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Shikami Yamino

Three Preventers and one vital politician sat around the table in their base of operations as they discussed the happenings of the past two weeks.

Relena Peacecraft shook her head in incomprehension before taking a sip of her coffee. "I just don't understand... what do they hope to achieve by starting the war again?  Peace is hard enough to attain as it is, why want to destroy it when it's finally here?"

Dorothy Catalonia was thoughtful. "Some just like conflict, some have no where to unleash their anger on people where once they could and others simply can't let go of their soldier days..."

"But can't they see that the people are happier now that the war is over?"

Wufei shrugged. "Some are blind to the needs of everyone but themselves..."

Silence reigned for a minute but all four froze as the door slid open, only to relax again when Trowa and Quatre stepped into the room.

Quatre smiled. "Hisashiburi desu ne?"

Trowa offered a nod to Dorothy who laughed and to Relena who smiled at him warmly, walking from her side of the table to where the two newly-arrived stood.  Over the years, she had become closer to all the pilots, not just Heero and Wufei and they could now be termed as friends, if not close friends.  Relena reached up to the tall former-pilot and hugged him before turning to Quatre. "Welcome back Trowa, Quatre.  Daijoubu?"

"We're fine, Relena... you?" Trowa returned as he oversaw Quatre get into a chair.

"A little shaken but otherwise okay," Relena replied.

As the six members sat down, Quatre took a deep breath and said, "Okay, what's been happening?  Don't leave anything out."

A few hours later, the occupants of the room leaned back and contemplated all that they had heard, lost in their own thoughts.

"You're sure you don't remember anything else Quatre?" Wufei pressed.

Quatre shook his head sadly. "Nothing at this point... there may be something but I'm afraid I just can't pin point it..."

"Where's Kotamo now?" Trowa inquired.

"The surveillance team reports that he's been holed up in his estates ever since he arrived there a few days ago..."

Quatre frowned. "Have you tried to pass a surveillance satellite over it?"

"Impossible, the whole place is wired with electronic signal jammers.  Everytime a satellite passes, all we see is a blob of white exactly where the estate is," Dorothy explained.

The door buzzed. "Fire and Wind," came the familiar deep voice of Zechs Merquise.

Reaching over to release the door, Heero nodded at the two Preventers who entered the room while Relena reached to her brother for a comforting hug.  Sitting down at the large table, Zechs said, "We've got the latest news from the team still stationed on H28143."

Dorothy leaned foward. "And?"

"It looks like the Colonists' Liberation is beginning to make its move but nothing's definite.  They seem to be waiting for a signal or something."

Wufei raised an eyebrow. "Their leader's return perhaps?"

Noin nodded. "Perhaps, or it could be something completely different..."

"Send out another unit to surround Kotamo's estate," Heero commented with a dangerous gleam in his eyes, "Make sure that we know his every move until we find enough evidence against him for conviction."

Trowa sighed. "That's probably the best solution."  As soon as he'd finished, Quatre couldn't hold in a large yawn and Noin looked at him compassionately.

"Quatre, you should get some sleep, you're still wounded.  You should all get some sleep.  Zechs and I will handle here for now."

Quatre smiled gratefully at the older woman and got up, followed by Trowa and made his way out the door, both keeping an eye on Relena who was following silently.

The other three looked at each other and Dorothy could see that both Wufei and Heero were stretched taught with the tension of not being able to do anything until further information came in.  "It's late," she commented, standing up. "I think there should be a free training room down in the basement, anybody feel like working off some tension?"

Wufei and Heero both stood to follow her out as Noin called to them. "Don't strain yourselves, you two!"

Although they didn't strain themselves, all three Preventers had worked and worked, taking out all their frustration on the gym equipment and it was quite a while later before they dragged themselves up to bed, falling asleep as soon as their heads touched the pillow.

Heero awoke to the feeling of warmth on his face and he cracked open an eye to see bright and golden sunlight streaming in through the open curtains.  Blinking sleep away, he remembered that he'd gotten in so late last night and was so tired that he'd fallen asleep without drawing the blinds.

Getting up, Heero pulled on a thin white tee and a pair of sweatpants before grabbing his ID and his gun and shoving it into its special holster in the pants, designed for maximum comfort and efficiency.  He was feeling unusually frustrated this morning and he needed to run some excess energy off before he faced anybody else because absolutely no one would ever want to see him pissed off.

The only person ever able to fully be able to stand up to a pissed off Heero and not so much as bat and eyelash or take a step back was the braided-maniac that was now trying to kill him.  Furiously shaking his head from the thought, Heero went into the bathroom to splash some water on his face and brush his teeth.  He walked out of the room a few minutes later and made for the elevator that would take him down to the ground floor.

Walking through the many hallways, he ignored the curious glances of the passers by in wrinkled uniforms - obvious having spent the night at work - who were intrigued that such a young man could wander the halls with such alertness and a look of restrained power in his body that they gave him a wide berth.  Making for one of the many exits that were reserved for members only, Heero pulled out his ID and swiped it in the coded lock on the side.  Pressing his thumbprint into the pad, the door slid open and he walked out.

Continuing on his way out of the complex, Heero suddenly growled as he caught sight of the guardhouse and the young Preventer slumped over on the desk, shoulders rising rhythmically.  Storming over, Heero determined that the man, though young, was still older than him by a year or two and had obviously recently joined, judging from the trainee stripes on his insignia jacket.  Carefully letting himself into the guardhouse without a sound, Heero walked up to the slumbering young man and without remorse, thumped his fist down hard on the table, causing the precariously balanced cup of cold coffee to spill all over the other's face.

"What - ?!  What the hell?  Who're you?!" the young man sputtered, attempting to wipe the brown liquid from his face as he caught a look at the younger man standing in front of him in plain sweats and a t-shirt. "Who the hell do you think you are?  I'm a member of the Preventers!!  You'd better beat it kid, before I decide to report you to my superiors!"  He tried to affect a glare at Heero standing in front of him but whithered as he was pinned under the full weight of the chilling glare of hard cobalt eyes.

In a thoroughly icy voice, Heero growled, "Never let me catch you sleeping on the job again.  Next time you might not have a head to spill coffee on."

The older boy gawked for a second before sneering. "You trying to scare me kid?  Well I ain't buying your crap.  Let's see some ID or you can get the hell outta my guardhouse!"

Heero sneered and in a fluid motion had his gun pinned under the other's jaw, the muzzle digging almost painfully into the cartoid artery.  The trainee began to sweat and he gulped for air.

"This is all the ID I need and if I ever catch you sleeping again, the gun won't just be here for fun."  Pulling the gun away and tucking it back into its holster, Heero turned and walked away.  "If you want to report, tell your superior that the Falcon was here.  You might also want to tell them how I was able to get into the guardhouse with you on guard."

It was only when the boy with the frighteningly unsympathetic molten steel blue eyes had left and he saw him take off in the direction out of the compound did the trainee realize that his own gun was still in his holster.  And that in his panicked state of mind, he'd completely forgotten about it.  Shaking all over, he picked up the phone and dialed his superior.

Almost four hours later, Heero, his white tee plastered to his well-toned body with sweat, reentered the Preventers complex and immediately headed for his room.  Taking the elevator up, Heero breathed quickly and efficiently as he knew how, to maximize the intake of oxygen to his lungs and take air to his deprived muscles.  As he headed for his room, he saw Relena's door open and both Relena and Dorothy step out as the Peacecraft was engrossed in a conversation with the cell-phone held up to her ear.

"Yes I realize that...  Yes I'm at a very safe place... You're sure? ... This is top priority with me...  Yes I know I am expected to and it's part of my job but -..."

Heero raised an eyebrow but decided not to interrupt and quickly headed for the shower.  Ten minutes later, Heero stepped out and after vigorously towelling his hair dry, shrugged on his uniform and stepped out of the room, heading down to the base.  Along the way, hearing his stomach growl and realizing that it was already eleven, he quickly made a detour to the cafeteria and grabbed a cup of coffee before continuing.

Draining the beverage quickly, he dumped the empty cup in a nearby trash bin and was just about to turn down the hallway to the familiar room when he caught noises from the door to his right.  Realizing that it was Lady Une's private office - smaller and more lived in than the one reserved for diplomats like the one he'd first arrived in - he stopped and cocked his head.

"You can't be serious."

"I'm afraid there's no other choice, I just got off the phone with my deputy minister and he wants me there."

"Does he realize that this could put your life in danger?!"

"Yes and he says that he'll post extra guards at every door and in the immediate area but specifies that I must make an appearance."

Realizing who was talking, Heero buzzed the door and said simply, "Falcon."

The door slid open and he was not surprised to see Lady Une perched on the sofa instead of behind the smaller desk and a distressed but determined Relena sitting in front.  Walking in, Lady Une smiled grimly up at him and commented, "So what's this about you terrorizing a trainee guard at guardhouse 12 this morning?"

Heero shrugged nonchalantly. "He was sleeping on the job.  Considering the state of things, none of the guards should be allowed to fall asleep."

Lady Une grimaced. "Well you can be sure that he won't be doing guard duty anytime soon.  I think his superior just demoted him to kitchen duty."

Relena hid a small giggle behind a hand and gestured for Heero to take a seat before putting on a straight face and facing Lady Une again.  "It is imperitive that I make an appearance..."

Lady Une glared at her. "I'm responsible for your safety - not to mention Zechs would kill me if anything happened to you - and there's no way that you will be safe in such a large setting.  I forbid!  You know exactly what will happen if something goes wrong."

Relena was stubborn. "I'm doing this so that the population will know that hardly anything is wrong!  The lid on the assassinations of powerful diplomats has been kept on in front of the media but word still goes around.  My deputy was telling me this morning that the people are just waiting for this to see that there really is nothing wrong.  If I fail to show at something that I am an organizer of, it would start an unneeded panic and create more rumors that would be more harmful than good!"

"Tell them you're sick!" Lady Une gestured impatiently.

"That's exactly what we've been telling everybody else about every other minister that gets killed!" Relena retorted.  "You forget that this is my last public appearance in a while.  After this, I have at least a two month vacation period.  If I don't show now, the rumors will go on for almost three months and that cannot be allowed to happen!  Human morality is just being lifted and any turmoil in government now would mean the lapse of almost two whole years of work, I won't allow that!  I will not sit here and twiddle my thumbs with a whole regiment of people protecting me when there are people who need my reassurance!!"

Lady Une sighed.

Heero watched the exchange between the two women and couldn't help but admire Relena's strength now.  This strength was what he had admired about her ever during the war despite her naive ideas then.  It seems that the strength had now been brought forward and spotlighted and he was unsurprised that the Unified Nation placed so much potential on the barely eighteen-year-old diplomat.

"Heero, what's your opinion?" Lady Une asked, dropping her head into tired hands.

Heero raised an eyebrow.

The Director elaborated. "Relena claims that it is imperitive she appears at this social gathering to reassure the people of Earth and the colonies that she is alive and well, unlike our other diplomats."

"This gathering is...?"

"Earth Sphere Unified Nation's annual Christmas Party in honor of Peace."

Heero sat up, recally an email he'd received only a few weeks ago but it felt like years.  "That's taking place on Winner steadings this year am I correct?"

Lady Une's eyes snapped open. "Really?  The location isn't being revealed until the last minute to prevent any potential threats."

Heero looked at Relena. "You failed to mention that?"

Relena blushed. "Oops... I guess I kind of forgot..."

Heero turned back. "It's important to reassure the civilians of the still stable government and Relena's the best person to do it.  Security at Winner steadings is usually excellent and I'm sure we could step it up with Quatre to lead us around.  He could also call in the Maganacs from L4 for the night."

Lady Une agreed. "That sounds reasonable enough but what of body guards?"

Heero shrugged. "We're all invited, as guests of Quatre.  I'm sure taking turns to stay with Relena, while the others patrol the area is a suitable defence."

Lady Une nodded defeatedly. "That's the best we can do then... I'll try to make sure Relena stays in my sights and so will Zechs and Noin.  We're fairly well known people so we won't be able to take the patrols but we'll do what we can.  You take Dorothy, Wufei, Trowa and Quatre with you today to set up, I want every square inch of that place monitored."

When Heero stood up, Lady Une stated, "With something as big as this, I'm afraid that it will be an opportunity too great for the opposition to miss.  I just hope that Lady Luck is on our side but I must admit that it's not Lady Luck but Murphy's Law that stands out in my head."

Heero stiffened. "Then we'll just have to make sure Murphy stays out."  With that he walked out.

On the morning of the Christmas Eve, the day of the party, Heero woke with the dawn and was immediately alert.  The day would be hectic to say the least and he wanted to prepare for it as well as he could.  Finishing his daily routine, Heero began preparing for the oncoming day.

The Maganacs were arriving mid-morning and before that Wufei, Trowa, Quatre and himself would supervise the preparations of the television crews even though they would only stay for the beginning of the party.  The morning at the Winner steadings would also provide a chance to double check the security cameras and work out patrol routes for the four of them.

The Preventer units would also arrive and would need to be directed to where they should go and stand guard during the night, the band would need to help set up and would also need to be watched just in case.  Caterers would need to be checked of course, and a resident poisons expert would be on hand to check all food as a precaution.  Nothing was going to be left to chance.

Or so they hoped.

Relena would stay with Dorothy and Lady Une for the day getting ready while Heero and the others were left in charge of security.  They would arrive in a convoy that would would hopefully deter any attempt at assassination because it was impossible to determine exactly which car the Minister of Foreign Affairs sat in.

At approximately thirteen hundred, Heero the former-Gundam pilots would go to pick up their tuxedoes.  It had been decided that whoever was staying with Relena should wear a tuxedo so as to blend with the crowd.  After that, they would go back to Preventers headquarters to pick up their artillery and hide a few choice weapons on their persons before arriving back at the Winner steadings for the beginning of the party at eighteen hundred.

It was going to be a hectic day but Heero couldn't seem to shake the feeling that something was going to go wrong.  Pulling out his duffel bag again, Heero made to keep himself busy, knowing that with the precautions set, they would have no choice but to play it by ear.

On one hand, he wished that Duo would never show, saving both himself and Relena from possible injury.  Yet on the other hand, he wished that Duo would show and he could finally put an end to this madness and help Duo move on.  Heero mentally snarled at himself for the first thought but quietened.  No matter what Duo had done and whether it was under influence or not, Heero could never consider him the enemy.

So often during the war he had threatened to kill the reincarnate of Death but could never bring himself to carry out the threat.  He now knew that the first person to have shown him that there was life beyond the mission, emotions were part of being a human and become his first friend through all his denial, anger, and never wanted anything in return... that was someone to be treasured...  He also knew that the others felt the same way.

This was more proof of the human that was growing inside him.  Though he knew the Perfect Soldier still existed, it had been an identity he hadn't had to take in a year... and he hoped it wouldn't come to taking up that identity again.

In a large mansion, a man of thirty five with short but stylish light brown hair and mocking gray eyes stood in front of a full length mirror as he viewed himself in the traditional tux.  The cummerbund was a smoky gray as was the pressed hankerchief in his breast pocket.  He secured a small snub-nosed pistol in his pocket and grinned at himself.

"First them... then you... Shi no Tenshi..."

With that the man gazed outside his window at the nondescript car that was parked outside a few blocks down and laughed.  He switched off his light and pausing to snatch a large envelope off the table, made his way to the basement and his underground escape route.

It was dark outside when Heero stepped back into his room.  Dumping the tuxedo on the bed, still in its tailor's bag, he headed for the shower.  The day had gone successfully and he and Wufei had walked around to all the Preventer units and given them a hard talking to that included a lot of glaring and low growls of threats.  The ranks had seemed to get the idea.  Although of course who wouldn't if they were confronted by a pair of hard, immeasurable black eyes raging dark fire and the completely opposite, but still just as frightening, pair of cobalt blue that seemed to freeze all that it gaze on, flanking them.

Coming out, Heero quickly put on the tuxedo with ease and wriggled a bit to get comfortable.  Penguin-suit floated over his mind and he allowed himself a smirk at what Duo had always called tuxedoes, slightly uncomfortable in them but knowing that he still looked good.  He opened his closet and with care, tucked an automatic into the holster at his waist and another smaller pistol in the inside pocket of his jacket.

Lifting his sleeves, Heero strapped on sheaths and tightened them so that they fit snugly but didn't cut of his circulation.  Into them he tucked a few sharp blades that felt the right weight in his hand and into his other pockets went the extra clips for the guns and a wrist-com was quickly snapped to his wrist.  By unanimous agreement, they had decided not to bring explosives because of the sound that they would make.  Not that a gun shot was any less terrifying but at least it wouldn't bring the roof down over the Unified Nation's VIPs.  Checking himself in the mirror, he straightened his jacket and nodded, satisfied that none of the weapons could be seen unless one was trained and really looking, or being searched.

Letting himself out of his room, he saw the others by the elevator and as he walked towards them, studied each of them intently.  Quatre carried on him two light-grenades, silent and set to stun, and a small gun tucked into his pocket.  Since he was one of the hosts, Quatre would not be able to do much in the course of the night.  Wufei had on him two guns, extra clips and various little oddities that Heero couldn't name... probably the device to check the cameras.  Trowa was a little more inventive, his gun was at his waist but on him, Heero could make out a lot more knives and a few throwing stars as well.  In his head he smirked, Trowa probably got used to the throwing stars at the circus and had perfected the form of entertainment into a deadly weapon.

Quatre threw him a light smile as he arrived and Heero noticed that the powderblue cummerbund on Quatre's tux brought out the lighter shades in those azure eyes, making them seem more innocent and naive than normal.  Trowa's cummerbund was a deep green, almost a cross between forest and emerald while Wufei's was a deep burgundy.  His own cummerbund was a deep sapphire blue and though they all wore the same black tuxes, each seemed to portray their own mood.

Quatre was more innocent and playful while Trowa was slightly brooding but elegant all the same.  Wufei cut a magnificent figure in his black and burgundy, refined and poised while Heero exuded power and danger in his sapphire and black.

As they walked to the limo, there was no need to speak.  They knew what they had to do...

When they arrived, the first of the guests were just coming in and many of the young girls, daughters of the politicians, kept almost hungry eyes on the four boys walking up the steps to the grand entrance.  As soon as they entered, Quatre, Trowa and Wufei immediately made themselves scarce, leaving Heero on his first watch of Relena as he waited by the door for her to show up.  Soon, the limos poured up and Relena, resplendent in a white gown and her hair down, smiled when she saw Heero and linked her arm through his as they entered.  In the foyer, they stopped and stood side by side as Relena greeted the guests and Heero kept a close eye on everything that went on, never letting up his guard for a second.

After most of the guests had trickled in, Heero and Relena left their posts by the door and made their way to the podium where Relena was to make her speech.

"Welcome everyone to the Earth Sphere Unified Nation's Christmas Party in toast of another year of Peace."

Heero scanned the large ballroom as Relena spoke, his eyes catching Wufei prowling the balcony level and Trowa by the band, keeping his eyes on the crowd as well as the exits to the gardens.  A flash of powderblue caught his eye and he saw Quatre navigating himself in the crowds, no doubt checking for weapons with experienced eyes.

"... It has not been the easiest year and nor will any year be an easy year, but peace gives us hope that one day pacifism will be in the minds of all human beings, terrans and colonists alike and that together we will be able to strive for something new.  A brighter future for all!"

Loud cheers and clapping was heard before Relena gestured for silence.  "To begin War is easy, yet it is infinitely more difficult to keep peace.  But it is that peace that we must work towards, both for us and our children, so that they may have a future.  Once again I must thank you all for being a part of this peace and I hope you will all share my dream that one day peace will always reign.  Thank you all so much for another year of peace and may we have many more years to come!"

The crowd roared its approval of the speech as Relena stepped off the podium.  She grinned at Heero, "How'd I do?"

Heero gave her a small smile. "Fine... better every time."

Relena laughed and pulled him towards the buffet table. "Let's get some food, I'm too visible on this stage..."

Heero waltzed Relena around the dance floor completely out of instinct as he watched the television crews pack up and leave, seeing out of the corner of his eye Quatre's careful supervision.

Soon, a tap appeared on his shoulder and both he and Relena looked up into Trowa's calm face.  "May I cut in?"

She let out a little giggle as she was transferred from Heero's arms to Trowa's and she gave Heero a slight wave as he disappeared into the crowd.  Sighing, she closed her eyes.  Everything between herself and Heero had been solved the month after the Mariemeia incident and though she had questioned the move at first, she did not now, having found out that she didn't really think of Heero in the intimate sense but more as a protector and a friend that would always be there for her.  As she'd matured in the world of politics, she had formed tentative friendships that had blossomed into strong solid relationships with the Gundam pilots and often visited if one was in town.  It was a nice change from the stuffiness of the political world and a place where she could be completely herself.

Especially with Duo...

It had surprised Relena that once her infatuation with Heero was gone, she found herself rather liking the quirky attitude of the braided American.  Though she hadn't spent as much time with him as some of the others, Duo's company was one she cherished, because Duo always had a clear view of the world.  Having been through a lot as a child, Duo had seen both the ugly side and the brighter side of life.  Whenever Relena was having problems at work, it was not her advisors whom she turned to for help but a short call to Duo had usually solved the problem, the American cracking jokes as he explained what she needed to know in the simplest form possible.  Apart from that, Duo also allowed for the strange sense of humor she was developing and she appreciated what he could say that would make her laugh.

Without a doubt, Relena knew what her two months vacation would be spent doing... Everything in her power to make sure that Duo survived and was on the road to recovery.

Heero wandered the immense gardens for a while, eyes intent in the dark but still appreciative of the snow-covered beauty.  He checked his watch and noted that the party would be finishing in another two hours and that Wufei had probably relieved Trowa already.  Making his way back inside, he thought, so far so good... let's hope it lasts.

That was when the call came in.

"Unit 23 reporting, do you copy?"

Heero narrowed his eyes. "Copy that unit 23, this is Falcon, go ahead."

The voice on the other end seemed out of breath. "We're sorry sir, we lost Kotamo.  Everything was dark for the night but we sensed something different because he doesn't usually retire until late so we checked and we found no-one in the house and an underground route leading to the main highway directly from his basement.

"Kuso!" Heero cursed.  "Unit 23 I want you and the others over here at the party in ten minutes to keep an eye on things."

"Understood.  Out."

Heero clenched his teeth as he began sprinting back to the ballroom.  He'd spoken too soon.

In the darkened halls of the Winner residence, Quatre took turn after turn, keeping his eyes open and his gun within reach.  The party was beginning to look like a success and he was just going to check on the Preventers in the video security room to do a final sweep before returning for the end of the party.

Turning down the final hallway, he came to a door with a key pad next to it and keyed in the password.  The corridor beyond was lit up brightly and Quatre relaxed slightly when the door behind him slid shut.  Striding towards the other door, the Arabian quickly put his thumb on the sensitized pad.

The door slid open and Quatre smiled before stepping in. "Good evening minna, is every - "

The monitor room's three chairs were empty of the Preventers that should have been there, keeping an eye on the large bank of monitors that showed the entire Winner residence.  As Quatre's mind registered the shock, his eyes were inadvertently drawn to the pool of thick liquid at the base of one of the chairs.

His mind turning to autopilot, Quatre immediately walked towards the emergency button that would alert all the Preventers on the premises that something had gone wrong.  Darting a finger towards it, he pressed it once, twice and again without hearing a sound when it should have turned on all alarms in the security room.  Only then did he realize that the small panel beside the button looked like it had been jimmied open and when he lifted the lid, found the electric wires for the emergency button severed.

Shaking his head to clear the last of the shock, Quatre went for his own wrist unit and was just about to start talking when a voice behind him chuckled.

"Yo Quatre... Hisashiburi da na?"

As soon as he turned, pain slashed across his abdomen and he didn't even have time to reach for his gun before the agony tore through him and made him crumple to his knees, the splatter of his blood on the opposite wall making clear and resounding thuds.  His powderblue cummerbund was being stained a darkened scarlet and Quatre brought anguished blue eyes up the black tuxedo pants clad legs to rest on the strange but mockingly familiar face and he felt himself begin falling into oblivion.  "Duo..."

A wolfish grin appeared on Duo's pale face and he twirled the knife that had recently passed through Quatre's flesh easily on one hand before reaching down to search for Quatre's gun and pocketing it.  "Quatre... I knew you wouldn't let me down... Everyone's here for the party, so let it begin."

Quatre fought the overwhelming darkness as he pressed both hands to his stomach.  "... Duo please... this isn't you...  This is not you Duo!  Fight it, please...  Duo..."

The American leered at the smaller blond at his feet. "You've never known the real me Quatre... don't presume to.  Now... I have a party to attend... Ja na!"

The former pilot of Deathscythe turned on his heel and was out of the door in a flash, leaving Quatre on the floor fighting a losing battle with the black void which threatened to engulf him.  In the strange state between consciousness and the opposite, Quatre calmly noted that although Duo wore the same black tuxedo as they all did, his shirt, instead of being white was black, and that only the cummerbund and the bow-tie weren't black.  Instead they were a dark red, caught somewhere between dark scarlet and crimson.

The color of blood...

With that, he fell into the void.

With hard eyes, Heero scanned the crowd as he stepped back into the ballroom and spotted Wufei standing next to Relena with Dorothy as she talked with a few diplomats who showed her curtesy as if she was the senior when in actuality they were years older than her.  Spotting Trowa by the bar surveying the crowd with a glass of champagne, he quickly joined him.

Sitting down nonchalantly, Heero picked up a glass off the bar and muttered, "They've lost Kotamo..."

Not batting an eyelash, only the slight tensing of slender fingers on the champagne flute indicated Trowa's reaction to the news.  "How?"

"Underground tunnel.  I recalled them here, they should be arriving any minute."

Trowa gave a barely perceptible nod and scanned the overhead balconies with their heavy drapes.  "We'd better warn Wufei..."

Heero took a thoughtful sip of his champagne and asked, "Where's Quatre?"

"Taking a look around and getting to the security room.  We should tell him too..."

When Heero didn't say anything but conveniently turned so that he blocked Trowa from the view of the rest of the room, Trowa discreetly reached a hand to his wrist unit and muttered, "Quatre... Quatre, you read?"

Silence was his only answer and he could see Heero's shoulders tighten before he repeated the phrase into the device.  When utter stillness greeted him again, Trowa frowned. "Something's wrong..."

Heero didn't turn, instead he immediately placed his empty flute on the bar and made for Relena and Wufei on the other side of the large ballroom.  Trowa followed, taking surreptitious glances around the surroundings.  Passing Noin, who raised an eyebrow at him, Trowa muttered, "Something's wrong with Quatre... I think you should get some units up to security to check."

Noin's eyes widened and she stiffened for a second and then nodded slightly.

Continuing on, Trowa watched Heero almost reach their target when something above him caught his eye.  Glancing up, what he saw made him freeze before he disregarded all social protocols and yelled. "Wufei! The balcony!!"

Wufei's head immediately snapped up just as two loud gunshots rang out in the air.

Panic ensued as the entire mass of politicians and their family members screamed and tried to run for the exits.  Frantic screams and yells drifted up from where the crowd was beginning to move for the exits and as they cleared the path before him, Trowa could see that Relena was frantically trying to talk to an unmoving Wufei as he lay on top of her, two patches of darkening liquid spreading over the back of his tuxedo jacket from two bullets that had been aiming for the Peacecraft.

Sally and Dorothy were already at his side with Lady Une and Noin, both women protecting the younger Peacecraft at in their midst while Zechs stood guard.  Unlike the former Gundam pilots and the Preventer units, they had not been allowed to bring firearms into the premises and so were helpless to do anything.

As he gauged the scene in an instant, out of the corner of his eye he saw movement from the balcony and he immediately sprang into action, not surprised that Heero was already a step in front of him with his gun in hand.

The figure in black made for the open windows as the doors were being blocked by the crowding diplomats and both pursuers followed suite.  Leaping into the icy December night air, Trowa pounded, a step behind Heero, after the fleeing person, having no doubts that it was who he thought.

As Duo Maxwell raced for the gardens and ultimately the trees that bordered one side of the estate, Heero yelled into his wrist unit, "I want as many units as possible on the west side of the estate now!  Blockade the whole area!"

While Heero yelled, Trowa took the chance to speed up and soon he was leading, crashing through the snow covered trees chasing the illusive spectacle of Death in front of them.  He noticed Heero pulling along and made a silent agreement to the words, "Split up" and veered away to the left, leaving Heero the right to try and surround their quarry.

The footsteps continued towards the center of the copse of large pines before they completely disappeared.  Trowa froze, alert and wary as he cocked his head for a sign of where Duo had gone.  Unable to keep running, Trowa inched along the trees, using them as cover while he scanned the little space available in the midst of tall, thick trunks.

Alert as he was, Trowa was taken completely by surprise when the small 'schnik' of a knife sliding out of its sheath and as he turned, he felt smooth and sharp metal penetrate the muscle of his right shoulder.  The automatic reaction to press a hand to the wound was stifled when two more gunshots rang out and immense pain blossomed in his left arm and his right knee.  Unable to do anything in that space of time before he fell other than whip a throwing star in the direction of his attacker, Trowa allowed himself to fall into the considerable blanket of snow.

A body landed beside him and he gazed up with calm but pained eyes to land on the reflected moonlight on the throwing star embedded on the left forearm.  A familiar but mocking laugh was heard as he gazed into night-darkened violet-blue eyes.

"Trowa, Trowa... You of all people should have realized the tactics of a lynx...  Your loss...  better luck next time."  Duo tossed the immobile body on the ground a cheerful wave before he took off again and this time Trowa was in no position to follow.

Duo had strategically placed his shots.  Anywhere else and Trowa might still be able to pursue considering that they were no beginner in the suppression of pain.  But with a knife in his right shoulder and a bullet lodged, he'd bet, in the bone of his left arm, Duo had made sure that both arms were immobile to retaliate without severe pain and aggravating injuries that could result in irrepairable damage.  The bullet in his knee was to stop him from moving.  If it had been the leg, Trowa would still be able to move, but the knee was a different story altogther.

Enduring the pain for a while, Trowa reached up to his right shoulder and yanked on the blade still embedded in his flesh.  Feeling numbness creep over his shoulder, emerald eyes widened and he slowly brough the blade up to his nose, catching a whiff of a distinctive but unidentifiable smell.

The blade had been soaked in something and from the creeping numbness in his shoulder, Trowa judged that it definitely hadn't been something healthy.  Struggling to keep his eyes open, he knew that he was fighting a losing battle and it wasn't long before he let darkness claim him.

Duo Maxwell was just nearing the edge of the trees when an ice cold voice behind him made him freeze in his tracks.

"Don't make me pull the trigger Duo..."

A smirk made its way across his features and he turned, still keeping his gun in his hand.  "Saa... Heero.... It's been a while..."

Cobalt eyes narrowed and the gun didn't waver. "I don't think six days is a long time..."

Duo snickered. "Aa, so you knew it was me... how's the leg by the way?  Do I get a sense of deja vu happening?"

Heero glared at what was once his best friend. "How did you get in here?"

A laugh and Duo quickly threw something to the ground. "The Preventers should really keep track of who they put on guard duty, don't you agree Heero?  Especially since the computers in the guardhouse is linked to the entire network ne?"

Heero's eyes narrowed as he saw the high-clearance security pass and growled in rememberance.

"That's right, the guard was conveniently asleep so I borrowed his computer for a while, turned out to be really handy for a security pass to this entertaining event.  The security guards just let me right in to their monitor room.  That was a mistake..."

Cobalt eyes dilated slightly at the mention of the security room and he muttered, "Quatre..."

Duo shrugged good-naturedly although it was much more sarcastic than Heero remembered. "Oh yeah... little Wolf got in the way...  That's okay though, he's just taking a little nap now..."  Unexpectedly, Duo moved fast after the shrug and in less than a second, his own gun had snapped up and fired so that the bullet tore through Heero's left shoulder.


Heero inwardly grimaced at the flowering crimson blossom that was barely showing up but beginning to stain the shoulder of his black tuxedo jacket.  Despite the actions, his eyes and gun did not waver and nor did his face give away any indication of his emotions.  He kept his eyes trained on the smugly grinning face in front of him and glared.

Duo chuckled. "Well I see that a year hasn't mellowed you any Heero... not that I expected it to... Afterall, the Perfect Soldier just doesn't completely disappear in the space of a year, am I right?"

Although nothing changed on the outside, inside, Heero flinched at those words.

That's where you're wrong Duo, Heero thought to himself.  The Perfect Soldier may still exist, but I've given that up.  I've put more effort into being just Heero Yuy and a normal human being than you may have thought.  And right now that human is telling me that you, my best friend, are going to get hurt if you don't give up soon.

"Just like the Shinigami never disappeared?" Heero questioned outwardly.

Duo waved him off with his free hand, "No... the Shinigami's truly gone... all that's left is Shi no Tenshi..."

Heero raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

Duo laughed, "Shinigami must judge the souls that come into his possession, I have neither the time nor the patience.  An angel only does the bidding - and is guiltless at that..."

"And is this how you justify these assassinations to yourself Duo?  What happened to the Duo Maxwell I remember?  The Duo Maxwell that had an enthusiasm for life and the wish to preserve all life on this Earth and its colonies?  This is not you Duo..."

"That's funny..." Duo smirked. "You're the second person to say that to me today, and I'll give you the same answer.  What makes you think you know the real me?"

Heero took a deep breath.  This was the moment of truth.  Here, his words would decide Duo's fate because it was only words that could bring Duo back.  For once he wished he had Duo's ability to talk but he knew that he would have to make do with whatever he'd learnt from a year of trying to become human again.  He hoped that it would be enough...

"Because I know about you... and your past..."

"What do you know about my past?" Duo scoffed.  "As I recall, you cared about nothing but the mission, why the sudden interest in my past?"

"I've changed Duo... you would know that if you would let yourself remember what happened.  Remember Solo...?  That little boy that took you in and showed you the ropes on L2.  Would he approve of what you're doing right now?"

Unexpectedly, Duo's eyes snapped dark violet sparks at those words and he pounced viciously at Heero standing a few feet away, wrenching the gun from Heero's grasp as they fell to the ground tussling.  They rolled around on the snow, each trying to get the upper hand on the other but Heero, having never encountered Duo in close combat under the influence of Delora7.9, was stunned at the speed with which he moved and that moment's hesitation was all that was needed for cold, unforgiving hands to clasp his neck after a few well-placed jabs.  Duo's face was contorted with rage above his own and as he began to throttle Heero, a low snarl issued from his lips.  "Solo is dead!  The government killed him just as it killed so many people."

Keeping two hands on the wrists that were trying their best to block his oxygen supply, Heero lashed out with his legs and having always been the stronger, despite Duo's newfound strength, flipped him over his head to land on his back in the snow bank.  Without skipping a beat, Heero was on his feet and next to the sprawled black form like a shadow on the white snow.  Trying to subdue the other as efficiently as he knew how, Heero ignored the pain flaring from his shoulder as he felt fresh agony wash over him with a knife slash across his chest.

Disarming Duo of the knife, he quickly struck at Duo's exposed neck with stiff fingers.  Feeling the body under him sag slightly in the aftershock of the blow, he twisted Duo's arms behind his back and pressed a hard knee on his legs, putting just enough pressure on the arms to know that if Duo really tried to struggle, a broken arm was the least injury to be effected.  Panting slightly at the fight with a better prepared opponent, Heero's words were laced with harsh undertones as he shook the still struggling Duo under him. "What about Father Maxwell?  Sister Helen?  Your God?  Would they or He approve of the needless taking of lives and the attempt to ruin a hard-earned peace like you're doing?"

Duo struggled, undeterred by the pain that Heero knew he should be feeling from his arms held in a severe lock.  The hard violet irises that glared up at him from the corner of his narrowed eyes were violent in their gaze and in low furious tones, the answer to Heero's question was spoken.  "You want to know who killed them Heero?  It was the Alliance!  The stupid bastards that could do nothing more than sit in their offices and order the destruction of a church and orphanage!"

Heero did his best to keep Duo under control as he exerted more pressure, stopping only when a wince of pain appeared on Duo's angry face and the struggling ceased slightly for the moment.  "Is that why you're trying to turn the state of things back into war?  Is this the reason?  You avenged their deaths years ago Duo, all who deserved to die did die under your hands... But tell me why these ministers and peace-keepers deserve to die.  Why are you targeting them Duo?  What is your motive??"  Heero punctuated his words with quick shakes to the body under him as if doing that would knock some sense into the deluded mind that occupied his friend's body.

Duo's form suddenly went completely still and after a moment, slow shudders began to wrack the body that was pinned under Heero's straining arms.  A soft broken whisper was all that came from Duo as he lay motionless on the ground. "... I... I - I don't know..."

In the shadows of the surrounding trees, Nicklaren Kotamo stood near enough to hear but far enough so that the quiet sounds of air entering and leaving his lungs would not disturb the excellent hearing he knew both young men to have.  A sneer contorted his face as he gazed upon the meeting of two former best-friends and now enemies.

His Angel of Death was caving and he knew it.  Under the unexpected but constant barrage of words and the memories that came with them from the one known as the Perfect Soldier, the Shinigami's best friend, Kotamo had known that it would not be long before reality set in for Duo Maxwell.

In reality, the drug Delora7.9 affected people in a strange way.  At first under its effects, the subject would settle into bouts of depression and it was these bouts that first causes the mental instability required to make suggestive stimuli acceptable to the subject.  They would be weakened under the tension of the darker sides of their life and would soon begin to disregard all other brighter sides until their happier memories were temporarily wiped from their minds.  Usually, for weak willed people, this memory wipe was permanent and irrepairable.

However for a Gundam pilot such as Duo Maxwell, who possessed a strong will and a strong metabolism to, at first, counter the effects of D-7, it was only a matter of time and it took only a talk about the happier moments of his own life with his friends to bring back the wiped memories for a time.  It is only when the subject has been completely detoxicated of the drug will the memories return full time and then gone will be the ones of what the subject did under the influence of D-7.

Kotamo leered.  No matter... the bulk of the operation had been achieved and the Unified Nation would never be able to explain the sudden absences of six of its most important ministers in the same time period.  He had hoped that the rest of the Gundam pilots would have been eliminated by his Angel of Death before his memories came back but there was no real issue at hand.  The Colonists' Liberation was prepared and ready to move and revenge on the Peacecrafts would come in due time...

Meanwhile, with Shi no Tenshi no longer useful, there was no point in keeping around extra baggage....

Feeling the shivers that ran up and down Duo's body, Heero quickly patted Duo down and retrieved the remaining weapons from the Shinigami's person, throwing them into the trees all the while murmuring, "Duo why are you doing this?  There is no point... come back to us Duo..."

Duo was silent and all that could be heard from the once unsuppressible pilot was the ragged breaths that tore in and out of his lungs.

Heero slowly and cautiously released his grip on Duo's arms and when Duo didn't move, he let go and backed away slowly until he was sitting on the snow a feet away from the still black form.  "Come on Duo... we'll get you checked out and everything will be okay... Hilde's waiting to hear from you... So is Relena and everybody else..."

Duo's shoulders began to visibly shake as he slowly pulled himself up and to his knees, keeping his face lowered and hiding his eyes behind a curtain of long chestnut bangs.  Suddenly a choked voice drifted with the warm puffs of air into the sky.  "Oh God... what have I.... what have I done...?  Why...?"

Breathing an uncharacteristic sigh of relief, Heero moved forward and reaching to tip Duo's face up, he smiled grimly into the watery violet-blue eyes that were tainted with the anguish of finally being conscious of what he had done.  Unsure of what to say, Heero said the only words that he could think of, hoping that it would reassure the violet-eyed boy somewhat.  "It'll be okay Duo... it wasn't your fault..."

"Heero...?" Duo's voice was a half groan and a half whimper, as if seeing his best friend clearly for the first time since the whole conversation had started.

Just as Heero was about to reply, a flash of dulled black caught his eye as it reflected the bright moonlight and his eyes widened just as the gun, aimed at Duo, recoiled with the force of two rounds being fired.


Pushing his body forward to tackle Duo again, Heero discovered that he was too late when just as he closed his arms around the shivering body, it jerked once and then fell limp.  As they tumbled into the snow bank, Heero felt pain rushing up from his own hip and knew that the second bullet had hit home even if it wasn't the intended target.

Quickly pushing himself up onto his elbows, ignoring the pain from both shoulder and hip, Heero heard the rapid sounds of footsteps rushing away from the scene on snow and yelled into his wrist unit.  "Someone is escaping through the trees, I want him captured alive!  Also get some paramedics here!  There're at least two wounded in the trees, not including myself.  Do it!"

Clicking off, Heero surveyed the pristine white snow around himself and Duo that was slowly being turned a strange pale shade of scarlet and his eyes immediately found the wound on Duo's body.  In his tackle, Heero had brought Duo's height down lower and what had been aimed at the torso area had now impacted with Duo's head, soaking the long chestnut hair, staining it almost a copper red and ran down on side of Duo's face to sharply contrast with Duo's pale complexion.

It was frightening to see Duo like this.  The braided American had never been as still as he was now.  Even in sleep, he had tossed and turned, never staying in one position for more than a few hours and to see him now, motionless and pale against the white snow and covered in blood was something that was shocking even to Heero's mind which had been more than an initiated to the world of blood and injuries.

Hearing rapid footsteps coming up amongst the trees, Heero dropped himself back onto the ground, unable to stand the pain in his shoulder any longer and grasped Duo's hand firmly for a gentle squeeze.  In a relieved but also strained voice, Heero felt his field of vision narrowing but whispered, "It'll be okay now Duo... we've got you... It'll be okay..."


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