by his own blood letting. Spurred on by nothing more than pure instincts Heero stared down at Chang as he sat, hopefully more humbled in the dirt, taking his turn at trying to catch his breath.

"This is over Chang." Heero growled wiping his blood stained fingers on his shirt, "It will end here and now."

Chang raised up from the waist locking his madness-glazed eyes on Noin's former Security Unit staff member. "Over!" he repeated in a husky voice, "Oh no Heero Yuy" he swore through clenched teeth, "this will never be over until you are dead!"

Heero, now as enraged and perhaps as insane as Chang, pointed a trembling finger down at his rival, "This farce had gone on long enough. If death is what you seek then so be it." Heero declared the words shaking in his throat, "Now get up you murdering bastard." he ordered harshly, "Let's finish this!" he screamed hoarsely.

Chang rose from the ground with the wild look of a man who had loss his last grip on reality. The frenzied gaze sparkling in his ebony eyes told Heero that Chang had finally slipped well over the edge of madness plunging into a psychotic abyss from which there was no way out.

Heero had succeeded in pushing Chang into the ultimate state of insanity but the forceful unhinging of his mind had unleashed a most primitive bloodlust. Now Heero had to question whether he could defeat the demons he had let loose.

In his impaired condition as his ribs burned and his chest, too, felt as though it was on fire, could Heero take on someone who had lapsed completely beyond rational reasoning or actions? Could he send the Fire Dragon back to hell where he was once spawned?

Without warning Chang was on his feet lunging with surprising speed. A frontal kick, quickly followed by a straight-arm punch, was barely dodged by Heero as his reflexes were still too weak to react quickly.

Heero parried the blows with his fist and forearm again sending shooting pain across his middle. Once more Heero tottered fighting to remain on his feet. This slackened attention allowed Chang to move in close enough to grab Heero's arm.

Hooking his foot behind Heero's ankle Chang upset his tenuous balance. Both men went down hard, each with a good hold on the other. Twisting and grappling, arms and legs entwined and muscles burning from the struggle, Heero and Chang played out the last hand in their game of life and death.

Heero's strength was fading fast. No matter how noble his cause or his pledge of protection to his friends, Heero Yuy was about spent in both physical reserves and the mental fortitude to carry on the fight. As hard as he tried his body would not cooperate. His mind was overwhelmed with pain from his injuries and utter hopelessness that he could defeat a man who was now fighting with the rage of pure insanity.

Chang reared back his fist letting it fly. The solid strike engulfed Yuy's muddled mind in strangulating cobwebs threatening to ensnare what small measure of consciousness Heero so desperately held to. Heero felt himself falling and that was nothing he could do to stop it.

As his back struck the ground Heero's head lopped to the side. His eyes rolled back as a dim veil, like a dirty windowpane, clouded his vision. Fighting with what little strength he had to keep from passing out completely, Heero blinked hard to chase away the encompassing shadows.

However the partly successful clearing of his eyesight revealed a horrifying picture. From somewhere, probably his boot, Chang had produced a long bladed knife.

Heero knew that Chang always carried the slicing weapon. He had once seen the results of the blade's deadly handiwork when a man in a bar had unwisely insulted the Security Chief. But in the fight, the pain, the knife and its deadly applications had been forgotten.

Now Heero's recalling of Chang's favorite plaything was brought back with frightening realization. The slender blade gleamed in the muted glow of a distant spotlight. The yellowish glare sparkled and bounced over the fine honed edge coming together in a single deadly illumination at the tapered tip.

The razor sharp point now pressed squarely in the center of Heero's throat. The applied pressure was enough to pierce the skin ever so slightly bringing a single scarlet droplet to the distended surface.

Chang's focused sight held a far off gaze like a man both deaf and blind. Was his senses now undermined by something that had total control? Was his will now in the power of some other agent? Had it finally happened? Had Chang finally succumbed to his madness? Had the devil finally won?

***********************************

Quatre had remained in stunned silence throughout the fight. He had prayed in his heart for Heero's rescue, that the higher forces that often intervene in men's lives would come to his friend's aide and give him the strength to overcome his enemy.

Tears filled Quatre's eyes streaming down his pale face. Watching Heero go down from the helpless confinement of the guard's hold, the faithful friend wondered if all that was holy and good had indeed abandoned both of them.

"Heero. No." Quatre whispered feeling heavyhearted under the burden of his upcoming demise. For as soon as Heero was released from that frail moral coil called life, Quatre knew he, too, would soon follow his friend in death.

He did not regret the dying, but the separation from his lover. Trowa would be devastated by the loss perhaps beyond his ability to recover. Quatre wished he could tell Trowa that he had to be strong. That despite the pain, the renting of his heart, he had to keep on living.

Quatre believed with all his being that if Trowa chose, by his own hand, to join him in the afterlife that his soul would be cursed and that they might then be forever without each other.

Trowa had to go on living until death claimed him naturally. It was the only way they could be together for eternity. "Please Trowa, hear me." Quatre prayed, "When I am gone hold my memory close to your heart and let me help you find the strength to go on."

Then he lifted another prayer for Heero and for Duo as they had just come to feel more for each other than mere friendship. How sad it was that their love would be ended before it ever had the chance to blossom and grow. How awful the finality of a destroyed love that held so much promise.

Quatre closed his eyes tightly. He could no longer bare the sight of his comrade's falling. He could not view Heero's end, could not take that final vision with him beyond this earthly plain. He would wait for Chang to finish his deadly deed then meet his own fate with courage borne from Trowa's love and his brother-in-arm's support.

***********************************

Chang straddled the wound-weary Yuy. His centered his weight, bracing his legs on either side of Heero's prone body. Successfully holding his intended victim in place for his final reward, for Heero's insolence, his utter contempt for Chang's authority, the Chinese man took a moment to savor the sweet taste of victory.

"Now you impotent excuse for a man." Chang growled leaning nearer to make sure Heero was fully aware of what was about to happen. The knife pressed down once more eliciting a painful flinch and a sudden intake of breath at the weapon's pointy intrusion.

"I am going to slit you from your gullet to your bellybutton and lay you open like a gutted animal." Chang proclaimed with disturbing delight.

"You know, though, when I am finished with you," he continued lifting his eyes to take in Quatre's limp form, eyes closed in apparent surrender, "I might just spare the pretty Winner. But if I do I need to make certain no one ever again desires that beautiful boy and his angelic face.

Yes, I believe my knife and I will alter Winner's appearance before I send him back to his Trowa who probably won't be able to stomach his scars. A quite fitting result don't you think to be spurned both by his lover and the world."

Heero clenched his teeth calling up the last measure of his fortitude. He had to find some way, say something to deter Chang's planned disfigurement of the innocent boy who only wanted to live his life with Trowa in peace. Who had never had a mean thought or harsh word for anyone. One of the few people who had not been ruin by the world's cruelty and injustice.

"Wouldn't it be better to take Winner as your pet instead?" Heero planted the seed of suggestion. "Just think of the status such a beautiful prize would afford. Imaging how he could improve your station among the other Masters and Mistresses." he declared hoping that the improvement in position would outweigh Chang's need to extract revenge.

The mad Asian tilted his head at an odd angle as he considered Heero's idea. "The boy could indeed be an asset." he told himself.

Winner was good at his job. The running of the household had always been done with efficiency and Noin's fortune had increased under his competent management. The boy could be a status symbol; a boost to Chang's standing in the rich and influential inner circle that he had always longed to be a part of.

Maybe it would be wiser to use the boy rather than destroy him. And what better way to torture the seemingly dispassionate Trowa than to keep him bound in slavery and make him watch daily as Chang commanded his precious partner. He might even make Trowa watch as he claimed his beautiful blond over and over again.

"You may actually be right for once in your sorrow life." Chang confirmed the soundness of Yuy's suggestion, "but that one intelligent thought will not be enough to save you.

I intend for your end to come in slow degrees, carried out with perfect precision under my skillful hand. Before this is over you will beg me to end the agony you deserve. At the end I might consider releasing your pathetic soul if you beg hard enough"

Heero shut his eyes preparing himself as best as could for the inevitable. His only regret was that he would not see Duo one last time. He had never told the wonderful braided boy how much he had brightened his life. Told him that, in spite of his sorted past, Duo Maxwell was indeed an angel with a kind soul and loving nature who had immediately captured Heero's heart.

Now Duo would never know that Heero loved him. Also not knowing of Duo's fate or that of his other friend's as well, was too heavy a load to bear.

"Oh Duo I am so sorry." Heero whispered so lowly no one else could hear. "Quatre, Trowa please forgive my failure." he sighed as he resigned himself to fate's punishment for his many unforgivable sins.

"Come on get it over with." he told Chang with the determination that Chang's last memory of him would be his dauntless glare of defiance, one that Heero Yuy would maintain to the very end.

No Chang would not have the pleasure of hearing Heero beg. There would be no screams or wails of suffering. Only a staunch silence would be heard. Only Heero's ardent sight fixed squarely on the madman's soulless eyes would be display for Chang's viewing.

"Get ready to go to hell." Chang announced as Heero's death glare locked on his executioner.

 

Part Thirteen:

Even though Yuy's eyes stared straight into Chang's sinister face he saw nothing. He had shut down his mind, numbed his senses to ward off the pain.

He had to do this, suffer in silence for dear Quatre's sake. Quatre already would bear a certain self-imposed guilt for he would surely blame himself for not interceding to save his friend. Heero could not now place the burden of his screams on Quatre's kind heart. It had to be this way.

Heero knew the gentle blond would not have survived a challenge to Chang. This way might break his heart but at least Winner would be alive to feel whatever he felt.

One small comfort to Heero was the sure knowledge that, although Chang might enslave the boy, Quatre would be alive. He also had good reason to believe that Trowa would be spared if for no other purpose than to provide Chang with another soul to torture.

Heero knew where there was life there was hope of a new tomorrow. Maybe at some future point Quatre and Trowa could escape. And he knew without a doubt that Duo would never give up.

If the beliefs of those more spiritual than Heero proved to be true, the slain man might still be able to interact with his friend after death. As long as his memory was upheld, guarded closely in their hearts, Heero knew he and his comrades would never truly be apart.

"I bet you never thought it would end this way?" Heero's inner council spoke for the last time.

Heero drew in a deep breath as the knife pressed harder. He could do this, he had to. "I will see you in hell." Heero hissed knowing Chang's place in the underworld's deepest depths had been reserved long ago.

Heero focused all his senses on picturing Duo's face, capturing for eternity the beautiful boy's wide violet eyes, his bright smile. He would put to memory Duo's warmth. "My precious angel." Heero whispered.

Chang's eyes narrowed as he concentrated on doing the best job he could to assure the Japanese man's long and quite painful termination. If there was any remorse at all in his black soul, the mad Asian had successfully pushed it aside.

Chang's grip tightened on the knife, "Wouldn't want to slip and end this too quickly." he laughed under his breath.

Suddenly Chang felt something close over his shoulders. Before he could determine the source of the restricting pressure he felt himself being jerked backwards.

Reacting on instinct he pivoted his weight, rolling his hip along the ground in the same direction the pull was taking him. Sliding his feet Chang centered his torso revolving the rest of the circle then used his knees like a spring to help him bolt upright.

Chang's completed turn revealed Trowa jumping back just in time to dodge the knife's long blade as it sliced through the air close enough to Trowa's face that he could feel the rush of air.

Without pause Chang brought the knife around again, this time adding a sliding moment to close the gap between him and Winner's interfering lover.

Trowa leap sideways bowing his body away from the razor sharp tip aimed at his middle. This maneuvering about only hardened Chang's commitment to cut the emerald-eyed boy until his blood flowed in scarlet ribbons from every part of his body.

With a throaty growl Chang kept up the sweeping movements advancing on Trowa with unrelenting speed. Trowa jumped aside once more but the maintenance building's wall rose up at his back blocking his retreat.

Trowa drew up his body trying to become the smallest target possible. Unfortunately Chang had narrowed the gap until there was nowhere to go to avoid his rapid charging.

Searing heat gathered in Trowa's upper arm running the full length to his fingertips as both shirt fabric and the skin beneath were slashed. Grabbing at the ripped flesh Trowa sank back against the rough brick. Cold sweat broke out across his brow washing away the color from his face twisted in pain.

"Nice of you to join the party." Chang smirked waving the knife's bloodied tip inches from the injured man's pale face. "I am sorry that you won't be able to stay for my victory celebration." he announced slinking forward, "I have a lot of suffering to dispense and I don't want to be all night. You understand, don't you?"

Trowa gritted his teeth fighting to keep his legs from folding up. "If you need to draw blood let it me mine." he hissed pushing against the wall in an attempt to remain on his feet.

Chang displayed a certain amusement at Trowa's brave statement. "Isn't this ironic?" he sneered keeping the reddened blade in its elevated position, "I was considering keeping you around to guarantee your lover's loyalty when I gave him the honor of being my number one pet. It could have been so cozy just the sweet boy and me with you there to watch each time I claimed him.

That would have been a most satisfying arrangement but you had to do something stupid and ruin my perfect plans. You have proven to be a bother therefore you are no longer useful for my purposes which means you will have to die. But if it is any consolation you can go to your grave knowing your paramour will be safe in my arms.

My only regret is that Winner will witness your end. It will make it harder to break him but I do love a challenge. When his body and soul are mine the reward will be well worth the effort."

***********************************

Chang's Captain watched the unfolding events with interest still keeping his controlling hold about Quatre's neck and the persuading pistol pressed to his temple.

The slender boy had stopped struggling. It seemed as though he had accepted his fate. Now the blond's eyelids were closed tightly shutting off the guard's view of their soft indigo centers of sight.

Quatre had not only sealed off his view but his ears had stopping hearing Chang's deadly promises. Like Heero, Winner's senses were numb as they fought to keep what little bit of sanity they still had. Now Quatre could not will himself to open his eyes or his deadened mind, it was just too painful.

Suddenly his heart cried out feeling like it would explode in his chest. There was an immediate emphatic connection and Quatre knew, without a doubt, the link was with Trowa.

The Captain felt his prisoner tense seconds before his eyes flew open and a gasping breath swelled in his chest. "TROWA!" the boy cried out the name.

The guard looked pass Heero's prone battered body that Chang for some unexplained reason had abandoned. His searching sight caught a sliver glint as the knife blade flashed with reflected light. At the same moment he saw a tall form jumping aside to avoid the deadly implement's slice.

His eyes widened as Chang repeatedly charged the newly appeared man in a fit of ruthless rage. The Captain winced as, even from his distant viewing post, he saw the man grab his arm as he stumbled back against the building's side.

Now the formerly quiet Winner strained at the guard's hold and he knew that neither the restricting arm about the boy's neck nor the pistol's threat would stop his thrashing. For a brief moment he even considered letting the obviously frantic youth go but the fear of Chang's reprisal quickly changed his mind.

"Be still." the Captain ordered tightening his grasp on the wildly fighting boy.

"NO!" Quatre screamed ignoring the guard's command, "TROWA!" he shouted watching in horror as his stricken lover slumped over in pain.

A slight rustling of dried leaves went unheard as Quatre continued to call out his lover's name. A black outline blending perfectly with the night was not seen as it slipped soundlessly up behind Chang's Captain.

The stalking form stopped just beside leaning nearer without disturbing a single leaf on the overhead branches. "Hello handsome looking for a date?" a phantom voice cooed close by the watcher's ear.

The disembodied invitation was whispered so near its breathy words tickled the guard's ear and blew in ghostly wisps along his neck causing tiny hairs to stand on end. This unexpected tactical sensation momentarily froze the startled man in place.

That brief measure of time was all the mysterious phantasm needed to effortlessly finish its task.

A blur of motion as all the guard saw in his peripheral vision before the gun was snatched from his hand with astonishing speed. Just as quickly the pilfered pistol was redirected at the Captain's head giving him a taste of his own medicine.

"Now you be still," the low voice demanded repeating the guard's earlier orders to Quatre, "Let him go." it further insisted as the pistol's cold steel barrel bore convincingly into the Captain's head.

For a brief period of time Chang's Captain toyed with the idea of his noncompliance to the surprisingly sexy whispered orders. But he quickly decided that his boss, no matter how dangerous he could be, was not worth dying for.

Quatre moved away as the guard's arms dropped to his side. Duo stepped around with a most somber glare gracing his face. "Hey Winner, are you all right?"

Quatre shook his head slowly not sure if the black clad man standing at his side was real or if his brain had finally burned out from the stress.

"Yes." was all Winner could manage as the word struggled through his bruised throat.

"Oh God, Trowa!" Quatre shouted as his rattled brain kick back into gear. He stated to run, to join his lover even if it meant his death as well. After all, without Trowa in his life he had nothing to live for.

Duo reached out snagging Quatre's arm as he started forward. "Wait!" he called fight to keep his grasp, "Quatre please wait." he urged knowing his friend was no match for the merciless Asian.

"Let me go!" he screamed, "Damn it Duo I have to get to Trowa!"

"No listen to me."

"Can't you see?" Quatre asked pointing across to the carnage presented to them, "Look at Heero you cold bastard. He's dying. Don't you care?"

Even though Duo knew Quatre's harsh words were borne of fear and his overwhelming need to save his lover they still cut deep into Maxwell's soul.

Seeing Heero lying so pale, so quiet, covered over in crimson, was unbearable but a headlong charge would not help either Heero or Trowa. In the time it would take to close the gap, to reach the madman, Chang could easily kill Trowa. No mere mortal could outrun the deadly speed of a knife welded by Chang Wufei.

With Heero in such a helpless state, one that he gladly invited out of his fear for his friends, he would be Chang's next victim if the fanatical Security Chief was not handled properly. This was a delicate situation, not one to be resolved without a clear head and calm nerves.

"Quatre," Duo said taking the panicked boy by the shoulders, holding him in place to make him listen. "You have to trust me. Please let me do this."

"But Chang...."

"Let me take care of him. Please Quatre promise you will stay here."

Winner looked beyond Duo to his dear partner. Chang continued to inch nearer to Trowa waving the knife about in such a wild manner they both knew Duo had but moments to act or it would be too late.

"All right." Winner whispered as his heart ached empathically with Trowa's pain.

"Promise?"

"Yes. Go."

Duo turned to the Captain who had kept his place of his own choosing. "If you interfere in any way I WILL kill you." Duo declared picking up the discarded pistol.

The Captain nodded that he understood. "Be careful." he urged knowing that once Chang's rampaging bloodlust had taken hold no one was safe. Strangely it seemed now all of Noin's employees were on the same side.

***********************************

Heero braced his elbows on the ground and with great effort pushed himself into a semi-seated posture. The dull ache that had settled across his ribs was replaced by raw anguish as the slightest movement sent a chilled faintness racing through his mind. More cold sweat beaded on his forehead soaking well pass his hairline.

Tacky blood acted like glue making it difficult for him to fully open his eyes. Catching breaths pounded in his lungs as even the shallowest gasp for air was constricted to almost nothing.

Heero's whole body was stiff. Every swollen joint, each stiffened finger staunchly defeated his attempt to open and close his hands.

The back of his right hand was so bruised that the black discoloration extended from his knuckles to well beyond his wrist making the entire area almost useless. It was clear that was no way he could make a fist but that didn't matter since he couldn't get up to fight.

Previous experience told him that the taut distension was a good indicator that the damage was serious. "It's probably broken."

"You are going to have some new scars too." his inner voice declared with certainty.

Blinking hard to wash away a stubborn sticky dryness Heero pushed up by slow degrees giving his battered body a chance to adjust to each change. He had no choice. He could not risk passing out. If he did he knew his life would be over.

Yuy's pain-dimmed mind questioned why Chang had not followed through with his deadly agenda. Where was the crazy bastard?

The sound of Chang's voice raised in anger directed Heero's blurred sight to his left. He blinked again trying to improve his uncooperative eyesight. Were there two outlines silhouetted in the shadowy fringes along the maintenance building's side?

Propping up as best he could Heero held he shaky position by sheer willpower. Then the recognition of the second figure stabbed through his heart as surly as if Chang had plunged his knife into the vital organ.

"Trowa." Heero called hoarsely. Blood tinted saliva gurgling in his throat swamped the words before they reached the surface.

Despite his foggy senses Heero knew by Trowa's drooping posture, by the way he clutched at his arm that the love of Quatre's life was hurt. How bad were his injuries, Heero could not tell but even minor impairments were serious if they gave Chang any edge at all.

Trying once more to push up, much less get to his feet, Heero fought the encompassing faintness with little success. Finally his system's degeneration won out. As total fatigue raped his body and confusion ravaged his mind, Heero Yuy gave into the victorious vertigo.

Yuy's failure was indeed complete. All his training, his years of experience were negated. Now he had neither the fortitude of body nor the soundness of mind to pull himself back from the enveloping gloom.

As Heero drifted off into the darkening void something cool touched his sweat-damp head causing an involuntary shudder. Had Chang returned to keep his promise? And if so did that mean that Trowa had gone on before to wait for him on the other side?

Sluggishly Yuy eyelids parted but only enough to offer an incomplete picture. "Finish it Chang." he sighed believing all was lost.

"Heero." The sound of his name held a familiar resonance. There was a certain soothing quality in the tone.

"Heero can you hear me?" the comforting tenor asked.

"Duo?"

"It has to be a dream." his inner voice whispered.

"No I am not asleep." Heero mumbled trying to open his weakness laden eyes.

Duo brushed his fingers lightly over Heero's bloodstained cheek knowing that his friend, no, his lover had drifted off into an exhausted state suspended somewhere between reparative slumber and dark dreaming.

"Sleep now." Duo whispered placing a full kiss on his partner's blood-encrusted lips.

Running his tongue over the crimson transference Duo tasted the salty life fluid its bitter tang spurring him on to face Chang.

"You stopped me once Heero and you almost paid with your life," Duo whispered mopping back moist hair from Yuy's face, "but nothing will stop me now. I will send that vile Son of Satan to his final rest."

***********************************

Trowa swayed again. The surrounding landscape blurred. Rubbery knees were quickly rejecting both balance and strength.

Chang sensing that his prey was now quite helpless took his time moving in for the kill. A wolfish sneer pulled at his lips. His black eyes gleamed with a bizarre refraction of the spotlight's glow.

"Say goodbye to your blond whore." Chang grinned with delight already imagining all the sexual amusements the lithe boy would provide.

Trowa closed his eyes taking in what would be his last breath, "Quatre..... forgive me." he whispered begging his lover's pardon as the words seemed to evaporate in the chilled night air. "I am so sorry for failing you."

Chang drew back the blade. Arm muscles quivered in anticipation of the final, fatal stab. "Right through the heart." he hissed ready to uncoil the built up tension.

"CHANG!" A voice boomed across the garden.

The Asian's arm moved forward then stopped in mid-motion. Still the honed tip continued to vibrate much too close for comfort near Trowa's chest.

An odd statement ranging somewhere between surprise and wonderment settled over Chang's facial features. Who would dare call his name in such a demanding manner?

He was certain Winner was being controlled as he awaited his new role of sex slave, one that even divine intervention could not postpone. Yuy had been laid low as he, too, awaited his destiny. The green-eyed hindrance slumping against the building's side had made no more than a few feeble attempts to move since the knife's sharp persuasion had done its duty.

A simple calculation was put into practice. Three of Noin's hired hands were accounted for. That left only..........Maxwell.

Believing Trowa poised no immediate threat as the tall boy with the peculiar hairstyle could barely stand much less mount an attack, Chang turning around to affirm his assumption.

With steely sight fixed squarely on the Asian assailant Duo held the Captain's pistol in a firm double-handed grip just as he had previously seen Heero sight in the weapon. His knees were bent slightly to steady his stance. Breaths came in a regular rhythm. There was no outward sign of any distress only the keen glare of violet that mirrored the night's inky hues.

An ever-so-slight twitch was Chang's only reaction to the sight of the braided hustler's brazen challenge. But was the beautiful boy that brash or brave? Or was his behavior merely a pistol brandishing display, a last desperate bluff designed to give his comrades one small flicker of false hope?

***********************************

Trowa, too, was wondering what strange form of possession guided the young man standing alone against the cold Chinese slayer. Had the same madding spirit that held Chang in it's mind-warping clutches infected Maxwell as well?

But Trowa's questioning of Duo motivates, whether sane or not, was lost in a jumble of disjointed senses as his back slid down the wall until he eased onto the dew-damp grass. Through the vague impression his muddled mind offered he could barely make out a soft gleam, a blond aura shining around a slender frame, an angelic face floating just beyond his vision's scope.

"Quatre." he sighed believing the scene before him was no more than a pain-produced hallucination. No, that was not it. He was dead and the phantom representation was his dear Quatre's memory leading him home.

***********************************

Chang continued to stare at Duo's blatant demonstrate deciding it was clearly a case of acute stupidity. The boy was indeed crazy. That had to be it. There could be no other explanation for Duo's complete disregard for Chang's superiority.

"What exactly do you think you're doing?" Chang asked bringing the knife into full view. Gingerly he rolled the handle between his nimble fingers causing the spotlight's glow to dance along its razor-edged blade.

If Duo took any notice of Chang's attempt at intimidation he hid it well. With a tilt of his head Maxwell gave back in kind Chang's superior attitude. "I am going to stop you." he promised with as much sincerity as he could muster.

"Really?"

Duo nodded never taking his sturdy sight from his unpredictable opponent.

Chang took two steps forward then paused when Duo did not waiver or retreat. Again he studied the chestnut mane hanging over a leather-clad shoulder that had frayed a bit from its usual neat plait. He took a moment to examine and admire the slim hips that had seemingly been poured into the shiny leather pants.

"Damn you know it will be a shame to waste that perfect body." Chang declared once more letting his sight roam over Duo's slender frame and long legs that could wrap so nicely around his waist.

"I don't suppose you would reconsider?" he asked a tingle gathering in his groin as the thought of the tight heat packaged in the leather covering made his blood run hot.

Again Duo gave a silent negative nod with no change in his fierce statement.

Chang's lips curled once more into a scornful smile, "I know I'll kill you first then I'll fuck you that way you won't give me any trouble. Yes that would be the best way to gain your cooperation."

Chang's intensions to defile Maxwell's corpse still did not evoke the desired results. Duo stood intrepidly with no visible change in either facial aspect or body language. Now the braided bake was becoming an annoyance much like a pebble in Chang's boot and like the afore mentioned irritation he needed to be removed.

Chang started forward again tightening his grip on the slicing weapon as he closed the gap. That was a certain conviction in his movement, one set on achieving his goal in as little time and with the minimal amount of effort possible.

A thin-lipped grin spread over Duo's lips. A twinkle set off fireworks in his liquid violet eyes. "Do you really believe you can get to me before I pull the trigger?"

Duo wondered if Chang had finally lost all reason.

Chang took another step then stopped, "You aren't going to shoot me. You don't have the guts." he announced, "You would be more likely to shoot yourself. Why don't you? It would be less painful and a lot quicker."

"Not another step." Duo warned knowing he could not change his mind. He had committed to the challenge and he had to follow through for both his and his friend's sake.

Now it was Chang's turn to tilt his head. "You aren't doing this for them, are you?" he asked waving the knife in a wide circle to take in all of the other persons present.

"The blond and his lover could care less about you. All they want is a way out and if that is over your dead body they would not think twice about your demise." he taunted, "And you certainly aren't doing this for him?" Chang added again using the knife as a pointer to indicate Heero.

"You think you are doing this in the name of love." the Chinese man proclaimed, "Well think again. Do you really believe a trained soldier could care for a gutter-slut whore?

No you are merely an easy lay, a distraction in his routine schedule. If you think you two will ever have a life together," Chang continued easing forward hoping Duo would be too distracted to notice, "I am afraid you are in for a bitter disappointment.

Like I said before your death will be an awful waste of good ass but you leave me no other choice. In fact when I am finished with you I am going to cut off that ridiculous braid and use it to strangled the life out of Yuy. That way both of you will pay for your insolence."

***********************************

Behind Maxwell, Quatre tensed as his heart ached for Trowa and his soul feared for Duo. He inched to Heero in slow but steady strides keeping a watchful eye on the two combatants.

Kneeling down by Heero he checked to see if his unlikely ally was still breathing. Finding his chest rising and falling at a somewhat regular rate, Winner slipped his arm under Heero's back and lifted up until Yuy's shoulders rested on his chest and his head was supported on his arm. A low groan sounded in Heero's throat as the rearrangement stirred him awake.

"Duo?" Heero sighed trying to seeing through watering eyes.

"No it's Quatre. Duo will be here in a moment." Quatre replied praying that heartfelt wishes would make it so.

Suddenly the night's hush was shattered by the pistol's loud report. It's explosive echo bounded over the tree line resounding again and again throughout the garden. Growing fainter in the damp night air the keen reverberation gradually gave out until only a murmured vibration skirted along the stone wall.

At the same instant a painful wail pierced the calm. The shrill resonance mingled with the gunshot adding a nerve-wrenching jolt to the unexpected noise.

Trowa's weighty head flew up his eyes searching for the deafening din's source. Only when he saw Quatre sitting safely some distance away holding Heero did he allowed himself to breathe.

Quatre, too, searched for the source and only relaxed when he saw Trowa using the building for support as he got to his feet. Even though his lover's movements clearly showed the affects of pain Quate knew that the wound was not life threatening.

Even Yuy in his stuporous state was roused by the sudden clamor. His weakened senses jumped jarring both him and Quatre as Winner tried to keep Heero body from slipping from his grasp.

Now everyone focused on where Chang and Maxwell had stood their ground each hoping for the best but expecting the worse.

Miraculous Duo was standing. Chang Wufei lay on the ground clawing at his arm where the shoulder joint is attached to the torso. Twitching and moaning Chang showed all the sign of being in extreme pain and left no doubt that he was no longer a menace to be feared.

Duo stood motionless. The pistol was kept in a white-knuckled grip but his arms dangled loosely as they hung in a limp fashion in front. His body seemed frozen in place by a combination of shock and disbelief. There was a visible shaking in his shoulders and an ashen tone to his complexion. As hard as he tried Duo could not tear his sight from Chang's writhing body as scarlet streams coursed between his fingers.

Chang had started forward and Duo knew, this time, the murdering Asian was not going to stop. Duo knew, in spite of Chang's doubts of Heero's love, that he was the only person who could save his lover and his friends. At that decisive moment, one etched forever in his memory, Duo Maxwell had aimed the weapon, closed his eyes and squeezed the trigger then recoiled from the kick and the clamor.

Tears of relief flowed freely tracing shimmering path down Duo's cheeks and gathering to drip off his chin. Slowly Trowa moved beside his stunned friend. Carefully he pried the still smoking pistol from Maxwell's vice-like grip.

"Come on Duo." Trowa urged sliding his arm around his waist as Chang finally gave into a pain-induced faintness laying still and quiet except for an occasionally low groan.

Trowa gently coaxed Duo away guiding him to Quatre and Heero. Easing him down beside Heero he waited until he thought Duo could support himself.

Quatre crawled into his lover's waiting arms finding heaven in his embrace. They held each other crying unashamedly as tears of joy also streaked their faces.

Duo leaned over Heero taking his hand. His tears washed over Heero's face as they shared their first kiss as committed lovers.

"I love you Heero Yuy." Duo declared knowing for the first time in his life that his heart had truly changed. That this was love and not lust, a love that would last a lifetime.

"I love you." Heero answered knowing in his heart that this was the real thing. "I might not have much to offer but all I do have is yours."

Heero raised up daring a quick glance at Chang Wufei. Giving up a sigh that they were finally free he turned his attention to Duo's pale face, "Nice shooting." he grinned pulling Duo closer.

Duo, too, glanced back then carefully laid his head on Heero's shoulder. "Nice?" he replied snuggling as close as he could, "Hell I was aiming to kill him." he proclaimed.

As the protective cover of stars twinkled overhead and a refreshing breeze caressed the night, each pair of lovers laid entwined in their own consoling enfoldment. They all were hurting but happy.

What the future might hold was not important. Together they knew they could face any problem. Together they would share the good times. Together no one in heaven or earth could stand against them.

 

Epilogue: Two Months Later.

In some ways the time since that fateful night had rushed by. In some ways it had crept at a snail's pace. But whatever the mode of its passing the last two months had been filled with wondrous changes.

Duo, Heero, Quatre and Trowa had moved into a modest two bedroom house that they shared with a gray kitten named Smokey that Duo had rescued from the street so much like Heero had rescued him.

Quatre set up a home office and was offering his services as an accountant. Trowa worked at a bookstore a few blocks from home.

Everyone was in his own phase of adjustment. For the most part Duo, Heero and Trowa were sleeping better than they had in previous weeks. Unfortunately poor Quatre still had frequent night terrors.

He would begin to moan then thrash about before the dark dreaming jarred him awake in a cold sweat screaming out Trowa's name. All Trowa could do in response to his lover's nightmarish assaults was hold Quatre tightly whispering reassuring words until exhaustion lulled him back to sleep.

Heero didn't think Duo knew about his own recurrent restlessness. But Duo often laid awake well into the early morning hours watching Heero's entire body shake as the terror-contorted twitching betrayed the controlled facade his partner displayed during the day. Duo would take Heero's clammy hand pulling him closer as he, like Trowa, tried to comfort his brave lover.

In spite of their problems everyone was slowly building a new life as couples and friends. No one expected total peace to come in weeks or months but they all were sure that the future would be brighter than the past. Each knew they could rely on the others to move forward as they looked eagerly to the years ahead.

Although the memories might never disappear completely they hoped, with love and patience, the past plague of demons would one day be buried deeply enough that they would never find their way to the surface again.

***********************************

Once Chang Wufei was no longer a threat, Noin had returned to her estate. She then offered each of her former residents a place in her home wanting to make amends for the reprehensible wrong she had done. Even though she believed her humble gesture was totally inadequate in light of all the suffering she had caused, Lucrezia Noin was more than willing to do anything to receive even the smallest measure of peace.

When Duo and the others respectfully declined her offer stating that they needed their own private home life and that the mansion held too many bad memories to allow for a fresh start, Noin was heartbroken. Tears streamed down her face as she asked what she could do to help them with their new life.

At Duo's suggestion the Mistress of Vixen's Lair opened her home as a Safe House for prostitutes of either gender who wanted to quit the "street life" and start anew. Using her wealth and position she provided a safe haven from anger pimps or anyone else who objected to the women or men's choice to leave.

Duo had traveled the full circle from whoring to becoming co-manager with Noin. But who better to understand the loneliness and the fears of those seeking to mend prostitution's ravaging results. Who else had a heart big enough to comfort and care? What better choice than Duo Maxwell.

Heero had retuned to his former job but under quite different circumstances. At Noin's request he had taken the position as Head of Security directing a handpicked team to keep everyone within the estate's influence from harm. The employment arrangement also afforded him the opportunity to work side by side with his lover and best friend Duo Maxwell-Yuy.

***********************************

Chang Wufei recovered from his physical injuries but his mind continued its steady and quite rapid deterioration. Now the Asian psychopath was a permanent resident in the State Prison's Division for the Criminally Insane. Being locked away in the mental ward only served to escalate his mind's downward spiral until Chang withdrew into his own private world.

Heero, needing final closure of that part of his life at Vixen's Lair, once visited Chang. A guard had taken Heero to the day room window pointing out a gaunt, almost skeletal form, huddled in the far corner.

Heero stared in disbelief at Chang's bony contours which were such a contrast to his previous muscular physique. Dressed in his once white robe and pants, now dingy and worn from neglect, Chang was only a shell of his former egocentric self.

Heavy black hair, longer than it had ever been before, hung in a stringy curtain hiding Yuy's former foe's face. Within the ebony mane's protective confines Chang found a least a degree of security from the outside world's maddening control.

The guard, noticing Heero's shocked reaction at the sad scene presented to him, leaned his shoulder against the reinforced window as he, too, was moved to a certain compassion.

"Shaggy isn't he?" the guard commented as he watched Chang press his knees closer to his robed chest. "He won't let anyone touch his hair." he added shaking his head in puzzlement.

Heero turned his eyes away from the window. "Why?" he wondered.

The guard shrugged letting out a sigh, "I don't know he keeps mumbling something about "a braid like his" whatever that means."

Chang looked so pitiful crouched in his lonely place on the floor that Heero couldn't help the twinge of sorrow that came as a strange surprise. Even with all the misery Chang had caused it was painful to witness the results of his total mental decline that would forever keep his mind, body and soul in hellish bondage.

When Heero, again to gain some sense of conclusion, asked to speak to the clearly reclusive man, he was told that since his arrival Chang had remained relatively unresponsive. Except for an occasional fit of rage resulting in him having to be drugged and restrained, Chang's withdrawal was all-inclusive.

When Heero related to Duo, Quatre and Trowa how he had found Chang they all, despite what the Asian had put them through, shared Heero's regret believing that even Chang did not deserve his horrible fate. Quatre even went so far as to lift up a prayer that one day Chang's disturbed mind could rest easy.

***********************************

Various shades of midnight shrouded Duo and Heero's bedroom in comforting shadows. The soft tinted hues conveyed warmth but not nearly at the heightened rate of the heat produced by two bodies pressed together in passion.

The lovers laid facing each other, arms and legs fully entwined, breathing in the erotically mingled scents of moist skin and fragrant massage oil.

Duo had stirred Heero from another of his fitful slumber sessions with gently kisses. The prodding into his wakeful state was also helped along by light touches as Duo's fingers trailed down his partner's damp cheek.

Sensing how tense Yuy was as his normally well-toned muscles were too taut and strained Duo offered to ease Heero's stress with a massage. Of course the beautiful boy received no argument from his more than willing koibito.

Now everyone knows that the only way to give a proper rubdown is if both participants are totally naked. Again Heero did not voice any objections gladly allowing his soon-to-be masseur to help him divest himself of his tee shirt and boxes.

Believing in fair treatment, Heero returned the favor letting his hands wander a bit more than necessary during the mutual disrobing. Heero's fondling of certain special spots that he had learned from pervious experience would quickly get Duo's attention was carried out in a most deliberate manner.

Duo playfully swatted back at Heero's less than subtle touches. "I can't concentrate on your massage if you don't leave me alone." he stated reaching for a bottle of soothing oil.

Heero grinned as he also found himself in an unusually playful mood, "That is not necessarily a bad thing is it?"

"What?" Duo asked rubbing the oil between his palms to warm it up.

Heero leaned forward brushing his lips on Duo's mouth, "Not leaving you alone."

"First things first lover." Duo answered, "Now roll over on your stomach." he ordered as he coated his hands with the herbal scented liquid.

Heero flopping over accomplished two things. First it put him in the most accessible position for Maxwell's marvelous manipulations. Secondly it gave Duo a completely unobstructed view of his lover's trim bottom.

With a soft sigh Heero turned his head to the side placing his hands under his cheek. Moving around a bit to get comfortable offered yet another pleasing view inviting Duo to give the wiggling buttocks a teasing tag.

"Ouch! Damn Maxwell!" Heero exclaimed bucking back at the stinging spank.

"What's wrong lover don't like it rough?" Duo cooed.

It was probably a good thing that Heero couldn't see his partner's delighted grin as he straddled Heero bracing one long leg on either side. Tipping the bottle just enough to drizzle a thin stream of oil across the pinkish blush marking the evidence of the tantalizing contact, Duo wasted no time in beginning a series of masterful strokes.

Sliding both slippery hands upward Duo paused at the small of Heero's back. A relaxed moan escaped Heero's lips as Duo applied gentle but firm pressure straight up his spin and over his shoulders.

Heero bucked once more at the tactical sensations produced when Duo's slick hands traveled down once more over Heero's rounded globes this time not stopping until his fingers met just inside his crotch.

"Duo. Oh yes." Heero whispered spreading his leg wider to allow more room as Duo ran both hands down the inside of Yuy's thighs.

"Like that?" Duo asked leaning over to nuzzle the nape of Heero's neck.

His answer came in the form of a lazy nod and another low moan.

The entire process was repeated over and over again until Duo was sure he had enkindled a fire that his lover would not be able to quench by himself.

The last trip of hands up his thighs ended as eager fingers reached under Heero trapping his very attentive manhood in a solid grasp. This time Heero reacted to the gentle squeezing raising up on his hands and knees pressing his slick ass to Duo's stomach. The slippery lotion made the contact most pleasant in deed and provided for friction free movement of skin against skin.

Duo bent over resting his chest on Heero's back as he continued to stroke the well-oiled shaft from base to tip and back again. About every third stroke Duo would let an oily thumb trace circular patterned on the head's tip.

Now Heero was lost in such an ecstatic state he clawed up handfuls of tangled sheet to keep his balance and try to hold off his coming as long as he could.

"Oh." he breathed out the explanation of ecstasy. "OH DUO!" he cried feeling a tingle begin to travel up both legs to gathering with shuddering force in his aching groin.

"Want me to stop?" Duo whispered not letting up the punishing pace that was quickly sending Heero over the edge.

Heero could only let out a ragged breath as Duo increased the culminating caresses. Heero bowed his back pushing as hard as he could against Duo who slid an arm about his partner's waist to hold him in place.

"Now?" Duo wondered the single whispered word coming in the same breathy pants as he sensed Heero was coming.

His answered came as a second, more intense, shuddered recoiled Heero's entire body. Duo held on tightly as hot cum exploded from the constricted penis' tip coating his hand with Heero's milky seed.

Heero mumbled something before his sated body went limp in his lover's embrace. Slowly Duo eased both sweat-soaked bodies down bracing his arms on the bed to keep his weight from being uncomfortable.

Heero trembled as his climax continued to pump into Duo's hand until final release was achieved. Duo kissed behind Heero's ear bringing on another slight shiver.

Duo moved to center his mouth over Heero's ear, "Don't get to comfortable," he warned feeling his koi relax beneath him, "I am not finished with you yet." he promised then reinforced the pledge with a nip on the nearby earlobe.

Heero turned his head looking back into deep and quite expressive violet pools that seemed to reflect the limited light shining through the bedroom window. "Who said I was finished?"

With that announcement of his intent to prolong their love-making, Heero pushed up to return to his kneeling position spreading his legs to open up a clear path for Duo to take him.

This time Duo's delighted grin was clearly apparent. Duo let the satisfied smile grace his moisture streaked face as he offered a full tongue-laced kiss in reply.

Breaking the kiss for a much-needed intake of oxygen, Duo nuzzled against his lover's equally damp cheek. "Turn over on your back." he humbly requested, "Please, I want to see your face."

Rotating around Heero slid one leg on either side of his beloved keeper of his life and breath. The one person who kept him sane and assured that he would not have to walk the world alone.

"Have I told you how lucky I am to have you?" Heero confessed pulling the tie from Duo's braided hair's end. "Have I told you how much I love you?" he whispered combing his fingers through the silky cinnamon-spun tresses.

Duo leaned nearer breathing in Yuy's strong and seductive sex scent. "Not since this morning." he replied before capturing Heero's mouth again.

Duo slipped a slick finger over his partner's anal opening and was rewarded with an anticipative groan. The other hand, encouraged by Heero's clear signals, caught under his partner's waist to ensure a proper union.

Heero wrapped his arms around Duo's neck using the leverage to keeping his quivering body in check. "Forget the foreplay." he demanded bringing his legs up to further steady his posture.

Duo's finger moved from the opening. His enlarged manhood was already prepared with a mixture of oil and his own weeping fluid. He took hold of his harden shaft guiding it into line as he pushed to enter his thoroughly aroused soul mate.

Heero closed his eyes, pushing back, wiggling enough to allow easy penetreation and did not stop until his equally aroused partner was fully seated in his hot channel.

"Heero," Duo whispered as he took a moment to enjoy the sweet sensation. "thank you."

Heero opened his love-glazed eyes seeing a watery mist welling behind Duo's long eyelashes. "For what?" he wondered in confusion knowing that their loving was always by mutual consent and done solely for both their pleasure.

Now Duo's tears flowed freely making Heero concerned that he had done something wrong. "Duo?" he began to inquire as to the source of his lover's weeping.

"Thank you for not treating me like a whore." Duo interrupted before Heero could finish.

Heero tightened his enfolding arms, "I have never thought of you like that." he assured his koi, "Remember I once told you that I never wanted to hear you use that word again?"

Duo nodded his soaring emotions making it difficult for him to speak.

"That word or its meaning does not exist anymore. It never will hold any power ever again, do you understand?"

Duo's answered came in the form of a crushing kiss that was the prelude to his thrusting down into his lover's heat.

Heero pushed back then gave up all his control allowing Duo to take over. This time the thrusts did not come in slow movements. Each centered plunge was fast; each designed to hit that certain G-Spot that he knew would cause fireworks to explode in every part of his lover's body and soul.

The pace picked up until both lovers knew they would soon reach the peak of their sensual striving. Heero wrapped his legs tighter craving every inch of stimulation his partner could give him. Now two bodies moved at one.

The midnight hues cloaked the lovers in soothing shades of enveloping darkness. They knew, without a doubt, that their love was strong enough to shield them from a world torn by hate and fear.

Together they could face the future. Together they would replace every old memory with new hope. New love and new lives. Together forever.

"Duo." Heero breathed out the wonderful name as climatic trembling coursed through his body. His lover could not answered, at least not in words, as he felt the beginnings of his own mounting completion.

As practiced lovers, each so in tune with the other, they traveled to the pinnacle as one. With an exhaustive force they both came, the release nearly taking their breath away.

Still joined Duo and Heero shared a sated kiss before Duo carefully backed out immediately missing his partner's reassuring contact. Duo eased over on his side not yet willing to give up his binding embrace.

Laying in the muted tones of shadow and starlight, the lovers remained entwined breathing in the heady scents of sexual fulfillment.

At that moment all was forgotten. Their friends, although very dear to them, did not occupy a place in their thoughts. Noin, in her changing from cruel to kind, was not considered in that time or space as the lovers concentrating only on their closeness.

Even Chang Wufei, who had in an ironic way brought Heero and Duo closer to perfection than they even thought possible, was brushed aside. The pity for his lifeless soul was kept at bay as total peace took over.

At that magnificent moment all that mattered was two souls forever united by one absolute conviction, the unfailing and eternal bond of love.

 

End Epilogue

A Shifting of Fortune--Karen Hickman--Aug. 2001