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TO FALL FROM GRACE

PART I

Shikami Yamino

Aya-chan, I know how much you hate
the fluffy stuff ^_~ So this series is
dedicated to you!!


Pain.

Heero inwardly grimaced at the flowering crimson blossom that was barely showing up but beginning to stain the shoulder of his black tuxedo jacket.  Despite the actions, his eyes and gun did not waver and nor did his face give away any indication of his emotions.  He was in his element and even after a year, his skills hadn't diminished and neither had they mellowed.

The Perfect Soldier was back in action.

But this assignment was taking on a personal note and it was beginning to mess with the human that was slowly but surely growing inside him.  This assignment, his first as a Preventer was one of the toughest he'd know... because he was going up against one of his own...


Heero Yuy sat down at the desk in his small apartment on a backwater colony in L1.  Though the war had been over for two years now and Mariemeia's siege the news of a year ago, Heero still found it hard to break years of training and ignore the laptop that was always present on his desk.

Almost eighteen, Heero Yuy was becoming one of the most exclusive computer programmers around.  However instead of going into business, Heero found more freedom in accepting random jobs than a full time position and even then, he limited himself to designing top grade security systems.  He felt it was a way to continue the battle he had been a part of since he was a child and even though peace was at hand, someone still had to keep an eye on it in the event that something like Mariemeia happened again.

The rest of the time, Heero avoided the public, still not very sure of human emotions and usually limited his social gatherings to his former pilots - now his friends.  Preferring a comfortable but small apartment, Heero still trained because he found it hard not to... it was something that was instinctive now and he was secure in the fact that his body was still able to function in top condition.

Scanning the mail coming in, Heero gave a small smile as he read the lines of an email Quatre had sent him, asking how he was doing.  Indeed the smiles came easier now and though few outside of his fellow pilots saw them, they were still there.  The Winner heir was informing him of the Christmas party that was to be held on one of the Winner steadings to celebrate another year of peace and in the light scolding tones Heero could almost imagine, Quatre had said that he'd better be there or he'd be there by force.

Eyes softening, Heero rapidly typed back a reply that said he'd be there and continued scanning his mail.  After a while, one caught his eye.  The email was Wufei's and Heero had become closer with the Chinese pilot over the past year; ever since Wufei had spent a great deal of his vacation time on L1, practicing and sparring with the Japanese pilot.  But this wasn't from Wufei's private account.  Retrieving it, Heero's eyes narrowed at the logo that popped up on the official document.

Preventers.

In formal and clipped words, Wufei had outlined the situation.  Someone was beginning to threaten the peace again and the Gundam pilots were being drawn back together to fight what only they could.  The words became very vague at the objective of the assignment only to say that the leaders of the Earth Sphere Unified Nation was slowly being reported dead and that a secret organization under the surveillance of the Preventers was beginning to make their move.

Heero's eyes narrowed at the last sentence.  It is imperative that the Gundam pilots handle this situation as soon as possible.  Why the Gundam pilots?  Heero snorted.  Something really reeked about the story and unless he missed his mark, which he never did, they weren't being told everything about the assignment.  Shaking his head, Heero switched off the laptop and grabbed it before stuffing it in a small carry sack.  Packing quickly and efficiently, Heero snatched his jacket off the back of his chair and swinging the pack onto his shoulder, left his apartment, remembering to lock and activate the security system.


Walking through the doors of the spaceport and stepping once again onto Earth, Heero scanned the street before stopping at the unmarked van with tinted windows.  Narrowing his eyes, Heero made out the slim shadow of someone obviously watching him and walked towards it.  The door opened automatically as he reached it and Wufei's distinct voice muttered to him.  "Get in."

Cautiously stepping in, Heero seated himself in the passenger seat before Wufei took off in a leisurely manner and without looking at him, switched on the radio.  "This is Dragon, last package is here."  Wufei switched off and he kept his eyes on the road, silent.

Heero gazed sideways at the Chinese pilot.  Worry was pinching at the bronze face and a haggard tired look was beginning to make itself known.  Suspicion made its presence known in Heero's head and he turned to Wufei. "What's going on?"

Wufei didn't even turn.  "You'll be briefed as soon as we get to headquarters, meanwhile there's a uniform in the back that should fit you."

Casting another look at Wufei, Heero climbed into the back and quickly switched uniforms.  "The others are here?"

A slight pause made Heero look up from doing his tie but Wufei answered quietly.  "Aa..."


Heero glanced around the room that Wufei had shown him before disappearing and telling him that he would be informed when he will be briefed.  The room was plain and efficient but also elegant, a small bathroom connected to the side and a thumb print system that would only emit him into the room.  Not totally fool-proof but pretty damned good.  This was his quarters for the duration in which he was a member of the Preventers and Heero assumed that from the moment he'd stepped into the shuttle bound for Earth, he had become a member.

Opening his carry sack and stowing away his clothes, he found extra sets of uniforms in his closet along with various 'equipment'.  Electronics and small gadgets sat on one shelf while an assortment of pistols, automatics and submachines sat on the rack under the boxes of explosives.  Raising an eyebrow, Heero picked up a small handgun and, glancing at the butt, noticed a slight imprint that was almost invisible.  Glancing at the ID tag that had been pinned to his breast pocket from the moment he'd stepped onto Preventers premises, he noted with interest that all the equipment in his closet had been registered to him.

Tucking the gun into the holster conveniently situated inside his jacket, he looked up as the door chimed and Wufei's voice sounded on the speakers.  "It's time..."

Stepping outside, Heero followed Wufei down the corridors before reaching a pair of double doors.  Easing the door open without knocking, he entered and motioned for Heero.  A huge bay window was situated on the opposite side and a large desk piled with files sat in front of it.  He nodded at the two standing figures that were closest to him and received a small nod from Trowa and a tight smile from Quatre.  Stepping up, Heero locked gazes with the Director of the Preventers, Lady Une.

She smiled grimly at them before motioning them to the seats situated in front of her desk as Wufei leaned on the side of it, eyes closed and face impassive.  Lady Une began talking.  "Now that you're all here... I guess we can begin..."

Confused eyes met his and Quatre gazed at him in silent question.  While Heero remained impassive, it was Trowa who spoke.  "Where's - "

He was cut off when Lady Une began again. "That will wait till later."

Heero darted a small glance at the faces of each of his friends before returning his gaze.  Wufei had looked slightly pained while Trowa's face had immediately closed off.  Quatre frowned and pursed his lips but otherwise remained quiet and Heero could feel his own face slip into the all-too-familiar mask of emotionlessness.

Slipping three files across the table for each of them, Lady Une talked while the pilots flipped through them.  "Since three months ago, one of our operatives on L2 reported slight disturbances in the underground and the news of a new militia being formed has been kept a tight lid on.  We've kept up surveillance but it's all been very quiet to avoid leaking by the press."  Une frowned before resting her hands under her chin.  "So far the militia, or what we know of it has kept a tight profile and hasn't shown any signs of becoming any large threat.  Its objective we understand is to overthrow the peace we have attained and return the colonies and Earth to a state of war but it lacks the support by the majority of the public except for a few vigilantes and a few who can't let go of the fighting."

Heero raised an eyebrow and scanned the documents again.  Just a brief account of what had happened in the last three months, nothing specific, nothing that mentioned what they were supposed to do.

Quatre almost read his mind. "So you want us to find out exactly what's going on."

Une shook her head. "The threat of the militia is well covered by our operatives and their actions are nothing that would really worry us simply because they lack the support for a full on attack.  However despite lack of support, we fear that this militia may gain its goal by simpler methods than an all out attack."  Une sighed and glanced outside at the moon before continuing.

"Four weeks ago Ambassador Kenjo, one of the main campaigners for the continuation of peace died of a drug overdose when his previous medical records showed no signs of drug usage or abuse.  Then a week later Ambassador Parloff received a sniper's shot to his head outside his residence in Rome.  Last week, Minister Alain was the victim of a hit and run incident when he was standing outside his car in Moscow.  He's now in intensive care but we're told that he will not recover without serious brain damage."

Wufei gave a slight snort but kept his eyes closed.  "They're dropping like flies..."

Trowa's voice was devoid of affliction.  "You want us to find out who the sniper is and neutralize him."

Une closed her eyes and took a deep breath before reaching to switch on the laptop.  "Iie.  When you do find him, you will try to talk to him first and neutralization will be the last option on the list."

Quatre looked confused.  "Doushite?  If he is ruining the peace then..."

Heero cut in. "There's the problem of finding out who he is first."

Lady Une stopped typing and glanced at them over the top of the laptop.  "You won't need to find out who he is... we already know."  With that she turned the laptop around and the gasps and widening of eyes couldn't be masked.

Heero stared for a while longer before glaring up at Une.  "This is a joke."

Une shook her head. "It's no joke.  This was taken from one of the infra-red surveillance cameras around Ambassador Parloff's residence.  We have since then converted the image and enhanced the quality.  You can see the time, date and the area under surveillance on the right hand corner.  You may cross-reference this information with Ambassador Parloff's time of death if you wish."

Quatre was open-mouthed.  "This... this is impossible..."

Trowa was still a little stunned but said, "The original... I want to see the original."

Turning the laptop around Lady Une typed a few more keys and returned the laptop to its former position.  Now the infra-red picture and the enhanced version stood side-by-side... and there was no mistaking the picture for a fake.

"Masaka..." the word was out of Heero's mouth before he could control it.

In the figure's hand was a sniper's rifle but it wasn't the rifle that had caught the three pilots' gaze.  The slender figure was unmistakable as was the long braid of hair at its back, the black cap that endowed its head and the bright eyes that glanced at the camera with disdain and humor.  The smile was more patronizing and less impish now but the figure was still the one that they remembered.

Duo Maxwell smirked dangerously back at them from the picture on the laptop, his hand held in a slight waving position.

As the pilots continued to stare, Lady Une spoke.  "Now you see why we need you..."


Four former Gundam pilots trooped into their private base of operations in the Preventers headquarters by pressing each of their thumbs to the sensitized pad outside the door.  Once inside, the door slid shut and the four were left to their own devices.

Wufei walked around the started speaking.  "This will be our base for the duration of the assignment.  The door is sensitized to us and will not admit anyone else into the room unless one of us accompanies them.  The room is sound proof and is not video monitored so we can speak freely in here." All this was delivered in a monotonous voice as Wufei took as seat.

"Dammit Wufei why didn't you tell us?" Uncharacteristically Quatre slammed his hands on the large table that stood in the middle of the room while keeping blazing eyes on the Chinese boy on the other side.  Heero and Trowa raised their eyebrows from their almost casual positions leaning against the various electronic equipment around the room.  Quatre raged on, "You've been rising in the ranks of the Preventers.  You and Sally and the others only answer to Lady Une so you should have known as soon as the information became available.  Why the hell didn't you tell us?!"

Wufei raised his eyes to the azure ones of the young Winner and asked calmly, "Would you have believed me Quatre?  Would you have believed that one of us who had fought almost to the death for peace is now trying to ruin it all?  Would you have believed that it was one of our friends who was killing off the very people we swore to support?"  For the first time that day, Wufei's voice held a trace of pain and regret but the eyes were still hard as ever.

"Why?" The single worded question came from Trowa as he unfurled his long limbs and placed a comforting hand on Quatre's shoulder before seating himself opposite Wufei.

Wufei shook his head. "We don't know... we only managed to figure out that it was Duo a week ago when the enhanced pictures came back and even then Sally and I were dispatched to make sure that nothing had tampered with the cameras or the enhancing."

Quatre made an unbelieving gesture. "It's impossible... it could never happen... he - "

"It's not Duo." All head swiveled towards Heero as he made his way to the table. "Duo could never do such a thing."  He turned molten steel blue eyes on Wufei. "Something must have caused him to do this, tampered with his brain."  The eyes narrowed. "That's why neutralization is out of the question isn't it Wufei?  Out with it, what do you suspect?"

Wufei returned the steel gaze before turning away and putting his forehead on his hands.  "We suspect that Duo has had a run in with the head of the militia and we have it from a first-hand witness that Duo disappeared for a few months after the last time we saw him at Quatre's sister's wedding."

"Who was this witness?"

Wufei looked up. "Hilde Schbeiker."  When the others were silent with this information, Wufei continued.  "After another month in which Hilde said that Duo seemed restless and agitated, he finally left without a trace.  That was three months ago."

Trowa looked thoughtful.  "Between then and a month ago when the killing started?"

Wufei shrugged. "It is an educated guess to say that Duo returned to the militia but we don't have any information on that and not even a shuttle passenger list showing any of Duo's regular aliases.  It was like he disappeared from L2 and then resurfaced on Earth two months later."

"So you suspect that in the space of the few months after Quatre's party and the two months previous, something was done to Duo to make him into this psycho today?" Heero concluded.

Wufei nodded. "But we don't have any proof."

Silence descended for a few minutes as everyone paused to digest the information but Wufei spoke up again quietly.  "I'm sorry to have dragged you all into this again but when we received the information and with Zechs, Noin and Sally all stationed on the militia aspect, there really was no one - "

Quatre smiled wanly and cut in. "Don't worry about it Wufei.  It's best we handle this anyway.  After all, we know Duo the best..."

"And not just his personality," Heero said. "We know the way he operates and it doesn't matter how much conditioning he's gone through, that picture still says all we need to know."  Heero stood up and poured himself a cup of coffee.  "He knows that we're going to come after him, the photo was his way of telling us that it was him and not someone else."

At Quatre's questioning glance, Heero elaborated. "I presume that the late Ambassador had cameras to scan every square inch of his property.  Why is it that Duo only showed up on that one, completely facing the camera with everything distinctive about him revealed?  The baka knew..."

Trowa sighed.  "So what do we do now?"

Wufei's eyes were determined. "We need to track the baka down and then find out exactly where he was in the months he disappeared.  As it is, we're basing everything on the hope that we can talk some sense into him."

Heero nodded and moved towards the database. "Let's get to work..."


Long into the night, only the heavy clacking of keys and the quiet sounds of the coffee machine working could be heard in the large room.  Heero scanned flight plan after flight plan of the aircrafts leaving from the airfields surrounding Rome heading in the general direction of Moscow but he was soon running out of patience, which he usually had in abundance.  He had to admit that without some sort of clue, this kind of search was futile.  Duo could have taken any number of detours and used any number of strange aliases that they would never be able to find out.

Where the hell are you Duo?

Startled out of his concentration, Heero glanced at the door as the chimes sounded and a woman's voice spoke with a trace of a smile. "Water... bearing food."  He watched as Wufei gave a tiny wry smile and pressed the door open.

Sally Po walked in with a large tray of food and smiled at the pilots.  "Hisashiburi desu ne?  Thought you guys might like something to eat..."

Quatre stood up and stretched before returning the smile with a sad expression. "It's nice to see you again Sally... Just wish it wasn't under these circumstances..."

Sally gave him a sympathetic grimace as the rest of the pilots sat down and took a cup of coffee and a pastry, "Don't we all... Any luck?"

Wufei gave a negative shake of his head. "No... it's like he disappeared again... Why are you here?"

"There was no longer any need for so many of us to be there so the boss brought me back here to be backup.  Zechs and Noin are still watching the area."

Trowa nodded. "That would be more convenient since we'll be spending a lot of time on the road after this."

Heero agreed. "It would make communications easier."

"Speaking of communications, the boss wants to know if you've chosen your codenames yet." Sally directed the glance at Wufei but noted that he shook his head.

"Codenames?" Quatre asked.

Sally nodded her head. "Normally low level Preventers use their real names but high-ranking ones such as Wufei, Zechs, Noin and I, use codenames to prevent people tracing us on our assignments.  As we're likely to use any number of aliases, it's the only thing that will lead the Preventers to our location."

Heero glanced at Wufei.  "Dragon."  Wufei nodded stoically.

Quatre frowned. "Then why would we - "

Wufei cut him off.  "This is a clearance red case which only the highest ranking Preventers are allowed to undertake.  From the moment you agreed to help, you became a high-ranking Preventer.  You need only answer to Lady Une and have access to almost all information stored on the Preventer database."

Trowa looked thoughtful and Sally hurriedly cut in. "This doesn't mean that you must become a full-time member - "

Quatre smiled. "Don't worry... we have no objections.  We worked hard for this peace, it's only appropriate that we help keep it..."

Heero nodded and spoke one word. "Falcon."

Wufei nodded at his choice with a knowing glance.  Just as he'd chosen his name with association between him and Nataku, Heero still couldn't forget soaring the skies in his own Wing.

"Lynx," was Trowa's choice and Wufei smiled.  Of course, the long-limbed, agile and powerful cat was in so many ways like Trowa that it was easy to tell why Trowa had chosen it.

Quatre looked around and smiled enigmatically. "Wolf."

Before the others could turn to ponder Quatre's choice, Lady Une's face appeared on the vid screen.  "Representative Ottas was just reported gunned down in a drive-by. We have a trace on the car and the helicopter departs in five minutes.  Wufei you know what to do."

Before the vid screen had even clicked off, Wufei was already walking towards the door.  Stopping at the storage closet, he opened it and tossed each of the others a portable communit and as he walked out, snapped out instructions.  "Our rooms are down the same hallway.  You should find a bag in the closet and pack.  Bring whatever firearms and ammunition you feel is necessary and I'll meet you by the express elevator at the end of the hallway in two minutes."

Thumbing open his door, Heero felt the familiar presence of adrenaline rushing in his blood.  Finding the bag, Heero tossed a few necessities and his laptop into the larger compartment before unzipping the padded pocket and grabbing a few explosives and detonation devices.  Tucking a larger automatic in the other holster inside his jacket and a few extra clips in the bag, Heero shut the closet and jogged out of the room.

Finding Wufei waiting for him and Trowa and Quatre not far behind, Heero stepped into the elevator and was silent on the swift journey to the roof.  Jumping into the helicopter, Heero felt a sense of unease before quickly shaking it off and staring out into the star-studded night.


A middle-aged man sat in front of a glowing computer screen as the darkness of the inside of a tinted windowed car and chuckled as data fed into the computer.  "They're fast."

A slight smirk from the shadow seated on the other side of the wide car was issued.  "They're nothing if not the best."

A smug laugh.  "The best ne?  If they're the best how do you think you'll out run them?"

A flash of white teeth in the darkness as the glow of the computer screen was slightly reflected in the darkened amethyst eyes that held a little glow of wild light.  "They're the best... but I am Death..."


Wufei spoke tersely into the communit. "This is Dragon, checking in..."

Sally's slightly distorted voice replied on the other end of the line.  "Quarry is heading towards spaceport V34.  Judging from relative speed, your ETA is eight minutes 36 seconds."

Wufei made an affirmative noise. "Ryoukai, Dragon out."  Clicking off the unit, Wufei glanced around the helicopter pod and noticed with faint amusement that nothing much had changed in the year that they had been apart.  Though softer, Trowa was still silent as ever, crossing his arms and staring out the window as though he was without a care in the world.  Quatre was wearing a worried frown but was otherwise quiet and readying himself for the assignment ahead.  Heero was checking and rechecking his guns, a quiet expression on his face that relayed nothing of the turmoil that Wufei knew he must be feeling.

Out of all of them, Heero had known Duo the best; they'd been best friends and though the end of the war separated all of the them, Wufei knew that the two had kept up contact.  In fact, Heero had been a little withdrawn that Duo hadn't contacted him when Wufei had last visited the former Wing pilot on L1.  No doubt Heero was feeling slightly responsible for not having kept a closer eye on Duo as Duo had on him so many times during the war.

Wufei reminisced and grimaced.  But they couldn't blame anyone because in reality after the immediate end of the war, Heero had been the one who looked most likely to be unable to cope; not the violet-eyed laughing reincarnate of Death who had always looked as if he was the most 'together' person in the whole world.

A burst from the communit roused Wufei from his thoughts.  "Dragon, quarry has speeded up."

Heero looked up and took out his own unit.  "This is Falcon. How long to the spaceport?"

"At current speed, quarry will reach the spaceport two minutes before you."

Heero cursed under his breath and then tapped the pilot on the shoulder.  The Preventer pilot looked around with a frightened gaze as his eyes met unforgiving molten cobalt.  "Can't you fly any faster?"

"I - I'm sorry sir - I..."

Heero growled and turned back to grab a parachute from the cabinet.  Throwing the parachute at the pilot, Heero gestured impatiently for him to strap it on and not even waiting till the pilot's hands were fully on the rip cord, Heero opened the cockpit door and the pilot sailed out.  Shutting the door again with effort, Heero gestured for Wufei to take the co-pilot's seat as he seated himself and pushed the chopper as fast as it could go.

Trowa's calm voice drifted up. "We're not going to make it..."

Heero gritted his teeth and ignoring the whine of the engines, continued to push the helicopter faster.

Quatre looked up and switching on his laptop, spoke into the communit. "This is Wolf. Please pull up a list of immediate outbound shuttles from spaceport V34."  After a few seconds the computer beeped and Quatre glanced at the list muttering to himself.  "Freighter... waste disposal..."

Trowa glanced over Quatre's shoulder and commented, "Don't waste your time."  Into his communit, he said, "Hold all outbound public and private passenger and cargo shuttles until further notice."

Heero growled from the pilot's seat.  "And get us a free shuttle just in case."

Sally's voice replied, "Ryoukai."


The car stopped in front of a hanger and a slightly older man of approximately thirty five stepped out of one side still clutching the open laptop before a younger man in complete black stepped out the other side.  Pulling his black cap further over his eyes, the young man smirked and walked towards the hangar, the older man following behind.  Subordinates hurried to open the hangar doors and the two walked in.

The computer beeped and the older man laughed. "As expected they've halted all outbound traffic going through the spaceport."

The younger man kept his eyes down but the wide full mouth turned in a smug smile. "How convenient that we thought to bring our own ticket out then."

As they neared the ramp, the older man commented, "Are you sure you can handle them?"

The braided figure turned and the hard violet eyes pinned the gray eyes of the other.  "If I said I can handle them, I can handle them - don't question my abilities, I can do more than you ever will.  I handle them my way, in my own time."  The violet fire burned out and was replaced by the same self-confident smirk. "So just sit back and enjoy the ride Pops, it's gonna be a bumpy one."

The boy known as Duo Maxwell turned and jumped up the ramp, disappearing into the hatch.  The older man's brows lowered in a dangerous scowl and the lips thinned in what was barely contained fury.  Turning up the ramp to the saluting officer, he snapped a terse order.  "Watch him.  He could become very dangerous."

The officer returned a crisp salute. "Ryoukai, Nicklaren-sama."


Just as the helicopter reached the airfield in which they had located the car, Heero's eyes were unwaveringly drawn to the large plane just lifting its nose as it sped down the runway.  "What the hell - "

Wufei tracked Heero's eyes and dark sloe orbs widened. "Water, I thought all outbound traffic had been halted."

Sally's voice came back. "All traffic going through the spaceport has been halted.  The one outbounding just now is not recorded in the spaceport's registers."

Quatre's eyes followed the plane as it achieved liftoff and sped into the distant sky.  "The model number, we need identification."

A pause was heard before Sally's quiet voice reported, "The latest in plane-shuttle combinations - the PS314 - capable of holding large amounts of fuel, high speeds and achieving liftoff from a horizontal position."

"Kuso!" Heero exploded under his breath, "The shuttle?"

"Preventer shuttle is ready and waiting in airfield 3, launch ramp has already been installed."

The helicopter jumped forward and soon all four pilots scrambled out of the small craft into the larger unmarked shuttle already firing up.  Settling himself behind the controls, Heero hit the thrusters and the craft jerked before speeding up and climbing the launch ramp.

Wufei kept talking as he shrugged into his deep space suit. "Water, track the craft with satellite."

"Current heading is directly for L2-V16753."

Heero adjusted the course of the shuttle and paused to shrug on his own suit.  Quatre looked up, "V16753?  Isn't that...?"

Wufei gave him a terse nod. "Duo's colony." Taking a seat, he addressed Sally. "Please report any changes in heading, Dragon out."  With that silence descended.

Quatre was the first to break the silence as he stared out the window.  "It seems impossible... why is this happening?  The peace, is it so hard for people to accept...?  And why Duo of all people??" The blond Arabian turned back and his slightly watery eyes fixed on each of his friends.  "Why Duo?"

Trowa, seated behind Quatre, placed a comforting hand on the Arabian's shoulder and squeezed slightly.  Only when Quatre turned back did he see the underlying and not completely masked look of desolate sadness and remorse on Trowa's face.

Heero grimaced but kept his gaze outside at the stars that seemed so familiar.  Surprising even himself, Heero replied.  "Duo was one of us.  Gundam pilots who were seen as war heroes.  Whoever did this knew that the Preventers wouldn't be able to simply kill Duo off and leave it at that..."

Wufei nodded. "There is that... and then there's more..."

Trowa fixed Wufei with a look. "More?"

Wufei stared at the floor. "The Duo Maxwell we knew was the cheerful pilot that was as dedicated as any one could be in a war, but we knew less of his abilities than we would have thought."

Heero looked up, surprised - and it showed on his face.

"As we all know, Duo is a dead shot, he never missed a shot with any gun unless he wanted to miss."

Heero grimly reminisced the first time he and Duo had met - and had ended up with a bullet in his shoulder and leg while he'd been moving - wounds he was usually able, and had been expecting, to avoid.

Wufei didn't notice Heero's reaction. "He was also an accomplished actor - he could pull any role off, but what we don't know is that Duo is also a number of other things we would never expect.  First of all, from what records we've dug up, Duo has killed without mercy.  Switch blades, not guns, were his weapon of choice on L2 and he rarely missed - those who tried to messed with Duo Maxwell and his gang were promptly dispatched with little effort."

Trowa's one visible green eye widened.

"From his days at the Maxwell Church, we can discern that it was a happy time except for when the Massacre happened that took the lives of all that Duo cared about.  Duo somehow survived and for the next few years before he was picked up by the Sweepers, Duo wasn't to be found, there are no records of him anywhere.  However what we do know is that the Federation leaders who ordered the destruction of that quadrant of the colony were reported dead one after another until none were left."

Quatre gasped.

Wufei continued.  "After that what Duo did is a mystery but when he was picked up by the Sweepers, he was already a more than competent pilot and terrorist."  Wufei made a noise of self-contempt in his throat. "And to think all those times I thought him weak and un-dedicated."

"Why do you say that?" Quatre inquired.

"Because though Duo had the skills, he chose not to show them.  In addition to acting, Duo was an escape artist, he could never be held for long and anyone on L2 who has ever been on bad terms with our Shinigami will tell you so."  Seeing Heero about to object, Wufei ceded, "Unless he was severely wounded," indicating the time Heero had rescued Duo from OZ.

"He was a better mechanic than we thought, he just chose not to work on Deathscythe - he has a list of sabotages credited to his name in the old Federation files.  He is a hacker, like all of us; he's a firearms expert; he's also a poisons expert."  Wufei shrugged and looked up with pained eyes. "Let's face it, Duo never showed us much of his personality despite all that chatter and laughing. But exactly how much we didn't know about our Shinigami astounded me to say the least when I read up on it."

Heero looked withdrawn. "No wonder he called himself the Shinigami..."

Wufei smiled wanly. "Damned right..."

Quatre frowned. "But why pick Duo?  Sure, he might have done all that stuff but why not one of us?  Surely Heero or Trowa would have been a better choice..." He cast an apologetic look towards the two in question but found shakes of the head in reply, indicating they didn't mind.

"You forget Quatre, whatever Heero or Trowa did, no matter how many they killed, they killed under orders - frequently without explanations but logical and helped further a rightful cause nonetheless.  Duo killed with his own free will - he had his own reasons and he justified the deaths with them.  When Duo was taken in by the Sweepers, a psychological test showed that Duo suppressed large amounts of grief and guilt.  After much discussion with the Preventer shrinks we think that the main reason Duo didn't show his other skills was because he felt guilty about what he had done. If anybody wanted to brain wash a top-grade assassin to add to their cause, Duo would have been the logical choice."

Trowa agreed.  "In addition to that, I was hardly the assassin, being trained more in espionage and infiltration of the enemy.  Heero, although knowing assassination skills, rarely had to use them and Doctor J took him in early, training him to be a soldier, not an assassin.  Duo on the other hand, from what we've heard, was already an expert at assassinations before he was an accomplished pilot. That fact alone would make him stand out instead of us."

Heero nodded. "We have to be realistic.  Each and every one of us is a walking time bomb because of what we can do.  If Duo happens to stow all those assassination skills and something has messed with his mind to lower or even destroy his inhibitions..." Heero left the sentence unfinished but everyone knew the answer.

Wufei clenched his fist. "I want the name of the bastard that did this..."

The quiet contemplation that followed was interrupted with a burst from the speakers.  "Quarry has entered V16753 air space but I lost them after they activated their cloaking system."

"Shimatta," Wufei cursed under his breath. "Are you sure they entered the colony?"

"98.9% positive judging from their speed and direction."

Trowa settled further into his seat. "We're going in then.  Continue to monitor all outbound spacecraft from the colony and make sure that each craft files a flight plan and produces a passenger list.  If any leave without one, make sure we have a backup shuttle and personnel to track them to their destination.  Also alert the spaceport personnel to be on the lookout for forged identity records and a young man with a braid.  It may be futile but it'll still cover a base."

"Acknowledged, o kio tsukete.  Water out."


The door to the spacecraft opened and a young man looked out.  "This is my stop Nicko, from now on, everything will be done by me and you can find other means of contacting me for assignments.  But the others are my problem - make no mistake about that.  Ja~~" With that the lean figure leaped off and promptly disappeared into the surrounding shadows.

From the open hatch, Nicklaren Kotamo stepped out and narrowed his eyes.  Whispering quietly but with dangerous force, a sentence drifted on the wind. "On the contrary my dear Shinigami, the others are my problem but you are one as well... Don't forget who's running the show, Shi no Tenshi."


Four pilots clambered into the small abandoned shack with worry and apprehension.  While the others settled in, Heero immediately switched on the computer and scanned the inbound spacecraft lists from the spaceport.  As suspected, a PS314 was not registered on the list.

Quatre was the first to collapse on one of the four beds that occupied the small room that served as a bedroom/living room combined.  "What do we do now?"

Wufei shrugged tiredly. "There's not much we can do considering that Duo has the whole damned colony to hide in and he evidently knows it better than we do.  Our best lead now would be to try and find out what exactly happened to Duo and know the opponent before we rush into this.  We know Duo's here and hopefully we'll be able to stop him before he leaves, that should be enough for now..."

"We should go talk to Hilde," Trowa replied. "The Preventers who interrogated her could have missed something that we might pick up..."

Heero nodded.  "That would be useful."  Glancing at the clock, he said, "I say we grab some sleep, we'll need all that we can get; Hilde can wait for the four hours before sunrise."

Quatre nodded and slumped down, closing his eyes he smiled slightly. "Oyasumi nasai minna... It's good to be back..."

Soon Wufei and Trowa had drifted off and only Heero was left awake in the small room.  Dimming the screen of his laptop, Heero continued, his brain never letting up for a second.  This is your fault.  He looked out for you during the war - how many times did he bring you back from the edge of insanity?  You should have returned the favor... Your fault...

Heero grimaced.  He knew but there wasn't anything he could do to turn back time and correct his mistakes.  The only thing he could do now was to find Duo before he did something that he would really regret.

Searching the records of V16753, Heero found the articles which contained bits and piece of Duo's life. "... the most successful salvage business on the colony..."; "War hero returns to colony."  Skimming through them, Heero found nothing that he didn't already know.  Whatever personal life Duo had led had been carefully hidden from the media.

Hacking into the colony official and secure documents, Heero's eyes widened for a bit.  On the screen were the words: "Maxwell, Duo: File ended.  Date of Death: 17th September AC 197.  Cause: Inconclusive."

Using his codes to access the Preventers database, Heero called up the date that Duo had supposedly disappeared from L2: 17th September AC 197.

For all intents and purposes of the colony administration, Duo Maxwell had ceased to exist from the time he'd 'disappeared' from colony V16753.

Leaning back, Heero turned his eyes to the ceiling and glared.  What the hell are you doing Duo?  Who the hell is doing this to you?

~ TO BE CONTINUED ~


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