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TO FALL FROM GRACE

PART III

Shikami Yamino


After a day of futile data searches and silent contemplation, all four pilots in the small abandoned shack were strumming with tension and itching for action.  Trowa was already up and about without hindrance. And although sudden movements still pulled at his stitches, it was nothing he hadn't lived with before.

Heero often sat in front of the laptop staring at the glowing screen but seeing nothing, lost in his own thoughts.  Then there were the times he would turn the data disk over and over in his hands with a grim scowl on his face, glaring at the one code he wouldn't be able to crack until the micro-H3 component arrived.

Wufei prowled around the house, restless and even the frequent communications between himself and Sally did not seem to calm him down when he learned that neither Noin nor Zechs had signed in for four days.

Only Quatre seemed at all calm during the wait, continuing to care for Trowa's injury while providing meals at the appropriate intervals and soothing words when one or another of his friends had lost their patience.  Normally, if this had been a normal mission, this never would have happened.  But this mission was too personal for their taste and Duo had already proved that he was no longer the light-hearted boy they had so admired a year ago.

Mid-morning of the day after, an email arrived in Heero's mailbox and was immediately opened to reveal its contents.  Heero's eyes narrowed as he scanned the neat lines.  "The micro-H3's arrived at the spaceport, one of us is to pick it up and exchange the reports of our findings with the correspondent.  Another man has also been sent with extra artillery just in case. The boss doesn't want anything else to happen to us on this mission, she suggests that we pick up the packages separately."

Trowa inclined his head. "Wise choice..."

Wufei agreed. "And we could use the extra ammo..."

Quatre on the other hand was worried about the dark frown that still sat upon Heero's brow. "Heero?  Anything else?"

"Aa...  An attempt was made on Minister Lotar's life last night.  Concentrated Nightshade essence was found in the Minister's beverage at the evening meal."

A sharp intake of breath came from Quatre. "They found it?"

A nod. "Aa.  It wasn't heavily masked and the butler was able to smell the distinctive wrongness of the beverage even if he didn't know what it was.  They suspect Duo..."

Wufei shrugged, looking pained. "If it was really Nightshade, then it fits Duo's profile, there would really be no way of knowing for sure unless we had Duo here for interrogation..."

Trowa looked deep in thought. "Nightshade... Nightshade can be heavily masked, especially in strong beverages such as coffee, why wouldn't Duo mask the flavor...?"

Heero turned. "He's playing with us.  Lotar may be a Minister, but unofficially he has hardly any political standing in the way of things, in other words a waste of time to assassinate..."

Gritting his teeth, Wufei asked, "What're our orders?"

"Two of us are to interview the Minister, appointments have been set for us as journalists to visit Lotar at fourteen thirty.  The other two are to go to the spaceport and get the packages.  Correspondents will be waiting at the checkpoints 3 and 9 at fifteen hundred."

"Heero and I can go to the interview, I'm in no position to do anything that might endanger the mission," Trowa announced, gesturing down at his still heavily bandaged abdomen.

"Quatre and I can go to the spaceport then..." Wufei nodded.

Soon, plans were made and the pilots set out.


After a period of silence in the car, Quatre spoke.  "Why don't you get the ammo? I'll be fine with the H3 chip."

Wufei replied, "Are you sure?"

Quatre nodded. "Aa, it's easier for you anyway, not many of the Preventers know the rest of us yet.  And you can take the jeep back, I'll take a cab then walk home."

Wufei cast a glance at the pensive face of Quatre and sighed. "Fine..."  A moment of silence and then Wufei asked, "Quatre, are you okay?"

Quatre turned a startled face. "Nani?"

"You look unsettled.  Is something wrong?"

"Nan demo nai..." Quatre shook his head with a slight smile. "I guess it's just the familiarity of this yet the strangeness..."

Wufei cocked his head. "How so?"

Quatre shrugged. "The little things I guess... The silences - there never would have been silences in the house if Duo was - "

Quatre trailed off and Wufei's eyes softened, becoming slightly pained.  He himself had also felt the strangeness of being together with his fellow pilots and yet missing the loud but somewhat soothing sound of happy laughter.  "Aa... Wakatta..."


Quatre wandered through the crowded spaceport with a critical eye as he made his way towards checkpoint 9 on the tenth floor.  The full report hidden snugly in an inside pocket of his jacket, Quatre scanned the area until he spotted a figure casually leaning against the checkpoint cubicle.  Making his way over, Quatre saw the man's eyes fix on him and knew that his guess had been right.

Clearing his throat, Quatre started the spiel.  "Excuse me, do you happen to have the time?"

Hard golden eyes fixed on him and the expected answer came as the man checked his watch.  "It's three in the afternoon, sir.  Is there anything else you would like?"  The left hand reached into the man's back pocket and Quatre dropped the act, walking towards him so that he was standing next to him, as if casually talking.

"Wolf, here for the H3."

The man extracted a small device with a scanning screen and held it out to Quatre who immediately pressed his thumb against the lit up green pad.  As the thumbprint registered and an OK sign flashed out, the man grinned slightly and reached into his other pocket to reveal the micro-H3 component.

Quatre reached for his own disk and as the two switched, the man said, "The boss says to be careful."  Quatre smiled before he walked away, tucking the small chip into its padded bag and replacing it in his jacket.


Stepping out of the cab, Quatre noted that the sun was setting and quickly paid the driver before stepping out a good thirty minutes from the abandoned shack at the nearest town.  Zipping up his jacket, Quatre lowered his head and began walking towards home.

After ten minutes, darkness came fast and Quatre gazed around him discomfort before trudging on with his hands in his jacket pockets.  Home for the moment was not far away and while it wasn't much it still brought back pleasant memories of the occasional times of remedial peace that they had spent together during the war, just him and his friends.

This time was hardly different, fighting together for the same reasons, pooling ideas and resources, helping each other. A cohesive, united and much stronger force than they would be if they worked alone.  But there was one vital part missing, like a puzzle that had lost one piece, the familiar feeling that came from being with his fellow pilots was marred by the feeling that he was missing something.  And he knew exactly what that piece looked like.

A pair of laughing violet eyes, wide full lips always pulled in that incessant grin and the deep chestnut braid highlighted with honey that was its owner's pride and joy.

That piece had a name too...

Duo Maxwell...

Shaking himself out of his gaze, Quatre glanced around at the deserted street before continuing on, lightly fingering the gun in his pocket.  Almost there, ten more minutes.

Just then a whisper reached his ears.

"Quatre..."

It was a voice that was familiar but dreaded, appreciated but also feared... because the owner of that voice was no longer the laughing Shinigami it had been a year ago.

Turning quickly and pulling his gun out in the same movement, Quatre leveled his gun sights at the figure in black walking his way.  As the figure stumbled into the meagre light cast by one of the dim street lamps, Quatre uttered in a wavery voice, "Don't come any closer Duo... I don't want to hurt you..."

When Duo didn't seem to hear, Quatre quickly took a once over of the approaching boy and his liquid blue eyes widened.

The figure in black was shuddering uncontrollably, both arms curled around himself as if trying to keep out some foreign invader.  The knuckles of each hand was white with tension as they gripped at the elbows  The head was lowered so that long chestnut bangs concealed the expressive face and Duo almost seemed to curl in on himself as he doubled over slightly.  "Quatre... help..."

A worried frown appeared on Quatre's brow but the gun didn't waver. "Duo...?"

Duo fell to his knees on the sidewalk and finally the heart-shaped face lifted to reveal lips pulled taut in tension while a pale face framed the twin violet pools that were glazed over with pain so that they seemed like cold, hard amethysts on a field of white.  "Quatre... please... it hurts...."

"Duo..." Quatre's lips trembled as wide blue eyes took in the sight before him.  Duo curled in on himself as he was gripped in whatever pain he was suffering.  The tormented face of a friend in agony tore at Quatre's heart and the gun wavered.

"Please... Quatre.... Make it stop...!"

That voice was agony itself and Quatre felt his determination break as he retracted his gun and fell to his knees in front of the almost sobbing boy in black and held him for all he was worth.  Patting the other's back softly, Quatre allowed a tear to seep out of his own eyes and whispered.  "It's okay Duo... we'll help you... we'll help.  It'll be okay..."

That was as far as Quatre got before his body jerked twice to the muffled sound of two rounds being fired from a silenced pistol that rang out into the air.  Pain shot up his torso and Quatre felt his arm fall away from Duo's unmoving shoulders.  As he put his hands up to his abdomen, he wasn't surprised when they came away covered in a thick red substance.  Pained blue eyes went up to gaze at the lowered face as Quatre felt darkness come swarming over his vision.  "Duo.... why...?  I - I thought..."

Agonized blue eyes met glittering purple as Duo finally lifted his head but this time, the twin violet pools were not glittering with pain but with malevolence.  "You thought wrong Quatre..."

Quatre stared at the complete stranger that Duo had become as his eyes filled. "Duo..."

Duo uttered a small laugh.  "Poor, trusting, innocent Quatre... Even after everything you've heard about me, it still hasn't dulled your instinct to help everyone and anyone you see in pain... You were always too good to be so caught up in a war..."  Duo shook his head in mock sympathy.

As Quatre fell to the ground, clutching at his bullet wounds, Duo carefully checked the small but high-caliber pistol in his hand and grinned viciously before pocketing it.  "You were right to have chosen your codename, Preventer Wolf..."

Quatre's eyes became wide.

"Dragon, Lynx, Falcon."  Duo shook his head in amusement. "All so predictable... Wufei and his Nataku, Trowa and his agility and strength.  And Heero as the most perfect of raptors, almost like the Perfect Soldier himself.  But I have to admit, it took me a minute to determine why you of all people would choose the wolf."  Duo grinned. "But now it's as plain as day...

"The ability to strike out when threatened and the power and strength to kill when forced to... All of those wolf instincts are so like you Quatre... But there is one thing that is even more amusing.  The fierce protectiveness and caring a wolf has for its cubs; just like how you care for all of us..."

A tear broke out of Quatre's eye and Duo reached down to flick it away before it could trail down Quatre's cheek.

A malicious smirk accompanied the next statement.  "But you forget one little thing dear Quatre... I'm no longer one of your cubs.  I am Shi no Tenshi and you shouldn't ever forget that..."

Almost soothingly, Duo patted Quatre on the cheek before pushing himself to his feet.  "Trowa was a warning, this time a final threat.  Next time, I play for keeps..."

As he walked away, Duo's final words drifted back to Quatre. "Christmas Eve should be interesting.  Do tell Heero not to be late... he wouldn't want to miss the only screening of a very entertaining show..."  With that, the boy in black who had called himself the Shinigami, and was now calling himself Shi no Tenshi, melted into the shadows in silence.

Pain throbbed and Quatre felt more tears break loose as the darkness fought to grip him in its claws.  But the pain was too great and Quatre's last thought drifted in a silent promise before he allowed the darkness to claim him.

Whatever happens Duo... we'll get you back.  I swear, we'll get you back...


Wufei gazed around him as he parked the jeep next to the car and carefully extracted the large duffel bag from the back seat before walking towards the front door.  Pushing open the door to the shack, the low murmur of Heero and Trowa's voices greeted him as he stepped in.  Placing the duffel bag carefully on the coffee table and seating himself down with the other two pilots who had fallen silent, Wufei gave them a strained smile and unzipped the bag.  "How'd you guys go?"

"Not much... the coffee had been imported from Earth and just arrived that day.  Apparently a very expensive brand that only came from Turkey - the Minister's favorite.  Too strong for anyone else and after checking the entire batch, the Nightshade was mixed in with it in crystallized form, thus making it easier to transport," Trowa replied, leaning back in his seat with his own cup of tea.

Wufei frowned. "So the package could have been tampered with anytime from when it left Turkey on Earth to when it got to the Minister's kitchen here on L2..."

Heero shook his head. "Iya... the package also arrived with some important documents referring to the status of a few government organizations that was classified top secret.  It was heavily guarded from Earth until the colony.  It had to have been somewhere here..."

"Increasing the chance that it was Duo who did it..." Wufei deducted.

"That's pretty much it in a nut shell..." Heero commented.

Wufei snorted and began unloading the 'merchandise' from the bag.  "The transfer went off without a hitch."  Slowly, Wufei pulled out a range of automatic pistols, rifles and a colorful array of grenades and explosives as well as a lot of boxes of ammunition.

Picking up an automatic and running skilled hands over it, Heero nodded his approval. "Latest model, brand new... the boss certainly didn't flicker over this point..."

Wufei shrugged. "Nothing but the best for undercover agents."  Flicking a glance over the room, Wufei asked, "Have you cracked the code yet?  Where's Quatre?"

Trowa raised an eyebrow. "Wasn't he with you?"

"No... he said he was picking up the chip and he told me to take the jeep since I had the artillery.  I thought he would be back by now considering I drove around a little and waited until the sun set to come back..." A concerned expression drew Wufei's eyebrows together. "He's not back yet?"

When both of the others shook their heads Wufei shook his head in denial. "That's impossible, I saw him get into a cab.  He said he'd get the cab to drop him off thirty minutes away.  He should have been long home by now..."

Trowa remained silent but the worried frown on his face was enough to denote his concern and he moved to get up.  Moving over to the communit, Trowa tried to raise the missing pilot.  "Wolf, this is Lynx, do you copy?  Wolf?" Static. "Wolf!" Static.  Shaking himself, Trowa stood. "Something's wrong, I'm going out to look for him."

Heero's eyes were hard as he stood also.  Grabbing his jacket off the back of the chair, he jammed his rifle into the holster and nodded, indicating that he was coming as well.  Wufei didn't do anything, simply walked to the door and held it open and following as the other two filed past him towards the jeep.

Reaching the small town, Heero agreed to stay with the jeep and cruise the further streets while Trowa and Wufei got out to patrol by foot.  Jogging along street by street and keeping hard black eyes focused on anything and everything that moved, Wufei's thoughts kept repeating themselves in his head.  Please don't let Quatre do something stupid... please don't let Quatre do something stupid...

The portable unit in his pocket beeped and Heero's voice came through. "Anything?"

"Not yet..." Wufei replied.

"North-east sector is clear, I'm moving on." Heero's voice came back.

"Ryoukai."

After five more minutes of fruitless searching, Wufei turned the corner of a small deserted road to be met with the sinkingly familiar smell of blood lingering in the air.  Speeding up, Wufei pounded the pavement with his feet as a bad feeling crept into his stomach.  Hoping against hope but knowing that hope had never really kept its promises, Wufei searched the area with his eyes and only then did he see the pool of dark crimson that lay under a dim street lamp.

Then he caught the body that lay just out of the meager light and gasped.

Oh God... no...

Pulling out his communit as he ran as fast as he could, Wufei snapped, "Fifth and Ninth, hurry."  Nothing more needed to be said as he pocketed the instrument and threw himself to his knees.  Using the pathetic light thrown off by the street lamp, Wufei assessed the smaller blond's injuries quickly with a critical eye, keeping his horror in check.

Mentally, Wufei recorded the injuries.  Two bullets to the right lung, fired at close range and most likely from a pistol judging from the size of the bullets.  Might have snapped a few ribs in the process.  Shrugging off his jacket, Wufei wadded it up and pressed it to stem the flow of blood as he checked Quatre's life signs.  Internal bleeding was inevitable but the fact that small, irregular and shallow breaths continued to make their way into Quatre's body was a good sign that it wasn't too serious.  Pulse was irregular and Quatre's face was pale from blood loss.

The roar of a speeding jeep rounded the corner and screeched to a stop directly in front of Wufei and Quatre.  Without looking up, Wufei said loudly, "A punctured lung and maybe snapped ribs.  Internal bleeding and blood loss.  We can't treat this by ourselves."  As Trowa joined him, they carefully lifted Quatre's body into the jeep as Heero cursed and pulled out his communit.

"Water, this is Falcon."

Sally's worried voice came over. "What's wrong?"

"Wolf's hurt, I need you to notify the nearest hospital and get them to have an operating room ready."

A pause.  Then, "I'll be right on it.  Nearest surgical hospital is in Taho City, approximately twenty minutes away."

As Quatre was carefully loaded in the back and Trowa opted to sit with the injured Arabian, Wufei jumped into the passenger's seat as Heero started the car and squealed into motion.  "Tell them to expect us in ten. Falcon out."  With that, Heero tossed the communit over to Wufei and gripped the wheel in both hands before pushing the gas pedal to the floor with his foot.


True to his word, Heero sped into Taho City in a little over nine minutes and without decreasing speed, wove in and out of traffic in the larger city, probably breaking every speed limit in the entire colony and braked to a stop in front of the emergency entrance of Taho City Surgical Hospital in just under eleven minutes.

Nurses rushed out with a gurney and efficiently, with gentle movements, Quatre was loaded on and rushed into the entrance, Trowa jogging slightly beside them while Heero and Wufei lingered behind with the only not uniformed person that had come out.

The older man extended his hand to the two silently guarded boys and said, "Joseph Lowne, pleased to meet you."  When the two pilots failed to shake hands, the man - Joseph - smiled slightly and reached into his pocket.  When the two younger men tensed, eyes going intently towards his hand, the smile turned into a large grin.  Slowly the man pulled out an ID and flipped it open to reveal the Preventers insignia and his photograph.

Flickering his eyes from the ID to the man's face, Wufei reluctantly shook hands but Heero kept to himself.  Joseph gestured that they should be moving into the hospital.  "I'm a member of the Preventers surgical team, my partner and I were stationed here just in case.  Looks like that 'in case' was a good precaution."

When he looked at the two younger men beside him who were silent and focused on the corridor ahead, Joseph's mouth twitched nervously.  He had never come across these undercovers before but their status had to be so high that he couldn't even retrieve any data on them when he'd asked.  Clearance red guys.

Even though they didn't look like much, Joseph knew the reputation that the Chinese boy had amongst the higher Preventer ranks, being now a member of Lady Une's closest council with a few other select members.  Being of a fairly senior rank, Joseph was privy to the young man's codename only but the other, although status was the same, was not known to neither him nor his partner.

Licking his lips, Joseph continued. "May I say that it's an honor to finally be able to meet the elusive Preventer Dragon, we've heard a lot about you..."

Wufei snorted and from the looks of anger and non-tolerant attitudes, Joseph wisely chose to remain silent as he led the way down the corridor.  Turning the corner, they came to face Trowa standing next to the double doors with the red light above them lit.  Trowa shook his head at the silent query put forward by his fellow pilots indicating that nothing had happened yet and knowing this, Heero and Wufei dropped themselves into the seats and remained silent.

Joseph looked from one passive face to another and decided that being anywhere would be better than in a waiting room filled to the brim with tension with these three undercover agents who undoubtedly carried more than a gun on their person.  Not that they looked like they needed guns - these guys were strictly professionals...  "I'll be going in now and if you need anything just ask the nurses.  Wolf will be treated with the utmost care, rest assured."  With that he disappeared into the double doors.

Alone, Wufei opened his mouth to talk but Heero beat him to it.  "It was Duo, no doubt."

"I wasn't going to ask who, but rather, how?  Quatre must've known after Trowa that Duo was dangerous.  Those shots were fired from close range - very close range.  The only way Duo would have been able to get that close was if Quatre let him.  The fact that the bullets entered through the chest and not the back confirms it."

Trowa unfolded his crossed limbs from where he stood leaning against the wall and dropped himself gracefully into a chair.  "Duo most likely exploited Quatre's one weakness..."

At Heero's raised eyebrow Trowa elaborated.  "Quatre cares too much about his friends.  And no matter what he'd heard or seen, Quatre would help if Duo showed even the slightest sign of being normal..."

Wufei sighed. "That's probably the only explanation... We'll just have to wait until Quatre wakes up for the full story..."

The three lapsed into silence and however much time passed in the next period they weren't sure, but it was already 12:30am in the morning when the red light finally flashed off and Joseph stepped back out with another man behind him, both wearing green surgical overcoats.

All three pilots stood up and were quickly ushered into a small bare room except for a table and a few chairs and were gestured to sit down.  Joseph introduced the other man.  "This is my partner, Zach Tyler.  He's been working on Wolf for the past few hours so I'll let him explain."

The other man was frank.  "Wolf will pull through.  He's suffered considerable blood loss but the internal bleeding was minimal, comparative to the circumstances of a case such as this of course.  Although the bullets did pierce the right lung, they managed not to hit any major bronchial vessels so he was very lucky.  However, despite the bullets, he also has two broken ribs that were most likely caused by the bullet entrances.  One was fine but the other managed to puncture the lung and blood has been leaked into the right lung.  But it's nothing too bad and we've managed to stitch him up as best we can.  He'll be transferred to intensive care until he wakes up, which should be within the next twenty-four hours or so..."

Joseph slid a clear sealed plastic bag across the table.  "These are Wolf's personal artifacts found on his person."  In the bag, the largest objects were the gun and the portable communit while the next was Quatre's wallet.  Finally three pairs of eyes fixed on the small bronze chip in clear plastic casing and breathed a minute sigh of relief that was not detected by either of the older men in the room.

As Heero reached into the bag for the H3 chip, Wufei asked, "How long until he's up and moving?"

"We're predicting five days to a week, but even then I'll have to subscribe painkillers," Zach replied.

"Where are the bullets that were extracted?" Trowa calmly asked.

Joseph looked startled. "They're going into Evidence.  The police want to know what happened."

Trowa quietly advised, "Go and get them.  Bring them here and tell the police that this is strictly Preventers business.  None of their concern."

Joseph looked around at the grim and unforgiving faces and licked his lips before moving towards the door.  "Yes sir..."

Turning the small chip over in his hand, Heero said, "Lynx why don't you stay here with Wolf.  Dragon and I will go and clean up."

Sensing what Heero was about to do, Trowa nodded. "I'll be here..."

To the incomprehension of Zach, Heero and Wufei walked out of the room and towards the exit doors.


Striding into the small shack that had been home for less than a week, Heero and Wufei quickly went about packing everything up.  The laptops were disconnected and stowed in each individual's duffel while the artillery were taken from their hiding places and carefully placed back into their designated compartments.  Finally, after everything was gone from the shack, Wufei reached into the back of the closest where, hidden, hung four Preventers insignia jackets and tossed them to Heero who stuffed them in with the guns and other equipment.

While they went through another round of the house to make sure everything was as it was when they first came, Wufei spoke the first words.  "What do you think is going on?"

Heero shook his head. "I don't know... but my instincts tell me something big's coming up..."

"So you think Duo's not going to stick around much longer..."

"There's no reason for him to... and there's more chance of being discovered if he stays on the one colony for too long..."

"So he's going to move soon?"

Heero made an affirmative noise as he made for the door. "That's why we need to be ready to move."

Each shouldering two large duffels, Heero fished another set of keys out of his jeans pocket and tossed them at Wufei, who snatched them out of the air with ease as they walked out of the shack.  Settling themselves in the two cars, they roared out again in a squeal of tires, comfortably setting a breakneck pace back to the hospital.


Back at the hospital, Trowa carefully examined the bare room he was sitting in before the door opened and Joseph walked in with a clear bag tagged with the 'evidence' slip and a burly officer who walked in behind him.

Joseph placed the bag on the table and gestured at the man accompanying him. "This is Captain Broski, he insisted on coming to sought the matter of the bullets out with you."

The uniform-clad officer quickly stepped up to Zach and said in a loud commanding voice, "I demand to know the meaning of this.  First dispatch gets an anonymous call and then minutes later, a couple of kids break every single speed limit on the colony to get here and then they give me another kid with a couple of bullets in him.  What the hell is going on?"

Trowa's lips quirked briefly as he stood up and Zach gestured to him. "I'm not the one in charge of the operation Captain, he is."

Broski's eyes flickered over Trowa's lean frame and the relaxed posture he held himself in and gave a bark of laughter. "You've got to be kidding. Give me the details or am I going to have to haul all three of your asses down to the station?"

Just then the door opened and Heero and Wufei walked in, stopping for a while at the scene of the almost face-off in the room before continuing.  Heero casually tossed Trowa's duffel at him before setting his own down in his seat.  Wufei set both his bags down and at Trowa's slightly annoyed glance at the police officer, said to Joseph and Zach. "I'm sure you both have somewhere else to be, we'll take it from here."

As Joseph and Zach walked out, Trowa stepped forward.  "No hauling will be necessary Captain.  We appreciate your concern but my associates and I are on strict Preventers business.  This is not under the local police department's jurisdiction."

Broski snorted. "The Hell it's not!"

Wufei calmly flipped open his Preventers ID and said, "When we tell you that it's not under your jurisdiction, that's what we mean.  You may report us if you wish but you will find that the Preventers Agency is ranked above all police departments on Earth and its colonies.  If you wish to verify, you may take the matter up to the Director of the Preventers herself.  But if I were you, I wouldn't waste her time."  With that Wufei sat down and turned his back to the man. "Thank you for your time, I think you know the way out..."

The Captain sputtered but became silent as Heero silently fished out his gun from its holster and began expertly disassembling it until within seconds, it lay in pieces on the table in front of him.  Another few more seconds and it was once again back in one lethal piece, Heero calmly placed a new magazine in the gun before cocking it and leveling ice cold cobalt eyes at the burly officer.

Broski swallowed nervously before making his way towards the door. "You'll be hearing from me..."

When the door slid shut, Heero replaced the gun and cocked his head at Wufei's resigned face and was answered with a shrug. "It happens sometimes.  Some of the officers are very territorial, especially when it comes to undercover agents working in their jurisdiction."

"Wakatta..." Heero inclined his head briefly before pulling out his laptop and the disk while Trowa reached across the table and ripped open the sealed evidence bag.  Picking up one of the bullets, Trowa grimaced slightly at the dried blood that flaked off before tossing it to Wufei and examining the other.  "Seems heavier..."

Wufei weighed it in his hand and made a small noise in his throat before wiping off some of the blood with his thumb.  Tapping it against the table, he frowned. "Not complete conventional steel.  That could account for the weight gain."

Pulling a small instrument out of his bag, Trowa flipped open his own laptop and connected the two up before inserting the bullet into the cavity in the small box.  Wufei walked around and peered over Trowa's shoulder as he started the program.  After a few minutes, the scanner beeped and a list of elements came up on the computer screen.

Wufei whistled. "84% conventional steel and 16% titanium alloy... Quatre was luckier than we thought..."

Trowa punched a few more keys. "Definitely custom made..."

"Checking for custom bullet manufacturers?" Wufei asked.

"Aa... it'll take a while to process though, since we can't narrow the search down..."

Soon Wufei was also at work, pulling up records and scanning them before pulling up others, trying to get a lead on the only serviceable clue they had gotten.

Heero kept silent as nothing but rapid-fire sounds of clattering keyboard keys punctured the silence that followed.  Since the room had no windows, the period of time that passed was indecipherable but it was almost midnight when Joseph stuck his head in the door and came face to face with the business end of Heero's gun.

Immediately, Joseph pulled his hands up in the universal gesture for surrender and waited until Heero had holstered the gun and returned his eyes to his computer to relax and speak.  "Wolf is awake but fairly weak, Zach says you can see him if you wish.  He's in room ICU46."

Trowa stood, as did Wufei, but Heero barely glanced up from his screen.  "I'll stay here."

Trowa gave him a barely perceptible nod and strode out with Wufei after Joseph, knowing that in this less than secure facility, the delicate information they were handling could hardly be left alone.


Stopping at a closed door and with Joseph motioning them in, Trowa grasped the handle and glanced in, nodding to Wufei when he'd determined that it was Quatre's room.  Once inside, Wufei and Trowa walked up to either side of Quatre's bed and were graced with a pair of pain-fuzzed cornflower blue eyes smiling slightly at them above the oxygen mask that was pumping air into Quatre's punctured lung.

Trowa took a seat and smoothed back Quatre's sweaty blond bangs before asking, "Daijoubu ka?"

Quatre's voice was barely a whisper but still strong. "Better now..."

Wufei's sloe eyes were unnaturally soft and when Trowa glanced up, he smiled slightly.  Wufei had changed the most out of all of them.  The willingness to cooperate and work together had been cultivated by a year of working in team situations and the softer looks came more often to the bronze face thanks to Sally's guidance.  It was as if a great burden had been lifted from the Chinese boy's shoulders and Trowa knew how that felt.  It was the same as that day that he had decided he needed to live because he had a place to go back to...

Wufei smiled sadly. "Poor Quatre... somehow you always get hurt..."

Quatre's eyes crinkled in a laugh that turned into a grimace of pain but the laughter in the azure depths didn't fade.  "My head hurts... but I'm fine..."

"Heero's down in the waiting room, he - "

Quatre shook his head slightly. "I understand... anything?"

Trowa answered. "We're running data searches... nothing yet but we should have something soon."

Quatre relaxed before his eyes opened wide and he tried to sit up. "The chip!"

Wufei gently pushed Quatre back onto the bed with gentle hands on his shoulders and said, "It's okay Quatre... Heero's got it, he's working on it right now..."

Quatre closed his eyes for a while before opening them and saying, "Yokatta..."


Heero silently cursed the small disk that was taking forever to crack.  It normally didn't take him this long, but he had to admit that this disk was locked up as tight as, if not tighter than, the Preventers clearance red database.  Even with the enhanced hacking components of the micro-H3 chip, he was still encountering problems with the last block and his patience, which was normally in abundance, was beginning to wear thin.

What on Earth could be so important that Duo had had to place such a block on it?

Finally, the program finished its tinkering and announced that the block had now been penetrated with 100% efficiency.  Heero heaved an uncharacteristically exasperated sigh and waited for the disk's contents to load.  Instead of a list of contents, Heero's entire screen flashed black once before a blinking cursor in red appeared on the field of black.

Heero's mind flashed blank for a second at the screen before he cursed and slammed his hand on the table lightly. "Kuso!"  Keying in the commands to once again utilize the H3 chip, Heero glared at the screen as a white skull materialized in place of the cursor and a flash of green appeared to slash the skull in half.  A distorted voice came over the speakers: "Access Denied."

Keying in the command again, Heero was greeted with the same result and just as he was about to try a third time, a beeping was heard from the computer set up next to his own.  Sliding himself into the next seat, Heero quickly pulled up the communications message and Sally's tense face greeted him.  "Falcon, quarry has moved."

Heero swore under his breath and got up and began packing everything while Sally kept talking.  "Quarry is bound for Earth on business class shuttle that launched two minutes ago.  The shuttle is expected to land in spaceport V35 in approximately seven hours."

Pausing the data searches and shutting down the computers, Heero dumped them into the duffels before giving his own a glare and ejecting the disk.  Stuffing that into his pocket, Heero tersely said, "Can you hold it in the air?"

"Iya.  Shuttle has been in motion since yesterday.  It is running low on fuel and scheduled to refuel at V35.  Preventers shuttle will be ready and waiting for you on launch ramp 12 in five minutes."

"Ryoukai, Falcon out."

Shutting off the final computer, Heero shouldered all four packs and running towards room ICU46.


"Are you sure you can't remember more?"

Quatre shook his head in slight pain. "Gomen ne Wufei, my head's just a jumble of things right now, I don't think I remember more than that..."

Trowa sighed. "So you thought Duo was in pain..."

Quatre nodded miserably. "Aa... he - he..."

Wufei put a comforting hand on the Arabian's shoulder. "Daijoubu Quatre... we'll wait till you're more recovered ne?"

Suddenly the door flew open and Wufei and Trowa were instantly on their feet before they met Heero's intense blue gaze.  "Quarry's moved, shuttle is waiting."

Trowa's eyes flickered from Heero to Quatre.  "Demo..."

Heero tossed two bags and a set of keys at Trowa and another bag to Wufei. "Lynx, you stay here with Wolf.  Water wants all and any information you can find on the bullet.  Dragon comes with me."  After orders were rapped out, Heero spun on his heel and raced out of the room, leaving in his wake nurses and orderlies who were enraged at the dark-haired boy's behavior.  Wufei followed, ignoring the shouts of anger and jumped into the jeep just as Heero started the engine.


On the shuttle, Heero and Wufei sat in front of the vid screen relaying the recent events to Lady Une.

"So Quatre is okay?"

"He should be up and moving in about four days," Wufei replied.

Heero was deep in thought. "Duo didn't come to the colony for nothing.  The attempt on Minister Lotar's life was pathetic and hardly his objective..."

Sally grimaced. "He could have just been there to attack you."

Wufei disagreed. "Iya... he could have attacked us anywhere on Earth, why pick this colony of all places?"

As all four people sat in silence, the phone on Lady Une's desk began to ring and she picked up, growling into the receiver. "Une."  Slowly, her eyes widened and she nodded her head. "I understand, I'll get right on it."  Disconnecting, she punched a button and snapped, "I want all personnel clearance yellow and above at L2 to assemble at the designated point I'm forwarding right now!  I want to know exactly what happened and how it happened!"

Lady Une slammed the phone down and took a deep breath before facing two of the boys she trusted so implicitly.  "Well, I guess we now have a reason.  Representative Mileski has just been reported dead from a top secret meeting with Minister Lotar on V16753.  Causes seem natural enough, a serious seizure, but Mileski was reported to have perfect health before the incident..."

Sally gasped. "But..."

"So the attempt on Lotar's life was just a cover up," Wufei deducted, his face hard and cold. "While everyone was concentrating on Lotar, Duo went for the bigger fish..."

Heero's only reaction was a clenching of the fists and a tersely muttered, "Chikusho!"


On the business class shuttle that was an hour ahead of its unknown pursuer, a slender chestnut-braided boy leaned back in his seat as he sent an email message.  The photo was bad quality but it, and the information, had been sufficient for the boy who needed to carry out the job.  Under the picture, a single sentence was printed against the white background:

'TARGET ELIMINATED.'

As the confirmation message came through, the boy smirked and pulled up another file.  One photo showed a rotund man with short dark hair and beady brown eyes in an expensive tailored suit that seemed to bulge over the pot-belly.  The other was of the blonde young woman in a designer beige suit that hugged her figure while another blonde, with pale blue eyes, longer blonde hair and feathered eyebrows hovered by her side.

A whisper that was unheard by the boy's nearest neighbor drifted from the boy's smugly smiling mouth and long chestnut bangs lifted to reveal wildly glittering violet-blue eyes in a face that was pale.  "One more down... two to go..."

As the shuttle began its descent into Earth's atmosphere, Duo Maxwell grinned before shutting off the laptop.  "Shi no Tenshi never fails..."


Stepping out of the landed shuttle and onto Earth once more, Heero and Wufei wordlessly followed the plan that they had made a few hours before.

Since Duo's shuttle had landed an hour before and the braided maniac could have gone anywhere in that space of time, though it was noted that he hadn't passed through the incoming checkpoint, they had decided to return to the Preventers headquarters and wait there to examine the leads.

Stepping into his room, Heero threw his duffel on the unused bed and retrieved his laptop before walking out again towards their private base of operations.  Thumbing the door open, Heero was not surprised to see Wufei and Sally already there, but Lady Une was also present, seated on a chair at the table and listening to Wufei.  Giving her a curt nod, Heero placed his computer on the table before walking towards the coffee machine.

Sally gave him a wan smile as he sat down and pushed a tray of sandwiches at him.  "Eat Heero, it won't help to starve yourself."

Wufei glanced at him. "Trowa reported back.  He's compiled a list of manufacturers who make the custom bullets, he's cross referencing them with the list of plastique suppliers to see if there's a match."

Nodding to indicated that he'd heard, Heero grabbed a sandwich and inserted the infuriating disk back into his computer before he was once again greeted with the black screen and the blinking red cursor.  Listening to the conversation with a half ear, Heero returned to rapidly typing sequences on the keyboard, silently willing the disk to recognize the commands but was each time answered with the white skull and the flash of green.

Sitting back for a minute and glaring at the screen, Heero decided to try the oldest, and not to mention longest way to hacking a password.  Guesswork.  He growled under his breath.  He hated doing it this way, not only was it non-productive, it could also be years before he found the right combination.  But with no clue as to what the password was, he didn't have anything to lose...

Letter after letter was typed in and Heero tried the most farfetched and the most obvious words that could be connected with Duo but was rebuffed by the program every single time.  Growling louder, Heero became aware of Wufei's presence over his shoulder, coal black eyes watching everything on the screen while one hand was braced on the table and the other held a cup of coffee.

Heero's gaze drifted to the coffee cup unknowingly and suddenly his mind flashed at him a scene from one of the occasions when all five of them were together during the war and breakfast at Quatre's house.

Trowa stood next to the stove, cooking something that smelled delicious as Heero stalked into the kitchen.  Quatre gave him a bright smile as he stood by the toaster and dutifully fed the machine after taking the golden brown pieces out of the slots and piling them up.  "Ohayo Heero... sleep well?"

Heero grunted and poured himself a cup of coffee before grabbing a piece of toast, buttered it and began to eat.

Wufei walked in, and after mumbling a quiet 'ohayo' to his fellow pilots, he followed Heero's example with a piece of toast and a cup of coffee before sitting down to pour over a few sheafs of paper.

Then a loud and almost irritatingly cheerful voice pierced the calm of morning.  "Yo minna!  What a lovely day!  Something smells good."  Duo bounced in with his braid flapping after him and glanced over Trowa's shoulder.

Quatre laughed. "Ohayo Duo!  Want some French toast?  I'm sure Wufei and Heero would stay and have some ne?"  When neither of the two pilots said anything, he smiled and turned to Duo at the coffee pot.

Duo waved him off. "Smells delicious Trowa-man but I'm not much of a breakfast person.  Maybe another time you can cook lunch ne?"  Duo grinned impishly at the pilot of Heavyarms and rummaged around in a cupboard.

Quatre looked on curiously. "What are you looking for Duo?"

Duo mumbled something under his breath before he turned abruptly with a huge grin and held something out to Quatre. "Daa!"  In his hands was a chocolate bar and with it and the cup of coffee, Duo strolled out the back door.  "Nothing like coffee and chocolate to make Shinigami feel like himself, I'll be going out to enjoy the morning.  Ja na!"

Heero's eyes narrowed as he speculated the point but with nothing to lose, he turned and typed into the keyboard: "Coffee and Chocolate".  Behind him, he could feel Wufei's incredulous gaze boring into his back but he said nothing, just waited as the program processed the data.

After a few seconds, Heero frowned at the screen but considering that the skull hadn't yet appeared, he took it as a good sign and crossed his arms over his chest.  Slowly, the black screen began to brighten and just before it turned completely white, a familiar voice came over the speakers introduced by the achingly familiar laughter.  "Naa... Heero, trust you to figure it out..."  Then on the screen, lists of information began to appear.

Heero's and Wufei's eyes both widened as they took in the information that the disk provided and unintended words drifted out of Wufei's throat.

"Oh Lord..."

~ TO BE CONTINUED ~


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