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Shikami Yamino

Heero awoke to the feeling of eyes on his face and the no longer ice cold surface he was lying on.  Keeping still, he recognized the particular sterile smell of a hospital ward and opened his eyes to see Relena sitting by his bed with a book in hand though she wasn't reading.

As soon as she saw him awake, she smiled brightly. "Heero, you're awake!  How are you feeling?"

Trying to pull himself up into a sitting position, Heero found that one arm was encased in a sling while he couldn't move without immense pain and Relena hurried to push him back down before handing him the bed-controller.  "No no, don't move.  You're not ready to be moved yet."

Heero scanned his surroundings with critical eyes as he raised the head part of the bed and saw a small impersonal room with a few pieces of monitoring equipment, chairs and an attached bathroom.  "How did I get here?"

Relena grimaced but explained.  "After you called the Preventers to find you, we came with the paramedics and found you and Duo sprawled on the ground with blood.  You must have passed out because you were unconscious when we found you and you all needed immediate medical attention so we brought you to the Preventer headquarters' hospital wing.  You've been under anaesthetic and asleep for about fourteen hours."

"Did they get the gunman?"

Relena shook her head in a negative gesture. "Iya, the Preventers caught sight of a fleeing man with Nicklaren Kotamo's description but were too late to stop him before he jumped into an unmarked car and drove away."

Heero scowled but then asked, "How are the others?"

Eyes to the ground, Relena murmured, "Trowa was found a few hundred meters away from where you and Duo were, he'd been shot twice, once in the arm and once in the knee, and stabbed once.  The result was a broken arm but the other bullet just grazed the knee and so no permanent damage was done.  He's going to have to take it easy though, no walking on his own for at least four days and crutches after until further notice.  What most worried the doctors was the stab wound because although minor, the blade had been soaked in a poisonous substance and it had begun to move through his system.  But they managed to get to it in time with the antidote so he should be fine after a few weeks.

"We found Quatre in the security room with a deep slash at his stomach.  The other three Preventers were dead but Quatre was still breathing and I think he's just came out of surgery an hour ago, he's resting in the next room down.  He suffered severe blood loss and a deep cut into his torso which became shallower as the blade had moved across.  Some major organs were damaged but not irreparably so.  Other than that, there were no other injuries to speak of...

"As you probably know Wufei took two bullets to the back and one grazed the heart and pierced a lung.  The damage to the heart was minor but the damage to the lung was greater so he's spending some time on the oxygen machine while they check on him to make sure that the lung is working properly.  The other bullet, although hitting no major organs, did scrape his spinal cord which caused swelling but no permanent damage.  He's going to experience temporary paralysis of the legs but that should be okay once the swelling around the spinal cord has died down.

"You've got torn shoulder muscles that'll restrict arm movement to only that of the fingers and hand only, and it'll take time to heal and tone again.  The slash across your chest was becoming infected because you were lying face down on the ice, but because it was relatively shallow, the doctors didn't think too much of it so that's fine.  On the other hand, you've also got a fractured pelvis from the bullet you took to the hip, that means no moving for three days and crutches after then until the doctors decide that it's healed enough to go without."

Heero took in this news with a stony face.  He'd known that it would be bad as soon as he'd taken on the assignment but he'd had no idea that this much damage could have been inflicted on all of them in a few hours' time.  Lost in his thoughts, he didn't notice until a while later that Relena had failed to mention the status of the other person that she should have checked up on.

Turning a piercing cobalt stare on her lowered face, Heero growled, "Duo?"

A little sniffle brought Heero to look closer at Relena until he noticed that her hands were scrunched on her handkerchief and a spot of dark wetness on the navy blue black pants of the Preventer's uniform betrayed the fact that tears were indeed falling from Relena's eyes.  Alarm spread through Heero's chest until he repeated more tersely, "How is he??"

"Heero... the bullet... it didn't pierce the skull and they don't think that internal bleeding is possible at the moment... all other wounds were superficial and not serious..."

Heero narrowed his eyes. "What aren't you telling me?"

"Duo... he..." Relena lifted her head to fix teary eyes on Heero's face. "He woke up and... and it was as if it was another person Heero...  Duo just wasn't there anymore.  He tried to kill himself, blaming himself for everything..." Tears broke out on her face and choking sobs shook her delicate shoulders.  "They're... they're scared that Duo's losing his mind..."

Heero paled and he froze with the news.  Losing... his mind...?

A broken whisper was issued from Relena's lips as she buried her face in her hands.  "Under the circumstances, if Duo continues like this, they... they said that Duo won't make it through detoxication..."

Heero's mind ran around in little circles for the first time since he'd begun life as the Perfect Soldier.  It was almost impossible for him to admit to himself that Duo might not make it through the withdrawal process...  They could have died on the battlefield... Countless times they had risked their lives on the battlefield but they had survived... After everything they'd been through, Duo could not die now... they had been through too much to just give up on life now.

And not Duo... not Duo!

"Where is he?"  Unlike his insides, Heero found his voice still steady as he asked what he needed to know.

Relena wiped her eyes and said, "He's being contained..."

Ignoring the flares of pain shooting up from his body protesting the movement, Heero spotted his clothes next to him and his crutches against the wall and swung himself out of bed.

Relena gazed at him in shock before jumping out of her seat. "Heero!  What are you doing?"

Heero grunted with the effort and gripped the edges of the bed for a while after the effort of pulling a loose white shirt and a pair of jeans on, not bothering with the buttons of the shirt, and discarding the hospital gown.  As he let the pain wash over him in a tidal wave, he reached for the crutches.  "I need to see him..."

"Heero, you can't, not the way you are now!  You - "

Relena was cut off by a glare from the Japanese boy as he repeated in furious tones, "I need to see him Relena, where is he?"

Realizing the urgency behind those words, Relena replied, "Room 2 on the floor above."  Handing the crutches over to Heero, she wordlessly helped him up from the bed and helped him rearrange the crutches before looping a supporting arm around his waist and walking with him slowly out of the room.

In the hallways, doctors and nurses walked past them, casting curious glance their way but the glacial glare from the cobalt-eyed boy deterred them from asking if they needed any help.  Riding the elevator up, they came upon a room with two Preventers standing outside as guards.  When they saw Heero, they immediately snapped to attention.

"Let me in," Heero growled.

The guards looked at each other and were obviously uncomfortable at the request.  One replied, "I'm sorry sir but no one is to disturb the prisoner until the boss says so."

"He's not a prisoner dammit!  Let me in."  Heero tried to move forward but was hindered by the crutches he was supported on.  However the thoroughly dangerous look in his eyes that promised violence if he didn't get what he wanted was enough for the guards and one hastened to pull the key from his chain.

Heero gazed back at Relena undecidedly as if unsure if she should accompany him or not but was reassured by her small smile. "You go talk to him.  You're the best person for it now...  I'll wait out here and I'll contact Lady Une.  Take as long as you like..."

Heero's eyes softened with a grateful upward turn of the lips and pulled away from her supporting arm to hobble into the room on his crutches.

As the door shut behind him, Heero took a good look at the room.  The room was pure white save the thin slits of the air vents on the ceiling.  The walls had a rubber sheen on it to prevent damage to anything thrown at it and the only other ornament that adorned the room was the bed on one side, a dark form in stark contrast seated unmoving on it.

Hobbling across the small width of the room, Heero slumped down onto the foot of the bed and gazed at the curled form in the middle.  Strong handcuffs ornamented Duo's wrists and though Heero knew that he could have gotten out of them easy, he figured that Duo's lock picks were no longer on his person.

"They went through your hair huh?"

The inane comment lingered in the air when Duo didn't reply nor give an indication that he'd heard and Heero felt coldness grip his chest despite the bandages and the temperature regulated room.  Duo was never, could never be, silent.  It was just something that Shinigami didn't do and the fact that he could be now was frightening and enough proof for Heero that something was definitely wrong with Duo.

His eyes flashed for a second.  As soon as he'd gotten out of here, he'd track Kotamo down and kill him like the dog he was...

"Duo... it wasn't your fault, you know that.  You were administered to D-7, it lowered your inhibitions, your values and made you more susceptible to mental suggestions.  But that doesn't mean you let your life be ruined by it!"  Heero took a breath.  "You said so yourself, Death always lives..."

Duo shifted and a monotonous murmur reached Heero's ears.  "But does Death deserve to live when it means the forfeit of all life around it...?"

Silence descended as Heero felt around for the appropriate response to the uttered question.  Finally, "You know you wouldn't have done all that if you weren't under influence..."

A dry grunt of sarcasm. "Wouldn't I?  You know about me Heero, you know I've killed a lot more... I'm dangerous... too dangerous to live..."

Anger rose in Heero's breast. "And I'm not?  Or Trowa?  Wufei?  Even Quatre for that matter?  Do we all deserve to die?"

"I don't know... you tell me..."

Heero pinned the still form with a glare that he knew Duo felt.  Duo somehow always knew when he was being glared at.  "*You* were being manipulated Duo.  Kotamo twisted your thinking and you could not help but act on it.  Just like I'd been manipulated by Treize that day when I killed Noventa and the generals... just like Quatre when he destroyed that colony under the influence of the ZERO system.  Did you blame us then Duo?"

When Duo was silent for a minute Heero knew that he was contemplating saying yes.  He growled, "You run, you hide... But Duo Maxwell never lies.  Did you blame us Duo?"

"... No..."

Heero breathed a small sigh of relief. "And neither do we..."

The chestnut head finally lifted and despite the bandage on one temple, Duo still found the anger to make his eyes rage with violet fire.  "Chikusho!  Don't you get it Heero?!  I don't *want* to live anymore!!  There's been too much death in my life already..."

"So you're just going to bail when the going gets tough," Heero sneered although unnerved by this darker side of Duo Maxwell.

Duo made a noise of self-contempt as he lowered his head again.  "If I wanted to do that I would have bailed years ago, before I got involved with any of the Gundam stuff... but I couldn't because people needed me then.  Now... now it's different...  No one needs me anymore and if I died the world wouldn't miss anything - except maybe a menace that can go out of control because he couldn't control a couple of nightmares..."

"There are people who need you Duo...  Quatre, Trowa, Wufei, me, Hilde... even Dorothy and Relena..."

Duo snorted. "Let's be serious Heero, I tried to kill the poor girl.  Do you really think she wants to be within a lightyear of me ever again?"

"That's never stopped her with me..." Heero snapped back.  "And I don't *think* she needs you...  I *know* she needs you... as a friend..."

Duo made a snort of contempt again. "Just leave me alone Heero... Just leave!!"

Heero scowled. "Duo, you're being unreasonable..."

"I can be as effing unreasonable as I like Yuy!!" Duo yelled. "Now would you get the hell out of here?!!"

Heero was taken aback.  Never had Duo displayed any anger towards him or anybody else and neither had Duo ever really yelled at a person in furious tones that didn't contain even the slightest hints of a teasing demeanor.  It looked like the D-7 was still taking its toll on Duo...

Hopping off the bed, Heero made his way to the door and opened it before beckoning someone in.  When Relena entered, Heero shut the door and muttered something to her before gesturing her towards the bed to try.  He was able to bring Duo back that night but it didn't look like he had what it took to do it again.

Relena stepped forward and stopped next to the bed. "Duo..."

Duo remained silent, head bowed, quickly shrugging off Relena's hand as it touched his shoulder.

The younger Peacecraft frowned but then gripped Duo's shoulder, refusing to be budged. "Duo, listen to me..."  When Duo still refused to look up, Relena hooked a finger under his chin and forced his violet eyes up to meet her azure.  Shaking him a little, Relena whispered, "We don't blame you Duo... none of us do..."

Duo tried to turn his head away but was kept in place by Relena's hand. "You have no idea Relena..."

"But I do..." Relena sighed. "I do...  I know you Duo, and whatever Wufei and Sally say you've done in your past, you're still the Duo Maxwell I know and you would never have hurt them had you been in control of your mind..."

Duo raised an eyebrow but was cut off by Relena before he could speak.  "Otherwise, why would you disguise the fact that you were an assassin?  You could have used all your skills during the war but you didn't.  That's because you didn't want to be that person anymore Duo, you've changed..."

The statement was said was such utter conviction that Duo remained quiet and still.

"There's been enough deaths Duo, you said so yourself... we've suffered through the deaths of ones we cared about long enough..." Relena's voice became slightly choked, "Would you leave us to suffer through your death too...?"

Duo remained impassive but a dim light of confusion and reluctance dawned in his eyes.

"Please Duo... we're going to make sure that you recover but the first step in that is to help yourself.  You need to live Duo, for all those people who care about you and for yourself... because you need the absolution that the acceptance of all you've done can give you.  We can only help you so much Duo... only you can do the rest... so please...?  Onegai..." A tear streaked down Relena's cheek as she gazed into Duo's violet eyes for the acceptance she hoped that she might see.

Duo lowered his head and this time, Relena let him go, knowing that she couldn't hold him if he really wanted to wrench away.  Finally a quiet mutter. "I'll try...  I can't lie and I can't make any promises... but I'll try..."

Relena smiled a little and hugged Duo tight for a second. "That's all I wanted to hear Duo... It'll be okay..."

After a few minutes of silence, Relena pulled away and patted Duo comfortingly on the shoulder. "We'll come back to see you soon..."

She quickly moved away, wiping at the tears which had come at Duo's non-reaction to everything around him.  Walking out of the room with Heero, she glanced back quickly and whispered, "Is he going to be okay...?"

Heero let out a soft breath. "I don't know... I don't know..."

Back in his room, Relena helped Heero settle back into his bed as he asked, "How long do they think until withdrawal starts?"

"They estimate around four to five days.  The withdrawal period would probably last for approximately four to five more...  It's not going to be pleasant for him..."

"The room is monitored?"

Relena nodded. "Hai, they'll know exactly when Duo starts, Sally's keeping a personal eye on things.  You should get some rest Heero..."

Feeling fatigue and pain mingling, Heero couldn't refuse and slowly let sleep take control of his body.

After four days, Heero was finally up and walking around, albeit using the help of a crutch but unable to stay still any more after the initial conversation with Duo.  He needed to see Duo again, just to convince himself that the braided baka had taken Relena's advice.

Hobbling to the elevator and down the corridor, Heero once again found himself facing the two guards that had admitted him a few days ago.

The guard who had opened the door saw him and this time tried to still the intimidated look on his face.  "Sir, I'm afraid that no one is allowed in now.  The boss' orders."

Heero growled but then silenced as muffled sounds of bangs and things hitting the wall floated through the closed and reinforced door.  He froze then made to plough through the guards who, to their credit, stood firm, barring the door.  About to resort to more forceful measures, Heero abruptly stopped at a hand on his shoulder.

"You can't go in there Falcon."  Lady Une's voice was gentle but firm as she exerted pressure on Heero's shoulder to make sure he couldn't get away.

"What's wrong with him?" Heero demanded, piercing the head of the Preventers with a steel blue glare.

When Lady Une didn't answer, Heero turned away to shrug off her hand and disobey orders before a voice down the corridor stopped him.

"Don't Falcon... you can't help him now..."

The former Wing pilot turned to see Quatre slowly making his way towards the door.  Although the Arabian was walking normally, if a little slower than usual, Heero could still detect the heavy bandages under the white shirt and the slight wince of pain that marred Quatre's tired face.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean you can't help him now," Quatre repeated, voice strong and sure.  "The D-7's taking effect again and so close to the withdrawal time no amount of talking or suppression would be able to divert it.  You'd only get hurt in the process..."

Heero was about to open his mouth again but Quatre cut him off. "I know because he's in pain... and my uchuu no kokoro feels it..."

Heero closed his mouth and slumped slightly, though the gesture was not visible.  He could not argue with Quatre's uchuu no kokoro because he knew that it had been right on more than one occasion as he knew that Quatre would never say something like that without a good reason.  Even now, he could detect a slight wavering in Quatre's cornflower blue eyes.

Lady Une gave him an encouraging smile. "He's in the best hands possible Falcon... Meanwhile, the doctors say that all of you will make a full recovery and if you've had enough of the hospital ward, you'll be able to move back into your suites however with plenty of rest and no stress."

Quatre smiled gratefully. "That would be nice, boss..."

And the two pilots allowed themselves to be guided back to their hospital rooms to pack whatever they'd had brought to them in the hospital.

A few hours later, all four pilots were found in their base of operations despite orders to remain on their floor and more preferably in their beds.

Heero, Trowa and Quatre were slumped in the chairs around the table, the former two with crutches and arms in slings while Wufei sat in his wheelchair.  The air was filled with light tension but also worry for the only member of the group that was still missing.

"So Noin and Zechs went back to H28143?" Trowa asked mildly.

"Aa," Wufei answered. "Nothing seems to be going on and being a small colony, all inbound traffic has been halted and all communications are being monitored until further notice."

"So Kotamo must still be on Earth," Heero deducted.

Wufei agreed. "Unless he decided to colony-skip."

Quatre shook his head. "I doubt it... he has no power bases on any of the other colonies and nor is he such an influential figure that he will stir the support of other locals."

"So we're forced to play a waiting game," Trowa commented.

"Only until I get off these crutches..." Heero's thinly-veiled threat was clear to all.

Then the door buzzed and Dorothy's voice came through, mocking and suppressing laughter. "Are you guys dead in there?"

Quatre grinned in spite of himself and opened the door as Relena and Dorothy stepped in.  Heero and Trowa however noticed a small shadow behind the taller girls and immediately whipped their guns out - much to the distress of Relena and amusement of Dorothy.

"Dare?" Heero snarled.

Wufei rolled his eyes good-naturedly and waved both guns down just as a small girl with a head of red hair stepped out from behind the older girls with a bright smile and a wave for the Chinese boy.  "Konnichi wa Wufei-niichan!"

Quatre looked stunned. "Mariemeia Barton...?"

Dorothy smirked at him. "Not Barton, Khushrenada..."

The eight-year-old offered them more reserved smiles to that she had offered Wufei and acknowledged, "Heero-san, Trowa-san, Quatre-san..."  Then she half ran over to Wufei and clasped his hand. "Oba-san said I could visit... are you okay?"

Wufei gave the girl a gentle pat on the head. "I'm fine Marie-chan... how's school?"

"Good!" the girl grinned happily. "My friends are having a New Year's party soon!"

Wufei smiled as the girl continued to chatter on.

Quatre raised an eyebrow and then pulled Dorothy aside, speaking loud enough for both Heero and Trowa to hear. "What...?"

Dorothy smirked. "Surprised?  You shouldn't be... she's just getting the chance to be just a kid that she didn't get under Dekim... she's going to school and she's a lot smarter than she looks.  She also doesn't know that Wufei was part of her siege, apparently Dekim thought of and put into effect that little addition to the plan without consulting his leader..."

Quatre still gaped at the sight the chatting Mariemeia and Wufei made. "But... they..."

Dorothy waved it off. "Oh yeah... the boss took her in, she is the daughter of Treize and all, and she's spent a lot of her time here at the office, which is why she also knows a lot of what's going on.  She and Wufei really hit it off and they have almost a sibling relationship..."  Dorothy leered and then raised her voice. "Underneath that tough front, Wufei's just another softie at heart..."

Wufei pinned her with his ebony glare and gave a twisted little smile. "You'll pay for that one Catalonia."

Relena laughed a little. "Enough you two..."  She sobered a little. "How's Duo...?"

Quatre sighed. "Withdrawal period shouldn't be too far away... We can only hope until then...  God knows we can only hope..."

Relena turned away and dropped into a seat, face carefully lowered.

Dorothy looked sympathetic but then said, "There's another reason for our visit today.  With the mission over - "

"Almost," Heero interrupted. "Kotamo is still - "

"That is only a matter of time Heero," Dorothy cut in. "But with the main mission over, the boss wants to know if you're staying on the job..."

Trowa cocked his head. "Staying?"

Dorothy nodded. "You guys are members of the Preventers now, highest-ranking members might I add, but with the objective of the mission that you were brought in for over, you guys now have a choice.  You can either stay and continue working with the Preventers, in which case the proper authorities must be notified and arrangements made... or you can just go back to whatever you were doing before and forget this whole thing happened.  In which case all records of  your stay here will be erased as will your top-secret personnel file and the destruction of all passwords you have been issued while in service with the Preventers."

"In other words all evidence of our presence here," Quatre paraphrased.

Dorothy shrugged. "You will appreciate the lengths that the Preventers must go to to keep our identities secret, none other than the boss would know us by our real names and only the higher-ranking members are allowed to make contact with us.  If any were to get a hold of records - however unlikely - it could be means of jeopardizing the entire organization..."

Quatre smiled grimly. "I understand..."

"And if you're worried about your family business Quatre, don't be." Dorothy grinned. "It is unlikely that you would be needed here all the time... More than likely, the boss would prefer you to be wandering around.  The only difference would be that you will be called if anything comes up..."


"And you don't even have to answer now, you can think about it for a few days..."

Quatre leaned back in his chair. "I know... but I've already decided... I'm staying."

Trowa raised an eyebrow at him and Quatre replied, "Oh I know Rashid probably won't approve but it's my own decision... and my sisters can take care of the business if I'm called away...  We've worked too hard for this peace and I don't want anything jeopardizing it again... If it means that I'm going to have to work for it, so be it."

Trowa's lips made a slight upward quirk and he inclined his head. "I'll stay..."

By now all eyes were centered on Heero who had remained silent.

"Heero...?" Dorothy prompted.

It was then that the communit beeped and Sally's face appeared.  "Thought I might find you all there... Duo's gone into withdrawal, he's in room 591."

At once the room emptied as fast as possible of its injured occupants and the group hurriedly made its way to the hospital wing.

Outside room 591, the group met up with Sally and Lady Une who were conferring together.  Quatre reached them first and asked, "How is he?  Is he okay?  What's going on?"

Sally shook her head and motioned them into the adjourning room and gestured for them to sit as Lady Une swept a quiet Mariemeia away.

In the room, Sally faced her audience with a grim face. "All I can say is that it doesn't look too hopeful..."

Relena gasped. "What...?"

Sally shook her head sadly. "Even barely an hour into the process, he's beginning to burn up already and from what we know about D-7 detoxication, that's a bad sign.  Only a minute percentage of the people it was tested on survived after burning up on the first day... and none of them had had as long an exposure to it as Duo had..."

Heero slitted his eyes. "What are you saying exactly?"

Sally faced him squarely. "Only to be prepared for the worst."

"You can't be serious, there must be something..." Relena denied, sapphire eyes wide.

Sally looked at her with a sad face. "Believe me Relena, if something could be done it will and would already have been done.  But as it is, Delora7.9 is a relatively new drug and illegal which means not enough tests have been done on it.  From the circumstances, it's unlikely that we'll be able to do anything other than play it by ear..."

A day and a half later, Heero, Trowa and Wufei had been ordered back to their rooms, told that they couldn't stand up to the stress of staying by their unconscious friend's bedside while they were still recuperating.  Reluctantly they'd agreed, stamina not yet up to the normal and left Quatre, Dorothy and Relena to look after Duo, Lady Une occasionally popping in to monitor how things were going and Sally regularly to dose Duo with fluids and other substances to keep his body functioning.

After only thirty nine hours, Duo had begun to hallucinate, tossing and turning in the bed fighting the imaginary monsters that his own toxicated mind conjured up for him.  Sweat ran like rivers down his body despite the temperature-regulated room and long chestnut bangs were plastered to his forehead in damp locks.

Twice every day, the sopping sheets had to be changed while every half hour, Quatre moved from his position next to the bed to grab a towel and dry Duo's face off, blue eyes holding back tears at the pain that Duo had been forced to go through.  Soon, Quatre, with his own injuries, wasn't able to keep up and Dorothy took over, quelling Quatre with a stern glance that threatened bodily harm if he moved from his seat again.  Relena sat on the other side, clutching at Duo's clammy hand as if to reassure herself that he was still warm and alive.

No words were spoken and neither were they needed but Quatre couldn't help but feel the unnatural silence that still shrouded the room despite Duo's presence.  It was something he'd never get used to, already being accustomed to the never-ending chatter of Deathscythe's former pilot.

Relena's urgent voice cut into his thoughts and he started.

"I think he's coming to...!"

Instantly all three crowded around the bed and Quatre scanned Duo's fluttering eyelashes. "Duo...?  Duo can you hear me?"

Slits of hazed indigo showed under the eyelids and a silent moan escaped dry, cracked lips.

Dorothy looked worriedly from her position and the walked away, calling over her shoulder. "I'm going to tell Sally."  Neither of the figures still at the bed noticed - or simply didn't respond - as they were too focussed on the patient on the bed.

"Duo...?  Duo!" Relena searched the pale but unnaturally flushed face for any sign of further consciousness but didn't find any.

After a few minutes of tense anticipation, Duo finally opened his eyes further but failed to focus on anything.  A hoarse whisper was as loud as a shout in a room where the only two fully conscious occupants were holding their breaths.  "So... so dark... why...?"

Quatre exchanged a worried glance with Relena, eyes darting up to the dimmed but still perfectly functioning lights on the ceiling.

With alarming speed, Duo's eyes were fully open but unseeing of anything as he began to struggle against non-existent bonds.  "No...  Keep away...  KEEP AWAY!"  No longer merely struggling after a few seconds, as the rasping shout was sounded, Duo began thrashing, flailing limbs this way and that trying to keep whatever he thought was out to get him away from him.

"Duo!  Duo!!" With surprising speed and strength, Quatre grabbed the American's shoulders and pinned them to the bed, valiantly trying to quell the obviously panicking Duo.  "Duo, stop!!  You're dreaming!  Duo!!"

"LET GO OF ME!!!"  The hoarse cry was punctuated with a lashing fist that landed on Quatre's cheek with devastating accuracy and the unsuspecting Arabian reeled back as he tried to keep his balance.  Steadying himself on the back of one of the chairs, Quatre contained the curl of pain that tore at his wound and quickly made his way back to Duo.

Grabbing one flailing arm, the only thought in Quatre's mind was to stop Duo from moving and doing more damage to himself than he already had.  Ignoring his own injuries, he quickly flipped Duo over on his stomach and pinned the one arm behind him in a painful hold as he jumped onto the bed to place his knee in Duo's back.  "Duo!!  Stop!!!"  But Duo gave no indication that he'd heard and despite the extra weight on his back, continued to struggle as he snarled blindly at the private hell his own mind had created.

Relena watched the entire scenario with wide eyes.  Having never seen the gentle Quatre do anything as forceful or as excruciatingly painful as this to anyone, Relena had to forcefully remind herself that the polite and caring Quatre had also been chosen as a Gundam pilot for a reason.  And she was just beginning to see other part of that reason.

As she watched the ensuing battle between a heavily breathing Quatre and a hallucinating Duo, Relena was helpless to do anything, knowing that she didn't have neither the speed nor the strength to hold Duo down and dodge the fist that was still lashing out every which way.  It was only when Quatre's painful gasp tore her gaze from the furious mask on Duo's face that she spotted the perspiration trickling down Quatre's face and the slight stain of vermilion that was beginning to spread over the heavy bandages over Quatre's stomach through the Arabian's white shirt.

Unknowing of what else to do, the Queen of the World ran out the door in hopes of finding someone to help and before she reached the second corridor, collided with the two figures on crutches coming the opposite way.


Raising her shocked eyes, Relena gasped in relief.  "Heero!  Trowa!  Duo... he's woken up but he's hallucinating.  I don't think Quatre can keep him under control any longer..."

"What?" Trowa's quiet but forceful question caused Relena to take in a quick deep breath and calm her shaken nerves.

"Duo's thrashing around and Quatre's trying to keep him from hurting himself but I think Quatre has already torn his stitches!  You have to help him!"

Without a further glance, both former-pilots broke into a desperate run despite their crutches and arrived in Duo's room just in time to see Quatre almost collapse but just manage to maintain his hold on the struggling Duo.  While both dropped their crutches and as Heero rushed forward to pin Duo down with his greater strength, Trowa pulled a panting Quatre off the bed, noting the spread of crimson that had already soak through the many layers of bandages and the front of his white shirt.

Duo's snarls and thrashing sounds filled the air for the next few moments but he could do nothing to budge the solid weight of Heero on his back and nor could he move his arms from Heero's iron grip.  Quatre was carefully and slowly lowered into a chair, unable to keep from grimacing as every little movement tore the stitches on his stomach a bit more as Trowa kept a careful eye both on him and on Duo, unable to do anything else because his knee was unable to be moved.  Relena stood by Quatre's chair, knuckles white from gripping the back of the other chair as she stared at the transformed face of the American pilot.

That was the way Sally and Dorothy found them a minute later and immediately Sally leaned out the door to yell, "I need the tranquillizers and another stretcher!!"  Moving into the room, she picked up the crutches from the doorway and giving Heero who had Duo under control a glance, moved to examine Quatre's wound.  Passing Trowa's crutches to him and giving Dorothy Heero's, Sally's blue eyes hardened as she opened the shirt to reveal the saturated bandages underneath.

Two orderlies burst into the room, one wheeling a stretcher while the other held a tray of tranquillizers and Sally began giving orders, taking the tranquillizers.  As she prepared a syringe, she snapped to the orderlies, gesturing to Quatre, "You and you, I want you to get him on the stretcher as gently as possible and then remove the bandages.  Cobra help them."  Squeezing some of the liquid out of the syringe, Sally turned to Heero.  "Falcon, hold his arm down as firmly as you can, I don't want him moving."

As soon as the tranquillizer was injected, Duo visibly calmed down and once again, his eyes closed as he lapsed into unconsciousness.  Gesturing for Heero to get off, Sally retrieved Heero's crutches to give back to him and then turned to Quatre's wound.  "Priority one, get him to the OR as fast as possible, I want that wound restitched and he may need more blood." The orderlies nodded and carted a grimacing Quatre out the door.

Silence but for the heavy breathing of the room's occupants filled the atmosphere for a few seconds before Dorothy asked, "Sally?"

Sally stared at Duo's limp form for a moment and sighed.  "I really don't know... this is only the middle of the third day.  I really have to say that with hallucinations like that, his chances of surviving are slim to say the least for the next day and a half..."

"Chigau..." Relena whispered, turning her gaze to Duo's prone form.  "Chigau yo..."

Harsh breathing from one of the occupants in the otherwise silent room filled the air despite the presence of six others.  Most eyes were focussed on the one person that lay on the bed in the hospital room as the prone body continued its futile struggle against a vision of something that wasn't there.

Relena sat by the window with Sally next to her, her blue eyes unfocussed but glittering with fierce hope and determination.  Sally's own blue eyes were detached and assessing, running over the boy in the bed with clinical precision.  Wufei sat motionless in his wheelchair beside the extra bed placed in the room though his hand was clenched into a tight fist beside him.  Quatre lay on the extra bed, the extra dressings on his body and the slight wince of pain every now and then couldn't deter him from keeping vigil on his friend through what would probably be the hardest few hours of his life.  Heero was slumped on the floor, head down, leaning against a wall as if asleep but undoubtedly not.  Trowa simply sat on a spare chair and evaluated Duo's condition.

The thrashings and struggles that had been so abundant in the first few days were neither abating nor ceasing in frequency.  Instead, Trowa knew that Duo's body was just no longer able to cope with the raw amount of energy that was expended during those often but brief times.  The breathing was harsher and the movements more desperate, sweat continuing to pour off the ailing body.  Inwardly, Trowa was aware that this would be where Duo's will to live would be tested to the limit.

As the hours wore on, Quatre and Relena drifted to sleep while Sally left to make a quick round of other patients.  Wufei's eyes were closed but it was evident that he wasn't asleep and Heero and Trowa kept up their never-ending vigil.

As the last twenty or so hours drew near, it had come to the point when Sally had flat out refused more tranquillizers to be administered.

"There's nothing we can do.  If we give him anymore, he's not going to wake up at all!"

Relena took another look through the door at the thrashing figure on the bed.  "But there must be something..."

Sally sighed and placed a hand on Relena's shoulder.  "I'm sorry Relena.  We've done all we can, the rest is up to him..."  Then she too cast Duo a compassionate look before shaking her head and walking away.

Biting her lip, Relena turned and found Heero standing right behind her, leaning on the doorframe.  Dashing tears from her eyes, she moved automatically and hiccuped when the Japanese boy's arms closed around her in a silent but comforting hug.  Burying her face in the shoulder of his Preventers jacket, Relena murmured, "He's going to be okay... He has to be okay..."

Not knowing what else to say, Heero merely nodded slightly.  "Aa..."

Tension and agitation heightened as the last few hours arrived and Duo was moved to an intensive care unit where his condition would be closely monitored until he came out of withdrawal.  The others waited, silently watching on the other side of the thick, sound-proof glass.  Watching and waiting for the final verdict on their friend's will to live.

Stress finally catching up with her, Relena had fallen asleep, head pillowed on Wufei's shoulder, who sat motionless in deep meditation.  Quatre had also dozed off, the added combination of blood-loss and fatigue of the last week helping him in the matter.  Only Heero, Trowa and Dorothy stayed alert, watching the braided figure on the bed in the other room.

The reason why they were the first to react when a faint continuous beeping sounded through the speakers in place of the short bursts that they'd become accustomed to.

While Heero and Trowa immediately got to their feet, Dorothy was already running out the door, yelling.  "SALLY!!!!"

As the others became aware, varying degrees of horror flashed through their faces.

Duo was flat lining.

Duo Maxwell was floating somewhere in a stifling void, darkness pressing in on all sides as he stared about him for a source of light.  Unable to find any, he shuddered as another particularly painful spasm spread through his body and he curled up to try and shut it out.

Pain had become a very familiar thing to him.  For as long as he could remember, pain had always been on the surface of his thoughts.  Always there reminding him that he could do nothing to escape from it. Over time, he'd gotten accustomed to it, but this... This was so much worse...

Perhaps it was time to just give up... Despite the darkness all around him, he knew that he was sinking. Slowly but surely sinking deeper into the labyrinth around him. Yet, despite the occasional spasms of pain that ripped through him, the constant pain that was always tormenting him was lessening the deeper he sank. Would it fade completely if he sank deep enough? If that was so, then why did he continue to fight his way up? Wouldn't it make more sense to do everything in his power to stop the pain??

What was up there that he couldn't let go of? He couldn't see it, and he sure as Hell couldn't remember it... only this vague nagging at the back of his mind that it was important. Important enough to endure this pain for... But what was it? And would it really be so bad if he let it go?

It couldn't be so bad, could it?

With that thought in mind, Duo Maxwell finally stopped reaching for something that had, for a very long time, existed only in his mind. And finally let himself sink...

Without warning, a flash of blinding white light imprinted itself into his eyes, followed by drowned out words. *... on Duo... let us... before*

He blinked slowly through heavy eyelids. He knew that voice... didn't he...?

Another lightning strike of white. *... You can't die...* Dying...? Was that what was happening? And that voice... so familiar...

*... too many people... depending on you...* There was...? But why couldn't he place that voice...? And the pain was back. With every flash of that bright light, the pain came back in folds, forcing him to curl in on himself once again.

*... I'm not going to let you die...*

He knew that voice now... Sally...? And with the image of Sally came the stern face of a Chinese man, and then a pair of pleading clear azure eyes under a sweep of golden bangs... Wufei...? Quatre...?

What followed was a lean man with bangs falling over half his face as he closed his eyes and turned away in disappointment while another simply glared, accusingly, at him with raging dark blue eyes. Trowa...? Heero...?

And finally, there was another pair of gentle blue eyes, in a face framed with wheat blonde hair... Relena...

He knew these people... they were his family. Was that what he had been so unconsciously holding onto all this time...? And if it was, could he so callously let them down?

*Duo no baka! Dammit, work with me!!*

He couldn't... that was one thing they would never forgive him for.

And with that, the whole world turned white.

A silent group of people stood waiting, eyes riveted on the still figure that was being surrounded by lab-coated people and machines.  Rapid orders from Sally drifted through the speakers as she commandeered the others in the room, preparing to do all she could to jump start Duo's heart.

While the rest of the staff were silent as they performed their tasks, Sally's muttered whispers were enough to reach the hearing of everyone in the other room.  Preparing the equipment, and carefully watching the flat line that jumped once in accordance with Duo's unresponsive body, Sally began the process.

"Come on Duo... you've never let us down before."


"Shinigami can't die Duo.  You can't die."


"Too many people are depending on you."


"I'm not going to let you die Duo!"


"Duo no baka!  Dammit, work with me!!"


*beep... beep... beep... beep...*

"YATTA!!!"  Relena cheered and threw shaking arms around Heero's shoulders next to her, burying her face in his shoulder as her tears of joy soaked into his jacket.  "He's alive Heero!  He's alive!!"

Returning the hug, Heero allowed a small smile to grace his lips.  He could see Quatre's elated expression and Trowa's answering tug of the lips.  Wufei smirked proudly, as if he'd always known that Duo would pull through while Dorothy merely smiled in relief.

Sally walked into the room with a triumphant smile and was immediately fielding an armful of joyous Relena.

"Thank you Sally!  Thank you!!  Thank you!!"

"Don't mention it Relena." Sally lightly returned the hug and then cast another look at Duo through the glass.  "Looks like he'll pull through after all..."

Quatre's eyes were slightly misty as he too, looked through the glass.  "He has too much to live for...  He had to come back."

"What's going to happen now?" Wufei asked.

Sally grinned.  "We monitor him and just wait for him to wake up.  He's sleeping peacefully now.  We'll move him back into his room in a few hours just to make sure."  She cast a fond look at Duo again.  "He's a lucky one..."

Heero snorted.  "Baka..."

Chuckles reverberated in the room until Sally took a look at her other patients.  "All right everybody, show's over, he's going to be fine.  Now I want all of you to take a well-deserved rest.  Those injuries aren't going to heal if you keep trying to do things as if they weren't there.  Especially you Quatre!"

Grabbing the handle of Wufei's wheelchair, Relena began the walk to the door.  "Dorothy and I will stay with Duo.  We'll call if there's any change."

Reluctant but under Sally's baleful eye, all four injured Preventers made their way up to their suites and collapsed onto their beds.

Lying on his own, Quatre stared up at the ceiling with a wide smile.  Duo was going to be okay and soon they'd have their own Shinigami back again.  That was the most important thing.

With pleasant thoughts drowning out the slight pain of his stitches, Quatre fell into peaceful sleep for the first time in a long month.

Sitting next to Duo's bedside, Dorothy watched smiling as Relena slept, head pillowed on her arms beside Duo's arm.  Moving her gaze to Duo's sleeping face, Dorothy's smile grew wider.

'You are one lucky bastard Duo Maxwell.  If only you knew how many people you had dancing to your tune, I'm sure you'd be laughing right now, teasing the others about being sentimentalists at heart.  Yeah, I can see that going down real well with Yuy no matter how much he's changed.

It's fortunate that you decided to stay for a while longer, but then I guess you really didn't want Yuy, Chang and Winner after you in your next life ne?  Not to mention Barton and the little Peacecraft over there.  Hell, even I would've gone after you for all you put us through these last few days.

You're through one gate, there's just one more to cross before we can put this whole sordid mess behind us.  I wonder if you're strong enough to do it.  I know, from personal experience, that memories are the hardest things to fight.  Will you be able to put those memories behind you once they've returned and continue with your life?  Or will you just choose an easy way out of this painful existence they call 'life'?  Only time will tell I guess.  Time and the support that you'll no doubt get from everybody... even me...

Ganbatte Maxw-  Duo...'

Deafening reports of rapid gunshots echoed through the shooting gallery as the sound of the gun being placed on the bench followed.  Mechanics whirled as the target travelled towards the front to be examined.

Coming into view, the man standing in front smirked as he fingered the cluster of bullet holes right where the heart would be, creating not separate little holes but a large one, almost enough to put his entire hand through.

Removing the ear-muffs, the middle-aged Nicholas Kotamo turned and walked out, inserting fresh bullets into the gun as he walked.

"Shi no Tenshi may have failed, but I'll finish the job."

He chuckled.

"Sayonara, Relena Darlian Peacecraft."


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