"I WON'T LET YOU HURT MY FRIENDS!"

CHAPTER 10

"...and so we're gonna start with this new treatment tomorrow and hope for the best. It's state of the art and has had a 67% success rate so far. It's our best chance. Any questions?" Sally finished up her informal report to the group of friends crowded inside Duo's infirmary room.

"Just one!" Hilde waved her hand at Sally. Sally cocked her head at her.

"How long till you get results? The sooner the better!" Hilde exclaimed eagerly as she recalled the last few days.

They'd all be glad if/when Duo had completely recovered. It was very hard on him, not being able to see. His personal rule of thumb "I run, I hide, but I never lie" was a part of his life. It was his way of living ingrained in him since his days on the streets. Not being able to see put a huge crimp in his ability to do what he was so good at which made him irritable and restless even though he tried to not to show it. That... and the fact that he still tired fast and didn't seem to have any stamina. He always did hate it when it seemed as if he was 'falling behind' the standards of the others or his own.

Rip moved slowly past the infirmary. They were there again, visiting that long haired nut Duo and talking to that doctor. Ever since Duo had collapsed, there had been people through here constantly. A fact which had made it all too easy for Rip to keep track of all five of the pilots. It hadn't hurt either that Rip had nearly tripped over that Preventer who looked so similar to him in build and facial structure, had no family and lived alone. It had only taken a little dye, change in hair style, restructuring of the face and he could fool the best of them. The man never went anywhere or did anything; his work was his life.

Too bad that Preventer had struggled so hard, the man hadn't much going for him but he sure had been stubborn. He had almost gotten away and that would have ruined all of Rip's plans. But with that little incident taken care of, Rip had officially assumed the life of Casey Santino. He had spent the last several days discreetly observing the pilots from a distance.

He'd actually run into the Winner kid once, he considered himself lucky that time. Quatre had looked at him like he could see right through Rip's disguise and if it hadn't been for one of the kitchen help coming up to ask Quatre about something to do with tea and distracting him, Rip had a feeling his cover would have been blown and he'd of had to make his move ahead of schedule.

That Winner kid was downright uncanny sometimes. After that little episode, he'd stayed as far away from him as possible willing to take even Heero over Quatre. He'd counted himself as having steady nerves but something about Quatre rattled him.

He was just past the door when it swung open and Trowa stepped out.

"Oi!You... take this to Sally would you?" Trowa thrust a list at him. Having no choice but to take it, Rip took it from his hand calmly meeting Trowa's gaze and set off once more. Inwardly, Rip grinned to himself. Trowa hadn't reacted at all. Still, it wouldn't do to underestimate these pilots, kids or not. He never made the same mistake twice.

He'd come to grudgingly respect these kids, even Duo. For Duo to survive that drug spoke of more than Rip had seen. He already knew there was something special about Quatre and he had no desire to tangle with Wufei. Heero, he wanted a rematch against, Duo was dead meat for all the aggravation he'd caused Rip. Trowa was a wild card. Rip hadn't made it this long in his business by being careless and he could wait to find out what was behind that face of Trowa's.

Deep down inside, if he was honest with himself, these pilots fascinated them. What drove them to go to the lengths they had to do what they had done? What was in it for them? Nobody was stupid enough to risk their all for the sake of another. People always looked out for number one. So what was their motive?

Enough with the heavy thoughts! Rip told himself irritably. It didn't do to dwell on things too long. Made a man unsettled with himself. He had to get out of here. He had managed to switch a sample of PC11 the night before with no one the wiser; it was time to finish his job and get on with his life.

Handing the list off to the first person available, Rip headed for his quarters to get ready for tonight.

Trowa closed the door to the infirmary with a faint frown on his face. The Preventer who had just taken Duo's list looked familiar. The tag said Casey Santino and Trowa thought he'd seen him around before, sort of a man behind the scenes. Efficient but uninspired. Turning back to the others, he absently asked Heero if he'd gotten anywhere.

"Nope. He's disappeared and that's not good." Heero said flatly.

"He's not the kind to just give up." Trowa observed.

"You're right." Duo said uneasily, sitting cross-legged on his bed. He hated not being able to see with a passion; it made him feel helpless which was one thing he couldn't stand.

"So we shouldn't assume he's gone. But right now we're reduced to taking the defense cuz we don't know where he'll strike from." Quatre said thoughtfully.

"But we do know that he's after Heero and Duo. After all, he could have taken you two and didn't." Wufei pointed out.

"True but we weren't directly in his way. This is different."Quatre responded.

"But still, that's a valid point Wufei. So from now on we need to keep someone with those two at all times." Quatre finished up. Heero scowled.

"Wait a minute...!" Duo protested.

"I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself." Heero said flatly.

"Yes, we all know that Heero but we want to stop this guy cold. It'd be more efficient if we're paired up." Quatre told him calmly and persuasively.

"So Trowa, why don't you stick with Heero and Wufei and I will stay with Duo." Quatre finished up with the subtle insinuation in his manner that what he said would be done.

Duo mumbled something under his breath. Quatre had gained strength and confidence since the war... Duo guessed it was a good thing but it could be aggravating when Quatre was right!

"I heard that Duo." Quatre said without turning his attention from Heero. Duo simply rolled his eyes, reached up with his hands behind his head and leaned back against the headboard moodily. He didn't feel like starting an outright argument with Quatre which he was bound to lose anyway. Propped against the bed he let his attention drift as the others continued discussing arrangements and consoled himself that Heero hadn't done any better against Quatre as was evidenced by Heero's not-quite-convinced scowl that Duo couldn't see but had picked up nevertheless from his voice.

Hilde was on edge and she didn't know why. The boys were taking all sensible precautions against Rip but she couldn't help the feeling that something was going on right under all of their noses. As a result, Hilde was in and out of Duo's room and through the halls, never able to really settle on a spot. Her quarters were out of the question; she had tried that and it hadn't taken her five minutes before she thought she'd go stir crazy.

Quatre had finally asked her if she would go and get them all some tea. She usually wouldn't drink tea but Duo had hastily sided with Quatre and she had let herself be persuaded knowing all the while it was just to get her out of the room for a bit. Her fidgeting was contagious and was making Duo restless while Quatre was exhausting his stores of gentlemanly manners.

Back in his quarters, Heero was also feeling a sense of expectancy settling down on him. His senses were telling him to be ready for anything and he'd long learned to pay attention to such things. Trowa seemed unaffected, cool and silent. For want of something to do and because it would be foolish to go against Rip unprepared; Heero started going over his weapons. Trowa soon followed suit. Breaking his gun down, Heero observed with a vague sense of disfavor that it was getting worn from usage.

"You should get a new one. That one is going to give you trouble sooner or later." Trowa observed.

Heero didn't respond but as he put it back together, he knew Trowa was right.

"They have a new handgun out, a Perrier L9, it's really nice." Trowa observed with apparent indifference as he cleaned and oiled his own pistol.

Heero still didn't react as he started checking his ammunition. Trowa set about reassembling his pistol. Once it was together, he jacked an imaginary round to check it only to have it jam on him. A twitch started at the corner of Heero's mouth. Trowa looked at him sourly as he tried to unjam it. It wouldn't budge.

"This isn't funny. I liked this one." he informed Heero. Heero's eyes glinted amusement at him. Trowa got to his feet in disgust, giving up on the pistol.

"I'm going to take a look at their new handgun." Trowa informed Heero. Heero stood up tucking his handgun behind him.

"I'll go with you. I want to look at their ammo. I understand they got some specialty cartridges for my Lear." he said, amusement still twinkling vaguely in his eyes.

"Humph." was all Trowa gave out.

Reaching the ammunition warehouse, Trowa slid his ID card through the readout. It didn't take the first swipe, only releasing on the second try. Trowa frowned as he reached for the door handle. Giving it an even pull , he paused as he felt unexpected resistance. Heero leaned forward to take a look through the thin opening of the door. Slowly he straightened up.

"There is a wire stretched across the door. Any further movement on your part is going to trigger whatever is back there Trowa." he told him as his eyes met Trowa's.

Trowa nodded thoughtfully.

"In that case..." he said, let go of the door and flung himself in the opposite direction with Heero matching him. Trowa never knew just how far they made it. He only knew that there was a heart stopping delay before the explosion blew the door off it's hinges and flung them forward with an immense wave of heat at their backs. That was, perhaps, the only saving grace; the fact that the door was heavy reinforced alloy and hadn't disintegrated with the rest of the room as the Preventers store of weapons and ammo went up in smoke.

Trowa lay there for several stunned moments before he became aware of a very heavy weight on top of him, the sound of constant explosions and the wail of sirens that rang in the distance through the ringing of his ears. Then he became aware of the fact that he was partially pinned under an unmoving Heero and the door with chunks of rubble all around. Groggily he started trying to take stock of his body as best he could while being pinned. That done with apparently nothing serious, he started trying to rouse Heero with little success. Taking a break, panting for air as he couldn't get a full breath of air with all the weight pinning him down, he realized that this could take a while. And he didn't know how much time he had, Heero wasn't responding. Trowa knew Heero wasn't dead but beyond that he could tell little. Quatre was going to be upset with them. Not to mention a few other people Trowa thought glumly. What other options did he have? Maybe if he could move that block...

Hilde had just sat the tea down in front of Quatre and Wufei when there was the unmistakable rumble of muffled explosions. Wufei, Quatre, and Duo all sat up straight.

"That was the supply room." Wufei said flatly. Quatre looked at him sharply. Duo just tilted his head in the direction of Wufei's voice.

"Than it's begun." Quatre said simply. They sat and listened to the rumble and the sirens for a bit; Quatre fidgeting a bit with the desire to know what was going on. Wufei sat still as a rock but there was a tenseness to his posture that spoke of a similar desire. Hilde, glancing at Duo nearly giggled in spite of the tension. He had stretched out on his bed, with one ankle propped over the other leg, hands behind his head; a picture of deceptive relaxation. The only way to tell that the tension was affecting him was the fact that he kept his useless eyes shut and his head turned to catch any sound. Then the com went off.

"Wufei, Quatre, just so you know, that was the munitions store. We think this Rip fellow somehow infiltrated HQ and rigged it to blow at the first person to come along. Unfortunately, we think that the first person to come along was Trowa and Heero; they're missing. Trowa was listed as the last person to have accessed that room. We really don't know anything for sure though; there's so much rubble. We haven't found any dead bodies yet so we're hoping for the best." Zechs informed them.

Hilde let out a long breath while Wufei spat something in his native tongue. Quatre's face went grim while Duo paled a bit staring blankly towards the ceiling.

"I'm coming to help!" Wufei growled and stood up. Quatre stood up with him, both of them looking at the com. Zechs looked at them piercingly.

"With that shoulder of yours?" he asked skeptically.

"The only reason it's still in a sling is because Sally threatened to pull rank and put me on suspension till the moon turned blue!" Wufei growled angrily. That wasn't the only thing she'd threatened him with but he was not going to repeat the rest of it. He pulled the sling off and threw it down, then moved his arm in a few rather ginger kata movements to limber it up a bit.

Zechs nodded and said,"We could use the help then."

Zechs signed off and Quatre looked at Wufei. Wufei met his gaze evenly.

"Keep an eye out for him." he told Quatre simply and vanished out the door.

"Good thing we switched rooms." Hilde remarked. Quatre sighed, nodded, pulling a chair around so he could keep an eye on the door. He pulled out a pistol of his own and checked it over one last time. He looked up at the sound of another gun cocking only to see Hilde jacking a round into the chamber of an old fashioned .357 Ruger Blackhawk revolver. From the intense look on her face, she meant business. Looking up at Quatre she smiled coolly and said, "I'm only doing what Duo would do for me. He's my friend."

Quatre smiled approvingly and nodded at the tea set.

"It might be well if that was out of the way." he suggested. Hilde looked at him suspiciously but soon gave it up in the face of Quatre's absent minded concentration on the sounds in the distance. Tucking her gun behind her, she picked up the tea set and left.

Duo stared at the ceiling blankly. Heero and Trowa were ok, they had to be. If Wing self destructing couldn't kill Heero, a measly lot of exploding ammo wouldn't. The feeling of being trapped started to well up in him full force. He hated being helpless, not being able to see!

Hilde had just stepped out the door when she saw the back and leg of a man disappearing into the room that Duo had been occupying not 12 hours previously. Smiling grimly she knew they had their man. Softly putting the tea service down, she pulled her gun and quietly approached the door. Flattening herself against the side of the door, she waited. Not hearing anything, she gave herself some room, leaned back and kicked the door open throwing herself through in a tumbling roll. She came up on one knee, gun lined on the stranger, to find the man smiling cooly at her with his own pistol aimed at her. It was a Mexican Standoff.

"I find this interesting. I come looking for a friend of mine only the room is empty and what do I get instead? A girl who's not a Preventer but is allowed to carry a gun inside HQ... could you be a friend of Duo Maxwell's?" He smiled at her. A shiver went down Hilde's back in spite of herself.

"The only thing that needs to concern you is that I can sit here all day but you can't afford to. Someone will come along sooner or later... why don't you just quit while you're ahead?" Hilde asked calmly keeping a steady aim on the man.

Rip didn't reply, just looked at her. Then he casually let the gun slide down his index finger till it dangled from his hand.

Hilde almost couldn't believe his move. What was the man playing at?

"Drop the gun and put you're hands behind you're head... now!" Hilde demanded sharply as she stood up smoothly.

"QUATRE!" she called loudly not letting up on her vigil for a moment. Quatre came cautiously around the door, gun in hand and already there.

"I heard the door bang." he offered to the split second glance she shot him in spite of herself. Reassured now that Quatre was here to back her up she moved closer to the man.

"Turn around and place your hands on the wall behind you." she instructed forcefully.

He didn't move just looked at her.

"Do it... !" she hissed at him. She really didn't like him.

"You're cute when your mad" Rip said with a quirk of his lip. He turned around crossing his wrists behind him. Shrugging, Hilde moved up pulling out a set of handcuffs she'd appropriated. She reached out to grab his wrist but the minute she touched him she knew she'd made a serious mistake as the jolt rendered her helpless in just the few seconds of contact. Her one thought before she was rendered helpless was 'where the heck did this guy get a flag?'

Quatre knew what had happened almost the moment it happened but it still surprised him. Flags were not common. He'd seen them before, bracelets worn around the wrist. You activated them by loosely clenching your fist and they would deliver a jolt that could bring down a giant when the circuit was completed by contact with anything else that could transmit electricity... like a human body. The only drawback was that there was really no good way to insulate the zapper from the zappee hence their unpopularity. Very few people managed to master them, if you were really good you could control the amount of jolt to some small extent; that is wether you wanted a short shock or sustained jolt. At any rate, when he saw Hilde start to sag it was already too late as Rip shrugged off the shock and had Hilde around the throat with a knife that seemingly came out of nowhere. He grinned at Quatre coldly.

"Well, Winner, what will it be?" he asked. Quatre glared at him in cold fury as he let his gun drop. Inside he was raging.

"Where's Maxwell?" Rip asked him. Quatre clamped his jaw shut.

"Him or the girl and do we have to do this annoying cliche thing? I do not like grade B movies!" Rip asked in very real irritation.

Duo didn't turn from where he was looking out his fifth floor window as the door banged open. He wasn't really surprised to hear Quatre's voice then as Rip grunted in satisfaction.

"I'm sorry Duo, he's got a Flag and Hilde." Quatre's voice came angrily.

"It's not your fault Quatre, he's just that good." Duo said calmly turning in the direction of Quatre's voice.

Rip looked at Duo's face and narrowed his gaze.

"What's wrong with his eyes?" he snapped at Quatre while still holding Hilde. He'd put her in a very painful armlock but it hadn't been till he actually dislocated her shoulder with threats of worse to come that Quatre had capitulated.

"Cataracts. From the poison." Quatre replied in a clipped and angry tone. Rip scowled disgruntled.

"That's no fun." Rip glared at Duo who scowled in return."You're no challenge like this."

"Excuse me for failing to entertain you!" Duo snapped with biting sarcasm in return. "I don't recall inviting you to take us on for your own obscure and twisted reasons!"

"Oh shut up and die... aaaaahhhh!" Rip let out a startled yell as Hilde suddenly twisted, desperately forcing herself to think past the pain of her shoulder and arm and sunk her teeth into his gun hand while twisting her leg through his at the same time in an attempt to trip him.

Rip let out an outraged yell and viciously thrust her away from him causing her to hit the wall with a thud where she crumpled and didn't move, only clutched her arm to her.

"Hilde!" this from Quatre.

Duo's eyes went wide and his mouth twisted into a silent snarl but not quite able to decide what would be best, he hesitated. Not being able to see enough to fight and knowing that if he got involved he'd just be a liability he held his position; even though every muscle in his body was screaming 'do something'. His fists clenched in sheer frustration.

Rip recovered his balance just in time to meet Quatre's foot to his face in a classic arcing circle kick. Quatre, having given up his gun to Rip, was going to have to do things the old fashioned way.

Duo finally dived to the floor as Quatre twisted in midair to kick Rip's gun out of his hand with his other foot. The gun exploded with a bang as it went flying off towards Duo.

Hearing it clatter, Duo focused on where he'd heard it land and scrambled for it. Latching onto it, he scrambled up and dived towards the window, jerked it open and threw the gun putting everything he had into the toss. He heard Rip let out another angry yell as he did so.

Focusing his attention back on Quatre, Rip was just in time to block a short, vicious punch from Quatre and lashed out with a snap kick of his own that Quatre blocked in return. Rip found his estimation of Quatre going up a notch even as he was being pressed back. Quatre did know how to fight, the only thing lacking was the fact that Quatre had been taught in a classroom environment while Rip had learned and learned well from the streets and anyone who would teach him how to win using everything at his disposal... in other words fighting dirty. When your life was in the balance, fighting fair didn't seem so important somehow.

So Rip fought keeping Quatre at bay with some difficulty until he saw his chance. He'd have to do something soon at any rate, he was running out of time. So as Quatre knocked his straight right hook aside and retaliated with an open hand palm strike, Rip saw his chance and took it crossing his wrists in an X block.

Quatre tried to pull his punch but was too late and this time Rip's Flags gave them a double jolt that sent them both reeling. Rip recovered first and hammered a two fisted blow into Quatre's midsection. Quatre, badly jolted by the flags, staggered refusing to go down but in the end he couldn't quite stop himself from folding to the floor both arms around his middle.

With Quatre temporarily down, Rip lunged for Duo . He came to an abrupt stop though as Duo who was kneeling on the floor, pulled a pistol of his own from under his shirt and steadied it at Rip. Rip looked at him warily.

"I thought you couldn't see." he said in a deceptively calm voice.

"No one said that." Duo replied squinting at the blur in front of him.

"B-but... I mean... where did you get... can you... " Quatre stuttered to a halt still on the floor and just catching his breath. He'd managed to brace himself like his teacher had shown him just as Rip swung and it hadn't effected him as much as it had been intended to.

"I think you're bluffing." Rip said flatly and tensed as though he were about to lunge.

"I might be... or I might not be. You're welcome to try." Duo said with an equally deceptive calm.

"I think I will." Rip sneered and started to move.

"I think you won't. I won't let you hurt my friends!" Quatre said from directly behind him. Rip started to jerk around but was too late as Quatre quite deliberately gripped Rip's arms directly over the Flags releasing yet another jolt.

"Quatre!" Duo cried out in alarm squinting futilely as he heard Quatre give a strangled cry. He couldn't see Quatre's eyes blazing icy frost nor the fierce determination as Quatre took the jolt and hung on, electricity crackling through him until even Rip couldn't take it any more and his knees finally buckled as he fell, taking Quatre with him.

"Quatre! Talk to me!" Duo said frantically groping his way blindly towards the sounds of ragged breathing from the center of the room. Then Hilde's voice was right next to him.

"It's ok Duo, they're not dead." she reassured him in a pain filled voice.

"Hilde! Are you ok?" he turned towards her almost frantically.

"I will be. Don't worry so much. And don't touch, I have a dislocated shoulder." she warned him.

"The idiot." came from the doorway as Wufei took the scene in with Trowa's arm draped over his shoulder. Exactly whom he was referring to was unclear.

"Wufei! Good to see you, nice to know Trowa's in one piece, watch that man he's using a Flag and would someone get a doctor? My arm is killing me!" Hilde said swiftly in one breath seeing Sally, Zechs and a number of Preventer's crowded around behind the people in the doorway.

Then people were everywhere. Rip and Quatre were pulled apart and soon Rip was disarmed and in restraints. Quatre who was still pretty much out of it, was laid on Duo's bed where one of the other Preventer doctors proceeded to check his vital signs and take steps to deal with the shock he had received and Trowa was installed in Quatre's old chair where Sally gave him a quick once over to reassure herself that no life threatening injuries had been overlooked. That done she quickly moved on to Hilde.

Wufei had arrived to see Preventers, plus Relena, scrambling over piles of smoking rubble. Trowa and Heero hadn't been found yet as they had just now managed to clear enough of the wreckage to even get to the immediate area of the blast. Reasoning that being pilots, they might have noticed something wrong; the most reasonable assumption was that they would have been in line with what used to be the doorway in an attempt to get clear of the trap. Closing his eyes, Wufei concentrated on listening and made a complete 180 degree turn sorting out his sensory input. He frowned, thinking he had heard something.

Opening his eyes, he started forward still in line with the door, scanning rubble all the way. Preventers had already taken a look see over this section of wreckage but as he moved he thought he heard a second thump. Wufei narrowed his eyes, a section of rubble was moving ever so slightly. Realizing that he was looking at part of a door warped awkwardly amongst some chunks of wall, he made his way over carefully and leaned over the mini cliff of rubble.

He was looking at the dirty and bloodstained face of Trowa who appeared to be bracing himself against the door.

"Would... you... mind... getting... off... me?" Trowa appealed apparently catching his breath with some difficulty.

Wufei grinned a rare grin at Trowa in relief at finding the two, for he could see part of a motionless hand that was obviously not Trowa's through the chunks of wall and on some foreign impulse told Trowa to quit fooling around and get out of there. He may have been the only living being in existence to hear Trowa cuss in three different languages. Who knew the calm and controlled Trowa they all knew could lose his temper like that?

When the boys had been freed of the rubble, it had been determined that Heero had taken the brunt of the blast and the door apparently while trying to shield Trowa which ticked Trowa off to no end. But with the weight of the door and shifting rubble, they could easily have crushed and/or suffocated had it not been for Trowa's efforts and stubbornness at keeping the door propped up. It was found that he'd somehow managed to maneuver a piece of the wall in place to help hold the door in spite of his very restricted range of movement which was the only thing that had allowed him to last till they had been found.

Unconscious, bruised, burnt and with a suspected concussion, Heero was carted off to the infirmary; Relena following after getting reassurance that Trowa would be ok. Trowa ended up with his arm in a sling and a brace on his left leg which had been broken in the explosion along with various other comparatively minor bumps and bruises.

Concerned about Heero, Trowa got immense satisfaction out of Rip's expression when he came around to find that not only had Quatre proved to be tough enough to get the job done but that he'd also failed to actually kill any of the boys. He had been so furious that it had taken two Preventers to hold him back even with his restraints. As he was taken away, Trowa had the feeling that this wasn't the end of it. But turning to look at a recovering but shaky Quatre getting a scolding from Wufei and Lady Une, Duo hovering over an exhausted Hilde who also had her arm in a sling, and figuring that Heero was strong enough to pull through ok, Trowa was glad in his heart that they had worked together to accomplish what they wouldn't have been able to do alone and had successfully managed through yet another crises.

Quatre somehow seemed to know what was on Trowa's mind as he spared Trowa a glance and a shaky but knowing smile through the lectures being heaped on him from Lady Une as Wufei had said what he had to say and had given way to Lady Une.

A sudden thought occurring to Quatre, he turned quickly in Duo's direction and blurted out, "Duo!About your eyesight... were you bluffing?"

"Maybe." Duo grinned in his direction.

"Duo! I think I deserve a straight answer. Can you or can you not see?" Quatre puffed in exasperation.

"Well, I knew you weren't the dark blur... " Duo shrugged and grinned crookedly.

"Duo!" Quatre protested, horror in his voice. Duo laughed a bit and held up his hands sheepishly as Sally came up to them, a scowl on her face and told him to stop teasing Quatre. Then she turned to Quatre scowl turning into a smile on her face and told them to listen up.

"Duo's eyesight is indeed coming back. It is not good enough for target practice so keep all firearms away from him for the time being." Sally threw in a bit of teasing of her own. "It's uncertain if he will recover 100 % on his own but we are going to wait and see how far the err.. cataracts (if you can call them that, I've never seen cataracts act the way these are!) regress before we actually treat him. That's the good news. The bad news is that Heero is still unconscious, and until he wakes up we can't consider him out of danger. But this is Heero we're talking about so I'd say the odds are in his favor." she smiled at them all; a tired smile but the cheer in the room, though shadowed by the missing pilot, was undeniable.

"By the way, has anyone seen Deuce lately?" Duo asked suddenly, the thought coming out of nowhere.

"Deuce? Why no..." Zechs looked around reflexively.

"Come to think of it he's been missing for a while now." Lady Une said in surprise then scowled. How could she have been so careless?

It was two days later when three things happened that would mark that day as another to be remembered.

Heero woke up to find Relena on one side of his bed and Duo on the other. Reassured that Duo was still around he fell asleep awaking the second time to find Quatre on his left and Sally inches above his face with a smile going from ear to ear looking understandably smug with her self and pleased with life in general. He soon understood how Duo had felt about Sally and her exams but he had to admit that she was an excellent doctor in spite of his personal opinions about what was necessary and what wasn't as she poked and prodded till she was happy that he would be ok with nothing more than some injured muscles, some burns and a bad headache with double vision all of which could be treated and cured and was proclaimed to be on the mend.

Later, when all the other pilots dropped by for a visit with Quatre pushing Trowa in a wheelchair as he couldn't handle a pair of crutches with torn muscles in his arm, Hilde guiding Duo without making it too obvious, and Wufei who only stayed a short while, they caught Heero up on what he'd missed. Wufei, who finished up the informal report, informed them all that Rip had somehow managed to disappear that very morning, and that they'd found the body of the unfortunate Preventer who had given Rip such access to their headquarters.

In the midst of the general discussion, Duo leaned back in his chair feeling better than he had for a long time now. His eyesight still wasn't great so he was relaxing and just listening for a change which was maybe why he was the only one to catch the muted newscast announcement that made him sit up and ask for quiet. Afterwards, he leaned back idly as the others absorbed the information.

"Well, I guess now we know what happened to Deuce." Duo said an odd mix of sadness and a muted relief bubbling way down deep.

"Somehow, I can't help but think Piper brought it on himself. If Piper hadn't been messing with toxins and poisons this would never have happened." Hilde said dryly.

"Hmm... some of you must have rubbed off on Deuce for him to have sneaked into a high security facility like that and get to Piper." Quatre said teasingly but with a touch of grim humor to Duo, a touch of sadness in him as well. So many lives lost. Would the war never end? Would people never let it rest?

"Of course, they did say it couldn't be proven, only suspected that he was poisoned." Trowa pointed out.

"Truth." Wufei said nodding his head sharply. "At any rate justice has been served. Now if we could only catch up with this Rip."

Duo leaned back lost in his thoughts, thinking back to how this whole thing had started. He'd never thought to hear from the ghost of Solo again. The past had a way of catching up with you. Or had he caught it? Some of it had been fun... like at the shuttle port with Deuce... who knew? Maybe he'd see him again someday.

A sharp poke in the side interrupted his thoughts and he turned and squinted at a curious Heero.

"What's got you so down?" Heero asked bluntly.

Duo smiled at him brilliantly, "I"m not. Just thinking and no smart remarks from the peanut gallery!"

And... thanks Heero, for keeping a promise he finished silently as he looked directly at Heero. Heero somehow seemed to read his eyes for a faint smile hovered around his eyes it seemed as if he almost nodded. Duo gave a genuine 100 watt smile at Heero and then reaching over he tugged at Hilde's hand.

"I guess there's a God after all... because I'd say this qualifies as a miracle!" and Duo leaned back and looked around, knowing that Someone Up There had seen to it that he had friends to stand by him and for him to stand by. He was going to do the best he could to make sure that didn't change.

Owari

Ok so I didn't exactly proofread this! But I finally got it done! Yay! This is the first time I've ever managed to actually finish a project like this and make it decent! And I left it wide open for a sequel my oh my! If I ever have time... I don't think it's right that you seem to get busier the older you get...sniff sniff Oh well... hope ya'll enjoy!