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Shikami Yamino

Quatre walked up the steps to the small house and pressed his fingers to the buzzer.  Wufei, Heero and Trowa stopped behind and leaned casually against the porch railings, surveying every inch of their surroundings under hooded eyes.  After a minute, the sounds of dead bolts being unlocked were heard and a large dark blue eye was seen in the crack that opened. "Dare?"

Quatre smiled. "Hilde, it's me, Quatre."

The eye widened and the door was hastily shut before the chain was taken off and a shocked Hilde swung the door open. "Quatre-kun?"

"Aa... may we come in?"

Hilde nodded as she glanced around Quatre to see the other boys on the porch.  As they filed past her into the hallway, Wufei, the last, offered her a sympathetic look and patted her shoulder with a comforting hand.  She offered him a wry smile and lead the way into the sitting room.  "I suppose this is what I think it's about?"

Quatre gave her a tight smile as he watched Heero and Trowa search the room with trained eyes.  "Is it safe to talk?"

Hilde nodded again as she sat. "The house is sensitized for bugs of any sort and automatically defuses them with electrical signals."

"Does he know about this?" Wufei question was vague but everyone knew who he was talking about.

"Iya," Hilde shook her head. "I had it installed after he left."

Satisfied that the room was free of listening devices, Heero and Trowa shut all the doors and windows and then sat down.  Trowa was the first to speak. "You don't seem surprised to see us..."

A wan grin graced Hilde's face. "Should I be?  I've been keeping up with the news; the Ambassadors were important people.  After the Preventers interviewed me and I found out it was Duo, it was only a matter of time before the Preventers would bring you guys in.  You're the only ones who would be able to handle Duo after all..."

Quatre lowered his head. "I'm sorry about all of this Hilde..."

Hilde laughed lightly. "For what Quatre-kun?  There was nothing like that between Duo and me. We were friends - close friends but only friends.  We were too similar, and in other ways too different to be compatible and we knew that..."

Heero nodded in silent agreement.  He knew how that felt - his own relationship with Relena was much the same but she had let go with good will after the Mariemeia incident. For that Heero was grateful.  "Can you tell us what happened?"

Hilde sighed. "I don't know what you're going to find from this that's different from what I told the others but...  Duo returned here after he'd destroyed Deathscythe Hell with you guys and for a while he was happy.  Business picked up and we were pretty busy in the day and sleep was always immediate when we came home.  However Duo might have been in the day, he did have nightmares at night.  I remember once, I'd gotten up for a glass of water and passing his door, heard him shouting incoherent things at the top of his voice.  When I rushed in, he was already awake and told me not to worry."

Glancing around at the intent faces, Hilde continued. "Pretty soon the nightmares came more often and after three weeks, Duo told me that he was going for a vacation at the small secluded cabin we'd bought in the mountains. He said he needed to sought things out, so I let him go.  He rang every day to tell me that he was fine and he was back in a week.  The nightmares seemed to have abated and he was more like his usual self."

Hilde grimaced apologetically. "I really can't think of anything else to add.  We went to Noin and Zechs' engagement party and you guys saw him there and life was pretty much normal until a week after Quatre's sister's wedding when he disappeared.  He came back after two months away and at first it wasn't really clear what he'd been doing and he refused to tell me.  Every time I pushed the issue, he'd turn the subject around until we were talking about something else completely - you guys know his way with words."

Quatre smiled affectionately and inclined his head towards Hilde for her to continue.

"But as the days passed he became more agitated and more occupied with other things.  He often forgot jobs and forgot about everything and anything."

Trowa cut in. "Was there any changes in his behavior?  Apart from the agitation and preoccupation."

Thoughtfully, Hilde replied, "Not many that I can remember but then he sometimes kept to his room and didn't come out even for meals.  Once when I went in, he almost bit my head off and I remember taking one look at him and stepping out quickly.  He hardly ever lost his temper, but him in a temper is not something that is pretty to look at."

"You didn't mention this in the previous interview," Wufei noted.

"I didn't remember until Trowa asked, there really was nothing so drastically wrong with Duo that it was worth taking conscious note of."

"Think hard Hilde, was there anything in his room that seemed out of place?" Heero asked, keeping his eyes on Hilde's face.

Hilde closed her eyes and her brow scrunched together in a frown.  "Not that I can recall... All I remember was him writing on a slip of paper, nothing special..."

Wufei pounced. "What was written?"  When Hilde gave a shake of her head to indicate that she couldn't remember, Wufei pressed. "Please Hilde, it may be important..."

Hilde shook her head. "I really don't - wait... there was something and I remember thinking it a bit weird before dismissing it - it wasn't anything really different from what he would write.  He usually still signed his notes to me with "Shinigami" written instead of his name..."

Quatre leaned forward. "What did it say?"

Hilde looked back. "Shi no Tenshi."

Raising an eyebrow, Heero repeated her words. "'Shi no tenshi'; Angel of Death... why Shi no Tenshi?"

Hilde shrugged and rubbed her eyes which had begun to water. "I don't know... but a few weeks after, he left and I found his keys to the house on the kitchen table the morning after."

Silence reigned for a while before Quatre asked, "Was anything different about the way Duo acted in between Noin and Zechs's engagement party and my sister's wedding?  It may help us determine exactly how long Duo might have been affected."

Hilde turned a questioning look on Quatre. "I wouldn't be able to tell you much... why didn't you ask Heero?"

Trowa swiveled his head so he could look between a confused Hilde and a stunned Heero. "Nani?"

Hilde frowned. "Duo went on vacation for a month in the two between Noin and Zech's engagement and Quatre's sister's wedding.  He said he'd gone to L1 to visit Heero..."

Heero raised both eyebrows as four pairs of eyes turned to gaze at him.  "He was never at L1, I never saw him in between Zechs and Noin's engagement and Quatre's sister's wedding.  We exchanged emails and he said that the business was going fine; that he was so busy he couldn't take time off to visit and that he was sorry."

Wufei cursed. "Chikusho... Duo may have been influenced by the enemy longer than we thought then..."

Trowa agreed.  Turning to Hilde he said, "We need to determine how much longer... the secluded cabin that you said Duo went to, can you take us there?"

Hilde nodded. "I was just about to leave... I'd planned to spend Christmas there and avoid all the fuss in the city."

"Nobody's been there since Duo returned?" Quatre enquired.

"Not that I know of. And Duo returned his key to it with his house keys."

Heero snorted. "Minor technicality.  Hilde, do you really think a locked house without keys would worry Duo if he wanted to get in?"

Wufei stood up. "Why don't you get your things together Hilde and we'll accompany you..."

Hilde nodded numbly and went to fetch her bags.

Two cars pulled up at the front of a split-level log cabin overlooking a calm and serene lake while tall, wide pine trees bordered its surroundings.  Stepping out, Hilde turned back to see the boys step out of their car and smiled. "This is it..."

While Heero and Trowa scanned the premises with cool eyes, Wufei, having mellowed significantly in the past year, smiled at Hilde and replied, "Nice place... you have good taste..."

Hilde blushed slightly as she walked up to the front door. "Actually, it was Duo who picked it out. He insisted that there must be somewhere to go for relaxation..."  As her eyes began to water again, Quatre patted her shoulder in sympathy.

Turning a watery smile at the blond, Hilde opened the door and let the four boys in.  "The living room, kitchen, dining room and study is on this floor while there're two bedrooms upstairs, each with its own bath and a sun room."  Gesturing up the stairs, Hilde was not surprised when Heero and Trowa immediately took to them.

While Wufei walked off to poke around the downstairs rooms, Quatre accompanied Hilde to the kitchen where she immediately started the coffee machine.  "Would you like some, Quatre-kun?"

Quatre smiled. "That would be nice Hilde.  I'm really sorry for all of this, if there was anybody else we could talk to..." he trailed off when Hilde pinned him with a stare.

"I'm not complaining Quatre-kun... Whatever's gotten into Duo, he can use all the help he can get.  And if I can help in him in any way, I'm not about to turn the opportunity down." Her voice quavered. "It just hurts sometimes to know that... that..."

Quatre stared out the window, feeling his own eyes begin to sting. "I know Hilde..."

Upstairs, Heero prowled through the room that Duo had so obviously occupied and looked for any clues as to the braided boy's whereabouts or condition.  The room, decorated with black silk sheets and a pale, but stylish setting was bright and welcoming despite its morbid appearance.  On the dresser, a brush still lay, clinging to long strands of chestnut hair and Heero's eyes softened briefly as he remembered the times that the same thing used to happen in the time they'd spent together during the war.  Checking the dresser drawers, Heero found nothing but Duo's supply of boxers - black, of course - hair ties, socks and other unimportant things.  Feeling around the drawers but not coming up with any that felt shallower, Heero moved onto the bedside table.

Across the hallway, Trowa stood in the sun room, taking in his surroundings.  The chairs were soft and comfortable, the bucket style perfect to lounge in for hours on end.  Brightly lit, the room boasted a stereo system and a vid screen while a coffee table and entertainment set took up the rest of the room, creating a warm and homey feeling.

Walking towards the coffee table, Trowa gazed at all the automobile magazines spread haphazardly on it with a few feminine ones as well and picked them up to thumb through them quickly.  Not finding anything, Trowa moved onto the stereo.

Finding nothing in the bedside table other than a small portion of Duo's CD collection, a pair of headphones and a small photo of all five of them taken right after the end of the war, Heero gave the room another once over then moved onto the bathroom.  Immediately walking towards the small vanity unit, Heero stopped as he walked past the shower and looked in.  Nothing but Duo's favorite brand of shampoos and conditioners and a bar of soap.  Continuing to the vanity, Heero found nothing on the top except for a half empty glass of water.  Opening the drawers, Heero's eyes narrowed.

In the top one, there wasn't anything except supplies of hair care products and other necessities.  However in the bottom one, empty and unopened packets of unmarked pills and bottles lay in a scattered fashion.  Picking them up carefully, Heero found the labeled ones to be painkillers, though not strong ones, and put them back carefully.  The pills in the other bottles were white and flat, a tablet of some indiscriminate kind.  Shaking a few out on his hand, Heero brought them up to his nose and sniffed.  Instantly, he recognized the distinctive smell of sleeping pills and frowned.  Why wouldn't the bottle be labeled?

Trowa finished his search of the electronic units and was just moving off towards one of the rooms when a faint blinking caught his attention.  Turning and crouching by the power point that led to the stereo, Trowa's eyes lit on the small black round disk that was attached to the wall and slowly flashing a small light in its center next to a small blank display screen.  A thin black wire led out from the underside and emerald eyes followed it until it disappeared into the back of the television set, another disappeared into the wall just under the device.  Probing soft but firm fingers under the TV, Trowa's eyes widened as they encountered a large wad of something molded to the underside of the TV.

With calm body but a bewildered look, Trowa leaned closer to the device and instantly recognized the small holes in which sound traveled.  Just as he was about to reach for the device, Trowa's head snapped up at the sound of Hilde's voice on the staircase.  "Heero-kun, Trowa-kun, the coffee's ready."

At once, the small light ended its flashing and two numbers appeared on the display.  As they began to count down, Trowa sprinted down the stairs and grabbed a stunned Hilde by the arm before dragging her with him towards the front door.  As he ran, Trowa yelled at the top of his voice, "Twenty seconds to get out of the house. Move!!"

Hearing the urgency in Trowa's voice, Quatre raced from the kitchen and towards the front door where he met with Trowa.  Pushing Hilde into Quatre's arms, Trowa sent the blond on his way out the door before rushing towards the study.  "Wufei, we need to leave now!  There's a bomb in the house."

Wufei looked up at Trowa's strained voice and seeing the seriousness of the emerald eyes, nodded before swiping a diskette off the desk and following him out.  As the two ran out the door, Wufei turned back. "Heero?"

Trowa stopped and was about to turn back when Wufei said, "No, I'll get him. Get Quatre and Hilde out of here."

Racing back inside, Wufei sprinted up the stairs and into Duo's bedroom.  "Heero!! We need to get out of the house now!"  Heero stood up from his silent contemplation of the pills and grabbed some before stuffing them all into his pockets.  The urgency in Wufei's voice could not be avoided and he ran into the Chinese boy as they met in Duo's room.  Wufei's voice was strained. "There's no time to go back out the front way."

Heero nodded, trusting Wufei's words and kicked out the glass on the picture windows that occupied one wall.  Taking a running leap, both boys sailed out of the second story window and rolled as they dropped, lessening the impact before coming up running.  Just as they started running, a large and loud explosion rocked the surrounding areas and knocked both of them off their feet.  Falling and covering their heads, both waited until the debris had stopped falling on them and then raised their heads.  What was a minute before an elegant and fully furnished log cabin was now a pile of rubble amidst an area that was serene and calm.

As they sat up, Quatre ran up to them with Trowa and Hilde in tow. "Are you two okay?"

Wufei grunted. "Fine, just got the wind knock out of me..." He fixed his gaze on Trowa, "What was that?"

"Sound activated time bomb.  I found the device attached to a large wad of C-8 under the TV.  The other wire led into the wall and I presume that there were more C-8 in the house judging from the damage.  Hilde's voice on the staircase triggered the detonation device."

Heero's eyes narrowed as he got to his feet.  Flicking a glance at Hilde, Heero asked, "Find anything?"

Trowa gave a negative shake of his head. "Just the bomb."

Wufei took out the diskette. "The only thing in the study, fallen between the desk and the bookshelf."

Heero reached for his own find. "Sleeping pills with a very faint tint of something added.  I can't identify what.  Unlabelled."  Turning to Hilde, he asked, "Did Duo take sleeping pills?"

Hilde nodded, wide eyed. "He usually did when the nightmares were here but I'd never seen them.  He always went to the drugstore to buy them himself, told me he didn't want to bother me with his problems."

Wufei narrowed his eyes as he stared at Hilde.  Then as they walked back to the cars, he reached for the communit and fiddling with the frequencies, Wufei spoke. "Water, I need to be put through to the boss, now."

The small vid screen flickered to life and Sally's face appeared. "She's right here, this is a secured line."

Lady Une's face replaced Sally's and the worry on the older woman's face could not be mistaken. "What do you have for me Dragon?"

In terse words, Wufei related the events of the day. "Duo might have been influenced by the enemy for longer than we thought but we have yet to confirm how long.  Hilde is a priority witness and there has been an attempt on her life already.  I need a team of demolition experts here to sought through the rubble, you can home in on my location and I want a private shuttle piloted by someone trustworthy to take Hilde to the Preventers headquarters, she's not safe here."

Lady Une agreed. "Is there anything else you need?"

Heero spoke up. "We need a chemical analyzing kit along with a list of all plastique stockers on L2, especially of C-8."

"Acknowledged.  Equipment will be forwarded to you ASAP at the spaceport.  Hilde will leave at twenty hundred hours, that'll give you some more time.  Is that all?"

Quatre gave a terse nod. "All that we can think of at the moment."

"Then good luck and keep me informed." With that the Lady's face disappeared.

Stepping up to the car, the four pilots placed a shell-shocked Hilde in the middle of the back seat and pulled out of the clearing.

In the car, silent tension filled the atmosphere as all five occupants were lost in their thoughts.  Wufei, who was driving, took a look at Hilde's ashen face in the rearview and sighed.  "Hilde, daijoubu desu ka?"

Hilde looked up as the first of the tears broke from her eyes.  "Duo... he... why...?"

Heero, in the passenger seat, replied, "We don't know if it is Duo who put the bomb there.  It could be that he didn't even know about it and the person behind all this put it there because you were the only one to know of Duo's whereabouts in the past year."

"That's right," Quatre added. "If someone thought that you'd bring people to come and snoop around the cabin and they did something to Duo then, they probably would need to get rid of the evidence and the people involved."

Trowa stared out the window as he commented, "What I want to know is why the sleeping pills are unlabelled if they were bought from a drug store."

Heero took the bottle from his pocket and shook a few tablets out to pass to Quatre and Trowa behind him.  Both took a sniff and conferred with their eyes.  Finally Quatre confirmed Heero's suspicions. "The smell is of the normal sedatives but there is a hint of something extra that isn't really detectable."

Heero glared out the windshield of the car. "I thought so... We're going to have to wait until the chemical analyzing kit gets here before making a full analysis though."

Wufei was thoughtful. "So you think that there may be traces of mind-inducing chemicals in the sleeping tablets."

Heero made a sound of affirmation before turning to Hilde. "Hilde, where did Duo get the sleeping pills?"

Hilde frowned in concentration before answering.  "He usually got them from the drug store on the corner of Twenty-seventh and Pike - it's in the sleazier part of town.  He said the owner was a friend of his and the sleeping pills from there were usually stronger than the regulation standards."

Quatre grimaced. "This friend was obviously more interested in money then..."

Wufei pulled the disk from his pocket and held it up. "Do you have any idea what this might contain Hilde?"

Hilde took the disk from him and turned it over in her hands.  "It's just like any other disk in the house. I wouldn't know how many identical ones we have. This is probably one of the ones Duo used for personal stuff."

Heero put out his hand and was given the disk as he reached for his laptop under the seat.  Switching it on and putting the disk in, rapid keyboard clacks followed before Heero spoke.  "There are a number of blocks on this thing.  Whatever Duo had on here, he wanted to keep hidden.  I got past the first seven, the other five I can't hack until we get back to the shack because I'll need a link up."

Quatre gazed out at the artificial sun.  "Well it's almost sunset, why don't we go and find some food before sending Hilde to the spaceport?  There isn't much we can do until then..."

Getting back to the shack, the four pilots sat as they began to discuss the events of the day.  After a lot of questions and more questions, Wufei said, "I think we need to update the boss on this."

Trowa silently agreed and added, "I also want to know if they've made any progress with the militia - Do we know who's leading?"

Soon, all four were clustered around the vid screen as Wufei keyed the command for the Preventers headquarters.  When an unfamiliar but senior officer looked up, Wufei said in a voice that brooked no arguments, "We need a secure line to the boss immediately, code red."

The officer frowned at the blurred faces of the group of young men on the other end, suspicion in his eyes. "I'll need your names boys, the boss is very busy at the moment."

Heero glared, though he knew the other couldn't see him properly. "Tell the boss Dragon, Falcon, Lynx and Wolf need to speak with her and Water *now*."

The officer looked startled and then nervous before giving a wavery salute. "Right away sirs."

Wufei smiled slightly as the screen whited out with static. "I hate relatively senior officers who are new to the com station."

Heero grinned wolfishly and Trowa smirked while Quatre smothered a laugh.

Soon, Lady Une's face appeared on the screen, Sally beside her.  "You boys have had an eventful day.  I didn't want to say too much before but now I'd like everything. In detail."

Taking the initiative, Quatre began the full report. "We talked to Hilde and there were some things that she failed to remember at the time of the interview.  Duo had been acting strangely ever since Zechs and Noin's engagement party. He 'vacationed' to L1 for a month, supposedly to visit Heero but never showed up.  We think that Duo may have been influenced before that though."

Lady Une's face was tight. "How so?"

Trowa answered. "We checked the premises of the cabin that Duo spent a week in and found bottles of unlabelled sleeping pills with a hint of something added.  We think there may have been mind-inducing chemicals laced in the sedative."

Sally frowned. "How can that be?  He would have smelt it as you did."

Heero shook his head. "Apparently the supplier he used was an old friend whose pills were stronger than standard regulation.  The smell of the sedative is distinctly stronger and the other a very slight odor you wouldn't notice unless you were completely focused."

Stiffening, Sally narrowed her eyes. "That's illegal... Did you get the name of the supplier?"

"No name, but we know where his store is.  We're going to put the squeeze on him tomorrow and see if he can tell us anything."

Lady Une inclined her head in approval. "We'll wait until you're done with him to apprehend him then... Anything else?"

"Not a lot, but we also found a diskette in the study of the cabin.  It's heavily protected but we should be able to get past it by tomorrow," Heero confirmed.

"One more thing," Trowa added. "Does the title 'Shi no Tenshi' mean anything to you?"

"'Shi no Tenshi'?" Sally and Lady Une looked at each other. "No..."

"Apparently he was writing that on a slip of paper when Hilde walked in on him.  He lost his temper."

Sally raised an eyebrow. "He lost his temper?"

"Okay, we'll keep an eye on it," Lady Une sighed.

"Has the demolition team turned up anything at the site?" Quatre wanted to know.

Sally shook her head. "Dead end.  They found the detonation device and the detonators.  Tracing them proved easy but it was a dummy coorporation with no ties to any major company or individual."

Scowling, Wufei asked, "Has either Fire or Wind gotten back with any more information about the militia?"

Lady Une made a negative motion. "They haven't checked in for two days, I'm presuming that they'll have something by the time they do check in."

Wufei sighed. "Please have Water inform us of any progress Fire and Wind make."

"Ryoukai..." Sally returned.

Lady Une managed a small smile. "Check in as soon as you make any progress.  Take care."

They all returned small smiles. "Out."

The vid screen clicked off and the four sat in quiet contemplation for a while before Quatre stood up.  "We'd better turn in, Trowa and I will go and visit the drug store first thing in the morning, see if we can dig up anything.  Heero, you and Wufei can stay here to analyze the pills and crack the codes.  That okay with everyone?"

The rest nodded and Quatre yawned before he gave them a tired smile. "I guess I'm not used to having so much excitement in one day after the Mariemeia incident.  Oyasumi..."

Turning in, none of the boys slept easily, each laying awake long into the night to ponder exactly where this situation was going to take them, and how much it would take out of them before everything could be put to rights.

Heads down but eyes darting around their surroundings recording everything, Quatre and Trowa walked through the sleazier parts of town, hands in jacket pockets.  The streets were littered and unwashed. Graffiti stained the walls with the various names of street gangs that still operated in the area while prostitutes and beggers lined the walls on the sidewalk, trailing the two with their eyes.

Trowa's face was impassive as he looked around.  The scene wasn't exactly unfamiliar to him and he knew what could happen on streets like these if you had no viable means to defend yourself.  Fingering the small gun in his pocket, Trowa gazed at Quatre from under his bangs and managed a smile as he saw the discomfort on the smaller boy's face.

Quatre surreptitiously glanced around as he kept walking.  While he knew that towns like this obviously existed, he hadn't really experienced the feeling of walking in one.  Passing the final intersection, he nodded to Trowa who promptly walked away from him towards the alleyway that separated the store from the next lot.

Walking in the front, Quatre heard the bell chime as he browsed around the shelves, all the while keeping an eye on the counter where a pock-faced man smiled at him.  "Well, it's not often I get a stranger around these parts.  How may I help you?"

Smiling back at the man, Quatre walked up to the counter. "I'm looking for some sleeping pills and I was wondering if you stocked any..."

The man walked out from behind the counter. "Can't get the sleepies huh?  Well I have something that'll fix you right up."  Making his way towards one of the far shelves, he picked up a bottle and passed it to Quatre. "These should do you fine."

Quatre glanced at the bottle for longer than necessary because at one glance, he knew that these were not the extra strength ones.  "Is there anything stronger?  I'm really suffering from serious insomnia at the moment..."

A suspicious light came into the other man's eyes but he continued smiling. "Well you could try these or these," pointing to a few more bottles on the shelf.

As Quatre took them down one by one to study them, he casually asked, "So you work here?"

The man laughed. "Work?  Naw, can't pay anyone enough to work here, I own the joint, Sam Daunte's the name."

"Must be tough business then," Quatre commented.

Sam shrugged. "Not really, got a couple of loyal customers who won't go anywhere else for their medication.  Them's the ones that keep me going."

Quatre looked up and smiled. "I know... I happen to know one of your regulars, told me I could find the stronger stuff here without any fuss if I added his name."

"Who might that be, stranger?" Sam's body was suddenly filled with tension.

Fingering the device in his pocket and drawing his hand out with the device in his fingers before leaving it neatly clipped on Sam's belt loop, Quatre patted the larger man on the back. "Oh I'm sure you know him quite well.  Name's Duo Maxwell."

Slipping into the alleyway, Trowa quickly found the drugstore's fusebox. With a few deft twists of his fingers, he loosened the wires that connected the communication wires to the electricity, rendering it incapable of giving anything but static.  Taking out a small device, Trowa clipped it to the main power cable, ensuring that the power would not be cut off when he sliced the cable. Finding the backup generator wires, Trowa sliced both it and the main cable before reconnecting the two together, causing the drugstore to run on the backup generator which he estimated would last for approximately ten minutes.  Enough for what he and Quatre had hoped to accomplish.

Just as he returned the device to his pocket and was standing up, his gaze was drawn to a dark figure loping down the shadowed alleyway towards him.  Straining to see who it was despite the shadows that surrounded the figure, Trowa's mind drew a blank when he heard the voice.

"Oi Trowa-man!  Long time no see!  What brings you to ol' L2?"

Straightening and pulling his gun in the same motion, Trowa already had his sights on the figure as it approached and the shadows melted away to reveal the very person he'd come to find.  The figure stopped as it caught sight of the gun and both hands were drawn up in a gesture of defeat.  "Whoa, hey man what's that for?  Can't a guy say hello to his friend without having a gun pulled on him?  Man, Heero's starting to rub off on you."

Trowa's eyes narrowed but his hand didn't waver. "Duo..."

Violet eyes gazed at him with laughter in their depths and the braided boy gave a small bow. "The one and only. Now Trowa, you think you can put the gun down?  It's making me a bit nervous."

Trowa said nothing.  This Duo was no different than the one he'd left at Quatre's sister's wedding six months ago. Still the same attitude, the same voice, the same laughter.

"Oi, Trowa!  C'mon man, you're starting to scare me here... this attitude I'd expect from Heero, not you."  Duo moved closer still with his hands up in a placating gesture, "It's me, you know.  Your old pal, Duo Maxwell, recognize me without the priest's outfit?"

"Where have you been Duo?" Trowa refused to remove his gun.

Duo laughed and gave an eloquent shrug. "Oh, here and there, basically bumming around and getting a taste of the life we didn't get.  How 'bout you?"

"Where's Hilde?"

Duo frowned. "Hilde?  I don't know... back at the house I s'pose. I haven't really been back. Just needed a taste of freedom I guess."  He grinned and dropped his hands. "What is this, Twenty questions?  Hey, are the others with you?  I would really love to see them... Haven't seen them in so - "

Trowa didn't hear anymore.  The pain came quick and sharp at his abdomen and in less than a second. Then a hand twisted his gun arm behind his back and a foot connected with the small of his back, driving the breath out of him so he doubled over, both in pain and out of breath.  At once, he was lying on his side on the floor of the alley with his gun just out of reach of his left arm while his right was twisted behind his back at a dangerous angle. The hilt of a switchblade protruded from the right side of his stomach.  Almost face down, every movement he made caused the blade to slice inside him and pain ripped at him, blood pooling slowly on the ground around him, quickly soaking into his jacket.

Helpless, Trowa gazed up into the violet eyes that looked right back at him and saw what he hadn't seen a minute ago when the boy had walked up to him.  There was a wild light in the violet eyes now, creating an insane look that completely changed the mischievous face of the boy who had greeted him so familiarly a moment ago.  The lips were pulled into a vicious smirk and a quiet voice penetrated his thoughts.  "You've mellowed Trowa.  You shouldn't have hesitated.  This is just a warning. If you - any of you - come after me again, I won't be the one to change aim as I did today.  Tell the others, Shi no Tenshi does not appreciate tails or interferers."

With that, Trowa felt his body lifted and before he could do anything, felt the butt of a gun connect with his head and everything went black.

Sam stiffened and his eyes widened as they stared at the blond. "I... I - I don't know a Duo Maxwell, you must be mistaken..."

Quatre frowned. "Really?  I was sure you were the one he told me to see..."

The larger man began to back up slowly as his eyes darted from side to side to seek an exit. "You must have the wrong person, I - I've never known a Duo Maxwell..."

Quatre smiled again. "I'm afraid that's the wrong answer, would you care to try again?"

Sam swallowed nervously. "Who are you?  What do you want?"

"I just want some information, that's all... Nothing will happen if you cooperate."  When Sam said nothing, Quatre continued. "When was the last time Duo Maxwell was in here?"

"I - I can't tell you..." Sam stuttered

Quatre sighed. He really hadn't wanted to do this but Duo was more important right now than his inhibitions and he knew that show and tell should be done in that order.  Pulling out his gun, he asked sweetly, "Would this help convince you?"

Sam eyed the gun and sat down heavily on a chair nearby. "He was last in here six months ago."

"What did he buy?"

"The... the strong stuff you were telling me about... He said he ran out."

"Where do you get the strong stuff?  Who is your supplier?" Quatre demanded.

Sam shook his head frantically. "I don't know!  The guy contacted me by phone and his vid screen wasn't activated.  He said that when Duo came in, I was to give him one of the bottles that would arrive at the back door in an envelope along with half the money and the other half would come when I'd finished the job.  I really don't know his name!"

"Really?  Think hard Sam Daunte."

Sam put his head in his hands. "I don't know... I called him Nicko but I don't know anything else, honest!"

"What was in the pills?"

"I really don't know!  They were left on my doorstep with nothing but the money, not even a label!"

Just then a muted thud came from the back door and Quatre looked up, noting that Trowa should have entered by now but was no where in sight.  Getting a bad feeling, and with a little stab of pain in his uchuu no kokoro, Quatre made his way towards the back door and cast a single glance at Sam still in the chair before he pushed his way out.

What greeted him was a field of red and he had to blink before his brain registered what he saw.  "Oh God, Trowa!"  Throwing himself next to the unconscious body, Quatre took in the body sprawled on his back and the hilt of a blade protruding from the lower torso.  Putting his gun in his pocket, Quatre shrugged off his jacket and wadded it up before carefully wrapping it around the switchblade.  Applying pressure, Quatre yanked the blade out and immediately pressed his jacket over the open wound, noting that it had been slightly aggravated but was still a clean wound.  Retracting and dropping the knife into his pocket, Quatre reached up a bloody hand to Trowa's face and patted it.  "Trowa!  Trowa wake up!"

Trowa groaned in pain as emerald eyes slit open and fixed groggily on the blond. "Quatre?"

Quatre's face split into a smile. "You're okay... Yokatta... We have to get you out of here..."

"... The owner?"

"I've got the information we needed. The tracking device has been planted so he won't get very far.  Who did this?"

Trowa tried to speak but clenched his teeth as another pain spasm gripped him.

Unzipping Trowa's jacket and carefully extracting it from under the body, Quatre wrapped it tightly around Trowa's abdomen. "No don't talk, we have to get you fixed up.  Can you make it to the jeep?"

Trowa nodded weakly and with Quatre's help, pulled himself up so that he was leaning heavily on the smaller boy but still standing.  Slowly, the two turned the corner to find the jeep that they had parked there earlier and with gentle hands, Quatre laid Trowa out in the backseat before seating himself behind the wheel.  Gunning the engine, Quatre raced out, trying not to drive over any rough road that would jarr his patient in the back.

Pulling out his communit, Quatre spoke into it. "This is Wolf, anyone copy?"

Heero's voice answered. "Falcon here. What's going on?"

"We've got the info and we're coming back. Lynx is in bad shape - looks like he got knifed.  The tracking device has been planted on the quarry so the signal only needs to be transmitted to the boss."

Heero hesitated a moment before replying, "Understood, we'll be ready."

Pulling the jeep into its parking space next to the car, Quatre wasn't surprised when both Heero and Wufei raced out.  As Heero and Wufei helped Trowa out of the car, the former asked, "What happened?"

Quatre shrugged as he ran ahead to keep open the door and to ready the bed. "I don't know. I was inside with the owner when I heard a thud outside.  I came out and found him like this lying on the ground in a puddle of blood with this stuck in him." He pulled out the switchblade and placed it on the table as the others laid Trowa on the bed.

Heero removed the soaked jacket and examined the wound.  "Not as bad as you may think, but I'll have to stitch this up now.  I'll need the first aid kit, some water and towels."  Wufei went off in search of the items while Quatre went to change out of his own blood soaked clothes.

Carefully peeling away Trowa's turtle neck, Heero cleaned the wound with water while Wufei prepared a syringe of painkillers.  Injecting the serum and watching Trowa slip into unconsciousness, Wufei nodded to Heero who replaced the towel and prepared the needle.  As he worked, Quatre came back in and Wufei asked, "Did you see who did it?"

Quatre shook his head. "Whoever did it was gone by the time I got out there.  The owner?"

"Preventers on the police force apprehended him a few minutes ago."

Quatre pursed his lips and turned towards the work bench where four laptops were setup along with a strange looking kit of chemicals and microscopes.  "Find anything?"

Heero made an impatient noise. "The last block is proving the hardest to crack. I'm going to need a few more hours to work on it."

Waiting a few moments as all three pairs of eyes were centered on Heero deftly stitching the wound together, Wufei started his own report.  "From what I've found, the pills contained the normal sedatives with a hint of mild tranquilizers which accounts for the extra strength in it.  But the interesting thing is it also boasts a fairly substantial amount of Delora7.9."

"Delora7.9?" Quatre repeated with a questioning look.

"It's a new substance out on the black market that is still in beta testing stages.  Short dosages create agitation and uncharacteristic displays of violence in the subject while in prolonged doses, it lowers inhibitions, enhances performance and slows the production of emotional hormones.  It also contains hallucinogenic components while inducing a more advanced form of schizophrenia on the subject, allowing the subject to become susceptible to suggestive stimuli and keep hearing them in their subconscious without showing any signs of it physically."

Quatre sighed as Heero finished up with Trowa. "How do people come up with this stuff?"

Wufei shrugged. "It sure packs a punch, that's all I can say...  And if Duo's been taking this stuff since that trip to the cabin in approximately February to March..."

"He's had a long period of exposure to it..." Quatre finished.

Heero returned from washing his hands and gestured to Trowa. "He's probably going to wake up in a while, considering our bodies are more tolerant against pain killers, but we might as well put the time to good use."  Sitting down at the computer, Heero continued typing while asking, "So what are its characteristics on the subject?"

Wufei replied, "Delora7.9 apparently acts like any other drug with an addictive component although after the first two to three months, the subject only needs a small dose every two or three weeks to keep up the addiction."

"How does the subject come off it?" Quatre wanted to know.

Wufei's voice became strained. "Even in beta testing stages, the survival rate for those coming off D-7, as it's affectionately known, is very small.  The majority never survive the sweating out part."

Heero cursed. "Kuso... survivial rate?  Side effects?"

"At this stage only 2.6% of the numbers who have tried to come off D-7 have survived and if one survives the sweating out, there is no permanent damage to the brain although temporary memory loss of the period in which the subject was under the influence of D-7 does occur."

Quatre's voice was pained. "Do they know the circumstances with which the subjects may survive?"

"Inconclusive at this point in time."

Trying to keep back the tears that were threatening to fall, Quatre looked away. "So what you're saying is that even if we get Duo back, we might lose him anyway..."

Wufei nodded mutely.

Heero's hands paused and in a quiet and deadly voice said, "If Duo dies, so does every single person on the planet and colonies that was ever involved with the people who did this to him."

A tired and deep voice interrupted their thoughts. "I'll second that..."

They all turned at the sound of that voice and Quatre cried, "Trowa!  You're awake, you feeling okay?"

As they moved toward Trowa's bed, he smiled slightly.  "I'm find Quatre, don't worry.  Not in the best of shape but I'll live..."

Wufei asked, "How long have you been awake?"

Trowa fixed him with an emerald stare. "Long enough..."

Heero nodded an acknowledgment before asking, "So who did this piece of work?  Couldn't have been really serious; they missed all the vital organs."

Voice grave, Trowa replied, "He wasn't serious and I was careless... this was more a warning than much of anything else..."

"Masaka... you mean...?" Wufei's eyes widened.

Making an affirmative noise, Trowa winced in the slight pain as he moved so that he was sitting up.  "I saw Duo..."

Silence reigned for a while as the boys took in this information.  Finally Heero asked in a strained voice, "How is he?"

"That's the interesting thing, he didn't seem at all changed when he first walked up to me but it was in the middle of the conversation when I was just beginning to doubt that he made his move."  Trowa made an abstract motion towards the bloody switchblade that lay on the table and continued.  "He was moving faster than I'd ever seen and told me that this was just a warning to say 'Stop interferring'..."

"Anything else you remember?" Quatre prompted.

"Aa... We were right, he's now calling himself Shi no Tenshi..."

Quatre let out a deep breath and looked away as all eyes turned to him in silent question.  A few moments passed before Quatre spoke up. "I didn't find much.  Sam - the owner - as expected, first denied knowing Duo but after I convinced him that he did, said that Duo last visited there six months ago when he ran out of the pills.  He didn't know where they came from, only that a man contacted him by phone with the vid screen off ,saying that when Duo came in, he was to give him the bottle that was unmarked.  The bottles of pills arrived on the back doorstep with an envelope containing half the money that he was supposed to get for the job, the other half would be coming after he finished the job."

Wufei crossed his arms. "Did he provide a name?"

"He said the man told him his name was Nicko but he didn't know if it was a real name..."

Heero stood up and walked back to his computer. "It's a start anyway..."

Making his way to the kitchen, Quatre called over his shoulder, "I'll go fix something to eat.  Trowa, you'd better lie down for a while longer, you're not strong enough to get out yet, I'll fix you a tray."

Trowa inclined his head with a little smile at the blond. "Arigato..."

Wufei gave Trowa a quick smile before going to join Heero.

By evening, Trowa was up and walking about slowly, and the boys were having another conversation with Lady Une.

"So you've confirmed that the added chemical is the Delora7.9?"

Wufei replied, "99.2% confirmed."

The Lady's lips firmed.  "And the quarry is still on the colony...?"

"I can confirm that as of this morning..." Trowa's wry voice answered.

Lady Une gave him a sympathetic look. "If you want, I can get some doctors..."

Trowa shook his head. "Iya, it won't be necessary. The less people know we're here, the better.  And we've got a pretty efficient medical crew here nonetheless. I'm fine..."

"Do you need anything else?"

"I'll need a micro-H3 component chip before I can break through the final block on the disk," Heero requested.

"I'll have Water forward it to V16753 as soon as possible. And I'll see what I can find out about this 'Nicko' and Shi no Tenshi... Please be careful..."

Wufei gave their boss a little smile. "We'll do our best. Out."

In a darkened building, a young man sat in the darkness in front of a glowing laptop screen.  The deep voice drifted into the darkness as the young man grinned.

"You know you won't take my advice, I know you won't take my advice.  But this just makes everything more fun.  Let's see how long you can last against me.  And let's see if you can protect this pretty face..." A small laugh accompanied the comment. "I know you'd never forgive yourself if you let this one slip through your grasp and towards Death, Heero...  I'll be waiting minna, don't be too long..."

On the screen, a smiling girl with azure eyes and dark blonde hair looked out, her long hair tied back with a dark ribbon while a suit of white and beige adorned her petite body.

Under the picture, a flashing line of bold red letters read:



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